On the evening of March 19, 2003 — ten years ago — U.S. warplanes bombed a site in Baghdad that military officials believed was the hideout of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Although the failed attempt to kill him was followed two days later by hours of missile and bomb strikes, and then a ground invasion, it was an inauspicious start to a war that would lead to a lengthy U.S. occupation of Iraq and the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars from the U.S. treasury. Almost 4,500 American troops were killed in the conflict and more than 32,000 were wounded.
Five years ago, in an effort to hold accountable the officials who led the United States into the Iraq war and orchestrated the war’s expansion, the Center for Public Integrity and the Fund for Independence in Journalism combed through thousands of statements made by those officials about the war. The “Iraq; The War Card” project found hundreds of falsehoods, demonstrating that the policy underpinnings of the conflict were based in large measure on poor understanding, at best, or a manipulative public relations campaign, at worst.
The findings were not controversial, as many official reports — by Congress and others — have reached similar conclusions. But the Center put a number on the falsehoods, and tallied them all in one place. Here is that work, for those who may wish to look back on a tragic record of error-filled official assertions.
Althought the war’s tremendous costs helped to undermine the U.S. economy, the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan was a financial boon for military contractors. As the bipartisan, congressionally-mandated Commission on Wartime Contracting pointed out in a 2011 report, the top 10 of these firms received around $83 billion for their involvement in the two wars, including $40.8 billion that went to one firm in particular: KBR, otherwise known as Kellogg, Brown and Root. KBR is a former subsidiary of Halliburton, which received a Pentagon contract to study the use of military contractors while Richard Cheney was secretary of defense. Cheney went on to become the chairman and CEO of Halliburton from 1995 to 2000. In addition, two private security firms, Blackwater and Triple Canopy, collected at least $3.1 billion, according to a March 19 tally by the Financial Times.
The commission, composed of lawmakers, security experts and businessmen, estimated that between $31 billion and $61 billion of the U.S. government’s spending on contractors was lost to waste and fraud. After looking at a narrower slice of this pie, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction concluded in a newly-published report that at least $8 billion of U.S. spending on reconstruction was wasted solely in Iraq—a circumstance detailed in the article listed below. Two earlier investigative pieces by the Center — part of the Windfalls of War project—showed how much of the contracting was assigned without normal, healthy competition, and how many of the large contractors had been substantial contributors to the campaigns of President George W. Bush and the lawmakers who backed the war. Those stories are featured below as well.