[Marxism] NY Times OP-ED - Fifteen Years Ago, America Destroyed My Country

Dennis Brasky dmozart1756 at gmail.com
Wed Mar 21 13:40:11 MDT 2018

March 19 marks 15 years since the U.S.-U.K invasion of Iraq in 2003, and
the American people have no idea of the enormity of the calamity the
invasion unleashed. The US military has refused to keep a tally of Iraqi
deaths. General Tommy Franks, the man in charge of the initial invasion,
bluntly told reporters, “We don’t do body counts.” One survey
that most Americans thought Iraqi deaths were in the tens of thousands. But
our calculations, using the best information available, show *a
catastrophic estimate of 2.4 million Iraqi deaths* since the 2003 invasion.

Opinion <https://www.nytimes.com/pages/opinion/index.html> | OP-ED
CONTRIBUTOR Fifteen Years Ago, America Destroyed My Country

*By **SINAN ANTOON* MARCH 19, 2018


When I was 12, Saddam Hussein, vice president of Iraq at the time, carried
out a huge purge and officially usurped total power. I was living in
Baghdad then, and I developed an intuitive, visceral hatred of the dictator
early on. That feeling only intensified and matured as I did. In the late
1990s, I wrote my first novel, “I’jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody,” about daily
life under Saddam’s authoritarian regime. Furat, the narrator*,* was a
young college student studying English literature at Baghdad University, as
I had. He ends up in prison for cracking a joke about the dictator. Furat
hallucinates and imagines Saddam’s fall, just as I often did. I hoped I
would witness that moment, whether in Iraq or from afar.

I left Iraq a few months after the 1991 Gulf War and went to graduate
school in the United States, where I’ve been ever since. In 2002, when the
cheerleading for the Iraq war started, I was vehemently against the
proposed invasion. The United States had consistently supported dictators
in the Arab world and was not in the business of exporting democracy,
irrespective of the Bush administration’s slogans. I recalled sitting in my
family’s living room with my aunt when I was a teenager, watching Iraqi
television and seeing Donald Rumsfeld visiting Baghdad as an emissary from
Ronald Reagan and shaking hands with Saddam
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r42oejmpkgw>. That memory made Mr.
Rumsfeld’s words in 2002 about freedom and democracy for Iraqis seem
hollow. Moreover, having lived through two previous wars (the Iran-Iraq war
of 1980 to 1988 and the Gulf War of 1991), I knew that the actual
objectives of war were always camouflaged by well-designed lies that
exploit collective fear and perpetuate national myths.

I was one of about 500 Iraqis in the diaspora — of various ethnic and
political backgrounds, many of whom were dissidents and victims of Saddam’s
regime — who signed a petition: “No to war on Iraq. No to dictatorship.”
While condemning Saddam’s reign of terror, we were against a “war that
would cause more death and suffering” for innocent Iraqis and one that
threatened to push the entire region into violent chaos. Our voices were
not welcomed in mainstream media in the United States, which preferred the
pro-war Iraqi-American who promised cheering crowds that would welcome
invaders with “sweets and flowers.” There were none.

The petition didn’t make much of an impact. Fifteen years ago today, the
invasion of Iraq began.

Three months later, I returned to Iraq for the first time since 1991 as
part of a collective to film a documentary about Iraqis in a post-Saddam
Iraq. We wanted to show my countrymen as three-dimensional beings, beyond
the binary of Saddam versus the United States. In American media, Iraqis
had been reduced to either victims of Saddam who longed for occupation or
supporters and defenders of dictatorship who opposed the war. We wanted
Iraqis to speak for themselves. For two weeks, we drove around Baghdad and
spoke to many of its residents. Some were still hopeful, despite being
drained by years of sanctions and dictatorship. But many were furious and
worried about what was to come. The signs were already there: the typical
arrogance and violence of a colonial occupying power.

My short visit only confirmed my conviction and fear that the invasion
would spell disaster for Iraqis. Removing Saddam was just a byproduct of
another objective: dismantling the Iraqi state and its institutions. That
state was replaced with a dysfunctional and corrupt semi-state. We were
still filming in Baghdad when L. Paul Bremer III, the head of the Coalition
Provisional Authority, announced the formation
the so-called Governing Council in July 2003. The names of its members were
each followed by their sect and ethnicity
<http://www.merip.org/mero/mero082003>. Many of the Iraqis we spoke to on
that day were upset with institutionalization of an ethno-sectarian quota
system. Ethnic and sectarian tensions already existed, but their
translation into political currency was toxic. Those unsavory characters on
the governing council, most of whom were allies of the United States from
the preceding decade, went on to loot the country, making it one of the
most corrupt in the world.

We were fortunate to have been able to shoot our film in that brief period
during which there was relative public security. Shortly after our visit,
Iraq descended into violence; suicide bombings became the norm. The
invasion made my country a magnet for terrorists (“We’ll fight them there
so we don’t have to fight them here,” President George W. Bush had said),
and Iraq later descended into a sectarian civil war that claimed the lives
of hundreds of thousands of civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands
more, irrevocably changing the country’s demography.

The next time I returned to Baghdad was in 2013. The American tanks were
gone, but the effects of the occupation were everywhere. I had low
expectations, but I was still disheartened by the ugliness of the city
where I had grown up and horrified by how dysfunctional, difficult and
dangerous daily life had become for the great majority of Iraqis.

My last visit was in April 2017. I flew from New York, where I now live, to
Kuwait, where I was giving a lecture. An Iraqi friend and I crossed the
border by land. I was going to the city of Basra, in the south of Iraq.
Basra was the only major Iraqi city I had not visited before. I was going
to sign my books at the Friday book market of al-Farahidi Street, a weekly
gathering for bibliophiles modeled after the famous Mutanabbi Street book
Baghdad. I was driven around by friends. I didn’t expect the beautiful
Basra I’d seen on 1970s postcards. That city had long disappeared. But the
Basra I saw was so exhausted and polluted. The city had suffered a great
deal during the Iran-Iraq war, and its decline accelerated after 2003.
Basra was pale, dilapidated and chaotic thanks to the rampant corruption.
Its rivers are polluted and ebbing. Nonetheless, I made a pilgrimage to the
famous statue of Iraq’s greatest poet, Badr Shakir al-Sayyab.

One of the few sources of joy for me during these short visits were the
encounters with Iraqis who had read my novels and were moved by them. These
were novels I had written from afar, and through them, I tried to grapple
with the painful disintegration of an entire country and the destruction of
its social fabric. These texts are haunted by the ghosts of the dead, just
as their author is.

No one knows for certain how many Iraqis have died as a result of the
invasion 15 years ago. Some credible estimates put the number at more than
one million. You can read that sentence again. The invasion of Iraq is
often spoken of in the United States as a “blunder,” or even a “colossal
mistake.” It was a crime. Those who perpetrated it are still at large. Some
of them have even been rehabilitated thanks to the horrors of Trumpism and
a mostly amnesiac citizenry. (A year ago, I watched Mr. Bush on “The Ellen
DeGeneres Show,” dancing and talking about his paintings.) The pundits and
“experts” who sold us the war still go on doing what they do. I never
thought that Iraq could ever be worse than it was during Saddam’s reign,
but that is what America’s war achieved and bequeathed to Iraqis.

Sinan Antoon (@sinanantoon <https://twitter.com/sinanantoon>) is the
author, most recently, of the novel “The Baghdad Eucharist.”

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