The road to Baghdad Airport is the best illustration of what the United States build as they conquer one country after another.
Going to an airport seems to be such a mundane thing. It looks about the same all over the world. Except in Baghdad you have to leave home five hours before the flight – and not because the airport is so far from the city.
You cannot take a taxi to the airport. Halfway through, the taxi driver will slow down and pull off the highway and into a fenced area. Here, you have to take your luggage, let the taxi go and slowly walk on the gravel for about 80 yards. This whole time, there will be a dozen well-trained eyes closely watching you.
International airport in Najaf, south of Baghdad (Reuters / Alaa Al-Marjani)
International airport in Najaf, south of Baghdad (Reuters / Alaa Al-Marjani)
Next, you have a choice: sit in an extremely hot bus for a few hours waiting for it to fill up or take a car. There are black cars and white cars, clean cars and cars that are not so clean. A black car will take you to the airport for $70. A white one costs $40. (Both amounts are unthinkable for locals.) Drivers wear black pants, white shirts and black ties. (Usually, no Iraqi dresses that way.) They all speak English. Personnel at the cash register even know how to write in English (whereas an ordinary well-educated Iraqi would have a hard time even trying to write a telephone number in what the rest of the world knows as Arabic numerals). There are no under-the-counter dealings, no gypsy cabs – only tabs and receipts. There is no traditional haggling, which usually drives Westerners crazy – but this is part of the Muslim ethic because by lowering the price the salesman earns special bonuses with the Almighty.
These cars and these drivers only go back and forth between this point and the airport. Still, this does not mean that security guards will not thoroughly search you and the car – and not just once or twice. Before you get to the plane, there will be nine searches like that – German shepherds, scanners, frisking, the whole shebang. The driver will have to open the hood, the trunk and all the doors.
Yet even this thoroughly inspected car with this thoroughly reliable driver will not take you to the entrance to the airport building. You will leave your suitcase ten yards before the door and go to the frisking area. Then you will be allowed to come back to your suitcase and take it to another scanner. Surprisingly, guards have never asked me about my laptop and lots of other devices in my suitcase.
I had been warned about every possible difficulty – except one thing: that the female guards frisking you at this frontier of American diplomacy are not like their colleagues in Iraq’s Security Service. They have learned to act like the heroines in Hollywood films about the difficult lives of lesbians.
Price of journalism
The road to Baghdad Airport is what every journalist has to go through. They should also read a memo about their colleagues killed in Iraq. As of today, the death toll stands at 370.
This is the road where, nine years ago, US soldiers opened fire on a car taking an Italian journalist, Giuliana Sgrena, to the airport after Italian officers rescued her from captivity. Americans claimed the car was going at a high speed and failed to stop at a roadblock. Sgrena says the car was going slow and nobody gave them a signal to stop. They just started shooting – aiming at the people inside, not the tires. Major General Nicola Calipari literally threw himself on Giuliana and was killed. She was wounded but survived.
Sgrena was kidnapped outside Baghdad University on her way from the university mosque used as a temporary shelter for refugees.
Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena (Reuters / Tony Gentile)
Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena (Reuters / Tony Gentile)
There are too many mysteries surrounding this story, which is very typical of US democracy-spreading campaigns. Sgrena was a Communist. She worked for the left-wing newspaper Il Manifesto and criticized US occupation. It made no sense for insurgents to kidnap her. The only people who had problems with her were Americans, not insurgents. As Sgrena testified, the occupation administration was not too pleased with Italian efforts to rescue her.
Thanks to Assange, we even have a video of Americans killing journalists in Iraq in cold blood.
One would think that, after that, the occupation regime would be more careful.
But no. US troops shot and killed Aseel al-Obeidi at close range. She was documenting a mop-up operation by US forces. The soldiers thought she was suspicious. “Once there is no man, there is no problem,” Stalin used to say. So they killed her together with her husband, also a journalist.
Americans say the circumstances of the shooting were “unclear.” Some Iraqis claim that journalists are so eager to get a good picture that they take unjustified risks. (Assange’s video proves that they are wrong.) But shooting women at point-blank range? This is a new thing brought in by the occupation authorities.
Scent of US occupation
The Iraqi Army has been learning security from Americans for 11 years. Yet a week before the April 30 election, Mohammed Bedaiwi al-Shammari, a Radio Free Iraq correspondent, was on his way to a government building, and the president’s guard shot him dead.
