The Ongoing Costs of the Iraq War

Fatima Al-zeheri
Foreign Policy in Focus / News Analysis
Published: Monday 8 August 2011
For all the destruction, Iraqis have received very little in the way of compensation.
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When you de­stroy some­one’s prop­erty, you usu­ally have to pay com­pen­sa­tion. The United States is re­spon­si­ble for much of the de­struc­tion that has taken place in Iraq since the 2003 in­va­sion. But in­stead of of­fer­ing com­pen­sa­tion to the Iraqis, Con­gress­man Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) has de­manded that the Iraqi gov­ern­ment pay the United States com­pen­sa­tion in dol­lars for the cost of U.S.-led war. The Iraqi re­sponse was to kick Rohrabacher out of Bagh­dad.
While the United States fo­cuses on its bud­get prob­lems and the costs of the war, it is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber the price that Iraq and Iraqis have paid. It's not just the hun­dreds of thou­sands who have died dur­ing and after the war. There are mil­lions of refugees. The coun­try's in­fra­struc­ture has been ru­ined. Cor­rup­tion is flour­ish­ing.
And for all this de­struc­tion, Iraqis have re­ceived very lit­tle in the way of com­pen­sa­tion.
The Human Costs
Ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Res­cue Com­mit­tee, the war has dis­placed 4.7 mil­lion Iraqis be­cause of the de­struc­tion of their homes and the waves of vi­o­lence and per­se­cu­tion. Close to half of these refugees are liv­ing in poverty in neigh­bor­ing coun­tries. They face an un­cer­tain fu­ture and may never be able to go back to their homes. This refugee cri­sis rep­re­sents the largest and fastest grow­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian crises of our time.
Among these un­set­tled refugees are peo­ple who worked side by side with the Amer­i­cans. Out of the 4.7 mil­lion dis­placed civil­ians, the State De­part­ment has ad­mit­ted only a lit­tle more than 58,000 Iraqi refugees to the United States. This fig­ure pales in com­par­i­son to the num­ber of refugees ad­mit­ted from other coun­tries dur­ing sim­i­lar crises. Dur­ing the Cold War, for in­stance, the United States ad­mit­ted 900,000 refugees from Viet­nam and 600,000 Jews from the So­viet Union.
For Iraqis still liv­ing in­side the coun­try, vi­o­lence and hard­ship have be­come part of daily life. Now that U.S. diplo­mats are set­ting the ground­work to pull out troops, ter­ror­ist at­tacks are threat­en­ing the frag­ile se­cu­rity of this na­tion. At­tacks in July killed and in­jured dozens of peo­ple, and these at­tacks have con­tin­ued into Au­gust.
But it’s not only the peo­ple who have paid for this on­go­ing war. The land it­self has borne a share of the cost as well.
The Phys­i­cal Costs
Iraq is still deal­ing with un­re­solved prob­lems with basic ser­vices. Ac­cord­ing to the UN En­vi­ron­ment Pro­gram, Iraq faces se­vere pol­lu­tion and en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems so alarm­ing that an im­me­di­ate as­sess­ment and cleanup plan are needed ur­gently. Nearly half of Iraqis do not have re­li­able ac­cess to safe drink­ing water, and wide­spread water short­ages have re­sulted from drought and in­ad­e­quate man­age­ment of re­sources. Ex­cept for Bagh­dad, elec­tric­ity is lim­ited to three to six hours daily. There has been a dra­matic in­crease in the num­ber of ba­bies born with birth de­fects since the start of war. The un­em­ploy­ment rate is 15 per­cent, with cer­tain re­gions reach­ing al­most 30 per­cent.
Since the start of the war in 2003, Iraqi cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions and ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites have also suf­fered tremen­dously, with the ran­sack­ing of mu­se­ums and the pil­fer­ing of thou­sands of items. This de­struc­tion and theft dealt a harsh blow to col­lec­tions that chron­i­cled some 7,000 years of civ­i­liza­tion in Mesopotamia. Still today, 3-7,000 pieces re­main miss­ing.
The de­fend­ers of the war have ar­gued that Iraqi cit­i­zens have gained democ­racy. But this democ­racy has been deeply flawed. Al­though the Iraqi peo­ple look to their new gov­ern­ment to im­prove their liv­ing con­di­tions and the se­cu­rity of their coun­try, deep-seated cor­rup­tion has com­pli­cated the de­mo­c­ra­tic process. After the par­lia­men­tary elec­tions in March 2010, Iraqis had to wait at least nine months for the for­ma­tion of gov­ern­ment.  In Feb­ru­ary, thou­sands protested in the streets of Bagh­dad against the cor­rup­tion and in­com­pe­tence of the Ma­liki gov­ern­ment.
U.S. Re­spon­si­bil­ity  
Iraq has long been a cru­cial coun­try in the Mid­dle East. And now all the sur­round­ing coun­tries are help­ing them­selves to a share of this rich coun­try. Once a ter­ror­ist-free zone under Sad­dam Hus­sein, Iraq is now host to a flour­ish­ing al-Qaeda. U.S. forces failed to pro­tect Iraqi civil­ians. The United States has failed to sta­bi­lize the coun­try. And if the United States with­draws troops only to ig­nore Iraq, the coun­try will fail in the fu­ture as well. 
The U.S. gov­ern­ment is now fo­cus­ing on its own debt issue. Much of that debt has come from mil­i­tary ex­pen­di­tures and the war in Iraq. The United States has spent more than $7.6 tril­lion on de­fense and home­land se­cu­ri­tys­ince 9/11, while the total costs of the war in Iraq will reach $797.3 bil­lion by the end of the cur­rent fis­cal year on Sep­tem­ber 30, 2011. 
In com­par­i­son, this year, USAID plans to spend only $63 mil­lion in total hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance for Iraq.
In order to pre­vent a failed state in Iraq or a state that re­mains com­pletely de­pen­dent on its U.S. backer, the United States must clean up the mess that it made. Wash­ing­ton should cut mil­i­tary spend­ing and use a small por­tion of that money to help Iraqis re­build their coun­try, as­sist up­rooted cit­i­zens in re­turn­ing home, and cre­ate a trans­par­ent and de­mo­c­ra­tic po­lit­i­cal sys­tem. Many of the losses that Iraq has suf­fered can­not be com­pen­sated. But the United States must still try to make things right. And that means, de­spite what Dana Rohrabacher has de­manded, that Wash­ing­ton, not Bagh­dad, pay the Pot­tery Barn bill for dam­ages in­curred