Iraq: Seven Years of Occupation

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An Iraqi man waits in line outside a government headquarters building for food supplies from a humanitarian-aid delivery in northern Iraq.

On April 9, 2003, exactly seven years ago, Baghdad fell under the US-led occupation. Baghdad did not fall in 21 days, though; it fell after 13 years of wars, bombings and economic sanctions. Millions of Iraqis, including myself, watched our country die slowly before our eyes in those 13 years. So, when the invasion started in March of 2003, everyone knew it was the straw that would break the camel’s back.

I still remember the day of the fall of Baghdad very clearly, as if it happened yesterday. My family and I had fled to my uncle’s home in southern Baghdad because our neighborhood, located near Baghdad’s airport, was bombarded by US airplanes in the days before. I remember the first US tank rolling down the street with a US soldier, wearing black gloves, waving his hand and some people waving back. That was one of the sadist day of my life, not only because Baghdad fell under a foreign occupation, but also because I knew it would be the beginning of another disastrous chapter in Iraq’s history. Now, when I look back at all that happened under the occupation, I find that I was, unfortunately, right.

In the last seven years, one million Iraqis have been killed and millions more injured and displaced from their homes. The country’s infrastructure was destroyed and Iraq’s civil society has been severely damaged. A video posted this week by WikiLeaks is not an exception to how the US occupation operated in Iraq all along, but rather an example of it. While the video is shocking and disturbing to the US public, from an Iraqi perspective it just tells a story of an average day under the occupation. But even from the Pentagon’s perspective, that attack was nothing exceptional. Reuters demanded an investigation into this particular attack because two of its employees were killed in it, and the Pentagon has already conducted an investigation that cleared all soldiers who took part of the attack of any wrongdoing. The video does not show an operation that went wrong, or where “rules of engagement” were not followed. It is simply how the US military has been doing business in Iraq for seven years now.

What is equally disturbing is the mainstream media coverage of the event. For example, in a piece published the day of the attack, The New York Times reported that two Iraqi Journalists were killed “as US forces clash with Militias.” The New York Times’ piece confirmed “American forces battled insurgents in the area” and covered the following statement from the US military:

The American military said in a statement late Thursday that 11 people had been killed: nine insurgents and two civilians. According to the statement, American troops were conducting a raid when they were hit by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. The American troops called in reinforcements and attack helicopters. In the ensuing fight, the statement said, the two Reuters employees and nine insurgents were killed. ”There is no question that coalition forces were clearly engaged in combat operations against a hostile force,” said Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, a spokesman for the multinational forces in Baghdad.

Now, after the video was leaked, we know that none of this is true. Iraqis killed in the attack were not “insurgents.” US troops were not “hit by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades,” the attack helicopters were not “called in” in response to hostilities and there was no “ensuing fight” that caused the massacre. In fact, after watching the video, there is no question that the US forces were clearly NOT engaged in combat operations against a hostile force. In addition to making the entire story up, the Pentagon has very conveniently omitted the part about the two children being injured.

This story is similar to hundreds of other stories printed by The New York Times and other mainstream media during the last seven years. Imagine how many tens of thousands of Iraqis who were labeled as “insurgents” and “militias” were killed and injured the same way. Imagine how many Iraqi children were killed and injured without a mention by the Pentagon or mainstream media. A number of international organizations, including Amnesty International, are now calling for an independent and impartial investigation into the July 12, 2007, helicopter attack shown in the leaked video. But I think this leaked video tells a bigger story than the attack itself. It tells a story of systemic, cold-blooded murder, and the shameful cover up by mainstream media and silence by international organizations.

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