[News] Iraq back at the brink

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Feb 14 11:44:31 EST 2013


*Iraq back at the brink*
By Ramzy Baroud

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/MID-02-140213.html

Soon after the joint US-British bombing campaign "Operation Desert Fox" 
devastated parts of Iraq in December 1998 , I was complaining to a 
friend in the lobby of the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad.

I was disappointed with the fact that our busy schedule in Iraq - mostly 
visiting hospitals packed with injured or victims of depleted uranium - 
left me no time to purchase a few Arabic books for my little daughter 
back in the states. As I got ready to embark on the long bus journey 
back to Jordan, an Iraqi man with a thick moustache and a carefully 
designed beard approached me.

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"This is for your daughter," he said with a smile as he handed me a 
plastic bag. The bag included over a dozen books with colorful images of 
traditional Iraqi children stories. I had never met that man before, nor 
did we meet again. He was a guest at the hotel and somehow he learned of 
my dilemma. As I profusely, but hurriedly thanked him before taking my 
seat on the bus, he insisted that no such words were needed. "We are 
brothers and your daughter is like my own," he said.

I was not exactly surprised by this. Generosity of action and spirit is 
a distinct Iraqi characteristic and Arabs know that too well. Other 
Iraqi qualities include pride and perseverance, the former attributed to 
the fact that Mesopotamia - encompassing most of modern day Iraq - is 
the "cradle of civilization" and later due to the untold hardship 
experienced by Iraqis in their modern history.

It was Britain that triggered Iraq's modern tragedy, starting with its 
seizure of Baghdad in 1917 and the haphazard reshaping of a country to 
fit the colonial needs and economic interests of London. One could argue 
that the early and unequalled mess created by the British invaders 
continued to wreak havoc, manifesting itself in various ways - spanning 
sectarianism, political violence and border feuds between Iraq and its 
neighbors - until this very day.

But of course, the US now deserves most of the credit of reversing 
whatever has been achieved by the Iraqi people to acquire their 
ever-elusive sovereignty. It was US secretary of state James Baker who 
reportedly threatened Iraqi foreign minister Tariq Aziz in a Geneva 
meeting in 1991 by saying that the US would destroy Iraq and "bring it 
back to the stone age".

The US wars that extended from 1990 to 2011 included a devastating 
blockade and ended with a brutal invasion. These wars were as 
unscrupulous as they were violent. Aside from their overwhelming human 
toll, they were placed within a horrid political strategy aimed at 
exploiting the country's existing sectarian and other fault lines, 
therefore triggering civil wars and sectarian hatred from which Iraq is 
unlikely to cover for many years.

For the Americans, it was a mere strategy aimed at lessening the 
pressure placed on its and other ally soldiers as they faced stiff 
resistance the moment they stepped foot in Iraq. For the Iraqis, 
however, it was a petrifying nightmare that can neither be expressed by 
words or numbers.

But numbers are of course barely lacking. According to UN estimates 
cited by the BBC, between May and June 2006 "an average of more than 100 
civilians per day [were] killed in violence in Iraq." The UN reserved 
estimates also placed the death toll of civilians during 2006 at 34,000. 
That was the year that the US strategy of divide and conquer proved most 
successful.

Over the years, most people outside Iraq - as in other conflicts where 
protracted violence yields regular death counts - simply became 
desensitized to the death toll. It is as if the more people die, the 
less worthy their lives become.

The fact remains that the US and Britain had jointly destroyed modern 
Iraq and no amount of remorse or apology - not that any was offered to 
begin with - will alter this fact. Iraq's former colonial masters and 
its new ones lacked any legal or moral ground for invading the 
sanctions-devastated country. They also lacked any sense of mercy as 
they destroyed a generation and set the stage for a future conflict that 
promises to be as bloody as the past.

When the last US combat brigade had reportedly left Iraq in December 
2011, this was meant to be an end of an era. Historians know well that 
conflicts don't end with a presidential decree or troop deployments. 
Iraq merely entered a new phase of conflict and the US, Britain and 
others remain integral parties of that conflict.

One post-invasion and war reality is that Iraq was divided into areas of 
influence based on purely sectarian and ethnic lines. In Western media's 
classification of winners and losers, Sunnis, blamed for being favored 
by former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, emerged as the biggest loser. 
While Iraq's new political elites were divided between Shi'ite and 
Kurdish politicians (each party with its own private army, some gathered 
in Baghdad and others in the autonomous Kurdistan region), the Shi'ite 
population was held by various militant groups responsible for Sunni 
unfortunates.

The sectarian strife in Iraq which is responsible for the death of tens 
of thousands, is making a comeback. This month, on February 8, five car 
bombs blew up in what was quickly recognized as "Shi'ite areas", killing 
34 people. A few days earlier, on February 4, 22 people had been killed 
in a similar fashion.

Iraqi Sunnis, including major tribes and political parties are demanding 
equality and the end of their disenfranchisement in the relatively new, 
skewed Iraqi political system under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. 
Massive protests and ongoing strikes have been organized with a unified 
and clear political message. Numerous other parties are exploiting the 
polarization in every way imaginable: to settle old scores, to push the 
country back to the brink of civil war, to amplify the mayhem underway 
in various Arab countries, most notably Syria, and in some instances to 
adjust sectarian boundaries in ways that could create good business 
opportunities.

Yes, sectarian division and business in today's Iraq go hand in hand. 
Reuters reported that Exxon Mobil hired Jeffrey James, a former US 
ambassador to Iraq (2010-12) as a "consultant". Sure, it is an example 
of how post-war diplomacy and business are natural allies, but there is 
more to the story.

Taking advantage of the autonomy of the Kurdistan region, the giant 
multinational oil and gas corporation had struck lucrative deals that 
are independent from the central government in Baghdad. The latter has 
been amassing its troops near the disputed oil-rich region starting late 
last year. The Kurdish government has done the same. Unable to determine 
which party has the upper hand in the brewing conflict, thus future 
control over oil resources, Exxon Mobile is torn: to honor its contracts 
with the Kurds, or to seek perhaps more-lucrative contracts in the 
south. James might have good ideas, especially when he uses his 
political leverage acquired during his term as US ambassador.

The future of Iraq is being determined by various forces, and almost 
none of them are composed of Iraqi nationals with a uniting vision. 
Caught between bitter sectarianism, extremism, the power-hungry, wealth 
amassing elites, regional power players, Western interests and a very 
violent war legacy, the Iraqi people are suffering beyond the ability of 
sheer political analyses or statistics to capture their anguish. The 
proud nation of impressive human potential and remarkable economic 
prospects has been torn to shreds.

UK-based Iraqi writer Hussein Al-alak wrote on the upcoming 10th 
anniversary of the Iraq invasion with a tribute to the country's "silent 
victims", the children. According to Iraqi Ministry of Labor and Social 
Affairs, he reported, there is an estimated 4.5 million children who are 
now orphans, with a "shocking 70%" of them having lost their parents 
since the 2003 invasion.

"From that total number, around 600,000 children are living on the 
streets, without either shelter or food to survive," Al-alak wrote. 
Those living in the few state-run orphanages "are currently lacking in 
their most essential needs."

I still think of the kindly Iraqi man who gifted my daughter a 
collection of Iraqi stories. I also think of his children. One of the 
books he purchased was of Sinbad, presented in the book as a brave, 
handsome child who loved adventure as much as he loved his country. No 
matter how cruel his fate had been, Sinbad always returned to Iraq and 
began anew, as if nothing had ever happened.

/*RamzyBaroud *(www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally syndicated 
columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is 
/My Father was A Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story /(Pluto Press)/.
-- 
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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