All-time Highs in Iraq

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[Tomdispatch returns on a light August schedule. The next TD piece will be posted Thursday. This is the second in an ongoing series of Tomdispatch “by the numbers” reports. The first, posted at the end of June, was “Iraq by the Numbers.” Tom]

Escalation by the Numbers
What “Progress” in Iraq Really Means
By Tom Engelhardt

Someday, we will undoubtedly discover that, in the term “surge” — as in the President’s “surge” plan (or “new way forward”) announced to the nation in January — was the urge to avoid the language (and experience) of the Vietnam era. As there were to be no “body bags” (or cameras to film them as the dead came home), as there were to be no “body counts” (“We have made a conscious effort not to be a body-count team” was the way the President put it), as there were to be no “quagmires,” nor the need to search for that “light at the end of the tunnel,” so, surely, there were to be no “escalations.”

The escalations of the Vietnam era, which left more than 500,000 American soldiers and vast bases and massive air and naval power in and around Vietnam (Laos, and Cambodia), had been thoroughly discredited. Each intensification in the delivery of troops, or simply in ever-widening bombing campaigns, led only to more misery and death for the Vietnamese and disaster for the U.S. And yet, not surprisingly, the American experience in Iraq — another attempted occupation of a foreign country and culture — has been like a heat-seeking missile heading for the still-burning American memories of Vietnam.

As historian Marilyn Young noted in early April 2003 with the invasion of Iraq barely underway: “In less then two weeks, a 30 year old vocabulary is back: credibility gap, seek and destroy, hard to tell friend from foe, civilian interference in military affairs, the dominance of domestic politics, winning, or more often, losing hearts and minds.” By August 2003, the Bush administration, of course, expected that only perhaps 30,000 American troops would be left in Iraq, garrisoned on vast “enduring” bases in a pacified country. So, in a sense, it’s been a surge-a-thon ever since. By now, it’s beyond time to call the President’s “new way forward” by its Vietnamese equivalent. Admittedly, a “surge” does sound more comforting, less aggressive, less long-lasting, and somehow less harmful than an “escalation,” but the fact is that we are six months into the newest escalation of American power in Iraq. It has deposited all-time high numbers of troops there as well, undoubtedly, as more planes and firepower in and around that country than at any moment since the invasion of 2003. Naturally enough, other “all-time highs” of the grimmest sort follow.

This September, General David Petraeus, our escalation commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, our escalation ambassador there, will present their “progress report” to Congress. (“Progress” was another word much favored in American official pronouncements of the Vietnam era.) The very name tells you more or less what to expect. The report has already been downgraded to a “snapshot” of an ongoing set of operations, which shouldn’t be truly judged or seriously assessed until at least this November, or perhaps early 2008, or…

With that in mind, here is the second Tomdispatch “by the numbers” report on Iraq. Consider it an attempt to put the Iraqi quagmire-cum-nightmare — two classic Vietnam-era words — in perspective.

Few numbers out of Iraq can be trusted. Counting accurately amid widespread disruption, mayhem, and bloodshed, under a failing occupation, in a land essentially lacking a central government, in a U.S. media landscape still dizzy from the endless spin of the Bush administration and its military commanders is probably next to impossible. But however approximate the figures that follow, they still offer an all-too-vivid picture of what the President’s much-desired invasion let loose. No country could suffer such uprooting, destruction, death, loss, and deprivation, yet remain collectively sane.

American civilian and military officials now talk about staying in Iraq through 2008, or 2009, or into the next decade, or for undefined but lengthening periods of time. And yet Iraq (by the numbers) has devolved month by month, year by year, for four-plus years. There was never any reason to believe that the latest escalation — or any future escalation, whatever it might be called, and whether accomplished via the U.S. military or by a growing shadow army of guns-for-hire employed by private-security firms — could be capable of anything but hurrying the pace of that devolution. So imagine what Iraq-by-the-numbers will be like in 2008 or 2009, given the clear determination of the Bush administration’s “strategic thinkers” to garrison that country into the distant future.

Here, then, is escalation in Iraq by the numbers — almost all of them continue to “surge” — as of mid-August 2008:

Number of American troops stationed in Iraq: 162,000 (plus at least several thousand government employees), an all-time high.

