Thursday, March 19, 2009

6th anniversary of Iraq war passes silently

How the war began six years ago today

Today is the sixth anniversary marking the beginning of the Iraq war. It is a war that has left an estimated 90,000 Iraqis dead and countless others maimed or injured. More than 4,500 coalition troops have died and tens of thousand have been wounded. But according to several reports Iraq is “on the mend”. CNN’s Nic Robertson says that although the situation is getting better, Security is still a concern for many Iraqis. The International Correspondent for the global new channel said today that many Iraqis “have the sense that people have forgotten about them.” Although the numbers of attacks have decreased, they still occur. However, many go unreported unless there is a significantly high death toll. In the second week of March, nearly 70 people were killed in two suicide bomb attacks in Baghdad, but such incidents barely get a mention on news channels or in national newspapers. Thirty nine coalition troops have been killed so far this year, amongst them one Briton. Although it shows a decline, the numbers are still significant, and for the families who have lost their sons or daughters it is devastating.
Troops may be pulling out but there are some doubts as to what vacuum they will leave behind. “Iraqis have still got to live with what’s going on,” Robertson told viewers. And viewers were asked whether, after six years, the war was “worth it”? According to Jim Clancy, who hosts Your World Today, the majority of respondents thought the war was not worth it. “Surely you jest?” one viewer wrote, as she listed her reasons why. Views cited the millions of dollars wasted, the WMDs [Weapons of Mass Destruction] that were never found, the thousands of lives lost and others injured as well as the damage to infrastructure and the continuing fraught security situation.

It is a war that, while having removed a despotic leader and moved the country towards a form of democracy, has left the region in chaos. It has also affected reputations. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair will be more remembered as ‘Bush’s poodle’ and for his sanctioning what many have called an ‘illegal war’. George Bush has been lambasted by critics for his decision to invade, and America’s standing in the world has also been affected.

It may also be argued that the War on Terror took the politicians’ eyes off the economy and let the seeds of recession develop unhindered. The war has also added to the significant debts of both the US and the UK, money that will never be recovered.

Even before the war was waged there were warning that the conflict could plunge the world into a deep recession. In an article published in the Independent newspaper in Britain one academic expressed his view the economic effects could be devastating. William Nordhaus, a Sterling professor of Economics at Yale University, speaking several months before hostilities began, said that a war against Iraq could cost the US hundreds of billions of dollars, play havoc with an already depressed domestic economy and tip the world into recession because of the adverse effect on oil prices, inflation and interest rates. Some of the professor’s predictions such as the destruction of oilfields and use of chemical and biological weapons never happened. But his belief that a protracted conflict involving urban guerrilla fighting did manifest itself. "The Bush administration has not prepared the public for the cost or the financing of what could prove to be an expensive venture,'' Professor Nordhaus said in November 2002. "Perhaps the administration is fearful that a candid discussion of wartime economics will give ammunition to sceptics of the war; perhaps it worries acknowledging the costs will endanger the large future tax cuts, which are the centrepiece of its domestic policy. Nonetheless, the price must be paid, by raising taxes, by cutting expenditures, or by forcing the Federal Reserve do the job by raising interest rates. One way or another, Americans will pay for the war,'' the professor warned.
The report also highlighted the risk to oil supplies and a rise in fuel prices. George Perry, an analyst with the Brookings Institute in Washington, drew up three scenarios, one of which suggested a tripling of prices to $75 a barrel. That, he suggested, would almost certainly push the world into recession. Little could he have foreseen the oil price breaking beyond the $100 mark [link].

The financial cost of the war is still disputed. Last year estimates were running as high as $200 billion [CNN]. Even Norhaus was conservative with his estimated cost put at around $120 billion. It may look small now compared to the $750 billion bail-outs seen in recent months, but the critics would argue that none of it needed to happen. In fact the cost of the Iraq war is now judged to exceed more than $800 billion. However, most of those critics of the war were shouted down or ignored. Vince Cable, a leading British politician in the Liberal Democratic Party, echoed the views of Nordhaus. Writing in the Guardian a little over a month before the war began, Cable also suggested that military action could bring about a create global recession. Oil price hikes would in turn affect the GDP of industrialised countries, Cable suggested. The former Chief economist of the Shell said that funding of a costly and prolonged war could very easily precipitate a collapse of external and internal confidence in the US economy. Not all these predictions have come to pass. But the long war is adding to the financial woes of the US and the world.

CNN was the only channel to look back on the six year conflict today. The BBC and Sky were more fixated with the conviction of Josef Fritzl, an Austrian who held his daughter captive for 21 years. Even the release of a new audio tape purported to be that of Osama bin Laden went virtually unnoticed [CNN].

Dick Cheney speaking on CNN insisted that the war was worth it. Violence levels were down 90% he said and he added that it was the first proper democracy in the Middle East something he regarded as a “big deal”. But according to a CNN poll, around 70% of Americans are supportive of Barack Obama’s plan to pullout troops. Support for a long campaign is dwindling as the cost rises ever higher. That cost is now estimated as being in excess of $800 billion

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