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Ten Years Later: Counting the Costs of War in Iraq


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Photo by (cc) Flickr user The U.S. Army

Photo by (cc) Flickr user The U.S. Army

The invasion and occupation of Iraq defined a generation; the world’s largest anti-war protest was followed by the 3rd longest war in US history. 10 years later, American troops have officially left Iraq, but the occupation and its effects continue. On this edition, we look back at the 2003 invasion of Iraq. For Iraqis, for the US military, and for the anti-war movement; how have things changed? And what, if anything, has the world learned?

Featuring: Donald Rumsfeld, former US secretary of defense; Tom Cahill, human shield in Iraq; Yanar Mohammed, Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq president; Jeff Paterson, Courage to Resist co-founder; Catherine Lutz, Watson Institute’s Costs of War study co-director; Barack Obama, president of the United States; Bishop Desmond Tutu, Jean-Luc, Caroline Bridgeman Reese, Amanda Tattersol; Iraq war protestors; Lisa Hammid, Free Speech Radio News host; Miles Ashdown, FSRN reporter

Script – see below

For More Information:
We Are Many
Costs of War
Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq
International Federation of Iraqi Refugees
Courage to Resist
Bradley Manning Support Network
Stop the War Coalition (UK)
Shutdown: The Rise and Fall of Direct Action to Stop the War
Free Speech Radio news

Articles, Videos, etc
Infographic: US ends Iraq War Chapter
Remarks by the President and First Lady on the End of the War in Iraq
Sparring With Demons, Combat Medic Turns to Martial Arts

Brand Nubian, “Drop the Bomb”

[Stelzer] This week on Making Contact.

[Chant] No blood for oil.

[Erica Singlebury] I am telling Bush right here right now, this war is dead wrong.

[Stelzer] The invasion and occupation of Iraq defined a generation. The largest anti-war protests the world had ever seen were followed by the third-longest war in U.S. history. Ten years later, American troops have officially left Iraq, but the occupation and its effects continue.

[Iraqi woman?] The only stable and continuous thing in our lives in Iraq is the insecurity that we are threatened with day to day.

[Stelzer]: On this edition, we look back at the 2003 invasion of Iraq ten years later. For the Iraqis, for the U.S. Military, and for the anti-war movement, how have things changed, and what if anything has the world learned. I’m Andrew Stelzer, and this is Making Contact, a program connecting people, vital ideas, and important information.

[Arabic Music] [explosion] [BBC News Report]
A Narrator: Baghdad tonight under heavy bombardment on the day the war started. American and British troops are in action on land, sea, and air.

[ACT – Rumsfeld]
The United States and the international community have made every effort to avoid war. Diplomacy and sanctions over more than a decade have not worked, and now by rejecting President Bush’s ultimatum the Iraqi regime has chosen military conflict over peaceful disarmament.

[CBS News sound]
The war plan was supposed to begin with an air campaign, but the battle plan has been turned on its head, and the ground campaign is coming first. Thousands of American troops are already inside.

[Cahill] There’s been light bombing to the northwest of Baghdad today and last night, and it was pretty scary for about an hour. The buildings shook, and the windows rattled. Sometimes we could even hear the bombs fly overhead that was sort of a whistling swoosh.

[ACT – Rumsfeld] What will follow will not be a repeat of any other conflict. It will be of a force and scope and scale that has been beyond what has been seen before. [Explosions and gunfire; voice saying “whoa”; I did NOT hear a voice saying “that’s the sound of freedom right there”] [Arabic song in background] To the Iraqi people, let me say that the day of your liberation will soon be at hand. Coalition forces will take every precaution to protect innocent civilians. Iraq belongs to the Iraqi people, and once Saddam Hussein’s regime is removed we intended to see that functional and political authority is placed in the hands of Iraqis as quickly as is possible. Coalition forces will stay only as long as necessary to finish the job and not a day longer.

[ACT – Cahill] Iraqis who have been out of the country are returning now to fight. The war is having a reverse effect from what Bush promised, that the allied troops would be welcomed as liberators. That is not happening. Those who may have been against the regime are even more against the U.S. and British invasion, and from what we hear we suspect that this is gonna turn into a guerrilla war, an urban guerrilla war, which I think is the worst nightmare of the U.S. and British military.

