Historical anniversaries are important events to commemorate; they allow us to evaluate the importance of the event and understand its impact upon contemporary life. Celebrating particular war anniversaries indicates what priorities the political order of our society has, and drives the current political debate surrounding our foreign and domestic policies. 2014 will witness the centenary anniversaries of various battles of World War One. Whether those commemorative events are right or wrong can be debated, and their contemporary relevance can be disputed. However, the fact that we choose to remember these events tells us about our character and the current state of politics.
Ignoring the anniversaries of historical events is also a striking indicator about what we stand for in today’s world. Dismissing historical occasions as unworthy of remembrance demeans their importance, and we risk forgetting those things that constitute decisive turning points in contemporary history.
March 20 this year was the eleventh anniversary of the American invasion of Iraq. This anniversary passed largely ignored in the mainstream corporate media. Ignoring this event promotes the deception that the Iraq war can now be relegated to the back-burner; a conflict that was savage but now over. We can assuage our collective conscience that the horrors of this war can be consigned to distant memory.
This collective amnesia was challenged by various anti-war and labour groups. did hold events in their own way to remember this terrible invasion. The online magazine Common Dreams pointed out that the current Obama administration looks quite hypocritical in its hysterical condemnations of the actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin, because it was the United States that violated international law and launched an illegal invasion of Iraq back in 2003, and the lethal consequences of that war are still being felt by Iraqis today. The US set the precedent for breaking international law and occupying smaller nations, a principle invoked by Washington only when official ‘enemy’ countries are culpable.
The Truth-Out magazine carried an article by Hugh Gusterson entitled “The Iraq War: Forgotten in Plain Sight”. The author highlights the almost-complete omission of any reference to the Iraq war, avoiding any mention of a country still suffering from war and occupation. The media studiously ignored the anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq invasion. By ignoring that, they can also ignore the ongoing disastrously lethal consequences of that invasion. The refusal to acknowledge the anniversary of the 2003 invasion is in line with the Obama-driven narrative since 2010 that the Iraq war is over, and that US combat troops have withdrawn. This narrative is false, misleading, and only feeds into a false sense of security.
The article by Gusterson cited above details the wilful omission of the corporate media in reporting the Iraq war. With the reduction of US casualties, and since the 2010 fake ‘withdrawal’, the media narrative has sought to portray Iraq as a largely peaceful society slowly but steadily making good since the US invasion. Not only has the number and frequency of news stories about Iraq dramatically dropped, the little reporting that we do obtain is bereft of any historical and political context. The violence in Iraq, the suicide bombings, the killings, are all decontextualized and reported as unrelated to the harmful consequence of the US invasion and occupation. As Gusterson explains:
US media coverage of the Iraq War shifted in other ways, too. The celebrity war correspondents came home with best-selling books and were replaced by second-tier writers or wire service reports. The newspaper articles grew shorter and disappeared into the interior regions of the newspaper of less interest to readers. The stories were less investigative reports or attempts to make vivid narrative sense of the war, and more pedestrian factual reporting of how many people were killed where and by whom.
The weekly reports of violence in Iraq are explained away as the result of centuries-long hatred between the Sunni and Shia communities – in other words, the barbaric natives just hate each other and that is the way it has been for years. With this normalisation of violence in Iraq, the culpability of the US in generating and inciting this sectarian conflict can be ignored and whitewashed.
Make no mistake – the fratricidal sectarian conflict in Iraq is the direct result of the US invasion, and the communalisation of Iraq politics since 2003. The Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, presides over a US-supported political structure that rewards sectarian affiliation over and above cross-ethnic Iraqi national unity. A state of near-civil war, punctuated by recurring bouts of sectarian killings, was created and maintained by the US invasion. As Ashley Smith of the Socialist Worker online newspaper explains, the US used the oldest imperial tactic in the book to maintain its dominance in Iraq – divide and rule.
Political office and power in Baghdad is currently awarded along the lines of sectarian affiliation – and this breaks down a sense of Iraqi Arab nationalism. The Kurds in the north of Iraq have their own statelet, economically dependent on the more powerful neighbour of Turkey to the north. The Iraqi Arab population can be divided into Sunni and Shia component, and the remaining Iraqi Assyrian and Christian minorities find themselves adrift in this new post-invasion setup.
Throughout the history of modern Iraq, the state was never perfectly harmonious to be sure. But it has never been fractured more seriously along sectarian lines than it is today – and that is the direct consequence of the US invasion.
A conference organised by various Iraqi civil rights, workers and trade unions groups heard testimony of the sectarian malignancy that has gripped Iraq since 2003. Called the Right to Heal, conference organisers that while the Obama administration continues to peddle the myth that Iraq now enjoys ‘sovereignty’, the reality on the ground is very different. Eleven years after the American invasion, the society in Iraq remains plagued by sectarian conflict, a lack of basic services and a traumatised population. The Right to Heal conference proceeded as follows:
In two hours of emotionally-charged testimony — curated by the Right to Heal campaign, a joint effort of Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq, Federation of Workers Councils and Unions of Iraq, and Iraq Veterans Against the War — the hearing traced the ongoing impacts of the U.S.-led war and occupation. This legacy includes environmental poisoning, Iraqi government repression, sectarian conflict, poverty, trauma, displacement, and death.
