Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Unbridgeable Chasm

That's the one between the reality of Iraq and the political discourse in the United States. I read those eastern elite pointy-headed liberal newspapers, the Boston Globe and the New York Times. I occasionally look in on the TV network news so I'll know what drivel is being fed to the people. I get a sampling of the coverage of other newspapers over the Internet. I listen to NPR quite a bit with at least half an ear.

Then, I get the truth. I read the analysis -- the Informed Comment, as he accurately describes it -- of Juan Cole, with whom I often disagree but who is definitely reality based. I read the admirable news aggregation site Today in Iraq. I regularly visit Iraq Coalition Casualty Count. I read Riverbend's blog. (Which she understandably has had trouble keeping up recently.) I read the reporting of Robert Fisk and Dar Jamail and other courageous, enterprising journalists at Information Clearinghouse. I read the thoughtful, in-depth reporting of such journalists cum social scientists as Mark Danner in the New York Review of Books.

This is the truth. There is no good news from Iraq. The "democratically elected" government is controlled by two Shiite religious parties, with the cooperation of Kurdish representatives whose only long-term goal is independence but who are playing along for now in order to win territory on the cheap. The Shiite parties also envision an independent Shiite theocracy closely associated with Iran's clerical rulers. These factions wrote the new constitution in order to achieve these ends. The only effective units of the Iraqi army are actually militias of these Shiite and Kurdish parties who wear Iraqi Army uniforms, and these are the "Iraqi" soldiers who now fight alongside U.S. forces against Sunni Arabs -- when they aren't commiting atrocities on their own.

Why on earth the United States would be spending blood and treasure to advance these objectives is incomprehensible. Opposing this project through guerilla warfare are secularist Iraqi nationalists, principally Sunni Arabs who were associated with or had a stake in the former regime; and Sunni Islamic factions including Iraqis and a small number of foreigners. The Shiite movement of Muqtada al Sadr, who has a huge following, opposes the present government politically and is allied with the Sunni insurgency against the intended breakup of Iraq. Although his fighters have been observing a cease fire for more than a year now, that appears to be breaking down, and U.S. forces are again skirmishing with his Mahdi Army.

Meanwhile, there is no basic security or civil order in Iraq. Gangs of vicious criminals operate freely, commiting kidnappings for ransom and robberies that have the Baghdad middle class huddling behind closed doors. Women and girls are afraid to leave the house, and the social equality and freedom they enjoyed under the secular Baath regime has been lost. Child malnutrition is widespread. Most people with the means to get out of the country are doing so, notably the physicians and other professionals who would be essential to the rebuilding of Iraqi society. The police and other security forces, as well as the government ministries, are completely corrupt, and loyal to their factions. The police are as dangerous as the criminals, or perhaps indistinguishable from them.

Daily attacks on the oil infrastructure have reduced production to below pre-war levels. Electricity in Baghdad is available for only a few hours a day. Sewage still flows in the streets. The government hides behind 12 foot blast walls in a closed zone of central Baghdad controlled and secured by the American occupiers, to which American "reporters" (actually transcriptionists of Central Command briefings) are confined.

And then there is the occupation. War is not glorious, or pure, or honorable. It is brutalizing, grotesque, beyond morality. The Americans drop bombs on houses from airplanes, killing people indiscriminately. They fire 50 caliber machine guns at cars that they think have approached them too closely, and at everyone in sight if they have been attacked. They break down doors in random searches of entire neighborhoods, destroy and loot people's property, beat and humiliate ordinary citizens. They routinely abuse and torture people they arrest, and they hold tens of thousands of prisoners, the vast majority on nothing but slight suspicions, under grim conditions. They besiege and demolish entire cities, driving their inhabitants into squalid refugee camps.

They do this even though they do not understand who they are fighting and they have no evident goal or cause. Some of them have taken to posting photgraphs of themselves laughing at the gory remains of Iraqis on an Internet porn site. Ironically, that's about the only place Americans can see for themselves the reality of war, because the television and the newspapers won't show it to us.

The whole world knows all this. But our political leaders, of both parties, and our corporate media, will not confront the truth. There is a cancer on our national soul.

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