In U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s speech in Baghdad marking the end of the war, he said the war was worth the price in blood and treasure because it set Iraq on a path to democracy.
“You will leave with great pride – lasting pride,” Panetta told U.S. troops. “Secure in knowing that your sacrifice has helped the Iraqi people to begin a new chapter in history.”
By the most conservative estimates available, America’s war in Iraq killed well over 110,000 Iraqi civilians and about 4,500 American soldiers. At least 2 million Iraqi civilians have been displaced from their homes due to the war.
Included in those martyrs for democracy that Panetta claimed deserved to die for the sake of Iraqi democracy were the one man, four women, two children, and three infant Iraqis who were summarily executed by U.S. forces in 2006. The “autopsies carried out at the Tikrit Hospital’s morgue revealed that all corpses were shot in the head and handcuffed.” These slaughtered Iraqis had a hand in a constructive future for Iraq.
The Iraqi civilians ruthlessly murdered in Haditha, “a Euphrates River town where Marines killed 24 Iraqis, including a 76-year-old man in a wheelchair, women and children, some just toddlers” are also included in that count, as are the rest of the civilians killed. “Iraqi civilians were being killed all the time,” read a recent New York Times report. Maj. Gen. Steve Johnson, the commander of American forces in Anbar, in his own testimony, described it like Panetta, as “a cost of doing business.”
The Iraqis who suffered torture and murder in Abu Ghraib and other prisons in Iraq are also presumably among Panetta’s necessary casualty count. Those individuals in a prison run by U.S.-supported post-Saddam government in which, “a joint US-Iraqi inspection discovered more than 1,400 detainees in squalid, cramped conditions,” many of whom were illegally detained. Prisoners “displayed bruising, broken bones, and lash-marks, many claimed to have been hung by handcuffs from a hook in the ceiling and beaten on the soles of their feet and their buttocks.”
Curiously, Panetta’s statement that the blood of over a hundred thousand people was “worth it,” doesn’t seem to compute with most Iraqis. In fact, as the last U.S. occupation forces left Iraq this week, Iraqis burned the American flag in an act that was apparently not grateful for the sacrifice Panetta exalted.
By most accounts, Iraqis disagree that they have even received this democracy Panetta speaks of as being worth the cost of oceans of blood. Indeed, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq warned just this week that the country is becoming a dictatorship under the U.S.-supported Maliki regime.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has circumvented Parliament, consolidated illegitimate power in a long trend of quasi-dictatorial behavior, harshly cracked down on peaceful political activism, harassed and even attacked journalists that were critical of his regime, and has been accused of torturing prisoners in secret Iraqi jails. In a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, U.S. envoy Ryan Crocker noted in 2009 that Maliki’s turn towards more centralized rule is “in US interest.”
To Panetta, this is the liberated Iraq that was worth so many innocent lives, so much human suffering. But the costs for what Panetta calls democracy (and what everybody else calls tyranny) doesn’t end there.
Well over $800 billion dollars went to pay for the Iraq war. But in truth, Americans don’t know the true cost and the actual amount of wasted dollars because the Commission on Wartime Contracting has decided to hide its full findings and materials from the public for another two decades, despite its stated purposes of investigating and exposing government waste.
Another reason the true cost is hidden is because the Federal Reserve hasn’t disclosed how much money it spent on the war effort. At base, we know that between 2003 and 2008, over $40 billion in cash was secretly shipped in trucks from the New York Federal Reserve compound to to Baghdad to help pay for security and reconstruction. Most of it was stolen or misappropriated, and Americans don’t know the full amount.
The estimated cost of veterans’ health care resulting from the war in Iraq is approximately $4 trillion. That comes to an unaffordable $80 billion annually over the next 50 years. “We will have a vast overhang in domestic costs for caring for the wounded and covering retirement expenditure of the war fighters,” said Loren Thompson, a policy expert with the Lexington Institute. “The U.S. will continue to incur major costs for decades to come.”
Panetta reiterated in his speech the propaganda that is sure to peddled about the Iraq war for decades to come. But the sentiment simply does not fit with reality. Americans should take note, too, that very few U.S. officials are claiming the Iraq war was worth the blood and money in order to get rid of some national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein. Perhaps that is a lie not even they can stomach.