Mission accomplished in Iraq: Blood and treasure wasted, empire’s lies unmasked
Our new Secretary of “Defense,” Leon Panetta, insists, while announcing the supposed end to our war in Iraq, while referring to our soldiers who died there, that
those lives were not lost in vain.
Yeah? He regurgitates that cheap clause, used again and again since Lincoln famously used it at Gettysburg, to excuse a continuing slaughter, to justify any continued bloodbath adventure: In other words, were we to stop a war now, the lives already wasted will have been for nothing–so we need to continue the wasting.
I beg to differ. I’m sorry. Those U.S. soldiers died in a war premised and continued on lies. Though we need to honor their sacrifice, we need to admit that, yes, they did die in vain, that their sacrifice was pointless.
This article covers several points, beginning with the casus belli on the eve of the war, and ending with an honest assessment, after Abu Ghraib, after “Collateral Murder,” after countless other atrocities.
- Commentary: Illogical reasoning of a war against Iraq (March 13, 2003), questioning the Mad Hatter-style logic of our going to war in Iraq
- Pillagers strip Iraqi Museum of its treasure (April 13, 2003), after then-Secretary of “Defense” Donald Rumsfeld proclaimed: “Iraqis celebrating in the streets, riding American tanks, tearing down the statues of Saddam Hussein in the center of Baghdad, are breathtaking. Watching them, one cannot help but think of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Iron Curtain. We are seeing history unfold, events that will shape the course of a country, the fate of a people, and potentially the future of the region,” came this article in the New York Times, describing the desecration of ancient Mesopotamian cultural heritage, while petroleum facilities are protected, all the while thousands of twenty-first-century Mesopotamians are slaughtered: “Please remind [President Bush] that he promised to liberate the Iraqi people, but that this is not a liberation, this is a humiliation.”
- Cultural catastrophe (April 13, 2003), my reaction to the pillage, distributed as an email rant to many of my friends
- Intellectual catastrophe (April 16, 2003), one (former) friend’s reaction to my email rant, exhorting me, among other things, to apologize to my distribution list once the WMDs are found in Iraq
- Abu Ghraib and “Collateral Murder”–a “few bad apples” or inevitable dehumanization of “sand niggers” and systemic insensitivity to committing atrocities?
- U.S. withdrawal from Iraq: “In terms of destroying Iraq, it’s ‘mission accomplished'”: Sami Rasouli, the founder and director of the Muslim Peacemaker Teams in Iraq, discusses the results of the war from Najaf
- The costs of war: Tens of thousands dead, billions spent, and a country torn apart: Catherine Lutz, Brown University professor and co-director of the “Costs of War” research project at the Watson Institute for International Studies: “The costs have really been staggering. We know that Congress appropriated $800 billion over the years for the Iraq War. But the true costs, of course, go much farther than that, starting with the people of Iraq, who have lost lives in the hundreds of thousands.”
- Iraqi women’s activist rebuffs U.S. claims of a freer Iraq: “This is not a democratic country”: Yanar Mohammed, president of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, discusses the impact of the nearly 9-year U.S. occupation, particularly on Iraqi women. “The women are the biggest loser in all of this. We went to the Iraqi squares. We demonstrated. The Arab Spring was there very strongly but got oppressed in ways that were new to Iraqi people. Anti-riot police of the American style was something that we witnessed there… This is not a democratic country.”
Commentary: Illogical reasoning of a war against Iraq
March 13, 2003
MICHELE NORRIS, host: The deliberations at the UN over possible military action in Iraq have featured thousands of pages of documents and hours and hours of debate, not to mention all the press conferences, Op-Ed articles, and pure speculation that have filled the airwaves in the last few months. But even after all of that evidence and discussion, commentator Peter Freundlich still wants to express the trouble he’s having trying to make sense of the argument to go to war.
All right, let me see if I understand the logic of this correctly. We are going to ignore the United Nations in order to make clear to Saddam Hussein that the United Nations cannot be ignored. We’re going to wage war to preserve the UN’s ability to avert war. The paramount principle is that the UN’s word must be taken seriously, and if we have to subvert its word to guarantee that it is, then by gum, we will. Peace is too important not to take up arms to defend. Am I getting this right?
Further, if the only way to bring democracy to Iraq is to vitiate the democracy of the Security Council, then we are honor-bound to do that too, because democracy, as we define it, is too important to be stopped by a little thing like democracy as they define it.
