HOW much is the Iraq war and its aftermath costing? No official figures are available about Britain's modest part but yesterday an estimate of two trillion dollars emerged for the United States' effort. The figure came from the former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz who, it should be noted, is not a supporter of the Bush administration, and it included all manner of estimated continuing costs after the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq takes place. The sum of $2 trillion is impossible for the ordinary person to imagine, but it's obviously a lot of money, so much so in fact that even if it is twice as big as it should be it must surely have a negative effect on the state of the US economy. As it happened, this estimate was published at the same time that the US Treasury Secretary, John Snow, was in London and giving up-beat media interviews about the healthy state of the dollar. When asked about Mr Stiglitz's estimates for war-costs Mr Snow said he was not familiar with them, suggesting either that his support staff's work is not very good or that he preferred to remain in ignorance for the time being. One of the least reported items of news in recent weeks has been the US's decision to stop providing funds for reconstruction in Iraq. By all accounts the restoration of Iraq's basic infrastructure of electricity supply is still incomplete and many other projects essential to the normal functioning of towns and cities are unfinished. Yet the existing allocation will run out in June 2007 and the budget request to Congress next month will contain no provision for further work. Whether this reflects a decision already taken, but not announced, to withdraw from Iraq by mid-June next year or is simply a reflection of economic reality remains to be seen. Either way it will be a retreat from President Bush's promise made in 2003 to ensure that Iraq would have the best infrastructure in the region.
· By Monitor.