The environmental destruction wreaked by nearly two decades of US attacks on the country is becoming more widely known. In 1991, during the first US assault on the country, US forces used weapons contained depleted uranium, and in 2004 during the US attack on Fallujah, white phosphorus was used to decimate the population. A toxicologist who addressed the conference explained:
Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, an environmental toxicologist, testified that U.S. burn pits in Iraq are exposing the Iraqi public to a litany of dangerous compounds, including lead and mercury. Research teams sent to Iraqi hospitals in Basra and Falluja found abnormally high rates of cancer, birth defects, and heart defects, she stated.
The toxic environment of Iraq is another direct outcome of the US invasion.
Speakers from the Organisation for Women’s Freedom in Iraq, the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions, and Iraq Veterans Against the War all made stirring contributions about the devastating impact of the US invasion and ongoing occupation. One major theme emerged from the Right To Heal conference; the US must make amends in Iraq by cleaning up its toxic legacy and stopping carrying out imperial wars of conquest overseas.
While the main architects of the Iraq war are Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the US Republican leadership, they are not the only culpable parties. The Iraq war is also Obama’s war, a project that he has continued, and defended vigorously in a speech only a few weeks ago. In 2010, amid much fanfare about the withdrawal of US combat troops from Iraq, a number of major changes got lost. It is true that a number of combat divisions and brigades have withdrawn – at least to their heavily fortified barracks. But the US occupation has not ended, indeed, it has continued since 2010. As Seumas Milne stated in an article back in August 2010;
The US isn’t withdrawing from Iraq at all – it’s rebranding the occupation. Just as George Bush’s war on terror was retitled “overseas contingency operations” when Obama became president, US “combat operations” will be rebadged from next month as “stability operations”.
The tactics have changed, but the end goal of occupation, dominating the political and economic process in Iraq continues. It is interesting to note that the post-2010 US presence in Iraq increasingly resembles the British-sponsored Kingdom of Iraq in the 1930s. The British, having occupied Mesopotamia, as Iraq was known, faced a stubborn indigenous and nationalist rebellion in 1920. The English were compelled to change tactics, and set up a semi-colonial administration in Baghdad, having nominal authority over the country. The major economic and political decisions were made by the English ruling class, and Iraq became an economic vassal of the British empire.
The US maintains thousands of private security contractors, intelligence agents and associated military personnel in the country. In fact, as Seumas Milne stated, the occupation has been privatised and outsourced; “There are around 100,000 private contractors working for the occupying forces, of whom more than 11,000 are armed mercenaries, mostly “third country nationals”, typically from the developing world. “
When an occupation is outsourced, the public relations exercise can begin; the direct military engagement has ended, ‘withdrawal’ has taken place, and now somebody else can do the hard work of fighting and dying in order to maintain the occupation. As Ghali Hassan wrote back in September 2010, the occupation of Iraq has been redesigned and repackaged to make it more palatable to domestic public opinion. As Hassan went on to explain:
We all know there is no Iraqi government; it doesn’t exist. The U.S.-installed and U.S.-protected collection of criminals, religious extremists and Kurdish warlords is not a “government” per se. It is a puppet government of self-serving stooges who are incapable of to have an agreement between themselves, let alone govern the country. Since March 2010, they have been squabbling, fighting and battling over their posts and privileges.
Hassan explained that the contrast in US policy could not be more starker; the US embassy in Baghdad is the size of Vatican city, and there are towns and villages that remained ruined and desolate. While billions of dollars have ‘disappeared’ from Iraq’s oil revenues, basic services like electricity, clean water and health care remain underserviced and unavailable to most Iraqis. The lack of expertise, an impoverished workforce and economic laws that favour privatisation have seen Iraq’s agricultural sector decline, and the number of farmers steadily decrease. In the wake of the 2003 invasion, Iraqi agricultural productivity declined by 90 percent, this in a country as fertile as land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, a cradle of ancient civilisation. Large agribusiness now dominates the Iraqi market, with Iraq becoming a dumping ground for cheap imports.
After eleven years of war, it is time to not only remember the Iraq conflict, but to reject the false narrative that this war has ended. It is time to end the notion that the Obama administration is an “anti-war” government. It is time to reject the poison of sectarianism that is tearing the country apart and revive a vision of pan-Arab nationalism. The International Criminal Court, presuming it is dedicated to the principles of fairness and justice, must ensure that those American political and military officials who designed and carried out this Iraq war be prosecuted for their crimes. The European Union, the United States and the international community should serious listen to the grievance of the Iraqi people, and stop pretending that the Iraq war is resolved. Obama’s deceptions and distortions about the Iraq invasion must be countered; the anti-war president has presided over a criminal occupation that continues to carry out sociocide, the destruction of a society. Eleven years after the American invasion, the modern-day Mongols of Baghdad, the American imperialist power, must be made to pay reparations and heal the wounds of Iraqi society.