Baghdad, March 22, 2007: There will soon be more American soldiers in Iraq than at any point in the war so far. The incoming surge of 21,500 troops is only part of that picture; in addition, the U.S. commander, Gen. David Petraeus, has asked for an additional Army aviation brigade, as well as a couple thousand military police. Other support troops will be coming in to Iraq as well, and they weren't all included in the original 21,500 estimate announced by President Bush last month. When all this is complete, sometime in July, the grand total of U.S. troops in Iraq will be 173,000, U.S. military officials here confirmed on background, apparently because of the sensitivity of these details. And it's likely that U.S. troop numbers will stay at that level for months more, perhaps even into 2008. That's only part of the picture, however; the total number of U.S. troops deployed into the war theater, that is, Iraq and neighboring countries, may be as much as 100,000 more than that. Last August, for instance, the Congressional Research Service, quoting the Department of Defense's Contingency Tracking System, put the total deployment at 260,000, while the number actually in Iraq was at 140,000 to 160,000. (Other estimates by government-oversight bodies have put the total deployed in the theater at 202,000 to 207,000.)
Some things are getting smaller. The projected size of the Coalition of the willing has reached a historic low, but by July the number of soldiers from U.S. allies in Iraq will actually climb a tad, to 13,000, thanks to a commitment from the former Soviet republic of Georgia for a new brigade of 2,300 troops. More than half of that 13,000 are British, who are also in the process of withdrawing more of their troops by next year, and the remainder are small contingents from 23 other contributing countries, major powers ranging from Mongolia to Peru.
The total bill for the Iraq war will soon rival the estimated $600 billion cost of the Vietnam War. So far, $351 billion has been spent or appropriated between 2003 and 2007, and the president's additional budget request of $68 billion in 2007 will bring that to $419 billion, if it passes, according to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office (these figures include U.S. military expenditures, expenditures for Iraqi security forces, and spending for foreign aid and diplomatic operations in Iraq). With another $113 billion predicted for the 2008 budget, the total direct cost of the war will by then top half a trillion dollars, $532 billion in all. That naturally does not even begin to take into account indirect costs, from veterans' care to oil-price rises.
It's not like there's nothing to show for all this. This month's quarterly Pentagon report to Congress on the progress of the war had some revealing statistics. Washington has managed in the process to "stand up" 328,700 Iraqi security forces, of whom 120,000 are in the Iraqi Army, and 192,300 are policemen of various sorts. These sound like impressive numbers, but the report goes on to note that "The actual number of present-for-duty soldiers is about one-half to two-thirds of the total due to scheduled leave, absence without leave, and attrition." The police have as high or even higher levels of desertion and loss.
Another detail from the Pentagon report: electricity generation has been averaging 10 hours a day nationwide, and only 6.6 hours a day in Baghdad, in the last quarter of 2006. Overall production of electricity was about where it was in 2004, although demand had greatly increased.
One slightly reassuring statistic: since the surge began, and the Baghdad Security Plan started pouring much larger numbers of troops onto the streets, the death toll among American soldiers has not risen significantly, averaging 2.8 deaths a day from Feb. 15 to March 21, about the same as the daily rate in January and February. On the other hand, it hasn't gone down, either. As with any statistic, it all depends on how you look at it.