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June 24, 2004

Iraq War Analysis Paints Grim Picture

by Jim Lobe

Unless you own a lot of stock in Halliburton or other big defense, security, or construction companies, chances are the Iraq war has turned out to be a pretty bad investment, both in human lives and taxpayer dollars, according to a new assessment by a progressive Washington-based think tank, the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS).

In what it claims is the first comprehensive accounting of the costs of the war on the U.S., Iraq, and much of the rest of the world, IPS concludes that not only have U.S. taxpayers paid a "very high price for the war," they have also become "less secure at home and in the world."

Citing a number of recent studies, the report, "Paying the Price: The Mounting Costs of the Iraq War," also notes that the $151.1 billion that will have been spent through this fiscal year could have paid for comprehensive health care for 82 million U.S. children or the salaries of nearly three million elementary school teachers. According to one study cited in the 54-page report, the war and occupation will cost the average U.S. household at least $3,415 through the end of this year.

If spent on international programs, the same sum could have cut world hunger in half and covered HIV/AIDS medicine, childhood immunization, and clean water and sanitation needs of all developing countries for more than two years.

The report's release comes just a week before the planned handover by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) of Iraq's "sovereignty" to the interim government, although its authors stress that the new Iraqi authorities will exercise only very limited authority given the continuing presence and autonomy of more than 160,000 U.S. and foreign troops under U.S. military command and their inability to rescind nearly 100 orders decreed by the CPA chief Paul Bremer.

It also comes amid a number of other negative assessments, including by Bremer himself, as well as by a series of public-opinion surveys in Iraq about the occupation's achievements, both for the U.S. and Iraqis.

According to one mid-May poll that was commissioned for the CPA, more than 80 percent of Iraqis say they have no confidence in the occupation authorities, and 55 percent said they would feel safer if coalition forces left the country.

While the financial costs of the war are enormous, according to the report, the costs in blood, both for U.S. citizens and Iraqis, are by no means insignificant.

More than 850 U.S. troops have been killed since the start of the war on March 19, 2003, just over 700 of them since U.S. President George W. Bush declared the end of major hostilities on May 1, 2003, making the post-combat phase of the war by far the bloodiest U.S. engagement since the Indochina conflict.

In addition, more than 5,134 troops were wounded through June 16, 4,593 of them since the official end of combat. Nearly two-thirds of the wounded, according to the report, received injuries serious enough to prevent them from returning to duty.

But despite precision bombing and other weapons and tactics designed to reduce "collateral damage," the toll among Iraqis has been far more dramatic, according to the report whose principal author was Phyllis Bennis, IPS' main Middle East analyst.

As of June 16, it estimates that between 9,436 and 11,317 civilians have been killed as a direct result of the U.S. invasion and ensuing occupation, while an estimated 40,000 Iraqis have been injured. In addition, during "major combat" operations both during the invasion and after May 1, 2003, the report estimates that between 4,895 and 6,370 Iraqi soldiers and insurgents were killed as of mid-June.

Moreover, these figures do not take account of the long-run health impacts of the estimated 1,100 to 2,200 tons of ordnance made from depleted uranium (DU), which many scientists blamed for illnesses among U.S. soldiers in the first Gulf War and a seven-fold increase in child birth defects in southern Iraq since 1991, that were expended during the March 2003 bombing campaign.

Nor do they account for the psychological impact of both the war and the skyrocketing violence, including murders, rapes, and kidnapping, that followed the invasion and that now keeps many Iraqi children from attending school and requires many women to stay off the streets at night. Violent deaths, according to the report, rose from an average of 14 per month in 2002 to 357 per month in 2003.

Despite promises by the Coalition Provision Authority (CPA) to rebuild and expand Iraq's infrastructure, the country is still not producing as much electricity or as much oil on a sustained basis as it was just before the war, according to the report. Its authors blame a combination of sabotage by insurgents and incompetence and profiteering by big U.S. companies like Halliburton that captured virtually all of the reconstruction contracts despite the much greater experience of Iraqi firms.

Due to security concerns, school attendance is reportedly running below pre-war levels, while Iraq's hospitals and health systems have been overwhelmed by a combination of lack of supplies and unprecedented demand created by the ongoing violence.

"We have played a large part in destroying this country," said Bennis, who recalled the first Gulf War and the 13 years of U.S.-backed UN sanctions that had already weakened much of Iraq's infrastructure before the war.

Washington's invasion and occupation have also exacted other costs for which the United States may have to pay for a very long time, according to the report, which cites a recent assessment by the conservative International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) that the Iraq war has greatly increased recruitment by al-Qaeda and similar radical groups. The London-based think tank estimated al-Qaeda's membership at 18,000 with 1,000 active in Iraq.

That assessment also echoes the conclusion of a new book by a top active-duty Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer to be released next week that "there is nothing that (al-Qaeda chief Osama) bin Laden could have hoped for more than the American invasion and occupation of Iraq." The author, "Anonymous," until recently headed the CIA efforts to track down bin Laden and is considered an expert on al-Qaeda.

Washington has also dealt a serious blow to its own standing and credibility in the larger world, as well as in Arab and Islamic nations, according to the report, which cites recent surveys of public opinion in more than two dozen countries, including its closest European allies; the weakening of the United Nations and international law resulting from both the precedent created by going to war unilaterally and in the inhumane treatment of detainees in both Afghanistan and Iraq; and the alienation of the Iraqi public.

"Rather than winning hearts, U.S. actions have destroyed lives," said Anas Shallal, an Iraqi-American who founded the Mesopotamia Cultural Society and contributed to the report.

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    Jim Lobe, works as Inter Press Service's correspondent in the Washington, D.C., bureau. He has followed the ups and downs of neo-conservatives since well before their rise in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

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