Estimated number of U.S.-(taxpayer)-paid private contractors in Iraq: More than 180,000, again undoubtedly an all-time high. That figure includes approximately 21,000 Americans, 43,000 non-Iraqi foreign contractors (including Chileans, Nepalese, Colombians, Indians, Fijians, El Salvadorans, and Filipinos among others), and 118,000 Iraqis, but does not include a complete count of “private security contractors who protect government officials and buildings,” according to State Department and Pentagon figures obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

Percentage of private contractors in total U.S. forces deployed in World War II and the Korean War: 3-5%, according to the Congressional testimony of human rights lawyer Scott Horton. In Vietnam and the first Gulf War, that figure reached 10%. Now, it is at least near parity.

Number of private companies working in Iraq on contract for the U.S. government: 630, with personnel from more than 100 countries, according to Jeremy Scahill, author of the bestselling Blackwater, The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.

Typical pay of a former U.S. Special Forces soldier working for a private-security company in Iraq: $650 a day, according to Scahill, “after the company takes its cut.” That rate, however, can hit $1,000 a day.

Number of trucks on the road each day as part of the U.S. resupply operation in Iraq: 3,000.

Number of attacks from June 2006 through May 2007 on U.S. supply convoys guarded by private-security contractors: 869, a near tripling from the previous twelve months.

Number of private contractors who have died in Iraq: Over 1,000, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, based on partial figures because private companies do not have to declare their war dead.

Predicted cost of a surge of 21,500 American troops into Iraq, according to White House calculations in January 2007: $5.6 billion, a figure offered the month the President’s surge strategy was announced.

Predicted cost of a one-year surge of 30,000-40,000 troops, according to Robert Sunshine, assistant director for budget analysis of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office: $22 billion (two years for a cut-rate $40 billion). These figures were offered in testimony to Congress five months after the President’s surge was officially launched.

Percentage of dollars annually appropriated by the U.S. government and spent on Iraq-related activities: More than 10%, or one dollar out of every 10, according to the CBO’s Sunshine.

Estimated monthly cost of the Iraq (and Afghan) Wars: $12 billion — $10 billion for Iraq — a third higher than in 2006, according to the non-partisan Congressional Research Service.

Estimated total cost of the Iraq War, if Robert Sunshine’s “optimistic scenario” — 30,000 U.S. troops left in Iraq by 2010 — plays out: Over $1 trillion. (If his less optimistic scenario proves accurate — 75,000 troops in 2010 — closer to $1.5 trillion.)

Number of Iraqis estimated to have fled their country: Between 2 million and 2.5 million. An estimated 750,000 to Jordan; 1.5 million to Syria; 200,000 to Egypt and Lebanon — with another 40,000-50,000 fleeing each month, 2,000 a day, according to UN figures. Officials at the central travel office in Baghdad are deluged by up to 3,000 passport applications a week. In addition, though it’s anyone’s guess, more than two million Iraqis may now be internal refugees, uprooted from their homes largely by sectarian violence and ethnic cleansing. Approximately 70% of these are women and children, according to UNICEF.

Number of Iraqi refugees admitted to the United States in July: 57; only 133 for the year to date.

Number of Iraqis held in American prisons in Iraq: Approximately 22,500, according to U.S. military officials, a leap to an all-time high from 16,000 in February when the surge began. (American prisons in Iraq also continue to undergo expansion.)

Number of Iraqis released from American incarceration in the last month: 224.

Number of foreign fighters (jihadis) held by the U.S. military in Iraq: 135 (nearly half are Saudis).

Estimated number of bullets fired by U.S. troops for every insurgent killed in Iraq (or Afghanistan): 250,000, according to John Pike, director of the Washington military-research group This comes out to 1.8 billion rounds of small-arms ammunition yearly. With U.S. munitions factories unable to meet the demand, 313 million rounds of such munitions were purchased from Israel last year for $10 million more than if produced domestically.

Percentage of amputations performed on U.S. war-wounded in Iraq: An estimated 6%. The average in earlier U.S. conflicts, where the equivalents of IEDs and car bombings did not play such a role, was 3%.

