When Destruction Sickens: The Iraq War

Twenty years ago this January, the world waited for a war that was almost certain. On January 16, 1991 the US-led attack on Iraq began. A little more than two months later, it was over.

Millions of people around the world took to the streets to oppose the drive towards war. From Washington, DC to London; Berlin to Tokyo; Bangladesh to Gaza, massive protests were held in the months leading up to the January 16, 1991 attack. I, myself, attended one of the most emotionally powerful antiwar protests I had ever attended the day before the war began. It was in Olympia, WA. Over 3000 people (in a county with a population of around 100,000) attended a rally and then marched to the Washington State Capitol. We then took over the building and remained there for several hours. Here is a brief description of the moment from an essay I wrote many years ago (it appears in my book Tripping Through the American Night-Ron):

After the majority of the crowd had reached the parking lot in front of the Capitol, Peter Bohmer began to speak. He gave a rousing twenty minute talk tying together the fight for justice and against imperial war and then urged everyone to join him inside the Capitol where we would attempt to present a petition demanding the Washington State Legislature pass a resolution opposing a war against Iraq.

People headed towards the doors. As they went inside police asked them to leave their signs at the door. Once inside, the chant “No War!” began in earnest once again. While most of us remained in the rotunda, about 500 protesters went looking for a door into the chambers. Eventually they found one and streamed into the room. The Legislature had closed early that day because of the demonstration and the room was empty. Not for long, though.

Soon, close to a thousand people were in the room, chanting, talking, and dancing. Some of the more organized members of the crowd began to strategize a plan for the longer term. They called the group to some kind of order and expressed their desire to occupy the chambers until the legislators responded to the proposed resolution. Meanwhile the police were gathering their forces and talking to each other on walkie-talkies.

The press was sending out their version of the events on the national wire and over the television airwaves via CNN. Within the hour, news of the action had spread and more media were streaming in as protesters began to settle in for a long stay. By dark most folks had left the chambers. Some headed home. Most, however, joined a vigil and prayer session that had begun an hour earlier in the Capitol rotunda.

The following day saw protests around the world after the attack. But the protests too fell on deaf ears. George Bush, the Congress and the Pentagon were going to end the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all, no matter what.

After that part of the war was over and US troops had come home to a display of empty nationalism that included parades and generals throwing out the first pitches at Major League Baseball games, the Iraqis rebuilt their country as best as they could and the US soldiers were left to deal with their demons on their own. Fewer than 500 US and other coalition troops died during the war. Over 50,000 Iraqis died. In the years that followed, it is estimated that more than a million Iraqis died because of the sanctions that were placed on their nation by the United States (with United Nations Security Council complicity). US and British warplanes continued to fly sorties over Iraq that they called flyovers, occasionally attacking Iraqi towns and military positions. Untold US veterans became ill and/or died from war-related causes, including a new medical phenomenon that became known as Gulf War Syndrome.

It’s not like the sanctions and US flyovers were a time of peace. Looking back, it’s easy to see that these acts were just another part of Washington’s twenty year war against Iraq — a war that continues to this day. As we all know, it is a war that was ramped up several notches in 2003 when George W. Bush followed in his father’s steps and helped launch an even bloodier phase in the war. This phase has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, more than 4400 US troops and several hundred more fatalities of soldiers and workers from other nations.

It has been a war whose destruction has been almost complete. Some of its goals have been reached, some obfuscated and some forgotten. Some have been dropped. Israel is even more dominant in the Mideast than it was twenty years ago. The government of Saddam Hussein has been completely destroyed. The US price of oil is not cheap and Washington’s control of it is not a sure thing. More importantly, the country of Iraq is in a shambles and continues to suffer from (among other things) car bombings, banditry, rampant corruption, and the continued lack of an infrastructure that was destroyed by US forces in the 1991 war, rebuilt by Iraqi technicians and destroyed again in the phase of the war that began in 2003.

The destruction, death and suffering wreaked upon the people and nation of Iraq by the United States stands as one of history’s most infamous crimes. Yet, no one has had to answer for it. Instead, many of those most responsible for this crime are presented as decent, even moral humans. They are given awards and positions of honor. George Bush the Elder sits with Bill Clinton on boards that collect money for the victims of Haiti’s earthquake, their hands dripping with the blood of innocent Iraqis. Tony Blair is appointed as an envoy to the Middle East on behalf of the UN. The younger Bush and many in his administration profit from books including, in Bush’s case, one describing his complicity in the multitude of war crimes committed in Iraq in the name of the United States of America. Perhaps they should sign their books in the blood of those they have killed. Generals and politicians profit from the crime known under a multitude of names including: Desert Storm, Shock and Awe, Operation Iraqi Freedom and now Operation New Dawn. Eventually, even Barack Obama may find himself echoing Lady Macbeth as he searches for a means to wipe the blood from his hands. Or, will he be as guiltless as those who went before him seem to be?

Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way The Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground and Tripping Through the American Night, and the novels Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator's Tale. His third novel All the Sinners, Saints is a companion to the previous two and was published early in 2013. Read other articles by Ron.

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Ismail Zayid said on January 10th, 2011 at 1:48pm #

    The war waged against Iraq, in Jan. 1991, was illegal and entailed massive war crimes. The massive destruction of the infrastructure of Iraq and the subsequent sanctions that brought about the death and starvation of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, includimg tens of thousands of children under the age of five.

