November 21, 2005 © The Center for War, Peace and the News Media. All Rights Reserved.

Iraq: The Tunnel at the End of the Light

By William D. Hartung
Global Beat Syndicate
—As the Vietnam War dragged on, the U.S. government's continued optimism in the face of ongoing bad news was summed up in the phrase "there's light at the end of the tunnel." This implied that the end of the war—and a U.S. victory—was in sight.

The Bush administration has shown a similar public face with respect to Iraq. At every important turning point—the establishment of a provisional government, the first elections, the capture of Saddam Hussein, and the recent vote ratifying a new constitution—the administration has suggested that these political/military developments would lead to a reduction in violence, progress towards democracy, and faster movement toward the removal of most U.S. occupation forces. For the most part, the experience has been the reverse—more violence, chaos and insecurity in the wake of each of these events. Not only is there no light at the end of the tunnel, it is not clear that the tunnel has even been built yet.

Less than two weeks after the vote on the Iraqi constitution, U.S. forces in Iraq suffered their 2,000th fatality since the beginning of the intervention. The numbers had mounted to more that 2,050 deaths by mid-November, along with 15,568 wounded. Put these figures alongside an estimate of 26,000 to 30,000 Iraqi civilian deaths since the start of the war and it is difficult to share the Bush administration's optimism about the course of the conflict.

Nor has the constitutional vote necessarily brought greater political cohesion among Iraq's three most important groups, the Shiites, the Sunnis, and the Kurds. The Sunni-based insurgency continues apace. Meanwhile, Kurdish political parties have commenced a campaign to move thousands of Kurds into the oil-rich northern region around Kirkuk, in the hopes of ensuring victory in a 2007 referendum on the future of the area. As the Washington Post noted on October 30, the resettling effort is being carried out "outside the framework of Iraq's newly ratified constitution . . . sparking sporadic violence between Kurdish settlers and the Arabs who are a minority there."

The costs of the war continue to mount. According to an October report from the Congressional Research Service, the cost of the war in Iraq has reached $255 billion, and continues to rise at a rate of at least $6 billion per month. Writing in, Mark Engler notes that not only has the war incurred high budgetary costs, but it is also exacting a high price from the majority of U.S. businesses, which are not directly profiting from the "war on terror." Engler cites sources such as the American Banker, which has quoted a survey indicating that "41 percent of Canadian elites were less likely to purchase American goods because of administration policies, compared to 56 percent in the UK, 61 percent in France, 49 percent in Germany, and 42 percent in Brazil." In sum, even our friends and allies are boycotting our goods in protest.

From the outset, the burdens of the war have been unequally shared. A new study from the National Priorities Project shows that the military's efforts to fill the ranks in the face of the Iraq fiasco have drawn most heavily from "counties that were poorer than the rest of the nation." In its summary of the report, NPP says, "As the Iraq war continues and the number of soldiers killed and wounded mounts, this data makes clear that low- and middle-income kids are paying the highest price. It is young people with limited opportunities who are putting their lives on the line." In sum, a formal draft does not exist, but our "economic draft" is already well under way.

Worse yet, wounded soldiers returning from Iraq continue to face serious problems getting paid. According to the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information, the Pentagon's pay system is so inept that some wounded soldiers have been declared AWOL and had their pay stopped altogether. Others have been paid "deployment entitlements" they were no longer eligible for, leading them to run up debts that they are hard-pressed to pay back.

The best way to support our troops and help Iraq get back on its feet is to get out now, and replace military occupation with economic support and cooperation. Otherwise, we will still be hearing 10 years from now about how America has "turned the corner" in Iraq.

William D. Hartung is a Senior Research Fellow at the World Policy Institute at the New School for Social Research.

© 2005 The Center for War, Peace and the News Media. All Rights Reserved. The Global Beat Syndicate, a service of The 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

Home | About | Archives | Advisors | Staff