Wednesday, December 20, 2006

U.S. soldiers' suicide rate in Iraq doubles in 2005

U.S. soldiers' suicide rate in Iraq doubles in 2005

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Suicides among U.S. soldiers in Iraq doubled last year over the previous year to return to a level seen in 2003, U.S. Army medical experts said on Tuesday.

Twenty-two U.S. soldiers in Iraq took their own lives in 2005, a rate of 19.9 per 100,000 soldiers. In 2004, the rate was 10.5 per 100,000 and in 2003, the year of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the figure was 18.8 per 100,000.

The figures cover U.S. Army soldiers only. They do not include members of other U.S. military services in Iraq such as the Marine Corps.

Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, the Army's surgeon general, cautioned against overinterpreting the figures, saying suicide rates tended to fluctuate from year to year.

"We think that the numbers are so rare to begin with that it's very hard to make any kind of interpretation," he said at a news conference to present a study on the mental health of U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

"We have not made a connection between the stress on the force and some massive or even significant increase in suicides," he said.

While every suicide was one too many, Kiley said, the suicide rate among soldiers was lower than the average among civilians of the same age and gender.

The survey, a snapshot of the morale and mental health of U.S. soldiers in Iraq in late 2005, found 13.6 percent of the soldiers reported symptoms of acute stress and 16.5 percent reported a combination of depression, anxiety and acute stress.

Those rates were lower than in 2003 but higher than in 2004, the experts said.