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ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL REPORT

Iraq Journals

Glimpses of life in a war-torn country by GNS national security correspondent John Yaukey and photo director Jeff Franko.

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January 26, 2005

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January 20, 2005

 

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Friday, June 18

Power handoff in Iraq not likely to cut war costs

By John Yaukey | GNS

Updated: June 28

The people of Boise, Idaho, are keenly aware of how deeply Americans will still be invested in Iraq even after the today's transfer of sovereignty from U.S. occupation authorities to Iraqis.

As Iraq struggles to stand on its own, the 116th Cavalry Brigade from Idaho's National Guard will be entering the newly sovereign country expected to be every bit as volatile as it was under American rule.

``I'm very proud of these people,'' said Boise resident Barney Skogerson, who attended a recent send-off ceremony for the 116th. ``They're really giving up a lot at a very important time.''

Indeed, the price Americans pay in Iraq with blood and money will not likely abate anytime soon, despite the power handoff.

Violence leading up to Iraq's first elections in January 2005 is expected to escalate as insurgents seek to derail the democratic process.

``I think you're going to see a spike in violence in July to test the new government, then perhaps again in October to try and affect the U.S. elections and then again to test the Iraqi elections in January,'' said Michael Rubin, a former political adviser to U.S. civil authorities in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the $4.4 billion a month the Pentagon estimates Americans are spending to secure and rebuild Iraq shows no sign of ratcheting down.

Security spending is eating into rebuilding money while expensive heavy armor is being shipped to Iraq to bolster the light equipment inadequate for defending against the roughly three dozen guerrilla attacks U.S. troops face daily.

By comparison, the monthly cost is approaching that of the Vietnam War, which ran the inflation-adjusted equivalent of $5.15 billion per month.

Human toll

April in Iraq was a dark reminder of what securing Iraq is costing in American lives: 137 troops killed in what was the bloodiest month of the entire campaign.

It was especially worrisome because it suggested that sovereignty was going to be as costly in lives as some of the top U.S. field commanders in Iraq had warned.

May saw a drop with 74 casualties, but that was high enough to make it the third deadliest month of the campaign for the 138,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

What's more, the recent spate of car bombings strongly suggests that while the insurgents may be desperate, as Bush suggests, they are still well armed and highly motivated.

It's got Pentagon officials scrambling to get more Iraqis trained for security duty.

After transfer of power, ``it's their country,'' Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters. ``They're going to have to secure it.''

But when and how?

Iraqi security forces are woefully unprepared to take control of the country anytime soon.

More than 200,000 Iraqis have been trained for various police and military units, but they have often collapsed in the face of fire. In some cases, Iraqi police officers and soldiers have joined the insurgents.

``The security situation is worse than it was five months ago,'' said William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard magazine and a vocal proponent of the war. ``We are at a critical moment now on the security side.''

It's having a measured effect on Americans.

Sixty percent of respondents to a recent Gallup Poll said the war was going badly.

Among independents, 59 percent said it was not worth invading Iraq, while 39 percent said it was.

A key variable in the public tolerance of combat casualties is whether people believe the war is winnable, according to a Duke University study of public opinion about the Iraq campaign.

After the handoff, Boise teacher Anne Stafford wants to see some evidence that Iraq is moving toward self-sufficiency and ultimately a U.S. exit.

``I certainly think what we've been doing there is worth it,'' Stafford said. ``But I think we need to start seeing some light at the end of this tunnel.''

Torrent of tax dollars

The financial cost of the campaign in Iraq has set spending records.

The $87 billion package Bush requested late last year for Iraq and Afghanistan was the largest supplemental spending bill in history.

Within that bundle, the $18.4 billion earmarked for rebuilding amounted to the largest foreign aid package in American history.

In all, Congress has approved about $150 billion on top of the Pentagon's annual budget to secure and rebuild Iraq, with another $25 billion now pending on Capitol Hill.

Together it adds up to well over a third of the projected $480 billion federal deficit for fiscal year 2004.

Sovereignty will do little to mitigate those costs.

Despite a recent United Nations resolution endorsing the handoff, few American allies have pledged much aid.

To date, only Japan is talking about contributions in the billions rather than millions, with an aid package of between $1.5 billion and $4 billion over four years.

Meanwhile, insurgents continue to bomb Iraq's oil infrastructure, making it almost impossible to raise production from 2 million barrels a day now - when pipelines are working - to the target of 6 million.

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Iraqi casualties

It's difficult to determine how many Iraqis have died in the war. The Pentagon stopped tracking enemy body counts after Vietnam.

Some estimates by aid and other organizations that have tried to calculate Iraqi losses by cobbling together media accounts stand at more than 10,000 Iraqi deaths. For one estimate, go to www.iraqbodycount.net/bodycount.htm.