Saturday, October 25, 2008

The destruction of Iraq

McCain's and Bush's war in Iraq has been devastating for that country. Michael Schwartz describes some of the ways that destruction manifests itself in Wrecked Iraq: What the Good News from Iraq Really Means 10/23/08. He explains how the press coverage on the Iraq War has deteriorated badly over the past months:

In a sense, the (often exaggerated) decline in violence in that country has allowed foreign reporters to move around enough to report on the real conditions facing Iraqis, and so should have provided U.S. readers with a far fuller picture of the devastation George Bush's war wrought.

In reality, though, since there are far fewer foreign reporters moving around a quieter Iraq, far less news is coming out of that wrecked land. The major newspapers and networks have drastically reduced their staffs there and -- with a relative trickle of exceptions ... -- what's left is often little more than a collection of pronouncements from the U.S. military, or Iraqi and American political leaders in Baghdad and Washington, framing the American public's image of the situation there.

In addition, the devastation that is now Iraq is not of a kind that can always be easily explained in a short report, nor for that matter is it any longer easily repaired. In many cities, an American reliance on artillery and air power during the worst days of fighting helped devastate the Iraqi infrastructure. Political and economic changes imposed by the American occupation did damage of another kind, often depriving Iraqis not just of their livelihoods but of the very tools they would now need to launch a major reconstruction effort in their own country.

As a consequence, what was once the most advanced Middle Eastern society -- economically, socially, and technologically -- has become an economic basket case, rivaling the most desperate countries in the world. [my emphasis]
One particularly telling example he discusses is what happened in education. The Cheney-Bush administration and the military have been very fond of talking about the great benefits in education that we've supposedly brought to the benighted natives of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Marines as social workers: a propaganda photo from the military (location given as Djibouti)

This is probably thought to be an effective propaganda point because Americans who can't easily relate to the fact that our marvelous air power has wrecked the country in astonishing ways can picture building schools for the little kiddies as a benign image of how we would like to imagine America and how we would prefer to think the world sees Americans. Much like the iconic pictures of GI's in liberated Europe in the Second World War giving candy bars to the local children.

But our educational gifts to Iraq don't look so benign:

Education has been a victim of all the various pathologies current in Iraqi society. During the initial invasion, the U.S. military often commandeered schools as forward bases, attracted by their well-defined perimeters, open spaces for vehicles, and many rooms for offices and barracks. Two incidents in which American gunfire from an occupied elementary school killed Iraqi civilians in the conservative Sunni city of Falluja may have been the literal sparks that started the insurgency. Many schools would subsequently be rendered uninhabitable by destructive battles fought in or near them.

Under the U.S. occupation's de-Baathification policy, thousands of teachers who belonged to the Baath Party were fired, leaving hundreds of thousands of students teacherless. In addition, the shuttering of government enterprises deprived the schools of supplies -- including books and teaching materials -- as well as urgently needed maintenance.

The American solution, as with the electric grid, was to hire multinational firms to repair the schools and rehabilitate school systems. The result was an orgy of corruption accompanied by very little practical aid. Local school officials complained that facilities with no windows, heating, or toilet facilities were repainted and declared fit for use.

The dwindling central government presence made schools inviting arenas for sectarian conflict, with administrators, teachers, and especially college professors removed, kidnapped, or assassinated for ideological reasons. This, in turn, stimulated a mass exodus of teachers, intellectuals, and scientists from the country, removing precious human capital essential for future reconstruction.

Finally, in Baghdad, the U.S. military began installing ten-foot tall cement walls around scores of communities and neighborhoods to wall off participants in the sectarian violence. As a result, schoolchildren were often separated from their schools, reducing attendance at the few intact facilities to those students who happened to live within the imprisoning walls.

This fall, as some of these walls were dismantled, residents discovered that many of the schools were virtually unusable. The [New York] Times's [Sam] Dagher offered a vivid description, for instance, of a school in the Dolaie neighborhood which "is falling apart, and overwhelmed by the children of almost 4,000 Shiite refugee families who have settled in the Chukouk camp nearby. The roof is caving in, classroom floors and hallways are stripped bare, and in the playground a pile of burnt trash was smoldering." [my emphasis]
We Americans need to understand how devastating this war has been to Iraq and not let the genuine ugliness of it not be hidden behind current and future romanticizing of this war. Future Hollywood Rambos will not doubt show us in years to come how we could have defeated the Evil Ones and made everything all right for the little brown children if we had only stayed the course and kept bombing civilian neighborhoods until glorious Victory arrived.


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