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Almost daily we’re told that another American soldier has sacrificed life or limb in Iraq. For way too many of us – unless we have a white flag with a blue star in our window – these casualty reports have become as big a yawn as a TV forecast of the weather in Baghdad.

Even I – and I deal with that beleaguered land seven days a week – was staggered when a Pentagon source gave me a copy of a Nov. 30 dispatch showing that since George W. Bush unleashed the dogs of war, our armed forces have taken 14,000 casualties in Iraq – about the number of warriors in a line tank division.

We have the equivalent of five combat divisions plus support for a total of about 135,000 troops deployed in the Iraqi theater of operations, which means we’ve lost the equivalent of a fighting division since March. At least 10 percent of the total number of Joes and Jills available to the theater commander to fight or support the occupation effort has been evacuated back to the USA!

Lt. Col. Scott D. Ross of the U.S. military’s Transportation Command told me that as of Dec. 23, his outfit had evacuated 3,255 battle-injured casualties and 18,717 non-battle injuries.

Of the battle casualties, 473 died and 3,255 were wounded by hostile fire.

Following are the major categories of the non-battle evacuations:

  • Orthopedic surgery – 3,907
  • General surgery – 1,995
  • Internal medicine – 1,291
  • Psychiatric – 1,167
  • Neurology – 1,002
  • Gynecological – 491

Sources say that most of the gynecological evacuations are pregnancy-related, although the exact figure can’t be confirmed – Pentagon pregnancy counts are kept closer to the vest than the number of nuke warheads in the U.S. arsenal.

Ross cautioned that his total of 21,972 evacuees could be higher than other reports because “in some cases, the same service member may be counted more than once.”

The Pentagon has never won prizes for the accuracy of its reporting, but I think it’s safe to say that, so far, somewhere between 14,000 and 22,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines have been medically evacuated from Iraq to the USA.

So at the end of this turbulent year, we must ask ourselves: Was the price our warriors paid in blood worth the outcome? Are we any safer than before our pre-emptive invasion?

Even though Saddam is in the slammer and the fourth-largest army in the world is junkyard scrap, Christmas 2003 was resolutely Orange, and 2004 looks like more of the same. Or worse.

Our first New Year’s resolution should be to find out if the stated reasons for our pre-emptive strike – Iraq’s purported weapons of mass destruction and Saddam’s connection with al-Qaida – constituted a real threat to our national security. Because, contrary to public opinion, the present administration hasn’t yet made the case that Saddam and his sadists aided and abetted al-Qaida’s attacks on 9-11. We also need to know why our $30 billion-a-year intelligence agencies didn’t read the tea leaves correctly, as well as what’s being done besides upgrading the color code to prevent other similar strikes.

Congress should get with the program and lift a page from the U.S. Army handbook on how to learn from a military operation. When an Army-training or actual-combat op is concluded, all the key players assemble for an honest, no-holds-barred critique of everything that’s gone down – the good, the bad and the ugly. Some of the participants might walk away black and blue, but everyone learns from the mistakes.

Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and retired Gen. Tommy Franks should be required to report to a congressional committee convened to investigate both the invasion and the planning – or lack of planning – for the occupation of Iraq. This committee must operate without the political skullduggery that occurred during the numerous investigations into the Pearl Harbor catastrophe – when high-level malfeasance that cost thousands of lives and put America’s national security in extreme jeopardy was repeatedly covered up for more than 50 years.

Our Iraqi casualties deserve nothing less than the unvarnished truth. Only then will their sacrifices not have been in vain. And only then can we all move on with the enlightenment we need to protect and preserve our precious country’s future.

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