What the West has left Iraq

Anthony Shadid writes a powerful piece in the New York Times on the deadly legacy of America in Iraq, in 2003, today and into the future. The occupation isn’t about to end:

The morning after President Obama spoke of bringing the war in Iraq to “a responsible end,” insurgents planted their black flag on Tuesday at a checkpoint they overran by killing the five policemen who staffed it. It was the second time in a week.

The rest of the day, the police blotter looked like this: Three mortars crashed in Baghdad neighborhoods, where five roadside bombs were detonated and two cars were booby-trapped. Two other mortars fell in the Green Zone, still the citadel of power in a barricaded capital and still a target of insurgents who seem bent on proving they were never defeated.

By dusk, a car bomb tore through Kut, an eastern town long spared strife.

“Nothing unusual,” said Murtadha Mohammed, a 20-year-old baker, as he shoveled rolls into bags a short walk from one of the bombs. “We’ve been raised on this.”

The word “disconnect” never quite captures the gulf in perceptions between two countries whose fate remains reluctantly intertwined, however exhausted each seems of the other. Moments have come and gone: transitional governments, declarations of sovereignty, the signing of agreements. Mr. Obama’s announcement Monday was another.

On Tuesday, Qahtan Sweid greeted it with the cynicism that colors virtually any pronouncement the United States makes here, itself a somewhat intangible but pervasive legacy of seven years of invasion, occupation, war and, now, something harder to define.

“The Americans aren’t leaving,” Mr. Sweid insisted, whatever Mr. Obama had promised. “For one million years, they won’t leave. Even if the world was turned upside down, they still wouldn’t withdraw.”

From the first days after the fall of Baghdad on April 9, 2003, America and Iraq seemed divided by more than language; they never shared the same vocabulary. Perhaps they never could, defined as occupier and occupied, where promises of aid and assistance often had the inflection of condescension. These days, though, they do not even seem to try to listen to each other — too tired to hear the other, too chastised by experience to offer the benefit of doubt.

In a speech that was admittedly modest, Mr. Obama declared Monday that violence continued to be at the lowest it had been in years. Iraq is indeed a safer country than it was 2006 and 2007, when carnage threatened to shred the very fabric of its traumatized society. But security, still elusive here, is an absolute; you either feel safe or you do not.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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