Also, in dealing with a man who brooks no dissension at home, we cannot afford dissension among ourselves. We must speak with one voice against Saddam Hussein’s failure to allow opposing voices to be heard. We are sending our gathered might to the Persian Gulf to make the point that might does not make right, as Saddam Hussein seems to think it does. And we are twisting the arms of the opposition until it agrees to let us oust a regime that twists the arms of the opposition. We cannot leave in power a dictator who ignores his own people. And if our people, and people elsewhere in the world, fail to understand that, then we have no choice but to ignore them.
Listen. Don’t misunderstand. I think it is a good thing that the members of the Bush administration seem to have been reading Lewis Carroll. I only wish someone had pointed out that “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” are meditations on paradox and puzzle and illogic and on the strangeness of things, not templates for foreign policy. It is amusing for the Mad Hatter to say something like, `We must make war on him because he is a threat to peace,’ but not amusing for someone who actually commands an army to say that.
As a collector of laughable arguments, I’d be enjoying all this were it not for the fact that I know–we all know–that lives are going to be lost in what amounts to a freak, circular reasoning accident.
Pillagers strip Iraqi Museum of its treasure
New York Times
April 13, 2003
BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 12: The National Museum of Iraq recorded a history of civilizations that began to flourish in the fertile plains of Mesopotamia more than 7,000 years ago. But once American troops entered Baghdad in sufficient force to topple Saddam Hussein’s government this week, it took only 48 hours for the museum to be destroyed, with at least 170,000 artifacts carried away by looters.
The full extent of the disaster that befell the museum came to light only today, as the frenzied looting that swept much of the capital over the previous three days began to ebb.
As fires in a dozen government ministries and agencies began to burn out, and as looters tired of pillaging in the 90-degree heat, museum officials reached the hotels where foreign journalists were staying along the eastern bank of the Tigris River. They brought word of what is likely to be reckoned as one of the greatest cultural disasters in recent Middle Eastern history.
A full accounting of what has been lost may take weeks or months. The museum had been closed during much of the 1990’s, and as with many Iraqi institutions, its operations were cloaked in secrecy under Mr. Hussein.
So what officials told journalists today may have to be adjusted as a fuller picture comes to light. It remains unclear whether some of the museum’s priceless gold, silver and copper antiquities, some of its ancient stone and ceramics and perhaps some of its fabled bronzes and gold-overlaid ivory, had been locked away for safekeeping elsewhere before the looting, or seized for private display in one of Mr. Hussein’s myriad palaces.
What was beyond contest today was that the 28 galleries of the museum and vaults with huge steel doors guarding storage chambers that descend floor after floor into unlighted darkness had been completely ransacked.
Officials with crumpled spirits fought back tears and anger at American troops, as they ran down an inventory of the most storied items that they said had been carried away by the thousands of looters who poured into the museum after daybreak on Thursday and remained until dusk on Friday, with only one intervention by American forces, lasting about half an hour, at lunchtime on Thursday.
Nothing remained, museum officials said, at least nothing of real value, from a museum that had been regarded by archaeologists and other specialists as perhaps the richest of all such institutions in the Middle East.
As examples of what was gone, the officials cited a solid gold harp from the Sumerian era, which began about 3360 B.C. and started to crumble about 2000 B.C. Another item on their list of looted antiquities was a sculptured head of a woman from Uruk, one of the great Sumerian cities, dating from about the same era, and a collection of gold necklaces, bracelets and earrings, also from the Sumerian dynasties and also at least 4,000 years old.
But an item-by-item inventory of the most valued pieces carried away by the looters hardly seemed to capture the magnitude of what had occurred. More powerful, in its way, was the action of one museum official in hurrying away through the piles of smashed ceramics and torn books and burned-out torches of rags soaked in gasoline that littered the museum’s corridors to find the glossy catalog of an exhibition of “Silk Road Civilizations” that was held in Japan’s ancient capital of Nara in 1988.
Turning to 50 pages of items lent by the Iraqi museum for the exhibition, he said none of the antiquities pictured remained after the looting. They included ancient stone carvings of bulls and kings and princesses; copper shoes and cuneiform tablets; tapestry fragments and ivory figurines of goddesses and women and Nubian porters; friezes of soldiers and ancient seals and tablets on geometry; and ceramic jars and urns and bowls, all dating back at least 2,000 years, some more than 5,000 years.
