The Horrors of The U.S. Occupation of Iraq

By Larry Jones

Even before the recent financial crisis, 80% of U.S. voters were expressing serious dissatisfaction with the war on Iraq.  But somehow the endless, unjust war and occupation of Iraq have been virtually removed as an "election issue". To the (very limited) extent either major candidate or the mainstream media discuss the situation in Iraq, it is to debate whether Bush's "surge" is "working", and to comment on the reduction of violence in Iraq.

But the fact is that the U.S. occupation has been an endless horror for the people of Iraq. it is also continuing to present the occupiers with challenges of sustaining a fragile political stability on the country, and many of the measures the U.S. has taken for short term "stabilization" may undermine the more long term U.S. goals. 

 

Gen. David Petraeus says the situation remains fragile and recent security gains can still be reversed.  As Patrick Cockburn wrote recently, “Whatever the reason for President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein in 2003, it was not to place the Shia Islamic parties in power and increase the influence of Iran in the country, yet that is exactly what happened.”  Bush touts Nouri al Maliki, Iraq’s Prime Minister, as the leader of a democratic regime.  The truth is that al Maliki wants to establish an Islamic theocracy!!

Violence in Iraq may now be down somewhat, but this is not mainly due to the so-called surge.  It is due more to political deal making which is trying to get Sunni forces integrated into governmental forces.  The situation in Iraq is far from secure.  McClatchy newspapers reported on Wednesday that “[U]nemployment in Sunni areas remains high, basic services are still poor, distrust of the United States and the Shiite-led Iraqi government is widespread and fears of Shiite militias persist.”

FOR IRAQI CIVILIANS, LIFE IS A HORROR

If one uses the definition of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, terrorism is “The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence against people or property to coerce or intimidate governments or societies, often to achieve political, religious, or ideological objectives.”  Think about it.  Isn’t that exactly what the U.S is doing to the Iraqi people?  Life for Iraqi civilians has become a horror since the invasion in 2003 until today.

Reliable estimates indicate that over a million Iraqi civilians have been killed thus far in the war on Iraq and millions more have been seriously injured or forced to flee to other countries.  Nearly 21,000 Iraqis, a number of them women and children, are held in prison in their own country, according to military sources.  Since the U.S. Justice Department has redefined torture to make it “legal,” such U.S. controlled prisons have become outright torture chambers.

So wanton has the occupation become that collective punishment has been for some time another internationally illegal tactic of oppression by U.S. forces and its puppet regime.  Such punishment of the people includes the isolation of neighborhoods with concertina wire and walls, thus limiting movement of citizens once their area has been turned into a vast detention center.  This has been especially hard for women and the elderly who, in order to reach any resources still available, must stand in long lines in sweltering heat.

RAMPANT HEALTH PROBLEMS

In 2004, news sources reported that on November 7 over 15,000 U.S. troops, backed by fighter warplanes, helicopter gunships, and heavy armor, invaded the town of Fallujah, resulting in widespread destruction and death. Prior to the invasion, the U.S. military sealed off the entire town before unleashing a crushing air and artillery bombardment.  Before the attack, U.S. forces cut off water and electricity to the entire city of 300,000.  Once the city was “liberated,” relief workers were not allowed to bring, water, food and medical supplies.

The attack destroyed hospitals and medical centers.  The U.S. took over the Fallujah General Hospital and made it a military hospital and a few days later warplanes attacked the Nazzeal Emergency Hospital and destroyed it.  Fallujah civilians were denied any medical care.  Many died, not only the 1200 slaughtered in the attack, but those who died from lack of medical care, mostly women and children.  Children died in large numbers from starvation, dehydration, and outbreaks of diarrheal infections.  UNICEF called the deaths “an unconscionable slaughter of innocents.”  Such is the “humanitarian mission” of the U.S. in Iraq.

The use of white phosphorus by the U.S. military in the Fallujah attack has caused an ongoing increase in birth defects, such as congenital spinal cord abnormalities like spina bifida, a birth defect in which the backbone and spinal canal do not close before birth. In severe cases, this can result in the spinal cord and its covering membranes protruding out of an affected infant's back.  When it is not operated on in utero or after birth, unlikely in Iraq today, it can result in a terribly curved back deformity known as meningomyelocele and may result in a person being confined to a wheel chair with many difficulties.

There has also been a report by a professor of environmental engineering in Iraq regarding the use of depleted uranium during the war.  Natural uranium is enriched for use in nuclear weapons and the by product is called depleted uranium (DU).   The radioactive pollutant has caused numerous health problems in Iraq, which the U.S. refuses to recognize or allow to be studied.

