As we approach the 8th anniversary of a U.S. invasion of Iraq, and having just passed the 20th anniversary of another, it’s worth reflecting on what’s been accomplished through two wars and the intervening sanctions that former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright so famously approved of even at the cost of a half million children’s lives.
While a growing mob of at least six Americans has noticed this week’s videotaped confession by key WMD-liar “Curveball,” our achievements in Iraq do not rest on whether anyone in Washington actually managed to convince themselves that Iraq had weapons, or even on whether anyone in Washington believed there was a reason to attack Iraq that actually made any moral or legal sense (as, of course, the possession of weapons did not). Our unprecedented accomplishments in the land where our civilization began stand or fall on their own merits, regardless of whether international law survives the blow we have dealt it by sending the architects of a sociocide off to book tours rather than prisons.
While our efforts in Iraq have taken a bit longer and cost a little more than the efforts of Egypt’s young people to begin remaking their country, the results are far more grand. Let’s compare. Setting aside years of training and organizing, in three weeks and at the cost of 300 deaths, Egypt has established that all of its people will have some say in its future. In Iraq, the United States has spent or wasted trillions of dollars over two decades, destroyed trillions of dollars worth of infrastructure, killed millions of people, injured and traumatized many millions more, driven several million people from their homes creating the greatest refugee crisis in the Middle East since the Nakba, encouraged ethnic and religious strife, segregated towns and neighborhoods, empowered religious fanatics, set back women’s rights horribly, effectively eliminated gay and lesbian rights, nearly killed off some minority groups, decimated the nation’s cultural heritage, and created a generation of people without the experience of peace, without education, without proper nutrition, without tolerance, without proper healthcare, without a functioning government, and without affection for or even indifference to the United States.
I can’t recommend highly enough a new book called “Erasing Iraq: The Human Costs of Carnage,” by Michael Otterman and Richard Hill with Paul Wilson, with a foreword by Dahr Jamail. This comprehensive survey of the damage puts the past eight years into the context of other aggressive acts of imperialism and finds Operation Iraqi Liberation (to stick to its original name) a stand-out, in large part because of the Bush-Cheney regime’s attempt to create a neocon corporate economy from scratch in Baghdad, a project that required erasing everything that had been there before. The book’s greatest contribution lies in humanizing the suffering and providing us with the viewpoints — a wide spectrum of viewpoints — of Iraqis, including Iraqi refugees living outside Iraq, the vast majority of whom have not yet returned and many of whom have decided they never will. These are people, 100% of whom — judging by a 2007 UNHCR survey of 754 Iraqis in Syria — had experienced bombings, shootings, interrogations, harassment by militias, and/or torture.
The authors of “Erasing Iraq” interviewed Iraqis as far afield as Sweden and Australia: “Every Iraqi we spoke with reported similar events: houses bombed, possessions lost, children kidnapped, lives destroyed. ‘Americans — when they hear one shot — even if it’s like 10 kilometers away — they’ll just open fire on everything,’ said Laith as he lit a cigarette with the small red heating coils warming his cramped two-room house in East Amman, Jordan.” The authors did not mention it, but this experience has been reported by American soldiers who took part in it as well, including Ethan McCord:
“We had a pretty gung-ho commander, who decided that because we were getting hit by IEDs a lot, there would be a new battalion SOP [standard operating procedure]. He goes, ‘If someone in your line gets hit with an IED, 360 rotational fire. You kill every motherfucker on the street.'”
Another way to kill “every motherfucker on the street” is to destroy water supplies, sewage plants, hospitals, and bridges. This we have done most extensively in 1991 and 2003. On the first occasion, a U.S. Air force planning officer justified these criminal acts as no worse and having no other purpose than economic sanctions:
“People say, ‘You didn’t recognize that it was going to have an effect on water or sewage.’ Well, what were we trying to do with sanctions — help out the Iraqi people? No. What we were doing with the attacks on infrastructure was to accelerate the effect of the sanctions.” A UNICEF survey concluded that these actions killed 47,000 children. Awesome and shocking, but shock and awe hadn’t even been invented yet. And by the time it was, Iraq would be a shadow of its former self.
Here’s Edward Said in 2000, three years before the Mission was begun and Accomplished, and nine before the siege of Gaza: “For almost a full decade, an inhuman campaign of sanctions — the most complete ever recorded in history — has destroyed Iraq as a modern state, decimated its people, and ruined its agriculture, its educational and healthcare systems, as well as its entire infrastructure. All this has been done by the United States and the United Kingdom, misusing United Nations resolutions against innocent civilians.”
