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October 25, 2005
Bush War Deaths Reach 2,000

U.S. Military Deaths Reach 2,000 in Iraq Oct 25 4:37 PM US/Eastern

By THOMAS WAGNER Associated Press Writer


The U.S. military death toll in the Iraq war reached 2,000 with the announcements Tuesday of three more deaths.

Also Tuesday, Iraqi election officials said the nation's constitution was adopted by a majority in a fair vote during the Oct. 15 referendum, as Sunni Arab opponents failed to muster enough support to defeat it. A prominent Sunni politician called the balloting "a farce."

The Pentagon announced that Staff Sgt. George T. Alexander Jr., 34, of Killeen, Texas, died Saturday in San Antonio of injuries sustained Oct. 17.

Alexander was wounded in Samarra, a town 60 miles north of the Iraqi capital. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning, Ga.

Earlier Tuesday, the U.S. military announced the deaths of two unidentified Marines in fighting with insurgents last week in a village west of Baghdad. The deaths raised the Associated Press tally of military fatalities to 2,000 in the Iraq war, which began in March 2003.

President Bush warned the nation to brace for an even higher casualty count as the mission 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 in Washington. "No one should underestimate the difficulties ahead."

The U.S. military said the two Marines were killed by a roadside bomb in fighting with insurgents on Friday near the village of Amiriyah, 25 miles west of Baghdad. The military said two other U.S. service members _ a Marine and a sailor _ were killed in that attack. Their deaths were announced Saturday, although the military said Tuesday its earlier report had erroneously said the sailor was a Marine.

The Iraqi death toll is unknown, but estimates range much higher.

Iraq Body Count, a British research group that compiles figures from reports by major news agencies and British and U.S. newspapers, has said that as many as 30,051 Iraqis have been killed since the war began. 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.

Iraq's most feared terror group, meanwhile, claimed responsibility for Monday's suicide attacks that targeted hotels housing Western journalists and contractors in central Baghdad, as well as two suicide bombings in a Kurdish area of northern Iraq on Tuesday.

The referendum results, announced after a 10-day audit following allegations of fraud, confirmed previous indications that Sunni Arabs failed to produce the two-thirds "no" vote they would have needed in at least three of Iraq's 18 provinces to defeat the constitution.

The charter is considered a major step in Iraq's democratic reforms, clearing the way for the election of a new, full-term parliament on Dec. 15. Such steps are important in any decision about the future withdrawal of U.S.-led forces.

However, some fear the victory, which came despite a large turnout by Sunni Arabs to try to defeat it, could enrage many members of the minority and fuel their support for the country's Sunni-led insurgency.

Carina Perelli, the U.N. elections chief, praised a "very good job" with the audit of results by election officials and said "Iraq should be proud of the commission."

Iraq's top two coalition partners, the United States and Britain, also welcomed the results.

"The Iraqis are making inspiring progress toward building a democracy," Bush said. "By any standard or precedent of history, Iraq has made incredible political progress, from tyranny to liberation to national elections to the ratification of a constitution in the space of two and a half years."

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Iraqis "have shown again their determination to defy the terrorists and take part in the democratic process." Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini also welcomed the results, saying Italy would keep supporting the political process in the country.

Farid Ayar, an official with the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, said the audit had turned up no significant fraud.

But Saleh al-Mutlaq, a Sunni Arab member of the committee that drafted the constitution, called the referendum "a farce" and accused government forces of stealing ballot boxes to reduce the percentage of "no" votes in several mostly Sunni provinces.

"The people were shocked to find out that their vote is worthless because of the major fraud that takes place in Iraq," he said on Al- Arabiya TV.

Adnan al-Dulaimi, a spokesman for the General Conference for the People of Iraq, a largely Sunni coalition of politicians and tribal leaders, said the audit took so long it left many Sunnis suspicious of possible fraud and manipulation. But he said his group "will work to educate Iraqis and get them to participate" in the December vote.

The charter was drafted after months of bitter negotiations that ended with some Sunni leaders agreeing to support it with provisions that future changes were possible.

The two suicide car bombs exploded in the generally peaceful Kurdish province of Sulaimaniyah, killing 12 people. Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility in a statement posted on an Islamic Web site.

One exploded near a government ministry that houses Kurdish forces known as peshmerga, on the outskirts of the predominantly Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, killing 12 people, said Lt. Col. Taha Redha, a peshmerga official.

About 45 minutes earlier, a suicide attacker rammed a car bomb into a 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. Bakhtiyar was not hurt, but two guards were wounded. Sulaimaniyah, 160 miles northeast of Baghdad, is where the PUK party is based.

Al-Qaida in Iraq, led by Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, also said it was behind the three suicide car bombs aimed at the Palestine and Sheraton hotels.

It said it carried out the attack to target a "dirty harbor of intelligence agents and private American, British and Australian security companies," according to a posting on a Web site that carries extremist material.

In other Baghdad violence, bombings and shootings killed six people _ including a 7-year-old boy _ and wounded 45 Iraqis, mostly policemen, officials said.

Iraqi and U.S. forces were refortifying the hotel complex, which houses offices of the AP, Fox News and other media organizations, repairing a breach in the blast walls that surround it.

Deputy Interior Minister Maj. Gen. Hussein Ali Kamal told the AP that 17 people were killed _ mostly hotel guards and passers-by _ and 10 wounded in Monday's attack.

The vote on the constitution was 78.59 percent for ratification and 21.41 percent against, the commission said. The charter required a simple majority nationwide with the provision that if two-thirds of the voters in any three provinces rejected it, the constitution would be defeated.

The election commission said the predominantly Sunni province of Ninevah had produced a "no" vote of 55 percent. Only two other mostly Sunni provinces _ Salahuddin and Anbar _ had voted no by two-thirds or more. Ninevah had been a focus of fraud allegations since preliminary results had showed a large majority of voters had approved the constitution, despite a large Sunni Arab population there.

Many Kurds and majority Shiites strongly support the constitution, but Sunni Arabs fear it will create two virtually autonomous and oil-rich mini-states of Kurds in the north and Sunnis in the south, while leaving many Sunnis isolated in poor central and western regions with a weak central government in Baghdad.

Some 9.8 million Iraqis cast ballots, or 63 percent of registered voters. About 60 percent turned out for January's legislative vote, which was boycotted by many Sunni Arabs.