After that incident, all guards and patrolmen in Iraq were ordered to smile. And they do. Some of them are afraid of showing their faces and wear masks with the “dead man’s smile.” They smile as they come up to you and explain that if you take pictures of this wall and that wall, he and his companion will go to prison – and these armed people smile as they show you how their hands will be tied – kind of like captives or slaves on ancient reliefs.
Wherever the occupation forces used to be, the “scent” of America’s unorthodox concepts regarding order and security remains. Of course, these concepts were somewhat watered down due to Iraqi traditional cordiality, carelessness and fickleness but it will certainly stay here a long time.
Most of the few passengers at the airport are US-trained military. They have shaved heads, they chew gum (which nobody does in Iraq), laugh loudly and walk with a swing.
Everything is bad and nothing is good in this country after 11 years of building the “American democracy”. If you talk to Iraqis long enough, they all say that the US invasion and the strange order they established is the only cause of their problems.
There are Iraqis, who served the USA, worked with them and learnt to talk and walk like Rambo. There are Iraqis who lament the fact the Americans left and are grateful to them for bringing down Saddam.
But there is not a single person in Iraq who would say that the US invasion was a positive factor in Iraq’s history.
It’s not about the fact that the US invasion led to unprecedented number of casualties, hardly ever mentioned in the world media, which are from time to time arguing about the numbers.
The most shocking information was totally deleted. Only a few crimes were mentioned in the media. For example:
– Bombing of a wedding;
– Investigation of tortures in Abu Ghraib;
– Soldiers killing 24 people in the town of Haditha in Anbar province.
Finally, the key point in describing the US occupation of Iraq is the long story of Julian Assange trying to publish the video of the American pilots’ conversation as they are shooting Reuters journalists. Assange sent this video to all the leading world media outlets, but none of them published it.
Today Assange is in hiding facing the threat of extradition to Sweden.
It’s not about the fact that in Iraq which is the ancestral homeland of our civilization, everything is destroyed and nothing at all is produced – absolutely nothing: no wheat, no building materials, no consumer goods, no books, no ideas. This is the report on the deplorable results of the American “restoration” in Iraq made by American officials.
It’s about the fact that America which is constantly concerned about the lack of freedom and democracy in various places of the world can guarantee only ruins to this world, where they will build a prison with the strict access control system and will explain to the locals why their prison is better.
Iraqi town of Haditha, 200 km (124 miles) west of Baghdad (Reuters)
Iraqi town of Haditha, 200 km (124 miles) west of Baghdad (Reuters)
Of course, now that the Americans are gone it’s easier to breathe in Iraq. During the American occupation people were not allowed to go out after 6. During its hottest phase a thousand people were killed every day. Today, after the withdrawal of American troops, the prison regime is less strict and the number of casualties reduced to “just” a thousand per month.
But it doesn’t change the essence of the US model for conquered territories – check points, numerous military and special service units, concrete blocks disfiguring the city, endless searches and examinations, unemployment, poverty, war between each and everyone. People conceal from each other where they live and work. Organizations and media outlets, unable to build walls around themselves, conceal their locations.
In Iraq you begin to see many things differently to a large degree due to the traces of the American presence. For example, in the Baghdad museum there’s a world-known monument of a powerful lion which is about to kill a weak man. This monument was created by some Mesopotanian genius over two thousand years ago as a scary symbol of the relationship between man and state. The US model is similar to that lion, but this is not an animal which can be killed by a brave man, but an army of robots with numerous protection systems and remote control. Can you really oppose them, defeat them and take to court for war crimes?
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.
jerry tarnacia 10.05.2014 22:27
More like destroyed, The Republican Guard…PPPFFF…
Randy 10.05.2014 21:02
Excuse me for insulting animals. I was referring to Soviet (Russian) soldiers. Please accept my apology, animals. Animals don’t plant bombs in childrens’ toys.
Randy 10.05.2014 21:00
I am surprised to see a RT journalist write about U.S. conquered territories. All the other comments one sees on RT claims the U.S. lost in Iraq & Afghanistan, but the RT journalist is correct, the U.S. obliterated the Iraqi army and destroyed the Taliban in Afghanistan. Any soldier who serves several tours in the mideast is no longer the same person. They become desensitized to death and killing. This is one of the horrible truths about war. Look at what Soviet soldiers did in Afghanistan – plant bombs in childrens’ toys so to blow the limbs off Afghan children. What kind of an animal could do such a thing?
