Author Topic: 18 Die a Week, 40,000 - 50,000 Suffer  (Read 69 times)


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18 Die a Week, 40,000 - 50,000 Suffer
« on: March 28, 2005, 08:35:27 AM »
March 20, 2005 - Two years after the invasion of Iraq the rate of US soldiers being killed is averaging 18 a week, almost double the rate in the first year after the war.

The country is far more dangerous than 12 months ago, say security experts, and reconstruction has slowed to a crawl.

Between 40,000 and 50,000 US military personnel are in Iraq despite serious medical conditions that should have ruled them out of combat, according to the National Gulf War Resource Centre. The GI Rights Hotline, which counsels troops, says it fielded 32,000 calls last year from soldiers seeking an exit from the military, or suffering from post-combat stress.

Others vote with their feet. Last year the Pentagon admitted that 5500 of its forces had gone AWL, although it claims many returned to their units after resolving personal crises.

At the same time that Kevin Benderman's unit was called up for a second tour in Iraq with the US Third Infantry Division, two soldiers tried to kill themselves and another had a relative shoot him in the leg. Seventeen went AWL or ran off to Canada, and Sergeant Benderman, whose family has sent a son to every war since the American revolution, defied his genes and nine years of military training and followed his conscience.

As the division packed its gear to leave Fort Stewart, Georgia, Sergeant Benderman applied for a discharge as a conscientious objector - an act seen as a betrayal by many in his unit.

Although they may not be part of any organised anti-war movement, the conscientious objectors, runaways and other irregular protesters suggest that, two years on, the Iraq mission is taking a heavy toll.

Just 93 Australian civilians are now in Iraq, a third of the number that were there a year ago, as corporations, aid agencies and government departments decide the personal risk is too great.

A total of 284 Australian troops are in Baghdad with another 400 RAAF at air bases in the region and 22 sailors on board HMAS Darwin in the Persian Gulf. Another 450 troops will start arriving around Anzac Day to protect Japanese troops doing reconstruction work in southern Iraq.

Prime Minister John Howard last week refused to rule out sending even more troops after Italy said it would start pulling out.

Despite the hopeful sign of so many Iraqis turning out to vote, most of those with hands-on experience of what is going on there despair for the future.

"I was there for the elections and a little afterwards and it is worse now than it has ever been," said former SAS soldier and security operator Paul Jordan of AKE Australia. "Every time I go there it is more restricted than before," said Mr Jordan, who does security protection for media and business people visiting Iraq.

"The average Iraqi is worse off now than before the war. Iraqis are as much a target for kidnappings and crime as foreigners."

Dr Michael Humphrey of the University of NSW said not many Iraqis would feel they benefited from the war. He said Shiites could seek revenge for decades of repression and that would mean years of fighting.