DISPATCHES FROM AMERICA Escalation in Iraq by the numbers
By Tom Engelhardt
Some day, we will undoubtedly discover that, in the term "surge" - as in US
President George W Bush's "surge" plan (or "new way forward") announced to his
nation in January - was the urge to avoid the language (and experience) of the
Vietnam War era. As there were to be no "body bags" (or cameras to film them as
the dead came home), as there were to be no "body counts" ("We have made a
conscious effort not to be a body-count team" was the way Bush put it), as
there were to be no "quagmires", nor the need to search for that "light at the
end of the tunnel", so, surely, there were to be no "escalations".
The escalations of the Vietnam War era, which left more than 500,000 American
soldiers and vast bases and massive air and
naval power in and around Vietnam (and Laos and Cambodia), had been thoroughly
discredited. Each intensification in the delivery of troops, or simply in ever
widening bombing campaigns, led only to more misery and death for the
Vietnamese and disaster for the United States. And yet, not surprisingly, the
US experience in Iraq - another attempted occupation of a foreign country and
culture - has been like a heat-seeking missile heading for the still-burning US
memories of Vietnam.
As historian Marilyn Young noted in early April 2003 with the invasion of Iraq
barely under way: "In less than two weeks, a 30-year-old vocabulary is back:
credibility gap, seek and destroy, hard to tell friend from foe, civilian
interference in military affairs, the dominance of domestic politics, winning
or, more often, losing hearts and minds." By August 2003, the Bush
administration, of course, expected that only perhaps 30,000 US troops would be
left in Iraq, garrisoned on vast "enduring" bases in a pacified country. So, in
a sense, it has been a surge-athon ever since. By now, it's beyond time to call
Bush's "new way forward" by its Vietnam War equivalent.
Admittedly, a "surge" does sound more comforting, less aggressive, less
long-lasting, and somehow less harmful than an "escalation", but the fact is
that we are six months into the newest escalation of US power in Iraq. It has
deposited all-time high numbers of troops there as well, undoubtedly, as more
planes and firepower in and around that country than at any moment since the
invasion of 2003. Naturally enough, other "all-time highs" of the grimmest sort
Next month, General David Petraeus, America's escalation commander in Iraq, and
Ryan Crocker, its escalation ambassador there, will present their "progress
report" to the US Congress. ("Progress" was another word much favored in US
official pronouncements of the Vietnam War era.) The very name tells you more
or less what to expect. The report has already been downgraded to a "snapshot"
of an ongoing set of operations, which shouldn't be truly judged or seriously
assessed until at least November, or perhaps early 2008, or ...
With that in mind, here is the second Tomdispatch "by the numbers" report on
Iraq (for the first, see
Surging past the gates of hell, Asia Times Online, June 29). Consider
it an attempt to put the Iraqi quagmire-cum-nightmare - two classic Vietnam-era
words - in perspective.
Few numbers out of Iraq can be trusted. Counting accurately amid widespread
disruption, mayhem and bloodshed, under a failing occupation, in a land in
essence lacking a central government, in a US media landscape still dizzy from
the endless spin of the Bush administration and its military commanders, is
probably next to impossible. But however approximate the figures that follow,
they still offer an all-too-vivid picture of what Bush's much-desired invasion
let loose. No country could suffer such uprooting, destruction, death, loss and
deprivation, yet remain collectively sane.
American civilian and military officials now talk about staying in Iraq through
2008, or 2009, or into the next decade, or for undefined but lengthening
periods of time. And yet Iraq (by the numbers) has devolved month by month,
year by year, for four-plus years. There was never any reason to believe that
the latest escalation - or any future escalation, whatever it might be called,
and whether accomplished via the US military or by a growing shadow army of
guns for hire employed by private security firms - could be capable of anything
but hurrying the pace of that devolution. So imagine what Iraq-by-the-numbers
will be like in 2008 or 2009, given the clear determination of the Bush
administration's "strategic thinkers" to garrison that country into the distant
Here, then, is escalation in Iraq by the numbers - almost all of them continue
to "surge" - as of mid-August 2008:
Number of US troops stationed in Iraq: 162,000 (plus at least several thousand
government employees), an all-time high.
