UK spending on Iraq war hits £6.6bn

The conflict in Iraq and efforts to rebuild the country have cost British taxpayers about £6.6bn ($13.3bn), almost a third more than the funds Prime Minister Gordon Brown set aside for the military to fight the war.

Public accounts show that departmental spending on aid, debt relief and security adds about £1.6bn to the most commonly referenced estimate of UK war costs – a £5bn calculation based on money drawn down by the military from a Treasury contingency reserve.

The £6.6bn tally, calculated by the Financial Times, is the most recent estimate of Britain’s costs in Iraq. It provides a fuller picture than military spending alone, but could still be an underestimate; hidden expenses, such as salaries or sunk costs, are excluded.

The UK has significantly reduced its presence in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion but this has done little to quell public dismay over the war. Opposition politicians have attacked the government for placing too many demands on an overstretched military and for diverting valuable resources to Iraq. Explaining ongoing expense may be harder for Mr Brown as a withdrawal date nears.

Vince Cable, deputy leader of the opposition Liberal Democrat party, said that while the costs of the war are “primarily human and political”, the financial costs were “staggering”. “Even this figure is almost certainly an understatement,” he said. “There are continuing legacy costs, including caring for servicemen who have a lifetime of mental and physical disability.”

Iraq is probably the most costly overseas conflict for the UK since the second world war, according to the Iraq Analysis Group, a research organisation monitoring war costs.

Many hidden costs are excluded from the calculation of total spending. The armed forces cannot claim against the reserves for salaries or bonuses. Fighting on two fronts means that equipment is exhausted at a faster rate and that the cost increases of making sure forces are ready to deploy.
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