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
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
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
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
"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.