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New 'Costs of War' Report: Hundreds of Thousands Dead, Trillions Spent

As the ten year anniversary of Iraq invasion approaches research undermines any claims that war was worth it

- Jon Queally, staff writer

As the ten year anniversary of the US invasion approaches, updated research shows that both the human and financial costs of the preemptive and prolonged military adventure in Iraq are higher than the most Americans even now realize and astronomically higher than its proponents assured the public as they made their case for war a decade ago.

At minimum, according to the Costs of War project at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University, 134,000 innocent Iraqis lost their lives as a direct result of the US-led war that began in March of 2003. For numerous reasons, the groups says, this number could well "double" before a complete count is reached.

"The figures for the number of Iraqi civilians killed have been clouded somewhat by arguments about methods for counting the dead and by politics inside Iraq and in the US," the authors of the report note. "Yet to focus on the arguments about how to record the dead and wounded obscures the human toll of the war. What can be said, after reviewing the evidence, is that the conservative 123,000 estimate for civilians killed by direct war-related violence is low, perhaps very low. On the higher end, a 2006 study published by The Lancet estimated 654,965 excess deaths related to the war."

Estimating the total deaths—though equally hard to calculate given the nature of war and the poor reporting by the US military—the study put the conservative number between 176,000 and 189,000. That includes security forces, insurgents, journalists and humanitarian workers.

"Indirect deaths," the report says, "including those related to malnutrition, damaged health infrastructure, and environmental degradation, must also be tallied. In previous wars, these deaths have far outnumbered deaths from combat and that is likely the case here as well."

In addition, the report estimates that 2.8 million people remain either internally displaced or have fled the country. And a survey taken in 2011 found that "between 800,000 and a million Iraqi children have lost one or both parents."

And Dr. Haider Maliki, of the Central Pediatric Teaching Hospital in Baghdad estimated in 2010 that "28% of Iraqi children suffer some degree of PTSD, and their numbers are steadily rising."

Like the human costs, the economic costs of the war are also dynamic, but the project estimates that ultimately the war could cost the US has much $6 trillion when all liabilities are tabulated, including interest payments. As the report specifically notes, the Iraq War—as with the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan—was largely funded by borrowing, not with increased tax revenue or the issuing of war bonds.

This borrowing has raised the U.S. budget deficit, increased the national debt, and had other macroeconomic effects, such as raising interest rates. The U.S. must also pay interest on the borrowed money. The interest paid on Pentagon spending alone, so far (from 2001 through FY 2013) is about $259 billion in current dollars.

As Reuters explains, the Costs of War research also looked at the totality of spending and human damage in the US wars in Pakistan and Afghanistan as well:

The 2011 study said the combined cost of the wars was at least $3.7 trillion, based on actual expenditures from the U.S. Treasury and future commitments, such as the medical and disability claims of U.S. war veterans.

That estimate climbed to nearly $4 trillion in the update.

The estimated death toll from the three wars, previously at 224,000 to 258,000, increased to a range of 272,000 to 329,000 two years later.

Excluded were indirect deaths caused by the mass exodus of doctors and a devastated infrastructure, for example, while the costs left out trillions of dollars in interest the United States could pay over the next 40 years.

According to its updated research, the group found:

  • Our tally of all of the war’s dead — including soldiers, militants, police, contractors, journalists, humanitarian workers and civilians — shows that at least 330,000 people have died due to direct war violence.
  • Indirect deaths from the wars, including those related to malnutrition, damaged health infrastructure, and environmental degradation, must also be tallied.  In previous wars, these deaths have far outnumbered deaths from combat and that is likely the case here as well.
  • 200,000 civilians have been killed as a result of the fighting at the hands of all parties to the conflict, and more will die in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan as the violence continues. But most observers acknowledge that the number of civilians killed has been undercounted. The true number of civilian dead may be much larger when an adequate assessment is made.
  • While we know how many US soldiers have died in the wars (over 6,600), what is startling is what we don’t know about the levels of injury and illness in those who have returned from the wars.  New disability claims continue to pour into the VA, with over 750,000 disability claims already approved.[2] Many deaths and injuries among US contractors have not been identified. 
  • Millions of people have been displaced indefinitely and are living in grossly inadequate conditions.  The number of war refugees and displaced persons --7.4 million-- is equivalent to all of the people of Connecticut and Oregon fleeing their homes.
  • Despite the US military withdrawal, Iraq’s health, infrastructure, and education systems  remain war-devastated.
  • The armed conflict in Pakistan, which the US helps the Pakistani military fight by funding, equipping and training them, is in many ways more intense than in Afghanistan although it receives less coverage in the US news.
  • The United States is at war in Yemen.  During 2012, the Obama administration quickened its pace of drone strikes in the country.  
  • The wars have been accompanied by erosions in civil liberties at home and human rights violations abroad.
  • The human and economic costs of these wars will continue for decades, some costs not peaking until mid-century.
  • The US federal price tag for the Iraq war — including an estimate for veterans' medical and disability costs into the future  —  is about $2.2 trillion dollars.  The cost for both Iraq and Afghanistan/Pakistan is going to be close to $4 trillion, not including future interest costs on borrowing for the wars. Many of the wars’ costs are invisible to Americans, buried in a variety of budgets, and so have not been counted or assessed.  For example, while most people think the Pentagon war appropriations are equivalent to the wars’ budgetary costs, the true numbers are twice that, and the full economic cost of the wars much larger yet.
  • As with former US wars, the costs of paying for veterans’ care into the future will be a sizable portion of the full costs of the war.
  • The ripple effects on the US economy have also been significant, including job loss and interest rate increases, and those effects have been underappreciated.
  • While it was promised that the US invasions would bring democracy to Afghanistan and Iraq, both continue to rank low in global rankings of political freedom, with warlords continuing to hold power in Afghanistan with US support, and Iraqi communities are more segregated today than before by gender and ethnicity as a result of the war.
  • Women in both countries are essentially closed out of political power and high rates of female unemployment and widowhood have further eroded their condition.
  • During the US troop withdrawal from Iraq, President Obama said that the United States military was leaving behind a “sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq.”  This was not only an inaccurate account of Iraq’s situation at that time, but the country has since become less secure and politically stable.  Although violence in Iraq has declined since its peak, there has been a steady increase in the number of attacks over the last year. [3]
  • Serious and compelling alternatives to war were scarcely considered in the aftermath of 9/11 or in the discussion about war against Iraq.  Some of those alternatives are still available to the US.

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