SPEAKING FREELY The real US legacy in Iraq
By Nick Alexandrov
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US press coverage bemoaned the "loss" of Fallujah. The Iraqi city was the casualty earlier this month of "a resurgence by Islamic militants in western Iraq", Peter Baker wrote in the New York Times, a reminder "that the war is anything but over". Baker's colleagues, Yasir Ghazi and Tim Arango, described a "city under siege, its morgue filled with bodies and people running low on food, water and generator fuel"; other US reporters and analysts were quick to remind their readers that Fallujah has been the site of slaughter in the past - of Americans.
This "powerfully symbolic city", Liz Sly explained in the
Washington Post, was "where US forces fought their bloodiest battle since the Vietnam War" - "American soldiers paid dearly" there, the Wall Street Journal noted - while liberal Post columnist David Ignatius recalled that, in Fallujah, "hundreds of Americans were killed or wounded in the last decade fighting the jihadists". Who else, other than fanatical extremists, would the well-meaning US government target?
The answer, as some still remember, is the general Iraqi public, whom the US government targeted indiscriminately in recent decades, ending hundreds of thousands of lives.
Keeping first to Fallujah, we can observe that Washington's assaults in April and November 2004 reduced a city of more than 435,000 residents (in the UN's conservative, pre-occupation count) to rubble: a UN Emergency Working Group estimated that "40% of buildings and homes" there were "significantly damaged" in the end, "while another 20% sustained 'major damage'", and "the remainder were 'completely destroyed'", political scientist Neta Crawford writes. Crawford, quoting Bing West's No True Glory, relates how a top US general, arriving in Fallujah after the November 2004 attack, "looked up and down the streets, at the drooping telephone poles, gutted storefronts, heaps of concrete, twisted skeletons of burnt-out cars, demolished roofs, and sagging walls. 'Holy shit,' he said."
The US efforts to "liberate" Fallujah's residents - from life's mortal coil, presumably - entailed a "cascade of Geneva Convention violations", scholars Elaine A Hills and Dahlia S Wasfi conclude, not least of which were "the targeting of medical facilities and denial of clean water", according to US Congressman Jim McDermott and Dr. Richard Rapport.
Reviewing the April 2004 siege, Hills and Wasfi write that US forces blocked access to the hospital as Marine "snipers were positioned on rooftops, targeting ambulances and the clinic doors", and soldiers "patrolled neighborhoods and fired on civilians almost randomly", murdering in the end 600-800.
As brutal as all this was, it was a mild prequel to the subsequent slaughter's utter savagery that November, when some 6,000-8,000 perished, and in which "Nazzal Emergency Hospital was leveled to the ground" two days before US troops stormed Fallujah General Hospital, where, its doctors later recalled, "We were tied up and beaten despite being unarmed and having only our medical instruments." For good measure, US forces barred the Iraqi Red Crescent from the city for a week. And Iraqi journalist Burhan Fasa'a recounted how snipers, perched on the hospital roof, picking off anything that moved.
Reviewing Fallujah's destruction, Nicolas J S Davies determined that "the pervasive and systematic nature of these crimes made it clear that criminal responsibility lay primarily with senior military and civilian officials who made these tactics an integral part of their overall strategy", an assessment borne out by a reexamination of earlier US policy.
Political scientist Ole R Holsti reviews the sorry record, noting that "in 1980", for example, "the Defense Intelligence Agency reported that Iraq had been 'actively acquiring chemical weapons capacity since the mid-1970s'", prompting the only response Washington, a principled actor in global affairs, could deliver - namely, dropping Iraq from the State Department's "terrorist list" in 1982, under Ronald Reagan, and then ensuring Saddam Hussein would have easy access to a range of military technologies, such as Hughes and Bell helicopters. The latter were sold "ostensibly for crop spraying", Holsti writes, but "could be - and were - used to spray poison gas on Iranian forces and Kurdish groups in the north of the country", and in the following years the "evidence of Iraqi use of chemical weapons" mounted as US-Iraqi relations improved.
The fact that "American intelligence, between August 1983 and March 1988" determined that "there were at least ten documented Iraqi uses of chemical weapons against Iranians and three against Kurds, with deaths ranging up to 10,000 per attack" proved no barrier to Washington's consistent support. Saddam never crossed any sort of "red line" in the 1980s.
These efforts to spread misery in Iraq continued in the following decade under Georg Bush Snr and Bill Clinton, a heartening example of bipartisanship in an era when the US government is allegedly "broken".
After the First Iraq War, for instance, UN under-secretary-general Martti Ahtisaari led a mission to Baghdad. Its members were well-informed, he wrote in March 1991, "fully conversant with media reports regarding the situation in Iraq", but realized immediately upon arrival "that nothing that we had seen or read had quite prepared us for the particular form of devastation" - "near-apocalyptic" - "which has now befallen the country", condemning it "to a pre-industrial age" for the foreseeable future.
This was the situation when the UN Security Council imposed sanctions - UN in name only, political philosopher Joy Gordon points out, since they "were at every turn shaped by the United States", whose "consistent policy" was "to inflict the most extreme economic damage possible on Iraq".
The UN estimated in 1995 that the policy had murdered over half a million children - "worth it", in former secretary of state Madeleine Albright's infamous 60 Minutes assessment - one factor prompting two successive UN Humanitarian Coordinators in Iraq, Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, to resign.
Halliday's conclusion was that "the member states of the Security Council are indeed guilty of intentionally sustaining a regime of genocide"; von Sponeck concurred, deeming findings that the sanctions violated the Genocide Convention perfectly "sound". A few years later, in June 2003, New York Times reporter David Rohde managed to write, with a straight face, of how "the concept of demokratiya has taken hold in the Iraqi imagination" ... "Just as neoconservatives in Washington had hoped", following the post-genocide (itself post-near-apocalypse) illegal invasion, and initial assault.
The effects of the US assaults on Fallujah are only beginning to be understood. In a March 2013 interview on Democracy Now!, Dahr Jamail, the courageous investigative journalist, explained to Amy Goodman the legacy of Washington's indiscriminate use of depleted uranium and white phosphorus.
"There is one doctor, a pediatrician named Dr Samira Alani, working on this crisis in the city," he began. After conducting research in Japan, Dr Alani determined that "the amount of congenital malformations in Fallujah is 14 times greater than the same rate measured in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in the aftermath of the nuclear bombings."
There seems to be no precedent for many of the deformities, such as "massive central nervous system problems" or "babies being born with half of their internal organs outside of their bodies", Jamail said, identifying some of the victims of Washington's foreign policy. But this fact is too revealing to be mentioned in our papers of record.
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.