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Massive political plates in the depths of Old Foggy Bottom unexpectedly shifted this past weekend. Megatons of pressure, built up from decades of internal strife, sent gargantuan waves hurtling towards Iraq. The country’s antiquated defenses quickly crumbled, leaving the Iraqi people at the mercy of forces beyond their control.
Already weakened from twelve years of sanctions, two wars, and the cruelties of a monstrous regime, the people of Iraq are now suffering what some have called a crime against humanity. Entire cities have been leveled and tens of thousands left homeless as wave upon wave of tanks, hellfire missiles, helicopter gunships, and F-16s came crashing down from Mosul to Basra.
Relief workers fear that as many as 100,000 civilians may have been killed in this latest catastrophe. Iraq’s fragile health care system, crippled by sanctions and the neglect of the Hussein regime, is struggling to cope with the growing number of wounded and sick. UNICEF and similar organizations have noted a doubling of malnutrition among children under 5 and an alarming rise in water-borne diseases. Children, the elderly, and the poor, as always, are most at risk
So far, the response of the international community has been somewhat muted even as the fury of this unnatural assault on Iraq shows no sign of letting up. Meanwhile, President Bush and his supporters continue to blame the so-called insurgents for the turmoil now engulfing the country. U.S. commanders are calling for even greater force to "break the back of the rebellion" and bring peace and freedom to this unfortunate land.
Of the billions Congress has set aside for Iraq’s reconstruction, only a fraction has actually been spent. Some critics charge that the country’s economy is fast becoming a tiny lifeboat reserved for those who play by Washington’s rules. Everyone else will either sink or swim without even a food basket to keep them afloat, these critics fear. Worse, they say, are the Great White financial institutions waiting to sink their Great White teeth into the country’s now and future wealth. If the IMF and the World Bank have their way, these critics argue, the poor will end up like bloody chum at the bottom of structural adjustment programs.
Officials with the Iraqi Red Crescent acknowledge that conditions in their country are a far cry from the near-apocalyptic calamity that has befallen victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami. However, they call upon the international community and people of goodwill everywhere to recognize and address the horror of life in liberated Iraq. With death and destruction swirling ever more viciously, the number of casualties on all sides continues to mount. According to a recent study, for Iraqis, the risk of violent death is 58 times greater than it was before Washington’s wave blasted their homes and cities.
A surging crime rate, a breakdown of law and order, increased malnutrition among children, epidemics of water-borne diseases, high unemployment, chronic shortages of even the most basic medical supplies, escalating costs for food and housing, and the long-term effects of radiation poisoning from depleted uranium munitions–these are some of the monsters war has released from deep-sea cells and loosed upon the Iraqi people.
While Tony Blair speaks of a conflict between those fighting to bring democracy and those hell-bent on terror, imperial pirates and Iraqi scalawags plan the best way to plunder Iraq’s resources and keep the bulk of the population at bay. Economic reforms instituted by former proconsul Paul Bremer promise to crack open the Iraqi market as if it were the Red Sea.
In the wake of this all-too-human disaster, among the debris, the ballooning, blackened corpses, the burned out cars, the pools of bright red blood, the shattered houses, the still-trembling children; among the keening women in black, the desecrated mosques and churches, the sodomized, tortured prisoners, the beheaded hostages, the phantom furies winning the peace with blitzkrieg precision, the voice of the people cries out to be heard.
GEORGE CAPACCIO is a writer and activist who has made 9 trips to Iraq with Voices in the Wilderness and other peace and justice groups. His email address is Capaccio@3bc.com