Estimated replacement limbs needed yearly for Iraqis in northern Iraq alone: 3,000, according to the Red Crescent Society and the director general for health services in Mosul. (Unlike American soldiers, Iraqis who have lost limbs have access only to limited numbers of outdated prostheses.)

Cost of a coffin in Baghdad: $50-75. Cost of a coffin in Saddam Hussein’s time, $5-10.

Number of Iraqi civilians who died in July 2007: 1,652, according to figures compiled by the Iraqi Health, Defense, and Interior Ministries; 2,024, according to the tally of the Associated Press; 1,539 according to the Washington Post. All but the Post claim this as a “spike” in casualties. All such figures are, for a variety of reasons, surely significant undercounts.

Approximate number of American civilians who would have died in July if a similar level of killings were underway in the United States: 18,000, according to Middle East scholar Juan Cole.

Estimated number of Iraqi deaths from the invasion of 2003 through June 2007, if the Lancet study’s median figure of 655,000 deaths was accurate and similar death rates held true for the year since it was published: Just over one million, according to Just Foreign Policy. (The Lancet study has been the single, on-the-ground, scientific report on Iraqi casualties in these years.)

Number of Iraqi civilians killed in July in mass-casualty bomb attacks: 378, a sharp rise over June, according to the Washington Post. The five-month U.S. surge has caused “no appreciable change” in vehicle-bomb attacks, according to figures collected by reporters from the McClatchy Newspapers.

Number of unidentified bodies, assumedly murdered by death squads, found on the streets of Baghdad in June 2007: 453, a rise of 41% over January 2007, the month before surge operations began, according to unofficial Iraqi Health Ministry statistics taken from morgue counts.

Number of Iraqi civilians killed or wounded in “escalation of force” incidents at American checkpoints or near American patrols and convoys in the past year: 429, according to U.S. military statistics obtained by the McClatchy Newspapers. These statistics, which “spiked” during the recent escalation months, don’t include civilian deaths during raids on homes or in the midst of battle (and are considered incomplete in any case, since an unknown number of escalation-of-force deaths go unreported by U.S. units).

Total number of attacks against U.S. and coalition forces, Iraq security forces, Iraqi civilians, and infrastructure targets in June 2007: 5,335. This works out to a daily average of 177.8, an all-time high since May 2003, according to the Pentagon, and 46% more than in June 2006; more than 68% of these attacks — 3,671 to be exact — were launched against U.S. troops, up 7% from May 2007.

Number of attacks in July 2007 using the most powerful type of roadside bomb: 99, an all-time high, according to Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, U.S. second-in-command in Iraq, accounting for one-third of American casualties that month.

Number of American military deaths in the surge months, February-July 2007: 572, according to the Iraq Coalition Casualties website. This represents 189 more American deaths than in the same set of months in 2004, 215 more than in 2005, 237 more than in 2006.

Average daytime summer temperature in Baghdad: 110-120 degrees, though 130 degrees is not uncommon. It rarely drops below 100 degrees even at night.

Number of megawatts of electricity produced daily in Iraq: Less than 4,000 megawatts, below pre-invasion levels in a country where daily demand is now in the 8,500 to 9,500 range.

Hours of electricity normally delivered to Baghdadis by the national electricity grid: 1-2 hours a day. The only recourse, according to French reporter Anne Nivat, who lived in “red zone” Baghdad for two weeks recently, is electricity produced by small local generators, which consume up to 20 gallons of gasoline a day.

Number of nationwide blackouts in just two days in July 2007: 4. The Shiite Holy city of Karbala was without any power for at least 3 consecutive days in July, during which its water mains “went dry.” (“‘We no longer need television documentaries about the Stone Age. We are actually living in it. We are in constant danger because of the filthy water and rotten food we are having,’ said Hazim Obeid, who sells clothing at a stall in the Karbala market.”)

Cost of a bottle of purified water during the present water shortages: $1.60 for a 10-liter bottle, a rise of 33%. (Many Iraqis can’t afford to buy bottled water in a country where, according to a recent Oxfam summary study of the Iraqi humanitarian crisis, 43% of Iraqis live in “absolute poverty,” earning less than a dollar a day.)

