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Incinerating Iraq: How America’s Policies Sealed the Country’s Fate

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Posted on Jul 18, 2014

Photo by bovinity (CC BY-SA 2.0)

By Dahr Jamail, TomDispatch and Truthout

(Page 3)

While Washington might be at odds with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the crisis in Ukraine, the Obama administration is undoubtedly breathing a sigh of relief that Russian military aid, including fighter planes, is now flowing into Baghdad. Blurring opaque political alliances further, Iran has supplied Iraq with ground attack jets, has drones carrying out reconnaissance missions over the country, and Iranian Kurds could be joining the fight on the ground.

Considering all these twists and turns of the Iraqi situation, political analyst Maki al-Nazzal shared these thoughts with me, which are increasingly typical of Sunni opinion: “Iraq is still suffering from the U.S. occupation’s sins and now self-operating to remove the cancer the U.S. planted in its body. Iraqi nationalists and Sunni Islamists have had enough of being wasted through 11 years of direct and indirect occupation and so revolted to correct by guns what was corrupted by wrongful politics.”

Meanwhile, the ongoing crisis has sent the government in Baghdad into free-fall just as the opportunistic Kurds of northern Iraq have called for a referendum in the next two months to address a long-fostered desire to become an independent country. Given all of this, hopes for any kind of Sunni-Shia-Kurdish “unity” government that could save the country from collapse have been repeatedly dashed. Making matters worse, with thousands of Iraqis being slaughtered every month and the country coming apart at the seams, even the Shiites in the country’s parliament seem deadlocked. “Things are moving faster than the politicians can make decisions,” a senior Shiite member of parliament told a reporter.

No wonder the Iraqi army won’t stand its ground when facing ISIS fighters, who are more than willing to die for their cause. What exactly is it to die defending?  And it’s not just army troops who are refusing to put their lives on the line for Nouri al-Maliki. Powerful Sunni tribal leaders in Iraq’s volatile Anbar Province are also refusing to fight for Maliki, too. In a recent interview, Sheikh Hatem al-Suleiman, head of the Dulaimi tribe, insisted that Maliki was more dangerous than the ISIS fighters, adding, “I believe that Maliki is responsible for ISIS coming to Iraq.”

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Washington’s man in Baghdad for so long, Maliki himself now adds to the crisis by refusing to budge, no matter the pressure from his former patrons and Shiite religious leaders.

The Nightmare of Ordinary Iraqis 

The disintegration of Iraq is the result of U.S. policies that, since 2003, have been strikingly devoid of coherence or any real comprehension when it comes to the forces at play in the country or the region.  They have had about them an aura of puerility, of “good guys” versus “bad guys,” that will leave future historians stunned. Worst of all, they have generated a modern-day Middle Eastern Catch-22 in which all sides are armed, funded, and supported directly or indirectly by Washington or its allies.

Meanwhile, ISIS and other Sunni insurgent groups have effectively tapped into the tens of thousands of angry young men I saw in Fallujah last year and are reportedly enjoying significant popular support (as, in some cases, the best of a series of terrible options) in many of the towns and cities where they have set up shop.

In all of this, the nightmare for ordinary Iraqis has only been accentuated.  I recently received an email from a friend in Fallujah, a city now occupied by ISIS after having been brutally shelled by the Iraqi military earlier in the year.  At that time, hundreds were killed and even Fallujah’s main hospital was hit. Tens of thousands of people in the city, including my friend, had to flee for their lives.  He has now been a refugee for months and summed up his life this way:

“Words cannot explain what we are suffering now. I do not believe what is happening to us. Imagine a life lived in permanent fear, with shortages of all-important services like electricity, water supply, fuel, and food in the very hot Iraqi summer and during the fasting month of Ramadan.

“The most important part of the whole story is that all of these tragedies are happening—and let me say with sadness, are happening while we are now refugees and deprived of our houses and belongings. Fleeing Maliki’s bombardment, we travelled to Anah City [northwest of Fallujah and closer to the Syrian border] seeking safety, but now Anah has become unsafe and was attacked twice by Syrian helicopters, which killed five Fallujan civilian refugees. Everything in our life is sad and difficult. We are under the control of senseless criminals.”

As Iraq’s disintegration into darkness progresses, it sickens me to think of all the Iraqis I met and became friends with, who have since been killed, disappeared, or have become refugees. What is left of Iraq, this mess that is no longer a country, should be considered the legacy of decades of U.S. policy there, dating back to the moment when Saddam Hussein was in power and enjoyed Washington’s support. With Maliki, it has simply been a different dictator, enjoying even more such support (until these last weeks), and using similarly barbaric tactics against Iraqis.

Today, Washington’s policies continue in the same mindless way as more fuel is rushed to the bonfire that is incinerating Iraq.

Dahr Jamail spent more than a year reporting, unembedded, in Iraq during several trips there between 2003 and 2014. He is a recipient of numerous awards, including the Martha Gellhorn Award for Journalism and the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism for his work in Iraq. He is the author of two books: Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq and The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a staff reporter for Truthout.  This is a joint TomDispatch/Truthout report. 

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook and Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me.

Copyright 2014 Dahr Jamail


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