“All gone, all gone,” he said. “All gone in two days.”
An Iraqi archaeologist who has taken part in the excavation of some of the country’s 10,000 sites, Raid Abdul Ridhar Muhammad, said he went into the street in the Karkh district, a short distance from the eastern bank of the Tigris, about 1 p.m. on Thursday to find American troops to quell the looting. By that time, he and other museum officials said, the several acres of museum grounds were overrun by thousands of men, women and children, many of them armed with rifles, pistols, axes, knives and clubs, as well as pieces of metal torn from the suspensions of wrecked cars. The crowd was storming out of the complex carrying antiquities on hand carts, bicycles and wheelbarrows and in boxes. Looters stuffed their pockets with smaller items.
Mr. Muhammad said that he had found an American Abrams tank in Museum Square, about 300 yards away, and that five marines had followed him back into the museum and opened fire above the looters’ heads. That drove several thousand of the marauders out of the museum complex in minutes, he said, but when the tank crewmen left about 30 minutes later, the looters returned.
“I asked them to bring their tank inside the museum grounds,” he said. “But they refused and left. About half an hour later, the looters were back, and they threatened to kill me, or to tell the Americans that I am a spy for Saddam Hussein’s intelligence, so that the Americans would kill me. So I was frightened, and I went home.”
Mohsen Hassan, a 56-year-old deputy curator, returned to the museum on Saturday afternoon after visiting military commanders a mile away at the Palestine Hotel, with a request that American troops be placed in the museum to protect the building and items left by the looters in the vaults. Mr. Hassan said the American officers had given him no assurances that they would guard the museum around the clock, but other American commanders announced later in the day that joint patrols with unarmed Iraqi police units would begin as early as Sunday in an attempt to prevent further looting.
Mr. Hassan, who said he had spent 34 years helping to develop the museum’s collection, described watching as men took sledgehammers to locked glass display cases and in some instances fired rifles and pistols to break the locks.
He said that many of the looters appeared to be from the impoverished districts of the city where anger at Mr. Hussein ran at its strongest, but that others were middle-class people who appeared to know exactly what they were looking for.
“Did some of them know the value of what they took?” he said. “Absolutely, they did. They knew what the most valued pieces in our collection were.”
Mr. Muhammad spoke with deep bitterness toward the Americans, as have many Iraqis who have watched looting that began with attacks on government agencies and the palaces and villas of Mr. Hussein, his family and his inner circle broaden into a tidal wave of looting that struck just about every government institution, even ministries dealing with issues like higher education, trade and agriculture, and hospitals.
American troops have intervened only sporadically, as they did on Friday to halt a crowd of men and boys who were raiding an armory at the edge of the Republican Palace presidential compound and taking brand-new Kalashnikov rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons.
American commanders have said they lack the troops to curb the looting while their focus remains on the battles across Baghdad that are necessary to mop up pockets of resistance from paramilitary forces loyal to Mr. Hussein.
As reporters returned from the national museum to their hotels beside the Tigris tonight, marines guarding the hotels were caught in a heavy firefight with Iraqis across the river, and the neighborhoods erupted with tank and heavy machine-gun fire. Western television cameramen who went onto the embankment beside the Palestine Hotel to film the battle were pulled from danger by helmeted marines who dragged them down behind concrete parapets and waved to reporters on the hotel’s upper balconies to get down.
Mr. Muhammad, the archaeologist, directed much of his anger at President Bush. “A country’s identity, its value and civilization resides in its history,” he said. “If a country’s civilization is looted, as ours has been here, its history ends. Please tell this to President Bush. Please remind him that he promised to liberate the Iraqi people, but that this is not a liberation, this is a humiliation.”
My reaction to the pillage
April 13, 2003
Iraq was supposedly a major threat to world peace, a threat so grave that the U.S. and the U.K. had to bypass the UN Security Council and NATO to confront it without approval. Confronting this terrible threat, utterly overwhelming this mighty regime, took about three weeks. What a threat it was! Seems more like a tin-pot third-rate dictatorship to me.
The rationale for this confrontation was to “disarm” Iraq, to force the Iraqi regime to give up its Weapons of Mass Destruction. It somehow occurs to me that if there had been WMDs to be found, the ruthless, irresponsible Iraqi regime would have used them, even at the risk of shocking France and Germany, rather than face utter destruction. Where are these WMDs ??
