The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Most Costs of Iraq War Remain Immeasurable

by Chris Shumway

As the Pentagon’s tab for the ongoing occupation continues to accumulate, the costs to the people, environment and cultural heritage of Iraq have spiraled beyond any sense of reckoning.

June 7, 2005 – With the recent approval of more than $60 billion in supplemental funding for the war in Iraq, the US Congress has now authorized nearly $192 billion to pay for combat operations, occupation expenses and military support costs through 2005, according to an analysis by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the non-partisan public policy research arm of Congress.

As extensive as the military costs are, the full human, economic, cultural and ecological costs of the Iraq war – including the damage to the country’s civilian infrastructure and health care system, the destruction of antiquities and looting of cultural landmarks, and widespread environmental degradation – remain largely unknown but appear to be mounting.

The Pentagon and Congress have done little to assess such costs and have thus far earmarked far fewer funds for civilian reconstruction, economic development and environmental projects in Iraq than for military operations.

In October 2003, for example, the World Bank estimated that reconstruction alone would cost about $56 billion between 2004 and 2007. But, according to the CRS, Congress allocated only $21 billion for reconstruction in 2003 and 2004, and of that amount only about $6.7 billion has been disbursed.

Audits by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) have further revealed that in many cases the actual cost to complete rebuilding projects exceeds initial estimates.

But while the Bush administration requested billions in supplemental funding for military operations in 2005, it did not ask for any additional funds for reconstruction in Iraq this year, the CRS confirmed.

The United States is not funding the reconstruction campaign on its own, however. The former Oil-for-Food program was retooled in 2003 to enable occupying powers to divert Iraqi oil revenues, largely to private companies and the US Army Corps of Engineers, contracted for various reconstruction projects.

Tens of millions in revenues accrued by the new program – called the Development Fund for Iraq (DFI) – have gone missing, according to multiple audits. Administrators have even "lost" well over 600,000 tons of Iraqi oil, worth some $69 million.

Citing this and numerous other documented examples of mismanagement, Representative Henry Waxman (D-California) late last month called for hearings to be held by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, one of the bodies currently investigating corruption in the Fund’s predecessor program.

Health Care Costs Rising, But Funds Lacking

The slow pace of rebuilding Iraq’s civilian infrastructure, especially its dilapidated health care system, combined with threats of violence from insurgents, has continued last year’s alarming trend of driving many Iraqi doctors from their jobs, the New York Times reports.

Iraq’s Health Ministry had requested $2 billion for health care services in 2004 from US controlled funding sources, but reportedly received less than half that amount – only $950 million. Doctors told the Christian Science Monitor that due to poor funding and the slow pace of the US-led reconstruction effort, projects to repair hospital water pipes and sewage systems are left undone.

"It's the worst health care system Iraq has ever known," Dr. Waleed George, chief surgeon at Al-Sadoon Hospital in Baghdad, told the Times. "Imagine yourself trying to operate on a patient in a two-hour surgery and the power goes out," George said. "You pray to God, and you sweat."

According to Dr. George, shortages of electricity and medicine recently forced the hospital to reduce the number of operations by about half, the Times reported.

Human Toll Has Yet to Abate

This, at a time when Iraq’s Ministry of Defense says the number of civilian casualties has more than quadrupled since Iraq’s transitional government took power in April. According to the government, more than 850 Iraqi civilians have been killed in the past two months, adding to the unquantifiable cost in human lives.

Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said last week that rebel and terrorist violence has killed 12,000 Iraqi civilians over the past year and a half – an average of 20 killed per day. Jabr did not, however, describe the formula used to arrive at that number.

US bombing, raids and patrols have killed untold numbers of Iraqi civilians since the 2003 invasion. Statistics from Iraq’s Health Ministry obtained by Knight Ridder last fall showed that operations by US-led occupation forces had killed twice as many Iraqis as had attacks by insurgents.

