Volume 25 - Issue 08 :: April 12-25, 2008
A nation ruined
The war against Iraq, now five years old, is unquestionably one of the most unpardonable crimes against humanity.
A baby wounded in a mortar attack, in a hospital in Baquba on March 23 (REUTERS )
As the world marked the fifth anniversary of the American invasion of Iraq, the number of American soldiers killed in the country crossed the 4,000 mark. Another 60,000 soldiers have been wounded. The war, which many American commentators have described as the greatest self-inflicted blunder in the history of the country’s foreign policy, continues with no end in sight. However, the number of American casualties is insignificant compared with the death toll among Iraqis.
The number of Iraqis killed under American occupation varies from 100,000 to more than a million, according to the source. The British polling agency ORB says more than 1.2 million Iraqi non-combatants have been killed in the last five years. Another recent poll jointly conducted by leading Western television networks including the BBC and ABC revealed that half the residents of Baghdad lost at least one of their relatives in the violence following the U.S. occupation. Seventy per cent of the respondents wanted the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops.
More than two million Iraqis have been displaced from their homes and have become refugees in neighbouring countries such as Syria and Jordan. For the pauperised Iraqi middle class, the violence and anarchy that followed the American invasion was the last straw. Most of them have fled the country. Another two million Iraqis have become refugees inside Iraq. As a result of the occupation, there are now around 4.5 million orphans. Many of them are homeless.
All sectors of Iraqi society have been affected, with women bearing the brunt of the war. Under Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party, women were represented in all sectors of society. More than half of the civil service personnel were women and a fourth of the parliament members since the 1980s comprised elected female members. Today all the gains made by Iraqi women have been negated. Even girls in Christian schools are forced to wear veils. According to the latest statistics provided by Iraq’s Ministry of Education, more than 70 per cent of Iraqi girls and women no longer attend school or college.
Before the American occupation, Iraq was among the safest places in the world. In the years preceding the occupation, this correspondent walked on the streets of Baghdad, Basra, Mosul and Kirkuk late in the night without ever having faced any problems. Today, even going out to buy groceries is a life-and-death experience for an average Iraqi. The United Nations has estimated that 120 Iraqi civilians on an average were killed every day in 2006.
The once cosmopolitan city of Baghdad has been ghettoised. Entire neighbourhoods have been segregated by concrete walls built by the occupation army. The capital is pockmarked with military checkpoints. The Bush administration claims that the “military surge” it ordered is responsible for the dip in the casualty figures from the middle of last year to early this year. According to many observers, the real reason for the dip in casualty figures is the ethnic cleansing that took place for four years in major population centres. More than a million residents, mainly Sunni, have fled from the capital. Another important factor is the ceasefire called by the Mehdi army last year. The militia, which owes allegiance to the radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, is held responsible for much of the sectarian violence and attacks on occupation forces.
By February 2008, the death toll once again witnessed a dramatic rise. The attempted crackdown on the Mehdi army in the last week of March led to the death of more than 300 civilians in a span of a few days. The U.S. and U.K. used their air forces in a big way in the unsuccessful bid to help the Iraqi army to subdue the Mehdi militia in their strongholds such as Basra and Baghdad. Serious fighting erupted after Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki, with the support of President George W. Bush, ordered the Iraqi army to disarm and remove the Mehdi army from the port city of Basra. To show that he was dead serious about his intent, Maliki camped in Basra to oversee the operations.
But the American-backed Iraqi military had to beat a retreat in the face of ferocious resistance from the Mehdi militia. On March 30, after six days of heavy fighting, al-Sadr issued a call to the Mehdi army to cease fighting. His call came after negotiations with Iraqi government officials. It is obvious from the events in late March that the Mehdi army remains the biggest threat to the plans hatched to divide Iraq along denominational and ethnic lines. Sadr, in a statement, said that he had decided “to stop the bleeding of the Iraqi people… and to prepare for its independence and liberation from dark forces and to quell the fire of division by the occupier and its followers”. One of Sadr’s lieutenants, Haidar al Jabari, told the media that their leader had asked them not to surrender their arms “except to a state that can throw out the American occupation”.
