CityBeat was seven months old when George W. Bush sent U.S. troops into Iraq. CityBeat is nine years and four months old this week, and the Iraq War is over. There were times—particularly in 2006, when sectarian violence plunged Iraq into civil war—when we thought the U.S. military commitment in Iraq might outlast the life of our little paper. We're pleased that's not the case. Along with ongoing issues such as homelessness, medical marijuana, prisons and campaign finance, the Iraq War has been a frequent subject on our editorial page; it certainly has drawn more anger from us than any other matter as we've periodically updated the body count throughout the years.
The Pentagon puts the number of U.S. servicemembers killed in Iraq at 4,474; icasualties.org, an oft-cited independent source, has it at 4,484—an average of 503 per year of the occupation. Each of the deaths was unnecessary, the product of U.S. government deception. Bush and his cronies—Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Scooter Libby, Stephen Hadley, Elliot Abrams, et al.— concocted a scheme to fool an easily duped American public into backing an overthrow of the sovereign government of Iraq, shamelessly exploiting our collective fear and anger in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001.
They had tens of millions of Americans believing that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had something to do with the 2001 terrorist attacks, and they flat-out told us that Iraq had amassed an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and planned to use it to kill us all. Yellow-cake uranium bought in Africa, aluminum tubes for making centrifuges, a report of biologicalweapons labs from a untrustworthy defector named “Curveball”—all bullshit. The so-called Downing Street Memo, essentially the minutes of a July 2002 meeting of British officials (eight months before the invasion), unearthed and published in 2005, quoted the head of Britain's intelligence service saying that the Bush administration wanted Hussein gone and was manipulating facts and intelligence to suit its case for war and regime change.
That was bad enough. But then Rumsfeld and L. Paul Bremer, botched the early days of the post-invasion occupation, removing members of Hussein's Ba'ath Party from positions in the Iraqi government and military and disbanding the Iraqi army, despite warnings. The result was catastrophic, as not only militants took up arms against the occupiers, but so did suddenly disenfranchised Iraqis.
Of course, the toll can be counted in more than just U.S. troop deaths. According to icasualties.org, 318 servicemembers from other countries died. So did an estimated 468 employees of military contractors. More than 100,000 Iraqis died, and millions have been displaced either temporarily or permanently. Some 32,200 U.S. servicemembers were wounded. The Los Angeles Times, citing the Veterans Administration, reported that 170,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Who knows how many more are suffering—along with family, friends and colleagues— undiagnosed. “More than 20,000 are homeless, and thousands more live with traumatic brain injuries,” the L.A. Times reported.
The direct monetary cost of the war to U.S. taxpayers was more than $800 billion, and a Brown University study estimated the total cost at upwards of $3.2 trillion. According to costofwar. com, a function of the National Priorities Project, San Diego County's share of the direct cost is $8.1 billion; California's is $94.2 billion. Of course, this is money we don't have; it's all been borrowed. The federal deficit was $6.8 trillion in 2003; it's $15.1 trillion now. States and municipalities across the country are cutting social services and struggling to maintain schools.
Meanwhile, in Iraq, the political battle between the Shia Muslim-led government and a coalition of groups popular with Sunni Muslims and secularists intensified as U.S. troops departed, with opposition leaders warning of a march toward dictatorship now that the Americans are gone.
It's a shame that the Iraq War faded from the American consciousness after the civil war there subsided and financial chaos struck the rest of the world. The American public never felt a deep connection to what was happening in Iraq, largely because the people who died or were wounded were volunteers. Still, it will go down as one of U.S. history's worst travesties, and we'll never forgive Bush—one of our country's very worst presidents—for the personal and economic devastation it caused.
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