We’ve paid the butcher, but for what? Deaths, injuries and financial costs of America’s misadventure in Iraq

August 12, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 12, 2014

It turns out that conservative firebrand Laura Ingraham has written off America’s war of choice in Iraq as an exercise in futility. Here’s what she said on a Fox television program on Sunday:

Now Iraq is worse off. I mean, I hate to say that, but Iraq is worse than before we went into Iraq. Christians are gone. There’s no sense of order at all. Saddam Hussein is gone. That’s a good thing, but what’s left? A more emboldened Islamic state. Not contained apparently even by U.S. air strikes.

I hope more Americans start to think seriously about the potential downsides of foreign adventures.

How expensive was this war — and how devastating to the nation we had hoped to uplift? I recently found a few different items that tell the sad tale, including one that ties in to Ingraham’s observation about what I’ll call the de-Christianization of Iraq — a story about Iraq being placed on a list of nations that violate religious freedom.

In an interview, Brian Grim, a research fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, said the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom added Iraq to the list “because it felt that the nature and extent of the violations of religious freedom were not only severe but were tolerated by the government and, in some cases, committed by forces within the government.” Grim went on to say:

Many experts consider the situation for Christians in Iraq as especially dire. According to Chaldean Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Andreos Abouna of Baghdad, their numbers may have been cut in half since 2003, to about 600,000. As documented by the U.S. State Department, Christians have been threatened with violence if they do not leave their homes, accosted on the streets and even assassinated, and their churches have been bombed or destroyed. Some Iraqi Christian leaders go so far as to describe the plight of Christians in Iraq as ethnic cleansing. ….

When the choice is between risking death and getting out of the country, many choose to leave. Until recently, 3 percent or more of the Iraqi population was Christian. These are historic communities of indigenous Christians who have been in what is now Iraq nearly since the time of Christ, several centuries before Islam came to the region. ….

Christians have been targeted since 2003 as part of the violence that has spread throughout Iraq. The worst violence has been in regions with diverse ethnic and religious groups, such as Baghdad and Mosul, where the majority of Iraq’s Christians live. For example, the State Department reported last year that Muslim extremists “warned Christians living in Baghdad’s Dora district to convert, leave or be killed.” The report documented that many Christians have been driven out of these areas. The threat of violence or even death appears to have been an extremely potent motivator to get people to leave.

The State Department also reported last year … that the insurgency had adversely affected all religious believers and that “sectarian misappropriation of official authority within the security apparatus” had impeded religious freedom.

In case it’s skipped anyone’s mind, 2003 was the year when America invaded Iraq, successfully toppling the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein — but unfortunately tipping the nation into ethnic and religious conflict.

By the by, the State Department report on the hazards faced by Christians in Iraq was released in 2007. The Commission on International Religious Freedom labeled Iraq as a nation where governments had allowed or perpetrated encroachment on worship in the spring of 2008. And as previously noted, it was November 2008 when a delegate of President George W. Bush signed a treaty calling for the removal of all American military forces from Iraq.

This summer, the website CostsOfWar.org updated its running tally of the toll taken by fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan (where U.S. has used drones to strike militants). By far the bloodiest front has been in Iraq, according to the site. The deaths include:

• 4,489 American soldiers.

• 3,455 U.S. military contractors.

• 12,096 Iraqi soldiers and police officers.

• 318 soldiers of nations other than the U.S. and Iraq.

• Approximately 133,000 to 147,000 Iraqi civilians.

• 36,400 opposition fighters.

• 246 journalists and news media employees.

• 62 humanitarian and nonprofit organization employees.

In all, the butcher’s bill runs anywhere from 190,000 to 204,000 individuals killed. And tragically, the numbers are still mounting, thanks to Iraq’s widespread internecine fighting.

Oh, and let’s not lose sight of those who were wounded in the fighting. A 2013 research paper from Brown University puts the tally of wounded American uniformed personnel at 32,221 due to battle wounds; another 11,607 were evacuated due to disease and non-battle injuries. The same paper estimates that the number of wounded U.S. military contractors at anywhere from 17,000 to more than 36,000. (The overall tally runs from just less than 61,000 to more than 80,000.)

Some 30,000 Iraqi military and police personnel were also wounded, along with perhaps 4,000 soldiers from other nations. (For British troops, “non-hostile” injuries outnumbered hostile wounds by a ratio of nearly 8 to 1.)

Counting the number of civilians wounded by fighting is extremely difficult, but a paper from Boston University last year calculated that Iraq’s ratio of wounded to killed civilians is one to one. The same paper also estimated that the true count of Iraqi victims of violence may be a quarter-million or more. Worse yet, the author speculated that the destruction of Iraq’s infrastructure has indirectly claimed the lives of “many times the number killed by direct violence.”

This grim accounting calls to mind that infamous occasion during the Vietnam war in which an American officer said something akin to “It became necessary to destroy the village in order to save it.”

I want to share one other item that I ran across this week: An article posted in May about two big U.S. projects.

One of those initiatives is Obamacare, the health care reform bill that irks conservatives. According to a document released in March by the Congressional Budget Office, the federal government will incur gross costs of just over $2 trillion from 2015 through 2024, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Those were expected to be offset by slightly more than $500 billion in revenue thanks to penalties on those who decline to buy health insurance, taxes on high-premium insurance plans and other taxes.

These numbers were updated in April to reflect projected gross costs of more than $1.8 trillion and revenue of $456 billion over the next decade. That works out to an expected net cost of a little less than $1.4 trillion, for those of you keeping score at home.

The other major federal project examined by that online article I mentioned? It was the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; once all the care due to wounded veterans has been paid for, decades hence, these adventures will have left taxpayers on the hook for a cumulative total of somewhere from $4 trillion to $6 trillion. (The Harvard paper that made these calculations did not distinguish between the occupation of Afghanistan and that of Iraq — see next paragraph for more on this.)

An earlier study, released in 2013, estimated that fighting in Iraq had cost the U.S. $1.7 trillion, with payments for veterans’ care through 2054 bringing the overall bill to $2.2 trillion. (The financial impact of the Afghanistan war was pegged in this study at slightly less than $1.7 trillion through 2013, with liabilities until the middle of this century moving the total cost to slightly less than $2.2 trillion.)

Those are the sacrifices that America has made and will continue to make because of the decision to invade Iraq. And all to what end?

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