NR: Number of US Deaths in Iraq Reaches 4,000
It's just before 6 a.m. in Baghdad, and Rick Sanchez asks Michael to comment on the US death toll in Iraq topping the 4,000 mark. The woman who joins the conversation is Martha Zoller, one of three women Rick had been talking to about Iraq. She makes a valid point as far as not wanting to make the number more important than the lives lost (surely whoever was #3,999 is grieved for just as deeply!) but anyone who thinks that a milestone like that isn't going to be commented upon is just kidding themselves.
RICK SANCHEZ: We've got Michael Ware now. He's standing by in Baghdad, ready to file this report as we get word of this milestone being reached.
Michael, perhaps you can share, since you've been there so long and you've been one of the few reporters who've really been on the inside of this from the very beginning. Is this more than just a number and, if so, why?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rick, I think it's undeniable that when the U.S. military struck this harrowing mark of 4,000 deaths, that does not go without some kind of symbolism. It comes just days after this war's fifth anniversary. When these four soldiers were killed -- we're talking about perhaps only eight hours ago, here in the southern part of the capital Baghdad -- that really does say something.
You cannot help but take a moment to pause and to reflect. I'm sure soldiers and commanders throughout the mission will be taking that moment as well. 4,000 American deaths now in this war that continues to grind away, where there seems to be so little in sight that suggest it's coming to an end at any time soon.
That, perhaps, is the darkest reflection of all. 4,000 deaths and very little so far has changed. We're seeing success from the military's surge here in Baghdad, where they flooded the capital with 30,000 extra combat troops; where they've cut deals with their former enemies among the Sunni insurgents; where anti-American rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is now finding political accommodation from the U.S. military following the cleric's declaration of a ceasefire.
So whilst there are gains that have been made, there's still nothing to say that anything is getting any better in a real sense; that the fundamental building blocks of this war have been changed. And to now have the 4,000th American death really is a chilling moment.
SANCHEZ: Let me ask you, Michael. Michael, I just want to interrupt you for a moment, because since we're talking of numbers, I want to ask you about something that rarely is talked about on network television in the United States. And that is, the 4,000 Americans is serious enough. But is it your understanding that the number of dead Iraqis would, what, double, triple? Or what would it do? What is that number? Do you know it?
WARE: Well, Rick, no one can give you a figure of the number of Iraqi souls that have been lost in the five years so far of this conflict. But it's exponentially greater than two or three or even ten times this terrible number of American casualties. We're talking about -- on conservative estimates between 80,000 to 100,000 Iraqis have lost their lives.
And that's not to mention more than 4 million Iraqis are displaced from their homes. 2 million are lost here in Iraq wanting to return home. 2 million more plus are beyond this country's border and there seems little hope for any of them to return.
And the entire social fabric of this country has been torn asunder with a legacy of this war that it's now divided along sectarian lines, Sunni versus Shia, when it never was before, not even under Saddam. So the impact and the toll that this conflict has taken on this country is almost immeasurable.
SANCHEZ: Michael, if you allow us for a minute, I want to bring Martha. Martha, you're shaking your head while you're listening to Michael's report. Is it because of a disagreement?
MARTHA ZOLLER, HOST, MARTHA ZOLLER SHOW: I really do disagree on some of the issues. I've been there, not as long as Michael has been in Iraq, but I've been there twice. I have been into some provincial areas and in many of the provincial governments they are functioning. Baghdad is continuing to be a problem but better. And I just think that's the story that's not being reported.
SANCHEZ: That it really is a success? Is that what you're saying?
ZOLLER: That the provincial governments are functioning the way they should in most...
SANCHEZ: Michael, how about that? That the provincial governments are now functioning much better and in many ways the way they should be functioning.
WARE: Well, there's a number of things we can say about that. Certainly on paper, there is a thin veneer of success in the fact that the provincial governments, or some of them, are operating in the way that they are. But let's look at it this way. Most of those provincial governments are operating in that way because they are so heavily supported by Iran.
We're talking about provincial governments in the south where there's very little Sunni-Shia divide at all because it's a largely inclusively Shia population, where they're ruled by political parties and paramilitary factions, either created in Iran during exile from Saddam or which have been created after this conflict began by Iran's Qods Force or other political organizations within Iran.
The other provinces that are functioning so well here in Iraq are the Kurdish regions to the north, where they essentially have a parallel government to the central government in Iraq. They have their own territory, their own parliament, their own representatives for defense and foreign affairs. So there's a duplication here. They've only recently been able to grit their teeth in the Kurdish north and fly the Iraqi national flag rather than a Kurdish flag.
So, yes, in one very limited sense they are operating but, come on, let's look at the realities. They are consolidating their power, weakening the central government--
ZOLLER: And what about Anbar, though?
WARE: Anbar province, Anbar province is in the control now of the former Sunni insurgency with whom they've cut a deal with the Americans. They are functioning but it's the Iraqi Islamic party which has ties to al Qaeda and which can barely deliver any kind of services or distribute the budget that it has. So there is progress but let's look at it in the big picture in its true context.
SANCHEZ: Michael, we are out of time. Thanks so much for hustling to the camera and bring us this live report just as we got this latest information that the 4,000 milestone has in fact been reached.