It has been ten years since the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq spearheaded by the George W. Bush administration. It is an occasion for remembrance, reflection and deep regret. It was a war built on lies that harmed everything it touched. Most of all, it has harmed the children of Iraq and their families, and it continues to harm them even though the United States and its allies have officially left Iraq.
The war has also done deep and possibly irreparable damage to the credibility and decency of the United States, the country that led in choosing war over peace. It is an ongoing disgrace to America that we do not hold those who initiated aggressive warfare to account for their individual crimes, as the Allies did at Nuremberg following World War II. Short of public international criminal trials, the best we can do now is commit ourselves to never again allowing an aggressive war to be committed in our names, build a world at peace, and be a force for peace in our personal and communal lives.
The five poems that follow were written over an eight-year period, nearly the length of the nine-year war. The first poem, “The Children of Iraq Have Names,” was written in the lead-up to the war and was read at many hopeful peace marches in late 2002 and early 2003, when many people throughout the world took to the streets seeking to prevent the war from occurring. The second poem, “Worse Than the War,” was written in June 2004, a little over a year into the war. In it, I give my thoughts on what could be worse than the war.
The third poem, “To an Iraqi Child,” was written nearly a year later, in April 2005. It is about a 12-year-old boy, Ali Ismail Abbas, who lost his mother, father, brother and 11 other relatives when a US missile struck his home. The boy lost both of his arms in the attack. He had wanted to be a doctor.
The fourth poem, “Greeting Bush in Baghdad,” was written in December 2008, near the end of the war and is based upon an incident that occurred when George W. Bush visited Iraq and spoke to the press there. The fifth and final poem, “Zaid’s Misfortune,” was written in July 2010, and is a poem about another Iraqi child.
The children of Iraq paid the price for a war that should not have happened. So did the people of Iraq. So did the young Americans that the government sent to fight and die there. So did those Americans who fought in Iraq and came home injured and traumatized. So did America itself and its allies pay the price of military failure, the loss of credibility and the trillions of dollars wasted on the war. So did we all pay the price of being implicated in an unnecessary and immeasurably futile war. When will we ever learn?
The Children of Iraq Have Names
The children of Iraq have names. They are not the nameless ones.
The children of Iraq have faces. They are not the faceless ones.
The children of Iraq do not wear Saddam’s face. They each have their own face.
The children of Iraq have names. They are not all called Saddam Hussein.
The children of Iraq have hearts. They are not the heartless ones.
The children of Iraq have dreams. They are not the dreamless ones.
The children of Iraq have hearts that pound. They are not meant to be statistics of war.
The children of Iraq have smiles. They are not the sullen ones.
The children of Iraq have twinkling eyes. They are quick and lively with their laughter.
The children of Iraq have hopes. They are not the hopeless ones.
The children of Iraq have fears. They are not the fearless ones.
The children of Iraq have names. Their names are not collateral damage.
What do you call the children of Iraq? Call them Omar, Mohamed, Fahad.
Call them Marwa and Tiba. Call them by their names.
Worse Than the War
Worse than the war, the endless, senseless war, Worse than the lies leading to the war,
Worse than the countless deaths and injuries, Worse than hiding the coffins and not attending funerals,
Worse than the flouting of international law, Worse than the torture at Abu Ghraib prison,
Worse than the corruption of young soldiers, Worse than undermining our collective sense of decency,
Worse than the arrogance, smugness and swagger, Worse than our loss of credibility in the world, Worse than the loss of our liberties,
Worse than learning nothing from the past, Worse than destroying the future, Worse than the incredible stupidity of it all,
Worse than all of these, As if they were not enough for one war or country or lifetime, Is the silence, the resounding silence of good Americans.
To an Iraqi Child
for Ali Ismail Abbas
So you wanted to be a doctor?
It was not likely that your dreams would have come true anyway.
We didn’t intend for our bombs to find you.
They are smart bombs, but they didn’t know that you wanted to be a doctor.
They didn’t know anything about you and they know nothing of love.
They cannot be trusted with dreams.
They only know how to find their targets and explode in fulfillment.
They are gray metal casings with violent hearts, doing only what they were created to do.
It isn’t their fault that they found you.
Perhaps you were not meant to be a doctor.
Greeting Bush in Baghdad
“This is a farewell kiss, you dog.” -- Muntader al-Zaidi
You are a guest in my country, unwanted surely, but still a guest.
You stand before us waiting for praise, but how can we praise you?
You come after your planes have rained death on our cities.
Your soldiers broke down our doors, humiliated our men, disgraced our women.
We are not a frontier town and you are not our marshal.
You are a torturer. We know you force water down the throats of our prisoners.
We have seen the pictures of our naked prisoners threatened by your snarling dogs.
You are a maker of widows and orphans, a most unwelcome guest.
I have only this for you, my left shoe that I hurl at your lost and smirking face,
and my right shoe that I throw at your face of no remorse.
Zaid had the misfortune of being born in Iraq, a country rich with oil.
Iraq had the misfortune of being invaded by a country greedy for oil.
The country greedy for oil had the misfortune of being led by a man too eager for war.
Zaid's misfortune multiplied when his parents were shot down in front of their medical clinic.
Being eleven and haunted by the deaths of one’s parents is a great misfortune.
In Zaid’s misfortune a distant silence engulfs the sounds of war.
David Krieger is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.