A Failed ‘Transition’: The Mounting Costs of the Iraq War

A Failed "Transition" is the most comprehensive accounting of the mounting costs of the Iraq war on the United States, Iraq, and the world. Among its major findings are stark figures about the escalation of costs in these most recent three months of "transition" to Iraqi rule, a period that the Bush administration claimed would be characterized by falling human and economic costs. (To read a .pdf file of the entire document, click here.)

Key Findings

1. U.S. Military Casualties Have Been Highest During the "Transition": U.S. military casualties (wounded and killed) stand at a monthly average of 747 since the so-called transition to Iraqi rule on June 28, 2004. This contrasts with a monthly average of 482 U.S. military casualties during the invasion (March 20-May 1, 2003) and a monthly average of 415 during the occupation (May 2, 2003-June 28, 2004).

2. Non-Iraqi Contractor Deaths Have Also Been Highest During the "Transition": There has also been a huge increase in the average monthly deaths of U.S. and other non-Iraqi contractors since the transition. On average, 17.5 contractors have died each month since the June 28 "transition," versus 7.6 contractor deaths per month during the previous 14 months of occupation.

3. Estimated Strength of Iraqi Resistance Skyrockets: Because the U.S. military occupation remains in place, the "transition" has failed to win Iraqi support or diminish Iraqi resistance to the occupation. According to Pentagon estimates, the number of Iraqi resistance fighters has quadrupled between November of 2003 and early September 2004, from 5,000 to 20,000. The deputy commander of coalition forces in Iraq, British Major General Andrew Graham, indicated to Time magazine in early September that he thinks the 20,000 estimate is too low; he estimates Iraqi resistance strength at 40,000-50,000. This rise is even starker when juxtaposed to Brookings Institution estimates that an additional 24,000 Iraqi resistance fighters have been detained or killed between May 2003 and August 2004.

4. U.S.- led Coalition Shrinks Further After "Transition": The number of countries identified as members of the Coalition backing the U.S.-led war started with 30 on March 18, 2003, then grew in the early months of the war. Since then, eight countries have withdrawn their troops and Costa Rica has demanded to be taken off the coalition list. At the war’s start, coalition countries represented 19.1 percent of the world’s population; today, the remaining countries with forces in Iraq represent only 13.6 percent of the world’s population.

Highlights of A Failed "Transition"

I. Costs to the United States


U.S. Military Deaths: Between the start of war on March 19, 2003 and Sept. 22, 2004, 1,175 coalition forces were killed, including 1,040 U.S. military. Of the total, 925 were killed after U.S. President George W. Bush declared the end of combat operations on May 1, 2003.

Over 7,413 U.S. troops have been wounded since the war began, 6,953 (94 percent) since May 1, 2003.

Contractor Deaths: As of Sept. 22, 2004, there has been an estimated 154 civilian contractors, missionaries, and civilian worker deaths since May 1, 2004. Of these, 52 have been identified as Americans.

Journalist Deaths: Forty-four international media workers have been killed in Iraq as of Sept. 22, 2004, including 33 since Bush declared an end of combat operations. Eight of the dead worked for U.S. companies.


Terrorist Recruitment and Action: According to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, al-Qaeda’s membership is now at 18,000, with 1,000 active in Iraq. The State Department’s 2003 "Patterns of Global Terrorism" documented 625 deaths and 3,646 injuries due to terrorist attacks in 2003. The report acknowledged that "significant incidents," increased from 60 percent of total attacks in 2002 to 84 percent in 2003.

Low U.S. Credibility: Polls reveal that the war has damaged the U.S. government’s standing and credibility in the world. Surveys in eight European and Arab countries demonstrated broad public agreement that the war has hurt, rather than helped, the war on terrorism. At home, 52 percent of Americans polled by the Annenberg Election Survey disapprove of Bush’s handling of Iraq.

Military Mistakes: A number of former military officials have criticized the war, including retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, who has charged that by manufacturing a false rationale for war, abandoning traditional allies, propping up and trusting Iraqi exiles, and failing to plan for postwar Iraq, the Bush administration made the United States less secure.

Low Troop Morale and Lack of Equipment: A March 2004 Army survey found 52 percent of soldiers reporting low morale, and three-fourths reporting they were poorly led by their officers. Lack of equipment has been an ongoing problem. The Army did not fully equip soldiers with bulletproof vests until June 2004, forcing many families to purchase them out of their own pockets.

