The Middle East Channel

The Iraq War: Ten Years in Ten Numbers

While observers of the Iraq War anniversary argue over the scale of the mistake -- a colossal folly rooted in imperial ambition and hubris, or simply an error based on faulty intelligence and misplaced fear -- the devil is in the details. These numbers, assembled by some of the 29 contributors to the Costs of War Project based at Brown University, help put the past 10 years in perspective. 

0: Al Qaeda had no presence in Iraq before the 2003 U.S. invasion. But a new organization, known as Al Qaeda in Iraq, has since formed and has attacked U.S. and Iraqi forces, and wages regular attacks on Iraqi civilians. Additionally, by 2013, AQI had spread offshoots and technical know-how to Syria, Jordan, and Libya. If Iraq became a "front" in the war on terrorism, as Jessica Stern, former member of the National Security Council and current fellow at the Hoover Institution, and her co-author Megan McBride, say "it is a front that the United States created."

2 plus 2: Conflicts exacerbated by the Iraq War. Iran and North Korea were apparently not intimidated by the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, nor deterred from pursuing weapons of mass destruction. Conversely, the war in Afghanistan was arguably prolonged by the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and has escalated into Pakistan, with a corresponding increase in military spending and loss of life. 

8th: Iraq's ranking on a scale of corruption. While Iraq has established the formal institutions and practices of a democracy, it was ranked the eighth most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International last year. Middle East Politics expert Melani Cammett of Brown University points to increasing authoritarianism in Iraq, such as the creation of an approximately 6,000 person Iraqi Special Forces para-military force under the direct command of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the "Fedeyeen al-Maliki." Nadje Al-Ali of the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) finds that women continue to be underrepresented politically, in Iraqi government ministries, and in the labor force, but overrepresented in the population of unemployed, illiterate, and poor.

2.5 and 10 microns: The size of toxic dust particles that soldiers and bystanders have been breathing in Iraq. Soldiers returning from Iraq (and Afghanistan) have elevated levels of respiratory and cardiovascular disease over soldiers returning from other wars. The dust in Iraq has been found to have dangerously high levels of particulate matter measuring 2.5 and 10 micron particles per million (PPM) -- too small to be filtered by a human lung. Robert Miller, pulmonary expert from Vanderbilt University Medical School, reports that the dust, sulfur from an early 2003 mine fire and toxic residue from burn pits, is likely to blame for several respiratory disorders among Iraq War veterans, including increased rates of constrictive bronchiolitis. Of course Iraqi civilians continue to live with the dust and other airborne pollutants produced by the war. 

84: The number of psychiatrists working in Iraq is fewer than .05 per 100,000 people. After the 2003 invasion, about 18,000 physicians fled Iraq. Some have returned, but in 2012 there were only 84 psychiatrists and about 22,000 physicians for a population of over 31 million people. In separate papers, Mac Skelton and Omar Dawichi of the American University of Beirut found that many Iraqis travel abroad -- to India, Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon -- for oncology and surgical care while basic care, such as some childhood immunizations has lagged.

190,000: The minimum documented number of people killed in the war. The majority of those killed in Iraq since 2003 have been civilians. The dead also include 4,488 U.S. soldiers, and up to 3,400 U.S. contractors and nearly 11,000 Iraqi police, 318 allied military, and 62 humanitarian workers. But while the numbers of U.S. soldiers killed is known, Catherine Lutz of Brown University shows that we still don't know the full extent of contractor deaths and injuries. And, as Neta C. Crawford from Brown University discusses, there are disagreements about how many civilians have been killed directly by violence because documented deaths may be a fraction of the actual number of people killed. Further, it is likely that many more have died as an indirect result of the devastation of Iraq's physical and health care infrastructure.

349: The number of U.S. active duty military suicides in 2012. Ken MacLeish of Vanderbilt University suggests that this toll is not only higher since the Iraq War began, but may climb as the trauma from war often manifests in soldiers years, sometimes decades, after they return home.

2.5 million: U.S. service men and women who have deployed in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 1.5 million have already left active duty and become eligible for veterans medical and disability benefits. Linda Bilmes of Harvard University shows these veterans are already very sick -- with one-third diagnosed with mental health issues. High rates of traumatic brain injury, the need for prosthesis, and musculoskeletal disorders, have put a burden on Veterans Affairs to process all the applications for benefits and treatment of the soldiers. The costs of medical and disability care for the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan will rise, and Blimes projects they will reach over $970 billion by 2053.

$1.7 trillion: The cost of the Iraq War to U.S. taxpayers before adding future care for veterans and interest on war borrowing. Adding anticipated future costs for veterans care, Iraq's share of the $4 trillion spent and obligated for Iraq and AfPak rises to over $2.1 trillion. The Bush administration estimated the Iraq war would cost $50 to 60 billion.

$4 trillion: Cumulative interest on borrowing for Iraq through 2053. The United States did not increase taxes to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Economist Ryan Edwards of Queens College, CUNY calculated only the interest that is due on borrowing to pay for the military and state department costs. Interest costs on both wars will exceed $7.5 trillion. Iraq's share of Defense Department and State Department war appropriation spending from 2001 to 2013 is 54 percent. You do the math.

Many opportunity costs of these wars cannot be enumerated -- but there are some lessons that can be drawn. If I had one to impart to the next generation of foreign policy decision makers it would be to remember to balance the tendency to over-estimate the utility of military force with a sober assessment of the risks and costs of action. Those costs always add up. The costs of this war will constrain U.S. possibilities -- both foreign and domestic -- for decades to come.

