To date, the Iraq war has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $450 billion. This figure is nearly nine times the original White House estimate of $50 to $60 billion and more than double the upper-end estimate of $200 billion made by former Administration economic advisor, Larry Lindsey – a projection that was immediately dismissed by President Bush and other senior Administration officials as too high.
In the more than four years since the President declared “mission accomplished” and announced the end of major combat operations in Iraq, the costs of the war have escalated dramatically. Today, the United States is spending a record $10 billion each month in Iraq, up considerably from the $8.6 billion we were spending monthly at this time last year and more than double the “burn rate” of $4.4 million per month in the first year of the war. (Congressional Research Service, 6/18/07)
As we plan for the future costs of U.S. military operations in Iraq, there appears no end in sight to the economic burden of the war. The President’s Fiscal Year 2008 budget request now includes an estimated war request of $190 billion, a spending level that experts expect will continue through 2009. Longer-term estimates of war costs are in the trillions. Last week, a study by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) concluded that a long-term U.S. presence in Iraq, in line with the Bush Administration’s current strategy, could bring the total cost of the war to $2.5 trillion, which would be more than forty times the initial White House estimate. (Los Angeles Times, 9/25/07; CBO, 9/20/07)
These skyrocketing projections beg a critical question: what is all this money buying? While the White House continues to write off these enormous sums as necessary for protecting U.S. national security, stabilizing a volatile region, and bringing freedom to the Iraqi people, analysis from the Intelligence Community and independent experts strongly challenges this premise. Several recent National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) and reports from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and other non-governmental experts suggest that the significant investments the United States has made in Iraq have not brought commensurate returns for America’s security.
As we continue in the fifth year of military operations, these analyses show that we are less safe as a result of the Bush Administration’s Iraq policies; the region is less stable; and the prospects for building a viable government in Iraq that will provide a hopeful future for the Iraqi people are increasingly precarious. It is clear that staying the course with the Bush Administration’s failed policy in Iraq has been very costly, for American taxpayers, for the Iraqi people, and for U.S. national security interests.
We are less safe today as a result of the Bush Administration’s failed Iraq strategy
The Iraq war created new terrorists. According to the April 2006 NIE, Iraq has become a “cause celebre’ for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.” (National Intelligence Estimate, April 2006)
Fighting in Iraq has made America more vulnerable to terrorist threats. According to the July 2007 NIE, continued U.S. operations in Iraq are actually making us less safe by “help[ing] al Qaeda energize the broader Sunni extremist community, raise resources, and to recruit and indoctrinate operatives, including for Homeland attacks.” (National Intelligence Estimate, July 2007)
Our eye is off the ball: Pakistan, not Iraq, is the front line in the fight against terrorism. According to the July 2007 NIE, al Qaeda has reconstituted its capacity and is directing operations from its safe haven in Pakistan. Testifying on the implications of the NIE, Edward Gistaro, National Intelligence Officer at the CIA, stated that the intelligence community is primarily concerned about al Qaeda operating out of Pakistan – not Iraq:
Representative Andrews: Are they [al Qaeda] more capable or less capable of attacking us from the FATA [the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas] relative to Iraq?
Mr. Gistaro: Sir, I think the estimate speaks pretty clearly that we are primarily concerned with al Qaeda in South Asia.
Representative Andrews: So they’re more capable in the FATA areas than they are in Iraq, right?
Mr. Gistaro: Yes, sir.
(Edward Gistaro, Testimony before the House Armed Services and Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, 7/12/07)
The Middle East is less stableas a result of the Bush Administration’s failed Iraq strategy
The growing displacement of Iraqis both inside the country and to neighboring states, poses an increasing threat to regional security. The August 2007 NIE reports that “[p]opulation displacement resulting from sectarian violence continues, imposing burdens on provincial governments and some neighboring states and increasing the danger of destabilizing influences spreading across Iraq’s borders over the next six to 12 months.” (National Intelligence Estimate, 8/23/07)
Iraq has become a battleground for regional power struggles. In the same NIE, the Intelligence Community “assesse[d] that Iraq’s neighbors will continue to focus on improving their leverage in Iraq.” The estimate outlined continued efforts from Iran “to provide funding, weaponry, and training to Iraqi Shia militants;” Syria’s continued “support to non-AQI [al Qaeda in Iraq] groups inside Iraq;” and Turkey’s “cross-border operations” in northern Iraq. Further, in its January 2007 NIE, the Intelligence Community stated that “Iranian lethal support for select groups of Iraqi Shia militants clearly intensifies the conflict in Iraq. Syria continues to provide safehaven for expatriate Iraqi Bathists and to take less than adequate measures to stop the flow of foreign jihadists into Iraq.” (National Intelligence Estimate, 8/23/07; National Intelligence Estimate, January 2007)
$44.5 billion in U.S.-funded reconstruction initiatives: little return for the Iraqi people
Since 2003, the United States has provided $44.5 billion in relief and reconstruction funding to Iraq. In spite of this considerable investment, Iraq’s government remains ineffective, its army and national police forces are unable to protect the Iraqi people or secure the country’s borders, and many basic services remain at or below pre-war levels.