All told, informed estimates of civilian deaths range extends above 100,000. The group Iraq Body Count has publicly recorded over 22,000 documented civilian deaths and believes the confirmed mortality tally may have recently broken 25,000. Other studies have attempted to extrapolate mortality figures based on household surveys, with broad results.

The Pentagon reports that as of last week, more than 1,660 US military personnel have died in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, most of them killed by Iraqi resistance forces.

Unknown Environmental Costs

Assessing the environmental costs of war is proving difficult for officials with the United Nations Environmental Program’s (UNEP) Iraq Task Force, the primary international body charged with monitoring the country’s natural environment.

UNEP investigators and officials with Iraq’s environmental ministry are attempting to make a detailed study of environmental damage, but the process is moving slowly due to continued violence.

Pekka Haavisto, chairman of the task force, told Reuters last week, "Iraq is the worst case we have assessed" compared to other regions, such as the former Yugoslavia, where recent wars have been fought. "After the Balkan War we could immediately intervene for protection," Haavista said, "but not in Iraq."

Evidence from two previous UNEP studies conducted in the months following the 2003 invasion indicates that the condition of Iraq’s environment, which was already among the worst in the world due to two previous wars and more than a decade of crushing economic sanctions supported by the US and Britain, has been made worse by the US-led war.

Of particular concern is the renewed use by US forces of depleted uranium (DU) munitions in populated areas. DU is a radioactive heavy metal used in armor piercing shells as well as armor plating on US tanks. Although the Pentagon has not disclosed how much DU was used by US forces in the most recent war, UNEP estimated that "significant amounts of DU rounds" were fired in 2003. US forces fired more than 290 metric tons of DU projectiles during the 1991 Gulf War, according to UNEP.

Though the US military has insisted the metal is safe for soldiers and civilians, the use of depleted uranium has come under fire from nearly all corners. Opponents include prominent physicists, doctors and even the former US Army colonel sent to oversee the cleanup of DU left behind after the first Gulf War in 1991.

Iraqi and international physicians have long suspected that DU contamination might be behind a spike in birth deformities that followed the 1991 war. Recently, Iraqi doctors suggested that polluted water contaminated by DU from the current war, may be the primary cause of a new increase in the number of Iraqi babies born with deformities.

Other potentially costly environmental projects include the monitoring and cleanup of numerous Iraqi sites containing nuclear and other toxic materials that US forces neglected to secure in the wake of the 2003 invasion. Looters and industrial pirates subsequently made off with vast amounts of toxic material and weapons-making equipment, according to reports by UN agencies.

"The bombing and war carried a cost, but the looting cost the environment more," Haavisto said, referring specifically to the looting of Iraq’s Tuwaitha nuclear storage facility and a chemical depot in Dora.

"High levels of radiation have been detected in several neighborhoods [near Tuwaitha] as a result of looters carting off nuclear materials," UNEP reported in October 2003.

But due to the lack of security, inspectors are unable to begin cleanup operations. "There has not been proper cleanup and only assessment work at some of these sites," Haavisto told Reuters. "Chemicals are seeping into groundwater and the situation is becoming worse and creating additional health problems."

The buildup of pollution in the Tigris River is a particularly disturbing example of the war’s devastating impact on Iraq’s urban water supply – an impact that will likely take years and vast environmental resources to repair.

As The NewStandard reported last summer, water in the Tigris flowing through Baghdad contains a concentrated mix of pesticides, fertilizers, oil, gasoline and heavy metals, according to Dr. Husni Mohammed, an Iraqi environmental scientist.

Dr. Mohammed’s research indicates that Iraqi and US military waste during the 2003 invasion deposited oil and benzene, an ingredient found in gasoline and jet fuel, into the river.

The health effects of benzene are well known and severe. Short-term exposure can cause significant damage to the nervous system and dramatic suppression of the immune system. Consistent consumption of benzene-tainted water can cause long-term effects including cancer, particularly Leukemia, as well as birth defects and damage to the reproductive system.

