Where are the Iraqis in the Iraq War?

Five years after the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, mainstream media is once more making the topic an object of intense scrutiny. The costs and implications of the war are endlessly covered from all possible angles, with one notable exception — the cost to the Iraqi people themselves.

Through all the special coverage and exclusive reports, very little is said about Iraqi casualties, who are either completely overlooked or hastily mentioned and whose numbers can only be guesstimated. Also conveniently ignored are the millions injured, internally and externally displaced, the victims of rape and kidnappings who will carry physical and psychological scars for the rest of their lives.

We find ourselves stuck in a hopeless paradigm, where it feels necessary to empathize with the sensibilities of the aggressor so as not to sound “unpatriotic”, while remaining blind to the untold anguish of the victims. Some actually feel the need to go so far as to blame the Iraqis for their own misfortune. Both Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have expressed their wish for Iraqis to take responsibility for the situation in their country, with the former saying, “we cannot win their civil war. There is no military solution.”

It would have been helpful if Clinton had reached her astute conclusion before she voted for the Senate’s 2002 resolution authorising President Bush to attack Iraq. For the sake of argument, let’s overlook both Clinton’s and Obama’s repeated assertions that all options, including military ones, are on the table regarding how to “deal” with Iran’s alleged ambition to acquire nuclear weapons. But to go so far as blaming the ongoing war on the Iraqis’ lack of accountability is a new low for these “antiwar” candidates.

Is it still a secret, five years on, that the war on Iraq was fought for strategic reasons, to maintain a floundering superpower’s control over much of the world’s energy supplies and to sustain the regional supremacy of Israel, the US’s most costly ally anywhere?

Of course, there are those who prefer to imagine a world in which a well-intentioned superpower would fight with all of its might to enable another smaller, distant nation to enjoy the fruits of liberty, democracy and freedom. But it is nothing short of ridiculous to pretend that Iraqis are capable of controlling the parameters of the ranging conflict, that a puppet government whose election and operation is entirely under the command of the US military is capable of taking charge and assuming responsibilities.

Equally absurd is the insinuation that the civil war in Iraq is an exclusively Iraqi doing, and that the US military has not deliberately planted the seeds of divisions, hoping to reinterpret its role in Iraq from that of the occupier to that of the arbitrator, making sure the “good” guys prevail over the “bad”.

The idea of the US making an immediate exit from Iraq or taking full financial and legal responsibility for the devastation and genocide — yes, genocide — that occurred in the last five years is simply unthinkable from the viewpoint of the corporate US media, which still relates to the war only in terms of American (and never Iraqi) losses.

There are very few commentators who are actually arguing that the reasons for war were entirely self-serving, without an iota of morality behind them. Would Bush employ the same logic he used to justify Saddam Hussein’s execution — suggesting this was warranted by the Iraqi president’s violence against his own people — when dealing with those responsible for the deaths of over a million Iraqis as a result of this war?

And indeed Iraqis are dying in numbers that never subside regardless of the media and official hype about the “surge”. Just Foreign Policy says the number of dead Iraqis has surpassed one million, while a survey by the British polling agency ORB estimates the number at over 1.2 million. But the plight of Iraqis hardly ends at a death count, since those left behind endure untold suffering: soaring poverty, unemployment rates between 40-70 per cent (governmental estimates), total lack of security in major cities and, according to Oxfam International, four million in need of emergency aid.

“Baghdad has become the most dangerous city in the world, largely as a result of a US policy of pitting various Iraqi ethnic and sectarian groups against one another. Today, Baghdad is a city of walled-off Sunni and Shia ghettoes, divided by concrete walls erected by the US military,” reports Dahr Jamail, one of the few courageous voices that honestly relayed the horrendous outcomes of the war.

Indeed, there seem to be no promising statistics coming out of Iraq. Even under the previous regime and the debilitating sanctions imposed by the US and the UN, Iraqis were much better off prior to the war. Now, Iraqis are relevant only as pawns of endless US government propaganda. From the viewpoint of Bush, McCain and Cheney, they are the victims of Al-Qaeda, which must be fought at all costs. From the viewpoint of Clinton and Obama, they need to fight their own wars and take responsibility for them, as if Iraqi “irresponsibility” is the main problem.

In yet another “surprise visit” to Iraq by a US official, Vice-President Dick Cheney declared that Iraq was a “successful endeavor.” Considering the exorbitant contracts granted to selected corporations, the war has indeed succeeded in making a few already rich companies and individuals a lot richer.

Meanwhile, Shlomo Brom, a senior fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies and former head of the Israeli army’s Strategic Planning Division, sees things from a slightly different angle. “Any Iraq will be better than Iraq under Saddam, because the Iraq of Saddam had the ability to threaten Israel,” he was quoted as saying in the Christian Science Monitor.

In considering such skewed logic, one can only hope that Cheney’s successful experiment will end soon, and that Israel’s desire for security is now sated. The people of Iraq cannot tolerate any more “success”.

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons (Clarity Press). Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs, Istanbul Zaim University (IZU). Read other articles by Ramzy, or visit Ramzy's website.

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  1. Giorgio said on April 1st, 2008 at 8:04am #

    Excellent points made!!!
    I just saw on Bloomberg TV an interview with Phil Donahue promoting his film “Body of war” where he kept repeatedly emphasizing the 4000 American deaths in the Iraq war…only three quarters of the way through this, did he, as a afterthought or by way of a footnote, mention that over 1,000,000 Iraqis had been killed. This brought home to me,
    what I for some time already knew or suspected, and that is, most Americans are now growling and ranting about the unpopularity of the war not so much for the immense damage and destruction they inflicted on a blameless nation and the absolute IMMORALITY of such wanton aggression, but because of the blowback they getting now. Had it been “easy street” and the MISSION been really ACCOMPLISHED as that Epitome of Freakness, GW Bush, boasted with so much fanfare on deck the aircraft carrier A Lincoln, the noises one hears today would be of quite a different nature.

  2. Doug D. said on April 1st, 2008 at 7:32pm #

    You’re absolutely right, Mr. Baroud. You’re more likely to see Noam Chomsky on FOX News than hear even a peep about Iraqi casualties out of the mainstream media. That’s just as criminal as this war.