Perhaps most important to the U.S. mission is the reality that most Iraqis have not seen an improvement in their daily lives. A nation-wide poll conducted in August revealed that Iraqis are increasingly disillusioned with their political leaders, frustrated with the slow pace of economic development and reconstruction initiatives, and losing hope for the future. According to the poll, 66 percent of Iraqis disapprove of Nouri al Maliki’s handling of his job as prime minister; 80 percent reported that the availability of jobs was bad; 93 percent reported that electricity supply was poor; 75 percent rated the supply of clean water as bad; and 60 percent reported that local government services were poor. (BBC, ABC, 9/10/07)
The current state of Iraq’s development raises major concerns about the effectiveness of U.S. reconstruction initiatives as well as prospects for building long-term support for Iraq’s central government and undermining the influence of terrorist and extremist groups.
Basic Services Continue to Fall Short of Iraqi Needs, U.S. Reconstruction Goals
Despite $2.7 billion in U.S. investment in Iraq’s oil sector, oil production – widely seen as the key to Iraq’s economic growth – remains below pre-war levels. According to the Pentagon’s September quarterly report, Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq, oil production for the June-August 2007 quarter averaged 2.06 million barrels per day (mpd), nearly 500,000 bpd below pre-war levels of 2.5 million bpd. (Special Inspector for Iraq Reconstruction, July 2007; Department of Defense, September 2007)
The United States has invested more than $4.6 billion in the electricity sector, yet production stands roughly at pre-war levels, falling short of demand by 45 percent. The Department of Defense reported that electricity production in Iraq averaged 4,928 megawatts in the most recent quarter, a level significantly short of the reconstruction goal of 6,000 megawatts and even farther below the daily demand of 8,500-9,000 megawatts. According to the Pentagon, these rates are “almost equal to production rates for the same period in 2006 and 55% of the estimated average peak demand.” Before the war, Baghdad had an average of 16 to 24 hours of electricity. (Special Inspector for Iraq Reconstruction, July 2007; Brookings Institution, Iraq Index, 7/19/07, Department of Defense, Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq, September 2007; Los Angeles Times, 7/18/07)
Although the United States has provided more than $2.3 billion to Iraq’s water sector, efforts to improve sewage systems and access to potable water continue to fall behind reconstruction goals. According to the latest quarterly report from the Special Inspector for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), “progress in the water sector is impeded by violence, a lack of trained facility workers, and inadequate maintenance practices.” It reports that only 30 percent of homes and businesses in Baghdad are connected to water distribution lines while just 40 percent of homes in Najaf and 50 percent of homes in Basrah are connected to sewage lines. (Special Inspector for Iraq Reconstruction, July 2007)
Unemployment remains high, undermining economic growth and fueling the insurgency. According to official Iraqi government estimates, unemployment stands at 17.6 percent and underemployment at 38.1 percent. Other estimates, however, are much higher, citing unemployment levels as high as 60 to 70 percent. Failure to ensure that Iraqis have access to permanent sustainable jobs is undermining economic growth, efforts to improve the legitimacy of the Iraqi government and stem support to the insurgency. (Department of Defense, Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq, September 2007; Associated Press, 7/10/07)
The establishment of a viable national government remains out of reach
The U.S. has provided billions in reconstruction funding to help Iraq develop a viable national unity government, including $1.9 billion to Provincial Reconstruction Teams to help build the capacity of provincial governments in Iraq; $1.24 billion to strengthen Iraq’s public sector; and $1.09 billion for democracy-building projects in Iraq.
