Iraq: By The Numbers After seven years of a U.S. military presence in Iraq, the future of that country's security and future U.S. involvement remain ambiguous. But what things can be measured? How is Iraq's GDP? Or its electricity generation? NPR's Robert Siegel talks to Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution about what can be quantified in Iraq.
NPR logo

Iraq: By The Numbers

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Iraq: By The Numbers

Iraq: By The Numbers

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


You probably cannot quantify a war, but Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution�has gotten close. For years he has been compiling and publishing, often on the New York Times op-ed page, Iraq by the numbers. And on this milestone we thought we'd check back with him on his metrics of the U.S. combat role and Iraq's progress and development. Welcome to the program once again.

Mr. MICHAEL O'HANLON (Brookings Institution): Nice to be with you.

SIEGEL: And, first, the U.S. war effort, this is the formal end of the combat mission, what has the toll been for us in terms of lives and money?

Mr. O'HANLON: Well, the United States has spent about $700 billion in direct costs. Of course, there are estimates that there may have been broader ripple effects on the economy. And so estimates have gone as high as Joseph Stiglitz's famous $3 trillion, but that's a more debatable proposition.

So it'll be pushing a trillion by the time all is said and done. And right now it's in the 750 billion to 800 billion range. And in terms of losses, we're in the general range of 4,500 American fatalities, as well as perhaps 100,000 to 150,000 Iraqi fatalities on their civilian side and probably 10,000 fatalities in their armed forces.

SIEGEL: And U.S. injuries, that is non-fatal casualties?

Mr. O'HANLON: Well, the U.S. injuries have been roughly 10-to-1 in terms of the ratio relative to killed. And so we're looking at, depending on just how many of the smaller injuries you actually count, 10-to-1, 12-to-1, is the ratio.

So somewhere around 60,000 Americans have been wounded. And about half of those would be considered rather serious and the other half not as serious.

SIEGEL: And turning to Iraq and its economy, the core of the economy is oil. How does oil production compared today with before the war?

Mr. O'HANLON: Oil production today is not that much better than before the war. It's around two and a half million barrels a day. But there's a lot of talk of possible production of six million barrels a day, seven, eight, nine million barrels a day. That's getting up into Saudi and Russian levels. And some people think it's possible based on Iraqi reserves.

But I'm skeptical we're going to get there any time in the foreseeable future because partly I'm not sure those numbers really are feasible. And, secondly, there's enough violence and ongoing residual investor nervousness about Iraq that I think people will be a little more guarded in just how fast they jump in with both feet.

SIEGEL: For you, what is a credible number for the unemployment rate in Iraq?

Mr. O'HANLON: I think the unemployment rate is still in the 30-plus percent range and therefore not hugely improved. Even as you're starting to see some aspects of life get better, Iraq is still such an oil-dependent economy, that's not the kind of a system that produces a lot of jobs. And I haven't seen other evidence of, let's say, more normal investment flowing into the country because it's still very violent. And so I'm afraid that unemployment is probably still in that 30-plus percent range.

SIEGEL: Electricity?

Mr. O'HANLON: Electricity is finally better and for many years under the post-Saddam government and during our presence in Iraq, we saw electricity struggle to even inch ahead of the levels of Saddam Hussein, roughly 4,000 megawatts typical power. We've now seen those numbers get much bigger to the range of 7 or 8,000 megawatts. And that's obviously very good news.

But of course, demand has gone way up as well, because average Iraqis have felt a yoke lifting off their shoulders. They've gone out and bought air conditioners. They expect a better quality of life. At least now we have the two going up together. Unfortunately, demand is still a lot greater than supply, but I'd say on balance electricity has finally become a relatively encouraging story.

SIEGEL: We've read about displacement of population within Iraq and refugees. Any credible numbers as to how many people have left their homes in Iraq in these years?

Mr. O'HANLON: There's been some pretty good work done on this and I think probably close to five million people were displaced in one way or another during the war. Many of them staying internally within Iraq, but relocating either within their province or to a difference province, maybe two million going primarily to Jordan and Syria. And so you've got several million people displaced and only perhaps one million have come back.

So I think you've still got a lot of this displacement, much of it internal, much of it abroad.

SIEGEL: And that's out of an Iraqi total population of what?

Mr. O'HANLON: Total Iraqi population is more than 25 million, but it's been so long since a good census was done that it's hard to be more precise than that.

SIEGEL: Michael O'Hanlon, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. O'HANLON: My pleasure, thank you.

SIEGEL: Michael O'Hanlon is senior fellow and director of research in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.