Casualty count: 20 American soldiers killed by hostile fire, since Bush proclaimed the end of the Iraq war.

Like UFO Abductions and Elvis sightings, the fiercesome Iraqi WMD have a mock ontology that is the more humorous in that the former are pursued by tabloids like the National Enquirer, while the latter is pursued, gravely, by papers like the Washington Post, which fervently believes, now, that the WMD were spirited away and given to terrorists. That all this WMD might be an exaggeration -- that the shelf life on Saddam's germs might have expired -- that the nuclear materials we should be worried about are in Pakistan -- none of this matters.

Here's a WP report on the latest status of the the Great WMD hoax:

"Pressed in recent congressional hearings and public appearances to explain why the United States has been unable to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, senior Bush administration officials have begun to lay the groundwork for the possibility that it may take a long time, if ever, before they are able to prove the expansive case they made to justify the war."

Richard Cohen, the WP columnist, is sure that the WMD are out there just beyond the perimeter. So he issues Rumsfeld a dressing down today:

"So where are these weapons? Rumsfeld was asked that question after he spoke here to the Council on Foreign Relations. He said they might have been destroyed in advance of the war. He was then asked how it was possible that the hapless Iraqi army, so inept in everything it did, was able to destroy all its chemical or biological weapons so that not a trace could be found -- and the United States never noticed. Rumsfeld ducked the question. Iraq is a big country, he said. As large as California, he said. Blah, blah.

The war in Iraq is usually portrayed as a splendid victory -- and I'm sure it's just a matter of time until some congressman proposes a monument to it on the Mall. But the war was fought -- remember -- to make the world safe from weapons of mass destruction. Yet the Pentagon, which cannot praise its own planning enough, did not allot sufficient troops to secure suspected WMD sites after the war was won.If these weapons existed, where are they? Possibly looted. Possibly in the hands of terrorists. It just could be that instead of containing the problem we have spread it. This is not great planning."

Those terrorists are pretty deft. You would think, in a country as chaotic as the euphemistically named "post-conflict" Iraq, a country that hasn't yet got its oil on-line, that it might be hard to spirit all that WMD out of the country - through our enemies, of course, Syria and Iran, who have no qualms about groups with which they've been in intense conflict lugging around barrels of anthrax. That the WMD might not exist -- that they might be as fictitious, in this war, as the accuracy of the Patriot missile was in the last Gulf war -- is slowly being digested by the press. The press has a responsibility in this case, since it promoted the hoax. The press has to save its ass. Thus, we're guessing that the Washington Post will run a thorough series about the hoaxing of America in, say, 2006. Within the limits prescribed by this and such other minor time lags, we can proudly still maintain that we are the best informed country on earth.

And talking about series -- the Guardian sent a clever chap, John Henley, to whisk around Sierra Leone, Kosovo and Afghanistan, the sites that constitute so many trophies in Tony Blair's career of higher morality -- higher that is than the rest of us. The series is entitled, did we make it better? Here's an interesting couple of grafs from the intro article that frame Henley's journey:

"Since British troops have now also seen action in Iraq - and are likely to find themselves in a few more unhappy spots before peace breaks out on earth - it seemed a good idea to have a closer look at those claims. How much have the people of Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan really benefited from military intervention?

What are their chances for a peaceful, prosperous future? Four years, two-and-a-half years and 18 months on, is life there really safer and better? At first glance, that looks like a decidedly glib question. Of course your life is safer if you're not being shot at. A better question might be: what would life be like in these places if our boys hadn't gone in? But that's one which we can only guess at. So we're left to sift the facts. Facts such as these: if you live to be 38 in Sierra Leone, you've done better than most. If you have a job, even a part-time one, in Kosovo, you're one of only 30% who do. If you can safely drink the water in Afghanistan, you're part of the lucky 9%. Could this be better than it was before?