Stolen Antiquities, Damaged Cultural Sites

Perhaps the most difficult cost to accurately assess is the value of stolen Iraqi antiquities and the amount of damage done to Iraq’s ancient historic sites by both insurgents and US-led occupation forces.

Shortly after invaders toppled Saddam Hussein’s government, homegrown looters struck Iraq’s unguarded national museum in Baghdad, smashing numerous ancient statues and stealing other priceless museum pieces.

Last summer, Aljazeera TV reported that Iraq’s interim culture minister accused US-led troops of destroying irreplaceable historical sites and religious artifacts, including several in the ancient city of Babylon. Mufid Al-Jazairi said heavy equipment, helicopters and other machinery used by US and Polish forces based at the Babylon site, about 60 miles south of Baghdad, were causing irreparable harm.

"Just their presence, with their heavy equipment, is harmful in and of itself," Al-Jazairi said, adding that helicopter landings and take-offs were a particular problem.

Babylon was the capital of ancient Babylonia, an early civilization that existed from around 1800 BC until 600 BC. It was the site where Emperor Nebuchadrezzar II built his famous hanging gardens, considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Al-Jazairi also told Aljazeera that workers employed by Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root had been digging and building in the area around Babylon, causing further damage.

A December 2004 report by Dr. John Curtis of the British Museum, who personally inspected the sites, said the US and Polish presence initially protected the Babylonian sites from looters, but that subsequent military activities, such as digging with heavy equipment, had caused "substantial damage."

Curtis recommended that "a full-scale international investigation" be launched "into the damage done to the archaeological site of Babylon during its occupation by coalition forces." He further stated that establishing a long-term military camp at the site was "tantamount to establishing a military camp around the Great Pyramid in Egypt or around Stonehenge in Britain."

Lord Resedale, a British archaeologist, said damage to Babylon was not only harmful to Iraq’s cultural heritage, but to the entire international community. "These are world sites," Resedale told the London Guardian in January. "Not only is what the American forces are doing damaging the archaeology of Iraq, it's actually damaging the cultural heritage of the whole world," he said.

Military Costs Expected to Remain High Through 2014

The military price tag of the current war in Iraq has already far exceeded the $85 billion inflation-adjusted price tag of the 1991 Gulf War. When combined with allocations for ongoing military operations in Afghanistan, the Congressional Research Service estimates that total spending for war by Congress since 2001 has exceeded $275 billion.

Despite the rising costs and a large federal deficit, Congress continues to approve massive spending measures for the Pentagon. Money for the Iraq war is now coming from two different allocations: the regular annual Pentagon budget allocation and supplemental, emergency spending measures sent to Congress by President Bush after the initial budget has been approved.

Last month, Congress passed an $82 billion supplemental defense bill for 2005, of which about $60 billion will pay for military operations and related expenses in Iraq. The Senate Armed Services Committee also late last month added $50 billion in war spending to the regular fiscal 2006 Pentagon budget.

The CRS analysis notes that military spending in Iraq increased from 2004 to 2005 despite claims by the Bush administration that US and Iraq troops has been successful in suppressing the Iraqi resistance.

Almost half of the funds from the recent supplemental bill will pay for ground operations by US forces, along with flying hours, fuel and travel expenses. Another sizeable chunk is set aside for weapons procurement, hazard pay for combat troops and extra money paid to reservists who are called to active duty.

Congress also allocated over $805 million in supplemental funds from 2001 to 2005 for construction projects at military facilities in Iraq.

The Bush administration requested another $1.3 billion in the supplemental bill for construction and security costs associated with the US embassy in Baghdad, according to an April CRS report. Congress recently approved half that amount to begin building the embassy compound, which will include its own electrical plant and be one of the largest US overseas missions in the world.

Even if the US began withdrawing troops steadily over the next few years, military expenses would remain high, according to the CRS, with total costs for Iraq and Afghanistan totaling an additional $458 billion through 2014.

Send to Friends Respond to Editors or Reporter

The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.


Chris Shumway is a contributing journalist.

Recent contributions by Chris Shumway:
more