We've marked a milestone no one wanted to reach: The fifth year of the war in Iraq.

During the past five years, this paper has published numerous stories about some of the local effects of the military conflict, profiling soldiers and the families they've left behind.

We've been there to capture joyous reunions and to cover the sadness of memorial services. Nationally, 4,000 Americans have been killed in the Iraq War; and the nonprofit group Iraq Body Count estimates that at least 83,000 Iraqui civilians have died in the war.

Those costs, measured in lives, are relatively simple - if too often painful - to put in local perspective. Our armed forces, after all, are made up of people from our communities.

What's harder to translate on the local level is another cost of the war. The conflict that the Bush administration predicted could be settled for $50 billion, has now cost more than 10 times that amount - $500 billion.

A figure that large is meaningless to most of us, but the National Priorities Project has a Web site (www.nationalpriori that helps bring the number into perspective by calculating the cost of the war for local communities, based on population.

For instance, in Washington County, taxpayers have paid nearly $700 million for the Iraq War thus far. What could that money have paid for instead?

•141,944 people with health care

• 655,835 homes with renewable energy

• 14,385 public safety officers

• 11,765 music and arts teachers

• 66 new elementary schools

• 104,429 Head Start places for children

• 11,903 elementary school teachers

• 119,509 scholarships for university students

The numbers are still too big for most of us to really comprehend, but they get us closer to understanding the effect of this war on the nation's financial health.

While national polls show that most Americans' concerns over the economy have now surpassed their worries about the war, the two are linked.

Unless you're willing to raise taxes, you can't spend $275 million a day without cutting domestic programs. And those cuts are felt right here in Washington County where there's less money for everything from Community Development Block Grants to low-income housing assistance.

Want to take action? Visit the National Priorities Project Web site and look at some of these figures for yourself, then write to your legislators and tell them where you stand on the Iraq War.

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