Cold numbers show heavy price of Iraq war

Nearly 900 U.S. troops killed, more than 16,000 ill and injured. Some 9,000-11,000 Iraqis killed and an estimated 40,000 injured. The bill to U.S. taxpayers: $151 billion and counting.

These cold numbers are just the tip of the iceberg in a stunning new accounting of the devastating price we are paying for the Iraq war.

The June 24 report by the Institute for Policy Studies is titled “Paying the Price: The Mounting Costs of the Iraq War.” It provides compelling, documented evidence that the war and occupation has been a human, economic and security disaster for the U.S., Iraq and the world.

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said recently that the Bush administration plans to station some 145,000 U.S. troops in Iraq for “probably four or five years.” The estimated cost, according to the IPS, would be another $50 billion per year. In the long term, says University of Texas economist James Galbraith, the war is “a dagger at the heart of [the] U.S. economy.”

The $151.1 billion expenditure for the war through this year, the report notes, “could have paid for close to 23 million housing vouchers; health care for over 27 million uninsured Americans; salaries for nearly 3 million elementary school teachers; 678,200 new fire engines; over 20 million Head Start slots for children; or health care coverage for 82 million children.”

Instead, the Bush administration’s budget for the next 12 months calls for “deep cuts in critical domestic programs and virtually freezes funding for domestic programs other than homeland security,” the report says. Bush’s federal spending cuts “will deepen the existing $40 billion shortfall in states’ budgets by an additional $6 billion.”

But homeland security is in jeopardy, too. The massive deployment of National Guard troops – almost one-third of the Army troops now in Iraq – “puts a particularly heavy burden on their home communities because many are ‘first responders,’ including police, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel,” the report says. “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 natural disasters.”

And, with extended tours of duty and recalls of reservists who already completed active service, the report points to “the enormous financial burden shouldered by the majority of U.S. military families.”

“The Army Emergency Relief has reported that requests from military families for food stamps and subsidized meals increased ‘several hundred percent’ between 2002 and 2003,” the IPS notes.

A study just published in the New England Journal of Medicine finds major mental health problems on the rise among U.S. soldiers in Iraq. It “forces us to acknowledge the psychiatric cost of sending young men and women to war,” the author, Dartmouth College psychiatry professor Matthew Friedman, wrote. Of the Iraq veterans surveyed, 93 percent had been shot at, and nearly all had seen or known someone wounded.

The IPS report cites a December 2003 Army finding that more than 15 percent of soldiers in Iraq screened positive for traumatic stress, 7.3 percent for anxiety and 6.9 percent for depression. The suicide rate among soldiers jumped significantly in 2003.

Largely hidden from public view, the majority of soldiers hurt in combat in Iraq have major injuries, the report says. As a result of improved body armor that protects vital organs but not extremities, there is an increasing number of amputees. “Walter Reed Medical Center alone has treated over 70 amputees, including roughly 15 with multiple-limb amputation,” the report says.

These veterans will require extensive long-term care. But the Bush administration and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives have proposed Veterans Administration funding that is billions less than needed, veterans’ groups say. And, the report notes, “Those whose injuries from war qualify them for disability compensation must wait an average of six months to two years to receive compensation.”

The IPS report goes on to document “the legion of other costs – economic, human, environmental and more – born by millions of people in Iraq and around the world.”

While most Americans are “barely aware” of these costs, the report says, “most Iraqis, the people in whose name the Bush administration fought the war on false pretenses, understand the costs of war and occupation for their society. In the latest polls, conducted by U.S. occupation authorities themselves, Iraqis overwhelmingly oppose the continuing occupation. Indeed, the majority of Iraqis now state that the occupation has made them less secure.”

The full report and a summary of key findings are available on the web at www.ips-dc.org/iraq/costsofwar/.

The author can be reached at suewebb@pww.org.