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Day of Loss

Thursday, January 27, 2005; Page A18

YESTERDAY was the deadliest day yet for the U.S. mission in Iraq: 37 American service members were killed, including 30 Marines and a Navy sailor who died when their Super Stallion helicopter crashed in Iraq's western desert. More than two dozen Iraqis were also killed and wounded as insurgents carried out six car bombings and a rash of other attacks in their campaign to disrupt the elections that are to be held Sunday. Weather, rather than enemy forces, appeared to be responsible for the helicopter crash; the U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Gen. George W. Casey, insisted in a meeting with reporters that violence has declined in the past two months. Even if true, that will be little consolation to the dozens of American families who yesterday suffered a grievous loss, or to the tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers who now brace themselves to defend elections against an insurgent offensive in the coming days.

More than 1,400 U.S. service members have now died in the Iraq war, and 5,500 more have been seriously wounded. The toll has been so steady and so relentless during the past 21 months that some may have become inured to the sacrifices of these young Americans. All volunteered to serve their country; most never imagined that they would spend a year or more patrolling scorching Iraqi roads while watching for deadly roadside bombs, or fighting block by block to retake cities long after the president declared their mission accomplished. News of their deaths no longer leads newscasts or makes the front pages, except on days like this. President Bush, too, can appear a little calloused: In his opening statement at a news conference, yesterday he never spoke directly about the day's terrible losses but simply referred in passing to "enormous sacrifices made by some of our citizens in the spread of freedom." Later he added: "The story today is going to be very discouraging to the American people. I understand that. We value life. And we weep and mourn when soldiers lose their life. But it is the long-term objective that is vital, and that is to spread freedom."

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_____News From Iraq_____
Anchors Try To Get Close To the Story In Baghdad (The Washington Post, Jan 27, 2005)
Regional Registration Light for Iraq Election (The Washington Post, Jan 26, 2005)
A Deadly 24 Hours for Americans, Iraqis (The Washington Post, Jan 26, 2005)
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Reality Check for the Neo-Wilsonians (The Washington Post, Jan 26, 2005)
Democracy on the Wing (The Washington Post, Jan 26, 2005)
Inauguration Day (The Washington Post, Jan 20, 2005)
The Second Term Abroad (The Washington Post, Jan 19, 2005)
The Power of Elections (The Washington Post, Jan 11, 2005)

Mr. Bush is right about the long-term objective, which could be advanced substantially by this weekend's elections. He's also right not to be stampeded by losses or the growing unpopularity of the war into aborting the Iraqi mission or setting an arbitrary timetable for withdrawal. Still, yesterday offered a particularly shocking reminder of the painful price this country is paying in Iraq, and of the courage and patriotism of those Americans who give or risk their lives. They deserve our undiminished honor.

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