Iraq’s political leaders remain divided by narrow political and sectarian interests. According to the August 2007 NIE, “Political and security trajectories in Iraq continue to be driven primarily by Shi’a insecurity about retaining political dominance, widespread Sunni unwillingness to accept a diminished political status, factional rivalries within the sectarian communities resulting in armed conflict, and the actions of extremists such as AQI and elements of the Sadrist Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM) militia that try to fuel sectarian violence.” (National Intelligence Estimate, 8/23/07)
The Iraqi government has failed to meet 15 of 18 benchmarks for national reconciliation. The GAO report on Securing, Stabilizing, and Rebuilding Iraq states that, “Our analysis of the 18 legislative, security and economic benchmarks shows that as of August 30, the Iraqi government had met three, partially met four, and did not meet 11 of its 18 benchmarks. Overall, key legislation has not been passed, violence remains high, and it is unclear whether the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion in reconstruction funds.” (GAO, 9/4/07)
- The Iraqi government has made political progress on only one of eight legislative benchmarks. “The Iraqi government has not fulfilled commitments it first made in June 2006 to advance legislative, security and economic measures that would promote national reconciliation among Iraq’s warring factions. Of particular concern is the lack of progress on the constitutional review that could promote greater Sunni participation in the national government and comprehensive hydrocarbon legislation that would distribute Iraq’s vast oil wealth. Despite Iraq’s leaders recently signing a unity accord, the polarization of Iraq’s major sects and ethnic groups and fighting among Shi’a factions diminishes the stability of Iraq’s governing coalition and its potential to enact legislation needed for sectarian reconciliation.” (GAO, 9/4/07)
- The Iraqi government is “dysfunctional,” and has failed to improve the lives of the Iraqi people. Earlier this month, GAO Commissioner David Walker testified that “the least progress has been made on the political front. So I would say that one would have to say, based upon that, and given the fact that significant progress has not been made in improving the living conditions of the Iraqis on a day-to-day basis with regard to things that all citizens care about — safe streets, clean water, reliable electricity, a variety of other basic things, I think you’d have to say it’s dysfunctional: The government is dysfunctional.” (David Walker, Testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 9/4/07)
The already shaky Iraqi government is anticipated to grow more precarious in the coming months. “The IC [Intelligence Community] assesses that the Iraqi Government will become more precarious over the next six to 12 months because of criticism by other members of the major Shia coalition (the Unified Iraqi Alliance, UIA), Grand Ayatollah Sistani, and other Sunni and Kurdish parties. Divisions between Maliki and the Sadrists have increased, and Shia factions have explored alternative coalitions aimed at constraining Maliki.” (National Intelligence Estimate, 8/23/07)
Iraq is unable to defend itself: Iraqi Troops Are Not Standing Up, So That U.S. Forces Can Stand Down
To date, the U.S. has spent more than $17 billion to train, equip, and provide support infrastructure for the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), including the Iraqi Army and police forces. In spite of these investments, Iraq’s security forces remain dependent on U.S. troops, while its national police force is dangerously infiltrated by militia and sectarian groups. (Special Inspector for Iraq Reconstruction, July 2007)
The capacity of the Iraqi army has declined in recent months. Earlier this month, the GAO reported that, “Instead of increasing, the number of Iraqi army units capable of independent operations has decreased from March 2007 to July 2007.” (GAO, 9/4/07)
Iraqi security forces are unable to operate independently. In its August Iraq NIE, the Intelligence Community, “judge[d] that the ISF have not improved enough to conduct major operations independent of the Coalition on a sustained basis in multiple locations and that the ISF remain reliant on the Coalition for important aspects of logistics and combat support. …Militia and insurgent forces continue to undermine the reliability of some ISF units, and political interference in security operations continues to undermine Coalition and ISF efforts.” (National Intelligence Estimate, 8/23/07)
Sectarian influences continue to undermine the national police force. ”The police are central to the long-term establishment of security and stability in Iraq. Today, the Iraqi Police Service is incapable of providing security at a level sufficient to protect Iraqi neighborhoods from insurgents and sectarian violence.” “The National Police have proven operationally ineffective. Sectarianism in its units undermines its ability to provide security; the force is not viable in its current form. The National Police should be disbanded and reorganized. (Report of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, 9/6/07)
Experts estimate that Iraq’s security forces will remain dependent on U.S. forces for at least the next 12 to 18 months. According to the final report of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq,”[the Iraqi Army and Special Forces] will not be ready to independently fulfill their security role within the next 12 to 18 months.” Further, the report states that the Iraqi Army “will continue to rely on Coalition support, including logistics, intelligence, fire support, equipment, training, and leadership development for the foreseeable future.” (Report of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, 9/6/07)