That the cruel regime of Saddam Hussein is over is a good thing. That the cost in lives to the U.S. and U.K. has been relatively light is a good thing (although that cost would have been zero if this war had not started).
The cost to Iraqi civilians has been staggering, and the news media in the U.S. has largely ignored that cost.
Today, I had another of my fears confirmed– a cultural catastrophe. What would you think if the ancient Egyptian pyramids were blown up? Or the priceless ruins of Athens pulverized? The culture of Mesopotamia is more ancient than that of the Nile or of Greece–it goes back more than 7000 years (including Sumer, Ur, Chaldea, Babylonia, Assyria, and the Persian Emprie), and today I’ve learned that this heritage has been ransacked– thousands of years of culture messed up within just the last week.
I heard an archeologist on the radio this morning, in tears, telling how he had provided the Defense Department with a list of cultural sites to protect, and high on this list was the Baghdad Museum, utterly pillaged by looters within the past few days.
Oil fields were secured. Why wasn’t this museum secured?
Bob W.’s response to my email
April 16, 2003
Your inability to understand virtually anything dealing with geopolitics and current events is truly breathtaking. You ought to read something other than the New York Times, listen to something other than NPR and watch something other than CNN. The coverage of the war by these three organizations has been discredited. Every prediction made by these organizations has proven very wrong in spite of their best efforts to slant the news to bolster those predictions.
As to your note…
First, the danger posed by Saddam Hussein was not that he would attack us directly, but rather indirectly through a third party terrorist. His secret service was closely allied with Al Qaeda and provided that organization with the official documents those terrorists needed to move about the world. He also provided training grounds for Al Qaeda terrorists, including a plane fuselage used to train hi-jackers, and very likely several of those who participated in the 9/11 attack trained at this facility. Two of the top Al Qaeda leaders were former Iraqi intelligence officers. Think there might be a connection there?
Second, your concern for the Iraqi people is truly touching, but a bit late. Saddam Hussein started the war against Iran and as a result of his attack, 500,000 Iraqi conscripts were killed – and that’s in a population of 26 million. And then he had at least 10,000 Kurds, mostly helpless women and children, killed with various chemical weapons. Guess you missed that one too.
As for weapons of mass destruction, when they’re found, and they will be, I expect you to send an apology out to your original distribution list.
You ask why weren’t they used. First, our attack was so swift that the Iraqi military was caught flat-footed since their war plans were developed by the Russians who are still fighting the Napoleanic War. Second, our military special ops destroyed much of their delivery capability at the very outset of the war. Third, we destroyed the Iraqi command and control systems that were necessary to initiate such an attack. And finally, our military made it very clear that anyone who participated in such an attack would be tried as a war criminal and since our troops were better prepared to survive such an attack, it was very likely that those who initiated the attack, would bear the brunt of it.
As for the artifacts, are you willing to trade the lives of your sons and daughter to save archeological artifacts? You may be but I am not. As for saving the oil wells, by doing so we prevented an environmental disaster that would have taken decades to recover from. We don’t need Iraqi oil. We have plenty of it in Alaska. (As an aside, what is the mileage you get with your RV?)
Thank God we have a President from Texas and not one from Tennessee or Arkansas. The previous President, an emotional adolescent, left te great President Bush with a terrible mess to clean up and he’s doing it.
Please take me off your copy list as I’ve already read more far left clap-trap disguised as analysis than I care to.
Abu Ghraib and “Collateral Murder”
The pictures tell the story of Abu Ghraib, and this article and this one make a vain effort to explain that particular travesty, which the commanders blamed on a “few bad apples” but which is really a policy-encouraged dehumanization of “sand niggers” and a systemic insensitivity to committing atrocities, all made inevitable by war.
The brutal policy of our warmakers includes strenuous efforts to hush all these nasty side effects up, but whistleblowers leak anyway, and we are indebted to WikiLeaks for revealing some ugly, inconvenient truth about our generous nation building: Here is “Collateral Damage,” and here is that revelation put into perspective.
