WASHINGTON - Saddam Hussein was buried in the dead of night in his native
village on Sunday, prompting an outpouring of sectarian anger as the 3,000th
American soldier was reported to have died in Iraq.
Coffins of U.S. military personnel
are offloaded at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware in this undated
file photo. The U.S. military death toll in Iraq has reached 3,000 on
December 31, 2006, an unwelcome milestone for President George W. Bush who
is searching for a way to turn around the unpopular war even if it means
sending more troops. The Pentagon tightly restricts publication of
photographs of coffins with the remains of U.S. troops and has forbidden
journalists from taking pictures at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, the
first stop for the bodies of troops being sent home.
The Web site, www.icasualties.org, on Sunday listed the death of Spec. Dustin
R. Donica, 22, on December 28 as previously unreported and said that 3,000
American military personnel had now died.
The mark was reached as Bush weighs options, including a short-term increase
in forces of up to 30,000, to help control the deteriorating situation in Iraq
where daily violence plagues Baghdad and much of the country.
"Every loss is regretted and there is no special significance to the overall
number of casualties," said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros.
Analysts called 3,000 deaths a major personal tragedy but said it had limited
political and military significance. Anti-war activists vowed to use the
milestone as a catalyst to press for the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
U.S. and Iraqi troops have failed to establish security in Iraq's capital,
despite concentrating efforts there, as battles among Sunni and Shi'ite Muslim
militias, insurgents and government forces as well as al Qaeda fighters rage.
Bush, at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, mourned the death of the 3,000th U.S.
soldier, the White House said, but cautioned war-weary Americans that no quick
end was in sight to the fight against terrorism.
BUSH UNDER PRESSURE
The president has been under pressure to change course in Iraq amid
widespread public and political discontent. He is expected to unveil his new
strategy early next month but has rejected the idea of a timetable for pulling
out the 134,000 U.S. troops now in the country.
"The president believes that every life is precious and grieves for each one
that is lost," said White House spokesman Scott Stanzel. "He will ensure their
sacrifice was not made in vain."
December is the deadliest month for U.S. forces in the past two years, with
111 fatalities so far. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have died in the almost
Bush has shown little appetite for dramatic changes even after his Republican
party's defeat in November elections -- widely regarded as a referendum on his
Iraq policy -- which gave control of Congress to Democrats.
Despite the execution of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein on Saturday,
Bush said violence in Iraq would not end and warned more U.S. sacrifices lay
ahead. The United States would be "fighting violent jihadists" for years to
come, the White House said.
Anthony Cordesman, a military expert at the Center for Strategic and
International Studies, said the political problems inside Iraq and the incoming
Democratic Congress spell bigger trouble for Bush than the 3,000 milestone.
"There is no silver bullet," Cordesman said. "The problem is, however, the
current strategy simply cannot work. By the time it (the war plan) comes out,
Congress comes into session, no one is going to remember the number 3,000."
United for Peace and Justice, a coalition of more than 1300 groups throughout
the United States who have joined together to protest the war, said it was
planning a march in Washington on January 27.
"We must bear witness to this tragic milestone," the group said on its Web
site. "And ... we must remind others that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi
children, women and men have also died in this outrageous war and occupation."
Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the 3,000
benchmark was not "that huge of a milestone" given what the country had been
"It will however serve to dampen whatever slight boost Saddam's execution may
have given the president and the American public," he said.