The Iraq Quagmire:

14 Agosto 2006
Phyllis Bennis

The Iraq Quagmire:
The Mounting Costs of War and the Case for Bringing Home the Troops
Phyllis Bennis and Erik Leaver and the IPS Iraq Task Force
Institute for Policy Studies and Foreign Policy In Focus, 31 August 2005

Factsheet of key numbers from the report [PDF]

Full report with citations [PDF document)



“The Iraq Quagmire” is the most comprehensive accounting of the mounting costs and consequences of the Iraq War on the United States, Iraq, and the world. Among its major findings are stark figures that quantify the continuing of costs since the Iraqi elections, a period that the Bush administration claimed would be characterized by a reduction in the human and economic costs.

Vietnam Echoes

  • According to current estimates, the cost of the Iraq War could exceed $700 billion. In current dollars, the Vietnam War cost US taxpayers $600 billion.
  • Operations costs in Iraq are estimated at $5.6 billion per month in 2005. By comparison, the average cost of US operations in Vietnam over the eight-year war was $5.1 billion per month, adjusting for inflation.
  • Staying in Iraq and Afghanistan at current levels would nearly double the projected federal budget deficit over the next decade.
  • Since 2001, the US has deployed more than 1 million troops to Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Broken down per person in the United States, the cost so far is $727, making the Iraq War the most expensive military effort in the last 60 years.
  • The number of journalists killed reporting the Iraq War (66) has exceeded the number of journalists killed reporting on the Vietnam War (63).

A New Kind of Quagmire

  • More than 210,000 of the National Guard's 330,000 soldiers have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Guard mobilizations average 460 days.
  • Nearly a third of active-duty troops, 341,000 men and women, have served two or more overseas tours.

Cost to Iraq

  • The US controls 106 military bases across Iraq. Congress has budgeted $236 million for permanent base construction in FY2005.
  • At least 23,589 to 26,705 Iraqi civilians have been killed.
  • On average 155 members of the Iraqi security forces have died every month since the January 2005 elections, up from an average of 65 before they were held.
  • Suicide attack rates rose to 50 per month in the first five months of 2005, up from 20 per month in 2003 and 48 in 2004.
  • Iraq's resistance forces remain at 16,000-40,000 even with the US coalition killing or capturing 1,600 resistance members per month.

And the World's Less Safe

  • The State Department reported that the number of “significant” terrorist attacks reached a record 655 in 2004, up from 175 in 2003.
  • The Iraq War has weakened the UN's authority and credibility.


I. Costs to the United States

A. Human Costs to the US and Allies

US Military Deaths: Between the start of war on March 19, 2003 and August 22, 2005 2,060 coalition forces have been killed, including 1,866 US military personnel.

Over 14,065 US troops have been wounded, 13,523 (96 percent) since May 1, 2003.

Contractor Deaths: There have been 255 civilian contractor deaths since the “end of major combat” on May 1, 2003, including 91 identified as Americans.

Journalist Deaths: Sixty-six international media workers have been killed in Iraq as of August 28, 2005. US forces are responsible for at least eleven deaths, including employees from ABC, CNN, Reuters, BBC, ITN, Arab TV stations al-Arabiya and al-Jazeera and Spanish station Telecinco.

B. Security Costs

Terrorist Recruitment and Action:The State Department found that the number of “significant” international terrorist attacks in 2004 reached 655, three times the previous record of 175 in 2003. Terrorist incidents in Iraq also increased by a factor of nine—from 22 attacks in 2003 to 198 in 2004.

Overstretch of Military: Since 2001, the US military has deployed more than 1 million troops for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with 341,000 or nearly a third, serving two or more overseas tours. In August 2005 Army recruitment remained at 11 percent behind its yearly goal. The Reserve stands at 20 percent behind its goals and the Army National Guard is 23 percent short of its goals.

Security Costs Due to Loss of First Responders:Roughly 48,000 members of the National Guard and Reserve are currently serving in Iraq—making up nearly 35 percent of the total US forces there. Their deployment puts a particularly heavy burden on their home communities because many are “first responders,” including police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel. For example, 44 percent of the country's police forces have lost officers to Iraq. In some states, the absence of so many Guard troops has raised concerns about the ability to handle fires and other natural disasters.

Use of Private Military Contractors: The Department of Defense estimates that there are at least 60 private security providers with perhaps as many as 25,000 employees.

Of the 44 incidents of abuse that have been documented at Abu Ghraib prison,16 have been tied to private contractors. While numerous soldiers have been courtmartialed for their roles in the scandal, no contractor has been brought up on charges.

C. Economic Costs

The Bill So Far: Congress has already approved four spending bills for Iraq with funds totaling $204.4 billion and is in the process of approving a “bridge fund” for $45.3 billion to cover operations until another supplemental spending package can be passed, most likely slated for Spring 2006. Broken down per person in the United States, the cost so far is $727, making the Iraq War the most expensive military effort in the last 60 years.

