Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Iraq War Bulletin: Bombing Kills 43 in Shiite Holy City; The Cost of Imperialist War Five Years On

March 18, 2008

Bombing Kills 43 in Shiite Holy City in Iraq

New York Times

BAGHDAD — A bombing on Monday evening killed 43 people near the Imam Hussein shrine in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, penetrating one of the most secure perimeters in Iraq. Iraqi police officers at the scene and several witnesses said it had been carried out by a female suicide bomber, but the police chief later said the bomb had been hidden.

The explosion, the deadliest attack in Karbala in nearly a year, overshadowed a Baghdad visit by Vice President Dick Cheney, who met with Iraqi and American leaders and extolled what he described as “phenomenal” security improvements in the country.

The explosion rocked central Karbala about 6 p.m. “Many people were killed and wounded,” said Abu Ahmed, 36, who minutes earlier had walked past the site and then came rushing back to help the wounded. “Everyone near the bomber was killed.”

Iraqi forces sealed off the area, and a grim pall descended on the city. Areas that are normally brisk evening shopping districts were deserted, and the shops were closed.

In the aftermath of the attack, a dispute broke out about what had happened. Several witnesses and Iraqi policemen said the attack was by a female suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest. An American military statement also later attributed the bombing to a suicide attacker.

But hours after the bombing the Karbala police chief, Gen. Raed Shakir Jawdat, asserted that the explosion was from a large bomb that had been hidden in the area. He also told reporters in Karbala that he believed that the bomb was made in the city.

The conflicting versions could not be reconciled. But if the accounts of other policemen and witnesses are correct, it would be one of the most devastating suicide bombings carried out by a woman.

The number of female suicide bombers has increased recently, facilitated by Muslim customs that do not allow men to touch women, so they usually cannot be searched at security checkpoints. In a religious center like Karbala, most women wear a flowing head-to-toe black overgarment, known as an abaya, which provides an easy way to conceal an explosive vest or belt.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Nor was it clear whether the attack was meant to upstage visits to Iraq by Mr. Cheney and by the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Senator John McCain of Arizona, who, like Mr. Cheney, is a strong proponent of keeping large numbers of troops in the country.

Abdul al-Yassiri, the leader of the provincial council in Karbala, said the final toll was 43 dead and 73 wounded, including 8 Iranians.

North of Baghdad, two American soldiers were killed Monday when a large roadside bomb exploded near their vehicle, the American military command in Baghdad said. The soldiers were part of a team working to clear a roadway of bombs and other threats, the military said.

In Baghdad, Mr. Cheney signaled that a large reduction in troop levels was unlikely anytime soon. “It would be a mistake now to be so eager to draw down the force that we risk putting the outcome in jeopardy,” he said. “And I don’t think we’ll do that.”

Violence has dropped sharply over the past six months, but attacks nationwide are running at 2005 levels, and American service members are still dying at an average of one per day.

Some American officials in Iraq worry about whether the drop in violence is permanent. Much of the decline, for example, is attributable to a decision by the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr to order his militia to stop fighting. In addition, thousands of former Sunni insurgents are now being paid by the American military to serve in neighborhood militias. It is not clear what may happen if Iraqi leaders disband the militias.

After meeting with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the powerful Shiite party known as the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, Mr. Cheney suggested that the Iraqis had made a “tremendous amount of progress” not just on security but also on the political front.

Privately, many American officials in Iraq are concerned that political progress has been limited, though. A bill intended to allow some former Baath Party members back into the government may end up causing as many problems as it fixes, for example. And another crucial bill that called for provincial elections by October was vetoed.

An Iraqi employee of The New York Times contributed reporting from Karbala.

Iraq war costs inspire shock and awe

By Stephen Fidler in London
March 17 2008 20:03

Six months before the start of the US led-invasion, Larry Lindsey, then White House economic adviser, estimated that the war in Iraq could cost as much as $200bn.

The claim, which cost Mr Lindsey his job, was dismissed as baloney by Donald Rumsfeld, the then defence secretary whose own estimate was $50bn to $60bn. Andrew Natsios, head of the Agency for International Development, estimated the reconstruction of Iraq would cost the US $1.7bn (€1.1bn, £849m).

These estimates have proved to be what the war’s critics say is just one of many grievous miscalculations. The Iraq war will be five years old on Tuesday, and serious estimates suggest it will be, with the exception of the second world war, the most costly in US history. Two academics estimate the government is spending $12bn a month in Iraq, while the Joint Economic Committee of Congress says the war has so far cost a US family of four $16,900, a bill that could rise to $37,000 by 2017.

The most conservative estimate of the war’s cost comes from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, whose remit limits its analysis to US government spending. Up to September 30, the end of the 2007 fiscal year, it says $413bn was spent on Iraq. From then until the end of 2017, it calculates overall spending on Iraq and Afghanistan at $570bn-$1,055bn, depending on how quickly troop numbers are reduced. If three-quarters of the budget is spent on Iraq, the ratio of recent years, future direct budgetary costs would be a further $428bn to $788bn.

Interest payments on debt raised so far and attributable to the Iraq war would cost $290bn up to 2017, with a ­further $131bn to $218bn ­covering spending over the next 10 years. This would bring the US government bill until 2017 for Iraq to $1,300bn-$2,000bn.

The JEC, chaired by Democratic senator Charles Schumer of New York, attempts to add economic costs to the US, including the displacement of productive investment, interest paid to foreigners, and oil price increases, which add a further $700bn so far. Until 2017, assuming US troop numbers in Iraq fall to 55,000 by 2013 and stay at that level, the cost grows to $2,800bn in 2007 dollars.

A higher estimate comes in a new book, The Three Trillion Dollar War, by Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize winning economist, and Linda Bilmes, a Harvard University lecturer who was a senior official during the Clinton presidency in the 1990s.

Stiglitz and Bilmes note more soldiers are surviving than in past wars because of better armour and medical care. Some 4,000 soldiers have been killed but another 60,000 have been airlifted home, wounded, injured, or seriously ill. The ratio of combat injuries to combat deaths was 2.6:1 in Vietnam; in Iraq and Afghanistan it is 7:1 and, including non-combat injuries, it rises to 15:1.

The authors project that 791,000 troops from Iraq and Afghanistan will claim disability compensation and benefits, noting that 39 per cent of the 700,000 troops who fought in the (brief) 1991 Gulf war claim disability. They estimate these costs from Iraq alone will be $371bn to $630bn. The extra costs to the defence budget – they estimate from $66bn to $267bn – come from the need to reset and replenish a military in which equipment has been used up at six to 10 times normal rates and human capital has been exhausted.

Their government spending estimate for the war comes to $1,292bn-$2,039bn, rising to $1,754bn-$2,655bn if interest is added.

To this, Stiglitz and Bilmes add social costs not paid by the government, including the loss of productive capacity of those killed or wounded and quality of life impairments. These, they estimate, would amount to $295bn-$415bn for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Finally, they add macro-economic costs deriving from higher oil prices and other effects including the impact on the economy of higher interest costs. For both Iraq and Afghanistan, they calculate this would come to between $187bn and $1,900bn. Yet, these estimates do not cover the cost outside the US (including the £20.1bn of budgetary and social costs they estimate will have fallen to the UK up until 2010).

Ms Bilmes, who says the book leaves others to estimate the war’s benefits, describes the book’s ‘three trillion’ headline number as very conservative. She notes that the US federal government spent $108m last year on research into autism, a condition affecting one in 150 children. “We spend that in 4½ hours in Iraq. I’m sure, if they knew that, people would say it was wrong.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

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