Paying the Price for a Crazy War

2005 will be remembered as the year citizens across the world started to awaken to the rules of the game in the “war on terror”. Extraordinary rendition, US supported and administered torture, unauthorised spying on citizens, privatised killing, diving support for the Iraqi quagmire and a growing Iranian influence. Liberation, indeed.

We witnessed the shameful response to Hurricane Katrina, world apathy on the Sudanese genocide, military threats towards Iran’s supposed nuclear arsenal, Latin America’s challenge to US imperialism, Israel’s talk of peace but further entrenchment of the occupation, Pacific islands starting to feel the effects of global warming and climate change starting to be taken seriously, in some quarters anyway.

We should take heart from the fact that the US’s global influence is waning. Still a superpower but heavily weakened by the Iraq war and imperial arrogance, Latin American countries, in a brazen collective effort, provide perhaps the best example of a way forward towards a world without constant US threats and bullying. Arrogance has killed many empires over the centuries. 

This cluelessness was best expressed by the former head of the US occupation in Iraq, Paul Bremer, who revealed in early 2006 that the US did not anticipate an insurgency in the country. It was almost comical, if it weren’t so tragic. The Bush administration truly expected to be treated as benign liberators. Such was the reality for extreme ideologues that had formulated plans to reshape the Middle East in the hallowed halls of academia and listened to the ramblings of Orientalist Bernard Lewis. Journalist Robert Fisk wrote in late December: “As long as we are not attending to the real problems of the Middle East, of its record of suffering and injustice, it – al-Qaida – will still be with us.” It is a brutal reality likely to worsen this year.

Australia is inadequately served by its elected representatives. As former minister of defence, Robert Hill told us that “political progress is being made in Iraq” and leaving troops in Iraq was “contributing to [our] own security.” The facts contradict him and yet media interest barely registers. The Sydney Morning Herald still believes – according to its editorial on January 12 – the US “hoped to create a stable, secular democracy [in Iraq]”. Readers should therefore presume had US planning been more efficient, the Iraqi people would be living in utopia. The fact untold thousands of Iraqis have been murdered since 2003 and tortured or targeted by US-backed Shiite militias, should be enough to cause reflection for even the most hardened chicken-hawk.

Such false presumptions are the mainstay of the mainstream media and result in diminished democracy. Our mainstream media has never been more reviled and mistrusted. Why, for example, did a leading journalist from The Age recently travel to the US as a guest of the world’s leading military contractor, Lockheed Martin? Brendan Nicholson filed a report on January 7 about Australia’s role in the US-led missile defence system. Propaganda was too kind a word.

Accurate on-the-ground reporting from Iraq remains a glaring omission, and is unlikely to improve this year. The security situation is precarious, to be sure, but this is no excuse for ignoring the ever-deteriorating lives of Iraqis under occupation. Dahr Jamail, an independent reporter, is a rare exception. After the announcement that the US will not seek further funds for reconstruction – and a report that predicted the cost of the war to be between US$1-2 trillion dollars – Jamail surveyed the feeling on the streets of Baghdad. Unemployment is up to 70 per cent, food rations barely exist, medicines are rarely stocked in hospitals and fuel costs have skyrocketed.

Remember when former US deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz predicted that Iraq could “really finance its own reconstruction?” A majority of the Iraqi people are calling for a withdrawal of “Coalition” troops – a major factor of the recent Iraqi elections, largely ignored in the West – and yet our leaders still talk about “bringing democracy”. Murdoch’s Australian newspaper still argues that the Howard Government “believes it is in our national interest to establish democracy wherever we can.” But what exactly have we created in Iraq?

Noam Chomsky reminds us that the US and its allies have no desire for a democracy in Iraq or indeed in any country where Western interests are threatened:

“The issue can scarcely be raised because it conflicts with firmly established doctrine: we’re supposed to believe that the United States would have invaded Iraq if it was an island in the Indian Ocean and its main export was pickles, not petroleum.

“As is obvious to anyone not committed to the party line, taking control of Iraq will enormously strengthen US power over global energy resources, a crucial lever of world control. Suppose that Iraq were to become sovereign and democratic. Imagine the policies it would be likely to pursue. The Shia population in the south, where much of Iraq’s oil is, would have a predominant influence. They would prefer friendly relations with Shia Iran.”

Iran is the major beneficiary of the Iraq war. This truth is still obscured in the West, but may become clearer this year (though government and media-led anger against a nuclear-armed Iran may mask this once again). I spoke to Pakistani-born writer Tariq Ali last year and he reminded me that without the Iranian mullahs, the Americans “couldn’t have occupied southern Iraq. The people in power in Iraq, through this rushed, fake semi-legitimate election, are the voices of Tehran. Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim (leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the dominant part in the United Iraqi Alliance and controller of the largest bloc in the assembly) backed Iran during the Iran-Iraq war. The militias organised by these people are vicious and vile, patrolling the streets of Baghdad and working with American soldiers. You never read about this.”

It is no longer necessary to wish for the defeat of the US and its allies in Iraq; circumstances have seen to that. The question remains how we can rescue the country from the clutches of political leaders with no sense of history or cultural understanding. According to a senior British officer published in Military Review, the US military in Iraq is young and clueless:

“The US Army in Iraq has been accused of cultural ignorance, moralistic self-righteousness, unproductive micro-management and unwarranted optimism in a magazine published by the army.

“… Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster, who was deputy commander of a program to train the Iraqi military, said American officers in Iraq displayed such “cultural insensitivity” that it “arguably amounted to institutional racism” and may have spurred the growth of the insurgency.”

We are now discovering the way in which this “liberating” army has fought the war. Spc.Tony Lagouranis (Ret) was a US Army interrogator from 2001 to 2005, and served a tour of duty in Iraq from January 2004 to January 2005. He was stationed at Abu Ghraib, then joined a task force roaming the country looking for intelligence. He recently told PBS Frontline of the “culture of abuse” throughout Iraq. He said the Geneva Conventions were regarded as a joke. It was acceptable, condoned or ignored to treat Iraqi detainees however a soldier wished:

“The worst stuff I saw was from the detaining units who would torture people in their homes. They were using things like … burns. They would smash people’s feet with the back of an axe-head. They would break bones, ribs, you know. That was serious stuff … I remember one guy who was forced to sit on an exhaust pipe on a humvee, and he had a pretty huge blister on his leg. Another guy, I don’t know what they used to burn him, his legs. He was blindfolded so he didn’t know either, but it looked like it might have been a lighter. He had some pretty big, [some] smaller blisters, but a lot of them.”

This is the true face of the Iraqi occupation.

This year will see the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. It is therefore time for the mainstream media to resume its questioning and challenging stance, a position long forgotten. More disturbingly, in the light of the New York Times releasing information about the Bush administration illegally spying on US citizens, a number of conservative commentators have questioned the paper’s right to even report the story. (The fact the Times delayed the story for a year, after government objections, is equally concerning.) Journalists are not supposed to be mere ciphers for a political party or position, though you’d be hard pressed to find many leading commentators in Australia who don’t seem to be in the pockets of the Liberal or Labor parties.

May 2006 be the year that imperial stenography ceases to be called journalism. And a time when state terror is regarded as a greater threat than a bunch of radical Islamists.

Antony Loewenstein is a freelance journalist, author and blogger based in Sydney, Australia. His website is:

He can be contacted at

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