Five Years, and Counting
Devastation on the ground and largely held Iraqi opinion contradicts claims by U.S. officials that the situation in Iraq has improved towards the fifth anniversary of the invasion March 20.
U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney, during a surprise visit to Iraq on Monday declared the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq a "successful endeavor."
According to the group Just Foreign Policy, more than a million Iraqis have died as a result of the invasion and occupation, now entering its sixth year. A survey by British polling agency ORB estimates the number of dead at more than 1.2 million.
Nobel laureate and former chief World Bank economist Joseph Stiglitz recently published a book with co-author Linda Bilmes of Harvard University titled 'The Three Trillion Dollar War', a figure it considers a "conservative estimate" of the long-range price tag of the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
The authors say the Bush administration has repeatedly "low-balled" the cost of the war, and has kept a set of records hidden from the U.S. public.
According to the U.S. Department of Defense, close to 4,000 U.S. soldiers have been killed. The number of British casualties is 175.
"The war in Iraq has been one of the most disastrous wars ever fought by Britain," journalist Patrick Cockburn of London's Independent Newspaper wrote March 17. "It will stand with Crimea and the Boer War as conflicts which could have been avoided, and were demonstrations of incompetence from start to finish."
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than four million Iraqis are displaced from their homes, with roughly half of them outside of the country.
The Iraqi Red Crescent estimates that one in every four residents of Baghdad, a city of six million, is displaced from home.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said in a report March 17 that millions are still deprived of clean water and medical care.
Iraq's infrastructure is worse on every measurable level compared to Iraq under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, and including 12 years of the harshest economic sanctions in history. During those sanctions more than a million Iraqis died from malnutrition, disease and lack of medical care.
The international aid group Oxfam International released a report last July that found that four million Iraqis were in need of emergency assistance. It found a 9 percent increase in childhood malnutrition, and that 70 percent of Iraqis lacked access to safe drinking water.
The average home in Iraq, even in Kurdish controlled northern Iraq that has been held up by the Bush administration as an example of success, has on average less than five hours of electricity a day.
Oil exports, from which Iraq has obtained over 80 percent of its income, have not for a single day of the occupation matched pre-war levels.
Unemployment, already 32 percent before the invasion, has vacillated during the occupation between 40-70 percent, according to the Iraqi government.
With more than a million dead, more than four million displaced, and another four million in need of emergency aid, a third of Iraqis are displaced, in need of emergency aid - or dead.
All this Cheney calls a "successful endeavor."
Soon after he said that, a suicide bomber killed at least 32 and wounded 51 near a mosque in the holy Shia city Kerbala, south of Baghdad. Bombings in Baghdad near the Green Zone just after Cheney arrived killed another four, and wounded 13.
Baghdad has become the most dangerous city in the world, largely as a result of a U.S. policy of pitting various Iraqi ethnic and sectarian groups against one another. Today Baghdad is a city of walled-off Sunni and Shia ghettos, divided by concrete walls erected by the U.S. military.
These areas even fly their own flags; Sunni areas fly the old Iraqi flag, Shias use the new version, and the Kurds have their own flag.
Ethnic and sectarian cleansing strategies, backed by occupation forces, have virtually eliminated all mixed areas of Baghdad.
Republican Party presidential candidate John McCain, also in Iraq, met with Iraqi leaders as part of a Senate Armed Services Committee fact-finding mission. He, like Cheney, said he would support the Iraqi government and maintain a long-term military commitment in Iraq.
"The surge is working," McCain told reporters, referring to the troop build-up in Baghdad.
With "enduring" U.S. military bases established in Iraq, and an embassy in Baghdad the size of the Vatican City, there appears to be no end in sight for the U.S. occupation of Iraq.