Great Moments in the History of Imperialism
By William Blum
-- -- National Public Radio foreign correspondent
Loren Jenkins, serving in NPR's Baghdad bureau, met earlier this
month with a senior Shiite cleric, a man who was described in
the NPR report as "a moderate" and as a person trying to lead
his Shiite followers into practicing peace and reconciliation.
He had been jailed by Saddam Hussein and forced into exile.
Jenkins asked him: "What would you think if you had to go back
to Saddam Hussein?" The cleric replied that he'd "rather see
Iraq under Saddam Hussein than the way it is now."
When one considers what the people of Iraq have experienced as a
result of the American bombings, invasion, regime change, and
occupation since 2003, should this attitude be surprising, even
from such an individual? I was moved to compile a list of the
many kinds of misfortune which have fallen upon the heads of the
Iraqi people as a result of the American liberation of their
homeland. It's depressing reading, and you may not want to read
it all, but I think it's important to have it summarized in one
Loss of a functioning educational system. A 2005 UN study
revealed that 84% of the higher education establishments have
been "destroyed, damaged and robbed".
The intellectual stock has been further depleted as many
thousands of academics and other professionals have fled abroad
or have been mysteriously kidnapped or assassinated in Iraq;
hundreds of thousands, perhaps a million, other Iraqis, most of
them from the vital, educated middle class, have left for
Jordan, Syria or Egypt, many after receiving death threats. "Now
I am isolated," said a middle-class Sunni Arab, who decided to
leave. "I have no government. I have no protection from the
government. Anyone can come to my house, take me, kill me and
throw me in the trash."
Loss of a functioning health care system. And loss of the
public's health. Deadly infections including typhoid and
tuberculosis are rampaging through the country. Iraq's network
of hospitals and health centers, once admired throughout the
Middle East, has been severely damaged by the war and looting.
The UN's World Food Program reported that 400,000 Iraqi children
were suffering from "dangerous deficiencies of protein". Deaths
from malnutrition and preventable diseases, particularly amongst
children, already a problem because of the 12 years of
US-imposed sanctions, have increased as poverty and disorder
have made access to a proper diet and medicines ever more
Thousands of Iraqis have lost an arm or a leg, frequently from
unexploded US cluster bombs, which became land mines; cluster
bombs are a class of weapons denounced by human rights groups as
a cruelly random scourge on civilians, particularly children.
Depleted uranium particles, from exploded US ordnance, float in
the Iraqi air, to be breathed into human bodies and to radiate
forever, and infect the water, the soil, the blood, the genes,
producing malformed babies. During the few weeks of war in
spring 2003, A10 "tankbuster" planes, which use munitions
containing depleted uranium, fired 300,000 rounds.
And the use of napalm as well. And white phosphorous.
The American military has attacked hospitals to prevent them
from giving out casualty figures of US attacks that contradicted
official US figures, which the hospitals had been in the habit
Numerous homes have been broken into by US forces, the men taken
away, the women humiliated, the children traumatized; on many
occasions, the family has said that the American soldiers helped
themselves to some of the family's money. Iraq has had to submit
to a degrading national strip search.
Destruction and looting of the country's ancient heritage,
perhaps the world's greatest archive of the human past, left
unprotected by the US military, busy protecting oil facilities.
A nearly lawless society: Iraq's legal system, outside of the
political sphere, was once one of the most impressive and
secular in the Middle East; it is now a shambles; religious law
more and more prevails.
Women's rights previously enjoyed are now in great and growing
danger under harsh Islamic law, to one extent or another in
various areas. There is today a Shiite religious ruling class in
Iraq, which tolerates physical attacks on women for showing a
bare arm or for picnicking with a male friend. Men can be
harassed for wearing shorts in public, as can children playing
outside in shorts.
Sex trafficking, virtually nonexistent previously, has become a
Jews, Christians, and other non-Muslims have lost much of the
security they had enjoyed in Saddam's secular society; many have
A gulag of prisons run by the US and the new Iraqi government
feature a wide variety of torture and abuse -- physical,
psychological, emotional; painful, degrading, humiliating;
leading to mental breakdown, death, suicide; a human-rights
Over 50,000 Iraqis have been imprisoned by US forces since the
invasion, but only a very tiny portion of them have been
convicted of any crime.
