Leading article: A terrible price in blood and treasure

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The Independent Online

The human cost of the 2003 invasion of Iraq has rightly commanded a huge amount of public attention. We are well aware of the thousands of British and American soldiers who have been killed and injured in this war, as well as the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have died. But what has been given rather less scrutiny is the financial cost of this ongoing military operation. On Monday, the US President, George Bush, asked Congress for $189.3bn to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and other assorted security operations in 2008.

The White House has elided its various military requests for political reasons. It calculates that the Democrat-controlled Congress will find it more difficult to turn down a request framed as necessary for America's "security". But there is little doubt that the bulk of this expenditure will go on Iraq, where America still has upwards of 130,000 troops and an open-ended commitment to support the weak Iraqi government through force of arms.

If it is passed, this funding bill would put the total cost of Iraq, Afghanistan and other counter-terrorism operations at $807bn since 2001. And it is estimated that the total cost of US military operations in Iraq could exceed $1trillion by the time Mr Bush leaves office in 2009. Such figures need some context. A study by Washington's non-partisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments calculated last month that, in today's terms, the first Gulf War cost $88bn, the Korean War $456bn and the Vietnam conflict $518bn. Iraq is on course to cost twice as much as Vietnam.

What has been gained for this financial outlay? Not much. Iraq is a state on the brink of implosion. The Middle East region is in turmoil. The threat posed to the West by Islamist terror groups has been heightened. The international reputation of the US and Britain has been gravely compromised.

It is not even as if the money assigned to the operation by the US and its allies has been spent efficiently. The State Department was forced to admit yesterday that a $1.2bn contract paid to the US firm DynCorp to train Iraqi police was so badly managed that auditors do not know how the money was spent. This newspaper revealed two years ago that the entire $1bn defence procurement budget of the Iraqi defence ministry has gone missing.

And such scandals are merely a snapshot of what has been taking place. Sizeable contracts have been awarded to US security companies with close links to the White House. Billions have been poured into corrupt Iraqi ministries. The cost in both blood and treasure of this invasion to America – and, indeed, Britain – has been vast. Yet all our political leaders seem able to offer is more of the same.

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