Death By Numbers
The great butcher has himself been butchered. The timing is auspicious. These symbolic little “victories” in the otherwise bleak occupation of Iraq often seem to be timed for US consumption. If this one was, then it couldn’t have been a coincidence that it comes on the same long holiday weekend as the death of the 3,000th American soldier there.
And three thousand is not just a round number -- it’s just a bit bigger than the official death toll from the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
The 3,000 number itself was already auspicious in the days after September 11th, 2001. It was on another September 11th twenty-eight years before that a US-sponsored neofascist coup in Chile quickly resulted in a similar number of deaths. Thousands of supporters of democracy and egalitarianism who had elected Salvador Allende to power three years earlier were systematically murdered. Like so many other US government interventions in the affairs of other nations, this one led to decades of dictatorship. One more US-sponsored regime kept in power by torture, executions and systematic election theft.
Like Pinochet, Saddam was, for decades, our guy in the Middle East, along with the Shah of Iran and others. Saddam was one of the world’s most enthusiastic torturers and executioners of Islamists. Even GW admits he had nothing to do with 9/11. But now Iraq has lots of radical Islamists and all kinds of other folks attracted to the idea of defending an Arab country from bloodthirsty American invaders. So now the “war on terror” can go on in Iraq, too.
The US had the receipts for the chemical weapons they sold to Saddam in the 1980’s, and they ignored the reliable information they had from both Iraqi defectors and UN inspectors that all the WMD’s were long gone by the early 1990’s. Instead, they knowingly used this phony search for wepaons of mass destruction as an excuse to impose a more compliant regime on yet another country.
In the 1980’s a scientist from Texas was running a &ldquoharmaceutical” plant in western Iraq for Saddam. Meanwhile, thousands of Iranians and Kurds at a time were being killed in the course of dozens of massive-scale human slaughters carried out with chemical weapons. And, as usual when dictators we like were carrying out atrocities of staggering proportions, the military aid and political support from Washington continued unabated. As long as the main victims of Saddam’s regime were his own people and the citizens of the new Islamic government in neighboring Iran, it was all good.
Following a long-standing tradition in US foreign policy, Saddam attacked Iran in a gigantic, unprovoked assault. Over the course of the eight-year war, over a million Iranians were killed, many of them by poison gas. “Saddam’s martyrs,” the hapless young Iraqi draftees and others who died in the course of this senseless slaughter, are thought to number about 700,000.
It’s another interesting number to attempt to comprehend in some way. Since the most recent 2003 invasion, according to Britain’s Lancet Medical Journal, the toll by violent death in Iraq could be as high as 700,000 by now.
The job of torturing the Iraqi people has for years now been done by the US, in the same Abu Ghraib prison that Saddam used as his chief torture facility. And now the job of slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Iraqis has also been passed on from Saddam to his American executioners.
Among other things the Iraq Study Group has recommended, widely ignored by the so-called “mainstream” media, is the total privatization of the Iraqi economy, starting with it’s oil. So the job of profitting from Iraq’s vast oil wealth has also been passed on violently from Saddam and his cronies to the US and it’s corporations -- although unlike the current government, at least Saddam used part of that wealth to provide most Iraqis with universal health care and education.
And those people in Iraq trying to put an end to this nightmare by once again forcing an English-speaking army out of their land? Terrorists, of course.
Just like the Vietnamese. In some hotel room a year or two ago I was watching a documentary on Fox television. It was about the Battle of Hue in 1968. The Vietnamese partisans had taken the city from the US occupation forces. The US military eventually re-took the city from them. The Fox documentary was full of outrageous claims about the bravery of the US Marines and the spinelessness of the enemy, how every time a Vietnamese came face to face with a US soldier they ran.
There were stories of courageous “house-to-house” fighting, and no efforts were made to try to familiarize the viewer with any information about how guerrilla fighting is generally conducted. Normally, when you are facing a vastly more powerful military force, no sensible guerrilla force engages in combat that might be described as “stand and fight” for very long. At the end of the documentary, the only honest piece of information in the whole thing was mentioned in passing: By the end of the Battle of Hue, 80% of the city lay in ruins.