Alleged U.S. Army whistleblower Private Bradley Manning made his first court appearance on Friday, December 16, 2011, after being held for more more than a year and a half by the U.S. military. Manning is suspected of leaking hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables to the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks in the biggest leak of classified U.S. documents in history. Supporters of Manning are rallying outside Fort Meade, Maryland. Kevin Zeese, attorney for the Bradley Manning Support Network, had this to say:
The people who should be prosecuted are not Bradley Manning. He’s accused of letting the truth out. He’s not accused of doing any criminal activity. He’s accused of letting the truth out, and he should be given an award for that, not prosecuted. He’s facing the death penalty, potentially. He’s facing the death penalty for exposing war crimes.
Discussing this is perhaps the nation’s most famous whistleblower, Daniel Ellsberg. Noting that the WikiLeaks revelations helped spark the Arab Spring and in turn the Occupy Wall Street movement, Ellsberg offers this qualified praise, if Manning indeed committed the leak of which he stands accused: “The Time magazine cover gives protester, an anonymous protester, as ‘Person of the Year,’ but it is possible to put a face and a name to that picture of ‘Person of the Year.’ And the American face I would put on that is Private Bradley Manning.”
[The Article 32 hearing Manning is being subjected to is] equivalent to a grand jury hearing. It’s kind of symptomatic of the present state of law in the United States, sort of like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland: punishment first, trial afterwards, sentence after that. He’s been effectively punished now ten-and-a-half months in Quantico in isolation, a kind of torture, according to the U.N. standards and to our own domestic law, that he couldn’t be sentenced to under our amendment to the Bill of Rights against cruel and unusual punishment. He couldn’t be assigned to that, but he has already. That, in itself, makes a travesty of this continued trial.
I was the first to face the kind of charges that he’s facing, under the Espionage Act, specifically, a civilian charge that he’s facing, 18 U.S.C. 793, back in 1971, the first time that act had been used against someone disclosing information to the American people. In the end, my trial was ended because of gross governmental misconduct against me under President Nixon. This court-martial should be ended now for exactly the same reason. There has been gross, illegal conduct against Bradley Manning in the form of his incarceration for these many months without trial. And that’s one of several reasons why this trial is a travesty….
One of the witnesses [the defense lawyer has not been permitted to call] is Juan Méndez, the U.N. special rapporteur for torture, who has heard credible reports, as he puts it, of inhumane treatment. And under his mandate, under the U.N., he should see, in private, as an official representative of the U.N., Private Manning to see that. He has not been allowed to do that, either in Quantico or Leavenworth. And he has specifically complained about prevarication of the—by the American government in their unwillingness to let him see that. U.N. and Red Cross representatives have seen people in Guantánamo, but they can’t get in, apparently, to Quantico or Leavenworth. Representative Dennis Kucinich, in his official capacity, tried repeatedly to see him in there, for the same reasons, and was again put off, again and again, told that he would be able to see him, but never allowed to see him.
I think that other witnesses, I see from the witness list without their names, are to establish the point that the strictly military charges that he’s facing, that Bradley Manning is facing, things like unauthorized downloading or uploading of software onto military computers, are done by virtually everyone in his department. And this is selective prosecution, obviously intended to get him, even if they can’t prove the charges that they want to get connecting him to Julian Assange of WikiLeaks. Obviously, the torture to which he was subjected was meant to break him down, to get him to acknowledge links that would enable them to indict Julian Assange. And evidently that pressure has failed against Private Manning….
[About the “Collateral Murder” video], which I’ve seen a number of times, let me speak as a former Marine company commander, and I was a battalion training officer who trained the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines on rules of war. No question in my mind, as I looked at that, that the specific leaked pictures in there of helicopter gunners hunting down and shooting an unarmed man in civilian clothes, clearly wounded, in an area where a squad of American soldiers was about to appear, as the helicopter gunners knew, to take custody of anyone remaining living, that shooting was murder. It was a war crime. Not all killing in war is murder, but a lot of it is. And this was.
