Iraq: June 1, 2004


Another truce has been arranged in Najaf, with American troops agreeing to suspend patrols. The Shia gunmen in Najaf are pro-Sadr, but do not take orders from Muqtada al Sadr. Thus al Sadr's attempts to arrange a ceasefire over the weekend have largely failed in Najaf. The Najaf Shia militias have been taking an awful beating, losing several hundred fighters over the weekend. Five American soldiers died over the weekend, two of them during the fighting in Kufa.  Fighting had pretty much died out in the other religious cities in the south, and Baghdad, but is now flaring up again as the al Sadr men realize that they have no central direction and that they are on their own.. 

American troops have suffered over a thousand casualties in the last two months, including over 200 dead (136 in April, 65 in May). What's unusual about this is that the rate of casualties is so low. Half a century ago, it would not be unusual for a force of the same size to suffer that many casualties in a single day, and for days on end. The ability to engage in heavy combat and keep the casualties so low is not unusual historically, but is for recent wars. Modern combat involves a lot more firepower (lots of bullets and shell fragments flying around randomly), and opportunities to get hurt. But the U.S, military has developed equipment and tactics that keep their casualties way down. This is not the kind of story that is attractive to the mainstream press, but it is big news for the troops. They know what the losses used to be, and know that they are fighting a different kind of war because of the new situation.


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