The Shocking Mess in Iraq

by Chris Knipp

Things are a mess in Iraq. It feels callous to put it so simply. The extent of the suffering and destruction is dwarfed by an awareness that there had been decades of suffering and destruction in Iraq already, and that worse things are yet to come there.

While US mainstream media reports "liberation" and "victory," the Iraqis face days and months, even years ahead of continuing chaos, without an infrastructure, with remnants of cluster bombs killing and maiming children, with depleted Uranium everywhere, with their capital wrecked, families wiped out, hospitals incapacitated, starvation spreading, with no place to go to work any more. They face what looks like as brutal an occupation as Israel's of Palestinian lands.

What has it all been for? "Regime change." To "get Saddam." "Links with Al Qaeda." "Weapons of mass destruction." A "first strike" against a "rogue state." Certainly the brutal regime has been toppled effectively, and without the prolonged street combat that might have happened in Baghdad. Saddam is not in charge. But though the two one-ton bombs sent to get him in a residential area killed fourteen people, half of them children, there's no proof that anybody "got Saddam." No weapons of mass destructions were used and none have been found. Who believes, after the ease of this "victory, " that Iraq was a threat to the United States? Or that it had links with Al Qaeda?

What's most shocking about the aftermath of the US "victory" in Iraq is not just the failure to achieve anything that would justify the invasion to begin with, but what the Americans have allowed to happen since the assault ended. They have increasingly taken on the air of a brutal occupier while failing to maintain order.

But again, "failing to maintain order" is a callously simple way to put it. They have allowed Iraq’s National Museum of Antiquities to be looted and destroyed, and the National Library and the Islamic Library to be burned down. They have allowed the cultural records of one of the great historical centers of human civilization be wiped out. This is perhaps the most shocking example of the damage to civilization done by international violence since World War II. A number of US government cultural officials have resigned in protest to it.

The post-war destruction is as sweeping as it is meaningless. The interim has been handled in a way that is clumsy, brutal, and immoral. Robert Fisk reported counting 35 ministries torched, with only the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Petroleum carefully protected by US troops. He saw vast areas of imprisonment and torture ignored, the records of the evil regime's worst criminals allowed to float away, while torturers are rehired to help police the populace, and only a pitiful handful of minor regime officials have been held while almost the entire Saddam cabinet has been allowed to go free. Meanwhile American s oldiers and marines have continued to shoot civilians demonstrating against the occupation and they have put the entire population of Baghdad under curfew.

None of the neo-cons' predictions or claims have come true, though such is the Alice-in-Wonderland world in which these ideologues live, they continue to repeat their theories and threats unperturbed. They say that "allies"--who are more like dependents--such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia--will be more cooperative as a result of this invasion, but they are in fact being less so. Kurds are on the rampage on the Turkish border, as was feared might happen; the Turks threaten to intervene. The neo-cons say that democracy has come to the Middle East. And they repeatedly threaten Syria, which fought with the US to get Iraq out of Kuwait and is a poorer, weaker nation than the one Saddam ruled with an iron hand.

Meanwhile, despite rumblings from France, Russia, and the UN, the Bush administration continues its plan to set up puppet regimes (the widely disliked Ahmad Chalabi is the leading figure) in various parts of Iraq and to dole out contracts for reconstruction of the country to such American establishment favorites as the Bechtel Corporation. This is a process which is in no way democratic or multinational. It proceeds by means of influence and nepotism: it's an insiders' game played strictly for profit. Reconstruction could take years, not months. But the protesters from the mosques of Baghdad say that if the Americans are not gone in "a few months” we will fight them with knives."

The nations who are fighting in the UN over lifting the sanctions against Iraq are like rival parents cutting up a baby. Bush wants the sanctions lifted so he can get at Iraq's oil unimpeded--hardly an admirable aim in international terms, and not one that respects the nation's sovereignty. But continuing the sanctions when the country has been brought to its knees is no act of charity either. It's true that the UN inspectors need to go back in to fulfill the UN's resolutions. But the whole issue is irrelevant to the rebuilding of Iraq.

What is happening in Iraq is not anything the Bush administration wants US citizens to know about. It is now that the effective propaganda machine the corporate media has become will come in really handy. Luckily for those who want the populace to live in ignorance, Americans are already well deceived by having seen very little on television or in the mainstream papers of the real nature of the invasion. But if that legacy of disinformation fails to act as a smoke screen, the limited focus and limited attention span of the media provide a welcome distraction. "War" and "victory" are exciting. "Nation building" is not, and the complicated factional conflicts and the co rruption propagated by the occupiers are too complicated too. Time to move on to other things. Onward, then, to Damascus!

The trouble is that the neo-cons surrounding Bush are stubbornly attached to a world-view that is false and full of ill will. They believe that if the US spreads its imperial power through the world there will be a "Pax Americana" that will pacify the globe and reap unprecedented wealth and power. They are blind to the disorder and suffering they're spreading and the way US policies are weakening America's reputation and influence. They are contemptuous toward public opinion. They are guided by hubristic ego, and they are steering a course toward disaster. There's nothing new about all this ; it's just far more bald-faced than ever before.

Chris Knipp is an artist and writer living in the San Francisco Bay area. See

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This story was published on May 7, 2003.