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Watson project analyzes monetary, human costs of war

Researchers from economics, anthropology and health care contributed to the Cost of Wars project

A decade after the United States invaded Iraq, researchers estimate 190,000 lives will have been lost and the United States will spend $2.2 trillion by the war’s end, according to new research from the Watson Institute for International Studies. Though the United States officially finished pulling troops out of Iraq in 2011, insurgent forces remain in the country.

The findings were released March 13 through the Costs of War project in advance of the tenth anniversary of the invasion March 19, 2003.

The Costs of War project, which released its first findings in 2011, examines the national and international effects of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan in terms of human, economic, social and political costs, according to its website.

The 190,000 figure comes from aggregating data from a variety of sources, including government, media and morgue reports, according to one of the papers published Thursday.

While the estimate refers to direct war casualties, the number of deaths is several times higher when accounting for indirect consequences, such as lack of drinking water, health care and adequate nutrition, according to the findings. Civilians represented about 134,000, or 70 percent, of the direct deaths, one study reported.

The economic losses the study reported include not only those incurred during the war but also the projected costs for years to come. Health care for injured veterans of the Iraq War will cost the United States more than $500 billion through 2053, the researchers estimated. Cumulative interest on borrowed Iraq War funds could cost the United States an additional $3.9 trillion through 2053, totaling nearly $6 trillion from the war’s beginning.

The study found that other lasting effects of the war include increased terrorism in postwar Iraq and the devastation of Iraq’s health care system, according to a University press release.

These results signify a shocking problem of a “society disintegrating through violence,” said Catherine Lutz, professor of anthropology and international studies and a co-director of the Costs of War project. “The most important story is the one that basically a whole lot of people died. This is not a pretty picture.”

The findings’ origins can be traced to the beginning of the war, said Neta Crawford, a professor of political science at Boston University and the project’s other co-director.

“There was an inadequate discussion of the costs in lives and dollars,” Crawford said.“It’s a story of not thinking through the consequences of actions.”

Analyzing the costs of the conflict in terms of the war’s many dimensions presented a difficulty for the researchers, Crawford said.

“The challenge is to convey the complex consequences of war with the inadequate tool of numbers,” she said.

The research was conducted by 30 academics from a wide array of disciplines, including economics, health care and anthropology. This variety allowed the findings to be presented through multiple lenses that are often interconnected, Crawford said.

Though the report presents a stark picture of the effects of war, Crawford said society must learn from it.

“Every war begins with an overestimation of the utility of war and an underestimation of the costs,” Crawford said. “We should learn from this characteristic pattern of optimism.”


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