Documented civilian deaths from violence
123,295 – 137,217
Further analysis of the WikiLeaks’ Iraq War Logs
may add 10,000 civilian deaths.
Read More: Iraqi Death Toll, Lancet Study, Poll, Politics News
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The Los Angeles Times reported Friday on a poll from Opinion Research Business, a British polling agency. The poll suggests that more than a million Iraqis have died from the conflict resulting from the U.S. invasion and occupation.
The poll asked people how many in their household — people living under the same roof – had been killed due to violent conflict since the U.S. invasion. 22% said at least one member of their household had been killed. Based on their responses, and the estimated number of households in Iraq, they estimate a total of 1,220,580 deaths since the U.S. invasion in 2003.
The Times reports:
It was the highest estimate given so far of civilian deaths in Iraq. Last year, a study in the medical journal Lancet put the number at 654,965, which Iraq’s government has dismissed as “ridiculous.”
It’s important to recognize that the results of the ORB poll are quite consistent with the Lancet results, when you take into account the fact that the ORB poll was completed a month ago, whereas the Lancet cluster survey, the results of which were published in the fall, was completed in July 2006. A lot of people were killed in Iraq since July 2006.
Just Foreign Policy created an online and ongoing estimate that extrapolates from the Lancet study using the trend implied by the Iraq Body Count tally of deaths reported in the Western media. Our counter today stands at 1,044,607.
One can’t compare the two numbers directly in a strictly statistically rigorous sense, because the two methods don’t ask exactly the same question (the ORB poll relies on self-reporting of “death due to the conflict” whereas the Lancet study compared estimated violent death rates before and after the invasion), the ORB reported margin of error of 2.4% is a margin of error on the responses, not on the death estimate, and the Just Foreign Policy estimate is an extrapolation from the Lancet estimate.
Nonetheless, rough calculations show the two numbers to be basically the same.
Suppose that the true percentage of households in Iraq experiencing no deaths due to conflict since the invasion were one margin of error higher than in the ORB sample, so that rather than being 77.8%, it was 80.2%, and that the other responses (those reporting violent deaths) were scaled down proportionately. The effect on the ORB estimate would be to reduce it to 1,088,625 – roughly 40,000, or 4% higher than the Just Foreign Policy estimate. If the true percentage of households experiencing no deaths due to conflict were two margins of error higher, the effect would be to reduce the ORB estimate below the Just Foreign Policy estimate.
Or, coming from the other direction, consider the 95% confidence interval for excess violent deaths reported in the Lancet study. [This is the baseline for the Just Foreign Policy extrapolation, not the more widely cited number of excess deaths.]
The estimate was 601,000. The 95% confidence interval was (426,000, 794,000.) If we had used the right-hand endpoint of 794,000 instead of the estimate of 601,000, the Just Foreign Policy extrapolation would yield 1,379,404.
In other words, roughly speaking, the ORB interval covers the extrapolated Lancet estimate and the extrapolated Lancet interval covers the ORB estimate. To the level of precision that we know these numbers, and taking into account the key difference that an increasingly violent year transpired between the Lancet estimate and the ORB estimate, the two estimates are the same.
Until now, many — including critics of the war — have shied away from the Lancet estimate because of the lack of independent confirmation. Unfortunately, this has led many to cite the Iraq Body Count tally of deaths reported in Western media as if it were an estimate of the death toll, which it is not. Now that the order of magnitude of the death toll reported by the Lancet study has been independently confirmed, pressure should be redoubled on media outlets to tell the truth about the Iraqi death toll. As Congress is currently debating efforts to end the war, there could not be a more appropriate time to do so. This goes deeper than the usual war lies.
We weren’t told that most of the people who would die in Afghanistan, many more than died on 911, not only didn’t support 911 but never heard of it.
