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Returning to Iraq after war and exile

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Ten years ago today, I remember sitting in front of the television watching the sky turn bright yellow from the massive blasts. Slowly, I turned away from the screen to see my parents’ reaction: absolute silence.

That was the first time I had seen my parents watch the TV news without voicing an opinion. I only saw their sullen silence as they watched their beloved country explode into flames.

My twelve-year-old self had already been indoctrinated with the quintessentially American good guy / bad guy mentality, to which many unfortunately adhere. I struggled to understand the logic behind the invasion of Iraq. Was Iraq a bad country? What had we done wrong? Why is it America’s right to invade and change it? I looked over at my parents again and I could tell their hearts were reeling.

“Believe it. Liberation is coming,” said an arrogant George W. Bush as he spread more war propaganda in his visit to Dearborn, a city in Michigan with the largest Iraqi diaspora community in the United States. All I knew was that the ruthless Saddam Hussein would soon be gone. But what I didn’t know was what would become of Iraq.

Soon I would find the answer: under the guise of cynically named Operation Iraqi “Freedom,” the Iraq I knew would be completely destroyed.

March 20, 2003 marked the day I was able to return to the country from which my family fled as refugees in the early nineties. It was the day “Shock and Awe” began. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer stated that in his thirty years as a journalist, he had never witnessed anything as severe as the attack on Baghdad. With no concern for civilian life, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s genocidal “shock and awe” bombardment on the people of Iraq was America’s quick and easy solution to its imperialist intent for the country.

In an instant, Iraq was forever changed. The Cradle of Civilization was overtaken by incessant chaos, destruction, and death. Now, it is a nation of 4.5 million orphans, 2 million widows, over 4 million refugees, with over half the total population in the country living in slums.

This is the new Iraq.

As the Bush Administration boasted about its murderous accomplishments, all I could see was the rising Iraqi body count. The post-2003 Iraq is not the country my parents longed for.

Barred from returning to Iraq until 2003, I will never know the country in which I was born. I was too young to remember my family fleeing during the first invasion of Iraq. Before we fled, we got rid of all our belongings. My baby pictures were burned to ensure that when Saddam’s thugs checked, there would be no proof of my existence. It was as if my identity was erased, and until March 20th, 2003, I was locked from the this part of my life.

From Operation Desert Storm, to the sanctions of the Clinton Administration and the 2003 occupation, I still couldn’t decipher the U.S. government’s plans for Iraq. But what I was consistently sure of was the jingoistic attitude that pervaded every American administration and that shaped a foreign policy meant to degrade human life.

Iraq saw treacherous times in the nineties because of the imposition of history’s most comprehensive sanctions to date. Iraq was broken and denied any ability to thrive, even in the most basic of ways. These brutal sanctions led to the deaths of half a million Iraqi children. My older sister recalls Clinton’s secretary of state Madeleine K Albright’s infamous interview in which she was asked if the price of half a million Iraqi children was worth it. She simply said: “We think the price is worth it.”

It was an easy decision for the Clinton Administration to make on behalf of all Iraqis, because Iraq was forced to pay. As young as I was, I understood that people of different religions and backgrounds weren’t treated as equals. The dangerous underlying notion that certain people are more worthy of life than others heavily shapes American foreign policy and is upheld from one administration to the next.

In retrospect, the amount of propaganda that fueled and attempted to legitimize the war is staggering. I recall watching the news and being angry at the distorted images of Iraq and its people. I now understand how the media engineered public opinion to justify the invasion. Maintaining the “us versus them” binary was crucial in validating the administration’s agenda and furthering the so-called War on Terror. Soon enough, I heard my classmates echo these falsities and other absurd made-for-CNN headlines. I’ll hold back on the silly names I’ve been called as a result of this.

Hearing my parents’ stories about Iraq helped me put the pieces together. The story starts in their young adult years.

My parents never experienced Iraq under sanctions. During the seventies and eighties, the country was a powerhouse of academia with a thriving economy. In 1979, an Iraqi dinar was equal to $3.20. Nowadays, an Iraqi dinar is practically worthless. Saddam’s effort to lead in the Arab world led to many positive reforms, especially for women. As was required by the state, my mother enjoyed free transportation to work and a six month fully paid maternity leave. Despite his cruel methods of subjugation and obsession with monopolizing and maintaining power, his push to make Iraq the leader of the Arab world resulted in economic and social reform.

My family resides in southern Iraq and we, amongst others, have been brutally persecuted by Saddam’s party for decades. Many of the conversations I have about post-Saddam Iraq revolve around “Well, Iraq is better now because Saddam is gone and America is there.” However, the sanctions, Saddam’s regime, and the American invasion and occupation all left millions of Iraqis with broken homes, empty fridges and bleak prospects for the future. Whether under totalitarian rule or a foreign occupation, millions of Iraqis are still suffering. The meaningless discussion of which regime Iraq is better under is irrelevant and ought to be put to rest.

Ten years passed. In my University of Michigan classes, discussions about Iraq still revolve around that same foolish debate. The outright denial of the claim that oil played a decisive role in the invasion is still somehow considered a legitimate stance.

It was time for me to return and experience the Iraq of today.

January 2012 marked my first return to Iraq. Before my flight, I sat in the airport reading as the time passed. Hundreds of American soldiers returning from Iraq were received by family and friends, applause, and even a news crew. I shook my head because of what the soldiers represented to me. For many, they symbolize freedom, nobility, and honor. To Iraqis, they are the physical embodiment of terror, supremacism and occupation.  

I thought back to the times I was called un-American because of my criticisms of American policies in Iraq and refusal to support the military. I was “crazy” for not supporting the push to remove Saddam from power. Most Americans equated support for the administration’s bombing campaign with patriotism and justice, with a complete disregard for the consequences of war and foreign occupation.

Iraq has become fragmented and pieced. I think of how long it will take to assemble the pieces back together, and to try to bring together those shards of glass that once made a beautiful piece of work.

