Counting the spiralling, elusive costs of war in Iraq

US troops have commited war crimes, but the mainstream media have been rather quite. US is paying alot for it’s reckless and narbaric way – it cost US12.5 Billion a month. If it continues for 10 years, from 2003 to 2013, that will be  $1.5 trillion.

 

COMMENT
By BUNN NAGARA

http://www.thestar.com.my/columnists/story.asp?file=/2008/3/12/columnists/midweek/20615787&sec=Midweek

FROM tomorrow until Sunday, US veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will speak out in Washington on war crimes they or their fellow troops had committed.

This event differs from regular anti-war protests because these soldiers, several of them honourably decorated, will show how the torture, killings and other brutalities against civilians they either witnessed or committed are not isolated incidents, but part of standard operating procedure in the US military rules of engagement.

The event, organised by Iraq Veterans Against War (IVAW), will feature video and photographic evidence, panel testimonies, satellite television broadcasts and live video streaming on www.ivaw.org.

IVAW complains that the US mainstream media gives insufficient coverage to the Iraq war to expose its true ugly nature. Issues include the rising costs of the war, despite official claims of a recent decline in casualties.

The initial official estimate of a US$60bil (RM192bil) financial cost assumed that Iraqis themselves would pay additional costs through oil sales. Another figure of US$100bil (RM320bil) soon appeared, which the Pentagon dismissed outright even as the sum was soon surpassed.

In March 2006, Nobel Prize laureate and former World Bank chief economist at Columbia University Joseph Stiglitz, with Linda Bilmes at Harvard, found the cost at US$1 trillion (RM3.2 trillion) for a conservative estimate, and twice that for a moderate one. That was by the third anniversary of the war, as costs continue to rise.

That year the Congressional Research Service estimated running costs at US$2bil (RM6.4bil) a week for a three-year tally of half a trillion dollars. Stiglitz and Bilmes note that official figures exclude healthcare costs of wounded soldiers, insurance payments, interest and opportunity costs in the public sector.

Last November, Democrats in Congress’ Joint Economic Committee found the financial costs in Iraq and Afghanistan to be US$1.5 trillion (RM4.8 trillion), then revised it upwards by US$100bil. That covers only the period 2002-08, while Republican presidential candidate John McCain says he is prepared for the US occupation of Iraq to remain for another 100 years.

The National Priorities Project’s (www.nationalpriorities.org) running counter on costs adds about US$10,000 (RM32,000) per second for a tally of US$275mil (RM880.8mil) a day. Its related site www.CostOfWar.com includes other costs, like some 4,000 US dead, 60,000 wounded, 700,000 Iraqis dead and some four million refugees.

But to minimise criticism and scrutiny, US officials play down the figures. For example, the official number of US war dead does not include the wounded who die after being removed from the scene of battle, or even soldiers killed while not on duty.

As the figures multiply, even official sources have difficulty continuing the policy of concealment. In January this year, a Government Accounting Office report to Congress says “significant” resources need to be committed with “difficult trade-offs” amid an “increasing long-range fiscal challenge.”

Stiglitz and Bilmes have updated their data in the new book The Three Trillion Dollar War. They now find the cost at more than US$12.5bil (RM40bil) a month for a total of US$2.7 trillion (RM8.6 trillion) by 2017, saying they could err on the conservative side since economic and social costs together could almost double that in a decade.

Differences in the sums come from official exclusion of certain costs, and estimates (such as the Congressional Budget Office’s) being based on only 10 years of occupation. Despite shaky arguments by war advocates that the cost of inaction might be higher, there is no serious rejection of the estimates by Stiglitz and Bilmes.All this contrasts with early official claims that the Iraq war would be “good for business,” as the US economy and dollar now decline and oil prices rise. Big business weighed in against the Vietnam War and helped stop it, and the same could now happen with Iraq.

A similar demonstration by Vietnam Veterans Against the War in Detroit in 1971 was ignored by the mainstream media. Whether the same would befall IVAW in Washington in the next four days remains to be seen.

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About kchew

an occasional culturalist
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