A Million Lives Later, I Can’t Forgive What American Terrorism Has Done to My Country, Iraq | Sinan Antoon

It the beginning of 2003, I was living in Cairo and conducting research for my doctoral thesis on a famous Iraqi poet who lived in my hometown, Baghdad, in the 10th century. But I grew increasingly anxious about 21st century Baghdad.

Like millions of people in major cities around the world, I took part in the massive protests against the then impending invasion of Iraq. Tahrir Square, the center of the revolution that toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak eight years later, has swelled with tens of thousands of angry Cairoites. We headed for the nearby US Embassy, ​​but the riot police pushed us back with batons.

The drums of war had been beating for months. While there was popular opposition around the world (there were coordinated protests in 600 cities in February 2003), architects, merchants and war cheerleaders were loud and dismissive of those of us who warned of the catastrophic consequences for Iraqis and the region, calling anyone who questions the war a supporter of dictatorship.

Many of us who opposed Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship and his regime wrote and spoke against the planned invasion for already obvious reasons. We challenged the false narrative that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction (WMD). After 700 inspections, Hans Blix, the head of the UN weapons inspectors, and his teams had found no weapons in Iraq. The “mushroom cloud over Manhattan” that Condoleezza Rice warned of was a propaganda cloud to heighten the hysteria. George Bush, after all, would have decided to strike Iraq the week after 9/11.

The corporate media landscape in the United States was an echo chamber for state propaganda. It was not just the Manichaean worldview of post-9/11 national security hysteria, but a deep-rooted colonial mentality – variations on the white man’s burden. An analysis of US television news in the few weeks before the invasion found that sources expressing skepticism about the war were massively underrepresented. The media have served their purpose well enough in manufacturing consent and repeating official propaganda. In March 2003, 72% of American citizens supported the war. We must never forget that. (As of 2018, 43% of Americans still thought it was the right decision.)

In Cairo, I watched the United States launch its “shock and awe” campaign – a terrifying rain of death and destruction upon Baghdad. Poetry was my refuge and the only space through which I could translate the visceral pain of watching violence descend on Iraq and watching my hometown fall to an occupying army. Some of the lines I wrote in the early days of the invasion crystallize my melancholy:

The wind is a blind mother
above the corpses
no guy wires
save the clouds
but the dogs
are much faster

The moon is a graveyard
for the light
the stars are women

Tired of carrying the coffins
the wind has bent
against a palm tree
A satellite asked:
What destination now?
The silence
in the cane of the wind whispered:
and the palm tree caught fire.

I had always hoped to see the end of Saddam’s dictatorship at the hands of the Iraqi people, not through a neo-colonial project that would dismantle what remained of the Iraqi state and replace it with a regime based on ethno-sectarian dynamics, plunging the country into violent chaos and civil wars.

Four months after the invasion, I returned to Baghdad with a crew to shoot About Baghdad, a documentary about the war and its aftermath. The chaos was already evident. One of dozens of interviews we conducted this July was with a man who was optimistic about the occupation. “But a lot of these people that the United States is bringing to power are thieves and crooks,” I told him. “My son,” he replied, “if they steal half of our wealth, we’ll be better off with the other half.” I remember this conversation every time I read about the astronomical numbers and massive corruption of the post-2003 Iraqi regime.

Some Iraqis we interviewed were visibly won over or took the US promises seriously. Others were too exhausted and desperate after more than a decade of another war in the form of the genocidal sanctions from 1990 to 2003, and thought “so be it.” There were those inside and outside who knew it was colonialism and opposed it. But there were a lot of colonized minds. A group of Iraqi writers, poets and professionals then wrote a letter of thanks to Bush and Tony Blair.

When the non-existent weapons of mass destruction were not found, there was a shift in the propaganda narrative towards “democracy” and “nation building”. The deadly effects of war have been rationalized as the pangs of childbirth necessary for a “new Iraq”. The country would be a model in the Middle East for what global capital and free markets could offer. But promises and plans for reconstruction have become black holes for billions of dollars and have fueled a culture of corruption. American war supporters themselves profited from the war.

The invasion brought about a new Iraq. The one where Iraqis are daily confronted with the consequences of the war against terrorism: terrorism. The ‘new Iraq’ promised by warmongers brought not Starbucks or startups, but car bombs, suicide bombings, al-Qaeda and later the Islamic State – the latter of which was hatched in America’s own military prisons in Iraq.

During the first months of the invasion, I saw a report on an American television channel showing a journalist boarded with American soldiers in a Humvee about to leave a base near Baghdad for a patrol. As the Humvee rolls out of the gate, one of the soldiers says to the reporter, “This is Indian country.” This, I learned, is a common, albeit unofficial, term used in the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan to refer to “hostile and lawless territory.” NBC’s Brian Williams recounted how an American general giving him a tour of Iraq also used him.

The colonial framework and entrenched notions of white supremacy inform how most Americans, military or civilian, may view, understand, or simply ignore what their government is doing. It was another frontier between the forces of an advanced, well-meaning civilization and a hostile, violent culture, ungrateful for what was offered to it and burdened by its violent past.

The Iraq that the invasion spawned must be one of the most corrupt states in the world. Iran-backed militias (whose rise was a byproduct of the dynamics created by the invasion) dominate the lives of Iraqis and terrorize opponents. They helped the regime brutally crush the 2019 uprising, which was led by Iraqi youth who rejected the political system established by the United States. One of their slogans at the start of the uprising was: “No to America, no to Iran!”

Today, there are 1.2 million displaced people in Iraq, most of them in camps. It is estimated that one million Iraqis died, directly or indirectly, as a result of the invasion and its aftermath. It is not only the body politic that is disfigured, but the body itself: the depleted uranium left behind by the occupying forces has been linked to birth defects even today, especially in Fallujah, where cancer rates are also high.

Last December, the United States Navy proudly announced that its next amphibious assault ship will be called “Fallujah”. This may sound shocking, but it is part and parcel of colonial culture. Apache, Lakota, Cheyenne and other names of native tribes that still suffer from the continuing effects of American colonialism are now the names of lethal weapons. A million lives later is what American terrorism has done to Iraq.

Do you have an opinion on the issues raised in this article? If you would like to submit a response of no more than 300 words by email to be considered for publication in our letters section, please click here.

theguardian Gt

Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.
Back to top button