The Time magazine cover gives protester, an anonymous protester, as “Person of the Year,” but it is possible to put a face and a name to that picture of “Person of the Year.” And the American face I would put on that is Private Bradley Manning. The fact is that he is credited by President Obama and the Justice Department, or the Army, actually, with having given WikiLeaks that helicopter picture and other evidence of atrocities and war crimes—and torture, specifically—in Iraq, including in the Obama administration. That, in other words, led to the Tunisian uprising, the occupation in Tunis Square, which has been renamed by—for another face that could go on that picture, Mohamed Bouazizi, who, after the WikiLeaks exposures of corruption, in Tunis, himself, Bouazizi, burned himself alive just one year ago tomorrow, Saturday, December 17th, in protest. And the combination of the WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning exposures in Tunis and the exemplification of that by Mohamed Bouazizi led to the protests, the nonviolent protests, that drove Ben Ali out of power, our ally there who we supported up ’til that moment, and in turn sparked the uprising in Egypt, in Tahrir Square occupation, which immediately stimulated the Occupy Wall Street and the other occupations in the Middle East and elsewhere. So, “Person of the Year,” one of those persons of the year is now sitting in a courthouse in Leavenworth. He deserves the recognition that he’s just gotten in Time. Julian Assange, who published that, another person of the year, I would say, who’s gotten a number of journalistic awards, very much deserve our gratitude. And I hope they will have the effect in liberating us from the lawlessness that we have seen and the corruption—the corruption—that we have seen in this country in the last 10 years and more, which has been no less than that of Tunis and Egypt.
U.S. withdrawal from Iraq: “In terms of destroying Iraq, it’s ‘mission accomplished'”: Sami Rasouli, the founder and director of the Muslim Peacemaker Teams in Iraq, discusses the results of the war from Najaf.
Over the past 9 years, the U.S. invasion has left a bloody toll on Iraqi civilians and foreign troops. Nearly 4,500 U.S. troops died. Another 32,000 were wounded. An accurate toll of Iraqis killed may never be known. According to Iraq Body Count, at least 104,000 Iraqi civilians have died. In 2006, the British medical journal Lancet estimated 600,000 Iraqis had already been killed. Other studies put the death toll over a million. Hundreds of thousands of more Iraqis died due to the crippling sanctions in the years between the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 U.S. invasion. After 20 years of war and sanctions, Iraq’s infrastructure has been devastated….
Well, the war, as President Obama said, is over. But we understood from George Bush back on May 1st, 2003, that major combat operation was over and supposedly mission was accomplished. In terms of destroying Iraq, it’s really “mission accomplished,” as I witnessed through the last, let’s say, eight years, since [the] end of 2003.
But to see what we’ve gotten from this war, after the violence went down dramatically and the dust of war has been settled, now we see the damage clearly everywhere in Iraq, where the electricity high—still the basic public services is almost not there, in terms of the electricity, never has been advanced by the two terms of the Iraqi government or even with the—no intervention by the U.S. efforts to improve these needed public services for an average Iraqi. The healthcare system has been really destroyed. As you mentioned, the infrastructure is a total catastrophe that began not only since 2003, and actually, it’s more than 20 years since 1991.
You know, we should not forget the effect of the sanction before the invasion. The Iraqi people have suffered a lot, and many of them have died. And now, death is not stoppable, because of many unknown diseases that’s caused by poisons that the U.S. military has been—has used against major cities in Iraq. In 2001 and, as well, in 2003, tons—hundred tons of depleted uranium has been—have been thrown on the city of Fallujah, where women today cannot get pregnant due to the deformation of their newborn babies. This is happening here in Najaf, as well. When the U.S. fought the resistance, so-called, the insurgents led by Muqtada al-Sadr.
But to go across the country today and hear the news locally, the Iraqi people are really jubilant and happy that the U.S., if this is true, eventually is pulling out its troops….
[There] is an estimate about 5 million people have been displaced: within the country, about 2 million, and out of the country, 3 million. And those mostly are the middle class, the cream of the crop, the professionals, the engineers, the doctors. Where the country can rely on and get developed and get rebuilt, they are not there, due to the displacement effort through the violent period between 2005, ’06, ’07 and middle of 2008….
The costs of war: Tens of thousands dead, billions spent, and a country torn apart: Catherine Lutz, Brown University professor and co-director of the “Costs of War” research project at the Watson Institute for International Studies, discusses the true costs of the war.
The costs have really been staggering. We know about the number of U.S. servicemembers who have died. Most Americans know that. It’s over 4,500 individuals. We know that the Congress appropriated $800 billion over the years for the Iraq War.
But the true costs, of course, go much farther than that, starting with the people of Iraq, who have lost lives in the hundreds of thousands, the people of that country who have been displaced from their homes…. [Those] numbers are very hard to come by. But the U.N. estimates 3.5 million Iraqis are still displaced from their homes, and again, many widowed, many orphaned, and an environmental damage that has yet to be assessed.
