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    Middle East
     Mar 20, 2007
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Billboarding the Iraq disaster
By Anthony Arnove

As you read this, we're four years from the moment the administration of US President George W Bush launched its shock-and-awe assault on Iraq, beginning 48 months of remarkable, non-stop destruction of that country - and still counting. It's an important moment for taking stock of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Here is a short rundown of some of what Bush's war and occupation has wrought.

Nowhere on Earth is there a worse refugee crisis than in Iraq

today. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, some 2 million Iraqis have fled their country and are now scattered across everywhere from Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Iran to London and Paris. (Almost none have made it to the United States, which has done nothing to address the refugee crisis it created.)

Another 1.9 million are estimated to be internally displaced persons, driven from their homes and neighborhoods by the US occupation and the vicious civil war it has sparked. Add those figures up - and they're getting worse by the day - and you have close to 16% of the Iraqi population uprooted. Add the dead to the displaced, and that figure rises to nearly one in five Iraqis. Let that sink in for a moment.

Basic foods and necessities, which even Saddam Hussein's brutal regime managed to provide, are now increasingly beyond the reach of ordinary Iraqis, thanks to soaring inflation unleashed by the occupation's destruction of the already shaky Iraqi economy, cuts to state subsidies encouraged by the International Monetary Fund and the Coalition Provisional Authority, and the disruption of the oil industry.

Prices of vegetables, eggs, tea, cooking and heating oil, gasoline and electricity have skyrocketed. Unemployment is regularly estimated at somewhere between 50% and 70%. One measure of the impact of all this has been a significant rise in child malnutrition, registered by the United Nations and other organizations. Not surprisingly, access to safe water and regular electricity remain well below pre-invasion levels, which were already disastrous after more than a decade of comprehensive sanctions against, and periodic bombing of, a country staggered by a catastrophic war with Iran in the 1980s and the first Gulf War.
In an ongoing crisis, in which hundred of thousands of Iraqis have already died, the past few months have proved some of the bloodiest on record. In October alone, more than 6,000 civilians were killed in Iraq, most in Baghdad, where thousands of additional US troops had been sent in August (in the first official "surge") with the claim that they would restore order and stability in the city.

In the end, they only fueled more violence. These figures - and they are generally considered undercounts - are more than double the 2005 rate. Other things have more or less doubled in the past years, including, to name just two, the number of daily attacks on US troops and the overall number of US soldiers killed and wounded. United Nations special investigator Manfred Nowak also notes that torture "is totally out of hand" in Iraq: "The situation is so bad many people say it is worse than it has been in the times of Saddam Hussein."

Given the disaster that Iraq is today, you could keep listing terrible numbers until your mind was numb. But here's another way of putting the past four years in context. In that same period, there have in fact been a large number of deaths in a distant land on the minds of many people in the United States: Darfur. Since 2003, according to UN estimates, some 200,000 have been killed in the Darfur region of Sudan in a brutal ethnic-cleansing campaign, and another 2 million have been turned into refugees.

How would you know this? Well, if you lived in New York City, at least, you could hardly take a subway ride without seeing an ad that reads: "400,000 dead. Millions uniting to save Darfur." The New York Times has also regularly featured full-page ads describing the "genocide" in Darfur and calling for intervention there under "a chain of command allowing necessary and timely military action without approval from distant political or civilian personnel".

In those same years, according to the best estimate available, the British medical journal The Lancet's door-to-door study of Iraqi deaths, about 655,000 Iraqis had died in war, occupation, and civil strife between March 2003 and June 2006. (The study offers a low-end possible figure on deaths of 392,000 and a high-end figure of 943,000.) But you could travel coast to coast in the United States without seeing billboards, subway placards, full-page newspaper ads, or the like for the Iraqi dead. And you certainly

Continued 1 2 

Surge and destroy in Iraq (Mar 16, '07)

Iraq: The price of withdrawal (Mar 16, '07)


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