July 5, 2004 © New York University. All Rights Reserved.

The Costs of War with Iraq

By Phyllis Bennis

Global Beat Syndicate

WASHINGTON--W e are paying far too high a price for failure in Iraq, and 15 months on, few Americans have any real sense of the cost of this war.

Lies and false information are a major obstacle to informed debate.

Now, former military and civilian leaders in both parties are stepping forward to confirm what is on the minds of an increasing number of Americans: that the central premises presented by the Bush administration for launching this war were lies. Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction, and despite a few insignificant contacts, Iraq did not have meaningful ties to al Qaeda.

Ironically, while paying an enormous price for our war in Iraq, we--and the rest of the world--have become less, not more, secure. The destabilization resulting from our invasion has created a terrorist haven in Iraq that did not previously exist. Around the globe, anti-American sentiment has skyrocketed. This is affecting morale in our military, which is so overstretched that there is talk of reviving the draft.

If we are to have an informed debate on where we are now, and what next steps our government should take, we need comprehensive accounting of the costs of this war and occupation--costs that will continue to accrue for Americans, Iraqis and the rest of the world long after June 30.  

While most Americans are generally aware that the death toll for U.S. and allied soldiers has climbed past 950, with 5,134 more wounded so far, most will not know that the number of Iraqis killed is more than 10 times that number. Nor have we begun to translate financial costs into how many American children could have obtained health insurance or how many elementary school teachers could have been hired with the $151 billion spent so far on the war and occupation. The answer: health insurance for 82 million children or jobs for 3 million new teachers.

Most of us have not heard about the enormous financial burden faced by so many U.S. military families. Nor have most of us begun to calculate how the billions spent on the war are expanding our already huge budget deficit--one guaranteed to place huge burdens on the next generation. Most of us also lack basic information on the myriad other costs of this war--economic, human, environmental and more--borne by millions of people in Iraq and around the world.   

But the statistics clearly document the human, economic, environmental and other costs to us, Iraq and the world , and reveal the extraordinarily high price we are paying for a war that has failed to make us safer, failed to bring democracy to Iraq, and failed to rid the world of terrorism. Here are some of the numbers:

--U.S. military deaths between the start of war and June 16, 2004: 853.

--Iraqi civilians killed so far: 9,436 to 11,317.

--International journalists and media workers killed in Iraq: 30.

--Detainee deaths during U.S. interrogation: 34.

--Iraqis expressing "no confidence" in U.S. civilian authorities or coalition forces: 80 percent.

--Iraqis who say they would feel safer if U.S. and other foreign troops left the country immediately: 55 percent.

--Number of U.S. soldiers in Iraq reporting low morale: 52 percent

--Number of local U.S. police departments missing officers due to Iraq deployments: 44 percent.

The bill to taxpayers so far is $126.1 billion, plus $25 billion more authorized for the rest of 2004. Here is what we could we have paid for with that $151 billion instead:

--Health care for 27 million uninsured Americans;

--or, 678,200 new fire engines; or,

--classes for 20 million Head Start students.

Another chilling statistic: the estimated long-term cost of war to every U.S. household is $3,415. Meantime, terrorist experts say the Iraq war is causing Al Qaeda to enjoy "accelerated recruitment."

It is time we heed the opinions of Iraqis, in whose name the Bush administration launched this war. In the latest polls conducted by U.S. occupation authorities, a clear majority of Iraqis oppose the occupation. And most of those polled say they would feel safer if all U.S. occupation troops left the country.


Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., is the lead author of "Paying the Price: The Mounting Costs of the Iraq War," an IPS staff report. For the full report and for sources for the facts cited in this article, visit www.ips-dc.org .

© 2000 New York University. All Rights Reserved. The Global Beat Syndicate, a service of New York University's Center for War, Peace, and the News Media, provides editors with commentary and perspective articles on critical global issues from contributors around the world. For more information, check out http://www.nyu.edu/globalbeat/syndicate/.

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