Mar 7, 2005
The war in Iraq has practically disappeared from the political radar screen since the January 30 election, creating the impression that U.S. troops might soon start to come home as soon as they've trained the Iraqi army. That election was a sham election, aimed at making people believe that Iraq was on the road to democracy, with the situation improving.
NOT true! The war is NOT winding down. What exists in Iraq today is not democracy but a burgeoning civil war, based on ethnic and religious divisions, which the U.S. has helped perpetuate. And the few parts of the Iraqi army which are effective fighting forces are the ones organized along either ethnic or religious lines – and used by the U.S. against civilian populations belonging to the other ethnic groups. Kurdish militias, for example, were sent into Falluja when the U.S. stormed in. And militias organized out of former Iraqi army units, commanded by Saddam Hussein's Sunni officer corps, were sent by the U.S. into Shiite areas.
In the five weeks since the election, many hundreds of Iraqis have been killed, along with nearly a hundred U.S. troops. These are only the official figures, which seriously understate the situation for both Iraqis and U.S. troops.
We can safely say that the number of Iraqis killed is roughly five times what the official figures show. According to a survey done by Iraqi researchers working for the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health last September, at least 100,000 Iraqis had died from causes connected to the war during the first 18 months, nearly five times as many killed as official figures admit to.
As for the U.S. troops, the official figures probably are only half the actual number of soldiers killed. For example, a U.S. army medical journal found that one in ten wounded soldiers dies of their wounds away from the battlefield. But these deaths are not counted in official death figures. For their family and friends, they are dead of course, but NOT for the military and the Bush administration.
Gauging by the experience of Viet Nam, more returning vets will commit suicide than the number who actually die in the war itself. Gauging by the experience of the troops that came back from Afghanistan, a considerable number could end up killing their wives, husbands or other people close to them, in fits of repressed rage, battlefield flashbacks and other psychological stresses that result from combat. Gauging by the experience of every war, a sizeable number will end up without a job and, in many cases, homeless – out of all proportion to their numbers in the population. They will end up as drug addicts or alcoholics, again out of proportion to their numbers in the population. And gauging by the experience of this war itself, they will come back with serious mental health problems. A study made by the army shows that one in six soldiers today in Iraq already have symptoms of serious depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. And these disorders usually hit more strongly afterwards. The head of the National Gulf War Resource Center was quoted in mid-December saying about this problem: "there is a train coming that's packed with people who are going to need help for the next 35 years." That's not 35 months, that's 35 years – most of the rest of people's adult lives.
Dahr Jamail, one of the few U.S. reporters still left in Iraq who gets around the country, described the following scene in Baghdad: "Driving out of the sewage filled, garbage strewn streets of Sadr City, we passed a wall with 'Viet Nam Street' spray painted on it. Just underneath was the sentence – obviously aimed at the American liberators – 'We will make your graves in this place."' No wonder the troops come back with anxiety!
Most U.S. soldiers and marines have seen children killed by U.S. fire – or killed children themselves. Is it any wonder that U.S. troops come back with post-traumatic stress? Battle destroys, and not only the ones who are killed.
As for the people of Iraq themselves, it is not an exaggeration to say that death might be preferable to the lives some are living today. Children are being kidnapped, spirited out of the country and sold into slavery, usually sexual slavery. Women too – when they aren't just being raped on the street, in some areas as punishment for not wearing the burka when they go out. And despite all the publicity about Abu Ghraib, it hasn't been shut down. Just the opposite. Even more Iraqis than before are being held incommunicado there and at other prisons around the country – almost nine thousand currently by official U.S. count. Their relatives still can wait six months or longer before they are allowed to speak to a prisoner held in one of these hellholes.
There are no working public services to speak of. Outside of Baghdad and a couple of other big towns, there is no clean water, including in hospitals. And in Baghdad, raw sewage runs in the streets.
One little tidbit of information from the election itself speaks volumes about the situation – people in Baghdad reported they had been told that if they didn't vote, they would not get their food rations. People believed the threat, since their food ration cards were stamped when they voted and the people who distribute food were in the voting areas listing everyone they saw. The very sustenance of life was being held hostage to whether someone went to vote, so the U.S. authorities could claim a high turn-out in the election. If this happens with the election, it happens with everything – electricity, for example, which doesn't exist much, was cut off for weeks at a time in Falluja, in an attempt to force the population to leave.
We could go on and on about the situation – but here's just one more example: to get gasoline, in a country with the second highest oil reserves in the world, people wait literally two days in line, sleeping in their vehicles. That's for the lucky people who still have a vehicle – and the money to buy gasoline, which is priced higher than it is here.
And yet we are supposed to believe that one election held in the middle of daily violence, with no independent supervision to even see how many people actually voted, much less how they voted, will erase all this.
Things are now getting back to normal, according to George W. Bush. When he was asked about the fact that almost three dozen Iraqis were killed on election day, he remarked, with that same old sneer on his face: " Some Iraqis were killed while exercising their rights as citizens."
In the past weeks, hundreds of Iraqis were killed exercising their rights as human beings to go on living – walking on the streets, coming out of a mosque, taking part in a funeral procession. The targets of these bombings, religious buildings or processions, both Shiite and Sunni, make it seem that the violence which racks Iraq is more and more taking the form of ethnic and religious civil war.
The election has not improved the situation. In fact, the way it was set up almost ensured parties would be organized by religion or ethnic groups. Independent political parties had not been allowed to exist for decades in Iraq. To push through an election so quickly could only have meant that political parties came into existence as small entities in very localized areas. And in a situation of full-blown warfare, in which people can't travel inside their own city, much less inside their province or the country as a whole, no political party could expect to gain a hearing for its policies and to build a base. In such a situation, the coalitions of small parties were formed based essentially on religion or ethnic grouping. The biggest one was the United Iraqi Alliance, which won 48% of the vote in the election. It was composed essentially of Shiites, and more specifically of fundamentalist Shiites, that is, those who want to establish a religious government based on Islamic law, the Sharia. The second biggest coalition, which won 26% of the vote, was composed of two different Kurdish parties, organized not according to religion, but their ethnic background. The aim of these parties is to set up a separate country in control of an important part of Iraq's oil. And the Sunnis, who have been under constant attack since the invasion, for the most part either boycotted the election or were prevented from voting.
Iraq after the election is marked by a desperately growing impoverishment. The standard of living in Iraq – once one of the more prosperous countries in the Middle East, with a high level of education and urbanization – is today among the very lowest in the world. And there is no real way for the population to express itself. Add to that militias organized according to religious and ethnic groupings and you have the recipe for a bloody civil war.
The way imperialism divided up the Middle East over centuries has laid the groundwork for religious and ethnic divisions – and what the U.S. is doing today is lighting the fuse for a violent civil war.
Some people looking at this situation will argue the U.S. can't get out now – things will only get worse, there will be a real civil war, a blood bath. There well may be. But we need to keep in mind that every month the U.S. stays, every week, every day, its activities only make it more certain that such a bloodbath will take place – and make it worse.
To believe at this late stage that the U.S. could play any kind of helpful role for the people of Iraq is to be naive. Not even mentioning those vicious liars who know better but pretend the U.S. would help – people like the Democrats who criticize Bush, but vote for war.
There's only one way that people in this country can help the people of Iraq and that is to demand U.S. troops be brought home now.