by Sami Ramadani Guardian/UK March 14, 2013
It has always been painful for me to write about Iraq and Baghdad, the land of my birth and the city of my childhood. Ten years on from the shock and awe of the 2003 Bush and Blair war my tormented land, once a cradle of civilisation, is staring into the abyss. Wanton imperialist intervention and dictatorial rule have together been responsible for the deaths of more than a million people since 1991. And yet, according to both Tony Blair and the former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright, the "price is worth it". It enrages us to see Blair build a business empire, capitalising on his role in piling up more Iraqi skulls than even Saddam managed.
As an exile, I was painfully aware of Saddam's crimes, which for me started with the disappearance from Baghdad's medical college of my dearest school friend, Hazim. The Iraqi people are fully aware, too, that Saddam committed all his major crimes while an ally of western powers. On the eve of the 2003 invasion I wrote this for the Guardian: "In Iraq, the US record speaks for itself: it backed Saddam's party, the Ba'ath, to capture power in 1963, murdering thousands of socialists, communists and democrats; it backed the Ba'ath party in 1968 when Saddam was installed as vice-president; it helped him and the Shah of Iran in 1975 to crush the Kurdish nationalist movement; it increased its support for Saddam in 1979…helping him launch his war of aggression against Iran in 1980; it backed him throughout the horrific eight years of war (1980 to 1988), in which a million Iranians and Iraqis were slaughtered, in the full knowledge that he was using chemical weapons and gassing Kurds and Marsh Arabs; it encouraged him in 1990 to invade Kuwait…”
But when it was no longer in their interests to back him, the US and UK drowned Iraq in blood. We haven't even counted the dead yet, let alone the injured, displaced and traumatised. Thousands are still missing. Of the more than 4 million refugees, at least a million are yet to go back to their homeland, and there still about a million internal refugees. On an almost daily basis, explosions and shootings continue to kill the innocent.”
The US and UK still refuse to accept the harmful consequences of radioactive depleted uranium munitions, and the US denies that it used chemical weapons in Falluja – but Iraqis see the evidence: the poisoned environment, the cancer and deformities. Lack of electricity, clean water and other essential services continues to hit millions of impoverished and unemployed people, in one of the richest countries on the planet. Women and children pay the highest price. Women's rights, and human rights in general, are daily suppressed.
And what of democracy, supposedly the point of it all? Having failed to crush the resistance to direct occupation, they resorted to divide-and-rule to keep their foothold in Iraq. Using torture, sectarian death squads and billions of dollars, the occupation has succeeded in weakening the social fabric and elevating a corrupt ruling class that gets richer by the day, salivating at the prospect of acquiring a bigger share of Iraq's natural resources, which are mostly mortgaged to foreign oil companies and construction firms.
Political ironies abound. We have a so-called Shia-controlled government, yet most of Iraq's Shia population remain the poorest of all. And we have an Iraqi Kurdistan that is a separate state in all but name. The Kurdistan regional government is in alliance with the US and Turkey, a ruthless oppressor of the Kurdish people. Meanwhile, conflict over oil and territory is aggravating relations between the centre and the Kurdistan government. Popular anger against corruption and human rights violations is growing; for weeks now, we have had large-scale protests in the west of the country.There was once a strong democratic unifying force in Iraq, but this was crushed by the CIA-backed Ba'athist coup of 1963, and Saddam's regime. The re-emergence of such a force is now the Iraqi people's only hope. Without that, how will we count and mourn the millions of innocent victims, heal those wounds, and then, finally, build a better, more peaceful tomorrow? [Abridged]
© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited
Sami Ramadani is a senior lecturer in sociology at London Metropolitan University.