Ten Years Later
I was recently asked by my US publisher, Palgrave Macmillan, to reflect on the so-called 9/11 decade. My submission is reproduced below:
The Human Costs
by Michael Otterman
In Seida Zeinab, a hardscrabble Damascus suburb that hosts hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees, a man approached me with a photograph.
“My son,” he said, pinching a tattered blue wallet containing a small, frayed headshot of a small boy no more than three-years-old. “He was kidnapped,” he added, hands shaking. “Can you help me?”
I often think about this Iraqi man. His son disappeared in the darkest days of the post US-invasion chaos, and the man left Iraq soon after. What has become of them? Were they ever reunited? Is his son alive?
Any honest accounting of the post-9/11 era must consider the human costs of US aggression in Iraq. The 2003 invasion—conceived by Bush Administration officials hours after the attacks on September 11 and a centerpiece of the so-called “Freedom Agenda”—wrought incalculable suffering to a society already hollowed out by a decade of brutal US-led sanctions and the ravages of the first Gulf War.
Millions of Iraqis are now dead and displaced. Entire religious groups face extinction. Thousands of priceless artifacts from Baghdad Museum are lost. State institutions remain in disarray, political factions split along sectarian divides. Sociocide, the destruction of an entire way of life, is the only apt term to describe this level of decimation.
And for what?
“I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil,” said Alan Greenspan, long-time head of the US Federal Reserve, succinctly summing up the true motives behind the invasion.
Yet in the lead-up and initial aftermath of the war, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and other top officials made at least 935 demonstrably false statements on 532 separate occasions about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. The fact that 69% of Americans falsely believed that Hussein was personally involved in the 9/11 attacks—even six months after the invasion took place—shows the power of misinformation to build a consensus for illegal wars of aggression.
Al Qaeda did not operate in Iraq prior to 2003—but they do now. “We have men who have divorced themselves from life and love death more than you love life, and killing is one of their wishes,” said a spokesman for Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia following a day of spectacular carnage in August 2011 that left 89 people dead across the country. So far, more than 2000 civilians have been killed in 2011 in a country, which at time of writing, still hosts roughly 46,000 US troops and 64,000 private contractors—an occupation that has cost at least $869 billion and 4474 American soldiers’ lives thus far.
American mainstream media attention of Iraq has dropped to less than 1% of the daily news, yet for Iraqis like the ones I met in Syria, the ravages of the US-led invasion are an ever-present reality.
What did I tell the man who asked me to find his son?
As a journalist visiting Syria to research the plight of Iraqi refugees, no, I said, I couldn’t help him directly. But I did pledge to share his story—and that of the destruction of Iraq following 9/11—with the rest of the world.