Following what have been best described as ‘mixed results’ from the milestones that the U.S. has determined Iraq must reach, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker spoke with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Said he: “If there is one word I would use to sum up the atmosphere in Iraq – on the streets, in the countryside, in the neighborhoods and at the national level – that word would be fear. For Iraq to move forward at any level, that fear is going to have to be replaced with some level of trust, confidence and that is what the effort at the national level is about.” He further stated that Iraq faces a long road in healing due to its long experience of being gripped by violence.
He neglected to mention what it is the Iraqis fear. Certainly, the sectarian violence is a major cause of fear. But it must be remembered that the hostilities and tensions between the Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish people were under control when the country had a central government. There may have been occasional lapses, but in general the populace was able to go about their business. Employees went to work, children attended school, homemakers went to the market, etc. Somewhere in the back of everyone’s mind, no doubt, was the fear that their erratic dictator might at any time embark on some bizarre rampage, but generally the populace lived without constant, overwhelming fear.
What the people didn’t fear was that the world’s most powerful country would invade, occupy and terrorize their nation. They did not fear the loss of basic services, such as electricity. The did not fear the possibility of American soldiers breaking into their homes at all hours of the day or night, ransacking their homes as they searched for men or weapons. They did not fear that the men and boys within their families would be dragged out of their homes and taken to undisclosed locations for indeterminate lengths of time.
They did not fear being shot in their cars after having been waved at by foreign soldiers who shouted unintelligible words to them. They did not fear that if their children left home for school in the morning they might never return. They did not fear the unknown associated with leaving their homes and fleeing to another country, and the challenges of living in a refugee camp for an unknown length of time.
These fears, previously unanticipated, have become a part of the lives of most Iraqis. These are the fears Mr. Crocker so rightly wants the Iraqi people to be freed from. One might ask Mr. Crocker: how did these situations occur? What is it that is causing these horrors to be perpetrated on innocent Iraqi citizens at a level never achieved by Saddam Hussein?
The date these fears began to be realized for the people of Iraq is easily pinpointed: March 20, 2003, when over one hundred thousand U.S. soldiers invaded their nation. That date marks the end of any sense of security the people of Iraq had in their homeland. It is the day modern Iraq ceased to exist.
For over 2,000,000 Iraqis, fleeing their homeland was the only option. Living as refugees in countries where they cannot speak the language or find employment is not easy. Yet they do it to preserve their lives. Some will go to the U.S., the nation that caused their brutal displacement. Yet between the date of the invasion and June of 2007, only 701 Iraqi refugees have been allowed into the United States. The nation that violently uprooted them will not provide for its innocent victims. And so the fear continues.
A trip to the marketplace is rife with risk; suicide bombers strike anywhere. Schools are not immune from violence; some families will not allow their children to leave their homes, which may reduce the risk of abduction or death, but not eliminate it, since U.S. soldiers may break in at any time and remove all the males from the home. Killing them if they resist – and not understanding orders shouted in English may be misinterpreted by U.S. soldiers as resistance is far from unusual.
The fear could possibly be mitigated to some extent, if the people of Iraq could see the light at the end of America’s bloodstained tunnel. But between the lack of action by Congress to remove America’s soldiers, and Bush Administration hints at permanent bases in Iraq, along the model used for over half a century in Korea, even this hollow comfort is not available.
If the start of the issues currently terrorizing the people of Iraq can be pinpointed to the date of the U.S. invasion, the beginning of their relief from them will be the day the Americans leave. Certainly no one expects instant peace on that day; the invasion intensified age-old rivalries and hostilities between different factions within Iraq. The achievement of peace will be an evolutionary process, and the first step towards that goal is allowing the people of Iraq to begin that climb without the interference of a nation that lacks the most rudimentary understanding of their culture, and sees them only as obstacles to obtaining a coveted natural resource. All the fine talk of bringing democracy to the people of Iraq is nothing more than jingoistic rhetoric, the arrogant American assumption that the U.S. political model is the goal of all the world.
There appears little hope that Congress has the will to bring U.S. soldiers home. It is possible, although unlikely, that a new president, inaugurated in January of 2009, will do it; greedy fingers itching for Iraq’s oil, and so close as to almost taste it, will not easily be turned away regardless of who is elected in 2008. And so the war will drag on, with more ‘milestones’ assigned and unmet, more Americans dying, and more Iraqis being slaughtered. As the chaos in Iraq continues, the terrorist threat to the U.S. will grow, as hatred towards America increases throughout the world.
This is not an inviting scenario, but it is vital to look beyond Mr. Bush’s cheery assessments of the both the war itself and his reasons for waging it, to view reality. That reality is not obscure, although politicians caring more about mouthing pseudo-patriotic sound bites than doing what is right may have difficulty seeing it. Until they squarely face the truth, there is little hope that the suffering will end.
ROBERT FANTINA is author of ‘Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776–2006.‘