Estimated number of US-(taxpayer)-paid private contractors in Iraq: More than
180,000, again undoubtedly an all-time high. That figure includes about 21,000
Americans, 43,000 non-Iraqi foreign contractors (including Chileans, Nepalis,
Colombians, Indians, Fijians, Salvadorans and Filipinos among others), and
118,000 Iraqis, but does not include a complete count of "private security
contractors who protect government officials and buildings", according to State
Department and Pentagon figures obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
Percentage of private contractors in total US forces deployed in World War II
and the Korean War: 3-5%, according to the congressional testimony of
human-rights lawyer Scott Horton. In Vietnam and the first Gulf War, that
figure reached 10%. Now, it is at least near parity.
Number of private companies working in Iraq on contract for the US government:
630, with personnel from more than 100 countries, according to Jeremy Scahill,
author of the best-selling Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful
Typical pay of a former US Special Forces soldier working for a private
security company in Iraq: US$650 a day, according to Scahill, "after the
company takes its cut". That rate, however, can hit $1,000 a day.
Number of trucks on the road each day as part of the US resupply operation in
Number of attacks from June 2006 through May 2007 on US supply convoys guarded
by private security contractors: 869, a near tripling from the previous 12
Number of private contractors who have died in Iraq: More than 1,000, according
to the US Department of Labor, based on partial figures because private
companies do not have to declare their war dead.
Predicted cost of a "surge" of 21,500 US troops into Iraq, according to White
House calculations in January: $5.6 billion, a figure offered the month Bush's
surge strategy was announced.
Predicted cost of a one-year "surge" of 30,000-40,000 troops, according to
Robert Sunshine, assistant director for budget analysis of the non-partisan
Congressional Budget Office (CBO): $22 billion (two years for a cut-rate $40
billion). These figures were offered in testimony to Congress five months after
Bush's "surge" was officially launched.
Percentage of dollars annually appropriated by the US government and spent on
Iraq-related activities: More than 10%, or one dollar out of every 10,
according to the CBO's Sunshine.
Estimated monthly cost of the Iraq (and Afghan) wars: $12 billion - $10 billion
for Iraq - a third higher than in 2006, according to the non-partisan
Congressional Research Service.
Estimated total cost of the Iraq war, if Robert Sunshine's "optimistic
scenario" - 30,000 US troops left in Iraq by 2010 - plays out: More than $1
trillion. (If his less optimistic scenario proves accurate - 75,000 troops in
2010 - closer to $1.5 trillion.)
Number of Iraqis estimated to have fled their country: Between 2 million and
2.5 million. An estimated 750,000 to Jordan; 1.5 million to Syria; 200,000 to
Egypt and Lebanon - with another 40,000-50,000 fleeing each month, 2,000 a day,
according to United Nations figures. Officials at the central travel office in
Baghdad are deluged by up to 3,000 passport applications a week. In addition,
though it's anyone's guess, more than 2 million Iraqis may now be internal
refugees, uprooted from their homes largely by sectarian violence and ethnic
cleansing. About 70% of these are women and children, according to the United
Nations Children's Fund.
Number of Iraqi refugees admitted to the United States in July: 57; only 133
for the year to date.
Number of Iraqis held in US prisons in Iraq: About 22,500, according to US
military officials, a leap to an all-time high from 16,000 in February when the
"surge" began. (US prisons in Iraq also continue to undergo expansion.)
Number of Iraqis released from US incarceration in the past month: 224.
Number of foreign fighters (jihadis) held by the US military in Iraq: 135
(nearly half are Saudis).
Estimated number of bullets fired by US troops for every insurgent killed in
Iraq (or Afghanistan): 250,000, according to John Pike, director of the
Washington military-research group GlobalSecurity.org. This comes out to 1.8
billion rounds of small-arms ammunition yearly. With US munitions factories
unable to meet the demand, 313 million rounds of such munitions were purchased
from Israel last year for $10 million more than if produced domestically.
Percentage of amputations performed on US war-wounded in Iraq: An estimated 6%.
