BAGHDAD, Iraq — The American military death toll in the Iraq war reached 2,000 Tuesday with the announcements of three more deaths, including an Army sergeant who died of wounds at a military hospital in Texas and a Marine and a sailor killed last week in fighting west of Baghdad.
The 2,000 mark was reached amid growing doubts among the American public about the Iraq conflict, launched in March 2003 to destroy Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. None was ever found.
In Washington, the Senate observed a moment of silence in honor of the fallen 2,000. “We owe them a deep debt of gratitude for their courage, for their valor, for their strength, for their commitment to our country,” said Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist.
Critics of the war also acknowledged the sacrifice, even as they questioned the policies of those who lead it.
“Our armed forces are serving ably in Iraq under enormously difficult circumstances, and the policy of our government must be worthy of their sacrifice. Unfortunately, it is not, and the American people know it,” said Sen. Edward Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat.
Sen. Robert Byrd, a veteran Democrat from West Virginia, said Americans should expect “many more losses to come.”
“More than 135,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq. They did not ask to be sent to war, but each day, they carry out their duty while risking their lives. It is only reasonable that the American people, and their elected representatives, ask more questions about what the future holds in Iraq,” Byrd said.
Bush: More deaths to come
Just before the toll hit 2,000, President Bush warned the nation to brace for an even higher casualty count as the mission there has more work remaining to be successful.
“The terrorists are as brutal an enemy as we have ever faced, unconstrained by any notion of common humanity and by the rules of warfare,” the President said in a speech before the Joint Armed Forces Officers’ Wives’ luncheon, held at Bolling Air Force Base. “No one should underestimate the difficulties ahead.”
But, Bush added: “Nor should they overlook the advantages we bring to this fight. ... Some observers look at the job ahead and adopt a self-defeating pessimism. It’s not justified.”
Meanwhile in Iraq, officials announced final results in the country’s landmark constitutional referendum. Despite an effort from Sunni Arab opponents to defeat it, Iraq’s constitution was adopted by a majority in a fair vote, officials said.
‘Artificial mark,’ Army spokesman says
The chief spokesman for the American-led multinational force called on reporters covering not to look at the 2,000th death since March 2003 as a milestone, describing the number as an “artificial mark on the wall.”
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, director of the force’s combined press center, said via e-mail, “The 2,000th Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine that is killed in action is just as important as the first that died and will be just as important as the last to die in this war against terrorism and to ensure freedom for a people who have not known freedom in over two generations.”
He complained that the true milestones of the war were “rarely covered or discussed,” and said they included the troops who had volunteered to serve, the families of those that have been deployed for a year or more and the Iraqis who have sought at great risk to restore normalcy to their country.
“Celebrate the daily milestones, the accomplishments they have secured and look to the future of a free and democratic Iraq and to the day that all of our troops return home to the heroes welcome they deserve,” Boylan wrote.
Activist to ‘die symbolically’
Outside the White House on Tuesday, peace activist Cindy Sheehan — whose 24-year old son, Casey, died in Iraq last year — said she and others plan to “die symbolically” each night over the next four days to protest U.S. involvement in Iraq.
“I’ll be laying down and not getting up,” said Sheehan, who planned the protests this week expecting that the U.S. military death toll would hit 2,000. “When they let me out I’ll do the same thing if I get arrested.”
A candlelight vigil was planned for the sidewalk outside the White House, the site of a noisy demonstration and numerous arrests in September, which included Sheehan.
Over 300 other protests were planned for Wednesday. War opponents plan to gather at war memorials, federal buildings and in front of landmarks such as Rockefeller Plaza and a recruiting station in Times Square in New York.
Vigils were also expected in San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
In Houston, a weeklong observance to honor those killed in Iraq, including U.S. military and Iraqi casualties, was to begin Oct. 29 at the memorial to World War II in that city.
Peace activists in Oklahoma City scheduled a candlelight vigil in Memorial Park.
Asking for end to war funds
American Friends Service Committee, which helped coordinate some of these events, urged Congress to halt funding for the Iraqi war.
“As parents, citizens and compassionate people, we have to demand that the funding of this exhausted war stops now, before one more death occurs or one more dollar is spent,” Lila Lipscomb, whose son Sgt. Michael Pederson was killed in Iraq in 2003, said in a statement announcing the campaign.
Lipscomb was set to speak at an antiwar event in Lansing, Mich., on Wednesday.
In his speech, Bush said, “We’ve lost some of our nation’s finest men and women in the war on terror. A time of war is a time for sacrifice.”
But he said that pulling out of the mission is not an option. “The best way to honor the sacrifice of our fallen troops is to complete the mission and lay the foundation of peace by spreading freedom,” he said.
Violence persists in Iraq
Meanwhile, a suicide car bomb exploded near a regional government ministry in a predominantly Kurdish province of Sulaimaniyah on Tuesday, killing at least nine and wounding four, a security official said.
In Baghdad, Iraqi and U.S. forces refortified a hotel complex housing foreign journalists after three suicide car bombs exploded Monday, killing as many as 20 Iraqis and wounding about 40.
A statement posted on an Islamic Web site Tuesday attributed both attacks to Al-Qaida in Iraq.
Tuesday's blast killed six peshmerga and three civilians and wounded two peshmerga and two civilians, said Lt. Col. Taha Redha, a peshmerga official.
It was one of two suicide attacks by insurgents on Tuesday in the generally peaceful province 160 miles northeast of Baghdad.
About 45 minutes earlier, a suicide car bomber rammed his vehicle into a seven-car convoy carrying Mullah Bakhtiyar, a senior Kurdish official in President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party, said police Col. Najim Al-Din Qader. The blast in Sulaimaniya city wounded two of the convoy’s guards and damaged two of its cars, Qader said.
Also Tuesday, a roadside bomb exploded near a U.S. military convoy in Baghdad, missing the soldiers but killing a 7-year-old boy who was selling cans of black-market gasoline on a street. Nine others were wounded, officials said.
In seven other attacks in the capital, insurgents used two bombs and five shootings to kill a policemen and wound 25 Iraqis, most of them police officers, officials said.
Another policewoman died in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, when militants shot her, police said.
The roadside bomb that killed the 7-year-old in Baghdad exploded in Askan, a commercial district, hitting pedestrians and destroying several parked cars, said police Capt. Qassim Hussein and Dr. Mohammed Jawad at Yarmouk Hospital. The nine wounded civilians included a 10-year-old Iraqi girl, they said.
Iraqi death toll estimates
The Iraqi death toll is unknown, but estimates range much higher than the nearly 2,000 Americans killed.
Iraq Body Count, a British research group that compiles its figures from reports by the major news agencies and British and U.S. newspapers, has said that as many as 30,051 Iraqis have been killed since the start of the war. Other estimates range as high as 100,000.
U.S. and coalition authorities say they have not kept a count of such deaths, and Iraqi government accounting has proven to be haphazard.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.