[News] Iraq back at the brink
news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Feb 14 11:44:31 EST 2013
*Iraq back at the brink*
By Ramzy Baroud
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.
"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
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
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
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
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