Cost of the Bush-Cheney War on Iraq: More than $2 Trillion; More than 176,000 Killed
March 15, 2013
Daniel Trotta / Reuters & Costs of War / The Watson Institute
According to a recently released study, the US war in Iraq has cost $1.7 trillion with an additional $490 billion in benefits owed to war veterans -- expenses that could grow to more than $6 trillion over the next four decades counting interest. The US invasion has been resulted in the estimated deaths of at least 134,000 Iraqi civilians. When security forces, insurgents, journalists and humanitarian workers were included, the war's death toll rose to an estimated 176,000 to 189,000.
Iraq War Costs US More than $2 Trillion
Daniel Trotta / Reuters
NEW YORK, NY (March 14, 2013) -- The US war in Iraq has cost $1.7 trillion with an additional $490 billion in benefits owed to war veterans, expenses that could grow to more than $6 trillion over the next four decades counting interest, a study released on Thursday said.
The war has killed at least 134,000 Iraqi civilians and may have contributed to the deaths of as many as four times that number, according to the Costs of War Project by the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University.
When security forces, insurgents, journalists and humanitarian workers were included, the war's death toll rose to an estimated 176,000 to 189,000, the study said.
The report, the work of about 30 academics and experts, was published in advance of the 10th anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq on March 19, 2003.
It was also an update of a 2011 report the Watson Institute produced ahead of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks that assessed the cost in dollars and lives from the resulting wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.
The 2011 study said the combined cost of the wars was at least $3.7 trillion, based on actual expenditures from the US Treasury and future commitments, such as the medical and disability claims of US 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.
The interest on expenses for the Iraq war could amount to about $4 trillion during that period, the report said.
The report also examined the burden on US veterans and their families, showing a deep social cost as well as an increase in spending on veterans. The 2011 study found US medical and disability claims for veterans after a decade of war totaled $33 billion. Two years later, that number had risen to $134.7 billion.
The report concluded the United States gained little from the war while Iraq was traumatized by it. The war reinvigorated radical Islamist militants in the region, set back women's rights, and weakened an already precarious healthcare system, the report said. Meanwhile, the $212 billion reconstruction effort was largely a failure with most of that money spent on security or lost to waste and fraud, it said.
Former President George W. Bush's administration cited its belief that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's government held weapons of mass destruction to justify the decision to go to war. US and allied forces later found that such stockpiles did not exist.
Supporters of the war argued that intelligence available at the time concluded Iraq held the banned weapons and noted that even some countries that opposed the invasion agreed with the assessment.
"Action needed to be taken," said Steven Bucci, the military assistant to former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in the run-up to the war and today a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington-based think-tank.
Bucci, who was unconnected to the Watson study, agreed with its observation that the forecasts for the cost and duration of the war proved to be a tiny fraction of the real costs.
"If we had had the foresight to see how long it would last and even if it would have cost half the lives, we would not have gone in," Bucci said. "Just the time alone would have been enough to stop us. Everyone thought it would be short."
Bucci said the toppling of Saddam and the results of an unforeseen conflict between US-led forces and al Qaeda militants drawn to Iraq were positive outcomes of the war.
"It was really in Iraq that 'al Qaeda central' died," Bucci said. "They got waxed."
(c) Thomson Reuters 2011. All rights reserved.
330,000 Killed by Violence:
$4 Trillion Spent and Obligated
Costs of War / The Watson Institute
(March 2013) -- The wars begun in 2001 have been tremendously painful for millions of people in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, and the United States, and economically costly as well. Each additional month and year of war will add to that toll.
Moreover, the human costs of these conflicts will reverberate for years to come in each of those four countries. There is no turning the page on the wars with the end of hostilities, and there is even more need as a result to understand what those wars' consequences are and will be.
The goal of the Costs of War project has been to outline a broad understanding of the domestic and international costs and consequences of those wars. A team of 30 economists, anthropologists, political scientists, legal experts, and physicians were assembled to do this analysis. Their research papers are posted and summarized on this website.
• What have been the wars' costs in human and economic terms?
• How have these wars changed the social and political landscape of the United States and the countries where the wars have been waged?
• What have been the public health consequences of the wars?
• What will be the long-term legacy of these conflicts for veterans?
• What is the long-term economic effect of these wars likely to be?
• Were and are there alternative less costly and more effective ways to prevent further terror attacks?
Some of the project's findings:
• 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. 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. 
• 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.
• There are many costs of these wars that we have not yet been able to quantify and assess. With our limited resources, we focused on the human toll in the major war zones, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan and on US spending, as well as on assessing the claims made for enhanced security, democracy, and women's condition.
There is still much more to know and understand about how all those affected by the wars have had their health, economies, and communities altered by the decade of war, and what solutions exist for the problems they face as a result of the wars' destruction.
 Greg Miller, "US Drone Targets in Yemen Raise Questions," (2012), http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/us-drone-targets-in-yemen-raise-questions/2012/06/02/gJQAP0jz9U_story.html.
 Veterans for Common Sense, "Iraq and Afghanistan Impact Report," January 2012.
 Adam Schreck, "Car bomb explodes south of Baghdad, kills 11," (August 8, 2012), http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/iraq/story/2012-08-08/Iraq-bomb-Baghd....
Troop figures from July 2010-Aug 2012 taken from the Brookings Institute: Brookings Foreign Policy, "Afghanistan Index: Tracking Progress and Security in Post-9/11 Afghanistan," (2012), http://www.brookings.edu/about/programs/foreign-policy/afghanistan-index;
Ian S. Livingston and Michael O'Hanlon, "Brookings Afghanistan Index," (August 22, 2011), http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Programs/foreign%20policy/afghanistan%2....
Michael E. O'Hanlon and Ian Livingston, "Iraq Index: Tracking Variables of Reconstruction and Security in Post-Saddam Iraq," (January 31, 2011), http://www.brookings.edu/about/centers/saban/~/media/Centers/saban/iraq%....
Contractor numbers available only from 2007 onward, by quarter. Source for April 2008- numbers:
Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, "CENTCOM Quarterly Contractor Census Reports," (August 6, 2012), http://www.acq.osd.mil/log/PS/CENTCOM_reports.html.
Numbers from July 2007 through March 2008: Moshe Schwartz and Joyprada Swain, "Department of Defense Contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq: Background and Analysis," (May 13, 2011), Congressional Research Service, http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/R40764.pdf.
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