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Daily Archives: June 24, 2009

The Iraq war is over – was it worth it?

By Gwynne Dyer*
By the end of this month, all United States military forces will have withdrawn from Iraqi cities. Effectively, the US war in Iraq is over. Was it worth it?
There are two quite separate balance sheets of costs and benefits, one for Iraqis and the other for Americans. It's too early to give a final answer for the Iraqis but for the United States the answer is definitely no.
No matter what happens in Iraq now, the Obama Administration will not re-commit US troops to a combat role in the country, so we can calculate approximately how much the Iraq adventure cost the United States with some confidence. The total cost will work out at well over US$1 trillion ($1.57 trillion), if we count the long-term cost of veteran care.
Random attacks may kill a few hundred more American soldiers in Iraq before all the troops go home, but the final death toll will certainly be less than 5000. That is only one-tenth of the fatalities that US troops suffered in the Korean War or the Vietnam war, so the cost in lives was relatively low for Americans. But what did the United States gain in return for that investment?
 […] There is a reservoir of experienced terrorist operatives in Iraq that did not exist before the US invasion, but apart from the minority of al Qaeda extremists they have little interest in operating beyond the country's borders. And there will be no permanent US bases in Iraq.
So the balance sheet for the United States is in the red, but not catastrophically so. […] More money has been thrown at failing American banks in the past eight months than was thrown at Iraq in six years.

What about the Iraqis, then? For them, the price in lives was far higher: up to two-thirds of a million deaths, by some estimates. They also suffered the almost complete collapse of an economy that was already severely damaged by Saddam's wars and the subsequent trade embargo. The level of violence has dropped sharply from its peak in 2006-07, but the monthly death toll from political killings (which includes sectarian ones) is still higher than it was during the last decade of Saddam's rule.
For the 80 per cent of Iraqis who speak Arabic, the greatest costs have been the destruction of the old secular society, which even under Saddam allowed women more freedom than most other Arab regimes, and the brutal ethnic cleansing that resulted in an almost complete physical separation of the Shia and Sunni populations. At least three million people are still afraid to return to their homes, and most never will.
That was a direct result of the American invasion, for without that the al Qaeda fanatics would never have gained such a foothold in the Sunni community. It was the senseless al Qaeda terrorist attacks on the Shias that unleashed the civil war of 2006-07, which the Sunnis, being outnumbered three-to-one, were bound to lose. It will take at least a generation to heal this wound.
The other 20 per cent of the population, the Kurds of northern Iraq, got a semi-independent state out of the invasion, though they still go along with the fiction of a united Iraq. This is not a stable arrangement, however, and the risk of an Arab-Kurdish war in Iraq over the ownership of the Kirkuk oilfields cannot be discounted.
On the other hand, Iraqis now have a more or less democratic system, with more or less free media. They have a government that is more corrupt and significantly less competent than the old Baathist regime, but will at least not waste the country's wealth on foreign wars. Given 10 or 15 years of good luck and high oil prices, Iraq could climb back to the level of prosperity it enjoyed in the 1970s.
So was it all worth it? There is no consensus on that even among the Iraqis themselves. We may know the answer by 2020.
* Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist based in London.


Nine dead in Washington metro crash

Rescue workers searched through a mangled mess into the night after a Washington metro train rammed into another one during Monday evening's rush hour, killing at least nine people and injuring 76.
Rescuers used powerful blades to cut through the wreckage to find any more people trapped after a train slammed into a stationary one, forcing one subway car on top of the other and sending passengers hurtling through the air.
Mayor Adrian Fenty earlier confirmed six people had died in the accident, but warned the toll could rise in what he described as "the deadliest accident in the [33-year] history of our Metro train transit system."
The lead train " was going at a speed that would have made that initial car literally compress to about one-fourth of the original size," Fenty told CNN.
"We have to go in [to the compressed rear car] and find out if there's any remaining bodies."
The collision involving the six-compartment trains took place at 5:02 pm (2102 GMT) near the Fort Totten Metro station, said Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) general manager John Catoe.
Rescue teams were seen carrying injured passengers on stretchers down the tracks as dozens of stunned passengers, safely evacuated from the train, stood by the tracks close to the collision site.