War Stories

Lies, Damned Lies, and Bush’s Iraq Statistics

The security forces are inadequate, the coalition is a joke, and reconstruction has barely begun.

The current Iraqi forces are just a start

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have lately been touting three sets of statistics to justify their claims of great progress in Iraq. First, they say, we’ve trained 100,000 Iraqi security forces. Second, 31 other countries are contributing troops as part of the vast international coalition. Third, Iraqi reconstruction is moving along on schedule, thanks to the $18.4 billion in U.S. economic aid.

Yet the U.S. State Department’s most recent Iraq Weekly Status Report, dated Oct. 6, reveals that all three of those claims are either false or so misleading that they might as well be.

First, it’s true there are 100,000 Iraqi security forces, about three-quarters of whom are police, army troops or National Guardsmen. But that falls far short of the 272,000 forces that the report calculates are required. (For a breakdown of how many trained security forces exist and how many are needed, by category, click here.)

Second, about those 31 coalition members: All told, according to the report, they’re contributing about 24,000 troops. The British alone are supplying about 8,000. So the remaining 30 countries have a total of 16,000 troops in Iraq—an average of just over 500 troops per country. The United States has about 130,000 troops over there—more than five times as many as all the other 31 countries combined. (For a full list of the countries involved—which include such powerhouses as Albania, Azerbaijan, and Tonga—click here.) This is not a coalition in the recognized sense of that word.

Compa re those figures with these: During the 1991 Gulf War (according to U.S. Central Command’s official history of that conflict), 37 other nations took part, sending a total of 270,000 armed forces, flying 30,000 air sorties, and suffering one-third of combat fatalities. Among the nations sending at least one army division were Egypt and Syria. Now that’s a coalition. *

More damning are the report’s figures on Iraqi reconstruction. Yes, the U.S. Congress has appropriated $18.4 billion for this effort; but, according to the report, the authorities on the ground in Iraq have spent just $1.3 billion—about 7 percent of the money set aside.

The specifics of this disparity are still more depressing. For security and law enforcement, $3.2 billion was appropriated, but only $646 million has been spent. For electricity, $5.4 billion was appropriated, $330 million spent. For water resources and sanitation, $4.2 billion was appropriated, a pathetic $23 million spent. For oil infrastructure, $1.7 billion was appropriated, just $47 million spent. For justice, public safety and civil society, $1 billion was appropriated, $55 million spent. For health care, $786 million was appropriated, but $4 million spent. For transportation and communication, $500 million was appropriated, $12 million spent. And the list goes on.

Although the State Department issued this report, you will not find it—or its weekly updates—on the State Department’s Web site. Nor will you find it on the site of the Agency for International Development (though AID does have a similar report, with far vaguer and rosier figures). Instead, you’ll find it on the Web site of the U.S. Commerce Department’s Iraq Investment and Reconstruction Task Force—in short, on a site for businesses that need to know what’s really happening over there.

What’s really happening—in numbers as clear as day—is that the training of security forces is proceeding way too slowly, the coalition is a misnomer, and reconstruction has barely got off the ground.

Correction, Oct. 8, 2004: The piece originally misstated the number of non-U.S. forces in the 1991 Gulf War coalition. It originally said that the non-U.S. coalition partners sent “a total of 800,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, as well as 300 combat support battalions, over 225 naval vessels, and 2,800 fixed-wing aircraft. Those aircraft flew 112,000 sorties and dropped 87,000 tons of munitions on Iraqi targets.” In fact, those figures represented all coalition forces, including American forces, which comprised the majority of the coalition’s strength. The piece also originally stated that there were 300 combat support battalions in the coalition. In fact, the 300 battalions included both combat and combat-support units. Return the corrected sentence.