You've heard the president and vice president
say it over and over in various ways: There was a connection between the events
of Sept. 11, 2001, and Iraq. Let's take this seriously and consider some of
the links between the two.
Numbers and Comparisons
At least 3,438
Iraqis died by violent means during July (roughly similar numbers died
in June and August), significantly more than the 2,973
people who died in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
1,536 Iraqis died in Baghdad alone in August, according to revised figures
from the Baghdad morgue. That's over half the 9/11 casualties in one city
in one increasingly typical month. According to the
Washington Post, this figure does not include suicide-bombing victims
and others taken to the city's hospitals, nor does it include deaths in towns
near the capital.
By the beginning of September, 2,974
U.S. military service members had died in Iraq and in the Bush administration's
Global War on Terror, more than died in the attacks of 9/11. (Twenty-two more
American soldiers died in Iraq in the
first nine days of September; at
least three in Afghanistan.)
Five years later, according to Emily Gosden and David Randall of the British
newspaper the Independent,
the Bush administration's Global War on Terror has resulted in, at a minimum,
20 times the deaths of 9/11; at a maximum, 60 times. It has "directly killed
a minimum of 62,006 people, created 4.5 million refugees, and cost the U.S.
more than the sum needed to pay off the debts of every poor nation on earth.
If estimates of other, unquantified, deaths of insurgents, the Iraq military
during the 2003 invasion, those not recorded individually by Western media,
and those dying from wounds are included, then the toll could reach as high
as 180,000." According to Australian
journalist Paul McGeough, Iraqi officials (and others)
estimate that that country's death toll since 2003 "stands at 50,000 or more
the proportional equivalent of about 570,000 Americans."
Last week, the U.S. Senate agreed to appropriate another
$63 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, where costs
have been averaging $10 billion a month so far this year. This brings the
(taxpayer) cost for Bush's wars so far to about $469 billion and climbing.
That's the equivalent of 469 Ground Zero memorials at
full cost-overrun estimates, double that if the memorial comes in at the
recently revised budget of $500 million. (Keep in mind that the estimated
cost of these two wars doesn't include various perfectly real future payouts
like those for the care of veterans and could rise into
In 2003, with its invasion of Iraq over, the Bush administration had about
150,000 troops in Iraq. Just under three and a half years later, almost
as long as it took to win World War II in the Pacific, and despite much media
coverage about coming force "draw-downs," U.S. troop levels are actually rising
by 15,000 in the last month. They now stand at 145,000,
just 5,000 short of the initial occupation figure. (Pre-invasion, top administration
officials like Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz took it for granted
that American troop levels would be drawn down to the 30,000 range within
three months of the taking of Baghdad.)
While Americans are planning to remember 9/11
vast towers and a huge, extremely costly memorial sunk into Manhattan's
Ground Zero, Baghdadis have been thinking a bit more practically. They are putting
scarce funds into constructing two
new branch morgues (with refrigeration units) in the capital for what's
now most plentiful in their country: dead bodies. They plan to raise the city's
morgue capacity to 250 bodies a day. If fully used, that would be about 7,500
bodies a month. Think of it as a hedge against ever more probable futures.
While the various New York memorial constructions can't get off (or into)
the ground, due to disputes and cost estimate overruns, what could be thought
of as the real American memorial to Ground Zero is going up in the very heart
of Baghdad; and unlike the prospective structures in Manhattan or seemingly
just about any other construction project in Iraq, it's on schedule. According
to Paul McGeough,
the $787 million "embassy," a 21-building, heavily fortified complex (not reliant
on the capital's hopeless electricity or water systems) will pack significant
bang for the bucks its own built-in surface-to-air missile emplacements as
well as Starbucks and Krispy Kreme outlets, a beauty parlor, a swimming pool,
and a sports center. As essentially a "suburb of Washington," with a predicted
modest staff of 3,500, it is a project that says, with all the hubris the Bush
administration can muster: We're not leaving. Never.
Roadside bombs (or IEDs), "the leading killer of U.S. troops," rose to record
numbers this summer 1,200 in August, quadrupling the January 2004 figures
to the Washington Post, while bomb and attack tips from Iraqi citizens
fell drastically. They plummeted from 5,900 in April to 3,700 in July. ("It
will improve once it's not so darn lethal to go out on the street," was the
optimistic observation of retired Army Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs, director
of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization.)
According to a recently
released quarterly assessment the Pentagon is mandated to do for Congress,
Iraqi casualties have soared by a record 51 percent in recent months, quadrupling
in just two years.
