Iraq: the Human Cost


An Iraqi Woman Regards the Human Cost of the War in Iraq

by Huda Ahmed

Since invading Iraq and toppling Saddam’s regime in 2003, the United States has made a series of massive mistakes, such as dismantling the regular Iraqi army, removing all members of the Ba’ath Party from their positions at all levels of the government, and leaving the borders and government buildings without any protection. The American strategy for Iraq was not well organized or planned. All this led to very complicated economic, political, and social problems during the first two years of occupation, because it created a wide Iraqi community without any resources for living. And this led many Iraqis to take desperate measures, such as joining the insurgency.

When the Abu Ghraib prison scandal was exposed in 2004, it gave Iraqis reason to lose confidence in the American army. When men, women, and children stood in long queues, hoping for the release of their loved ones, you could see suffering and exhaustion in their faces. Some of them eventually left the lines with their loved ones, many did not.

The American military administration and the Iraqi governments through 2003-2007 never tried to reach for a genuine diplomatic solution for the problems that faced the country. Diplomacy shouldn’t seem radical, but it did at the hands of these officials.

The bad coordination and the distrust between the Iraqi government and the coalition forces, and the misinformation from both sides increased the average Iraqi’s lack of faith in the government. When the U.S. military’s raids against militias in the Sunni and Shiite areas left so many innocent civilians dead, it made matters much worse, heightening tension, fear, and mistrust. The U.S. military’s practice of detaining people in raids at dawn and taking civilians into custody without reporting this to their families created confusion over whether the people doing the raids were U.S. military or organized crime gangs disguised as government forces or militias.

These kinds of raids made the people wonder what to do to protect themselves and defend their own families, leading many to purchase AK-47s and other weapons. Many Iraqis began to oppose any raids. If the U.S. military wasn’t distinguishing between peaceful and violent Iraqis, why should average Iraqis try to distinguish between justified and unjustified raids? It wasn’t worth the risk. Despite all the security plans it introduced, the Iraqi government failed to provide the necessary protection for its citizens.

Faced with deception, incompetence, and illegal actions at the hands of the U.S. military and the Iraqi government, and facing increased hostility, bloodshed, and destruction, many Iraqi citizens completely lost faith in America’s ability to improve the situation.

The fear among the Iraqis began to increase more than it was during Saddam’s regime. Now they have to fear going to work, sending their children to schools, providing decent life for themselves, or even being safe while in their own homes. The danger engulfed the lives of the Iraqis in every way, leaving them desperately worrying of what next steps they needed to take in order to stay alive. Amid all the chaos and bloodshed, people began to pine for the days under Saddam’s brutal but orderly rule.

The constant feeling among the Iraqis is that their blood is cheap and no one cares for them. Both the Iraqi government and the multi-national forces declined many times to admit the genuine number of the Iraqi casualties caused by their actions. Instead, they tried to keep that number down artificially. The Iraqi government realized its awkward position, especially after the increasing number of casualty figures were being released by the Ministry of Health. In late 2005, the government gave orders to transfer any casualty numbers from the Ministry of Health to the prime minister’s office directly, and blocked these numbers from being released to the public or the press.

The devastation of the essential services and widespread unemployment led many desperate Iraqis to join the armed groups or organized crimes gangs. These groups tend to be affiliated with some officials in the political parties or the government, using their immunity policy to get as much power as they want and steal as much money under cover of the government. There is the joining of religion and the state, which is causing many problems and using clerics to affect the citizens in a way that serve their interests and their pursuit of power. There is no mutual trust among the political parties and the officials in the government.

The Baker-Hamilton report was an attempt to correct the situation in Iraq and admit that the United States has failed to keep the region safe and secure. But the Bush administration ignored the report and instead announced its plan for a surge in troop levels. Iraqis are wondering if this latest security plan will prove to be any more successful than the previous plans. So far there were more casualties in Iraq, the worst in a long time. There is a huge debate still going on—will the Iraqi and American plan work this time or not? Is this the last chance of victory for the Bush administration and Iraqi prime minister al Maliki? Will al Maliki step down and hand over the power to someone who may be a better leader of Iraq? Will al Maliki, after changing his course with his allies from the Sadrists, reduce the crack between the Sunnis and the Shiite and bring them together again? Will he be able to stabilize the country from the insurgents? Will the neighboring countries in the region honestly cooperate to stabilize Iraq or not?

Iraqis never thought they would pay so much for seeking democracy and freedom, especially if they were led by the most powerful country. Democracy increased pluralism (and freedoms?) within the Iraqi community, but now suffering has grown so great that a significant number of people would prefer a regime like Saddam's to current conditions.

There are two sides to this issue . Many Iraqis would not like to look back at the past regime because it represents tyranny with all its horrors and without options for them to improve their lives. At least now they have options. Others long for the security of the Saddam era even though they did not like him.

Many Iraqis are unwilling to sacrifice further for corrupted politicians and officials. Pluralism could be healthy if achieved gradually and in normal situations, but so far what we have is disasters and separation. What Iraqis long for now is to pull their pieces together, reject sectarianism and preserve their national unity on the basis of patriotism.

Huda Ahmed was the Elizabeth Neuffer Fellow at the MIT Center for International Studies (2006-07). She has worked as a journalist in her native Iraq, and is also now working at a public radio station in Boston.