Long-term Impact on US Economy: In August 2005, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the cost of continuing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at current levels would nearly double the projected federal budget deficit over the next ten years. According to current estimates, during that time the cost of the Iraq War could exceed $700 billion.

Economic Impact on Military Families: Since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 210,000 of the National Guard's 330,000 soldiers have been called up, with an average mobilization of 460 days. Government studies show that about half of all reservists and Guard members report a loss of income when they go on active duty—typically more than $4,000 a year. About 30,000 small business owners alone have been called to service and are especially likely to fall victim to the adverse economic effects of military deployment.

D. Social Costs

US Budget and Social Programs: The Administration's FY 2006 budget, which does not include any funding for the Iraq War, takes a hard line with domestic spending— slashing or eliminating more than 150 federal programs. The $204.4 billion appropriated thus far for the war in Iraq could have purchased any of the following desperately needed services in our country: 46,458,805 uninsured people receiving health care or 3,545,016 elementary school teachers or 27,093,473 Head Start places for children or 1,841,833 affordable housing units or 24,072 new elementary schools or 39,665,748 scholarships for university students or 3,204,265 port container inspectors.

Social Costs to the Military/Troop Morale:As of May 2005, stop-loss orders are affecting 14,082 soldiers—almost 10 percent of the entire forces serving in Iraq with no end date set for the use of these orders. Long deployments and high levels of soldier's stress extend to family life. In 2004, 3,325 Army officer's marriages ended in divorce—up 78 percent from 2003, the year of the Iraq invasion and more than 3.5 times the number in 2000.

Costs to Veteran Health Care: The Veterans Affairs department projected that 23,553 veterans would return from Iraq and Afghanistan in 2005 and seek medical care. But in June 2005, the VA Secretary, Jim Nicholson, revised this number to 103,000. The miscalculation has led to a shortfall of $273 million in the VA budget for 2005 and may result in a loss of $2.6 billion in 2006.

Mental Health Costs: In July 2005 the Army's surgeon general reported that 30 percent of US troops have developed stress-related mental health problems three to four months after coming home from the Iraq War. Because about 1 million American troops have served so far in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan some experts predict that the number eventually requiring mental health treatment could exceed 100,000.

II. Costs to Iraq

A. Human Costs to Iraqis

Iraqi Civilian Deaths: As of August 22, 2005, between 23,589 and 26,705 civilians have been killed as a direct result of the US invasion and ensuing occupation of Iraq. But the actual death toll may be much higher. The British medical journal, The Lancet, reported in October 2004 that Iraq suffered 98,000 “excess deaths” from March 2003 to September 2004.

Iraqi Civilians Wounded:The Project on Defense Alternatives estimates the number of wounded between 100,000 and 120,000.

Iraqi Police and Security Forces Killed: Iraq Coalition Casualty Count reports that 2,945 Iraqi military and police forces have been killed since the war started while other reports estimate up to 6,000 have been killed. Up until December 2004, the monthly death figure was 65 but in 2005 the average has been 155 and the death toll reached a high of 304 in July 2005.

B. Security Costs

Failure to Train Security Forces: In June 2004 the State Department reported that 145,317 Iraqi troops were trained but one year later, State Department reports only note an additional 35,000 security forces were added to the ranks. The readiness of these troops cannot be ascertained. A March 2005 GAO report noted that “the departments of State and Defense no longer report on the extent to which Iraqi security forces are equipped with their required weapons, vehicles, communications equipment, and body armor.”

Rise in the Resistance:Despite 40,000-50,000 deaths and arrests, the resistance continues to thrive. The number of resistance fighters in Iraq increased from 5,000 in November 2003 to “no more than 20,000” in July 2005 and Iraq's national intelligence service director estimates there are more than 200,000 sympathizers. Resistance attacks have risen 23 percent in the last four months. The rise in suicide attacks has skyrocketed. In 2003 there were 20, in 2004 there were 48 and in the first five months of 2005 there have been more than 50.

Rise in Crime:Baghdad's central morgue counted 8,035 deaths by unnatural causes in 2004, up from 6,012 in 2003 and 1,800 before the war in 2002. 2005 is turning out to be even deadlier with the Baghdad morgue reporting 1,100 in July 2005.

C. Economic Costs

Unemployment: Unemployment figures today range from 20 percent to 60 percent. By comparison, during the Great Depression, US unemployment peaked at 25 percent. Up to 60 percent of Iraqis depend on food handouts and the average income has dropped from $3,000 in the 1980s to $800 in 2004.

Corporate War Profiteering: Most of Iraq's reconstruction has been contracted out to US companies, rather than experienced Iraqi firms. US auditors and the media have documented numerous cases of fraud, waste, and incompetence. The most egregious problems are attributed to Halliburton which has been awarded more than $10 billion in contracts. Pentagon auditors found that Halliburton failed to account adequately for $1.8 billion in charges for feeding and housing troops.

Iraq's Oil Economy:Iraq's oil production remains stalled at levels lower than before the US invasion. In 2003, Iraq's oil production dropped to 1.33 million barrels per day, down from 2.04 million one year earlier. In July 2005, oil production remained below pre-war levels. Iraq continues to import half its gasoline and thousands of tons of heating fuel, cooking gas and other refined products.

D. Social Costs

Electricity: By late July 2004, Iraq exceeded its pre-war electricity levels, providing nearly 5,000 megawatts of electricity across the country but since that date, levels have failed to improve; the average production in July 2005 was 4,446 megawatts

Health:A joint Iraqi-United Nations report released in May 2005 found that “the estimated number of persons living with a chronic health problem directly caused by war is 223,000 ... in the ongoing war, more children, elderly, and women have been disabled than in previous wars.”

Environment: During the war, water and sewage systems were destroyed, thousands of bombs were dropped leaving unexploded ordnance (UXO) strewn across the country, and the fragile desert ecosystem was damaged by tanks and US temporary military outposts. Post-war looting further contributed to the damage. Three thousand nuclear compound storage barrels were looted and 5,000 barrels of chemicals were spilt, burned, or stolen. It is estimated that more than 12 million mines and UXO units are still present.

E. Human Rights Costs

Despite problems at US detention centers, the use of arbitrary arrests continues.

The average prisoner level in June 2005 was 10,783, up from 7,837 at the time of the January 2005 elections, and double that of the June 2004 level of 5,335. The US is expanding three existing facilities and opening a fourth, at a cost of $50 million with the goal of being able to detain 16,000 long-term prisoners. Illustrating the problems caused by widespread sweeps of arrests without cause, review processes indicate that six out of every 10 Iraqis arrested are released without charges.

F. Sovereignty Costs

Economic and Political Sovereignty: Despite the January elections, the country has severely limited political and economic independence. The transitional government has limited ability to reverse the 100 orders by former CPA head Paul Bremer that, among other things, allow for the privatization of Iraq's state-owned enterprises and prohibit preferences for domestic firms in bidding on reconstruction work.

Military Sovereignty:Currently, the US operates out of approximately 106 locations across the country. In May 2005, plans for concentrating US troops into four massive bases positioned geographically in the North, South, East and West were reported and the most recent spending bill in Congress for the Iraq War contained $236 million for building permanent facilities.

III. Costs to the World

A. Human Costs

While Americans make up the vast majority of military and contractor personnel in Iraq, other US-allied “coalition” troops from the U.K., Italy, Poland and other countries have suffered 194 war casualties in Iraq. The focus on Iraq has diverted international resources and attention away from humanitarian crises such as in Sudan.

B. Disabling International Law

The unilateral US decision to go to war in Iraq violated the United Nations Charter, setting a dangerous precedent for other countries to seize any opportunity to respond militarily to claimed threats, whether real or contrived, that must be “preempted.”

The US military has also violated the Geneva Convention, making it more likely that in the future, other nations will ignore these protections in their treatment of civilian populations and detainees.

C. Undermining the United Nations

The efforts of the Bush administration to gain UN acceptance of an Iraqi government that was not elected but rather installed by occupying forces undermines the entire notion of national sovereignty as the basis for the UN Charter.

D. Enforcing Coalitions

Faced with opposition in the UN Security Council, the US government attempted to create the illusion of multilateral support for the war by pressuring other governments to join a so-called “Coalition of the Willing.” This not only circumvented UN authority, but also undermined democracy in many coalition countries, where public opposition to the war was as high as 90 percent. As of the middle of July 2005, only 26 countries of the original 45 members of the “Coalition of the Willing” had even token forces in Iraq, in addition to the United States.

E. Costs to the Global Economy

The $204.4 billion spent by the US government on the war could have cut world hunger in half and covered HIV/AIDS medicine, childhood immunization and clean water and sanitation needs of the developing world for almost three years.

F. Undermining Global Security and Disarmament

The US-led war and occupation have galvanized international terrorist organizations, placing people not only in Iraq but around the world at greater risk of attack.

Global Increase in Military Spending: In 2002 world military spending was $795 billion. With the skyrocketing costs of the war in Iraq, worldwide military spending soared to an estimated $956 billion in 2003 and in 2004, the figure spiked again to $1.035 trillion.

G. Global Environmental Costs

US-fired depleted uranium weapons have contributed to pollution of Iraq's land and water, with inevitable spillover effects in other countries. The heavily polluted Tigris River, for example, flows through Iraq, Iran and Kuwait.

H. Human Rights

The Justice Department memo assuring the White House that torture was legal stands in stark violation of the International Convention Against Torture (of which the United States is a signatory). This, combined with the widely publicized mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by US military and intelligence officials, gave new license for torture and mistreatment by governments around the world.