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The Iraq War’s Tragic Legacy

The return of U.S. forces from Iraq in what is euphemistically called the end of the Iraq war is anything but the end of the conflict. The consequences of the war will be felt for many years to come. Former President George W. Bush and his advisers should be blamed for engaging in a war that has ravaged Iraq and cost the United States not only economically but also the lives and well being of hundreds of thousands of its soldiers.
As of February of 2010, approximately $700 billion had been spent in the war. This figure is based on current expenditure rates from figures from the Congressional Research Service (CRS), and estimates by the Nobel Prize economist Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes from Harvard University.
According to Stiglitz and Bilmes, the total cost of the Iraq war will probably exceed three trillion dollars in a moderate scenario. As Stiglitz has stated, “This number represents the cost only to the U.S. It does not reflect the enormous cost to the rest of the world, or to Iraq.”
A major contributor to the war’s final cost is the medical care and disability benefits provided to veterans. Since medical consequences don’t become immediately apparent, in addition to present costs, claims are likely to be filed for years after the end of the war.
It is estimated that 20 percent of survivors have suffered major head or spinal injuries, 18 percent have suffered serious wounds and an additional six percent are amputees. More than 7,000 veterans with severe brain, spinal and other injuries will require very expensive round-the-clock care. Presently, government medical facilities in the U.S. are overwhelmed by the needs of soldiers who served in Iraq.
In addition to the economic costs described are the high number of suicides among the veterans, the mental health impact of those that survived and the costs to the families’ economies and well being. These costs also do not include the waste of resources or the cost to the Iraq treasury of theft and corruption both by Iraqi officials and by U.S. contractors.
As Iraqi civilian casualties continue to mount –a reflection of internecine conflicts exacerbated by the U.S. occupation, the effects on Iraqi children are staggering. More than half a million children have been traumatized by the war, according to UNICEF. “Iraqi children, already casualties of a quarter of a century of conflict and deprivation, are being caught up in a rapidly worsening humanitarian tragedy,” warned that organization in 2007.
28 percent of children suffer from some degree of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), according to Dr. Haithi Al Sady, Dean of the Psychological Research Center at Baghdad University. How could they not, when they still are being affected by daily explosions, killings, abductions and turmoil in Iraq’s main cities?
More than 2 million children have been displaced from their homes as a result of the war. Children and their families have become refugees in neighboring countries. The sudden influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees has overburdened the recipient countries’ health and social services. In addition, the “brain drain” of doctors and other professionals forced to leave the country has had a negative impact in the quality of services in Iraq.
“Iraqis are suffering from a growing lack of food, shelter, water and sanitation, health care, education and employment,” according to a 2007 report compiled by OXFAM and the NGO Coordination Committee in Iraq (NCCI). The continuing violence since then has only made matters worse.
Hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, a ravaged infrastructure, a non-functioning and corrupt government and a society terrorized by unending violence is the sad result of a greedy war, in flagrant violation of international norms and treaties. To call the Iraq war a “Pyrrhic victory” is an understatement.
Dr. César Chelala is an international public health consultant and a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.

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