The Forgotten War


Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Rupert Murdoch strongly supported the Coalition of the Willing because he believed it would lower the price of oil. ‘The greatest thing to come out of this for the world economy,’ he said,  ‘if you could put it that way, would be US$20 a barrel for oil. That’s bigger than any tax cut in the any country.’

Nearly five years on, Murdoch said in Australia last week that, as somebody who ‘knows a bit about this,’ the battle against al-Qaeda in Iraq and Afghanistan is ‘almost won.’ An recent editorial in The Australian argued similarly:

The anti-war, anti-American Left should be ashamed, but precisely for this reason they continue to look away when Iraq doesn’t fail in the way they wish. The success of the [Bush/Petraeus] surge has become their inconvenient truth.

Of course, it is difficult to take a publication seriously when its Foreign Editor, Greg Sheridan, wishes that Pakistan’s dictator Pervez Musharraf acted more like Indonesia’s former leader and mass-murderer General Suharto. Sheridan acknowledged that Suharto had a ‘bad human rights record’ more than one million Indonesians were massacred during his 30-year rule but ‘built a modern Indonesia that was capable of sustaining democracy.’ It would be like arguing that Hitler seemed to have a problem with Jews but Germany’s economy benefited after his ascension to power in 1933.

Iraq has become the forgotten war. During Australia’s current Federal election campaign, foreign affairs has barely rated a mention (though Labor Leader Kevin Rudd told the Sun Herald last weekend that one of his first tasks, if he wins office, will be to start negotiations with the USA and Iraq to remove Australian combat troops from southern Iraq. ‘I have been very blunt with President Bush,’ he said. ‘I have a no-surprises policy when it comes to these things.’

The reality on the ground across Iraq is now couched in terms of ‘military success’ and supposed reductions in violence. The success of the so-called ‘surge’ is now taken at face value but the reality is far more complex.

A US General said  last week that the major reason for fewer American casualties was due to Iran reducing the number of explosives crossing its border into Iraq . While, in the southern city of Basra, a British General recently announced that the British presence had actually ‘instigated’ violent attacks and their withdrawal had greatly improved security .

While the US Democrats continue to talk tough on Iraq but fail to deliver tying a Bush Administration request for more war funds to a set date for American withdrawal the commander of US forces in Iraq, General Petraeus’s plan of co-opting local tribal chiefs in the fight against al-Qaeda is destined to create a monumental case of ‘blowback.’  

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad , reporting for The Guardian, has written about the delusions of this practice:

[Hajji] Abu Abed, a member of the insurgent Islamic Army, has recently become the commander of the US-sponsored ‘Ameriya Knights.’ He is one of the new breed of Sunni warlords who are being paid by the US to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq. The Americans call their new allies Concerned Citizens.

It is a strategy that has worked well for the Americans, on paper at least. This week, the US military claimed it had forced the extremist group al-Qaida in Mesopotamia out of Baghdad altogether, and cut the number of murders in the city by 80 per cent. Major General Joseph Fil, commander of US forces in Baghdad, said: ‘The Iraqi people have decided that they’ve had it up to here with violence.’

Critics of the plan say they are simply creating powerful new strongmen who run their own prisons and armies, and who eventually will turn on each other.

A senior Sunni sheikh, whose tribe has joined the Americans in their mission, told Abdul-Ahad that it was an easy way to get weapons and ‘to be a legalised security force to be able to stand against Shi’a militias and to prevent the Iraqi army and police from entering their areas.’ Summary executions and mafia-like tactics are commonplace. Democracy, American-style.

Mainstream media coverage remains tied to reporting ‘progress’ from the mouths of American reporters and American officials, most of whom remain journalistically and morally embedded. One Iraqi reporter recently wrote that Baghdad has been so thoroughly ethnically-cleansed that killings have been reduced simply because the city is largely divided. Meanwhile, the refugee crisis over four million displaced within Iraq, the Middle East and the wider world is largely ignored by the Western media.

Salman Hameed, a teacher evicted from the al-Hurriya area, west of Baghdad, eight months ago, told Inter Press Service in early November that:

sectarian killings are less because all the Sunnis have been evicted from mixed areas in Baghdad. All my relatives and Sunni neighbours who survived the killing campaign led by the militias under the eyes of American and Iraqi forces have fled either to Syria or to other Sunni cities.

A reduction in violence is a welcome development but the media narrative remains obsessed with ‘victory’ or ‘defeat’ in Iraq. This presumes that America and its allies have either the right or duty to ‘win.’ They do not. For many in the Muslim world, the Iraq War remains an illegal occupation that requires resistance. Asking why violence may have diminished seems beyond the scope of most Western journalists. A divide-and-conquer mindset is deemed both appropriate and even humane.

On Britain’s Remembrance Day, John Pilger highlighted the hypocrisy of the establishment for praising the bravery of the fighting men and women in the armed services while ignoring the million Iraqis murdered since 2003:

These days, Iraq is reported as if it is exclusively a civil war, with a US military ‘surge’ aimed at bringing peace to the scrapping natives. The perversity of this is breathtaking. That sectarian violence is the product of a vicious divide-and-conquer policy is beyond doubt. As for the largely media myth of al-Qaeda, ‘most of the [American] pros will tell you,’ wrote Seymour Hersh, ‘that the foreign fighters are a couple per cent, and then they’re sort of leaderless.’ That a poorly armed, audacious resistance has not only pinned down the world’s most powerful army but h
as an agreed anti-sectarian, anti al-Qaeda agenda, which opposes attacks on civilians and calls for free elections, is not news.

Take one indicator of Iraq’s collapse: child mortality has skyrocketed. A recent report, by aid agency Save the Children, found that child mortality has increased by 150 per cent since 1990. State of the World’s Mothers 2007 states that, ‘122,000 Iraqi children the equivalent of one in eight died in 2005, before reaching their fifth birthday. More than half of the deaths were among newborn babies in their first month of life.’

And CBS News has revealed that, if suicides are taken into account, 15,000 American soldiers or more might have died as a consequence of the US involvement in the Iraq War, in the last five years not the ‘official’ 3,865 reported combat casualties.

For supporters of the War, however, such figures are irrelevant. Any human price is justified to claim ‘victory.’ But ironically, the Bush years have brought about a radical reshaping of the Middle East that makes such ‘victories’ almost irrelevant.

From Lebanon to Afghanistan and Palestine to Iraq, groups that refuse to accept Western exploitation, occupation and humiliation are challenging American hegemony. It is these victories for which we should be grateful.

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Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.