But the idea that the war is over is, I think, what we really need to question, the idea that the war ends the day that the U.S. servicemembers leave that country. We know that many are staying behind in the form of private contractors and State Department employees. We know that the war won’t end for the people who are still, again, struggling to get back home, struggling with missing family members and so on. So I think we need to ask, is the war really over? And the answer is, really, no….
The State Department mission in Iraq, as Amy pointed out, has the largest embassy on the planet, a $6 billion budget. Much of that is going toward the support of 5,500 security contractors. And those people are guarding State Department employees, civilians, who are, again, engaged in a variety of activities there. But in some very important sense, that’s an index of how significantly—how significant the violence remains and the risk remains to the Americans who are there, because of, again, a continuing attempt to evict all of the Americans from Iraq….
How are the Iraqis going to be treated by those contractors? What are the rules of engagement? And what are the ways in which these contractors are permitted to respond when they feel threatened or when they feel that they’re—the people that they’re protecting are threatened? The inspector general for Iraq was not given the kinds of information that Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton suggests is something that they’ve worked out, which is to say, those rules of engagement. So I think there’s really quite a risk to the Iraqi people that these contractors will, again, not be operating with that kind of—you know, operating in an environment in which violence is likely….
[The contractor] companies are … Triple Canopy, the Global Strategies Group, and—and again, some additional contractors—SOC Incorporated are the three main ones….
They do not have immunity in the same way that the troops did, and that’s why the Iraqis were allowing them to stay. But I think, again, if we look forward to what the rest of the country can expect in the next several years, it’s to continue to deal with the kinds of things that Sami talked about—a lack of electricity, the kinds of things that this mission is not going to help solve. And so, I think that the basic human needs to recover from injuries and losses of the nine years of war, that’s what we need to be talking about, is, what is the State Department doing vis-à-vis those issues?
Iraqi women’s activist rebuffs U.S. claims of a freer Iraq: “This is not a democratic country”: Yanar Mohammed, president of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, discusses the impact of the nearly 9-year U.S. occupation, particularly on Iraqi women.
If I start with the basics, the Iraqi cities are now much more destroyed than they were, I would say, like five years ago. All the major buildings are still destroyed. If you drive in the streets of the capital, your car cannot survive more than one month, because all the streets are still broken. So there was no reconstruction for the buildings, for the cities.
And in the same time, we have turned to a society of 99 percent poor and 1 percent rich, due to the policies that were imposed in Iraq. While Iraq has more than one million widows—some of the counts say one million, some of the counts say two million widows—these widows try to survive on a salary of $150, and most of them cannot get this salary because they don’t have proper ID due to internal displacement. And in the same time, the 1 percent, who lives—of Iraqis, who lives in the Green Zone, they drown in a sea of money. And there was a scandal of losing $40 billion from the annual budget of the country, and nobody is accountable for it. So we have—after nine years, we have the most corrupt government in the world.
We are divided to a society of Shias, who are ruling, and Sunnis, who want to get divided from the country of Iraq. We are now on the verge of the division of country according to religions. And to ethnicities, it has already happened. We know that the Kurdish north is now a Kurdistan, the region of Kurdistan. And the constitution that we have in Iraq allows everybody to get divided or to get their autonomy. So now the Sunni parts of Iraq, they want to be their own agents. They don’t want to be part of the central government anymore. And in the same time, destruction is everywhere. Poverty is for all the people but the 1 percent who are living inside the Green Zone.
And I would like to add one thing. If President Obama wants to make it sound like one unified society, that’s not the true story. We are living in a huge military camp, where one million Iraqi men are recruited in the army. And on top of that, there’s almost 50,000 militia members, of the Sadr group and the other Islamist group, who are not only local militias, like army within the country, but they are now being exported to other countries to oppress the Arab Spring in Syria and maybe later on in other countries. We are not a united country, because the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is another country, has the upper hand in Iraq. And the decisions that were done lately about who stays from the Americans and who doesn’t stay inside Iraq was due to the pressure of the Islamic Republic of Iran. They are the decision makers in Iraq.
And the biggest loser out of all of this are the women. Now, by the constitution, there are articles that refer us to the Islamic sharia, when this was not in action in the times of the previous regime. Under Islamic sharia, women are worth half a man legally and one-quarter of a man socially in a marriage. And we still suffer under this. As a women’s organization, we daily meet women who are vulnerable to being bought and sold in the flesh market. We see widows who have no source of income, and nobody to get them IDs for themselves and their children, because they have been internally displaced. So poverty and discrimination against women has become the norm. And the government doesn’t care much about this. They talk about it a lot, but not much is being done about it….