Loss of First Responders: National Guard troops make up almost one-third of the U.S. Army troops now in Iraq. Their deployment puts a particularly heavy burden on their home communities because many are "first responders," including police, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel. For example, 44 percent of the country’s police forces have lost officers to Iraq. In some states, the absence of so many National Guard troops has raised concerns about the ability to handle natural disasters.

Use of Private Contractors: An estimated 20,000 private contractors are carrying out work in Iraq traditionally done by the military, despite the fact that they often lack sufficient training and are not accountable to the same guidelines and reviews as military personnel.


The Bill So Far: Congress has approved of $151.1 billion for Iraq. Congressional leaders anticipate an additional supplemental appropriation of $60 billion after the election.

Long-term Impact on U.S. Economy: Economist Doug Henwood has estimated that the war bill will add up to an average of at least $3,415 for every U.S. household. Another economist, James Galbraith of the University of Texas, predicts that while war spending may boost the economy initially, over the long term it is likely to bring a decade of economic troubles, including an expanded trade deficit and high inflation.

Oil Prices: U.S. crude oil prices spiked at $48 per barrel on Aug. 19, 2004, the highest level since 1983, a development that most analysts attribute at least in part to the deteriorating situation in Iraq.

According to a mid-May CBS survey, 85 percent of Americans said they had been affected measurably by higher gasoline prices. According to one estimate, if crude oil prices stay around $40 a barrel for a year, U.S. Gross Domestic Product will decline by more than $50 billion.

Economic Impact on Military Families: Since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 364,000 reserve troops and National Guard soldiers have been called for military service, serving tours of duty that often last 20 months. Studies show that between 30 and 40 percent of reservists and National Guard members earn a lower salary when they leave civilian employment for military deployment. Army Emergency Relief has reported that requests from military families for food stamps and subsidized meals increased "several hundred percent" between 2002 and 2003.


U.S. Budget and Social Programs: The Bush administration’s combination of massive spending on the war and tax cuts for the wealthy means less money for social spending. The $151.1 billion expenditure for the war through this year could have paid for: close to 23 million housing vouchers; health care for over 27 million uninsured Americans; salaries for nearly three million elementary school teachers; 678,200 new fire engines; over 20 million Head Start slots for children; or health care coverage for 82 million children. A leaked memo from the White House to domestic agencies outlines major cuts following the election, including funding for education, Head Start, home ownership, job training, medical research and homeland security.

Social Costs to the Military: In order to meet troop requirements in Iraq, the Army has extended the tours of duty for soldiers. These extensions have been particularly difficult for reservists, many of whom never expected to face such long separations from their jobs and families. According to military policy, reservists are not supposed to be on assignment for over 12 months every five to six years. To date, the average tour of duty for all soldiers in Iraq has been 320 days. A recent Army survey revealed that over half the soldiers said they would not re-enlist.

Costs to Veteran Health Care: About 64 percent of the more than 7,000 U.S. soldiers injured in Iraq received wounds that prevented them from returning to duty. One trend has been an increase in amputees, the result of improved body armor that protects vital organs but not extremities. As in previous wars, many soldiers are likely to have received ailments that will not be detected for years to come.

The Veterans Administration healthcare system is not prepared for the swelling number of claims. In May, the House of Representatives approved funding for FY 2005 that is $2.6 billion less than needed, according to veterans’ groups.

Mental Health Costs: The New England Journal of Medicine reported in July 2004 that one in six soldiers returning from war in Iraq showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, or severe anxiety.

Only 23 percent to 40 percent of respondents in the study who showed signs of a mental disorder had sought mental health care.


