Four years ago, US-led forces began a vicious aerial bombardment of the oil-rich country of Iraq. Referred to as Operation Iraqi Freedom, the opening salvo ushered the vital Arab nation into an era of darkness, dread and destruction.
The first signs that Iraqis were in for a bloody and inhumane occupation were felt in the “precision bombing of Baghdad and other cities. Arab media clamored viciously to broadcast the freshest images of civilian dead which were coming in to news bureaus every hour.
In the 1,461 days that have since passed, Iraq as a nation is in decay; its people are displaced – refugees in neighboring countries. Nearly 700,000 Iraqis of all religions and sects have died. Public order is in disarray; gunshots and explosions in schools, marketplaces, and parks have replaced the chirp and chatter of everyday life.
Mosques and churches have been leveled. Towns and villages have been cleansed. Cities have been occupied and systematically destroyed. Sectarian hatred has become civil law as thousands of families escape persecution and death.
Nearly five million Iraqis have escaped the carnage that is their once-loved country and now rely on the kindness – and patience – of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and others.
I have met many of these refugees in said countries; all are worn out. A sadness . a heaviness is to be found in their countenances, their eyes are sleepless and empty. They tell tales of horror, describing Iraq as a country fallen to zealotry, terrorism, and religious fanaticism.
They used to grimace when hearing of a 10-year-old neighbor kidnapped, raped, and beheaded. They used to gasp when hearing of a young Christian woman garroted because she refused to don the veil. They used to cry out in anger upon hearing a 14-year-old girl was raped by four US soldiers.
They do these things no longer. Iraqis are the waking dead. Zombies, if Hollywood analogies are permitted here.
Iraq, an oil exporter, is now an importer of basic fuels. There is no electricity, no gas, no heating oil, no clean water.
Prior to the invasion, Iraq, pounded by punitive UN sanctions and occasional US and UK air strikes, managed to generate on average 3,958 mega watts of electricity.
In December 2005, the average generated electricity was 3,500 mega watts. The stated goal of US occupation authorities had been to reach generation of 6,000 mega watts by July 1, 2004. That has not yet been met.
Oil production, which was meant to partly fund reconstruction in Iraq, has been another abysmal failure. Iraq s oil output has been unable to match or surpass pre-invasion levels forcing US officials to revise their earlier state goal of producing 3 million barrels a day by 2005. Today, Iraq s oil production ranges from 200,000 barrels of oil a day to just over 2 million. Pre-war production had topped 2.5 million.
Some $18 billion in reconstruction funds, comprising both US and Iraqi monies, are unaccounted for. Raw sewage is pumped into Iraq’s rivers and streams, streets and neighborhoods.
And in these neighborhoods, one now finds torture havens, homes converted into dungeons, mosques converted into arms warehouses, ministries converted into modern-day gulags. No, there aren’t any concentration camps in Iraq – there are concentration facilities. Jails are overcrowded with men and women waiting to be “disappeared .
Estimates today indicate some 40,000 Iraqis are languishing in US-run facilities – the equivalent of 100 Guantanamo prisons. In 2004, some 5,000 Iraqis were incarcerated. Is progress measured by the increase in the numbers of those detained and jailed?
Of course, the above numbers are not reflective of the numbers of Iraqis held in Interior Ministry detention and torture dungeons.
Iraqis flee all this while world powers debate whether to call the carnage in Iraq a civil war.
Civil war or not, Iraqis are dying by the busload. The use of that metaphor is not inappropriate given that buses carrying ordinary Iraqis to and from their jobs are coming under routine attack. They are stopped, the occupants lined up, questioned, names checked. Then the occupants are separated into two groups, Sunnis on one side, Shias on the other. One day, it is the Shias who are executed, on other days the Sunnis.
In more troubling cases, dozens of government employees are kidnapped en masse as are members of the national chess, ping pong, and tennis teams. Those of particular sects are released while the corpses of those not are found later dotting Baghdad s streets and alleys with visible drill holes and other signs of torture.
In addition to the usual specter of decapitated corpses, Baghdad morgue officials are now reporting the loss of other body parts, such as ears and fingers.
And there are countless other stories. One man I know returned from a “breather trip to find his nephew had been kidnapped and his head delivered in a package to their front gate.
No one is spared in Iraq. Iranian-trained death squads roam the countryside killing for politics, terror or fanfare.
Despite the above, we continue to hear that Iraq is better off now than under the “dictator Saddam Hussein, who was ceremoniously paraded and executed on the first day of Eid Al-Adha last year.
But, nationwide referenda and elections, set as milestones by the US authorities, and packaged as the dynamo to move the country forward, have backfired. Security operations, with the bemusing titles and labels, have backfired.
Despite the pompous security sweeps, devastating attacks on the civilian population and infrastructure have not abated, instead showing a new ferocity in quickly stamping out any hope that some semblance of order would return to Baghdad or any other Iraqi city.
And the volume of attacks and civilian toll indicate that not only is Iraq leagues away from being called a fledgling democracy but has became an anarchic state hosting multiple killing fields.
Four years ago, I watched as “Shock and awe went into full effect. The Hollywood title applied to one of the most barbaric assaults in recent history was designed to describe the bombings which the US Air Force unleashed on Iraqis.
They were meant to be shocked by the ferocity of US weaponry. Then they were expected to be in awe of the might of US willpower.
Iraqis are shocked that their country is utterly destroyed. There is nothing that holds their awe.
Four years ago, the breaking of Iraq and its people began. Some 1,461 days later, the world community is still bickering over the words to describe the situation.