Yesterday president Barack Obama said the US will remain a strong partner to the Iraqi people. Is that the best we can do? How come Iraq can’t get an Israel-style, we’ll-support-you-unthinkingly-no-matter-what kind of pledge from the US president?
After all, Obama said this about Israel just a couple months ago:
“The United States was the first country to recognize Israel in 1948, minutes after its declaration of independence, and the deep bonds of friendship between the US and Israel remain as strong and unshakable as ever.”
And this a month ago:
“America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties.”
But when it comes to Iraq, we get nothing more than:
“Iraq’s future now rests in the hands of its own people,” he added. “This transition won’t be without problems. We know that there will be difficult days ahead. That is why we will remain a strong partner to the Iraqi people on behalf of their security and prosperity.”
What cultural and historical ties do we have with Israel that we don’t have with Iraq? We have a million Arab Americans in the United States, compared to five or six million Jews. And while Arabs haven’t achieved the high penetration of US government that Jews have, we do and have had Arab-American senators, governors, and presidential candidates, plus a former CENTCOM commander.
Of course I’m mixing apples and oranges. Israel is the homeland of all Jews, promised to them by The One God, or so I am assured by Yisrael Medad and an anonymous, ringleted young man, among others. Whereas Iraq is not the homeland of all Arabs.
However, Iraq is the cradle of civilization*. Talk about a cultural and historical tie! And some artifacts from that cradle of civilization still exist despite soldiers’ trampling historic sites and the widespread looting of unprotected museums. That 4,300-year-old bronze mask of an Akkadian king which graced an American school textbook, for example, may still exist.
But to get back to the present, let’s talk about our relationship with Iraq over the last six years. Our former president took us to war there to liberate Iraqis, right? Am I remembering right? Let’s see, from January 2003:
US President George W Bush rallied US troops on Friday, telling them that a war in Iraq would be “not to conquer but to liberate”.
Oh no, wait, no, he said this at the same time:
“We prefer voluntary compliance from Iraq. Force is our last choice but if force becomes necessary to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction… to secure our country and to keep the peace, America will act deliberately, America will act decisively, and America will prevail because we’ve got the finest military in the world.”
Then we moved in and started our partnership with the beleaguered people of Iraq, some of whom had asked us for help.
In the invasion phase of the war (March 19-April 30), 9,200 Iraqi combatants were killed along with 7,299 civilians, primarily by U.S. air and ground forces. Coalition forces reported the death in combat of 139 U.S. military personnel and 33 UK military personnel. This work out at almost 100 dead Iraqis for every dead coalition soldier.
Iraq’s health has deteriorated to a level not seen since the 1950s, said Joseph Chamie, former director of the U.N. Population Division and an Iraq specialist. “They were at the forefront”, he said, referring to health care just before the 1991 Persian Gulf War. “Now they’re looking more and more like a country in sub-Saharan Africa.” Malnutrition rates have risen from 19% before the US-led invasion to a national average of 28% four years later. Some 60-70% of Iraqi children are suffering from psychological problems. 68% of Iraqis have no access to safe drinking water. A cholera outbreak in northern Iraq is thought to be the result of poor water quality. As many as half of Iraqi doctors have left the country since 2003.
Wow, that was some high malnutrition in Iraq! Which reminds me that our partnership with Iraq started much earlier and included crippling sanctions.
The number of Iraqis killed through 2007 ranges from “a conservative cautious minimum” of more than 85,000 civilians to a survey estimate of more than 1,000,000 citizens. UNHCR estimates the war uprooted 4.7 million Iraqis through April 2008 (about 16% of the population of Iraq), two million of whom had fled to neighbouring countries fleeing a humanitarian situation that the Red Cross described in March 2008 as “among the most critical in the world”.
Iraq’s silent figurehead president, Jalal Talabani, said this in 2005:
“We owe to those American heroes who came to liberate us from the worst kind of dictatorship,” Jalal Talabani said at the Pentagon after meeting with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad and other officials.
“Thanks to your brave Army, now Iraqi people (are free),” he said, adding that for the first time Iraqis have freedom of expression, political parties, media — “of everything.”
He said “the glorious American people” have paid the price for others’ freedom throughout history. “You in the United States have paid hundreds of thousands of your sons and your boys in fighting against fascism and in liberating Asian people,” Talabani said. “Thanks to you, you liberated Afghanistan from the worst kind of reactionary regime; you liberated Iraq from the worst kind of dictatorship.”
After a tongue bath like that, you’d think we could come through with an Israel-style carte blanche statement of undying love, but no.
So we’ve invested six years, about three trillion dollars, sacrificed four thousand US soldiers’ lives, left behind 500 US soldiers’ limbs, displaced four million Iraqis, gotten 100,000 Iraqis (or maybe over a million, nobody has an accurate count) killed dead, turned 50,000 Iraqi women into prostitutes, and installed a government more or less like what the architects of the war originally dreamed of, all to liberate the Iraqis.
So why can’t we get an “unbreakable bond” with the people of Iraq?
*one of five such cradles of civilization: Mesopotamia, Egypt, Indus, Shang (or Yellow River valley), Mesoamerica and Andean South America.[