Iraq: Seven Years of Occupation

On April 9, 2003, exactly seven years ago, Baghdad
fell under the US-led occupation. Baghdad did not fall in 21 days,
though; it fell after 13 years of wars, bombings and economic
sanctions. Millions of Iraqis, including myself, watched our country
die slowly before our eyes in those 13 years. So, when the invasion
started in March of 2003, everyone knew it was the straw that would
break the camel's back.

I still remember the day of the fall of Baghdad very
clearly, as if it happened yesterday. My family and I had fled to my
uncle's home in southern Baghdad because our neighborhood, located near
Baghdad's airport, was bombarded by US airplanes in the days before. I
remember the first US tank rolling down the street with a US soldier,
wearing black gloves, waving his hand and some people waving back. That
was one of the sadist day of my life, not only because Baghdad fell
under a foreign occupation, but also because I knew it would be the
beginning of another disastrous chapter in Iraq's history. Now, when I
look back at all that happened under the occupation, I find that I was,
unfortunately, right.

In the last seven years, one million Iraqis have
been killed and millions more injured and displaced from their homes.
The country's infrastructure was destroyed and Iraq's civil society has
been severely damaged. A video posted this week by WikiLeaks is
not an exception to how the US occupation operated in Iraq all along,
but rather an example of it. While the video is shocking and disturbing
to the US public, from an Iraqi perspective it just tells a story of an
average day under the occupation. But even from the Pentagon's
perspective, that attack was nothing exceptional. Reuters demanded an
investigation into this particular attack because two of its employees
were killed in it, and the Pentagon has already conducted an
investigation that cleared all soldiers who took part of the attack of
any wrongdoing. The video does not show an operation that went wrong,
or where "rules of engagement" were not followed. It is simply how the
US military has been doing business in Iraq for seven years now.

What is equally disturbing is the mainstream media
coverage of the event. For example, in a piece published the day of the
attack, The New York Times reported that
two Iraqi Journalists were killed "as US forces clash with Militias."
The New York Times' piece confirmed "American forces battled insurgents
in the area" and covered the following statement from the US military:

The American military said in a statement late
Thursday that 11 people had been killed: nine insurgents and two
civilians. According to the statement, American troops were conducting
a raid when they were hit by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled
grenades. The American troops called in reinforcements and attack
helicopters. In the ensuing fight, the statement said, the two Reuters
employees and nine insurgents were killed. ''There is no question that
coalition forces were clearly engaged in combat operations against a
hostile force,'' said Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, a spokesman for the
multinational forces in Baghdad.

Now, after the video was leaked, we know that none
of this is true. Iraqis killed in the attack were not "insurgents." US
troops were not "hit by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades,"
the attack helicopters were not "called in" in response to hostilities
and there was no "ensuing fight" that caused the massacre. In fact,
after watching the video, there is no question that the US forces were
clearly NOT engaged in combat operations against a hostile force. In
addition to making the entire story up, the Pentagon has very
conveniently omitted the part about the two children being injured.

This story is similar to hundreds of other stories
printed by The New York Times and other mainstream media during the
last seven years. Imagine how many tens of thousands of Iraqis who were
labeled as "insurgents" and "militias" were killed and injured the same
way. Imagine how many Iraqi children were killed and injured without a
mention by the Pentagon or mainstream media. A number of international
organizations, including Amnesty International, are now calling for an
independent and impartial investigation into the July 12, 2007, helicopter attack shown
in the leaked video. But I think this leaked video tells a bigger story
than the attack itself. It tells a story of systemic, cold-blooded
murder, and the shameful cover up by mainstream media and silence by
international organizations.

Remembering the last seven years and conducting
investigations is important, but what is more important and urgent is
to end this occupation. This month marks both the seventh year of
occupation and the beginning of the combat forces withdrawal in
accordance with President Obama's plan. The current plan for US
withdrawal is based on two sets of time-based deadlines. Obama's own
plan to withdraw combat forces between April and August 31, 2010, and
the bilateral security agreement's deadline for the withdrawal of all
troops and contractors and shutting down all US bases by December 31,

While the Bush administration adopted a
conditions-based withdrawal plan based on the mantra "as Iraqis stand
up, we will stand down," the withdrawal doctrine under Obama has been
time-based, not linked to conditions on the ground. The main problem
with a condition-based withdrawal plans is that it creates an equation
where deteriorating conditions lead to an extension of the military
occupation. Unfortunately, many groups would like to see the US
occupation of Iraq continue. Some groups, such as the Iraqi ruling
parties or the military industrial complex in the United States,
believe the occupation is in their self-interest. Others, such as
al-Qaeda, hope to cripple the United States by keeping it engaged in a
conflict that is taking an enormous toll on human lives, money and
global reputation. And still others, such as Iran and other regional
players, fear the re-emergence of a strong independent and united Iraq
that would change the power balance in the Middle East.

The conditions on the ground are rapidly
deteriorating in Iraq. After last month's general election, there is a
dramatic spike in violence and growing threats to the security and
political stability of the country. This week alone, hundreds of Iraqis
were killed and injured because of car bombs, assassinations, and other
armed attacks. Meanwhile, the Iraqi political establishment is
struggling to form the new government. The US war machine is already
trying to use this deterioration as an excuse to delay or cancel the
withdrawal plan, or at least link it to conditions on the ground.

Going back to a condition-based plan will cost the
US hundreds of billions more, will result in the deaths of countless
more US soldiers and Iraqi civilians and, most importantly, will not
bring Iraq closer to being a stable and prosperous country. The US
occupation has never been a part of the solution and it will never be.
Delaying or canceling the US withdrawal will only diminish what's left
of US credibility and will add another layer of complications to the
war-torn country. Many national US organizations, including Peace
Action, are calling for a national day of action today to
ask Congress and the White House to stick to the time-based withdrawal
plan and bring the US combat forces as promised before the end of

The US has been engaged in military hostilities with
Iraq and Iraqis since 1991. Even when Obama abides by the security
agreement and ends the occupation next year, the US responsibility to
compensate and help Iraqis help themselves will not be over. Our
responsibility starts by ending the 20-year war, but it doesn't end

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.