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Message Randolph Holhut
DUMMERSTON, Vt. - The butcher's bill - the human and financial costs of the war in Iraq - continues to grow.

On Sunday, the last day of 2006, the Pentagon announced the death of Spc. Dustin R. Donica, 22, of Spring, Texas. He was the 3,000th U.S. service member to die in Iraq.

Donica, serving with the 3rd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Airborne Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, was killed by small arms fire in Baghdad on Dec. 28.

His death was the 111th in December, the deadliest month for U.S. forces in 2006. At least 820 U.S. service members died in Iraq in the past 12 months, according to the Associated Press' tally.

Remember White House spokesman Tony Snow's words last spring when the death toll for American service members in Iraq had reached 2,500?

"It's a number," Snow said.

And I'm sure 3,000 is just another number to the folks in the White House. Yes, President Bush mouthed the required words of condolence, but he didn't mean it. If he did, he would be begging the nation for forgiveness and announcing plans for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq.

Three thousand is not just a number. It represents 3,000 families who lost a loved one in Iraq; 3,000 families who will feel that loss for decades to come.

About 60 percent of those killed in Iraq never saw their 25th birthday. Nearly half of all the deaths came as a result of the sadly ubiquitous IEDs, improvised explosive devices, detonated nearly every day on the Iraqi roads traveled by U.S. soldiers.

Nearly 1,700 of those killed were enlisted men. Nearly 2,000 served in the Army. Sixty-two of those killed were women, two-thirds of them by hostile fire. That's the most female deaths by far in any war in this nation's history.

You want some more numbers, Mr President? How about these, courtesy of the Brookings Institution's Iraq Index:

" About 23,000 U.S. service members have been wounded in this war - half of them hurt so badly that they are unable to return to duty.

" More than 6,000 members of the Iraqi military have been killed since the start of the U.S. occupation.

" Nearly 400 non-Iraqi civilian contractors have been killed, have been killed since the start of the occupation.

" Sixty-eight media workers died in Iraq in 2006, bringing the total number killed since the U.S. invasion began in March 2003 to 170. Their deaths make the Iraq War the deadliest in history for journalists.

" As many as 600,000 Iraqi civilians have died since the war began, according to a mortality study prepared in October by medical teams in Iraq and epidemiologists from Johns Hopkins University. More than 650,000 Iraqis have fled the country as refugees.

" The approximate monetary cost of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq so far is $365 billion, and the Pentagon is getting ready to ask for an additional $100 billion for Iraq operations.

" There are still about 140,000 U.S. military personnel in Iraq and, if the reports out of the White House are true, we'll see more, not less, troops in Iraq in the coming months.

An honest discussion of the war would involve talking about all these numbers and what they really mean.

It would involve talking about Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, Haditha and other acts that have sullied our nation's name. It would acknowledge the total lack of security for the average Iraqi, who unlike the Americans, can't travel in armed convoys wearing body armor. It would acknowledge what isn't happening in Afghanistan, where the Taliban have regrouped and victory seems even more elusive.

We won't see that honest debate in Washington, even with the Democrats now in control of Congress, because it means acknowledging too many inconvenient truths and numbers that our leaders would rather not discuss.

There is no longer any question that the invasion of Iraq was totally unnecessary and was totally based on lies. There is no longer any question that the U.S. occupation of Iraq has fueled a deadly, destructive insurgency that is killing Americans and Iraqis daily. The chaos and violence in Iraq is now an international crisis and needs an international response.

It's time to work up an honest timetable to internationalize the political and economic rebuilding of Iraq, a plan that will keep U.S. involvement to a bare minimum. If we don't, we can expect to see many more years of chaos and death in Iraq, with American troops bogged down in a bloody and unwinnable quagmire.

It's time to remind the President and Congress that there are faces behind those numbers. The costs of war, both human and financial, are real and that when people talk about this war, or any war, they should remember the butcher's bill.
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Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at randyholhut@yahoo.com.
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