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Iraq War II, Part 13: Destroying a Nation
To mark the 20th anniversary of the "wholly unjustified and brutal invasion" of Iraq, as George W. Bush himself now characterizes it, we are serializing that chapter from my 2021 book Enough Already: Time to End the War on Terrorism over the next few weeks exclusively here at Substack.
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It can hardly be overstated: America destroyed Iraq. Destroyed not just the government, but their society — completely ruined it. At least a million people were killed because of the war, certainly more in the aftermath. The Assyrian and Chaldean Christian communities who had been living in Iraq for 2,000 years have been virtually eradicated. There were almost a million and a half Iraqi Christians before the invasion. Now there are fewer than 250,000 left.
The Yazidis, Turkmen, Marsh Arabs and other religious and ethnic sectarian groups — some with their own languages and religions, people most in the West have probably never even heard of before — have been severely damaged by the war and may never recover. As of 2008, there were only eight Jews left in Baghdad compared to a few dozen before the war. (Many Iraqi Jews had fled in the 1950s due to Israeli false-flag terrorist attacks against them, waged to convince them to move to Israel.)
Throughout Iraq War II, the Iraqi Kurds kept their alliance with the Iraqi Shi’ite factions and avoided much of the violence because the Americans were not occupying the population in their northern mountains. Kurdish forces committed plenty of violence of their own, though, kidnapping and purging Arabs out of Kirkuk by the thousands in an attempt to take it for their own — a policy which failed. Kirkuk remains in the hands of Baghdad’s Shi’ite Arab government.
Under Saddam Hussein’s secular tyranny, women could wear blue jeans and no scarf while teaching college. Iraq was arguably the most westernized and secularized country in the region after Egypt. If American officials meant anything they said about trying to liberalize societies around the world, Iraq might have been a good place to start. After the September 11th attacks, they could have normalized relations with Hussein again and made him promise to do his part to keep al Qaeda down. The U.S. would not have had to support Iraq, but they could have let them come back into the so-called international community’s good graces. Hussein’s post-war CIA interrogator John Nixon later explained that, far from plotting with bin Laden to attack America with nuclear or germ weapons, the dictator was terrified of al Qaeda, semi-retired and preoccupied writing a romance novel at the time of the U.S. invasion in 2003.
For the predominantly Shi’ite southeast of the country, they did establish a parliamentary democracy in form, but no one pretends Iraq is governed under a real rule of law. It is now an Islamist theocracy in all but name. The only thing restraining official oppression is that the government is so corrupt that its agents are thankfully too busy stealing most of the time to whip women for smiling or beat men for selling alcohol or giving someone the wrong haircut.
None of this had to happen at all. It may be difficult, especially for people who spent the 2000s defending the war and believing that it was all a great effort to fight for our and the Iraqi people’s freedom, to really understand the level of pain that they have put that society through. But it happened. Some of it is still happening.
One important book from that era is Collateral Damage: America’s War Against Iraqi Civilians. It is the words of American soldiers and other veterans bearing witness to the moral and legal war crimes that they participated in and witnessed during the war, and what it has been like for them to deal with the fact that their government sent them to fight, not against an enemy army, but the population of a country.
Regretful soldiers told the BBC:
An IED goes off, and you just zap any farmer near you.
You get so into it.
When I first got there, you could basically kill anybody you want. If you see anybody out here at night, shoot ’em. Just drop [plant] a shovel [i.e., evidence of an IED].
That’s why they call them Hajis. You have to desensitize yourself to it. They’re not people, they’re animals. … Hajis, Hajis. They beat it into your head. These aren’t people.
Of course, Haji is an honorific for a Muslim who has made his mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca. But to American troops in the war it meant someone you can kill. In March 2008, Iraq Veterans Against the War hosted an event called “Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan,” that featured numerous testimonies of veterans telling stories of atrocities they had witnessed and participated in during the wars.
The Iraq War Logs, leaked to Wikileaks by Spc. Chelsea Manning, showed that the military did, in fact, do body counts — which they had denied — and that the real number of civilians killed was at least 15,000 higher than they had previously admitted. Spc. Manning was driven to leak the Iraq War Logs in 2010 after being ordered to help process the arrest of a man — certain to be tortured, possibly killed — who was guilty of no worse crime than writing a newspaper column critical of the corruption of America and Iran’s chosen Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
The Bush administration was allowed to get away with this because the American media, political class and overall culture during that era said that lowly American citizens could not question the president or his decisions during wartime. Bush was even reelected after deliberately lying the country into war (albeit running against the very weak candidate and Iraq war supporter Senator John Kerry).
The sanctimony of Iraq War II’s promoters and propagandists was legendary. They pretended to own all patriotism and denounced anyone who knew better than them as traitors to America. Citizens got on board with little flag stickers on their cars which conflated loving the country with support for attacking Iraq. Some Protestant ministers cynically encouraged their flocks to believe that the war against the Ba’athists was necessary to fulfill the Biblical prophecy of the Rapture and the second coming of Christ at the turn of the millennium. Talk radio was unanimous. CNN and MSNBC raced to try to be as pro-war as Fox News, where Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity easily shouted down all scripted, weak, liberal opposition. Rumsfeld’s Pentagon used more than 75 retired generals as “message force multipliers” to saturate cable news channels with the war party’s point of view on every aspect of the invasion. The people loved it. Not since alcohol prohibition had so many people been so certain and so wrong. Nor were they ever again — until the war in Syria a few years later.
Only in Bush’s second term, after hurricane Katrina drowned more than 1,000 people in New Orleans in the summer of 2005 while the Louisiana state guard, along with guard units from neighboring states, was off in Iraq and unavailable to carry out their primary responsibilities, did the proverbial dam break. The media finally admitted that perhaps Bush’s team were not the most competent leaders and administrators in world history after all. Until that point, the standard narrative had been that it was a mortal sin to question our political leaders’ grave national security decisions to protect us from terrorism and avenge the September 11th attacks. Their cover for his errors and crimes had gone on for four years. By the time the tune began to change, it was already far too late.
Stay tuned to this space for the rest of Enough Already, Chapter 3 Iraq War II. They will be published every few days until the anniversary of the invasion in mid-March.
Looking to read ahead? Get a copy of my 2021 book Enough Already: Time to End the War on Terrorism on Amazon.
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