Counting the Wounded in Iraq

In my last posting Bob Graham: Will the Grown-Ups Come Home in 2005? I wrote:

Senator Bob Graham, ranking Democrat on the Senate
Intelligence Committee, would like to know how many American soldiers
have been wounded in Iraq, but he can't find out. The administration
does not release information about our wounded in Iraq.

Since then, however, I've seen several newspaper stories that appear to contain exact counts of the wounded. For example, today's (9/15) Washington Post says:

[Vice President] Cheney, discussing the situation
in Iraq, where 158 American troops have been killed and 856 wounded
since Bush declared major combat over on May 1 ...

So I had been wondering how far I needed to back off of my earlier statement, and whether I just got it wrong or Senator Graham misled me. Then I found this statement in this Sunday's The Observer, a British newspaper that has taken a strong position against the war:

The true scale of American casualties in Iraq is
revealed today by new figures obtained by The Observer, which show
that more than 6,000 American servicemen have been evacuated for
medical reasons since the beginning of the war, including more than
1,500 American soldiers who have been wounded, many seriously.

I don't necessarily believe everything The Observer says about the war, but it did make me wonder what the heck is going on. Doing a little online research this morning, I have discovered that the situation is even stranger than I had realized. I'll give you the punch line right at the beginning: Even the death totals we see are unofficial.

A private, unofficial running total of American dead and wounded is maintained on many web sites. One of them, Lunaville, explains its methodology this way:

Whenever a death occurs, CENTCOM (the United
States Central Command in Tampa, FL) issues a brief news release that
gives the bare facts about the incident: when it happened, how it
happened, and the soldier's regiment, if known. The only information
not provided at this point is the soldier's name. These releases are
published regularly on the Internet at:
After the soldier's relatives are notified of the
death, the U.S. Department of Defense then issues its own news
release that gives the soldier's name, age, unit and hometown. Again,
these can be found on the Internet here:
The trouble with this system of notification,
however, is that the government provides no tally of those releases.
Occasionally, the Department of Defense will release a total number
of deaths to date. But it certainly doesn't go out of its way to
divulge those numbers. If you want to know the number of deaths at
any given point, you have two choices: count up the news releases
yourself or find a non-governmental entity that
is tracking the numbers and posting them somewhere.

Now back to the wounded. On September 1, the Washington Post reported:

The number of those wounded in action, which
totals 1,124 since the war began in March, has grown so large, and
attacks have become so commonplace, that U.S. Central Command usually
issues press releases listing injuries only when the attacks kill one
or more troops. The result is that many injuries go unreported.

So where does Lunaville get its total for the wounded? If you click the Tracking the Wounded link on the Lunaville page, you get a list of individual reports of soldiers being wounded -- most from CentCom, but many from Reuters, CNN, and other news sources. At the bottom of the page is a request:

Help us count the wounded. If you see a story in
the press about wounded soldiers, please send us the information.

Occasionally the Pentagon may provide a total. CNN reported on July 10:

For the first time since the start of the war in
Iraq, Pentagon officials have released the number of U.S. troops
wounded from the beginning of the war through Wednesday.
Responding to a request by CNN, the Pentagon said
more than 1,000 U.S. troops have been wounded or injured in Iraq
since March 20, when a U.S.-led airstrike started the war.

The actual total given was 1044.

So there you are. The Pentagon publishes reports of some incidents where soldiers are wounded. Occasionally the press finds some others. Private groups total up. You can ask the Pentagon for a number (as CNN did), and maybe they'll answer you.

My statement: “The administration does not release information about our wounded in Iraq.” looks too strong now, but not by much. And the inaccuracy involved is entirely my own fault. I don't have a tape or exact notes from Senator Graham's talk, but I see no reason to believe he misled me.

Doug Muder
16 September 2003

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