U.S. military casualties (wounded and killed):

Monthly average since June 28, 2004: 747

Monthly average before the "transition": 449

Number of U.S. troops wounded in combat since the war began: 7,413 (94 percent occurred after May 1, 2003)

Percentage of U.S. wounded unable to return to duty: 64 percent

Iraqi soldiers and insurgents killed since May 1, 2003: 24,000

Iraqi civilians killed since March 20, 2003: 12,800-14,843

Contractor death rate:

Monthly average since June 28, 2004: 17.5

Monthly average during the 14 months of occupation preceding the transition: 7.6

Number of civilian contractors killed: 154

Number of international journalists and media workers killed: 44

Number of insurgents in Iraq:

November 2003: 5,000

August 2004: 20,000

Percentage of the world’s population represented by countries (including the U.S.):

On original "Coalition of the Willing" list (March 2003): 19.1 percent

With forces in Iraq as of September 2004: 13.6 percent

Percentage of Americans who believe that the Iraq War has worsened the U.S. image in the world: 69 percent

Number of months the Army National Guard failed to meet recruitment goals October 2002 through May 2004: 14

Number of soldiers whose tours of duty have been extended by the Army: 20,000

Percentage of reserve troops who earn lower salaries while on deployment: 30-40 percent

Fraction of National Guard troops among U.S. force now in Iraq: 1/3

Percentage of U.S. police departments missing officers due to Iraq deployments: 44 percent

The bill so far: $151.1 billion

What $151 billion could have paid for in the U.S.:

Housing vouchers: 23 million or

Health care for uninsured Americans for one year: 27 million or

Years of salary for elementary school teachers: Three million or

New fire engines: 678,200 or

Head Start slots for a year: 20 million

$151 billion could also pay for two years worth of:

Food for half the hungry people in the world and

A comprehensive global AIDS treatment and prevention program and

Clean water and sanitation throughout the developing world and

Childhood immunizations for all children in the developing world

Estimated long-term cost of war to every U.S. household: $3,415

Average monthly cost of the Vietnam War, adjusted for inflation: $5.2 billion

Average monthly cost of the Iraq War: $5 billion

Amount contractor Halliburton is alleged to have charged for meals never served to troops and for cost overruns on fuel deliveries: $221 million

Kickbacks received by Halliburton employees from subcontractors: $6 million

Effect on al-Qaeda of the Iraq War, according to International Institute for Strategic Studies: "Accelerated recruitment"

Estimated number of al-Qaeda terrorists as of May 2004: 18,000 with 1,000 active in Iraq

Percentage of Iraqis expressing "no confidence" in U.S. civilian authorities or coalition forces: 80 percent

II. Costs to Iraq


Iraqi deaths and injuries: As of Sept. 22, 2004, between 12,800 and 14,843 Iraqi civilians have been killed as a result of the U.S. invasion and ensuing occupation, while an estimated 40,000 Iraqis have been injured. During "major combat" operations, between 4,895 and 6,370 Iraqi soldiers and insurgents were killed.

Effects of depleted uranium: The health impacts of the use of depleted uranium weaponry in Iraq are yet to be known. The Pentagon estimates that U.S. and British forces used 1,100 to 2,200 tons of weaponry made from the toxic and radioactive metal during the March 2003 bombing campaign. Many scientists blame the far smaller amount of DU weapons used in the 1991 Gulf war for illnesses among U.S. soldiers, as well as a sevenfold increase in child birth defects in Basra in southern Iraq.


Rise in crime: Murder, rape and kidnapping have skyrocketed since March 2003, forcing Iraqi children to stay home from school and women to stay off the streets at night. Violent deaths rose from an average of 14 per month in 2002 to 357 per month in 2003.

Psychological impact: Living under occupation without the most basic security has devastated the Iraqi population. A poll conducted by the Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies in June 2004 found that 80 percent of Iraqis believe that coalition forces should leave either immediately or directly after the election.


Unemployment: Iraqi joblessness doubled from 30 percent before the war to 60 percent in the summer of 2003. While the Bush administration now claims that unemployment has dropped, the U.S. is only employing 120,000 Iraqis, of a workforce of 7 million, in reconstruction projects.

Corporate war profiteering: Most of Iraq’s reconstruction has been contracted out to U.S. companies, rather than experienced Iraqi firms. Top contractor Halliburton is being investigated for charging $160 million for meals that were never served to troops and $61 million in cost overruns on fuel deliveries. Halliburton employees also took $6 million in kickbacks from subcontractors, while other employees have reported extensive waste, including the abandonment of $85,000 trucks because they had flat tires.

Iraq’s oil economy: Anti-occupation violence has prevented Iraq from capitalizing on its oil assets. There have been an estimated 118 attacks on Iraq’s oil infrastructure since June 2003. By September 2004, oil production still had not reached pre-war levels and major attacks caused oil exports to plummet to a 10-month low in August 2004.