The average in earlier US conflicts, where the equivalents of IEDs (improvised
explosive devices) and car bombings did not play such a role, was 3%.
Estimated replacement limbs needed yearly for Iraqis in northern Iraq alone:
3,000, according to the Red Crescent Society and the director general for
health services in Mosul. (Unlike American soldiers, Iraqis who have lost limbs
have access only to limited numbers of outdated prostheses.)
Cost of a coffin in Baghdad: $50-75. Cost of a coffin in Saddam Hussein's time,
Number of Iraqi civilians who died in July: 1,652, according to figures
compiled by the Iraqi Health, Defense, and Interior ministries; 2,024,
according to the tally of the Associated Press; 1,539 according to the
Washington Post. All but the Post claim this as a "spike" in casualties. All
such figures are, for a variety of reasons, surely significant undercounts.
Approximate number of American civilians who would have died in July if a
similar level of killings were under way in the United States: 18,000,
according to Middle East scholar Juan Cole.
Estimated number of Iraqi deaths from the invasion of 2003 through June 2007,
if the Lancet study's median figure of 655,000 deaths was accurate and similar
death rates held true for the year since it was published: Just over a million,
according to Just Foreign Policy. (The Lancet study has been the single
on-the-ground, scientific report on Iraqi casualties in these years.)
Number of Iraqi civilians killed in July in mass-casualty bomb attacks: 378, a
sharp rise over June, according to the Washington Post. The five-month US
"surge" has caused "no appreciable change" in vehicle-bomb attacks, according
to figures collected by reporters from the McClatchy Newspapers.
Number of unidentified bodies, assumedly murdered by death squads, found on the
streets of Baghdad in June: 453, a rise of 41% over January, the month before
"surge" operations began, according to unofficial Iraqi Health Ministry
statistics taken from morgue counts.
Number of Iraqi civilians killed or wounded in "escalation of force" incidents
at US checkpoints or near US patrols and convoys in the past year: 429,
according to US military statistics obtained by the McClatchy Newspapers. These
statistics, which "spiked" during the recent escalation months, don't include
civilian deaths during raids on homes or in the midst of battle (and are
considered incomplete in any case, since an unknown number of
escalation-of-force deaths go unreported by US units).
Total number of attacks against US and coalition forces, Iraq security forces,
Iraqi civilians, and infrastructure targets in June: 5,335. This works out to a
daily average of 177.8, an all-time high since May 2003, according to the
Pentagon, and 46% more than in June 2006; more than 68% of these attacks -
3,671 to be exact - were launched against US troops, up 7% from May 2007.
Number of attacks in July using the most powerful type of roadside bomb: 99, an
all-time high, according to Lieutenant-General Ray Odierno, US
second-in-command in Iraq, accounting for one-third of US casualties last
Number of US military deaths in the "surge" months, February-July: 572,
according to the Iraq Coalition Casualties website. This represents 189 more
American deaths than in the same set of months in 2004, 215 more than in 2005,
237 more than in 2006.
Average daytime summer temperature in Baghdad: 43-49 degrees Celsius, though 54
degrees is not uncommon. It rarely drops below 38 degrees even at night.
Number of megawatts of electricity produced daily in Iraq: Less than 4,000,
below pre-invasion levels in a country where daily demand is now in the
Hours of electricity normally delivered to Baghdadis by the national
electricity grid: One to two hours a day. The only recourse, according to
French reporter Anne Nivat, who lived in "Red Zone" Baghdad for two weeks
recently, is electricity produced by small local generators, which consume up
to 75 liters of gasoline a day.
Number of nationwide blackouts in just two days in July: Four. The Shi'ite holy
city of Karbala was without any power for at least three consecutive days last
month, during which its water mains "went dry". ("We no longer need television
documentaries about the Stone Age. We are actually living in it. We are in
constant danger because of the filthy water and rotten food we are having,"
said Hazim Obeid, who sells clothing at a stall in the Karbala market.)
