For Americans, the long occupation of Iraq, dating back to 2003 when George W. Bush notoriously proclaimed ‘mission accomplished,’ is measured almost entirely by the American casualty count and the cost of the war to taxpayers, now estimated to be over $3 trillion, an amount large enough to make major inroads on global poverty and preventable disease. The loss of Iraqi lives or the devastation of the country, or the long suffering inflicted on the people of Iraq, does not enter into calculations. Much attention is given to whether the outcome can be called ‘a success’ or somehow beneficial for the people of Iraq, but without any notice of the enormous human price paid by a people that was never consulted in typical imperial behavior. Iraq is the poster child of post-colonial colonialism that disregards the ethos of self-determination in pursuit of geopolitical goals such as oil, regional hegemony, Israeli priorities.
For Iraqis, the occupation followed a frightening ‘shock and awe’ onslaught in 2003 that had been preceded by twelve years of punitive sanctions that took hundreds of thousands of civilian lives following the Gulf War of 2001 that deliberately devastated the infrastructure of the country to a degree that a respected UN Report described the country as bombed back to ‘the stone age.’ A phenomenon that Madeleine Albright notoriously described at the time on prime time TV “as worth it” when confronted with the estimated civilian losses due to sanctions as 700,000.
During this period Iraq shifted its status from being the country with the most impressive development statistics in the region with respect to social indicators to becoming a failed state in every sense: increasing poverty, loss of skill personnel in all sectors, declining literacy, declining life expectancy, staggering unemployment, destruction of cultural life, pervasive civic violence, lethal religious conflict, all forms of acute insecurity. (See some salient statistics in the Ghent Charter with link at end of text below)
(additional information is contained in an excellent article by Dirk Anriaensens, “Iraq: The Age of Darkness,” <www.brussellstribunal.org/> International Seminar on the Situation of Iraqi Academics, under ‘publications’)
True, Iraq under Saddam Hussein had been oppressively governed, especially for the Kurdish minority and the Shiite majority, but there was a high degree of social order, material progress, and economic stability. True, Iraq was a disruptive presence in the region, attacking Iran (with U.S. encouragement) in 1980, and then invading and annexing Kuwait in 1990. Yet nothing can vindicate the American led response based on war, punitive sanctions, and prolonged occupation. By now it should be evident that the forcible destruction of the regime of Saddam Hussein caused a far worse humanitarian catastrophe than did the abuses, however dreadful, associated with his governance. Military intervention has been uniformly shown to be a darkly dysfunctional corrective for abusive governance, especially in the post-colonial era. The tragedy inflicted on the people of Iraq is a direct result of American crimes of aggression, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, the offenses for which German and Japanese leaders were prosecuted and punished after World War II at the Nuremberg and Tokyo Tribunals. If there is a lesson in all this, it is that imperial grand strategy as it is playing out in the Middle East and Central Asia is intrinsically criminal, and its cruel impositions can only be defeated by campaigns of global solidarity. Neither states nor the United Nations possess the political will or capabilities to oppose effectively these extensions of colonial behavior in the post-colonial era. As far as human rights are concerned, their realization is essentially a societal challenge, and unless abuse reaches the level of genocide or ethnic cleansing, violations should never serve as a pretext for military intervention even if disguised as ‘humanitarian intervention’ or fulfillments of the norm of ‘responsibility to protect.’
By now, there are no excuses left to ignore the horrors that accompany foreign military occupation. The prolonged experiences of Iraq, Palestine, and Afghanistan provide a consistent confirmation that benevolent claims of the occupier are disguises for exploitation, corruption, oppression, and violence against innocent civilians.
My focus in this blog is on the terrible condition of institutions of higher learning in Iraq.
The shocking portrait of what occupation has meant for academicians and students is depicted by the Ghent Charter that has been endorsed by prominent educators in Europe and elsewhere, including the Rector of the University of Ghent. The BRussell Tribunal has played a leading part in exposing these realities afflicting Iraqi universities, and has organized a seminar to take place in Ghent, Belgium, March 9-11, 2011, with the title “Defending education in times of war and occupation.” It is important that all of us, especially those paying taxes in the United States to pay for this occupation, understand that our silence is complicity. Especially those of us associated with teaching and research in American universities bear an additional responsibility to exhibit even now our solidarity with those who have suffered and are suffering in Iraqi academic communities. We know that many faculty members have been murdered since 2003 (over 500 confirmed cases), particularly those who spoke out and acted against the occupation, and many more have fled the country permanently. The departure of university personnel is part of a wider exodus of middle class Iraqis, estimates are over two million, leaving the country deprived of the sort of national social fabric essential to avoid predatory forms of foreign economic exploitation of the country. We who devote our lives to higher education realize the importance of educated and dedicated young people for the wellbeing of a country. If Iraq’s future is to be restored to some semblance of decency, its institutions of higher learning will need to become safe and hospitable for students and faculty.
In the meantime, read the Ghent Charter and weep! Ghent Charter in Defense of Iraqi Academia