[Stelzer] Those were some of the voices you may have heard on March 20, 2003, news reports that the bombing of Iraq had begun., the official word from former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and a phone call from Tom Cahill, an American activist who on that day was one of a group of human shields sleeping out at a water treatment plant near Baghdad in hopes that the presence of foreigners could protect some vital resources from being bombed. But the voices missing from news coverage of those early days were those of the Iraqi people. The internet was in an earlier state. Communication out of Iraq was sparse, and the mainstream media was largely embedded with the U.S. and other coalition forces. We are about to speak to someone who went back to Iraq in 2003 in part to be able to tell the world what was happening and in particular to advocate for Iraqi women. On a line with me from Baghdad is Yanar Mohammed, president of the Organization for Woman’s Freedom in Iraq. Welcome to Making Contact.

[Yanar Mohammed/YM] You’re welcome. You’re most welcome.

[Stelzer/MC] So before we go back to 2003, let’s talk about today, 2013. What do you see day to day. What are the primary issues of concern in Iraq?

[YM] We, every other year when we think that the situation is becoming stable and that we might have a normal life, a new political conflict issue comes along. Day to day, we cannot even access our residential zones. We have checkpoints in the entrance of every neighborhood, and when we open the TVs all we see is threats between politicians who are assumed to be of this sect and that, which is the Sunni and the Shiite, and we are stuck in the middle of this. The only stable and continuous thing in our lives in Iraq is the insecurity that we are threatened with day to day.

[MC] And what is the U.S. presence these days in terms of military, contractors, non-military personnel? Who’s still there?

[YM] In Iraq today, you would not see the U.S. with your bare eyes, in the sense that the American tanks are not on the streets, as the Iraqi Army has become a very big army, and it’s all over the place and it’s become quite oppressive in its own ways. The U.S. people are behind the scene. They have set up all the establishments of the Iraqi government, and we are, we are surprised that most of these establishments are beginning to become as oppressive and as difficult to live with day to day just like they were in Saddam’s times. For example, we have more than eleven security institutions around the country. When we step out of the house to make a demonstration and we want to gather in our public squares, we have to go through the security institutions in order to get a permission for a demonstration, and for those important public squares in the city they would not give us the permission. We have turned in the last ten years into a new police state.

[MC] Now I know you were against the U.S. invasion to begin with, but I want to pose a hypothetical question. Assuming the U.S. did invade as it did and that couldn’t be stopped, couldn’t be taken back, what could have been done differently to make the end result better?

[YM] If there was a goodwill of creating a fair and just political system in Iraq, there would have been an empowerment of all political groups, whether they are in the left, in the center, or in the right. But what happened in Iraq is that the U.S. administration wanted to empower only those who are on the right side of the political formula, and on the right side was mostly the Islamists, and when they dealt with the political groups who are on the ground they dealt with them within what is understood as the rule of the jungle. Whoever has the biggest militia, whoever has the better ability to kill, those were the ones who are in the parliament now. You do not see the political parties that are progressive in Iraq that have a big history, have a big membership. You don’t see them having any seats. If we were to go back to 2003 and if there was a political will to allow good times to happen in Iraq, all of the political groups should have been empowered in the same way, and especially the working-class groups and the women. To cut a long story short, they did not want Iraq to become a modern state. They want it to become another Saudi Arabia in the region, Saudi Arabia, which is lying on top of a big field of oil, which were distinct … to put the taps of oil and open them to the full… of foreign companies.

[MC] Yanar Mohammed is president of the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq based in Baghdad. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us.

[YM] You are most welcome.

[Drumming, marching, chanting] One, two, three four, we don’t want your fascist war. One, two, three, four, we don’t want your fascist war. One, two, three, four, we don’t want your fascist war. One, two, three, four, we don’t want your fascist war.

[Hammid, newscaster] More than one million people took part in an anti-war protest in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta.

[ACT TRT: 31 Miles Ashdown reporting from Tokyo] Three thousand people from all over Japan rallied in downtown Tokyo to get this message across to their government. “No war. No war”.

[ACT-Hammid] Saeeda Isha square in Cairo has been sealed off by hundreds of police in an effort to discourage anti-war demonstrators from gathering.

