WASHINGTON – The death toll of Iraqi soldiers is in the thousands, but precisely how many have died is anyone's guess.
The Pentagon isn't doing estimates. The International Committee of the Red Cross says hospitals in Baghdad, which are running out of drugs and anesthetics, have gotten too busy to count the wounded.
Military analysts are divided: One says more than 10,000 uniformed Iraqi soldiers will be dead at war's end. Another suggests the death total will be half that. Others won't venture a guess.
"These are extremely rubber numbers," said Dana Dillon, a senior analyst and retired Army major at the Heritage Foundation. "It's difficult to verify, especially when you're dropping bombs on people and you don't go back and count bodies."
Adding to the confusion are claims by Iraq's minister of information, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, who says American and British soldiers are the ones being killed. They're so demoralized, he said, that they're "beginning to commit suicide." On Tuesday, he said the coalition forces "will be burnt."
U.S. and British military officials are keeping close track of coalition casualties; 91 American and 30 British troops have died in the war. But most information about Iraqi troop casualties has dribbled out, usually after individual fights or suicide bombings.
For instance, Capt. Philip Wolford, a company commander with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, estimated Tuesday that at least 50 Iraqi fighters were killed when they sent buses and trucks full of fighters across the Tigris River in an attempt to overrun U.S. forces holding a strategic intersection on the western side of Baghdad.
Col. David Perkins of the 3rd Infantry said about 500 Iraqi forces took part in the counterattack. They were a combination of special Republican Guard, Fedayeen and Baath Party loyalists - "a lot of civilian-dressed fighters," he said.
That assault on Baghdad followed weekend incursions into the capital — a show of force that the Pentagon says left 2,000 to 3,000 Iraqi fighters dead.
"It's a pure guesstimate," said Dan Goure, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute. He said the Pentagon issued the number to convince Iraqi fighters that the battle was lopsided and they should put down their weapons.
"It may never be known how many Iraqis were killed by coalition forces," Goure said. "It would have to be over 10,000 uniformed Iraqis and more if you include the irregulars."
Before the war began, government officials and independent military think tanks estimated Iraq had 389,000 full-time, active-duty military, including about 80,000 members of the Republican Guard. Iraq also was believed to have 650,000 reserve troops and 44,000 to 60,000 paramilitary and security forces.
William Arkin, a private analyst and expert on the Iraqi military, said the estimates, particularly about the Republican Guard, could be misleading.
"They were undermanned as we saw by the ease with which we went through them," Arkin said.
Arkin would only say that the Iraqi military losses would be in the "many thousands." But he predicted the total would be lower than in the first Gulf War when 10,000 to 15,000 Iraqi military deaths occurred.
In the Gulf War, 300,000-plus Iraqi soldiers exiled in the desert were bombed by U.S. and coalition forces for 39 days with 10 times as many weapons as have been used so far in this war, he said.
"There is no way to do the math and get to the number [of Iraqi soldiers] killed in 1991," he said.
Still, Arkin believes the Iraqi military death toll will be higher than expected, and the number might have postwar implications for the Bush administration.
The coalition has worked to strike military targets and minimize civilian casualties, Arkin said. But if Iraqis perceive that their troop losses are disproportionate to the number of American and British soldiers killed, they may think "the United States was bloodthirsty" in its efforts to change the government in Iraq.
"This is very important politically because the whole point of this war is to topple Saddam Hussein's regime with minimal cost," Arkin said. "Every one of those military casualties is going to be equally a problem in the postwar period. These are angry families."