Percentage of water engineers who have left Iraq: 40%, according to Oxfam’s report. Similar percentages of middle-class professionals — doctors, teachers, lawyers — have evidently fled as well. According to Oxfam, some universities and hospitals in Baghdad have lost up to 80% of their staffs.

Number of Iraqis who have access to clean drinking water: 1 in 3, according to UN figures. (In 2007, waterborne diseases, including diarrhea, “the most prolific killer of children under 5,” are up in some areas by 70% over the previous year.)

Of the 3.5 million cubic meters of water Baghdad’s six million people are estimated to need, amount actually delivered: 2.1 million cubic meters.

Number of high-tension lines running into Baghdad that are in operation: 2 of 17, thanks to insurgent sabotage, according to an Electricity Ministry spokesman. These are contributing to the worst electricity shortages since the invasion summer of 2003. The country’s power grid is reportedly nearing collapse.

Number of ministers still in the cabinet of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki: 20.

Number of ministers who have walked out: 17.

Number of senior officers who have recently resigned from the Iraqi Army in protest over the Maliki government: 9, including Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Babaker Zebari.

Number of countries for which Iraq’s parliamentarians, who adjourned for a month-long August vacation, have departed: At least six, according to the New York Times, including Jordan, Syria, Dubai, Iran, Great Britain, and Egypt as well as “a resort in Iraq’s safest region, autonomous Kurdistan.”

Estimated cost of that vacation time to the U.S. per minute for ongoing operations in Iraq: $200,000, according to Bob Schieffer of CBS News.

Amount of oil Iraq possesses: 115 billion barrels in proven oil reserves, the third largest reserves in the world (after neighboring Saudi Arabia and Iran). Estimates of possible oil deposits still to be discovered range from 45 billion additional barrels up to 400 billion additional barrels.

Price of 40 gallons of gas under Saddam Hussein: 50 cents.

Price of 40 gallons of gas in July 2007: $75 on the black market; $35 if a motorist is willing to spend hours, or even days, in line at a gas station.

Percentage of Iraq’s revenues that come from the export of oil: More than 90%, though oil production remains below that of the worst days of Saddam Hussein’s rule.

Amount the Iraqi Oil Ministry budgeted for capital expenses to bolster the oil industry last year: $3.5 billion, according to the latest report by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.

Amount the Iraqi Oil Ministry actually spent: $90 million.

Percentage of allocated capital funds spent by the Iraqi government on oil, electricity, and education projects in 2006: 22%.

Amount of money missing due to governmental corruption, as uncovered in investigations by Iraq’s top anti-corruption investigator, Judge Rahdi al Rahdi: $11 billion.

Number of U.S. dollars invested in “standing up” (training) the Iraqi military and police: $19.2 billion. This works out to $55,000 per Iraqi recruit, according to a bipartisan U.S. Congressional investigation.

Amount the Pentagon has requested for continued training and equipping of Iraqi security forces: $2 billion.

Percentage of equipment the Pentagon has issued to Iraqi security forces since 2003 that cannot be accounted for: 30%. That includes at least “110,000 AK-47 rifles, 80,000 pistols, 135,000 items of body armor and 115,000 helmets,” according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). According to the Washington Post, “One senior Pentagon official acknowledged that some of the weapons probably are being used against U.S. forces.”

Number of U.S. steel-shipping containers in Iraq and Afghanistan now considered “lost”: 54,390 or one-third of them, according to the GAO.

Estimated cost of training Iraqi (and Afghan) security forces over the next decade, if present course continues: At least 50 billion dollars, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Number of major U.S. bases in Iraq: More than 75, according to the New York Times.

Cost of U.S. bases in Iraq (which Congress has mandated as not “permanent”) and in Afghanistan (which the Pentagon refers to as “enduring”): Unknown. In a prestigious engineering magazine in late 2003, Lt. Col. David Holt, the Army engineer “tasked with facilities development” in Iraq, was already speaking proudly of “several billion dollars” being sunk into base construction. According to the Washington Post, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) claims $2 billion went into “military construction” in Iraq and Afghanistan, 2004-2006; another $1.7 billion was approved by Congress for 2007. And the Pentagon is still building. For fiscal 2008, $738.8 million was requested “for 33 critical construction projects for Iraq and Afghanistan.” (When it comes to base construction, these figures are undoubtedly undercounts.)