US authorities have recruited members of Saddam Hussein's feared
security service to expand intelligence gathering and root out
Unemployment is estimated to be around fifty percent. Massive
layoffs of hundreds of thousands of Baathist government workers
and soldiers by the American occupation authority set the
process in motion early on. Later, many, desperate for work,
took positions tainted by a connection to the occupation,
placing themselves in grave danger of being kidnapped or
The cost of living has skyrocketed. Income levels have
The Kurds of Northern Iraq evict Arabs from their homes. Arabs
evict Kurds in other parts of the country. Many people were
evicted from their homes because they were Baathist. US troops
took part in some of the evictions. They have also demolished
homes in fits of rage over the killing of one of their buddies.
When US troops don't find who they're looking for, they take
who's there; wives have been held until the husband turns
himself in, a practice which Hollywood films stamped in the
American mind as being a particular evil of the Nazis; it's also
collective punishment of civilians and is forbidden under the
Geneva Convention. Continual bombing assaults on neighborhoods
has left an uncountable number of destroyed homes, workplaces,
mosques, bridges, roads, and everything else that goes into the
making of modern civilized life.
Hafitha, Fallujah, Samarra, Ramadi ... names that will live in
infamy for the wanton destruction, murder, and assaults upon
human beings and human rights carried out in those places by US
The supply of safe drinking water, effective sewage disposal,
and reliable electricity have all generally been below
pre-invasion levels, producing constant hardship for the public,
in temperatures reaching 115 degrees. To add to the misery,
people wait all day in the heat to purchase gasoline, due in
part to oil production, the country's chief source of revenue,
being less than half its previous level.
The water and sewage system and other elements of the
infrastructure had been purposely (sic) destroyed by US bombing
in the first Gulf War of 1991. By 2003, the Iraqis had made
great strides in repairing the most essential parts of it. Then
came Washington's renewed bombing.
Civil war, death squads, kidnaping, car bombs, rape, each and
every day ... Iraq has become the most dangerous place on earth.
American soldiers and private security companies regularly kill
people and leave the bodies lying in the street; US-trained
Iraqi military and police forces kill even more, as does the
insurgency. An entire new generation is growing up on violence
and sectarian ethics; this will poison the Iraqi psyche for many
years to come.
US intelligence and military police officers often free
dangerous criminals in return for a promise to spy on
Protesters of various kinds have been shot by US forces on
At various times, the US has killed, wounded and jailed
reporters from Al Jazeera television, closed the station's
office, and banned it from certain areas because occupation
officials didn't like the news the station was reporting.
Newspapers have been closed for what they have printed. The
Pentagon has planted paid-for news articles in the Iraqi press
to serve propaganda purposes.
But freedom has indeed reigned -- for the great multinationals
to extract everything they can from Iraq's resources and labor
without the hindrance of public interest laws, environmental
regulations or worker protections. The orders of the day have
been privatization, deregulation, and laissez faire for
Halliburton and other Western corporations. Iraqi businesses
have been almost entirely shut out though they are not without
abilities, as reflected in the infrastructure rebuilding effort
following the US bombing of 1991.
Yet, despite the fact that it would be difficult to name a
single area of Iraqi life which has improved as a result of the
American actions, when the subject is Iraq and the person I'm
having a discussion with has no other argument left to defend US
policy there, at least at the moment, I may be asked:
"Just tell me one thing, are you glad that Saddam Hussein is out
And I say: "No".
And the person says: "No?"
And I say: "No. Tell me, if you went into surgery to correct a
knee problem and the surgeon mistakenly amputated your entire
leg, what would you think if someone then asked you: Are you
glad that you no longer have a knee problem? The people of Iraq
no longer have a Saddam problem." And many Iraqis actually
William Blum is the author of: Killing Hope: US Military and CIA
Interventions Since World War 2
 NPR, "Day to Day", June 6, 2006
 New York Times, May 19, 2006
Click on "comments" below to read or post comments -
Click Here For Comment Policy