Nowadays, the occupation dictates every aspect of Iraqi life. The remnants of the brutal invasion manifest themselves on the faces of the people that continue to live and struggle there everyday. Suicide and car bombings, fighting between armed militias, kidnappings, and snipers result in a feeling of despair and no sense of security. Simple everyday tasks like walking to a local market or sending children off to school became impossible.

On my first day back in Iraq, massive explosions rocked Baghdad. I was awakened to the realities of this so-called newly democratic country. Both the Iraqi and American governments promised many things for the people, like building a sewage system. They could not even fulfill this basic necessity.  Inadequate water resources have caused massive death and disease in several cities. The two-hour electricity limit halts any work that needs to be done for the day. Birth defects will continue for decades because of the depleted uranium weaponry used by American soldiers.

This was Iraq.

“The war in Iraq will soon belong to history” stated Barack Obama, in an address marking the supposed end of the occupation of Iraq. America will remember it as history, but Iraqis live through it every day.

I shied away from reading articles on the commemoration of the invasion of Iraq, written by journalists who don’t understand. I became frustrated and always stop after reading just the headline. I laugh at every mention of the ‘lessons to be learned’ so that America can move forward. Iraq is stuck in a phase of sorrow, but we as Americans must learn from the occupation? I watch as oil companies, “defense contractors,” and corrupt government leaders profit off of an occupation that cut Iraq from any lifeline it had. The fortress called the U.S. embassy, staffed by thousands of foreign soldiers, stands as a permanent reminder of the occupation. America is able to move forward and rebuild its economy, but Iraq and its people must endure the harsh realities of the unwelcoming decades to come.

A lesson to learn from Iraqis is one of human dignity and perseverance through trying times. Have we learned? In a new documentary covering Dick Cheney’s legacy, he mentions, “If I had to do it over again, I’d do it in a minute.” And today, mainstream media outlets and the government aggressively continue to build a case against Iran, eerily reminiscent of what we saw ten years ago.

We will never learn until they stop seeing people and countries as strategic plans, as means to an end, as valueless unknowns.

My first visit to Iraq was in 2012, because the occupation had made it too dangerous to travel there in earlier years. One afternoon, my uncle and I drove through Hilla. I forced him to speak about the occupation. After an hour of hearing horrendous stories of crimes committed by American soldiers, he tiredly says, “We are nothing to them. To America, we are simply strategic. Through their eyes, our lives aren’t worth anything.” That was the end of the conversation.

I noticed that Iraqis never speak of the occupation. It was like a faint, unthinkable memory. I sensed that Iraqis have perseverance built within them because of the decades of unrest that they have lived through; they keep on living every day as they can. These are the Iraqis that are reconstructing what is rightfully theirs.

Everyday Iraqis have been partaking in reconstructing Iraq after a destructive occupation in which they were robbed of their agency, future and country. Iraqis create and expand projects as the current government continues to neglect the citizen’s needs. Upper class Iraqi citizens and expatriates living in the West play a role in funding these projects. Many social service facilities are being rebuilt, with a focus on widows, orphans, the elderly, and disabled.  Whether it is building bridges or starting up a water filter company, these projects are opening doorways for job opportunities and steadily decreasing unemployment rates. Despite the lack of security and political and economic turmoil, the hardships that Iraqis face are slowly easing and will be ultimately resolved by the resilient Iraqis that continue to resist and struggle for a better life. Iraqis are forging a path of their own to recreate their Iraq: one away from the government’s corrupted plans and free from the American occupation’s stifling grasp.

Ten long and painful years have passed. The orphan Mustafa from Baghdad says “I feel like a bird in a cage here. I wish there was someone to listen to us.”

Iraqis are listening. I see the same resilience and perseverance in Iraqis that I see in my parents. Years will pass before Iraq will prosper, but I see a future for Iraq because of the millions who are working for it.

When I visit Iraq I smile and blink the tears away. The anger from my heart dissipates when I see shops open for business, human rights organizations assisting widows and orphans, and college students organizing an event for Iraqis. It will come together. Justice and progress will flourish because the people demand it- and they will succeed. This is Iraq.

About Banen Al-Sheemary

Banen Al-Sheemary is a recent graduate of the University of Michigan. She majored in History and Arabic. Banen and her family fled Iraq during the first U.S. invasion of Iraq. They settled in a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia for years. Her goal is to raise awareness about the numerous challenges Iraqis face as a result of the occupation. You can follow her on Twitter at @balsheem.

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36 Responses

  1. Blaine Coleman
    March 21, 2013, 11:14 am

    Ms. Al-Sheemary’s article should be assigned reading in every history class. Thank you very much for sharing this with your audience. I hope she writes more.

    This article appears at the right time — just as the news media reveals an epidemic of birth defects in Iraq, following its bombardment.

    See the BBC News report, released March 21, 2013. These birth defects have been attributed to war munitions, by interviewees at the Iraqi Health Ministry & also at Basra Maternity Hospital: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-21873892

    See also CNN: “Birth defects on the rise in Fallujah”, March 20, 2013, at: http://edition.cnn.com/video/#/video/world/2013/03/20/pkg-damon-iraq-fallujah-deformities.cnn?iref=allsearch

    See also SBS World News Australia: “Iraq’s epidemic of birth defects linked to war”, March 21, 2013, at http://www.sbs.com.au/news/video/22742595799/Iraqs-epidemic-of-birth-defects-linked-to-war

    See also Al Jazeera: “Epidemic of birth defects in Iraq and our duty as public health researchers”, at http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/03/2013312175857532741.html

    See again Al Jazeera: “Iraq: War’s legacy of cancer”, March 15, 2013, at http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/03/2013315171951838638.html

    See the most shocking coverage at Democracy Now: “Ten Years Later, U.S. Has Left Iraq with Mass Displacement & Epidemic of Birth Defects, Cancers”, March 20, 2013, at http://www.democracynow.org/2013/3/20/ten_years_later_us_has_left

    See MSNBC: “Bush promised Iraqi civilians a better future. What are their lives like now?”, March 18, 2013, at: http://tv.msnbc.com/2013/03/18/president-bush-promised-iraqi-civilians-a-better-future-what-are-their-lives-like-now/

    Thank you again for Ms. Al-Sheemary’s fine article.