We’ve had plenty of those. We weren’t told the Taliban was willing to turn bin Laden over to a neutral nation to stand trial. We weren’t told the Taliban was a reluctant tolerator of al Qaeda, and a completely distinct group. We weren’t told the 911 attacks had also been planned in Germany and Maryland and various other places not marked for bombing. We weren’t told that most of the people who would die in Afghanistan, many more than died on 911, not only didn’t support 911 but never heard of it. We weren’t told our government would kill large numbers of civilians, imprison people without trial, hang people by their feet and whip them until they were dead. We weren’t told how this illegal war would advance the acceptability of illegal wars or how it would make the United States hated in much of the world. We weren’t given the background of how the U.S. interfered in Afghanistan and provoked a Soviet invasion and armed resistance to the Soviets and left the people to the tender mercies of that armed resistance once the Soviets left. We weren’t told that Tony Blair wanted Afghanistan first before he’d get the UK to help destroy Iraq. We certainly weren’t told that bin Laden had been an ally of the U.S. government, that the 911 hijackers were mostly Saudi, or that there might be anything at all amiss with the government of Saudi Arabia. And nobody mentioned the trillions of dollars we’d waste or the civil liberties we’d have to lose at home or the severe damage that would be inflicted on the natural environment. Even birds don’t go to Afghanistan anymore.
OK. That’s all sort of par-for-the-course, war-marketing bullshit. People who pay attention know all of that. People who don’t want to know any of that are the last great hope of military recruiters everywhere. And don’t let the past tense fool you. The White House is trying to keep the occupation of Afghanistan going for TEN MORE YEARS (“and beyond”), and articles have been popping up this week about sending U.S. troops back into Iraq. But there’s something more.
I’ve just read an excellent new book by Anand Gopal called No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes. Gopal has spent years in Afghanistan, learned local languages, interviewed people in depth, researched their stories, and produced a true-crime book more gripping, as well as more accurate, than anything Truman Capote came up with. Gopal’s book is like a novel that interweaves the stories of a number of characters — stories that occasionally overlap. It’s the kind of book that makes me worry I’ll spoil it if I say too much about the fate of the characters, so I’ll be careful not to.
The characters include Americans, Afghans allied with the U.S. occupation, Afghans fighting the U.S. occupation, and men and women trying to survive — including by shifting their loyalties toward whichever party seems least likely in that moment to imprison or kill them. What we discover from this is not just that enemies, too, are human beings. We discover that the same human beings switch from one category to another quite easily. The blunder of the U.S. occupation’s de-Baathification policy in Iraq has been widely discussed. Throwing all the skilled and armed killers out of work turned out not to be the most brilliant move. But think about what motivated it: the idea that whoever had supported the evil regime was irredeemably evil (even though Ronald Reagan and Donald Rumsfeld had supported the evil regime too — OK, bad example, but you see what I mean). In Afghanistan the same cartoonish thinking, the same falling for one’s own propaganda, went on.
People in Afghanistan whose personal stories are recounted here sided with or against Pakistan, with or against the USSR, with or against the Taliban, with or against the U.S. and NATO, as the tides of fortune turned. Some tried to make a living at peaceful employment when that possibility seemed to open up, including early-on in the U.S. occupation. The Taliban was very swiftly destroyed in 2001 through a combination of overwhelming killing power and desertion. The U.S. then began hunting for anyone who had once been a member of the Taliban. But these included many of the people now leading the support of the U.S. regime — and many such allied leaders were killed and captured despite not having been Taliban as well, through sheer stupidity and corruption. We’ve often heard how dangling $5000 rewards in front of poor people produced false-accusations that landed their rivals in Bagram or Guantanamo. But Gopal’s book recounts how the removal of these often key figures devastated communities, and turned communities against the United States that had previously been inclined to support it. Add to this the vicious and insulting abuse of whole families, including women and children captured and harassed by U.S. troops, and the revival of the Taliban under the U.S. occupation begins to become clear. The lie we’ve been told to explain it is that the U.S. became distracted by Iraq. Gopal documents, however, that the Taliban revived precisely where U.S. troops were imposing a rule of violence and not where other internationals were negotiating compromises using, you know, words.
We find here a story of a bumbling oblivious and uncomprehending foreign occupation torturing and murdering a lot of its own strongest allies, shipping some of them off to Gitmo — even shipping to Gitmo young boys whose only offense had been being the sexual assault victims of U.S. allies. The danger in this type of narrative that dives deep into the crushing Kafkan horror of rule by brute ignorant force is that a reader will think: Let’s do the next war better. If occupations can’t work, let’s just blow shit up and leave. To which I respond: Yeah, how are things working out in Libya? The lesson for us to learn is not that wars are badly managed, but that human beings are not Good Guys or Bad Guys. And here’s the hard part: That includes Russians.