Facing such a fearful, spineless resistance it was once again necessary to destroy the city in order to win it back?
And as in Vietnam, the ever-growing resistance in Iraq is a shadowy affair, and is supposedly full of people from other countries and “Baathist remnants.” In Vietnam it was the Russians. In Iraq it’s the international terrorists. Reality be damned, that’s our story and by golly we’re sticking to it. And never mind the fact that the terrorists who came from all over the Muslim world to take Afghanistan back from the Russians did so with billions of American dollars, funded through the regimes that are still in power in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan – during the very same decade (the 1980’s) that the US was supporting Saddam’s war against other Islamists who we didn’t like!
A woman I know was telling me about her lover. I’ll call him Ghassan. Ghassan was a young man full of vitality, with great hopes for the future. He was educated as an engineer in an ivy league university in the west and spoke fluent English. He despised Saddam as well as Islamic fundamentalism. Like so many others throughout the Middle East, he was a secular, leftwing pan-Arabist.
And like most Arabs – unlike most people in the west – Ghassan knew of the double-standards of the invaders. He knew that despite the rhetoric, the US had always supported dictatorships of all kinds, and opposed movements for self-determination. He knew that the US had overthrown democratically-elected governments that had their people’s welfare in mind, and replaced them with torture-happy dictatorships that looked out for US corporate interests as they slaughtered their people.
Ghassan was a person of conscience. He met a little girl in Basra who had been orphaned by the Americans, and he adopted her as his own. And when his people were being massacred, he came to their defense.
My friend got an anonymous phone call one day. The man on the line said Ghassan had joined the resistance in Falluja. The building he had been in was completely demolished. Fighters were on the second floor. On the first floor was his adopted daughter from Basra, and other women and children. Everyone in the building was killed. The man on the phone said that Ghassan died looking the crusaders in the eye.
If the Ghassans of the world are the terrorists we are trying to wipe out, then, as the bumper sticker goes, we are surely creating enemies far faster than we can kill them.
In the once-beautiful City of Mosques, the resistance had only small arms against the airborne might of the world’s largest military. The US employed helicopters that fired chemical weapons, and helicopters that fired hundreds of rounds of armor-piercing bullets per second. Yet in order to re-take Falluja from the resistance in 2004, the fighting was so fierce that by the time the guerrillas were killed or driven out, about 80% of the city was turned to rubble.
Hundreds of thousands of refugees from Falluja and elsewhere in Iraq continue to flood into Jordan and other countries, wherever they can go. Construction in Amman was certainly booming when I visited there last year. And these are the lucky ones who have managed to survive thus far, and have the means to move somewhere else. If you talk with the survivors you can start to get some idea of how the respected Lancet Medical Journal arrived at the estimates of the numbers of those who have died violent deaths in the past several years of this most recent nightmare for the people of Iraq.
Perhaps I’m being too moralistic. Perhaps we really need the oil that lies beneath their sand. Perhaps all of this is in “our national interest.” Perhaps. As long as it is also in our national interest to support despots, to jail and kill democrats. As long as it is also in our national interest to maintain a state of desperate poverty among the masses of people around the world. As long as it is also in our national interest to be hated or at least mistrusted by 98% of the world’s population. As long as it is in our interest to be in a perpetual state of war, and to be directly responsible for the ceaseless slaughter of millions upon millions of good people on every continent aside from Antarctica.
I wake up in the morning, read the paper and once again I feel like I’m living in a bubble, watching heavily-armed men arm themselves some more, form alliances, make enemies, torture and kill them, then make some more enemies, arming themselves some more in the process, all to determine who gets to drive the car that is spewing it’s exhaust into our little bubble. This is how the world looks when ExxonMobil and Halliburton are determining your foreign and domestic policies. In a word, insane.
But Saddam is dead. One mass murderer is down. How many more to go?