Dr. Umar Khan
Dr. Khan heads a Lahore based think tank “National Issues”
Six lakh Iraqis killed
Over six lakh Iraqis have been killed violently due to the American military invasion of 2003. This has been reported in Lancet by a highly respected team of researchers of Johns Hopkins University. They realized that actual counting of bodies is never possible in the presence of occupational forces specially when the occupiers are extremely media conscience and go to any extreme to prevent the unfavorable news including firing at the journalists, so interview technique was used. These figures might be shocking for people fed on the daily dose of the western media but in the Middle East it did not come as a surprise. Stories were abounding about indiscriminate killing and humiliations of Iraqis and the effectiveness of hiding their count. In response to this horrific report the innocent messenger of democracy and liberator of Iraq, George Bush, concedes that dead number thirty thousand only.
Surprisingly the people responsible but indifferent to six lakh Iraqi deaths are the same people who rightly and strongly criticize the deaths of three thousand innocent Americans by terrorists. Killing of innocent civilians is terrorism and so is killing if Iraqi civilians but this is confused with semantic arguments and labeled collateral damage instead of simple terrorism. The dead cannot differentiate between the two; a loss of life is a loss of life irrespective of the twisted logic. This particular thought might suggest that current world power categorizes people according to nationalities and other factors. It effectively rates some people more valuable than others, a worse form of discrimination and bigotry. Three thousand Americans are more important to them than six lakh Iraqis. Even now President Bush and his colleagues are more concerned about the 2700 American killed and 20000 injured rather than the lakhs of Iraqis. Maybe they were perceived as sons of lesser Gods.
Initially military action was proposed and lakhs of lives were put in danger because of some dubious intelligence reports about Saddam Hussain building weapons of mass destruction. When the WMDs not found the stated aims turned into fight against terrorism and Al Qaida which was again proven wrong. Only as the last resort the noble aims of human rights and democracy were employed whereas it was a known secret that Bush had decided to invade because Iraq sits on vast reserves of oil. This is not an isolated incidence rather part of a pattern. Afghanistan was invaded by the same regime because Al Qaida was there. Later in turned into a war against Taliban against whom America had no apparent problem.
It is strange to see how even in the twenty first century history can be distorted by the strong and crimes turned into noble acts. After all it is still taught in many schools that by dropping atomic bombs on Japan, America actually saved lives or America was a sleeping giant in the Second World War and Japanese forced it to join by bombing the Pearl Harbor. No wonder all the losers of the war had to apologize and are still under pressure whereas the only user of atomic bomb feels no need of it. We can be assured that all these massacres will also go down in history as noble acts.
George Bush and Don Rumsfeld, his trusted deputy, thought that because of their enormous firepower they could get away with anything and everything. They assessed that by being ruthless they could get the compliance they need and for this purpose they coined some interesting but callous and cruel terms like “softening” meaning burning or destroying of humans. They used this strategy ruthlessly to create fear and trepidation and succeeded to some extend until their atrocities generated the expected reaction. They did not realize that killing people in bulk and destroying their assets including their self esteem makes the people desperate enough to fight at any cost. You might be able to subjugate nations for some time but not without a price irrespective of your firepower. Now the odd couple is stuck looking for face-saving withdrawal without much hope.
Despite the enormous suffering and bloodshed this war did serve one important purpose, it exposed the callousness of the only super power. It showed their lack of respect for the international law, the UN and even the Geneva conventions. It also exposed an even more worrisome tendency i.e. lack of trust on even their own judiciary. President Bush repeatedly declared that by allowing the Guantanamo Bay prisoners to go to the US courts his fight against terrorism would be hindered. This is plain disregard for the rule and process of law. These actions by Bush and Rumsfeld damaged rather obliterated the moral authority US earned after decades of hard work. Super power with bombs but lacking moral authority is destined to get into trouble and take the rest of the world along. Unchecked Bush can really do it.
These tragedies also exposed another painful fact that the American electorate which appears very kindly and compassionate can allow and finance such massacres. The first election of George Bush might be called a fluke but the second term was won clearly despite starting two bloody wars. Had Bush been able to crush the Iraqi rebellion irrespective of the number of Iraqis killed, he might have been a hero somewhat like Harry Truman who killed millions by dropping atomic bombs and is regarded as a near great president by most. Actually Bush’s apparent success in the two unnecessary wars at the time of his reelection might have been his most significant achievement winning him outright majority. It was only after years of resistance and the rising American body count and the injured that prompted the American public to discover flaws in Bush’s designs.
Then the most worrisome exposure of America has been the brutality and lack of discipline of its forces. Inhuman torture and unacceptable humiliations have been reported and proved repeatedly. They American media was so effective in demonizing the adversaries that the average soldier lost all inhibitions every decent person is expected to posses. Abu Gharaib or the Afghan atrocities were not isolated incidences if word of mouth circulating is to be trusted. Zaeef, the Afghan envoy to Pakistan, has mentioned ghastly stories about the torture by US forces. It is surprising that the world considers the Third Reich and the WW II Germans terrible, but even their most vocal critics did not blame the army which was considered professional. It was the SS and other agencies which were involved in atrocities. The regular German army maintained its dignity to quite an extent whereas it is the regular American army which has been repeatedly caught indulging in extreme form of torture and abuse.
To be fare, despite exposing the weaknesses of the American society its tremendous strengths are commendable. Although five years late, it is the society and the system that has started confronting the erratic leaders. The Supreme Court has started passing judgments and even the old stalwarts like James Baker are criticizing. Interestingly the study reporting killing of over half a million Iraqis is also compiled by Americans. It is the fear of the reaction of the people that is sending shivers to Bush and company forcing them to be more conforming to the international laws. Still it would make a fascinating study to guess how the American electorate might have responded with as many Iraqis dead but secure occupation. Over here my guess is the same as your fear.
It is time the world is reminded of the old proverb, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Now we have discovered that this saying applies as much to the nations as individuals. The feeling of the Neocons that they can shower death and destruction anywhere with impunity has been checked by the Afghans and Iraqis at a very high cost but still its power needs to be checked. For the immediate future America will be the only superpower but it has shown to be dangerous if unchecked. As DeGaulle said, “America is everyone’s neighbor”, it has to accommodated but very carefully. The civilized world must join to counter the weight and might of America for its own sake as we are living in a global village. Poodles like Blair or some East Europeans trying to benefit by getting close to the bully, must be rejected by their people. The new world has learnt everything from our old world, and these lessons must continue specially about benefits of adherence to law and equality of human life. Most effective way of influencing America appears to be by influencing its elections, so organizing the different immigrant groups can go a long way along with working on the neglected American groups like the Blacks and Chicanos. Individually the Americans are decent people but deliberately kept ignorant and their opinions are routinely maneuvered, so working on the American media to give them balanced and fair views can also be very helpful. In the end let me quote a great American intellectual and statesman, Henry Kissinger who said, “The only thing worse than United State’s hostility is its friendship”. I hope President Musharraf has heard this saying.