Iraq war: Predictions made, and results

A look back at some of the predicted US outcomes for the Iraq war, and what happened.

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    In this Dec. 17 photo, a U.S. Army soldier from 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, based at Fort Hood, Texas, sits on top of his armored vehicle at Camp Adder during final preparations for the last American convoy to leave Iraq.
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Would the war be cheap and would Iraq pay for it?

The projections: Ahead of and shortly after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, a number of officials, including former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz suggested the war could be done on the cheap and that it would largely pay for itself. In October 2003, Rumsfeld told a press conference about President Bush's request for $21 billion for Iraq and Afghan reconstruction that "the $20 billion the president requested is not intended to cover all of Iraq's needs. The bulk of the funds for Iraq's reconstruction will come from Iraqis -- from oil revenues, recovered assets, international trade, direct foreign investment, as well as some contributions we've already received and hope to receive from the international community." In March 2003, Mr. Wolfowitz told Congress that "we're really dealing with a country that could finance its own reconstruction." In April 2003, the Pentagon said the war would cost about $2 billion a month, and in July of that year Rumsfeld increased that estimate to $4 billion.

What happened? The Iraq war cost about $800 billion, or about $7.6 billion a month. When long term benefits are paid out connected with the death and injury of US troops there, the number is expected to rise to about $1 trillion, or about $9.5 billion a month. About $60 billion was spent directly on Iraq reconstruction efforts.

Did Iraq have weapons of mass destruction?

The projections: Ahead of the war, then Secretary of State Colin Powell told the UN that the US was worried that Saddam Hussein's Iraq had vast chemical weapons stockpiles, including anthrax, and asserted that the country had mobile biological weapons laboratories. In August of 2002, Vice President Dick Cheney said: "There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, against us." President Bush said in March 2003 "intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised" and then Senator Hillary Clinton said that year: "Iraq ... remains in material and unacceptable breach of its international obligations by, among other things, continuing to possess and develop a significant chemical and biological weapons capability, actively seeking a nuclear weapons capability, and supporting and harboring terrorist organizations."

Recommended: Leaving Iraq

What happened? The Iraq Survey Group was the US-led team dispatched to find Saddam's purported weapons of mass destruction after the US invasion, led by David Kay. The group found evidence of low level biological weapons research and Mr. Kay resigned in early 2004. In September of that year, the group issued the Duelfer Report on the findings of its 18 months search. It found that Saddam had ended nuclear weapons research in 1991, and that biological and chemical weapons research had ended in 1995, though it found that Saddam would have liked to obtain WMD's, were it possible.

Did Iraq become a democracy and did it transform the region?

The projections: Many in the Bush Administration, including the president, argued that the US would successfully bring democracy to Iraq and in the process, set off a cascade of democracy in the middle east. In a November 2003 speech marking the anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy, a US government fund focused on international democracy promotion, President Bush said: This is a massive and difficult undertaking -- it is worth our effort, it is worth our sacrifice, because we know the stakes. The failure of Iraqi democracy would embolden terrorists around the world, increase dangers to the American people, and extinguish the hopes of millions in the region. Iraqi democracy will succeed -- and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Teheran -- that freedom can be the future of every nation. The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution.

What happened? Iraq today has certainly far more public consultation in its politics than it did under Saddam Hussein, and on the simple question of "is Iraq more democratic?" the answer is clearly "yes." Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election was largely fair, though voting broke down on sectarian lines (Shiite Arabs, Sunni Arabs, and Kurds). There are worrying signs that Iraq's majority Shiite Arabs, about 60 percent of the country, are forming the nucleus for a new authoritarianism under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and the country remains a far more violent place than it was before the 2003 invasion, though much safer than at the height of the sectarian civil war that claimed about 100,000 lives. The second projection of transforming the region did not come to pass, though boosters of the Iraq war insist that the Arab uprisings of 2011 were inspired by Iraq. Most Arabs were opposed to the US invasion, and watched the sectarian bloodletting in Iraq in its aftermath with horror. 

Was Iraq a war for oil?

Prediction: It was common for anti-war critics on the far left in the US and Europe before and during the war, and among all sorts of folks in the Middle East, to say that the Iraq war was about stealing Iraq's oil. Former UK MP George Galloway led a protest shouting "no war for oil" in London in late 2002, and it was a common refrain from around the world.

What happened? The Iraq war was completely about oil. And it wasn't about oil at all. It was completely about oil in the sense that Iraq's vast reserves are what make Iraq important, both as a supplier to global oil markets and as a potential regional military and economic powerhouse. Had Saddam Hussein been a nasty dictator in some resource-starved land, the odds of the US taking much interest in invasion would have been close to zero. To top it off, southern Iraq lies in reach of the Straits of Hormuz, a major artery for international energy and thus Hussein could pose a threat to the health and economy of the US (as well as much of the rest of the world). But it wasn't about oil, at all, in the sense that US was somehow going to get its hands on the stuff like an extractive 19th century colonial empire. While the war was incredibly profitable for military suppliers like Halliburton and private armies like the since renamed Blackwater, US oil majors haven't punched above their weight in post-Saddam Iraq. Exxon has a major contract in the south, and US oil services companies are making a lot of money there. But so are Chinese and Russian oil companies. As one wag on twitter put it "this was the least successful war for oil in history."

Was Saddam Hussein involved in 9/11?

Prediction: It was commonly implied in the runup to the invasion and in the first few years of the war that Saddam Hussein was, somehow, a backer of Al Qaeda and perhaps involved in the 9/11 attacks on the US. In March 2003, President Bush wrote in a letter to the Speaker of the House that "I have...  determined that the use of armed force against Iraq is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001." In September of 2004, a Washington Post poll found that 69 percent of Americans believed Saddam was involved in 9/11. Then Vice President Dick Cheney on Meet the Press, asked whether he thought that made sense, answered: "We don’t know. You and I talked about this two years ago. I can remember you asking me this question just a few days after the original attack. At the time I said no, we didn’t have any evidence of that. Subsequent to that, we’ve learned a couple of things. We learned more and more that there was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda that stretched back through most of the decade of the ’90s, that it involved training, for example, on (biological and chemical weapons) that al-Qaeda sent personnel to Baghdad to get trained on the systems that are involved. The Iraqis providing bomb-making expertise and advice to the al-Qaeda organization." In 2004 Cheney told NPR that there was "overwhelming" evidence of ties between Al Qaeda and Saddam's Iraq.

The results? No links were even found between Saddam Hussein and the events of 9/11. On broader ties to Al Qaeda, the question is mixed. Evidence was found that indicated some high-level Al Qaeda operatives passed through Iraq in the 1990s and may have received some government assistance, or at least have been tolerated. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant who was the face of Al Qaeda in Iraq in the first few years of the war (before being killed in a US airstrike) was in Iraq before the war -- but working with Ansar al-Islam, in autonomous Kurdistan, an area that was protected from Saddam by a NATO no-fly zone. Al Qaeda and its jihadi fellow travelers flourished in Iraq after the invasion, both recruiting from among disaffected Iraqi Sunni Arabs and drawing in militants from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Libya and other regional countries. Saddam Hussein's regime was an avowedly secular one, and hostile to even peaceful Islamist groups during his reign.

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