A Hard Fought Victory
The end of the Iraq War is a victory for the nation, a victory for our men and women in uniform, and a victory for the progressive moment — which fought tirelessly to mobilize the public against the war, change the debate, change the Congress, and elect a president who would bring the war to a responsible end.
The Iraq War Ledger
As we celebrate the end of the Iraq War, it’s also important to remember just how much the war cost. The Center for American Progress’ Matt Duss and Peter Juul added up the costs — human, financial, and strategic — and they aren’t pretty:
- Total deaths: Between 110,663 and 119,380
- Coalition deaths: 4,803
- U.S. deaths: 4,484
- U.S. wounded: 32,200
- U.S. deaths as a percentage of coalition deaths: 93.37 percent
- Iraqi Security Force, or ISF, deaths: At least 10,125
- Total coalition and ISF deaths: At least 14,926
- Iraqi civilian deaths: Between 103,674 and 113,265
- Non-Iraqi contractor deaths: At least 463
- Internally displaced persons: 1.24 million
- Refugees: More than 1.6 million
- Cost of Operation Iraqi Freedom: $806 billion
- Projected total cost of veterans’ health care and disability: $422 billion to $717 billion
The foregoing costs could conceivably be justified if the Iraq intervention had improved the United States’ strategic position in the Middle East. But this is clearly not the case. The Iraq war has strengthened anti-U.S. elements and made the position of the United States and its allies more precarious.
Empowered Iran in Iraq and region. The Islamic Republic of Iran is the primary strategic beneficiary of the U.S.-led intervention in Iraq. The end of Saddam Hussein’s regime removed Iran’s most-hated enemy (with whom it fought a hugely destructive war in the 1980s) and removed the most significant check on Iran’s regional hegemonic aspirations. Many of Iraq’s key Iraqi Shia Islamist and Kurdish leaders enjoy close ties to Iran, facilitating considerable influence for Iran in the new Iraq.
Created terrorist training ground. According to the U.K. Maplecroft research group’s most recent index, Iraq is the third-most vulnerable country in the world to terrorism. The years of U.S. occupation in Iraq created not only a rallying call for violent Islamic extremists but also an environment for them to develop, test, and perfect various tactics and techniques. These tactics and techniques are now shared, both in person and via the Internet, with extremists all over the region and the world, including those fighting U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Loss of international standing. While abuses are perhaps inevitable in any military occupation, the images and stories broadcast from Iraq into the region and around the world have done lasting damage to the United States’ reputation as a supporter of international order and human rights. Gen. David Petraeus has said that the damage done to the United States’ image by Abu Ghraib is permanent, calling it a “nonbiodegradable” event.
Diverted resources and attention from Afghanistan. Rather than stay and finish the job in Afghanistan as promised, the Bush administration turned its focus to Iraq beginning in 2002, in preparation for the 2003 invasion. Special Forces specializing in regional languages were diverted from Afghanistan to Iraq, and Predator drones were sent to support the war in Iraq instead of the hunt for Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Stifled democracy reform. While the Arab Awakening of 2011 is a potentially positive development, there’s no evidence that the Iraq war contributed to this in any positive way. A 2010 RAND study concluded that, rather than becoming a beacon of democracy, the Iraq war hobbled the cause of political reform in the Middle East. The report stated that “Iraq’s instability has become a convenient scarecrow neighboring regimes can use to delay political reform by asserting that democratization inevitably leads to insecurity.” Rather than supporting democratic forces in neighboring Syria, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has repeatedly voiced support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
Fueled sectarianism in region. The invasion of Iraq replaced a prominent Sunni Arab State with one largely controlled by Iraq’s Arab Shia majority. While the end of the oppression of Iraq’s Shia majority is a positive thing, this shift has exacerbated regional tensions between Shia and Sunni, including in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Lebanon, and Bahrain (where the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based). Lingering disputes in Iraq between Sunni and Shia Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmen also continue to invite exploitation by both state and non-state actors.
More detailed costs
- Total U.S. service members who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan: More than 2 million
- Total Iraq/Afghanistan veterans eligible for VA health care: 1,250,663
- Total Iraq/Afghanistan veterans who have used VA health care since FY 2002: 625,384 (50 percent of eligible veterans)
- Total Iraq/Afghanistan veterans with PTSD: At least 168,854 (27 percent of those veterans who have used VA health care; does not include Vet Center or non-VA health care data)
- Suicide rate of Iraq/Afghanistan veterans using VA health care in FY 2008: 38 suicides per 100,000 veterans
- National suicide rate, 2007: 11.26 per 100,000 Americans
Iraq reconstruction (as of September 30, 2011)
- Total funding: $182.27 billion
- Iraqi government funds (including Coalition Provisional Authority spending): $107.41 billion
- International funds: $13.03 billion
- U.S. funds (2003-2011): $61.83 billion
- Total U.S. unexpended obligations: $1.66 billion
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