Health infrastructure: After more than a decade of crippling sanctions, Iraq’s health facilities were further damaged during the war and post-invasion looting. Iraq’s hospitals continue to suffer from lack of supplies and an overwhelming number of patients.

Education: UNICEF, the UN children’s fund, estimates that over 200 schools were destroyed in the conflict and thousands more were looted in the chaos after Saddam Hussein’s ouster. The State Department reported on Sept. 15 that "significant obstacles remain in maintaining security for civilian/military reconstruction, logistical support and distribution for donations, equipment, textbooks and supplies."

Environment: The U.S-led attack damaged water and sewage systems and the country’s fragile desert ecosystem. It also resulted in oil well fires that spewed smoke across the country and left unexploded ordnance that continues to endanger the Iraqi people and environment. Mines and unexploded ordnance cause an estimated 20 casualties per month.


Even with Saddam overthrown, Iraqis continue to face human rights violations from occupying forces. In addition to the widely publicized humiliation and torture of prisoners, abuse has been widespread throughout the post-Sept. 11 military operations, with over 300 allegations of abuse in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo. As of mid-August 2004, only 155 investigations into the existing 300 allegations had been completed.


Despite the proclaimed "transfer of sovereignty" to Iraq, the country continues to be occupied by U.S. and coalition troops and has severely limited political and economic independence. The interim government does not have the authority to reverse the nearly 100 orders by former CPA head Paul Bremer that, among other things, allow for the privatization of Iraq’s state-owned enterprises and prohibit preferences for domestic firms in reconstruction.

III. Costs to the World


While Americans make up the vast majority of military and contractor personnel in Iraq, other U.S.-allied "coalition" troops have suffered 135 war casualties in Iraq. In addition, the focus on Iraq has diverted international resources and attention away from humanitarian crises such as in Sudan.


The unilateral U.S. decision to go to war in Iraq violated the UN Charter, setting a dangerous precedent for other countries to seize any opportunity to respond militarily to claimed threats, whether real or contrived, that must be "preempted." The U.S. military has also violated the Geneva conventions, making it more likely that in the future, other nations will ignore these protections in their treatment of civilian populations and detainees.


At every turn, the Bush administration has attacked the legitimacy and credibility of the UN, undermining the institution’s capacity to act in the future as the centerpiece of global disarmament and conflict resolution. The efforts of the Bush administration to gain UN acceptance of an Iraqi government that was not elected but rather installed by occupying forces undermines the entire notion of national sovereignty as the basis for the UN Charter. It was on this basis that Secretary General Kofi Annan referred specifically to the vantage point of the UN Charter in his September 2004 finding that the war was illegal.


Faced with opposition in the UN Security Council, the U.S. government attempted to create the illusion of multilateral support for the war by pressuring other governments to join a so-called "coalition of the willing." This not only circumvented UN authority, but also undermined democracy in many coalition countries, where public opposition to the war was as high as 90 percent. As of the middle of September, only 29 members of the coalition had forces in Iraq, in addition to the United States These countries, combined with United States, make up less than 14 percent of the world’s population.


The $151.1 billion spent by the U.S. government on the war could have cut world hunger in half and covered HIV/AIDS medicine, childhood immunization and clean water and sanitation needs of the developing world for over two years. As a factor in the oil price hike, the war has created concerns of a return to the "stagflation" of the 1970s. Already, the world’s major airlines are expecting an increase in costs of $1 billion or more per month.


The U.S.-led war and occupation have galvanized international terrorist organizations, placing people not only in Iraq but around the world at greater risk of attack. The State Department’s annual report on international terrorism reported that in 2003 there was the highest level of terror-related incidents deemed "significant" than at any time since the U.S. began issuing these figures.


U.S.-fired depleted uranium weapons have contributed to pollution of Iraq’s land and water, with inevitable spillover effects in other countries. The heavily polluted Tigris River, for example, flows through Iraq, Iran and Kuwait.


The Justice Department memo assuring the White House that torture was legal stands in stark violation of the International Convention Against Torture (of which the United States is a signatory). This, combined with the widely publicized mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. military and intelligence officials, gave new license for torture and mistreatment by governments around the world.