  2. gamal
    March 21, 2013, 1:04 pm

    Dirk Adriaensens, has a whole load of articles up at countercurrents,

    “Iraqi resistance, American Dirty war and the Re-making of the Middle East”

    “Rather than trying to prevent the oil embargo in 1973 and its subsequent price shock or reining in Israel in the Yom Kippur War, Nixon and Kissinger instead manipulated the crisis to solidify American dominance. It was Kissinger who negotiated the secret arrangements to ensure the resulting increase of Saudi oil revenues would go to American and British banks. That the population in the U.S. and the rest of the world suffered greatly because of this increase, was not a concern for the U.S. administration. What was important was that all countries in the world had to quadruple their currency reserves in dollars to purchase oil, which had a particularly beneficial effect on the value of the dollar. Indeed, the dollar was under severe pressure because of the Vietnam War, which cost a lot of money and actually became unpayable. That is why the U.S. in 1971 decided to leave the gold standard to link the value of the dollar to the oil. Since Saudi Arabia is the only oil producing country that has the ability to influence oil prices, the alliance between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia is of vital importance for the U.S.”
    http://www.countercurrents.org/

    Annie and others may be interested in the “Eliminating the Iraqi Middle Class” and “Dirty War as a Key Strategy in Subduing the Iraqi People”

    • gamal
      March 21, 2013, 1:18 pm

      and “On sectarianism
      Arabs make up 80% of the Iraqi population, and 95% of those are Muslims. Since the independence of Iraq in 1920 until 2003, Iraq never had any sectarian conflict, unlike Lebanon or other countries that have sectarian difficulties. Of the different prime ministers who took office between 1920 and 2003, 8 were Shia and 4 were Kurds. Out of 18 military chiefs of staff, 8 were Kurds. As for the Baath party itself, the majority of the members were Shia. Out of 55 people on the wanted list that the occupying authority published, 31 were Shia.
      “Although the Shias had been underrepresented in government posts in the period of the monarchy, they made substantial progress in the educational, business, and legal fields. Their advancement in other areas, such as the opposition parties, was such that in the years from 1952 to 1963, before the Baath Party came to power, Shias held the majority of party leadership posts. Observers believed that in the late 1980s Shias were represented at all levels of the party roughly in proportion to government estimates of their numbers in the population. For example, of the eight top Iraqi leaders who in early 1988 sat with Hussein on the Revolutionary Command Council- Iraq’s highest governing body- three were Arab Shias (of whom one had served as Minister of Interior), three were Arab Sunnis, one was an Arab Christian, and one a Kurd. On the Regional Command Council-the ruling body of the party-Shias actually predominated. During the war, a number of highly competent Shia officers have been promoted to corps commanders. The general who turned back the initial Iranian invasions of Iraq in 1982 was a Shia.”

      food for thought perhaps?

    • Annie Robbins
      March 21, 2013, 1:25 pm

      thanks gamal, will checkout.

      • gamal
        March 21, 2013, 2:14 pm

        very good for non-arabic speakers, lots of comments by local people and observers..scale and viciousness of repression astonishing..

        all the best
        g

  3. Taxi
    March 21, 2013, 2:07 pm

    Iraq fills my heart up with blue grief.

    Fills my breast with rage at the criminals who caused MILLIONS OF HORRENDOUS TRAGEDIES and the continuing suffering of millions more – red rage that our warmongers live on in freedom and prosperity, untouched by domestic and international laws.

    Iraq breaks my heart, Ms. Al-Sheemary’s recollections break my heart. EVERYTHING Iraq breaks my heart.

    Wishing all the Iraqi people all the best – may they one day forgive us for electing such despicable mass-murderers and violators of humanity.

    • Annie Robbins
      March 21, 2013, 2:40 pm

      omg, i just saw your comment taxi. i must have been reading Al-Sheemary and writing while you were posting. i can’t stop crying. it just brings me back to all those horrifying nights knowing they were killing and killing as if there was no tomorrow. years of death, just years and years and years of lies and deceit and death.

  4. Annie Robbins
    March 21, 2013, 2:31 pm

    this is just incredible Banen Al-Sheemary. the whole thing. every part of it. but mostly, the end. even tho i know how broken iraq is now, it just ..once again, i have so much confidence in iraqis, i know if we leave them to their own devices they will make iraq beautiful again. i know they will. god speed.

    a few parts..

    I watch as oil companies, “defense contractors,” and corrupt government leaders profit off of an occupation that cut Iraq from any lifeline it had. The fortress called the U.S. embassy, staffed by thousands of foreign soldiers, stands as a permanent reminder of the occupation. America is able to move forward and rebuild its economy, but Iraq and its people must endure the harsh realities of the unwelcoming decades to come.

    this makes me so mad.it makes me so mad we have that colossal hideous embassy there. what right? it’s so disgusting.

    I forced him to speak about the occupation. After an hour of hearing horrendous stories of crimes committed by American soldiers, he tiredly says, “We are nothing to them. To America, we are simply strategic. Through their eyes, our lives aren’t worth anything.” That was the end of the conversation.

    he was right! or maybe it is even worse than nothing. how could anyone who cared about iraq have done what we did. impossible, and now not even owning up to the death, to the genocide. it was iraq that opened my eyes to what my county is and what it does. and the iraqi people i met thru blogging, just blew my mind. the strength, brilliance, poise, defiance and resilience. i hope in my lifetime, i hope iraq recovers in my lifetime. i don’t even care if they ever forgive us, i just want to know iraq is prosperous again and iraqis are finally able to get on with their lives with some kind of breath of relief and freedom and happiness. god bless iraq. i hope all of heaven blesses iraq and heals the stain, the ruin america brought to that beautiful country.