[Stelzer?] New Delhi, New Haven, Portland, New York, Sydney, and San Francisco. In early 2003, those were just a few of the cities hosting a series of protests against the Iraq War that dwarfed anything humanity had ever seen.

[ACT Jean-Luc TRT: 12] My name is Jean Luc, and I’m 12 years old, and I’m out here to stop the war, because my mom didn’t pay her taxes to send the military to go bomb Iraq.

[ACT TRT: 09] (80-year-old Caroline Bridgeman Reese protested in New Haven Connecticut:) “This rally is typical of rallies all over the world, and it’s very very exciting that the world is saying we want peace!

[Stelzer] First on February 15th, demonstrations took place in over 800 cities in what the Guinness Book of World Records called the largest protest ever.

[ACT TRT: 25 (from 2-17) (Archbishop Desmond Tutu in NYC} We want to say, President Bush, listen to the voice of the people. What do you say to war? (Crowd:) No! What do you say to death and destruction? (Crowd:) No! What do you say to peace? (Crowd:) Yes!

[Amanda Tattersol, Walk Against the War—at 20k strong rally in Sydney TRT: 08] We must not rest until our troops have been brought home and your war in Iraq has stopped.
[Stelzer/MC] Demonstrations continued and escalated in the days after the invasion began, but what did such a massive outpouring of opposition achieve? Joining me now to talk about that emergent global anti-war movement and what it means now a decade later is Jeff Patterson. He is a former Marine, who refused to fight in the first Gulf War back in 1990. He is the founder of Courage To Resist, which supports conscientious objectors, and he is also involved in the Bradley Manning Support Network. Manning is the U.S. Army private who passed information about U.S. operations in Iraq to the website Wikileaks. Jeff, welcome to Making Contact.

[Jeff Patterson/JP] Great for having me, thanks.

[MC] So first of all, let’s go back to 2003 in that day in February which is known as the largest protest in the history of the world. Talk about where you were and how it felt.

[JP] Well, I was part of the organizing committee for a coalition of organizations that pulled off the event here in San Francisco, where we had almost a quarter million people, although there is plenty debate in how many thousands of people were actually out there. I wanted to be part of sending a message to the rest of the world that our government’s policies were not being conducted in our name, and I was actually an organizer for the Not In Our Name coalition, and it was, you know, I was just doing the sound systems and arguing with the cops over permits, but, when I went home and saw the photos and the videos from all these other places around the world, it certainly felt like everything was worth it.

[MC} And then there were more protests when the war began, most notably in San Francisco where thousands of people more or less shut down the city’s financial district. According to its stated aims, I guess you could say that day in March was a success, but at the same time the war did go on. Can you talk about what your feelings were that day and in the days following? Was there a need to reconcile those two emotions? You kind of had a victory in the moment, but in the big picture the movement, you could say, was failing.

[JP] Well, on that day I was specifically part of organizing about a hundred-odd folks. We did civil disobedience at the federal building in San Francisco, and, you know, we were handing out water and picket signs in front of city hall and watching high school classes from the East Bay and from Walnut Creek and Orinda coming in to be part of this historic event. It was exciting. But I don’t anybody thought that at that point we were gonna change the mind of George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld and their crew, but it was important to basically be part of a historical verdict that this stuff that was happening in our name was just not right and that we were not part of it and there were millions of people in the United States that were doing absolutely everything we can, from actually throwing our bodies into the streets and onto the sidewalks and trying to block the federal building and shut down business as usual, and I do think that history will come to the conclusion that the Iraq War was a tremendous mistake that led to tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of senseless Iraqi deaths, thousands and thousands of U.S. casualties, so in the same way that everybody now sees the Vietnam War as a huge costly mistake. If it wasn’t for us in the streets, I’m not so sure that history would condemn the current Iraq and Afghan fiasco.

[MC] Do you think that the activism opposing the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, because the two are pretty closely intertwined, has affected U.S. government and military policy over the past ten years, particularly with the Obama administration, which theoretically is more responsive to community organizing and Obama, himself, stated he was against the invasion of Iraq? Do you think it has changed the course of the past ten years?
[JP] That is a tough question. Absolutely is. It’s changed the course of American politics, and I would say it’s changed the course of American politics for the good, that the majority of this country despite everything has rejected the Republican candidate in part based on their pro-war, pro-occupation stances that the Democrats appear to be, you know, project themselves as the party of peace, and the American people have embraced that, the majority of them. Of course, it’s frustrating for those of us who continue to do this work day in and day out, and we look beyond for example President Obama’s declarations of being against war, being in support of whistleblowers, for example, and yet, you know, spend the time to actually look at the content, the substance of the policies and see that not all that has changed. That’s the frustrating part, and to try to explain that to people without coming across as simply anti-Obama in the sense that, you know, many other more conservative people are anti-Obama is challenging.

[MC] And so ten years later, how would you describe the state of the anti-war movement at this point. Is it weaker, or have people moved on to other issues?

[JP] Well, I don’t think there is an anti-war movement that resembles like it was in 2003, 2004, and 2005, and that’s because the Iraq War is over in a sense. Of course, we have troops. Of course, we have tens of thousands of contractors. There are people like myself and other organizations, Iraq Veterans Against The War and Bay-Peace, and the majority of those of us still doing full-time quote-unquote anti-war work are working with a 1.5 million new young combat veterans, whether that’s the 50,000 of those individuals who have lost limbs in Iraq or the 250-odd thousand that are dealing with post-traumatic stress, or the women who are dealing with the injuries of war and also the injuries of, inflicted upon them by fellow U.S. servicemembers through military sexual traumas of various kinds. So those are the things that keep us going day in and day out, and with again almost two million new combat troops, hopefully we’ve learned some of the lessons of the Vietnam War, where, you know, at the end of the day more Vietnam War veterans killed themselves than suicide ever killed in Vietnam. So we are trying to apply those lessons, and yet at the same time we are seeing history repeat itself with four or five military servicemembers committing suicide every day now. And hopefully through supporting these individuals who are coming to terms with their service and what it meant and the impact it had on their lives, you know, hopefully, you know, we can teach a new generation of what it really means to go to war.

[MC] Jeff Patterson is co-founder of Courage To Resist, which hosts the Bradley Manning Support Fund. is their site, and we’ll link to those groups on our website, Jeff, thanks so much for speaking with us.

[JP] Absolutely, it’s an honor.

[Music/MC] We’ll be right back. {Music/MC] You’re listening to Making Contact, a production of the National Radio Project. If you would like more information or for CD copies of this program, please call 800-529-5736. Because of listeners like you, this show is distributed for free to radio stations in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and South Africa. Here is one of our long-time listeners.

[Long-time listener] I’m Pat from Taunton, Massachusetts, and I’m an admirer and a supporter of Making Contact because they’re out there doing work on the issues that mean a lot to me.

[MC] Tell us your thoughts. Leave a comment on our website,, or through Facebook or Twitter. Our handle is making_contact.

[Obama] Hello, Fort Bragg! (Crowd roar). All the way! (Crowd: Airborne!). [Music…] Fort Bragg, we’re here to mark a historic moment in the life of our country and our military. For nearly nine years, our nation has been at war in Iraq, and over the next few days a small group of American soldiers will begin the final march out of that country. We know too well the heavy costs of this war. Over 30,000 Americans have been wounded, and those are only the wounds that show. Nearly 4,500 Americans made the ultimate sacrifice. We also know that these numbers don’t tell the full story of the Iraq War, not even close.

[Music/MC] Will we ever have a full accounting of just how much the war in Iraq did cost? Joining me now by Skype is Catherine Lutz. She is Thomas J. Watson Professor at the Watson Institute (Watson Institute for International Studies, at Brown University). She is also co-director of the Watson Institute’s Costs of War study. Professor Lutz, welcome to Making Contact.

[Catherine Lutz/CL] Thanks for having me.

[MC] So let’s jump right in. The Costs of War is a project you have been working on for quite a while. The most obvious questions is, what are the costs of war?

[CL] First of all, the costs of the war are really pretty spectacular, first and mostly for the people of Iraq. The human toll runs into the hundreds of thousands, people who have been killed directly and indirectly by the war, and then there is a huge number of injuries from the violence. In addition, the country has not yet recovered from the invasion and the civil war that also broke out after the invasion. What hasn’t recovered are the healthcare system, the electrical grid, the water and sewage. There still are major problems with day-to-day living in Iraq on account of the war. People are walking through basically sewage in the street because the sewer systems, which were either attacked or otherwise broke down in the chaos of the war, have been not repaired. A tremendous number of people are still dislocated from their homes at this point, still, two and a half million people. So we have those costs, human and financial, and then in the United States as well we have a tremendous bill that was due. Some of it is borrowed money, but some of it’s going to be paid off in the future. We have two and a half million Americans who have been to either Iraq or Afghanistan, and sometimes both places, over the last ten years, and some good proportion of those people have suffered injury of some kind. Close to 700,000 people already have disability claims that have been approved by the V.A. for service in one or other of the two war zones, and of course we had thousands of young people die in the war; Contractors [are] as well an undercounted cost of the war. We have almost as many people who were working for U.S. corporations die in Iraq as U.S. servicemembers. And then we have, again, a very large financial burden that the war imposed on the United States, as well of course as Iraq. Again, that runs into the trillions of dollars.

[MC] Now what about drones? There has been quite a bit of debate recently in the press and on Capitol Hill about the increased use of drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere, and even the establishment of a new drone base in Niger. One of the defenses mounted by the Obama administration is that using drones prevents the loss of lives by U.S. forces and that the use of unmanned drones is cheaper than manned aircraft, especially cheaper than a ground war with platoons of soldiers. So, I’m wondering how much of these cost-based arguments are in reaction to criticism the administration has received about the tremendous expense of the Iraq War.

[CL] Yeah, it’s supposedly a more politically palatable way to wage war. The drone program has been sold to the American public as a more humane form of warfare and as a cheaper form of warfare, and it is certainly not more humane if you count all the civilians who’ve died beneath them, and it is not more humane if you look at the data which suggest these drone attacks are exceedingly unpopular, as you might imagine, in places like Pakistan and Yemen, and that to the extent that that is creating sort of more context for conflict, then it is not a peacemaking device. But what’s relevant to Iraq is the idea that the Pentagon keeps experimenting with new ways of making war in ways that are more palatable to the American public, and one way of course is that both Congress and the military did that with the Iraq War is to put it on a credit card. So we have interest coming due on the debt, interest we have already been paying on the debt from the war in Iraq, and estimated at a trillion [dollars] more that is due over the next ten years. That makes it more palatable. So does using private contractors to do a lot of the dying and being injured, and quite a few of those people are not U.S. citizens. So that’s another important innovation in the waging of war that has unfortunately made it easier to carry it on for in this case of Iraq for many, many years. These are multibillion-dollar contracts that companies like Halliburton and Bechtel and others have won through the years here. So the drone warfare involves a whole other set of companies to stand to earn similar amounts of money by selling a new toy to the Pentagon.

[MC] Were there any costs of consequences from the war and occupation in Iraq that you found that you weren’t expecting?

[CL] One of the things I’ve found most fascinating was to learn how public health in Iraq has been affected. You know, the electrical grid was destroyed in a variety of ways over the sanctions period and the war, and one thing that an epidemiological study found was that rates of electrocution and poisoning have gone up in a very marked way in Iraq over the last few years. It’s clear that this is happening because people have been starting to, having to use generators to get their electricity, and when they do there are these wires that the cityscapes now in Iraq include, these wild pictures of wires strung from generators in one man’s house to the family next door. Poisoning apparently has been going up in part because, again, people are doing much more carrying around of gasoline to run their generators in regular household vessels, and sometimes that gets mixed into the food supply, and so on. So there is just these cascading of public health effects of the war that aren’t the bombs and bullets that we tend to be most concerned with. The impact of the war continues to ripple out in some of these really damaging ways.

[MC] Catherine Lutz is co-director of the Watson Institute’s Costs of War study. You can find it at Thanks so much for your time.

[CL] Thank you, Andrew.

[MC] And that’s it for this edition of Making Contact. Special thanks to our friends at Free Speech Radio News for use of archival material. For a CD copy of this program, call the National Radio Project at 800-529-5736 or check out our website,, to get a podcast, download past shows, or make a difference by supporting our work, ‘Like’ Making Contact on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter. Our handle is Making_Contact. I’m Andrew Stelzer. Thanks for listening to Making Contact.

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