The Legacy of the Iraq War: Over 100,000 Dead, 20,000 Unidentified

By Andy Worthington

As combat operations officially end in Iraq, nearly seven and a half years after the Bush administration’s illegal invasion, it is difficult to know how to summarize succinctly the tragic cost of the enterprise.
I retain nothing but disdain — and a desire for accountability — for those who initiated this criminal, and criminally ill-conceived attempt at nation-building — primarily, President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
I would like, one day, to see these men prosecuted for war crimes, and in Cheney’s case, in particular, for introducing a torture program designed to secure confessions from “terrorist suspects” to bolster the case for the invasion, while pretending to the American people that he was seeking information to prevent another terrorist attack akin to 9/11.
There is so much that is appalling about the last seven and a half years — the Abu Ghraib scandal, the murder of Manadel al-Jamadi and other deaths in US custody, horrendous war crimes, the shocking rise in the number of refugees, both within Iraq (1.55 million) and also, primarily, in Syria and Jordan (2 million), the destruction of Fallujah, the plundering of Iraq’s economy, the rise of Blackwater, the profits for the warmongers at Halliburton and elsewhere — but most of all I feel for those who have lost their lives: the US soldiers sacrificed for the greed and folly of a few, and the largely unacknowledged Iraqi civilians, whose deaths were sidelined from the very beginning of the war, when Gen. Tommy Franks declared, callously, “We don’t do body counts.”
Gen. Franks, of course, was only referring to body counts of those supposedly “liberated” by US forces. The exact number of US forces killed — 4,421, to date — has been carefully monitored, while the number of Iraqis killed has only ever been the subject of sporadic speculation in the mainstream media in the West. As the war officially “ends,” Western commentators have finally revealed that they are comfortable with quantifying the Iraqi dead — as at least 100,000. This may be an under-estimate, but even if it is not, it represent 40 Iraqis killed for each day of the war, and I fail to see how anyone in a position of authority can sleep well at night knowing that one or two men, women and children have been killed as a result of their actions every hour for the last seven years and five and half months.
To mark the “end” of the war, I’m cross-posting below an excellent article published in the New York Times on August 30, as the final part of a three-part series of articles, “What Is Left Behind,” which began with “A Benchmark of Progress, Electrical Grid Fails Iraqis” (published on August 1) and also featured “In Iraq War, Soldiers Say They Had a Job to Do” (published on August 20). This final part, “Restoring Names to Iraq War’s Unknown Casualties,” written by Anthony Shadid, followed the attempts by one Iraqi family to discover what happened to Muhammad Jassem Bouhan al-Izzawi — a father, son and brother — who disappeared on July 1, 2005, and is one of at least 20,000 unidentified Iraqis whose families seek to identify them in a “room at the Baghdad morgue known simply as the Missing,” where the faces of the 20,000 are repeatedly projected onto four screens, and who, if they are successful, are then able to visit their graves, in a vast cemetery of the unknown Iraqi dead, part of the Wadi al-Salam (Valley of Peace) cemetery in the city of Najaf.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon.
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