The Iraq War, from its outset, disgraced America by its flaunting of international law. Now the war is over, but the disgrace, destruction and trauma live on.
After nearly nine years, America declared an end to the war and withdrew its last troops in December 2011, leaving behind a fortress embassy, mercenary guards and a country in shambles. There is no way to paint a happy or proud face on this war. It was unnecessary. It was illegal. It was immoral. And it was cruel.
There was never a link between Iraq and 9/11 or between Iraq and al Qaeda. Iraq had no program to develop weapons of mass destruction. Our leaders were told this by the United Nations weapons inspectors on the ground in Iraq. When George W. Bush initiated the war against Iraq in March 2003, he did so with lies and a “shock and awe” attack on Baghdad. He had no authorization from the United Nations Security Council.
During the nearly nine years the war dragged on, 4,487 American soldiers were killed and more than 32,000 were wounded. By the Pentagon’s count, more than 100,000 Iraqis were killed and, by other counts, more than a million Iraqis died as a result of the war. Some five million Iraqis were displaced from their homes.
America financed the war on credit, borrowing approximately $1 trillion to pursue it. Some economists predict that the full costs of the war – with ongoing medical care for veterans and interest on the increase in the national debt due to the war – will run to three to four trillion dollars. It is a war that is adding to our economic woes now and for which our children and their children will continue to pay far into the future.
It was Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and Powell’s war, all individuals who bear the burden lightly. In a just world, they would each have a place on the docket reserved for the worst criminal cases, for aggressive war – as pointed out at the Nuremberg tribunals – is the worst of crimes. But this is not a just world. It is a world where innocent children suffer for the arrogance of smug and mendacious leaders.
This war was possible because too many Americans are complacent and, without fully realizing what is at stake, are misled into war. It was possible also because we have a volunteer military that can be manipulated and abused into committing the atrocity of aggressive war – what at the Nuremberg tribunals was called a “crime against peace.”
When I think of the Iraq War, many different images come to mind, but two stand out: One is of George Bush’s clueless and self-satisfied smirk; the other is of the sad and frightened face of Ali Ismail Abbas, a 12-year-old Iraqi child who lost both of his arms and his father, his pregnant mother, his brother and 13 other members of his family in the war. Here are two poems, written during the course of the war, one for Mr. Bush and one for Ali Ismail Abbas.
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
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.
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.