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The Costs of War: Tens of Thousands Dead, Billions Spent, and a Country Torn Apart

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Over the past nine years, the U.S. invasion and occupation has left a bloody toll on Iraqi civilians and foreign troops. Nearly 4,500 U.S. troops died, and another 32,000 were wounded. An accurate toll of Iraqis killed may never be known. Iraq Body Count says at least 104,000 Iraqi civilians have died, while some studies put have put the death toll at over one million. We speak to Catherine Lutz, Brown University professor and co-director of the “Costs of War” research project at the Watson Institute for International Studies. “The costs have really been staggering,” Lutz says. “We know that Congress appropriated $800 billion over the years for the Iraq War. But the true costs, of course, go much farther than that, starting with the people of Iraq, who have lost lives in the hundreds of thousands.” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Catherine Lutz is joining us from Providence, professor of anthropology and international studies at Brown University, co-director of the Costs of War research project based at the Watson Institute for International Studies. Professor Lutz is the author of The Bases of Empire: The Global Struggle against U.S. Military Posts.

Tell us what have been the costs of the Iraq War, Professor Lutz.

CATHERINE LUTZ: Amy, the costs have really been staggering. We know about the number of U.S. servicemembers who have died. Most Americans know that. It’s over 4,500 individuals. We know that the Congress appropriated $800 billion over the years for the Iraq War. But the true costs, of course, go much farther than that, starting with the people of Iraq, who have lost lives in the hundreds of thousands, the people of that country who have been displaced from their homes. Again, as your previous speaker pointed out, those numbers are very hard to come by. But the U.N. estimates 3.5 million Iraqis are still displaced from their homes, and again, many widowed, many orphaned, and an environmental damage that has yet to be assessed.

But the idea that the war is over is, I think, what we really need to question, the idea that the war ends the day that the U.S. servicemembers leave that country. We know that many are staying behind in the form of private contractors and State Department employees. We know that the war won’t end for the people who are still, again, struggling to get back home, struggling with missing family members and so on. So I think we need to ask, is the war really over? And the answer is, really, no.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Catherine Lutz, in terms of those who are staying behind, these contractors, many of them, a huge number, are armed, as well. Could you talk about—break down some of these folks that are staying behind, in terms of numbers?

CATHERINE LUTZ: Well, the State Department mission in Iraq, as Amy pointed out, has the largest embassy on the planet, a $6 billion budget. Much of that is going toward the support of 5,500 security contractors. And those people are guarding State Department employees, civilians, who are, again, engaged in a variety of activities there. But in some very important sense, that’s an index of how significantly—how significant the violence remains and the risk remains to the Americans who are there, because of, again, a continuing attempt to evict all of the Americans from Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: On Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed the State Department’s new role in Iraq after the pullout of U.S. troops. She was speaking in Denmark.

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: We will have to be working closely with the Iraqis to ensure the security of our civilians. And we have had very strong commitments from the Iraqis that whatever assistance we need will be forthcoming. I think it’s understood that this is one of the most challenging missions that the State Department has ever led, but we’ve had a great deal of thought given to what needs to be accomplished, and the team, both here in Washington and, even more importantly, in Baghdad, Erbil, Kirkuk and Basra, is very well prepared.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Catherine Lutz, clearly, one of the reasons why the pullout is happening now is because the United States government could not reach an agreement with the Iraqi government over immunity for any remaining U.S. soldiers. But now what’s going to happen with all of these civilians? What is the—is there any government-to-government agreement about how these civilians, many of whom obviously will be from the United States, will be treated?

CATHERINE LUTZ: Well, I think the real question is, how are the Iraqis going to be treated by those contractors? What are the rules of engagement? And what are the ways in which these contractors are permitted to respond when they feel threatened or when they feel that they’re—the people that they’re protecting are threatened? The inspector general for Iraq was not given the kinds of information that Secretary Clinton suggests is something that they’ve worked out, which is to say, those rules of engagement. So I think there’s really quite a risk to the Iraqi people that these contractors will, again, not be operating with that kind of—you know, operating in an environment in which violence is likely.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Lutz, who are these contractors? Name the companies.

CATHERINE LUTZ: Those companies are Triple Canopy—let me just read you their names. Triple Canopy, the Global Strategies Group, and—and again, some additional contractors—SOC Incorporated are the three main ones.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, this issue of whose laws they abide by?

CATHERINE LUTZ: Well, again, they do not have immunity in the same way that the troops did, and that’s why the Iraqis were allowing them to stay. But I think, again, if we look forward to what the rest of the country can expect in the next several years, it’s to continue to deal with the kinds of things that Sami talked about—a lack of electricity, the kinds of things that this mission is not going to help solve. And so, I think that the basic human needs to recover from injuries and losses of the nine years of war, that’s what we need to be talking about, is, what is the State Department doing vis-à-vis those issues?

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