Amount that former Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown, and Root (now known as KBR) has received so far for a prewar contract to supply the American military with food, fuel, housing, and other necessities: At least $20 billion. A Pentagon audit of $16.2 billion worth of KBR’s work “found that $3.2 billion in KBR billing was either questionable or unsupported by documentation.”

Percentage of Iraqis who cannot afford to buy enough to eat: 15%, according Oxfam.

Percentage of Iraqi children who are malnourished: 28% (compared to 19% before the invasion); Percentage of babies born underweight, 11% (compared to 3% before the invasion).

Percentage of Iraqi children now considered to suffer from learning “impediments”: 92%, according to one study cited by Oxfam.

The cost of a single Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), armed with two Hellfire missiles: More than $3 million. (At least 5 Predators have crashed or been shot down in the last year in Iraq and Afghanistan.)

Cost of the latest UAV, the “hunter-killer” MQ-9 Reaper, now being deployed to Afghanistan and soon to be deployed to Iraq: $7 million. The Reaper is four times as heavy as the Predator and can be armed with 14 Hellfire missiles, or four Hellfires and two 500-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions. It is considered equivalent in firepower to the F-16. According to Associated Press reporter Charles Hanley, “Its pilot, as it bombs targets in Iraq, will sit at a video console 7,000 miles away in Nevada.”

Number of American planes in Iraqi air space at any moment: 100, according to Hanley.

Increase in bombs dropped in Iraq in the first six months of 2007 compared to the first six months of 2006: Fivefold.

Percentage of Iraqi oil resources around Basra in Shiite southern Iraq, where, in September 2006, the British launched their own unsuccessful version of the present American “clear, hold and reconstruct” escalation operation in Baghdad: 66%.

Number of doctors assassinated by “unidentified gunmen” in “peaceful” Basra since 2003: 12.

Number of times the airport base outside Basra, which houses a well-barricaded regional U.S. Embassy office and the last 5,500 of the 40,000 troops England dispatched to Iraq, has been attacked by mortars or rockets over the past four months: 600.

Effect of Iraq War spending on the profits of major weapons corporations: Northrop Grumman has just announced a 15% second-quarter increase in sales over 2006 for its information and services division, 7% for its electronics division; General Dynamics’ combat systems unit just recorded a 19% rise in sales. Lockheed Martin’s profits went up 34% to $778 million, according to Eli Clifton of Inter Press Service.

Estimated cost of deploying an American soldier to Iraq for one year: $390,000, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Cost of flying a soldier home from the war zone: $627.80. That’s the price the Pentagon pays FedEx and UPS, among other companies, for each soldier brought back to the U.S.

Estimated tonnage of U.S. equipment that might be driven out of Iraq and shipped home from Kuwait in case of a decision to withdraw: One million tons.

Percentage of Americans in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll who had served in Iraq or “had a close friend or relative who served in Iraq,” who approve of the President’s handling of the Iraq conflict: 38%. In a May New York Times/CBS News poll, fewer than half of military families and military members agreed that “the United States did the right thing in invading Iraq.”

Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute’s, is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch Interviews with American Iconoclasts and Dissenters (Nation Books).

[Note: Where, in the above list, a number is unsourced, check the previously sourced number. I have relied on numerous other websites, as well as my own reading, in compiling this report. Oxfam’s recent study of the Iraqi humanitarian crisis has been indispensable. I used several figures directly from that report without sourcing above, because it was a pdf file. The full report can be found by clicking here (pdf file); a succinct summary of some of its numbers can be found in Peter Rothberg’s “Worse than You Think” at the Nation magazine website. I’m now hooked on Noah Shachtman’s “Danger Zone” blog at Wired magazine, which is invaluable on military and national security matters. Juan Cole’s Informed Comment website remains a must-read, early-morning stop in my Web day, as does and Paul Woodward’s The War in Context, all of which I made good use of in compiling this post. Take a look as well at the always useful website Electronic Iraq.]

Copyright 2007 Tom Engelhardt