  5. gamal
    March 21, 2013, 2:37 pm

    And Gregor Polya who counts deaths, also mentions the Al Ani’s “Case Against the Security Council and Member States”, Polya shamelessly relativises the Holocaust, and thinks our recent activities in Iraq have attained an “equivalency”, specifically in child deaths, some achievements just speak for themselves, he may be of Hungarian origin, if that helps, the biggest number ever actually ever used was “Graham’s Number”, it dwarfs the googol and gogoolplex (?), perhaps when we have mutually slaughtered those sort of numbers we will spontaneously forget how to count, and find some other repellent irrelevance to consider, when all the victims are toted up, i have the feeling that they are all going to be on one side of the equation and, i dont know how you feel about it, but i suspect that i am going to be on the other, at least partly responsible, through the vehicles i have driven, the clothes i wear, the food i eat, the medicine i take have all been provided to me through this same system, that slaughters and despoils, boy man i am going to burn how could it be otherwise…serve me right too.

    “10th Anniversary Of US Iraq Invasion: 2.7 Million Iraqi Deaths

    By Dr Gideon Polya

    20 March, 2013
    Countercurrents.org

    This week it is exactly ten years after the US , UK and Australia illegally invaded Iraq on 20 March 2003 on the utterly false and illegitimate excuse that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). The invasion occurred after over 12 years of deadly sanctions, war and bombing that had devastated the infrastructure of Iraq , violently killed 0.2 million Iraqis in the Gulf War and killed 1.7 million Iraqis through war-imposed deprivation (see “Genocide in Iraq . The case against the Security Council and member states” by Abdul-Haq Al-Ani and Tarik Al-Ani; for review see: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya080213.htm ). The subsequent US-led invasion and occupation was associated with 1.5 million violent deaths (see the US-based Just Foreign Policy: http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/iraq ) and an estimated 1.2 million avoidable deaths from war-imposed deprivation (see “Iraqi Holocaust, Iraqi Genocide”: https://sites.google.com/site/iraqiholocaustiraqigenocide/ and “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950”, now available for free perusal on the web: http://globalbodycount.blogspot.com.au/2012/01/body-count-global-avoidable-mortality_05.html ).

    In the period 1990-2011 Iraqi deaths from violence or from violently-imposed deprivation totalled 4.6 million, a horrifying number commensurate with the deaths in the World War 2 (WW2) Jewish Holocaust (5-6 million killed, 1 in 6 dying from imposed deprivation; see Sir Martin Gilbert, “Atlas of the Holocaust”). While 1.5 million Jewish children were killed by the German Nazis in WW2, the under-5 year old infant deaths in Iraq totaled 1.2 million under sanctions (1990-2003), 0.8 million under occupation (2003-2011) and 2.0 million overall (1990-2011), 90% avoidable and due to gross violation by the US Alliance of the Geneva Convention and the UN Genocide Convention. ”

    http://www.countercurrents.org/polya200313.htm

  6. Taxi
    March 21, 2013, 3:02 pm

    I posted this link on another thread, but it needs to be here too:
    Cheney’s Halliburton Made $39.5 Billion on Iraq War:
    http://readersupportednews.org/news-section2/308-12/16561-focus-cheneys-halliburton-made-395-billion-on-iraq-war

  7. gamal
    March 21, 2013, 3:24 pm

    At least we are on the track of those WMD’s, they are in Syria (Mali, Yemen, Iran, Lebanon, Somalia and North Korea, eventually) coincidentally, they might turn up in Egypt, however there is not a single word in colloquial Egyptian that does not mean Quisling, except Morsisi, which has no meaning whatsoever.

    Obviously i hope these reports from Iraq, and manifest security threats occasion no violence, because once things get violent all sorts deleterious effects could be felt by people who actually matter, it is to be avoided at all costs, conversely they do say that one of the most effective car safety devices would be a 12 inch razor sharp stiletto mounted on the steering wheel resting against the drivers throat, or you could have an iron dome i suppose. watch the gulf and emirates, interesting stuff going, Arabs want to know where their $30bn are, as if they need to ask.

  8. ritzl
    March 21, 2013, 3:46 pm

    We could have just paid Saddam Hussein $1B to leave. But instead we spent $2T to waste a country, millions of lives, and tens of millions of futures.

    Thanks for sharing your experience and views. Sad and hopeful.

    • Keith
      March 21, 2013, 7:39 pm

      RITZL- “We could have just paid Saddam Hussein $1B to leave. But instead we spent $2T to waste a country, millions of lives, and tens of millions of futures.”

      Yes, that is what it means to be a warfare state. Fattening the MIC coffers by killing more or less defenseless Third World people. No longer simply the suppliers of raw materials, cheap labor and markets, the Third World has an additional role: targets for our military as we pursue the logic of military Keynesianism. And with the additional benefit of the total destruction of a potential future impediment to US Middle East hegemony and Israeli dominance. Did I mention the oil?

      • ritzl
        March 22, 2013, 8:29 am

        @Keith Agree. Hopefully that strain of thinking holds the seeds of its own demise. National indebtedness and popular war-weariness put limits on that behavior, imo. Maybe enough limits to allow some reflective breathing space for people to ponder collectively if they might not better off if we started fixing the collapsing fences in our own “back forty.” (iow, if a normal person takes a break from being told what/how to think, stands on their front porch and looks out, they can see that something is terribly wrong.)

  9. gamal
    March 21, 2013, 8:07 pm

    “We could have just paid Saddam Hussein $1B to leave. But instead we spent $2T to waste a country, millions of lives, and tens of millions of futures.”

    ok, leaving aside the unwarranted slur on Hussein, he was never the issue, the point of the war was to defeat, smash and divide the Iraqi people and their society, money effectively and judiciously spent, by Dick Cheney taking it from his left pocket and putting in his right one. Americans kept fearful of a prostrate Arab worlds revenge and Iraqi’s struggling to get through in a shattered poisoned divided country, its all going tolerably well, like Libya, like the peace process.

