On March 6 of 2003, shortly before his shocking invasion of Iraq, President George Bush said the following: “I’m convinced that a liberated Iraq will be — will be important for that troubled part of the world. The Iraqi people are plenty capable of governing themselves. Iraq is a sophisticated society. Iraq’s got money. Iraq will provide a place where people can see that the Shia and the Sunni and the Kurds can get along in a federation. Iraq will serve as a catalyst for change, positive change. So there’s a lot more at stake than just American security, and the security of people close by Saddam Hussein. Freedom is at stake, as well, and I take that very seriously.”
There are several statements within those few short phrases that positively boggle the mind. A close look at each only increases the confusion.
“A liberated Iraq.”
One can only wonder at Mr. Bush’s understanding of the word ‘liberate.’ When a nation is freed from a man who is clearly a murderous dictator, and is immediately then put under the control of an occupying army that results in the killing of hundreds of thousands of its citizens, the word ‘liberation’ does not immediately spring to mind. ‘Conquest’ seems far more appropriate.
In the April 16 edition of the New York Times online there is a photograph that is disturbing in its simplicity. The picture shows the interior of an elegant house in Baquba, thirty-five miles north of Baghdad. Sun is streaming in through the windows. There are five people in the photograph: one is an Iraqi woman, dressed in a burka, apparently wringing her hands. The other four are American and Iraqi soldiers, heavily armed, walking through her house, seeking Sunni ‘insurgents’ (read: freedom fighters).
This is an odd brand of liberation. When a woman cannot feel safe from an invading army in her own home, when families must live in terror of the bashing in of their door and the removal of all males in their home to undisclosed locations, such people have been conquered, not liberated.
“The Iraqi people are plenty capable of governing themselves.”
Apparently, Mr. Bush has come to see things differently during the four years that have passed since he made this statement. On January 10, 2007, when he announced that he was dusting off failed escalation policies from the Vietnam era, renaming and implementing them, White House Counsel Dan Bartlett explained why this would succeed: “What we’ve seen in the past is that military operations sometimes were handcuffed by political interference by Iraqi leadership. This is going to be different.” No more interference by people who are “plenty capable of governing themselves.”
“Iraq’s got money.”
This may have been true in 2003; thanks to the U.S. war against that country, it is not true today. In April of 2004, the Coalition Provisional Authority (e.g. American occupation forces) presented $1.5 billion dollars of Iraqi money to a local courier. That money is unaccounted for, as is a $600 million dollar slush fund maintained by Paul Bremer. If Iraq is out of money now, it is because the American conquerors have lost it.
“The Shia and the Sunni and the Kurds can get along in a federation.”
Since this rosy prediction was made, Iraq has descended into a bloody civil war, with those groups united in only one thing: their hatred of the American occupiers. The Los Angeles Times reported on April 16, 2007 that “Iraq’s civil war worsened Friday as Shiite and Sunni Arabs engaged in retaliatory attacks after coordinated car bombings that killed more than 200 people in a Shiite neighborhood the day before.” Also on April 16, cleric Muqtada al-Sadr resigned from the Iraqi government. This severing of the influential Shiite religious leader from the U.S. puppet government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki threatens the existence of that government, as it brings the increased threat of greater resistance to the American occupation.
“Iraq will serve as a catalyst for change, positive change.”
Since the invasion of Iraq by U.S. and so-called ‘coalition’ forces, over one million Iraqis have fled that country. Hatred and open hostility toward the U.S. has increased dramatically, as Iraq citizens bury their loved ones in unspeakable numbers. Risk of a wider war has increased as Mr. Bush eyes Iran as a source of weapons for Iraqi freedom fighters. Turkey is reportedly mobilizing its troops to keep the Kurds in the northern part of Iraq from entering that country. Iraq has become the haven for terrorist activity that Mr. Bush claimed it was prior to the invasion, and which proved entirely false.
“So there’s a lot more at stake than just American security.”
American security was never threatened by Iraq. United Nations weapons inspectors found no weapons of mass destruction during several months of searching, and four years of U.S. occupation have also found none. The reported attempts by Iraq to obtain materials to build nuclear weapons all proved to be unfounded.
“Freedom is at stake.”
The freedom of the Iraqi people is at stake; they did not have freedom under Saddam Hussein, and they do not have it under their American conquerors. At least during Mr. Hussein’s reign they generally had electricity and running water, necessities in short supply during Mr. Bush’s reign of terror. They do not have the freedom to walk their streets without fear of death by other Iraqis or Americans. They are not free to relax in their homes without fear of legally-sanctioned break-ins and kidnappings by their occupiers. They must live in constant fear as they attempt to retake their country from the conquering enemy.
This ongoing tragedy will end; it may take months or it may drag on for years. The duration will be determined largely by the U.S. Congress, since Mr. Bush has clearly articulated and demonstrated his intent to prolong the suffering of untold numbers of people. If Congress shows the courage to force a timetable for withdrawal by no means a sure thing America’s participation will end sooner rather than later. That Iraq will further descend into chaos for a time is inevitable. But from that chaos its people can begin to build a new government. No one is sufficiently naïve to believe that it will be a utopian one, but it will be of their own choosing. And such a government will eventually be formed. The number of deaths and the amount of suffering that will precede it will be determined in large measure by the actions of the U.S. Congress. One is not optimistic that that august body will make the right decisions.
ROBERT FANTINA is author of ‘Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776–2006.‘