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American interest in Iraq slumps

The BBC's Paul Adams in Washington looks at the reaction in the US to the news that 4,000 US soldiers have now died in Iraq since 2003.

Asked to comment on news that another grim milestone had been reached in Iraq, US Vice-President Dick Cheney admitted that it "never gets any easier" to put young American men and women in harm's way.

A funeral of a US soldier killed in Baghdad at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia. File photo
Iraq seems to be not the everyday preoccupation for Americans now

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, meanwhile, said President George W Bush "believes that every life is precious, and he spends time every day thinking about those who've lost their lives on the battlefield".

But it seems that America itself is spending less time thinking about such things.

News that 4,000 American soldiers have now died in Iraq has not been splashed across the front pages of the nation's newspapers.

The New York Times mentioned the landmark, but in the context of a report that 13 Iraqis had been killed by rockets fired at Baghdad's Green Zone.

The Washington Post had Iraq on its front page, but this was a piece about Falluja's new police chief.

The Los Angeles Times, almost alone among the country's big circulation papers, led with the military death toll.

Slump in interest

It may have been that the news broke too late on Easter Sunday for papers to respond differently, but recent research shows that Iraq is not the everyday preoccupation for Americans that it once was.

US troops secure the site of a car bomb in Baghdad on 23 March 2008
The US casualty numbers have dropped in recent months

It's more of a dull ache than a sharp pain.

The Pew Research Centre, earlier this month, reported that public awareness of the number of US military fatalities in Iraq had declined sharply since last August, with only about a quarter of Americans knowing roughly how many of their own soldiers had died.

The slump in interest seems directly linked to the success of the US troop "surge" in slowing the rate of US casualties.

With the economy now the number one concern, the poll found that more Americans knew the name of the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, and the current level of the Dow Jones industrial average.

Pew linked the poll findings to the fact that press attention to the war has waned over the same period, with Iraq occupying 3% of the "news hole" (the amount of print space or air time available to report news) in February, compared with 15% last July.

For Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, this is unwelcome news.

The war in Iraq, which they both oppose and have pledged to end, once threatened to dominate this year's election campaign. It has now been shoved aside by the economy.

How much longer are we going to ask our families and our communities to bear the cost of this war
Barack Obama
Democratic presidential hopeful

For the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, better news from Iraq in recent months has contributed to an improvement in his political fortunes, appearing to vindicate his strong support for the Bush administration's surge strategy.

How long this lasts remains to be seen.

The latest figures released by the Pentagon show that while the level of daily attacks by insurgents fell significantly until November, the figure then remained static until January.

Recent weeks have seen an increase in attacks.

The Democrats, meanwhile, have retooled their anti-war strategy, working hard to link Iraq with the US economy.

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, said on Monday that Americans understood that the war "continues to take us deeper into debt".

In a major campaign speech last week in West Virginia, Mr Obama hammered home the same message, linking the war with the price of petrol and the absence of National Guard units to deal with domestic emergencies.

"How much longer are we going to ask our families and our communities to bear the cost of this war?" he asked.


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President Bush pays tribute to soldiers killed in Iraq



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