As things stand today, the most enduring images of the occupation are thrown up by the atrocities perpetrated in Abu Ghraib and the massacres in Fallujah. Before the invasion, Iraq was among the least corrupt countries in the region and despite the draconian international sanctions it had a functioning economy. The money generated from the Oil for Food scheme was used by the government to pay salaries and keep the government and basic services running. Iraq managed to survive international sanctions for a decade and a half after the first Gulf War. Much of the credit for it should go to the civil service.
Iraqi security forces and a member of the Red Crescent inspect a destroyed house after a U.S. air strike in Tikrit, on March 26 (REUTERS/SABAH AL-BAZEE )
It was the U.S. invasion that smashed this functioning bureaucracy. The new U.S.-backed administration, full of cronies and relatives of the members of the Iraqi Governing Council, has failed to fill the void. Today, according to the Corruption Perception Index (CPI), Iraq is listed among the most corrupt countries. The decision of the U.S.-installed government to end the rationing and public distribution system has added to the woes of the populace. The “ration” scheme introduced by Saddam Hussein kept Iraqis supplied with basic necessities after the first Gulf War.
Five years after the invasion, the Americans have not been able to restore the electricity grid or provide potable water to Iraqis. It took Saddam Hussein less than a year to restore basic electricity and water supply after the disastrous 1991 war. Today, according to an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) report, “the humanitarian situation in most of the country remains among the most critical in the world”. Unemployment is unofficially estimated to be as high as 70 per cent. Militant Islamic groups such as Al Qaeda, which never had any roots in Iraq, are present in some Sunni-dominated areas. The Bush administration, however, seems to be wilfully overemphasising the role played by Al Qaeda in the resistance movement.
As the former chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, candidly admitted in his memoir, the real reason for the American invasion was to secure and control Iraq’s oil. In their greed to grab the region’s natural resources, the U.S. rulers did not think twice about plunging an entire nation into turmoil. Controlling Iraq’s oil was always a high priority of the American government ever since the Baath government nationalised the oil industry in the early 1970s.
It was therefore not surprising that after Baghdad fell, the American troops hurriedly secured the Oil Ministry while they stood aside and let the national archives, museum and library be ransacked by mobs. Paul Wolfowitz, one of the architects of the war, told the U.S. Congress in March 2003 that Iraq’s oil revenues could be between $50 billion and $100 billion in just three years. It is another story that Iraqi oil is still not being extracted at pre-war levels. The bulk of the fuel used by the U.S. army is still being imported from neighbouring Kuwait. Five years after the war was launched, 160,000 American soldiers still remain in Iraq. It is estimated that the Bush administration is pouring $12 billion every month into Iraq. The war spending has contributed in a major way to the recession that has gripped the American economy. Till date, the U.S. has spent more than $500 billion to keep Iraqis under the military jackboot. The Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz and Professor Laura Bilmes of Harvard University have put the cost of the Iraq war at $3 trillion. Stiglitz said the war had contributed to the weakening of the U.S. economy.
The war, Stiglitz noted, has been a key factor in sending the international oil price zooming and has left the U.S. with long-term debts that would be hard to repay. Stiglitz and Bilmes have calculated that the cost of the Iraq war has far exceeded that of the Korean and Vietnam wars. The two economists claim that so far only the Second World War has been more expensive in comparison. The U.S. deployed 16 million troops in the Second World War for four years on two fronts. That war, according to Stiglitz and Bilmes, in present inflation-adjusted terms, cost around $5 trillion.
Nobody questions the rationale for the U.S. participating in the fight against fascism, which that war symbolised. But the Iraq war is an illustration of unprovoked aggression in which the armies of the U.S., the U.K. and Australia played a major role. Demands that George W. Bush, Tony Blair and the Australian Prime Minister of the time, John Howard, be prosecuted by a war crimes tribunal are growing louder by the day. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero, in a speech delivered in May 2005, said that “the colonial invasion of Iraq, and the ugliest of lies of the lie machine that propagated and justified these barbarous acts will forever remain among the greatest and unpardonable crimes against humanity”. The Nuremberg Charter clearly states that initiating a war of aggression is a “supreme international crime”.