Neta C. Crawford, a Professor of Political Science at Boston University, is Co-Director with Catherine Lutz of the Costs of War Project based at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University.


The Middle East Channel

President Obama arrives in Israel for first official visit

U.S. President Barack Obama has arrived in Israel for his first visit since taking office. He was welcomed at Ben Gurion airport by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. Upon his arrival, President Obama said the United States "stands with Israel" and "Our alliance is eternal." He also said the United States would "never lose sight of an Israel at peace with its neighbors." However, expectations are low for any headway in the peace process during the trip and Obama previously stated his goal was to listen to Israeli and Palestinian officials. He will attend meetings with Netanyahu on Wednesday, which are expected to be dominated by discussion of Syria and Iran's nuclear development program. Additionally, on Thursday evening, he will deliver a speech aimed at repairing his image among the Israeli public. He will also travel to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Palestinians in Ramallah and Bethlehem have assembled in protest of the visit, and clashes were reported Wednesday between demonstrators and security officials.


The Syrian government and opposition fighters are trading blame over an alleged chemical weapon strike in the Khan al-Assal area of the northern Aleppo province on Tuesday. The first report came from Syria's state news agency, SANA, which stated "terrorists" fired a rocket "containing chemical materials" killing 16 people and injuring 86, later raising the death toll to 25. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 26 people were killed in a strike in Khan al-Assal, including 16 Syrian soldiers. However, the group's director said he could only "confirm that there was a rocket attack but not that any chemicals were used." Two opposition commanders have blamed the Syrian regime for a chemical weapons attack -- one commander said he witnessed the bombing from a government warplane. He said the explosions emitted a gas that appeared to cause suffocation. Neither side has documentation, and U.S. officials said there is no evidence that a chemical weapon has been used. U.S. President Barack Obama has warned the Syrian government that a chemical attack would be crossing a "red line" that could provoke a U.S. military intervention. A U.S. administration official said the White House had "no information suggesting opposition groups have chemical weapons capability." Meanwhile, five Syrian shells landed in Lebanon on Wednesday despite a warning from Lebanese President Michel Suleiman. Syrian soldiers have regularly fired at opposition fighters who they believe have taken refuge near the border in Lebanese territory, and the strikes are increasing concerns that the conflict will spread into the neighboring country.


  • The Islamic State of Iraq, the Iraqi wing of al Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for a wave of attacks on Tuesday that killed 65 people, saying they were in retaliation for executions of Sunni prisoners.
  • Turkish government and AK party offices in Istanbul and Ankara came under bomb and missile attacks on Wednesday in what could be an attempt to derail a ceasefire between Turkey and Kurdish militants.
  • Saudi Arabia has arrested 16 Saudis in addition to an Iranian and a Lebanese citizen for spying for "a foreign country" in a move that could increase tensions with Iran. 

Arguments and Analysis

Iraq war: make it impossible to inflict such barbarism again (Seumas Milne, The Guardian)

"If anyone doubted what kind of Iraq has been bequeathed by a decade of US-sponsored occupation and war, today's deadly sectarian bomb attacks around Baghdad against bus queues and markets should have set them straight. Ten years to the day after American and British troops launched an unprovoked attack on a false pretext - and more than a year since the last combat troops were withdrawn - the conflict they unleashed shows no sign of winding down.

Civilians are still being killed at a rate of at least 4,000 a year, and police at about 1,000. As in the days when US and British forces directly ran the country, torture is rampant, thousands are imprisoned without trial, and disappearances and state killings are routine.

Meanwhile power and sewage systems barely function, more than a third of adults are unemployed, state corruption has become an institutionalised kleptocracy and trade unionists are tried for calling strikes and demonstrations (the oil workers' leader is in court in Basra on that charge tomorrow). In recent months, mass protests in Sunni areas have threatened to tip over into violence, or even renewed civil war."

Ten Years After (The New York Times)

"Ten years after it began, the Iraq war still haunts the United States in the nearly 4,500 troops who died there; the more than 30,000 American wounded who have come home; the more than $2 trillion spent on combat operations and reconstruction, which inflated the deficit; and in the lessons learned about the limits of American leadership and power.

It haunts Iraq too, where the total number of casualties is believed to have surpassed 100,000 but has never been officially determined; and where one strongman was traded for another, albeit under a more pluralistic system with a democratic veneer. The country is increasingly influenced by Iran and buffeted by the regional turmoil caused by the Arab Spring.

...Yet none of the Bush administration's war architects have been called to account for their mistakes, and even now, many are invited to speak on policy issues as if they were not responsible for one of the worst strategic blunders in American foreign policy. In a video posted recently by the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Mr. Wolfowitz said he still believed the war was the right thing to do. Will he and his partners ever have the humility to admit that it was wrong to prosecute this war?

The lessons of Iraq, however, seem to fade when it comes to Iran. Many of the conservatives who strongly supported the charge into Iraq are fanning calls for United States military action to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. President Obama has also been threatening "all options" if negotiations to curb Iran's ambitions are not successful, and many lawmakers seem ready to take action against Iran soon.

The Iraq war was unnecessary, costly and damaging on every level. It was based on faulty intelligence manipulated for ideological reasons. The terrible human and economic costs over the past 10 years show why that must never happen again."

--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey