Iraq War not Worth the Sacrifice

 By Nick Gier,

As we approach the sixth anniversary of the Iraq War, there are a few positive signs. At the end of January, provincial elections were held with comparatively little violence and fraud. The best news is that Iraqis voters, contrary to some predictions, supported secular parties much more than religiously affiliated ones.

The negatives, however, far outweigh the positives. Oil production has still not returned to pre-war levels. While under Saddam the people of Baghdad could count on power 20 hours a day, they now have only an average of 15 hours a day.

Only 40 percent of Iraqis have clean water to drink, and most sanitation systems are still not functioning. Six million Iraqis live on UN food rations, and Oxfam estimates that 28 percent of the children are malnourished.

One of the greatest tragedies is the 740,000 war widows, only 120,000 of whom receive meager state aid. Rejected by their families and mostly ignored by the government, the widows have been reduced to begging, scavenging, and prostitution.

Iraq is now divided along sectarian lines much more than before the war. Before the war Baghdad’s population was split evenly between Sunnis and Shiias, but, after the Surge, Middle East expert Juan Cole estimates that it is now a 75 Shiite city. Even more significant is that prior to 2003 Shiias and Sunnis were not killing one another.

The most accurate figures for Iraqi civilian casualties come from “”The Lancet, the highly respected British medical journal. Claiming to have death certificates from 92 percent of the households surveyed, the authors estimate that over one million Iraqis have died because of the war.

There are currently an estimated 2.8 million internally displaced Iraqis, and there are 2.2-2.4 million who have fled the country.

The Iraqis who have left tend to be more prosperous and better educated. The figure that stands out dramatically in the Brooking Institute’s Iraq Index (, from which I’ve drawn most of my data, is the number of doctors. Before the war there were 34,000 doctors in Iraq, but now there are only 12,000.

Iraq’s National Museum in Baghdad reopened last month with 9,000 of priceless Mesopotamian artifacts still missing. Despite a direct appeal to the Pentagon from archeologists three weeks before the war, the commanding general made sure there were troops at the oil ministry but none were sent to the museum. Looters broke into the museum on April 10, 2003 and it was not secured by U.S. forces until April 22.

In addition to artifacts, there are living cultural legacies in Iraq, who are now threatened with extinction. The Sabaean Mandeans, a 2,000 year-old religious sect, lived peacefully in Iraq until the U. S. invasion unleashed Muslim fanaticism. Most of the Mandeans not killed have now fled the country and it will be difficult for the religion to survive in exile.

It is estimated that at least half of Iraq’s 800,000 Assyrian Christians have fled the country. Churches have been burned and both parishioners and priests, including the Archbishop of Mosul, have been killed.

On August 7, 2007, the Catholic News Service declared that Iraqi Christians were much safer under Hussein’s rule, and an editorial from the Assyrian Christian International News Agency accuses the U.S. of destroying Christianity in Iraq.

Depending on what is included, veterans’ costs and interest on the national debt, the total cost of the war will be $1-3 trillion. The greatest cost, however, has been the sacrifice of 4,256 American lives and 31,089 seriously wounded soldiers.

The other huge cost is the loss of our moral standing in the world. It will take decades for the U.S. to recover from Bush’s reckless invasion of a Muslim country and his prosecution of a war on terror that alienated hundreds of moderate Muslims around the world.

Nick Gier taught philosophy at the University of Idaho for 31 years. Read or listen to all of his columns at