One year after "Mission Accomplished" was proclaimed
by President Bush, America may have lost the war in Iraq. Insurgency, instability
and social chaos, the familiar problems dogging the occupation, were exacerbated
in April by mutiny, collapsing authority and military deadlock. Then came the
devastating revelations of atrocity – first in the brutal siege of Fallujah,
then in the unspeakable photographs of torture from the Abu Ghraib prison. The
occupation has reached the point of meltdown.
"We have failed," stated retired Gen. William
E. Odom, currently director of the Hudson Institute, a pro-administration
think-tank. In an interview which rocked the foreign policy establishment, Odom
told the Wall Street Journal he had abandoned all hope for success in Iraq.
Predicting a radical Islamist regime hostile to the West, one prepared to fund
terrorist organizations, he called for the swift withdrawal of U.S. forces.
Otherwise Iraqis will be radicalized even further, he warned, risking the destabilization
of the entire region.
"The issue is how high a price we're going to pay," Odom insisted, "less, by
getting out sooner, or more, by getting out later." Any "continued U.S. troop
presence is a losing proposition. Once you've done a stupid thing, you don't
fix it by keeping doing it. Our troops are exposed; we're going to take more
casualties without any capacity of destroying the enemy. That's a losing proposition."
Odom made his remarks before the Abu Ghraib photos were released.
The electrical system in Iraq has still not been repaired. Contrary to President
Bush, electricity is not more widely available than before the war. Without
the provision of electricity, clean water and sewage treatment also suffer.
The New York Times reports that the hospitals
are in ruins: "At Baghdad's Central Teaching Hospital for Children, gallons
of raw sewage wash across the floors. The drinking water is contaminated. According
to doctors, 80 percent of patients leave with infections they did not have when
they arrived." In Baghdad the streets remain unsafe. Bombings, drive-by shootings,
hostage-takings and a wave of assassinations continue. Other cities are safer,
often at the price of theocratic rule. Meanwhile, the effects of depleted uranium
throughout Iraq – the "silent genocide" –
go unnoticed in America and undiscussed.
The guerillas are winning the war, in part because no segment of the population
has turned against them. They have seized control of the roads, and disrupted
the supply lines. "The main problem in Iraq today," writes military critic Carton
Meyer, "is the massive logistics effort required to sustain U.S. Forces
at over a hundred dispersed camps." Supplies arrive by ship, with the closest
major seaport being in Kuwait. "This means everything must be hauled hundreds
of miles over war-torn roads among hostile natives." Most convoys are attacked,
supplies run short, ammunition is rationed, and the Army is stretched to the
is the graveyard of Americans! At the end of March this slogan was chanted
by jubilant residents. It accompanied the charred corpses of four "foreign contractors"
(highly paid mercenaries) that were dragged through the streets before being
hanged from a bridge over the river Euphrates. By the end of April the slogan
had grimly assumed a double aspect. For Fallujah, which will perhaps be remembered
as the battle where, politically, America lost the war, also became a graveyard
for hundreds of civilians killed in the retaliatory siege, which President Bush
had personally ordered.
Although the coalition military denies any targeting of noncombatants, numerous
eyewitness reports say otherwise. A young man named Ahmed is quoted
by UPI: "The Americans have snuck snipers all over Fallujah and everyone
can be hit any time. I have seen their snipers kill women and children. The
hospital is full of their bodies, all shot in the heart or the head."
The Christian Science Monitor told of a mother who tried
to run from an attacking U.S. Apache helicopter: "My children tried to run
away and the helicopters chased them. Families were running through the streets.
. . . Windows were broken and many, many people were dead." Writing in the respected
Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Orit Shoat summed up:
"During the first two weeks of [April], the American army committed
war crimes in Fallujah on a scale unprecedented for this war. . . . Some 600
Iraqis were killed during these two weeks [estimates are now at 800 - G.H.],
among them some 450 elderly people, women and children. . . . According to
the organization Doctors Without Borders, U.S. Marines even occupied the hospitals
and prevented hundreds of the wounded from receiving medical treatment. Snipers
fired from the rooftops at anyone who tried to approach."
500-pound bombs were dropped on the city from U.S. AC-130 gunships. So many
dead needed to be buried that the soccer field became a makeshift graveyard,
completely filled. Under the Geneva conventions, collective punishment is a
war crime, as is the deliberate targeting of civilians.
The iconic image of the torture victim standing on a box, pointed black hood
on his head, dangling high-voltage wires attached to his outstretched, Christ-like
arms - this image, and the others equally horrifying, will be the pictures that
lost the war. "Is it realistic," asks the University of Michigan's Juan
Cole, "after the bloody siege of Fallujah and the Shiite uprising of early
April, and in the wake of these revelations, to think that the U.S. can still
win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi Arab republic?"
Anyone who thinks that the U.S. military has never perpetrated or condoned
torture on an administrative basis - in places like Vietnam, Latin and Central
America, Iran under the Shah, or Afghanistan today - has not been paying attention
(to say nothing of Guantanamo under
our very noses).
"Our extensive research in Iraq suggests that this is not an isolated incident,"
International of the Abu Ghraib revelations. "It is not enough for the U.S.A.
to react only once images have hit the television screens." Nor is it enough
to blame these unspeakable crimes on isolated individuals. In the New Yorker
cites a lengthy internal army report on the prison. It found a pattern of "sadistic,
blatant, and wanton criminal abuses."
What kind of people have we become? What will shake us from our culpable ignorance?
Will we continue to live in a fantasy land where our country is always inherently
good, where people elsewhere have no reason to hate us, and where victory will
be achieved only through military means?
"What the world expects of Christians" wrote Albert Camus, "is that Christians
should speak out loud and clear – in such a way that never a doubt, never the
slightest doubt, could rise in the heart of the simplest human being. They should
get away from abstraction and confront the blood-stained face history has taken
on today. The grouping that we need is a grouping of persons resolved to speak
out clearly and pay up personally." May God help us before it is too late.