US President Barack Obama may be welcoming the last American troops returning from Iraq as heroes but, in reality, everyone connected with one of history’s dirtiest wars should be hanging their heads in shame. Better still, those who took the political decision to invade this Arab country, this ‘cradle of civilisation’ on falsehoods and fabrications should be indicted for war crimes; they are responsible for the death of more innocents than Slobodan Milosevic and Muammar Gaddafi put together. But they won’t be, simply because the US has the biggest guns and veto over UN Security Council resolutions.
The war’s chief architects George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz haven’t even had the decency to apologise for taking their country to war on phony intelligence concocted around their political will and almost bankrupting it in the process. And they certainly haven’t shown any remorse over the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi men, women and children who were ‘shocked and awed’ out of their lives or the widows and orphans their cluster bombs, missiles, bunker busters and depleted uranium tank shells left in their wake.
When I remember Iraq, I think of the ashen bodies of toddlers looking like broken dolls piled high on a death cart; little Ali who lost his parents and his arms, the families who were incinerated at US military checkpoints because they failed to halt their cars on command—and the state of lawlessness and sectarian violence permitting masked men to pour gasoline over 9-year-old Yousuf and set fire to him while he was playing outside his home.
When I think of Iraq, I recall the cheap propaganda from ‘Pentagon Productions,’ starting from the so-called impromptu downing of Saddam Hussain’s statue in Baghdad when an anti-Saddam Shiite squad had been especially bussed-in for the event.
And who can forget the fable of Jessica Lynch, a young private first class who was captured by Iraqis after her vehicle crashed and her rifle jammed when she was taken to hospital and treated kindly by Iraqi medical staff. The official version—that singlehandedly she fought off her enemies and was rescued from ill-treatment—was dreamt-up to turn her into an iconic figure in a Rambo-esque documentary. But Lynch was too honest to maintain the pretence.
I remember how the Pentagon sought to silence the messenger by targeting the offices of Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya and shelling the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad that was known to house the non-embedded foreign media, causing fatalities.
When my thoughts turn to Iraq, the sight of US soldiers standing by as ministry buildings were torched and museums looted of thousand-year-old treasures is still seared in my mind’s eye, as are the no-bid reconstruction and security contracts distributed to the cronies of administration figures and the billions of dollars that went missing.
The only member of the Bush administration to show any regret for his role in the bloody fiasco was former US Secretary of State Colin Powell, whose slick sales pitch to the Security Council, hatched around nightmarish fairy tales, convinced certain countries to join the so-called “coalition of the willing.”
He was later to admit that performance was a blot on his record and has kept a low profile ever since.
The Pentagon, military intelligence and the CIA have nothing to be proud about, either, when they allowed men incarcerated at Abu Ghraib prison to be physically and sexually abused, treated as subhuman and humiliated by uniformed rednecks whose punishments were derisory.
The unrepentant George W. Bush and his British sidekick, Tony Blair, in the absence of Weapons of Mass Destruction, have tried to justify the war by saying it rid Iraq of an evil dictator who was replaced by a democratically elected government; a pretext that looks increasingly hollow when dictators are going down like nine pins during the Arab Spring. Those leaders who insisted they were guided by God, and their cohorts should be shunned. Instead, they are being invited to make speeches and are lining their pockets from long-winded memoirs.
Prior to the 2003 invasion, Powell famously told Bush, “If you break it, you own it.” That hasn’t happened. The Americans are leaving a land divided and simmering with unresolved issues, such as who owns the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, a city claimed by both Kurds and ethnic Arabs. They’ve left behind a country plagued with violence and a government whose ideological bent crosses Iraq’s border with Iran, whose ruling ayatollahs must have laughed to see the last American soldiers departing. And, ominously, they’ve also left behind an embassy cum town, staffed by between 15,000 and 17,000 ‘diplomats’ and security personnel. I suspect its shelf-life will be short.
We’ll likely never know for sure why this war was waged. Some say for oil, others say it was to protect Israel; yet others believe it was a show to prove America’s military capability to the world at a time when the neocons were plotting a New American Century. We do know that it was not in retaliation for 9–11, as Iraq featured on Bush’s nine-target wish-list long before that terrible day. It may be all over for Americans who got nothing in return. For Iraqis, the road ahead is strewn with obstacles and challenges. But, at least now, they are the ones with their hands on the wheel with all destinations open and waiting. Which way they will drive is yet to be seen.
Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at email@example.com.