U.S. Deaths in Iraq at All-Time Low, but NYT Looks on Dark Side

Nineteen U.S. troops died in Iraq in May, the lowest monthly level since the invasion. Yet even in a story on a (so far) positive trend, the Times found plenty of room for doubts and reports of "setbacks."

The Times placed Andrew Kramer's story, "U.S. Deaths In Iraq War Are Lowest Since 2003," on page A5. The subhead balanced out the good news: ""U.S. Security Plan Is Criticized by Iraq."

American deaths in the Iraq war dropped to 19 in May, their lowest monthly level since the invasion in 2003, the United States military said Sunday, though officials said they were reluctant to highlight the number as a milestone.

(By contrast, the Times has shown no compunction against labeling troop deaths as "grim milestones" on the front page.)

Kramer immediately warned that things could get worse (as if no one knew that) and made much out of a political "setback."

There have been troughs in American casualty rates before, only to be followed by increases. Just on Sunday, an American soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad.

The military has instead focused on falling rates of enemy attacks, among other indicators, as a measure of improving security.

Even amid the news of declining deaths, there was a setback on Sunday to efforts to negotiate a long-term security pact that would set out how long American forces stay in Iraq. The Iraqi government criticized proposals from American negotiators and vowed to reject any deal that violated Iraqi sovereignty.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has been under political pressure to resist some American demands. Street protesters loyal to the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr burned American flags on Friday to oppose the deal, and Mr. Sadr promised that his followers would stage regular protests through the summer.

The pact, called a status of forces agreement, would address the future of American bases in Iraq, immunity for American soldiers and security contractors, the power of American troops to detain Iraqis and conduct military operations, and control of Iraqi airspace.

A United Nations resolution that authorizes the presence of American troops in Iraq expires in December, and the world body is not expected to take the issue up again, leaving it to the United States and Iraq to work out for themselves.

Along with Mr. Sadr, the main Shiite political parties in Mr. Maliki's government have come out against key elements of the proposed agreement sought by the Americans. But Kurds support a strong American military presence, and some Sunni Arab politicians support the pact because they see the United States military as a bulwark against the rising power of the Shiite majority in Iraq.