Death and destruction haunt Iraqi landscape

As the U.S.-led assault stormed through Iraq this week, it left a trail of death, destruction and chaos – wrecked cities, villages and farms; water systems destroyed; families decimated. It also left a trail of bitterness among the Iraqi population.

While the U.S. military controls main thoroughfares and key points, the majority of the country’s population is not under U.S. or British control, Middle East expert Stephen Zunes told the World. Zunes, a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco, said he expects the U.S. will be facing “ongoing guerilla war for a long, long time.”

“This is a foreign policy disaster,” Zunes said. By placing itself as an occupying force in the heart of the Mid-East, he said, the U.S. has put itself in a “counter-insurgency situation,” and could end up alienating the majority of the population.

The number of civilians killed now tops 1,200, with thousands more horribly injured. The latest civilian deaths include several foreign journalists killed by U.S. fire. More than 100 U.S. soldiers have been reported killed, with others wounded and missing.

As the U.S. assault ravaged Baghdad, the International Committee of the Red Cross reported hundreds of civilian victims arriving at hospitals each day. Many are children.

Ali Ismail Abbas, 12, was asleep when a missile destroyed his home and most of his family, leaving him orphaned, badly burned, and with both arms blown off. “It was midnight when the missile fell on us. My father, my mother and my brother died. My mother was five months pregnant,” the sweet-faced, traumatized boy told Reuters from his hospital bed.

Safa Karim, 11, was struck in the stomach by an American bomb fragment. Near death, bleeding internally, she writhed in pain with a massive bandage on her stomach, a tube down her nose and four scarves holding her wrists and ankles to the hospital bed. A relative said, “She has been given 10 bottles of drugs and she has vomited them all up.”

Baghdad hospitals are overwhelmed and running out of supplies, and face power and water outages. Basra, Iraq’s second largest city with a population of 1.5 million, has an acute shortage of drinkable water and signs of dysentery in children.

“This war has further degraded an already precarious situation,” said Nathaniel Raymond, a spokesperson for Oxfam, an international aid organization. Iraq was in crisis before the war due to 12 years of economic sanctions, he told the World. Now, because of the instability created by the U.S.-British invasion, Oxfam and other aid workers are sitting at border crossings in Syria and Jordan, unable to reach those in need. They are waiting for security to be reestablished under a United Nations presence that will enable them to carry out their humanitarian mission.

Ten members of Abid Hassan Hamoodi’s family were killed by two U.S. missiles that destroyed their house in Basra. Hamoodi, 72, told the Washington Post he lost his wife, a daughter, a son and seven grandchildren. He dug out three other family members from the collapsed brick with his bare hands.

“What was the purpose of the American invasion of Iraq?” he asked the U.S. reporter. “Was it to topple Saddam Hussein, or to kill innocent people? ... You came to save us, to protect us. That’s what you said. It’s now the contrary. Innocent people are killed.”

Hamoodi, a retired oil company manager and head of a prominent Shiite Muslim family, voiced an anger widely expressed by Iraqis. Though they welcome the end of the hated Saddam Hussein regime, many are enraged by the civilian casualties and humanitarian disaster caused by the U.S.-British invasion on top of years of punitive sanctions.

“I won’t shed any tears for Saddam Hussein,” Hazzim Yousif, an Iraqi-American from Michigan, told the World. “How come all of a sudden the U.S. government doesn’t like him? It’s the apex of hypocrisy. His party was put in power by the U.S.”

Progressives in Iraq oppose war and dictatorship, Yousif said. They wanted the world community to topple Saddam peacefully through the UN. “Now the U.S. has stepped into a swamp.”

“The Bush administration is already giving contracts to American companies [for Iraq] like they own the place,” Yousif said, “but they are going to find Iraq a very difficult country to rule and exploit. The Iraqi people have a great history of resisting foreign invaders. If the Americans think they can install a puppet government, the Iraqi people are going to reject it.”

Stanford University history professor Joel Beinin says the Iraq war “has the potential to be a mess on all fronts.” The war is part of a broader Bush administration foreign policy that Americans should be concerned about, he told the World. “It’s important to start talking about American imperialism.”

The author can be reached at suewebb@pww.org



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