Freedom, Democracy, and Death in Iraq

Once again, in reporting to Congress, General Petreaus and Ambassador Crocker highlighted “progress” in Iraq without discussing the price Iraqis are paying for the war and occupation of their country.

Reports from Iraq indicate that nearly 500 Iraqis died in the first three days of fighting against the al-Sadr organization in Baghdad, Basra, Hilla, Diwaniya, and Kut at the end of March. Hundreds more have been wounded. U.S. forces are bombing the militia from the air even in the densely populated area of al-Sadr city.

But even worse, Petreaus and Crocker didn’t mention what is really happening on the ground — by supporting Prime Minister al-Maliki in his attacks on Sadr’s al-Mahdi army, the U.S. is now more deeply involved in Iraq’s sectarian war.

Al-Maliki is from the small al-Dawa party but his prime support comes from the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), the largest Shi’a party, and their own militia — the Badr Organization. ISCI is closely allied with Iran. ISCI and al-Maliki’s intent have been to be the dominant force in Iraq by weakening the strong nationalist al-Sadr organization as well as to weaken the other nationalist organization — the Fadhila. Indeed, one can see al-Maliki’s weak position in the parliament as his ISCI party has 36 seats, while al-Sadr has 32, and Fadhila has 15.

Al-Sadr, despite this aggressive move against his organization by the government of Iraq and U.S. forces, is still calling for peaceful and political means to resolve these issues. It’s true that some elements of al-Sadr’s army are criminal, but encouraging political dialogue with him has been fruitful in the past. It was through negotiation with his group that the cease fire was created. If the fighting continues, it’s likely that the al-Sadr ceasefire will end.

Why is this happening now?

There are three possible explanations. One is that Iran tacitly encouraged the al-Maliki government since al-Sadr’s nationalist tendencies do not sit well with the Iranians. The other explanation is that the al-Maliki government wants to weaken al-Sadr’s group before the provincial elections; Al-Sadr could win the majority of the provincial councils’ vote if the elections were held now. Finally, this latest military action gives General David Petraeus ammunition to stave off any though of further troop cuts.

The United States, along with the current regime in Iraq continues to claim that we are “only” after the “criminal elements” of the al-Sadr militia. What about the “criminal” elements in the Badr organization? They are our allies for now- but how long will that last?

The U.S. support of al-Maliki’s action means that we likely gave our permission for this action despite statements from. Vice-President Dick Cheney’s visit to Baghdad just prior to this military action may have been the green light.

We have tried many approaches to reduce violence, even arming insurgents who have killed Americans to fight other Iraqi factions. The U.S. calculation is that any diminution of nationalist forces serves our purpose- to stay and colonize Iraq for a long time, while trumpeting our aims of freedom and democracy for Iraqis. We are in the process of building a puppet government that will exist to serve American interests. The cost of this policy can be counted in the number of Iraqi dead and wounded. Having a puppet government would be a convenient way to claim that Iraq “sovereign” government of is requesting our continued presence.

Bush claimed recently that the situation in Iraq is improving and returning to “normalcy”. Baghdad is under a curfew. After the deaths of two U.S. civilians in the Green Zone, the U.S. Embassy has issued a lockdown for all personnel to remain in their fortified buildings until further notice. So much for President Bush’s claims of normalcy.

The Iraqi people are sick and tired of five years of death and destruction with no end in sight. They are also tired of the rampant corruption in their government and its security forces. Iraqis are suffering like no other nation in the Middle East. Four million refugees, hundreds of thousands of deaths and many more wounded- this is the American legacy in Iraq. When will American moral outrage be so deafening that our leaders have no choice but to leave Iraq and admit our awful mistake? And so we enter our sixth year of war, bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq under American domination.

Adil E. Shamoo, born and raised in Baghdad, is a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He writes on ethics and public policy. He is an analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus.