Iraq ledger: War by the numbers

Reckoning the costs of war in Iraq will take years. Using federal government and other sources, analysts at the Center for American Progress have calculated an 'Iraq War Ledger.'

By , Staff writer

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    U.S. military personnel lower their heads during the ceremony of the encasing of the colors, in Baghdad December 15, 2011. The U.S military officially ended its war in Iraq on Thursday, packing up a military flag at a ceremony with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta nearly nine years after the invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.
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Reckoning the costs of war in Iraq will take years, especially the impact on US prestige and power in the world. Historians, political scientists, and economists will write doctoral dissertations on the subject, and some will devote careers to calculating and analyzing the data and each others’ conclusions – as continues to be the case with the Vietnam War.

Analysts Matthew Duss and Peter Juul of the Center for American Progress have taken a first cut at calculating the costs of the American war in Iraq.

The center is a progressive, nonprofit think tank and advocacy organization in Washington, founded in 2003 by former Clinton administration chief of staff John Podesta.

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The organization's inclinations are clearly left-of-center, but the figures in its “Iraq War Ledger” are taken from nonpartisan sources, including the Congressional Research Service, icasualties.org, the Defense Department, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, the Centers for Disease Control, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

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Here are some of the main points:

Human Costs

Coalition deaths totaled 4,803, of which 4,484 (93 percent) were American. The number of Americans wounded was 32,200. At least 463 non-Iraqi contractors were killed.

Iraqi civilian deaths are estimated to total between 103,674 and 113,265.

The UNHCR says the war resulted in 1.24 million internally displaced persons and more than 1.6 million refugees.

Financial costs

The Congressional Research Service puts the dollar cost of Operation Iraqi Freedom at $806 billion.

In their book “The Three Trillion Dollar War,” Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes estimate the projected total cost of veterans’ health care and disability payments to be between $422 billion and $717 billion.

Veterans

More than 2 million US service members have served in Iraq or Afghanistan (many in both wars).

The total number of Iraq/Afghanistan veterans eligible for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care is 1,250,663, half of whom (625,384) have used VA health care since 2002.

The number of Iraq/Afghanistan veterans diagnosed with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is at least 168,854 – more than a quarter of those who have used VA health care.

The suicide rate for Iraq/Afghanistan veterans using VA health care in FY 2008 was 38 suicides per 100,000 veterans – more than three times the national suicide rate for the previous year.

Iraq reconstruction

Total funding: $182.27 billion.

Iraqi government funds (including Coalition Provisional Authority funding): $107.41 billion.

International funds: $13.03 billion.

US funds (2003-2011): $61.83 billion. As a basis for comparison, the US after World War II spent $34.3 billion in Germany and $17.6 billion in Japan on post-war reconstruction. (All figures in 2011 dollars.)

The cost of war is more than numbers, of course. Losing a family member or a lifetime of disability are incalculable.

“The end of former Iraq President Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime represents a considerable global good, and a nascent democratic Iraqi republic partnered with the United States could potentially yield benefits in the future,” Duss and Juul of the Center for American Progress write. “But when weighing those possible benefits against the costs of the Iraq intervention, there is simply no conceivable calculus by which Operation Iraqi Freedom can be judged to have been a successful or worthwhile policy.”

That’s a political and historical judgment that no doubt will be debated for years.

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