The Pentagon confirmed Thursday that 2,500 U.S. troops have died in the Iraq war since it began more than three years ago, marking a grim milestone even as President Bush hopes a recent spate of good news will reverse the war's widespread unpopularity at home.
The latest death was announced as Congress was launching into a symbolic election-year debate over the war, with Republicans rallying against calls by some Democrats to set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
While there were no details on who it was or where the 2,500th death occurred, it underscored the continuing violence in Iraq just after an upbeat Mr. Bush returned from a surprise visit to Baghdad determined that the tide was beginning to turn.
Some members of Congress have been calling for a timetable for the eventual withdrawal of troops from Iraq, of which there are about 127,000. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., planned to introduce an amendment to the Senate's annual military measure to redeploy U.S. combat forces from Iraq by year's end, though Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., a potential 2008 presidential candidate, and other Democrats have opposed setting a rigid deadline.
According to the Pentagon totals, there have been 1,972 service members killed in action in Iraq, and another 528 died from other non-hostile causes. There also have been 18,490 troops wounded in action, including 8,501 who did not return to duty.
Mr. Bush has dismissed calls for a U.S. withdrawal as election-year politics and has consistently refused to give a timetable or benchmark for success that would allow troops to come home.
Mr. Bush's visit sought to capitalize on the death of Iraq's most feared terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a key victory for the U.S. military, as well as recent progress in setting up the new Iraqi government. Bush met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has been struggling to establish his new fledgling democracy and restore order to the capital city, which has seen increased insurgent attacks.
Speaking to Pentagon reporters Wednesday, Army Brig. Gen. Carter Ham said it's more important to focus on the individuals lost than on any aggregate number.
"I don't know that there's ever a way that you can adequately thank a family for the sacrifice that they make in the loss of a loved one," said Ham, deputy operations chief for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "Yet it's important to remember that there is -- there is a mission and there is a greater good which sometimes necessitates tremendous sacrifice."
Along with the U.S. troops killed in Iraq, the British military has reported 113 deaths; Italy, 32; Ukraine, 18; Poland, 17; Bulgaria, 13; Spain, 11; Slovakia, Denmark three; El Salvador, Estonia, Netherlands, Thailand, two each; and Australia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Romania, one death each.