    • ritzl
      March 22, 2013, 8:17 am

      Agree on the point of the invasion (and the result), but “unwarranted slur?” Maybe Hussein was the evolutionary, necessarily harsh, and inevitable nation builder response to the British-French colonial “gift” of contrived borders and disparate ethnic groups, but beyond that he was a megalomaniacal looney. His time was past. Swamp draining, Iran-Iraq war, believing all the whispered US cooing pre Kuwait, he was an obstacle, imho, to the continued evolution of Iraq as the country it could have been (and will yet be).

      • gamal
        March 22, 2013, 12:42 pm

        Dear r,

        there is something that really interests me here, i am having some trouble at the moment talking to western observers of the ME. I have to be away for a while but i will try to coherently express what i think i have to say.

        Hussein, even though i would deny that there was a Hussein regime, its more complicated than that, none the less what do you know of Hussein and Iraq beyond the MSM image, about his micro-management of various social programs about the political, inter-Arab aspect of Iraq’s policy formation process, and the over bearing pressures brought on the polity by interested and powerful international actors.

        if we are going to judge say Hussein and the Iraqi government then we should be fair, do you think the Iraqi Ba’ath had any positive achievements, and why does it feel so wrong to even think in such terms?

        Mosssadegh after all “went berserk with fanatical nationalism”, in the parlance of those times, we may take a more sober view of that old monarchist today. At the time of the Iraq war i and some other Arabs pointed out it probably wouldnt be long before Iraqi’s were lamenting the passing of the Ba’ath regime, all our European friends laughed and said no at least the people would rejoice, like in the Wizard of Oz, to be free of the Dictator, so intense had the demonization been that they couldnt conceive of Iraqis feeling that way, well it wasnt long before that was being loudly expressed by Iraqi’s, for easily understood reasons, they, my European friends and colleagues, took refuge in the sectarian war, deranged Fundamentalists and irrational Arab’s fairy tales.

        Why does any challenge to the “Demonic Representation” of Arab and Muslim regimes, usually under the name of some guy, Assad, Khadaffi, Nasser, Saddam, Arafat, elicit the condemnations, supporter of tyranny, third worldist, etc, i would contend that Iraq deviated in a very positive direction from the regional model favoured by the powers, how would you account for this does any credit redound to the Ba’ath? or even Hussein? his novels were not good.

        suppose i said that he exhibited tremendous courage and dignity at the point of death, how about that, it is, i think, true, but still makes me feel a touch uncomfortable, in present company, to say such a thing,

        i will honestly make an attempt to make some sense. over and incorrect use of comma’s indicates my discomfort.

        ok later.

      • Annie Robbins
        March 22, 2013, 3:35 pm

        i think there were good things about saddam leadership. from wiki:

        Within just a few years, Iraq was providing social services that were unprecedented among Middle Eastern countries. Saddam established and controlled the “National Campaign for the Eradication of Illiteracy” and the campaign for “Compulsory Free Education in Iraq,” and largely under his auspices, the government established universal free schooling up to the highest education levels; hundreds of thousands learned to read in the years following the initiation of the program. The government also supported families of soldiers, granted free hospitalization to everyone, and gave subsidies to farmers. Iraq created one of the most modernized public-health systems in the Middle East, earning Saddam an award from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).[31][32]

        With the help of increasing oil revenues, Saddam diversified the largely oil-based Iraqi economy. Saddam implemented a national infrastructure campaign that made great progress in building roads, promoting mining, and developing other industries. The campaign helped Iraq’s energy industries. Electricity was brought to nearly every city in Iraq, and many outlying areas. Before the 1970s, most of Iraq’s people lived in the countryside and roughly two-thirds were peasants. This number would decrease quickly during the 1970s as global oil prices helped revenues to rise from less than a half billion dollars to tens of billions of dollars and the country invested into industrial expansion…Within just a few years, Iraq was providing social services that were unprecedented among Middle Eastern countries. Saddam established and controlled the “National Campaign for the Eradication of Illiteracy” and the campaign for “Compulsory Free Education in Iraq,” and largely under his auspices, the government established universal free schooling up to the highest education levels; hundreds of thousands learned to read in the years following the initiation of the program. The government also supported families of soldiers, granted free hospitalization to everyone, and gave subsidies to farmers. Iraq created one of the most modernized public-health systems in the Middle East, earning Saddam an award from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).[31][32]

        With the help of increasing oil revenues, Saddam diversified the largely oil-based Iraqi economy. Saddam implemented a national infrastructure campaign that made great progress in building roads, promoting mining, and developing other industries. The campaign helped Iraq’s energy industries. Electricity was brought to nearly every city in Iraq, and many outlying areas. Before the 1970s, most of Iraq’s people lived in the countryside and roughly two-thirds were peasants. This number would decrease quickly during the 1970s as global oil prices helped revenues to rise from less than a half billion dollars to tens of billions of dollars and the country invested into industrial expansion………After nationalizing foreign oil interests, Saddam supervised the modernization of the countryside, mechanizing agriculture on a large scale, and distributing land to peasant farmers.[12] The Ba’athists established farm cooperatives and the government also doubled expenditures for agricultural development in 1974–1975.

      • ritzl
        March 22, 2013, 5:54 pm

        @gamal Yes, I totally get and agree that Hussein did have positive achievements. I am not completely ignorant of, nor do I dismiss, at all, his secularization and/or stabilization of Iraqi society, the benefits of Arab/Ba’ath transnationalism as a counter to the external forces that sought/seek to carve up Arab peoples into more easily corruptible/exploitable smaller groups,* and the modernizing (I mean that as neutrally as possible because I realize it can have condescending/biased subtext) institutions he built up to enable Iraqis to self-fulfill and transform their society. All to the good. All necessary.

        At the time of the Iraq war i and some other Arabs pointed out it probably wouldnt be long before Iraqi’s were lamenting the passing of the Ba’ath regime,…

        Prescient, and sad that more/enough people didn’t listen, at least in terms of war as the first resort to make that change.

