15th December 2011 at 16:49
President Obama has announced that the war in Iraq is over. Unfortunately, Iraqis may be living with the consequences for some time. I’ll focus here on just two aspects: the public health crisis in cities like Fallujah and the broader cultural damage done by the Occupation.
On November 23rd, Foreign Policy in Focus reported: ‘Seven years after the U.S. invasion of Fallujah, there are reports of an alarming rise in the rates of birth defects and cancer. But the crisis, and its possible connection to weapons deployed by the United States during the war, remains woefully under-examined.
Thirty to fifty thousand people were still inside the city when the U.S. military launched a series of airstrikes, dropping incendiary bombs on suspected insurgent hideouts. Ground forces then combed through targeted neighborhoods house by house. Ross Caputi, who served as a first private Marine during the siege, has said that his squad and others employed “reconnaissance by fire,” firing into dwellings before entering to make sure nobody inside was still alive.
By the end of the campaign, Fallujah was a ghost town. Though the military did not tally civilian casualties, independent reports put the number somewhere between 800 and 6,000. As The Washington Post reported in April 2005, more than half of Fallujah’s 39,000 homes were damaged, of which 10,000 were no longer habitable.
Of the current problems in Fallujah, the most alarming is a mounting public health crisis. In the years since the invasion, doctors in Fallujah have reported drastic increases in the number of premature births, infant mortality, and birth defects—babies born without skulls, missing organs, or with stumps for arms and legs. Fallujah General Hospital reported that, out of 170 babies born in September 2009, 24 percent died within the first seven days, of which 75 percent were deformed.’
This is no isolated report. Detailed medical studies substantiate a significant increase in birth defects and cancers in the wake of the US destruction of Fallujah - and new evidence is emerging elsewhere of similar issues.
Meanwhile, the scale of the cultural destruction in Iraq since the western invasion has been immense. Some 15,000 artefacts disappeared from the National Museum and many more from 12,000 sites across the country - a breach of the UN Convention. “Iraq may soon end up with no history,” said one archaeologist.
One of the greatest losses is at the National Library, where 60% of the state archives’ documents, some going back to the 15th century, were destroyed. Much of the destruction was deliberate. Cultural sites were turned into military bases. Babylon was one of them. Occupation forces bulldozed part of the site for a helicopter landing strip and used the site’s soil – together with fragments and shards - to make thousands of sandbags. Massive and extensive damage was done.
Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, 84 per cent of its higher educational institutions have been looted, burned or destroyed. Academics have been assassinated and driven out of the country. Half of all students have dropped out.
“By destroying their culture, you destroy a people’s sense of identity,” says Professor Zainab Bahrani, a specialist in the art and archaeology of ancient Mesopotamia. “So the destruction of cultural heritage is not secondary – it’s directly connected to human rights.”
Some say this was deliberate. The authors Cultural Cleansing in Iraq: Why museums were looted, libraries burned and academics murdered (Pluto Press, 2009) suggest that one of the goals of the occupation was to replace the idea of a unified Iraqi nation in people’s minds with a story of ethnic and religious sectarianism. This was certainly how Iraq was portrayed in western media, as if the invaders bore no responsibility for the damage they unleashed. Now the occupation appears to be ending, it’s time this myth was debunked.
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