    The pretext for that war was the Iraqi attack on Kuwait and the illegal Iraqi occupation of Kuwaiti territory, in Sept. 1990. A security Council resolution was passed calling for the withdrawal of Iraqi troops from occupied territory. When this withdrawal was not achieved within weeks, the US and its allies brought about the massing of nearly a million troops that waged this war.

    This action highlights the hypocrisy and double standards that the US and its allies practice. There was then, and remains to this day, an Israeli illegal occupation of Palestinian territory for decades, in defiance of international law and scores of Security Council resolutions. Yet, we see no action from the US against this occupation, except for continuing financial, military and political support for Israel. Furthermore, we are told that the Palestinians must negotiate with the occupying power about any withrawal. Yet, remarkably, we heard no calls for the Kuwaitis to negotiate with the occupying Iraqis about withdrawal from their territory.

    This is a simple example of the hypocrisy and illegitimacy of the policy and wars engendered by the US, UK and their allies.

  2. mary said on January 11th, 2011 at 2:07am #

    Good essay. We are all guilty inasmuch that we elected these criminals and allowed their crimes to take place and which still continue. I read now that $26 billion is being extorted from the Iraqi people no doubt to pay for the junk that the US is leaving behind.

    Iraq to buy $26 billion worth of armaments from United States

  3. mary said on January 14th, 2011 at 2:40am #

    The hood, the plastic wrist ties and the orange jump suit await!

    A US rights group has filed a lawsuit charging former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld with involvement in torturing former prisoners in American prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) catapulted the torture case into prominence on Thursday after it lodged an appeal to a court in the District of Columbia, alleging that Rumsfeld and some senior US military officials were quite aware of a torture case involving nine detainees between 2002 and 2004 in American prisons in the two countries, AFP reported.

    The case initially was brought forth in December 2006, but later on was withdrawn by a federal court in March 2007 on the grounds that the ex-defense secretary and other top American military officials were immune from prosecution.

    The US-based human rights group stated that under the Constitution and international law, torture is strictly prohibited and commanders are obliged to act when they know or should have known of such abuses.

    The ACLU argued that the 78-year-old Rumsfeld and other military officials were repeatedly notified of abuse and torture at detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan by the International Red Cross and other reports as well as complaints by human rights organizations, thus they are directly responsible for the abuses.

    The group further touched upon a case involving a prisoner identified as Ali.V, adding that prisoners, who were later released without charge, “were beaten, tortured, and sexually abused.”

    Meanwhile, three judges at an appeals court in the District of Columbia said the case has a little chance to succeed.

    The remarks came as a group of activists, each wearing black hoods and orange jumpsuits representing the prisoners at the US prison camp in Guantanamo Bay staged a rally in front of the court room on Thursday to protest against negligence over the torture case.

    Rumsfeld is currently putting finishing touches on the release of his memoire book titled “Known and unknown”, which is due to hit bookshelves in the US on 8 February.

    I see that yet another biography from a war criminal is coming out. There should be a separate shelf in the bookshops for them.

  4. hayate said on January 14th, 2011 at 10:03am #


    “There should be a separate shelf in the bookshops for them.”

    Yeah, that one in the alley at the back of the building.

  5. mary said on January 26th, 2011 at 5:15am #

    Hari and these ‘Mandarins’ are too late.

    Johann Hari (The Independent)
    Iraq, and responsibility

    In his latest column for the New Statesman, Mehdi Hassan argues that we can’t only blame Tony Blair for the Iraq war, which has led to the death of a million people, and four million more being forced from their homes. We also have to pin responsibility on the much wider circle of people who supported the war – including those in the media, like me, who he mentions by name. I think he’s right, and it’s an important article to link to and reflect on.

    Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not so conceited that I imagine I had any influence on the course of events. If I had never been born, it would have all happened in exactly the same way.

    But lots of journalists like me making the argument for war did have a cumulative effect, and the British involvement couldn’t have happened without the legitimating sheen we offered. If we had all exposed the lies and accurately anticipated the consequences – as some journalists, to their credit, did – Blair could not have conned enough people and enough Labour MPs to get us into the war. Likewise, if American journalists had done their job properly, the war itself would not have happened.

    I am ashamed of the arguments I made in the run-up to the war and for about a year after it, and those of us who behaved that way shouldn’t be allowed to just forget about it and carry on as if nothing happened. We should be reminded, and forced to reflect on the disgraceful role we played, so we never make the same mistakes again. Here, for what it’s worth, is my article about how I got it so wrong, my article about the importance of confronting your errors, and my article about the wider role of the ‘pro-war left.’

    Posted in Iraq Permalink


    Mandarins dispute Blair’s assertion on Iraq intentions’

    Michael Savage
    January 26, 2011

    Tony Blair’s claim that his Cabinet colleagues were fully aware of his determination to deal with Saddam Hussein has been bluntly called into question by devastating testimony from two of his most senior officials.

    Lord Wilson and Lord Turnbull, who were both heads of the civil service under Mr Blair, told the Chilcot inquiry yesterday that some Cabinet ministers were kept in the dark about the former Prime Minister’s intentions in Iraq.