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Is occupying and rebuilding Iraq the best way to spend $190 billion?

By Ross Buckley - posted Friday, 17 October 2003

To date the United States has spent $US81 billion on the war and occupation of Iraq and another $3 billion on initial reconstruction efforts. The Bush Administration sought and received approval recently for another $US72 billion in funding to meet US commitments in Iraq over the coming year, of which $20 billion is for reconstruction.

So by the end of next year the US will have spent $US156 billion on the war in Iraq and on initial reconstruction and there is virtually no chance that it will be out of Iraq by then.

Estimates by members of the US Congress of the total cost of the Iraq engagement to the US range from $US178 billion to $US309 billion, depending on when troops are withdrawn and the degree of reconstruction undertaken.


On October 14 a UN/World Bank project estimated the reconstruction costs for Iraq over the next four years at $US55 billion. Some US estimates for reconstruction range as high as $245 billion and $55 billion seems low given that the US Administrator in Iraq has estimated that re-establishing the water supply alone will cost $16 billion.

So estimates range widely. The total cost of the war, occupation and reconstruction could be as high as $US554 billion; but let's be conservative and take the most modest figures. By any measure the Iraq war and its aftermath will cost at least $US190 billion.

What does this massive figure mean? If the US had not gone to war in Iraq, what could it have done with this money? On World Bank figures, to halve the number of people in extreme poverty (an income of less than $US1 a day) and to halve the number of hungry people in the world, would cost about $US47 billion a year - or $188 billion over four years.

So instead of invading Iraq, the Bush Administration could have announced, "We recognise that terrorism has its roots in hatred and fear. We invaded Afghanistan to hunt the terrorists. Now we are going to continue this war on terror by using the opposite of hatred and fear, which is love. We will spend $47 billion a year for the next four years to halve extreme poverty and hunger on the planet."

Or the US could have addressed the world's major health problems. On World Bank figures, $20 billion a year would reduce maternal mortality by three quarters, reduce under-five-year-old mortality by two-thirds and halt and reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other serious diseases.

So as an alternative, the Bush Administration could have announced that it was going to spend $20 billion a year for the next decade to transform the health of mothers, children and the seriously ill.


The war in Iraq did nothing to counter terrorism. No weapons of mass destruction have been found or are likely to be found and no links between the regime of Saddam Hussein and terrorists have been uncovered.

The war did fuel anti-American hatred and, as we have learnt, did build real anti-Australian hatred among terrorists. Pictures of children without limbs and flattened homes can hardly do otherwise.

Given that America was going to spend this money on war, what an opportunity it missed to spend it on peace. If the money had halved world poverty and hunger for four years, or revolutionised the health of the world's sick for a decade, would there be as many willing recruits to the terrorists' ranks today?

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Article edited by Merrindahl Andrew.
If you'd like to be a volunteer editor too, click here.

This article was first published in The Canberra Times on 9 October 2003.

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About the Author

Professor Ross Buckley is Co-director of the Tim Fischer Centre for Global Trade & Finance at Bond University.

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