The cost of the Iraq War

The media seldom discusses the cost of the Iraq War.  The cost was great, is still being paid, and mostly paid by the Iraq people.  Here is a brief accounting.  This is a only an excerpt; the full article provides one of the best summaries of the war I have seen — from their perspective — and is very much worth reading.

River of Resistance“, Michael Schwartz, TomDispatch (22 May 2008) — “How the American Imperial Dream Foundered in Iraq.”

… It’s hard now even to recall the original vision George W. Bush and his top officials had of how the conquest of Iraq would unfold as an episode in the President’s Global War on Terror. In their minds, the invasion was sure to yield a quick victory, to be followed by the creation of a client state that would house crucial “enduring” U.S. military bases from which Washington would project power throughout what they liked to term “the Greater Middle East.”

In addition, Iraq was quickly going to become a free-market paradise, replete with privatized oil flowing at record rates onto the world market. Like falling dominos, Syria and Iran, cowed by such a demonstration of American might, would follow suit, either from additional military thrusts or because their regimes — and those of up to 60 countries worldwide — would appreciate the futility of resisting Washington’s demands. Eventually, the “unipolar moment” of U.S. global hegemony that the collapse of the Soviet Union had initiated would be extended into a “New American Century”(along with a generational Pax Republicana at home).

This vision is now, of course, long gone, largely thanks to unexpected and tenacious resistance of every sort within Iraq.

… The largely Sunni city of Falluja, like most other communities around the country, spontaneously formed a new government based on local clerical and tribal structures. Like many of these cities, it avoided the worst of the post-invasion looting by encouraging the formation of local militias to police the community. Ironically, the orgy of looting that took place in Baghdad was, at least in part, a consequence of the U.S. military presence, which delayed the creation of such militias there.  … Falluja itself was, of course, {eventually}  destroyed, with 70% of its buildings turned to rubble, and tens of thousands of its residents permanently displaced — an extreme sacrifice that had the unexpected effect of taking pressure off other Iraqi cities for a while.

… In Washington, for Democratic as well as Republican politicians, the outpost idea remains at the heart of the policy agenda for Iraq in this election year, along with a neoliberal economy featuring a modernized oil sector in which multinational firms are to use state-of-the-art technology to maximize the country’s lagging oil production.  Iraqi resistance of every kind and on every level has, however, prevented this vision from becoming reality. Because of the Iraqis, the glorious sounding Global War on Terror has been transformed into an endless, hopeless actual war.

But the Iraqis have paid a terrible price for resisting. The invasion and the social and economic policies that accompanied it have destroyed Iraq, leaving its people essentially destitute. In the first five years of this endless war, Iraqis have suffered more for resisting than if they had accepted and endured American military and economic dominance. Whether consciously or not, they have sacrificed themselves to halt Washington’s projected military and economic march through the oil-rich Middle East on the path to a new American Century that now will never be.

Copyright 2008 Michael Schwartz 

Michael Schwartz, Professor of Sociology at Stony Brook University has written extensively on popular protest and insurgency. His analyses of America’s Iraq have appeared regularly at, as well as Asia Times, Mother Jones, and Contexts. His forthcoming Tomdispatch book, War Without End: The Iraq Debacle in Context(Haymarket, June 2008) explores how the militarized geopolitics of oil led the U.S. to dismantle the Iraqi state and economy while fueling a sectarian civil war.

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For more information about the Iraq War

  1. My posts about the war
  2. Important articles about the Iraq War
  3. Our goals and benchmarks, and reports about progress towards them

2 thoughts on “The cost of the Iraq War”

  1. Insightful article by Prof. Schwartz, as always. But

    “unexpected and tenacious resistance”?

    In addition to Lt Col Kwiatkowski’s prophecy of the “snake pit of Iraq,” we have the formidable Mr. Lind. This from his post of 26 March 2003, i.e., while we were still marching up:

    The second broad possibility is that we take Baghdad, replace Saddam with an American-approved pro-consul, then watch Iraq turn into a vast West Bank as non-state elements take effective control outside the capital city. This is what has happened in Afghanistan, and in Iraq too we would quickly find that our state armed forces do not know how to fight non-state opponents in Fourth Generation war. This outcome is good short-term but—as Israel can attest—a bloody mess in the long-term.

    The third possibility is what the adventurers who now run American foreign and defense policy seek: we take Baghdad, liberate Iraq and turn it into a modern, peaceful democracy. The probability of this happening makes a snowball’s chances in Hell look pretty good …

    It was only unexpected by those who, either from ideology or ignorance, chose not to expect it.

    To read the full post, go to William Lind Archive and scroll down to On War #9. On War #18, dated 29 May, also makes fascinating reading (” Welcome to my parlor, say the Ba’athist and Shiite spiders to the fly. “)

  2. Ralph Hitchens

    Although some questions were publicly debated during the long runup to the 2003 invasion, why did the administration not ask for a National Intelligence Estimate on post-Saddam Iraq? Or did they and I’ve simply forgotten about it, along with everyone else? We hear ad nauseum about the world-famous WMD NIE, but this issue seems to have fallen into the memory hole.

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