        The rest of this should all be prefaced with the disclaimer: I know “it’s complicated” because it is, and I sincerely don’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable. I probe to gain insight from people that have experiences that I can never fully comprehend, and yet, remarkably, are willing to share them.

        • On Mossadegh: The only connection I see between Hussein and Mossadegh is the willingness to stand up to Imperial/capitalist interests. M was elected, H was not. I think that’s a huge distinction. Still, your paragraph that begins with “Mossadegh” is brilliant and makes me uncomfortable. Not uncomfortable that you point it out, but rather that it is, all too sadly, true. That our non-“indigenous” perspectives are encultured and we don’t seem to be able to overcome that in the time it takes to make a difference. Same on I/P.

        • SH did some undeniably very bad things in order to maintain the good things. Where is the trade off in your view? Where does gassing the Kurds/his own citizens fall in the need to promote secularization and maybe even Iraqi identity? Maybe I should back up a bit and ask, did SH order that, or was it “just” some regional action that happened on his watch? Personally, whether SH was directly responsible or not, that crosses a very objective and glaring red line. Just my opinion.

        • Just to be clear, I, personally, don’t include all those in your list as evil incarnate. Some are clearly worse that others, and in my view needed to be gone. But I think your implicit point is whether they needed to be gone by western intervention in the pursuit of geopolitical hegemony, or rather as an evolutionary, encouraged, organic (i.e. home-grown), do what’s right for all interests, outcome. Clearly MSM-enforced US policy thinking is still the latter. Bottom line for me is that leaders are grown not ordained, and that growth takes time, and that’s the ultimate sadness of Iraq (and Libya, and Palestine…).

        So, my assumption in the clipped “$1B” comment was that SH was inhibiting Iraq’s advancement, and that if the US contention was that Hussein was an obstacle to further Iraqi self-fulfillment (even [not meant obnoxiously] from a biased and/or condescending “western” perspective), and that Iraqi collective and personal self-fulfillment was the desired result, then a better way was available to transition Iraq into the next phase. The “better” way wasn’t even considered, and the destruction of Iraqi society and it’s political and economic development on its own terms, ensued. Again, for all the reasons that you, Keith, and Annie have outlined.

        Your commas are my slants/parentheses. See what I mean. :)

        * not in the sense of any intrinsic corruptibility of Arabs, but only because smaller groups, ANY smaller groups, are more susceptible to the enormous corrupting pressures capitalism can/does exert; divide and conquer…; e.g. the whole rationale for labor unions.

        To Annie, Naomi Klein detailed it in “Shock Doctrine.” It’s “disaster capitalism” and iirc she cited quotes from Milton Friedman and/or his acolytes that “if it doesn’t happen naturally, then it can be created.” Iraq is the quintessential, collective sociopathic policy example of that. World gone wild, yet 10 years later, an unrepentant view (see Richard Perle recently; tweeted by MJRosenberg).

      • ritzl
        March 22, 2013, 6:14 pm

        Clearly MSM-enforced US policy thinking is still the latter.

        Should have been “the former.” As in hegemonistic.

    • Annie Robbins
      March 22, 2013, 10:34 am

      he was never the issue, the point of the war was to defeat, smash and divide the Iraqi people and their society

      not sure i completely agree with that. they intended to defeat the iraqi people by dividing and smashing them, but at least one of the main points of the war was the transfer of wealth from the american people to the private war sector. we were flush after the 90’s and the clinton years, trillions ahead. all that money, allegedly designated to ‘rebuild iraq’ was merely a vehicle to transfer the wealth to contractors who time after time failed to deliver anything but subterfuge. also, cheney wanted a private army and 1/2 the forces there were contracted out at hundreds of thousands a year per mercenary (wages). over 1/2 that money went right into the pocket of the contractors like blackwater. and then on top of that all the facilitation/infrastructure of the privatized soldiers and army was privatized. so the design was a failed state, but the goal was a transfer of wealth to the private sector leading to an eventual privatized of iraq so that all profit would be funneled right back out of the country.

      by Dick Cheney taking it from his left pocket and putting in his right one.

      but it wasn’t in his left pocket, that was american taxpayer money that ended up in his right pocket and the pockets of his friends. iraq was the vehicle for that eventuality. like a huge industrial blender.

      i remember at the beginning billions of dollars for reconstruction allegedly going missing. supposedly they just handed it out. so in the fog of war it just disappeared the same way petreaus just lost hundreds of thousands of weapons with no serial numbers that just went ‘missing’ doled out to militias for the purpose of iraqis killing eachother. and while the killing resumed billions going into the pockets of the war contracts and all they had to show for it was failed projects and they never were accountable for the money. huge transfer of wealth and the looting started at the very beginning. billions went into communications management,there was no failure there, they prioritized the narrative, prepared and invested in propaganda/media to create the fog.

      • gamal
        March 22, 2013, 11:09 am

        nothing to disagree with there, just my ebullient style.

        In fact when giving evidence to a visiting group of Canadian Parliamentarians, in 2003/4, i made just that point, after Gwynne Dyer dealt with dirty bombs and Karen Armstrong did Fundamentalism, the GWOT had nothing to with birthing a new Muslim world, rather it was aimed transforming American and European societies, at which it has been very successful. so point one conceded.

        Dicks two pockets, just my way of clumsily reffering to the manner in which money spent by Washington (its also an oblique reference to the fact that all the money spent on Saudi oil ends up supporting the American economy, like me paying myself for electric and gas bills) ends up disproportionally with the kbr’s etc of this world with whom eminent men like Cheney maintain formal positions and own shares etc, it wasnt his in the first place so point 2 conceded as well.

        As to billions of dollars going missing, welcome to the Middle East where whole economies vanish.

        the main thing i now realise i want to say i can by replying to ritzl, (above) so everything conceded and thanks for taking the time.

      • Annie Robbins
        March 22, 2013, 11:32 am

        thank you, as always gamal.

