Published on
the Regina Leader-Post (Canada)

Counting the Cost in Iraq

Aijaz Husain

Thanks to the foresight of policy makers in Washington, the quagmire in Iraq is now past its fifth anniversary. If this year's U.S. presidential election is any indication of what the future holds for Iraq, just hear the GOP's presumptive nominee, John McCain, talking about staying there for another hundred years! God bless him!

It is not coincidental that barely four days after the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, the death toll of American soldiers in that country reached the 4,000 mark. Now that the anniversary celebrations are way behind, it is time to do a little stocktaking in terms of what has been accomplished so far, and what more remains to be done in the years -- perhaps decades -- to come.

The assessment of what the invasion has achieved is already underway at the hands of political analysts, commentators and media gurus around the world. The view from the White House, however, is rosy.

Addressing a Pentagon audience on March 19, the anniversary day, President Bush was in a self-congratulatory mood, telling the world that -- as it turned out -- his decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the "right one" after all.

From the White House perspective, the progress in Iraq is being seen only in terms of reduction in violence that has seemingly occurred as a result of the last year's "surge" in American troop strength in combating the insurgents. But the questions that need answering are many. Is America winning "the war on terror"? Is life of the Iraqi people any better under American occupation of their country than it was under Saddam Hussein's brutal regime? Is the country united, secure and stable? When, if ever, will the U.S. be ready to disengage itself from the conflict in Iraq?

One would like to think that the progress in Iraq needs to be assessed only in context of the objectives that were set forth at the start of the invasion. Initially the stated goal for the war was to rid Saddam Hussein of his weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that the Bush Administration believed he was stockpiling, thereby posing a global threat to the lives and interests of Americans and their allies.

It must have been very embarrassing, if not disappointing, to Washington not to have found any trace of those dreaded WMD in Iraq. That discovery necessitated a rethinking of a new rationale for the war effort. Now the phrases currently in use in Washington giving a new raison d'etre for the war suggest that it is "an operation central to the war on terror" -- a "freedom agenda", an initiative to "promote and spread democracy in the Middle East"!


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The question is: how serious is the U.S. about spreading democracy in the Middle East? If that indeed is the agenda, is it not a contradiction of current U.S. foreign policy to heavily subsidize the existing monarchies and dictatorships in the region with military hardware and logistics worth billions of dollars, all to prevent them from becoming democratic? Aren't the dictatorship in Egypt or, for that matter, the absolutely autocratic sheikhdoms around the Persian Gulf the beneficiaries of that policy?

Treating the war in Iraq as "central to the war on terror" would have made sense only if, before the invasion, there had been some evidence of Iraq having become a bastion of terrorists. Saddam Hussein, the devil in him, was not much of a religionist. Never tolerant of Muslim extremists, he always saw them as a potential threat to his hold on power and made sure that the country's prominent clerics, some of whom had come from Iran, would either be in jail or on exile.

That raises the question: if there were no WMD and no terrorists to be hunted down in Iraq, what then was exactly the purpose of starting the war in Iraq in the first place? What was it for that 4,000 American soldiers had to die? Why did another 30,000 men and women in uniform have to come home severely wounded, many with disabilities or suffering from post-traumatic disorder? What about the suffering of their families?

Most importantly, it is the people of Iraq who are at the war's receiving end. Their country has been ravaged beyond recognition. Estimates of civilian casualties vary, but conservative estimates put the figure at 100,000 dead and more than a million wounded. With hundreds of thousands of homes destroyed, and the country's infrastructure lying in ruins, just add another five million Iraqis who are now displaced, half of them languishing in refugee camps in neighbouring countries. Was it all worth an invasion?

One simply wonders why America had to exact such a heavy price from a people who had done no harm to America. All that it amounts to is five years of "surge" in human misery and still counting!

Husain is a Regina freelance writer.

© The Leader-Post (Regina) 2008

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