From the same report, monthly attacks on U.S. and allied Iraqi forces rose
to about 800, doubling since early 2004. In Anbar province, the heartland
of the Sunni insurgency (where a
"very pessimistic" secret Marine Corps assessment indicates that "we haven't
been defeated militarily but we have been defeated politically and that's
where wars are won and lost"), attacks averaged 30 a day.
A sideline record in the War on Terror: Afghanistan's already sizable opium
crop is projected
to increase by at least 50 percent this year and would then make up a startling
92 percent of the global supply. According to Antonio Maria Costa, the global
executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, those supplies would
exceed global consumption by 30 percent so other records loom. (Meanwhile,
according to the Washington
Post, the investigation into the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden has
hit a record low. His trail has gone "stone cold.
U.S. commandos whose job
is to capture or kill Osama bin Laden have not received a credible lead in
more than two years.")
The Iraqi Condition
Along with civil war, the ethnic cleansing of
neighborhoods, the still-strengthening insurgency, and the security situation
from hell, Iraqis are also experiencing soaring
inflation, possibly reaching 70 percent this year (which would more than
double last year's 32 percent rise); stagnant salaries (where they even exist);
an "inert" banking system; gas and electricity prices up in a year by 270 percent;
massive corruption ("An
audit sponsored by the United Nations last week found hundreds of millions
of dollars of Iraq's oil revenue had been wrongly tallied last year or had gone
missing altogether"); lack of adequate electricity or potable water supplies;
tenaciously high unemployment, ranging depending upon the estimate from
percent (the recent Pentagon report to Congress offers Iraqi government
figures of 18 percent unemployment and 34 percent underemployment); acute
shortages of gasoline, kerosene, and cooking gas in the country with the
planet's third largest oil reserves, forcing the Iraqi government to devote
$800 million in scarce funds to importing refined oil products from neighboring
countries and making endless
gas lines and overnight waits the essence of normal life ("Filling up now
requires several days' pay, monastic patience or both
"); an oil industry, already
ragged at the time of the invasion, which has since gone steadily downhill (its
three main oil refineries are now functioning at half-capacity and processing
only half the number of barrels of oil as before the invasion, while the biggest
refinery in Baiji sometimes operates at as little as 7.5 percent of capacity);
government gas subsidies severely cut (at the urging of the International Monetary
on the rise and, according to that Pentagon report to Congress, 25.9 percent
of Iraqi children are stunted in their growth.
In other words, economically speaking, Iraq has essentially been deconstructed.
Diving Into Iraq
On Dec. 9, 2001, Vice President Cheney began publicly
arguing on Meet
the Press that there were Iraqi connections to the 9/11 attacks. It
was "pretty well confirmed," he told Tim Russert, that Mohammed Atta, the lead
hijacker, had met the previous April in Prague with a "senior official of the
Iraqi intelligence service." On Sept.
8, 2002, he returned to the program and reaffirmed this supposed fact even
more strongly. ("[Atta] did apparently travel to Prague on a number of occasions.
And on at least one occasion, we have reporting that places him in Prague with
a senior Iraqi intelligence official a few months before the attack on the World
Trade Center.") All of this and there was much more of it from Cheney, the
president, and other top officials, always leaving Iraq and 9/11, or Saddam
and al-Qaeda, or Saddam and Zarqawi in the same rhetorical neighborhood with
the final linking usually left to the listener was quite literally so much
These were claims debunked within the intelligence community and elsewhere
before, during, and after the invasion of Iraq. We learned only the other day
from a belated partial report by the Senate Intelligence Committee that U.S.
intelligence analysts were strongly disputing the alleged links between
Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda while senior Bush administration officials were
publicly asserting those links to justify invading Iraq. We learned as well
that our intelligence people knew Saddam Hussein had actually tried to capture
Zarqawi and that the claim that Zarqawi and he were somehow in cahoots was utterly
repudiated last fall by the CIA. None of this stopped the vice president
or president who as late as this Aug. 21 insisted
that Saddam "had relations with Zarqawi" from continuing to make such implicit
or explicit linkages even as they also backtracked
from the claims.
As is often the case, under such lies and manipulations lurks a deeper truth.
In this case, let's call it the truth of wish fulfillment. The link between
9/11 and Iraq is unfortunately all too real. The Bush administration made it
so in the heat of the post-9/11 shock.
Think of that link this way: In the immediate wake of 9/11, our president and
vice president hijacked our country, using the low-tech rhetorical equivalents
of box cutters and mace; then, with most passengers on board and not quite enough
of the spirit of United Flight 93 to spare, after a brief Afghan overflight,
they crashed the plane of state directly into Iraq, causing the equivalent of
a Katrina that never ends and turning that country from Basra in the south
to the border of Kurdistan into the global equivalent of Ground Zero.
Copyright 2006 Tom Engelhardt