      • ritzl
        March 22, 2013, 3:15 pm

        And I meant no offense, gamal. There’s so much to learn from you all, and learn I do.

      • gamal
        March 22, 2013, 4:24 pm

        not offended in the least, i am engaged, even i feel this slight sense of uttering something blasphemous or at least highly contentious, and expect considerable flack, from Arabs as much as anyone else, my Arab old man who met Saddam on two occasions always denounced him as an idiot, thug (true he did shoot people during cabinet meetings at least once i am told), self-interested despot etc, i just wonder why it is, and it is, so difficult to give a simple pro’s and con’s assessment, one always feels the need to denounce.

        I am particularly interested in the fact that while many may be on the same side as Hamas, in some ways, in terms of the I/P, no one would want it to be thought that they “In any way” (Judy Butler) support Hamas.

        i am interested in this because it seems to me to hamper efforts at solidarity and it also seems a touch crazy, when we consider that the Blairs, Obama’s, etc of the world are vastly more criminal than the likes of Saddam and yet its from the Saddams that we experience that visceral fear of contamination, i think the record will show, arguably perhaps, that Iraq treated Kurdish citizens more generously than, Turkey, Iran or Syria, but it seems wrong to even think it.

        i wonder how history will judge them, like Crazy Horse, perhaps, from infamy to romantic heroism.

        you see for me there is problem in failing to see that for all the personality cult aspect they represent autochthonous political groups who have an interest in developing their countries independently and in supporting a strong healthy well educated population, it is important to understand just how destructive the Arab regimes in general are, and those from the Peninsula especially, sad to say in the Arab world whatever you think of these two Demons (Kddf and Sddm) in some ways the Libya of the Jamahariya and the Iraq of the Ba’ath were shining examples of good governance and benign development, relatively speaking, in the Arab sphere.

        ok i am ready for my intervention

      • Annie Robbins
        March 23, 2013, 11:14 am

        i just wonder why it is, and it is, so difficult to give a simple pro’s and con’s assessment, one always feels the need to denounce….I am particularly interested in the fact that while many may be on the same side as Hamas, in some ways, in terms of the I/P, no one would want it to be thought that they “In any way” (Judy Butler) support Hamas…i am interested in this because it seems to me to hamper efforts at solidarity

        well, for one thing..(and i think we can see an example of it right here) is the impulse to demonize the enemy becomes so ingrained, that when one seeks to understand the nature of how a political situation comes about, or the friction, putting it in any context is seems as aligning with the enemy, as opposed to simply understanding how events unfolded. from the example link i just provided “become part of a battle by some on the right who seek to relativize xxxx crimes ,so creating equivalence ( as they see it ) between (a’s) crimes and those of (b’s) crimes.

        therefore just the act of seeing something in historical context becomes an act of treason, as opposed to seeking the truth. it becomes a process of ‘choosing as side’. so for iraq if one rejects the rationale for warring on iraq, then the opposition says ‘you support saddam’ and the reaction is to say ‘no i don’t’ and then proceed to explain every other reason why one rejects the war. whereas, there were also perfectly logical reasons to support a lot of the secular things saddam was doing. it was a dictatorship but it was a secular dictatorship. he didn’t allow a salifist opposition, something the US incited and was used to destroy iraq. obviously iraq is in much worse shape now, that’s completely clear to me.

      • gamal
        March 23, 2013, 11:42 am

        “he didn’t allow a salifist opposition”

        thats my t-shirt,

        well for reasons other than fear of flack i will not enumerate the virtues of the Ikhwan Muslimeen.

        anyone recall Layla Al-Attar, famous artist, killed in an American Missile strike in ’93, in retaliation for something that didn’t happen,
        “On 26 June 1993, US warships launched a Tomahawk cruise missile attack on Baghdad in retaliation for an alleged April 1993 assassination attempt on George H.W. Bush in Kuwait. The attack killed 8 civilians, including the world-renowned artist Layla al-Attar. “

      • Annie Robbins
        March 24, 2013, 7:54 am

      • sardelapasti
        March 22, 2013, 11:19 am

        Annie – To complete the excellent review: Thanks to all the perks it offered to the US ruling class, the owners of the country had no trouble at all realizing the Likud-driven, longstanding Zionist project of making Iraq toothless for the next 200 years. Because that’s who designed and drove it.

      • Annie Robbins
        March 22, 2013, 11:30 am

        i believe the term for it is destructive chaos. or as ledeen called it ‘the caldron of fire..faster please’. elliot abrams ‘peace thru civil war’ ie: neoconservatism/interventionalism/privatization/preemption/=”liberalism”, or something.

      • sardelapasti
        March 22, 2013, 8:52 pm

        Annie – Lots of isms, and there is something of that, but essentially it is nothing but the use of area geopolitics to the single aim of devouring more Palestinian land.

  10. Keith
    March 21, 2013, 8:13 pm

    BANEN AL-SHEEMARY- “The outright denial of the claim that oil played a decisive role in the invasion is still somehow considered a legitimate stance.”

    On Mondoweiss it remains gospel. Talk of geostrategy verboten among ‘the Lobby made us do it’ crowd.

    “Iraq has become fragmented and pieced. I think of how long it will take to assemble the pieces back together, and to try to bring together those shards of glass that once made a beautiful piece of work.”

    That was the intent of the first invasion, after all. The second invasion was primarily about the oil, however, the first was about destroying Iraq so that it could not become a future threat to US Middle East hegemony and Israeli regional dominance. That is why Saddam was left in power and the uprising crushed, so that there would be an excuse for sanctions which would complete the total destruction of the country.

    “Suicide and car bombings, fighting between armed militias, kidnappings, and snipers result in a feeling of despair and no sense of security.”

    This is the application of the “Salvadoran option” by the US occupation forces, death squads and torture designed to promote sectarian conflict to keep Iraq weak and divided.
    http://dandelionsalad.wordpress.com/2013/03/17/documentary-exposes-us-role-in-iraq-sectarian-conflict-revealed-pentagons-link-to-iraqi-torture-centres/#more-142971

    “Both the Iraqi and American governments promised many things for the people, like building a sewage system. They could not even fulfill this basic necessity. Inadequate water resources have caused massive death and disease in several cities. The two-hour electricity limit halts any work that needs to be done for the day. Birth defects will continue for decades because of the depleted uranium weaponry used by American soldiers.”