A few days ago the AP said that the Iraq Health Ministry had reported 327 confirmed cases of cholera since August.  Cholera is a gastrointestinal disease spread by lack of clean drinking water, unavailable to many Iraqis, but plentiful inside the Green Zone where U.S. personnel are located.  Cholera can cause severe diarrhea and in extreme cases can lead to fatal dehydration.  Ihssan Jaafar, general director of the Iraqi Health Ministry’s general health directorate, reports that drinking water is often contaminated by sewage due to rundown sewage systems and water treatment plants, forcing residents to rely on rivers or stagnant water.  In 2007 Kirkuk reported 2,309 cases of cholera.  Sanitation infrastructure has not only been degraded by the U.S. military action, but it has not yet been restored to adequate working condition.  Bullets are not the only thing killing innocent Iraqis.

SOLDIERS’ EXPOSURE

Last year “Nation” magazine interviewed some 50 combat veterans of the Iraq war.  Said Spc. Michael Harmon, 24, a medic from Brooklyn “I'll tell you the point where I really turned.  I go out to the scene and [there was] this little, you know, pudgy little 2-year-old child with the cute little pudgy legs, and I look and she has a bullet through her leg.... An IED [improvised explosive device] went off, the gun-happy soldiers just started shooting anywhere and the baby got hit. And this baby looked at me, wasn't crying, wasn't anything, it just looked at me like--I know she couldn't speak. It might sound crazy, but she was like asking me why. You know, Why do I have a bullet in my leg?... I was just like, This is--this is it. This is ridiculous."

In a Pentagon report last year it was revealed that just 47 percent of soldiers and 38 percent of marines agreed that civilians should be treated with dignity and respect. Only 55 percent of soldiers and 40 percent of marines said they would report a unit member who had killed or injured "an innocent noncombatant."   It was only after they returned home that many of them reflected on what they had done and the guilt set in.

Dahr Jamail reported a few days ago about a just released book on this subject, “Winter Soldier Iraq and Afghanistan: Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupation.”   It contains many stories by vets of the brutal crimes they witnessed.   “I remember one woman walking by,” said Jason Washburn, a corporal in the U.S. Marines who served three tours in Iraq.  “She was carrying a huge bag, and she looked like she was heading for us, so we lit her up with the Mark 19, which is an automatic grenade launcher, and when the dust settled, we realized that the bag was full of groceries.  She had been trying to bring us food and we blew her to pieces.”

Said Jamail of the book, “Everything from the taking of ‘trophy’ photos of the dead, to torture and slaughtering of civilians is included.”  Vincent  Emanuele, a Marine rifleman who spent a year in the al-Qaim area of Iraq near the Syrian border, told of emptying magazines of bullets into the city without identifying targets, running over corpses with Humvees and stopping to take ‘trophy’ photos of bodies.
As in so many wars, the U.S. forces dehumanized Iraqis by calling them such names as “hajis,” the equivalent of “gooks” in the Vietnam war, “towel heads,” and “sand-niggers.”

Kelly Dougherty, the executive director of IVAW, blames the behavior of soldiers on policies which come from “the highest spheres of U.S. power,” and she is probably right about the Bush  regime’s conscious policies.  Nevertheless the crimes committed by U.S. soldiers are not to be excused nor should their role in Iraq be upheld in any way.  Those who should be upheld are those service people who have resisted, deserted, or refused to redeploy once they saw the truth of what the Iraq war really is.  People like Sgt. Camilo Mejia who refused to return to Iraq after his first six months of duty.  He was tried and convicted of desertion and sentenced to a year in prison.  Upon his release in February of 2005, he has continued his efforts by speaking everywhere he can about what the U.S. is really doing in the Middle East.  In one of his speeches the following July he said, “In saying no to an imperial army and in saying no to an imperial war against our brothers  and sisters in Iraq, I pledge my allegiance to the working class of the world.”

BUT IS IT VICTORY?

To those who want victory in Iraq like John McCain and, in a less strident manner, Barack Obama, we have to ask what that means.  “McCain defines victory as an Iraq that is a democratic ally", says Peter Galbraityh, a former ambassador, writing for the New York Review of Books recently. "Yet McCain advocates continued U.S. support to an Iraqi government led by Shiite religious parties committed to the establishment of an Islamic Republic". Such a theocratic republic exists already in Iraq's closest ally, the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The great majority of Iraqis believe that there will be no peace or real sovereignity in their country until the U.S. leaves completely, an event neither Mccain nor Obama nor Bush want to see come to pass. And Bush is now trying to corner Prime Minister al-Maliki into a long term agreement with theU.S. having the upper hand. Maliki just may go along with that, but the elected branch of govenment, the parliament, is asking for a complete withdrawal, which most Iraqis want.

 According to Iraqi political analyst for the American Friends Service Committee, Raed Jarrar, “Iraqis are fighting politically and in other ways to end this illegal occupation of their country.  And it is not ... something that we should be bargaining with them.  It’s their right to ask and to get their country back.  And unless they get their country back completely, I don’t think Iraq will become a stable place.

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World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.