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General News    H3'ed 6/13/19

Tomgram: Laura Gottesdiener, An American Saddam Hussein?

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It's been almost 18 years of "infinite" war, carnage, the mass displacement of peoples, the destruction of cities... you know the story. We all do... kinda... but most of the time it's a story without them. You seldom hear their voices. They are rarely attended to in our world. I'm thinking about the Afghans, Iraqis, Syrians, Yemenis, Somalis, Libyans, and so on who have borne the brunt of our never-ending wars. Yes, every now and then there's a striking piece in the American media, as there was recently in a joint investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the New York Times of the slaughter of a mother and her seven children (the youngest was four years old) in an Afghan village caused by an American JDAM missile (and initially denied by the U.S. military). It was one of a rising number of U.S. air strikes across that country. In each of those pieces, you can actually hear the pained voice of the husband, Masih Ur-Rahman Mubarez, who wasn't there when the bomb hit and so lived to seek justice for his family. ("We have a saying: staying silent against injustice is a crime, therefore I will spread my voice throughout the world. I will talk to everyone, everywhere. I will not stay silent. But this is Afghanistan. If someone hears us, or not, we will still raise our voice.")

Generally speaking, though, the time we Americans spend on the lives of those in lands that, in this century, we've had such a hand in turning into desperately failed or failing states is small indeed. I often think about a subject that TomDispatch has covered almost alone in these years: the way, between 2001 and 2013, U.S. air power wiped out wedding parties in three countries across the Greater Middle East: Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen. (Using U.S. planes and weaponry, the Saudis have continued such grim slaughters in recent years in Yemen.)

You probably don't remember even one wedding party being wiped out by a U.S. air strike -- the actual number was at least eight -- and I don't blame you because they didn't get much attention here. One exception: the Murdoch-owned tabloid, the New York Post, front-paged a drone strike on a caravan of vehicles heading for a wedding in Yemen in 2013 with this headline "Bride and Boom!"

I always imagine what would happen if an al-Qaeda- or ISIS-inspired suicide bomber took out an American wedding here, killing the bride or groom, guests, even musicians (as then-Marine Major General James Mattis's forces did in Iraq in 2004). You know the answer: there would be days of outraged 24/7 media attention, including interviews with weeping survivors, background stories of every sort, memorials, ceremonies, and so on. But when it's we who are the destroyers, not the destroyed, the news passes in a flash (if at all), and life (here) goes on, which is why TomDispatchregular Laura Gottesdiener's post today is, to my mind, so special. She does exactly what the rest of our media so seldom does: offers the unmediated voices of two young Iraqi peace activists -- did you even know that there were young Iraqi peace activists? -- discussing lives deeply affected by the American invasion and occupation of their country in 2003. Tom

Two Iraqi Peace Activists Confront a Trumpian World
As the Trump Administration Weighs War, Iraqis Prepare a Carnival for Peace
By Laura Gottesdiener

There's a dark joke going around Baghdad these days. Noof Assi, a 30-year-old Iraqi peace activist and humanitarian worker, told it to me by phone. Our conversation takes place in late May just after the Trump administration has announced that it would add 1,500 additional U.S. troops to its Middle Eastern garrisons.

"Iran wants to fight to get the United States and Saudi Arabia out of Iraq," she began. "And the United States wants to fight to get Iran out of Iraq." She paused dramatically. "So how about all of us Iraqis just leave Iraq so they can fight here on their own?"

Assi is among a generation of young Iraqis who lived most of their lives first under the U.S. occupation of their country and then through the disastrous violence it unleashed, including the rise of ISIS, and who are now warily eying Washington's saber-rattling towards Tehran. They couldn't be more aware that, should a conflict erupt, Iraqis will almost certainly find themselves once again caught in the devastating middle of it.

In February, President Trump sparked ire by claiming that the United States would maintain its military presence -- 5,200 troops -- and the al-Asad airbase in Iraq in order to "watch Iran." In May, the State Department then suddenly ordered all non-emergency government employees to leave Iraq, citing vague intelligence about threats of "Iranian activity." (This so-called intelligence was promptly contradicted by the British deputy commander of the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS who claimed that "there's been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria.") A few days later, a rocket landed harmlessly in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses the U.S. embassy. Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi then announced that he would send delegations to Washington and Tehran to try to "halt tensions," while thousands of ordinary Iraqis rallied in Baghdad to protest against the possibility of their country once again getting dragged into a conflict.

Much of American media coverage of rising U.S.-Iranian tensions in these weeks, rife with "intel" leaked by unnamed Trump administration officials, bears a striking resemblance to the lead-up to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. As a recent Al Jazeera piece -- headlined "Is the US media beating the drums of war on Iran?" -- put it bluntly: "In 2003, it was Iraq. In 2019, it's Iran."

Unfortunately, in the intervening 16 years, American coverage of Iraq hasn't improved much. Certainly, the Iraqis themselves are largely missing in action. When, for example, does the American public hear about how female students in Iraq's second largest city, Mosul, heavily bombed and taken back from ISIS in 2017, have organized to restock the shelves of the once-famed library at the University of Mosul, which ISIS militants set aflame during their occupation of the city; or how booksellers and publishers are reviving Baghdad's world-renowned book market on Mutanabbi Street, destroyed by a devastating car bomb in 2007; or how, each September, tens of thousands of young people now gather across Iraq to celebrate Peace Day -- a carnival that started eight years ago in Baghdad as the brainchild of Noof Assi and her colleague, Zain Mohammed, a 31-year-old peace activist who is also the owner of a restaurant and performance space?

In other words, rarely is the U.S. public allowed glimpses of Iraq that make war there seem less inevitable.

Assi and Mohammed are well accustomed not only to such skewed representation of their country in our country, but to the fact that Iraqis like them are missing in action in American consciousness. They remain amazed, in fact, that Americans could have caused such destruction and pain in a country they continue to know so little about.

"Years ago, I went to the United States on an exchange program and I discovered people didn't know anything about us. Someone asked me if I used a camel for transportation," Assi told me. "So I returned to Iraq and I thought: Damn it! We have to tell the world about us."

In late May, I spoke with Assi and Mohammed separately by telephone in English about the rising threat of another U.S. war in the Middle East and their collective two decades of peace work aimed at undoing the violence wrought by the last two U.S. wars in their country. Below, I've edited and melded the interviews of these two friends so that Americans can hear a couple of voices from Iraq, telling the story of their lives and their commitment to peace in the years after the invasion of their country in 2003.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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