New 'Costs of War' Report: Hundreds of Thousands Dead, Trillions Spent

As the ten year anniversary of Iraq invasion approaches research undermines any claims that war was worth it

by Jon Queally  |  March 15, 2013

As the ten year anniversary of the US invasion approaches, updated research shows that both the human and financial costs of the preemptive and prolonged military adventure in Iraq are higher than the most Americans even now realize and astronomically higher than its proponents assured the public as they made their case for war a decade ago.

At minimum, according to the Costs of War project at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University, 134,000 innocent Iraqis lost their lives as a direct result of the US-led war that began in March of 2003. For numerous reasons, the groups says, this number could well "double" before a complete count is reached.

"The figures for the number of Iraqi civilians killed have been clouded somewhat by arguments about methods for counting the dead and by politics inside Iraq and in the US," the authors of the report note. "Yet to focus on the arguments about how to record the dead and wounded obscures the human toll of the war. What can be said, after reviewing the evidence, is that the conservative 123,000 estimate for civilians killed by direct war-related violence is low, perhaps very low. On the higher end, a 2006 study published by The Lancet estimated 654,965 excess deaths related to the war."

Estimating the total deaths—though equally hard to calculate given the nature of war and the poor reporting by the US military—the study put the conservative number between 176,000 and 189,000. That includes security forces, insurgents, journalists and humanitarian workers.

"Indirect deaths," the report says, "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."

In addition, the report estimates that 2.8 million people remain either internally displaced or have fled the country. And a survey taken in 2011 found that "between 800,000 and a million Iraqi children have lost one or both parents."

And Dr. Haider Maliki, of the Central Pediatric Teaching Hospital in Baghdad estimated in 2010 that "28% of Iraqi children suffer some degree of PTSD, and their numbers are steadily rising."

Like the human costs, the economic costs of the war are also dynamic, but the project estimates that ultimately the war could cost the US has much $6 trillion when all liabilities are tabulated, including interest payments. As the report specifically notes, the Iraq War—as with the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan—was largely funded by borrowing, not with increased tax revenue or the issuing of war bonds.

This borrowing has raised the U.S. budget deficit, increased the national debt, and had other macroeconomic effects, such as raising interest rates. The U.S. must also pay interest on the borrowed money. The interest paid on Pentagon spending alone, so far (from 2001 through FY 2013) is about $259 billion in current dollars.

As Reutersexplains, the Costs of War research also looked at the totality of spending and human damage in the US wars in Pakistan and Afghanistan as well:

The 2011 study said the combined cost of the wars was at least $3.7 trillion, based on actual expenditures from the U.S. Treasury and future commitments, such as the medical and disability claims of U.S. 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.

According to its updated research, the group found:

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