Cost of a bottle of purified water during the present water shortages: $1.60
for a 10-liter bottle, a rise of 33%. (Many Iraqis can't afford to buy bottled
water in a country where, according to a recent Oxfam summary study of the
Iraqi humanitarian crisis, 43% of Iraqis live in "absolute poverty", earning
less than $1 a day.)
Percentage of water engineers who have left Iraq: 40%, according to Oxfam's
report. Similar percentages of middle-class professionals - doctors, teachers,
lawyers - have evidently fled as well. According to Oxfam, some universities
and hospitals in Baghdad have lost up to 80% of their staffs.
Number of Iraqis who have access to clean drinking water: One in three,
according to UN figures. (In 2007, waterborne diseases, including diarrhea,
"the most prolific killer of children under five", are up in some areas by 70%
over the previous year.)
Of the 3.5 million cubic meters of water Baghdad's 6 million people are
estimated to need, amount actually delivered: 2.1 million cubic meters.
Number of high-tension lines running into Baghdad that are in operation: Two of
17, thanks to insurgent sabotage, according to an Electricity Ministry
spokesman. These are contributing to the worst electricity shortages since the
invasion summer of 2003. The country's power grid is reportedly nearing
Number of ministers still in the cabinet of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki: 20.
Number of ministers who have walked out: 17.
Number of senior officers who have recently resigned from the Iraqi Army in
protest over the Maliki government: Nine, including chief of staff
Major-General Babaker Zebari.
Number of countries for which Iraq's parliamentarians, who adjourned for a
month-long August vacation, have departed: At least six, according to the New
York Times, including Jordan, Syria, Dubai, Iran, the United Kingdom and Egypt,
as well as "a resort in Iraq's safest region, autonomous Kurdistan".
Estimated cost of that vacation time to the US per minute for ongoing
operations in Iraq: $200,000, according to Bob Schieffer of CBS (Columbia
Broadcasting System) News.
Amount of oil Iraq possesses: 115 billion barrels in proven oil reserves, the
third-largest reserves in the world (after neighboring Saudi Arabia and Iran).
Estimates of possible oil deposits still to be discovered range from 45 billion
additional barrels up to 400 billion additional barrels.
Price of 150 liters of gasoline under Saddam Hussein: 50 cents. Price of 150
liters of gasoline in July 2007: $75 on the black market; $35 if a motorist is
willing to spend hours, or even days, in line at a fueling station.
Percentage of Iraq's revenues that come from the export of oil: More than 90%,
though oil production remains below that of the worst days of Saddam Hussein's
Amount the Iraqi Oil Ministry budgeted for capital expenses to bolster the oil
industry last year: $3.5 billion, according to the latest report by the US
Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.
Amount the Iraqi Oil Ministry actually spent: $90 million.
Percentage of allocated capital funds spent by the Iraqi government on oil,
electricity and education projects in 2006: 22%.
Amount of money missing because of governmental corruption, as uncovered in
investigations by Iraq's top anti-corruption investigator, Judge Rahdi
al-Rahdi: $11 billion.
Number of US dollars invested in "standing up" (training) the Iraqi military
and police: 19.2 billion. This works out to $55,000 per Iraqi recruit,
according to a bipartisan US congressional investigation.
Amount the Pentagon has requested for continued training and equipping of Iraqi
security forces: $2 billion.
Percentage of equipment the Pentagon has issued to Iraqi security forces since
2003 that cannot be accounted for: 30%. That includes at least "110,000 AK-47
rifles, 80,000 pistols, 135,000 items of body armor and 115,000 helmets",
according to the US Government Accountability Office (GAO). According to the
Washington Post, "One senior Pentagon official acknowledged that some of the
weapons probably are being used against US forces."
Number of US steel shipping containers in Iraq and Afghanistan now considered
"lost": 54,390, or one-third of them, according to the GAO.
Estimated cost of training Iraqi (and Afghan) security forces over the next
decade, if present course continues: At least $50 billion, according to the
Congressional Budget Office.