    During Gulf War I, the US intentionally targeted infrastructure including water purification knowing that it would cause disease. This is part and parcel of totally destroying Iraq to eliminate it as a potential rival for regional influence. The US doesn’t want to rebuild Iraq, why would it? Empires are only interested in power accumulation, not doing good works that don’t benefit them, much less interfere with grand designs. They are run by sociopaths who don’t care about the suffering of others. As for the depleted uranium, I duplicated one of Blaine Coleman’s links.
    http://www.democracynow.org/2013/3/20/ten_years_later_us_has_left

  11. piotr
    March 22, 2013, 1:15 am

    “The outright denial of the claim that oil played a decisive role in the invasion is still somehow considered a legitimate stance.”

    My theory is that oil was a secondary rather than primary reason. Arguments for war were manifold and not particularly consistent. Concerning the oil, it is still not clear if the “control of oil” is supposed to promote interests of consumers, hence low prices, or producers, hence high prices, or speculators, hence wide swings in prices. Oil men, car industry or Wall Street?

    My conclusion is that the purpose of Iraq war was the war itself. Distant Afghanistan on unused crossroads of Eurasia has scant direct importance, and the program of “nation building”, meaning making sort of federation of warlord fiefs and converting it gradually to a centralized government lacked emotional appeal.

    War was a centerpiece in the program to restructure American society along conservative lines and for quite a few years it provided “conservatives” with elixir of power. However, for a number of reasons that included monumental mismanagement it turned into a fiasco and the elixir went past its expiration date.

    • MK_Ultra
      March 22, 2013, 5:50 pm

      …and the program of “nation building”, meaning making sort of federation of warlord fiefs and converting it gradually to a centralized government lacked emotional appeal.

      It’s called Imperialism. But it’s politically incorrect to call it that in the DC circles for fear that it may offend the delicate sensibilities of CONservative and Libural imperialists alike.

  12. MK_Ultra
    March 22, 2013, 5:48 pm

    It’s the 10th anniversary of the Iraq war this week and there is no cause for celebration just for mourning and self-reflection. This foolish war of aggression by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, which was sold to us on a chain of lies, came at a huge cost. Almost 4,500 young American men and women were killed, almost 32,000 were injured and hundredths of thousandths came back home with psychological trauma. On the Iraqi side, anywhere from 150,000 to over 1 million people were killed and millions more were made homeless. On top of that, the country has been torn by ethnic strife between Sunnis and Shiites that was almost non-existent before the war. The cost to the US treasure has been astronomical approaching 3 trillion dollars and Republicans have the gall to complain about the national debt? One amazing and troubling thing about the Iraq war is the lack of accountability for the disaster. Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld all published their memoirs and done the book tour and given the most self-serving accounts. But by the standards of Nuremberg they are war criminals, it shouldn’t be too much to expect them to be tried for those crimes. And the fact that it is, says a lot about us. ~ Math Rothschild, editor of The Progressive Magazine

  13. gamal
    March 22, 2013, 8:20 pm

    Reading around the subject i found

    The U.S. Invasion of Iraq: Strategic Consequences for Iran

    Muhammad Sahimi*
    Iraq was invaded on March 19, 2003. To sell their war, neoconservatives in the United States – the main driving force behind the invasion – intentionally deceived the American public……………..

    There is little doubt that the Iraq invasion was directly responsible for the rise of hardliners in Tehran. When the 9/11 attacks occurred, then Iranian President Mohammad Khatami – a reformist – immediately sent his condolences to the American people.

    Such good will was not, however, reciprocated by the Bush administration. When the United States invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, the moderate Khatami administration provided significant assistance in deposing the Taliban regime, a longtime enemy of Iran and its most significant national security threat.

    The Taliban had massacred thousands of Shiites in Afghanistan, increased narcotic trafficking through Iran, and led to a dramatic spike in the number of Afghan refugees fleeing to the country. When in late summer of 1998 the Taliban murdered nine Iranian diplomats in Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan, war between the two nations nearly broke out.

    During the U.S. invasion, Iran opened its airspace to U.S. forces, provided highly valuable intelligence on the movement of Taliban fighters, closed its borders to al-Qaeda, and agreed to return any American soldiers forced to land in Iran.

    Most importantly, it was the Afghan Northern Alliance, trained, funded and supported by Iran, which first entered Kabul on November 14, 2001 and overthrew the Taliban government. Retired Major General Mohsen Rezaee, former chief of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) even boasted that the IRGC fought alongside the Northern Alliance.

    In a conference held shortly after the invasion in Bonn, Germany, Iran played a fundamental role in convincing its allies to join the nascent national unity government in Afghanistan, a move praised by the U.S. representative to the conference, James Dobbins.

    What did Iran receive in return for all the help it provided to U.S. forces? On January 29, 2002, less than a month after the Bonn conference, George W. Bush declared Iran a charter member of the “Axis of Evil” during his State of the Union address. That was just the beginning.

    The constant threat of an American military attack against Iran was followed, in May 2003, by the Bush administration’s wholesale rejection of a comprehensive proposal by Iran to resolve all outstanding issues between the two countries, from Iran’s nuclear program to its support for Hezbollah and Palestinian resistance groups.

    Such U.S. belligerence and rejectionism played into the hands of Tehran’s hardliners, who used it as an excuse to increase political repression and create a national security state. In this, they behaved similarly to the American right-wing, which had exploited the tragic 9/11 attacks to instill fear in a traumatized public, silencing dissent and creating a condition in which any opposition to neoconservative military adventures was deemed unpatriotic, almost akin to treason.

    http://muftah.org/u-s-invasion-of-iraq-strategic-consequences-for-iran/

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