In the lead-up to the war in Iraq, President George W. Bush made a promise. "The Iraqi people can be certain of this," he said. "The United States is committed to helping them build a better future." A decade later, his successor, Barack Obama, seemed to suggest the U.S. had kept its end of the bargain. On the 10th anniversary of the invasion, he lauded U.S. troops who, he insisted, gave the Iraqi people "an opportunity to forge their own future after many years of hardship."
A promise made, a promised kept. Mission accomplished, right?
But what happened to the "better future" for the untold number of Iraqis who died in the charnel house that resulted from the American invasion? Where can we find the "better future" of the nine-year-old girl killed by an air strike in Baghdad"s Al-Nasser marketplace on March 28, 2003? Or the 12-year-old boy killed by a car bomb in Al-Ula market in Baghdad's Sadr City on July 1, 2006? Or Dawoud Nouri's eight-year-old daughter who was beheaded in Kirkuk on April 21, 2007? What happened to their opportunities "to forge their own future"?
According to a recent report from the Costs of War Project at Brown University, at least 123,000-134,000 Iraqi civilians have died "as a direct consequence of the war's violence since the March 2003 invasion." In fact, while the U.S. military left Iraq in 2011 and war supporters have advanced a counterfeit history of success there -- owing to then-General (now disgraced former CIA director) David Petraeus's military "surge" of 2007 -- the war's brutal legacy lives on. Last year, the casualty watchdog group Iraq Body Count tallied 4,570 Iraqi civilian deaths from violence, a small increase over the death toll from 2011.
And on the day of Obama's 10th anniversary announcement, car bombs and other attacks killed and wounded hundreds in the Iraqi capital Baghdad alone. Add to these numbers the countless wounded of the last decade and the approximately 2.8 million Iraqis who, to this day, remain refugees outside the country or internally displaced within it and the words of both presidents ring hollow indeed.
Today, Dahr Jamail, who, in the early years of the American occupation of Iraq, covered that country's nightmare in a way that few other American reporters even tried to do, returns to its still war-torn streets to do what he does best: give voice to the men and women who were promised those bright futures by America's commanders-in-chief. The Iraq they speak of, not surprisingly, bears little resemblance to the fantasyland touted by America's recent presidents. And their thoughts, for the years ahead, seem to fall somewhere between fatalism and nihilism. "Hardship" is hardly in the past and a "better future" appears nowhere in sight on a dim road filled with sectarian tensions, despair, lack of basic services, and the urge for revenge. An "opportunity to forge their own future"? Tell it to the dead. Nick Turse
Living with No Future
Iraq, 10 Years Later
By Dahr Jamail
Back then, everybody was writing about Iraq, but it's surprising how few Americans, including reporters, paid much attention to the suffering of Iraqis. Today, Iraq is in the news again. The words, the memorials, the retrospectives are pouring out, and again the suffering of Iraqis isn't what's on anyone's mind. This was why I returned to that country before the recent 10th anniversary of the Bush administration's invasion and why I feel compelled to write a few grim words about Iraqis today.
But let's start with then. It's April 8, 2004, to be exact, and I'm inside a makeshift medical center in the heart of Fallujah while that predominantly Sunni city is under siege by American forces. I'm alternating between scribbling brief observations in my notebook and taking photographs of the wounded and dying women and children being brought into the clinic.
A woman suddenly arrives, slapping her chest and face in grief, wailing hysterically as her husband carries in the limp body of their little boy. Blood is trickling down one of his dangling arms. In a few minutes, he'll be dead. This sort of thing happens again and again.
Over and over, I watch speeding cars hop the curb in front of this dirty clinic with next to no medical resources and screech to a halt. Grief-stricken family members pour out, carrying bloodied relatives -- women and children -- gunned down by American snipers.- Advertisement -
One of them, an 18-year-old girl has been shot through the neck by what her family swears was an American sniper. All she can manage are gurgling noises as doctors work frantically to save her from bleeding to death. Her younger brother, an undersized child of 10 with a gunshot wound in his head, his eyes glazed and staring into space, continually vomits as doctors race to keep him alive. He later dies while being transported to a hospital in Baghdad.
According to the Bush administration at the time, the siege of Fallujah was carried out in the name of fighting something called "terrorism" and yet, from the point of view of the Iraqis I was observing at such close quarters, the terror was strictly American. In fact, it was the Americans who first began the spiraling cycle of violence in Fallujah when U.S. troops from the 82nd Airborne Division killed 17 unarmed demonstrators on April 28th of the previous year outside a school they had occupied and turned into a combat outpost. The protesters had simply wanted the school vacated by the Americans, so their children could use it. But then, as now, those who respond to government-sanctioned violence are regularly written off as "terrorists." Governments are rarely referred to in the same terms.
10 Years Later
Jump to March 2013 and that looming 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion. For me, that's meant two books and too many news articles to count since I first traveled to that country as the world's least "embedded" reporter to blog about a U.S. occupation already spiraling out of control. Today, I work for the Human Rights Department of Al Jazeera English, based out of Doha, Qatar. And once again, so many years later, I've returned to the city where I saw all those bloodied and dying women and children. All these years later, I'm back in Fallujah.