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Give 'em $150 For a Sheep

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$150 for a sheep, $300 for a cow: that's what American forces are paying in Iraq, if they've killed either of the above. These are payments in compensation. They also pay for breaking in someone's door (if there are no "insurgents," guns blazing, behind it) and for walls of stock compounds, and so on.

Think of the kind of disruption these payments represent. What about payments for commandeering a street at any time of the day or night, a military convoy driving up it on the wrong side, the wrong way, all other vehicles scrambling to safety? This happens continuously. What about payments for dividing a city with concrete barriers, barbed wire, and "checkpoints" at nearly every important intersection? This is what life in Baghdad and other ethnically or factionally divided cities in Iraq now face every day.

What about payments for the random search that turns your house upside down, your husband, or son, or daughter into a detainee, with whom you have no contact for weeks or months? Some of those detainees will never come back, through no fault of their own: harsh treatment has led to the deaths of undisclosed numbers of Iraqis. The large majority of people detained by the US military are released without charges, sometimes, again, with compensatory payments.

What about the death of an Iraqi's close relative? The US military pays $25,000, as long as you can provide some evidence that your husband, son, daughter or mother were killed as a result of "coalition" activity and they were not insurgents; if they were suspected of being insurgents, or killed by insurgents, or by a suicide bomb, forgetaboutit.

A case could be made that all of the deaths from "abnormal causes" in Iraq since the 2002 invasion have been a result of the invasion, and should be compensated for, as such. After all, Saddam Hussein may have killed people in order to maintain power, but nothing compared to the war's death toll--even counting the suppression of the Shiite insurgency instigated by US encouragement (but absent its support) after the Gulf War. According to the Lancet study published in May, 2006, 655,000 more Iraqis had died since the invasion of 2002 than could be accounted for by normal causes. In addition, there were another 25,000 deaths documented by Iraq Body Count in 2007, for a (probably undercounted) 680,000 deaths of Iraqis caused by the war by the end of 2007. Counting only these deaths of Iraqi civilians, according to the USDOD "price" for a human life, the US owes Iraqis $1.7 billion.

In addition, the US has destroyed Iraq's infrastructure, and still has hardly rebuilt it; why else are people dying of intestinal diseases like cholera in Iraq, when it had a modern water and sewer system before the war? Why else is the capital limited to a few hours of electricity a day? Why else is Iraq producing less oil than it was able to ship under Saddam Hussein, even when he was under international sanctions? Why have over 4 million Iraqis fled their homes (in a nation of about 25 million), half of them to leave the country? While a trickle is now returning because of improved security, most are unable to re-occupy their homes, or continue their lives as before. Many are coming back simply because they have run out of money abroad.

Furthermore, would an American citizen accept a lump-sum payment of only $25,000 for her husband or son, who may have been tortured, then murdered? In the US, term life insurance for accidental death benefits often begins at $100,000. On an online form, death benefits can be purchased for up to ten million dollars. According to New York State's Worker's Compensation law, an accidental death (with no fault assigned) should generate a payment "to the employee's surviving spouse and children" of $50,000. The unjustified invasion, destruction and occupation of Iraq is a very large fault, or cause, and most of it can be fairly attributed to the US. A payment of $25,000 per human life is paltry when you consider US culpability every day of its occupation. And yet, many claims for compensation are turned down. "They're bogus," claimed one sergeant, explaining the process followed in his unit. His and other American soldiers' attitudes seem to be: the Iraqis are just making these claims because they're trying to squeeze anything they can out of the Americans. From the point of view of the Iraqis, a large majority of whom also reported that it was acceptable to shoot Americans, anything they can get from the occupying power is justifiable.

There is only one way that Americans can remove themselves from responsibility for every ongoing death or destruction of property and infrastructure in Iraq. It can do so by withdrawing its troops, and committing itself to war reparations for deaths and damage already done, to be paid once there is a viable Iraqi state that can fairly use and administer the reparations. The US is not justified in staying one moment longer than it would take to safely remove all US military and their movable equipment. America should chalk up to "massive mistake" its investment in huge "permanent" bases, and should remove or disable any parts of them that might be used to worsen the inevitable civil war that will ensue full-force once they withdraw.

It is true that the US is (already) responsible for creating the conditions for the civil war--between Shia, Sunni and Kurd, and between factions within each group--but it cannot disentangle these conflicts; it is massively involved with all sides. Only Iraqis can come to a settlement, although they may need some disinterested third parties--perhaps a minor East Asian or African state (one without oil, trade, or religious entanglements), or the UN Secretary General--to broker a peace, but only to broker it, not to police it. In any case, the US has to get out.

 

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I am a writer and retired college teacher. I taught college courses in Economics and Political Science (I've a Ph.D) and I've written as a free-lancer for various publications. I now write a website and a blog at (more...)
 
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