During the 2002-2003 marketing campaign for a new assault on what remained of Iraq, a handful of Iraqi bloggers pushed back. Now hundreds of Iraqis share their experiences online, but the handful that did so then suggests the potential of antiwar online journalism in whatever nation is next. As Obama demands from Congress the power to switch off the internet Mubarak style, Americans gaze at their navels and imagine it is their own reporting that constitutes the threat to US plutocracy. It may in fact primarily be the blogging of the grateful victims of our next “liberation” that Washington does not want us to access. In October 2002, Iraqi blogger Salam Pax wrote:
“Excuse me. But don’t expect me to buy little American flags to welcome the new Colonists. This is really just a bad remake of an even worse movie. And how does it differ from Iraq and Britain circa 1920. The civilized world comes to give us, the barbaric nomadic arabs, a lesson in better living and rid us of all evil (better still get rid of us arabs since we are evil).”
By late 2003 there were at least 23 Iraqi bloggers, by late 2004 at least 66, by late 2005 at least 112, and by late 2006 over 200. It just wouldn’t do to have a thousand Iranians or Venezuelans reporting to Americans on their compatriots’ actual sentiments as we prepared the drones to strike and the soldiers to collect the chocolates and flowers.
“Erasing Iraq” quotes Iraqi bloggers and interviewed Iraqis, giving personalities to people who have indeed been effectively erased. How many Americans even know that millions of Iraqis have had to flee the hell of their “liberation”? The U.S. media has self-censored almost all reporting on Iraqi suffering that has not been censored by the military, and polls of Americans have found approval for such censorship. Americans, along with Donald Rumsfeld, want to not know, and to not know what they do not know.
“Erasing Iraq” reviews the evidence quantifying the damage and the deaths, as well as the immeasurable hypocrisy of the US corporate media, which treated as the height of scientific achievement (as in fact it was) surveys on deaths in the Congo, while dismissing as meaningless studies conducted in the same manner by the very same people in Iraq. In an effort at “balance,” the authors find fault with the Lancet’s study in Iraq for not distinguishing civilian from combat deaths. I beg to differ. A more accurate count was available by avoiding a distinction that is of very little moral or legal meaning. If the United States were occupied, would we deem the killing of those who fought back acceptable?
As the U.S. corporate media warns, against all evidence, of the dangers of religious rule in Egypt where a dictator has been overthrown while still in the good graces of the Pentagon, it’s worth noting everything the Pentagon has done to establish religious lunacy and terror in Iraq. Women are less safe. Girls are less safe. And this has been the case since shortly after the shock and awe. “‘A month ago I was walking from my college to my house when I was abducted in the street by three men,’ said 23-year-old university student Hania Abdul-Jabbar in a July 2005 interview with IRIN. The men, she continued,
“‘dropped acid in my face and on my legs. They cut all my hair off while hitting me in the face many times telling me it’s the price for not obeying God’s wish in using the veil. Today I cannot see out of one eye because the acid made me lose my vision. I am afraid to leave my house. Now I am permanently disfigured with a monster face.'”
I suppose both God and the March of Freedom work in mysterious ways. Prior to the past 20 years of U.S. assault on Iraq, there were gay bars and open homosexuality in Baghdad. Now the shiny new Iraqi Constitution sanctions the murder of unfaithful women and of homosexual men whether faithful or not. “Abu Qussay, an Iraqi father who killed his son after the son’s homosexuality was revealed, is proud of the murder. ‘I hanged him in my house in front of his brother to give an example to all of them and prevent them from doing the same.'” Between 2003 and 2009 at least 455 gay men were brutally murdered , many through a technique that glues the anus shut and then forces the victim to consume a drink that causes diarrhea. Videos of this have been proudly circulated.
Your tax dollars at work, my fellow Americans. You cannot destroy a nation and hire religious fanatics to attack other types of religious fanatics without creating hell on earth. And that is what we have done in Iraq. Meanwhile our own gay activist groups take some interest in advancing the rights to marry or work or obtain healthcare without discrimination, but primarily they have been obsessed with the goal of participating openly in the next sociocide.
Iraqi Christians have been slaughtered and driven out. Mandaeans have been reduced from 40,000 to 5,000. Yazidis too, and Shabaks, as well as Iraqi-Palestinians, all cleansed. Our own cultural heritage in the form of Iraq’s treasures in museums and libraries, has been destroyed with the support of the U.S. military after having been misidentified as the valueless creations of enemy creatures. When one civilian “reconstruction” official burst in on a group of U.S. and British military commanders to beg them urgently to protect the Iraqi Museum in 2003, “the British generals by and large understood the importance of protecting the museum, and started to respond almost immediately. And the American generals, by and large, just looked at us with, ‘What do you expect us to do about that?'” Next time try telling them the museum is sort of like a Wal-Mart, only with even bigger and cheaper crap. They’ll hop to it. Maybe.
As we busy ourselves denouncing the Republican budget for all of the traits it shares with Obama’s proposal, and as Obama fights off the teeny cuts to the Pentagon that the Republicans are seeking, bear in mind what that money is used for. If we really bear it in mind, if we really consider what the majority of every US tax dollar goes to fund, the day will come when Freedom Plaza in Washington DC resembles Tahrir Square in Cairo. May that day come before it is too late.