Horrific costs of Iraq & Afghanistan wars continue to plague the vulnerable

“Shock & Awe” bombing campaign was an overwhelming success, but war dragged on

On May 2, 2003, US president George W Bush declared victory over Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq.

The “shock & awe” bombing campaign was an overwhelming success, or so it seemed. In reality, the war dragged on against disparate insurgents and terrorists. Civilian and military casualties mounted.  Fifteen years later, Iraq and the surrounding nations are still reaping the humanitarian, social, political and economic consequences. The war which worsened instability in the strife-torn region has also had an adverse impact on the global economy.

There has been some relatively good news. On May 12, Iraq will hold another national election, a far cry from the cruel dictatorships of Saddam Hussein and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. According to the World Bank, Iraq’s growth rate will be 2½ percent this year, thanks to higher oil prices, a more favourable security environment and a gradual pickup in reconstruction investment. This growth must be seen in perspective. Some 22½ percent of desperate Iraqis are living under the poverty line. In the war-torn areas, youth unemployment is 27 percent.

Hopefully, World Bank funding and international aid will bolster the Iraqi economy. It is also hoped that the incoming government will not be corrupt, and peace will prevail with the Kurds, Turkey and Iran. Unfortunately, the odds are long for short-term and even medium-term stability. The aftermath of the 2003 geopolitical blunder continues to be a blight on the nation.

Humanitarian costs

A humanitarian tragedy overwhelms the country even though Iraqi forces have claimed victory over Daesh. Iraq Body Count – which records the violent deaths caused by the US-led coalition, Iraqi government forces, paramilitary and criminal attacks – estimates that since 2003, civilian deaths have risen to more than 203,000. Deaths continue to climb, and there are no reliable estimates of the number who have been wounded. Thousands of women, men and children have contracted cancer and other illnesses from arms, destroyed buildings and sewage pollution. According to Brown University’s Watson Institute, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are highly polluted with industrial and military waste, posing a health risk. Millions of people have been displaced and do not have adequate shelter.

Pentagon underestimates costs by around $3 trillion

The Watson Institute estimates that since 2003, direct US military spending and contingencies from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan plus expenditure in Pakistan amounted to US$1.88 trillion. Staggering as these estimates are, they are only part of the story. Including accrued veterans’ medical and disability costs, indirect costs to the US Defence Department, social costs for veterans’ families and interest already paid, the bill rises to a whopping US$4.63 trillion.

Impact on global economy

Global indirect costs of the war include the surge in oil and energy prices. Excessive borrowing forced the US to slash spending on vital infrastructure, health and education. Watson reckons that cumulative interest on military borrowing could reach US$7.9 trillion in the coming four decades.

It can further be argued that underperforming economies subsequent to the war contributed to reckless monetary ease. That policy caused a credit and asset price bubble that ended in the crash of the 2008-2009 recession. Since then, quantitative easing and almost zero rates created a financial boom. Inequality between rich and poor widened. And not least, growing social resentment helped the rise of populist politicians in Europe and the US.

© copyright Neil Behrmann

This was an editorial for The Business Times, Singapore   Jack of Diamonds  Neil Behrmann’s thriller on global diamond mining and smuggling has just been published. It is the stand-alone sequel to Trader Jack, The Story of Jack Miner



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