In the last year, we were told that Iraq’s economy is going to be changing, and there’s going to be a new phase of investment. But in reality, those who were invited into the Green Zone were surprised to see that it’s all about privatization, that we have new foreign oil companies. Some of them are already functioning in the south, like British Petroleum, who have an oil field from which they are extracting oil.
They are beginning to—they have brought some foreign workers to work in there, and they have totally discriminatory workplaces where the foreigner is paid much more than the Iraqi. I was told that the foreigners are paid in the thousands of dollars monthly, while an Iraqi employees is paid something like $400. And even the workplaces are very discriminatory and racist, in the sense that the foreigner workers are treated much better than the Iraqi employees.
And the question is, how did they get these foreign oil companies to come into Iraq? Like British Petroleum is one of them. It has many oil fields. It’s functioning. It’s extracting Iraqi oil. On which terms? We, the Iraqi people, don’t know. On which agreement did they come and they are functioning fully in Iraq? We, the Iraqi people, don’t know.
And the question is, why is all the money being shared by the 1 percent who are ruling Iraq and the U.S. administration and all these multinational companies, while the Iraqi widows cannot even have $150 as a salary? Most of the widows we’ve met in our organization do not have one penny coming into their pockets. No government finds themselves accountable for the women of Iraq, who have been turned deprived because of this war.
And I would like to add one thing. There is a new generation of women and men in Iraq who are totally illiterate. You see a woman in her twenties. She might have children, or not, and that’s another story about the widows. But she has witnessed no schooling because of the sectarian war, because of the war on Iraq. It’s a generation of illiteracy in Iraq, while, before this war, you know, we know that Iraq in the 1980s, and even in the following years, it had the highest literacy rate in the Arab world.
And the last point I would like to add, and I would have liked you to ask me about it, is the Arab Spring, when it started in Iraq, specifically on the day of February 25. When the government held a curfew in all the Iraqi cities, especially in Baghdad, we had to walk three hours to reach to the Tahrir Square of Baghdad, and 25,000 people were in that square expressing their political will that this is not the political system that they want to rule them—the Islamist government of the Shia, who is oppressing all the others, the Sunni, who are oppressed in the west, the ethnic divisions on the people.
And mind you, the gender divisions? In the Tahrir Square of Baghdad, many of us women were there, and we were so respected. Nobody told us to put on the veil on, while in these days the prime minister’s office is spreading out policies that all the female workers in the public sector will have to wear decent dress code—decent as in respecting our culture. The prime minister is imposing a mentality of discriminating against women based on Islamic sharia, while the demonstrators of the Arab Spring in Iraq want an egalitarian society.
And one thing that this new democracy, so-called democracy, proved in Iraq is that they were the best in oppressing the Arab Spring in Iraq. They sent us police, army and anti-riot groups to shoot us with live ammunition in the Tahrir Square. They detained and they tortured hundreds and thousands of us demonstrators. And this is because we only led a free demonstration.
And this is not only one demonstration. All the Fridays since the beginning of February have witnessed demonstrations in the main squares of Iraq—Baghdad, Sulaymaniyah, Basra, Samarra, all of Baghdad. People went into the squares, and there were no slogans of asking for a religious government. The U.S. administration came into Iraq: it divided the Iraqi people according to religion, according to their sect, according to their ethnicity. It’s divide and conquer. And now the women are the biggest loser in all of this. We went to the Iraqi squares. We demonstrated. The Arab Spring was there very strongly but got oppressed in ways that were new to Iraqi people. Anti-riot police of the American style was something that we witnessed there. The big vehicles that sprayed us with the hot water, polluted water, pushed us out of these squares. And sound bombs were thrown at us, live ammunition, the full works. This is not a democratic country. And it is not united, because it’s being divided into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish regions….
[then responding to Donald Rumsfeld’s 2003 boast about how Iraq was being “liberated”]
I think that the victims and the parents of the victims of this war, the half-a-million dead of this war, were not invited to the celebration of the U.S. and the military in Baghdad. They should have been invited to give their say about this Iraqi war that left their families hungry and poor and really unable and helpless.