January 1, 2007

3,000

Dammit.

On Dec. 4, Specialist Hess slipped onto the ever-expanding list of American military fatalities in Iraq, one that has increased by an average of more than three a day since Oct. 1, the highest three-month toll in two years. On Sunday, with the announcement of the death in Baghdad of Specialist Dustin R. Donica, 22, of Spring, Tex., the list reached the somber milestone of at least 3,000 deaths since the March 2003 invasion.

The landmark reflects how much more dangerous and muddled a soldier’s job in Iraq has become in the face of a growing and increasingly sophisticated insurgency. Violence in the country is at an all-time high, according to a Pentagon report released last month. December was the third deadliest month for American troops since the start of the war, with insurgents claiming 111 soldiers’ lives. October and November also witnessed a high number of casualties, 106 and 68 respectively, as American forces stepped up combat operations to try to stabilize Baghdad.

“It escalated while I was there,” said Capt. Scott Stanford, a National Guard officer who was a commander of a headquarters company in Ramadi for a year, arriving in June 2005. “When we left this June, it was completely unhinged. There was a huge increase in the suicide car bombs we had. The I.E.D.’s were bigger and more complex.”

“And it was very tense before we left in terms of snipers,” said Captain Stanford, a member of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “I don’t know if there were more of them, or if they were getting better.”

This spike in violence, which has been felt most profoundly by Iraqi civilians, who are dying by the thousands, has stoked feverish debate about the nation’s presence in Iraq. Many Democrats in Congress are urging a phased withdrawal from the country, and the Bush administration is leaning toward deploying additional troops in 2007. If the conflict continues into March, the Iraq war will be the third longest in American history, ranked behind the Vietnam War and the American Revolution.

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