That's the headline over this story on the BBC website, posted just today (August 14, 2007). Over 175 members of a religious sect known as Yazidi were killed by suicide bomb attacks, apparently by fellow-Kurds.
This is the kind of violence the US presence has provoked in Iraq. Now, in a vacuum of power caused by the end of the Hussein regime, the ethnic groups in Iraq and the religious sects are vying for power.
Of course, the ethnic and sectarian tensions were present before, but were checked by the power of Hussein's central government. And of course, there was the threat of Hussein's next whimsical ethnic cleansing. Or so the story goes.
Is Iraq a safer place now? Is it a better place to live? Is the quality of life better now than it was before? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding "NO!" We have opened Pandora's Box, and now we don't know how to shut it.
I want us Americans to know the truth about what we have caused, and continue to cause. I want us to remember to grieve for the thousands and thousands of dead Iraqis, not just the dead Americans. The website "Iraq Body Count" reports that a minimum of 69, 334 Iraqi civilians have been killed, and a maximum of 75,775. On October 11, 2006 CNN reported that over 655,000 Iraqis had been killed in the war. The director of a 2003 door to door survey in Baghdad and southern Iraq has published his findings on this site, "Iraqi Civilian War Casualties. He includes names, ages and causes of death. This is the Iraq war made personal rather than letting it remain a remote conflict in an obscure part of the world, easily overlooked or forgotten.
Every day there are human beings dying -- being killed -- by both US forces and Iraqi militia or "death squads." Each one of these people has a family -- a husband or wife, a parent or grandparent, a child or children -- who now grieve. These are not just body count numbers, but people -- individuals. Each one is a life ended. Each one was a child of God, no matter what we think of their politics or religious beliefs.
When we think about what to do next in Iraq, we can't think only of US national interests. We cannot think only of the deaths of American soldiers and civilians (because so much of the war effort has been contracted out to private enterprises, some estimate that there are more American civilians in Iraq than American soldiers!). We have to remember also that the Iraqi people have suffered incredible loss -- tantamount to genocide. Many times more Iraqis have died than Americans.
Is it any wonder that the Iraqis want us out?
It has been argued that if we leave now, we will leave the Iraqis to their own self-destruction -- that the civil war that would ensue would be worse than our continued presence. That's an excuse, I think, to keep our armed forces there and to continue to pursue our national interests there. Let's get it out of our heads that we're just there to do the Iraqis a favor. If that were the case, our troops would also be in Dafur, and in many, many other places around the world where there is civil strife. The only way a war effort can be sold to the American people is by claiming national interests. Face it, we're not altruistic in the use of our troops. We send them out where it will ultimately help our economy. If it were mere altruism, we wouldn't risk American lives.
So, would the situation in Iraq be worse if the US troops leave? Or would the Iraqis find a way to police themselves and end the civil war presently going on?
I believe they would. It certainly wouldn't be easy or quick, but it seems clear to me that this conflict will NEVER end so long as US troops are there. We're their enemy, and they won't give up until we're gone -- just as many Americans would resent, for instance, a Chinese occupying force, and would never give up until they were forced out. So long as the enemy (us!) is present, there will be war in Iraq. Period. Oh -- unless every last Iraqi is killed. But that would be genocide, and we're against that -- aren't we?
Are we doing the Iraqis a favor by forcing democracy on them? I doubt it. Democracy is dependent on a number of ideas that existed in the Western world as a result of the enlightenment -- ideas like individualism and egalitarianism -- and that DO NOT exist in the middle east, and these ideas are not necessarily Biblical or the best ideas of humanity. (More on that another time, perhaps.) But without those concepts and practices having become a part of a culture, democracy will make no sense. And that's Iraq -- an inherently communal society that values societal roles and traditional hierarchies.
So, we're doing them no favors, but merely creating more strife and killing. Staying won't solve it, and leaving won't end it, at least not immediately. However, leaving will allow it to end eventually. Staying will have the opposite effect, and ultimately will result in more destruction of life than leaving.
Go to the Iraqi Civilian War Casualties and read the names. Look at the pictures. See the faces of those killed and injured. Love your enemies.