Number of major US bases in Iraq: More than 75, according to the New York
Cost of US bases in Iraq (which Congress has mandated as not "permanent") and
in Afghanistan (which the Pentagon refers to as "enduring"): Unknown. In a
prestigious engineering magazine in late 2003, Lieutenant-Colonel David Holt,
the US Army engineer "tasked with facilities development" in Iraq, was already
speaking proudly of "several billion dollars" being sunk into base
construction. According to the Washington Post, the Congressional Research
Service claims $2 billion went into "military construction" in Iraq and
Afghanistan, 2004-06; another $1.7 billion was approved by Congress for 2007.
And the Pentagon is still building. For fiscal 2008, $738.8 million was
requested "for 33 critical construction projects for Iraq and Afghanistan".
(When it comes to base construction, these figures are undoubtedly
Amount that former Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown, and Root (now known
as KBR) has received so far for a prewar contract to supply the US military
with food, fuel, housing and other necessities: At least $20 billion. A
Pentagon audit of $16.2 billion worth of KBR's work "found that $3.2 billion in
KBR billing was either questionable or unsupported by documentation".
Percentage of Iraqis who cannot afford to buy enough to eat: 15%, according
Percentage of Iraqi children who are malnourished: 28% (compared with 19%
before the invasion); percentage of babies born underweight, 11% (compared with
3% before the invasion).
Percentage of Iraqi children now considered to suffer from learning
"impediments": 92%, according to one study cited by Oxfam.
The cost of a single Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), armed with two
Hellfire missiles: More than $3 million. (At least five Predators have crashed
or been shot down in the past year in Iraq and Afghanistan.)
Cost of the latest UAV, the "hunter-killer" MQ-9 Reaper, now being deployed to
Afghanistan and soon to be deployed to Iraq: $7 million. The Reaper is four
times as heavy as the Predator and can be armed with 14 Hellfire missiles, or
four Hellfires and two 500-pound (227-kilogram) Joint Direct Attack Munitions.
It is considered equivalent in firepower to the F-16 jet fighter. According to
Associated Press reporter Charles Hanley, "Its pilot, as it bombs targets in
Iraq, will sit at a video console 7,000 miles away in Nevada."
Number of US planes in Iraqi air space at any moment: 100, according to Hanley.
Increase in bombs dropped in Iraq in the first six months of 2007 compared with
the first six months of 2006: Fivefold.
Percentage of Iraqi oil resources around Basra in Shi'ite southern Iraq, where,
last September, the British launched their own unsuccessful version of the
present US "clear, hold and reconstruct" escalation operation in Baghdad: 66%.
Number of doctors assassinated by "unidentified gunmen" in "peaceful" Basra
since 2003: 12.
Number of times the airport base outside Basra, which houses a well-barricaded
regional US Embassy office and the last 5,500 of the 40,000 troops the UK
dispatched to Iraq, has been attacked by mortars or rockets over the past four
Effect of Iraq war spending on the profits of major weapons corporations:
Northrop Grumman has just announced a 15% second-quarter increase in sales over
2006 for its information and services division, 7% for its electronics
division; General Dynamics' combat systems unit just recorded a 19% rise in
sales. Lockheed Martin's profits went up 34% to $778 million, according to Eli
Clifton of Inter Press Service.
Estimated cost of deploying an American soldier to Iraq for one year: $390,000,
according to the Congressional Research Service.
Cost of flying a soldier home from the war zone: $627.80. That's the price the
Pentagon pays Federal Express and United Parcel Service, among other companies,
for each soldier brought back to the US.
Estimated tonnage of US equipment that might be driven out of Iraq and shipped
home from Kuwait in case of a decision to withdraw: One million tons.
Percentage of Americans in the latest Washington Post-ABC (American
Broadcasting Co) News poll who had served in Iraq or "had a close friend or
relative who served in Iraq", who approve of President Bush's handling of the
Iraq conflict: 38%. In a May New York Times/CBS News poll, fewer than half of
military families and military members agreed that "the United States did the
right thing in invading Iraq".
Tom Engelhardt is editor of Tomdispatchand the author of The End of Victory Culture. His novel, The Last
Days of Publishing, has recently come out in paperback. Most recently, he is the
Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch Interviews with American
Iconoclasts and Dissenters (Nation Books), the first collection of Tomdispatch