U.S. Death Toll In Iraq Passes 3,000

(CBS/AP) The day after Saddam Hussein's execution, the death toll for Americans killed in the Iraq war reached 3,000 as President Bush struggles to salvage a military campaign that has scant public support.

The death of a Texas soldier, announced Sunday by the Pentagon, comes as the administration seeks to overhaul its strategy for a conflict that shows little sign of abating. The tally of 3,000 members of the U.S. military killed was a figure compiled by The Associated Press since the war's beginning in March 2003.

In large part because of discontent with the course of the war, voters gave Democrats control of the new Congress that convenes this week. Democrats have pledged to focus on the war and Bush's conduct of it.

Three thousand deaths are tiny compared with casualties in other protracted wars America has fought in the last century. There were 58,000 Americans killed in the Vietnam War, 36,000 in the Korean conflict, 405,000 in World War II and 116,000 in World War I, according to Defense Department figures.

Even so, the steadily mounting toll underscores the relentless violence the massive U.S. investment in lives and money - surpassing $350 billion - has yet to tame.

A Pentagon report on Iraq said in December the conflict now is more a struggle between Sunni and Shiite armed groups "fighting for religious, political and economic influence," with the insurgency and foreign terrorist campaigns "a backdrop."

From mid-August to mid-November, the weekly average number of attacks in the country increased 22 percent from the previous three months. The worst violence was in Baghdad and in the western province of Anbar, long the focus of activity by Sunni insurgents.

Though U.S.-led coalition forces remained the target of the majority of attacks, the overwhelming majority of casualties were suffered by Iraqis, the report said.

The American death toll was at 1,000 in September of 2004 and 2,000 by October 2005.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., called the figure a "tragic milestone" and said the government owes its troops "a new policy that is worthy of their heroism and brings them safely home."

Asked about the 3,000 figure, deputy White House press secretary Scott Stanzel said that the president "will ensure their sacrifice was not made in vain."

"We will be fighting violent jihadists for peace and security of the civilized world for years to come. The brave men and women of the U.S. military are fighting extremists in order to stop them from attacking on our soil again," Stanzel said.

In other developments:

  • Former dictator Saddam Hussein was buried before dawn in his hometown of Ouja. Hundreds attended, but thousands were turned back at police checkpoints. Ouja, near Tikrit, is under curfew for at least four days.

  • In his New Year's greeting, U.S. President George W. Bush noted the continuing violence in Iraq. "Last year, America continued its mission to fight and win the war on terror and promote liberty as an alternative to tyranny and despair," Bush said. Separately, the White House said the president mourned each death but would not issue a statement about the 3,000th.

  • The U.S. military is accelerating plans to turn its main mission in Iraq from fighting insurgents to training Iraqi forces and hunting al Qaeda terrorists. President Bush is also considering the "surge" option - increasing temporarily the number of U.S. combat troops from its current 134,000 by 25,000 or more in hopes of securing the capital Baghdad to boost chances for political reconciliation.

  • Two prominent Senate Republicans bucked the White House on Sunday, expressing skepticism about sending more U.S. troops to Iraq and support for greater dialogue with Iran, Syria and others in the region. Sen. Richard Lugar, the outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urged President Bush to consult with lawmakers before announcing a new strategy on Iraq that could call for additional troops in Iraq. Sen. Arlen Specter, just back from a trip to the region, also questioned the wisdom of sending in more troops, saying he has not seen an administration plan that would justify it.

    Having launched the war against the advice of a number of nations, the Bush administration never got a huge international contribution of troops, meaning foreign forces involved in the fighting are overwhelmingly American.

    The death toll shows it. As of late December, the British military has reported 127 deaths in the war so far; Italy, 33; Ukraine, 18; Poland, 18; Bulgaria, 13; Spain, 11; and Denmark, six. Several other countries have had five or less.