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Columnist Vijay Prashad: The Iraq War never ended 

  • Editions of the Valley War Bulletin, a monthly newspaper produced in Northampton in the 2000s, are on display. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Published: 1/13/2020 5:00:56 PM
Modified: 1/13/2020 5:00:10 PM

I have a thick file in my study with the almost complete run of the Valley War Bulletin, a fine monthly newspaper that tumbled out in Northampton from just before the 2003 war on Iraq to the start of the Obama presidency.

Those of us who made this paper were a small group, a wide range of ages and of sensibilities that were united by our basic commitment that these wars of aggression were terrible for their victims. As the war drums beat around us — as the George W. Bush administration lied about weapons of mass destruction and as The New York Times amplified these lies with “scientific” articles — we offered our small voice in dissent. Some of us — such as Frances Crowe and Phyllis Rodin — brought to our group the clarity of the anti-war movement of the Vietnam era; the rest of us learned from them.

If you go back and read the Bulletin, you will find that we were very concerned that an asymmetrical U.S. bombardment of Iraq would not only devastate the country — as it has — but it would open up in a very unpleasant way the rifts in the region between Iran and Saudi Arabia — as it has. Millions of Iraqis found their lives disappear from under their feet; injury and death only one part of the trauma for generations to come.

It was inevitable that the end of Saddam Hussein would mean the beginning not of an American era for Iraq, which Bush had promised, but of Iranian influence in Iraq. This is, by itself, not a bad thing because the cultures and histories of Iran and Iraq have been in conversation for centuries; but it is a bad thing if Iraq became the battlefield of US-Iranian conflict, as it now has.

Over the course of the past years, the ripples of the initial harsh U.S. invasion — “Shock and Awe” — continued, with over two million dead and countless broken. Last year, this ongoing war killed 2,337 civilians, including 86 children. Gunfire is commonplace, poverty is normal (23% of Iraqis, or 7 million people, live in dire poverty). The U.S. war worsened every aspect of Iraqi life — illiteracy increased, women’s role in society deteriorated and corruption became normal.

The war produced the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. It littered the beautiful landscape with paramilitary groups. Nothing about Bush’s war can be defended. It led to the assassination of an Iranian general, Qassim Soleimani, who was traveling on a diplomatic passport for a meeting to de-escalate tensions with the United States. Whatever you think of Soleimani — and the opinions range wildly — his assassination was a serious provocation by the Trump administration toward widening the already unfinished war on Iraq.

Civilian airliners

And now, there is the terrible strike on a civilian airliner, a Ukraine Air flight that had 176 people on board. It is too early to know what happened exactly, but the Iranians have said that the plane was shot accidentally by their air-defenses; these defenses had been put on high alert as a result of the assassination of Soleimani. The man responsible for the air-defenses, Amirali Hajizadeh said, “I wish I was dead. I accept all responsibility for this incident.”

This is not the first civilian aircraft shot down around Iran because of the long-standing tensions between the U.S. and Iran since the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

In 1988, the USS Vincennes shot a missile at Iran Air flight 655, killing all 290 people on board. The crew on the USS Vincennes mistakenly thought that the Airbus A300 was an F14 Tomcat and shot it down. Vice President George H. W. Bush told his fellow Republicans, “I will never apologize for the United States. I don’t care what the facts are. I’m not an apologize-for-America kind of guy.”

The shooting down of these civilian aircraft, the death of hundreds of people on board them, are not individual incidents; these are part of the tension that has been spawned in the region.

Peace

Soleimani’s role in the region for the past decade has been to build up an adequate deterrent for Iran. It is clear that Iran will not be able to build a nuclear deterrent — as North Korea has — to prevent the continuation of the U.S. hybrid war against itself. Nor would Iran be able to fully defend itself from a U.S. bombardment. Without a nuclear or conventional shield, the Iranians built the apparatus for a regional guerrilla war.

Soleimani’s Quds Force went from Lebanon to Afghanistan to build relations with pro-Iranian groups and to encourage and support them in building up militia groups. The war on Syria was a testing ground for these groups that came from as far away as Afghanistan. Now, these groups are prepared to strike at U.S. targets if Iran is attacked in any way. That means that the United States and its allies will face a full-scale regional guerrilla war if there is any bombing run on Iran. That is why Trump could not continue this war.

But this stasis is not peace. It is far from it. The war that George W. Bush initiated in 2003, and the conflict that opened up with the Iranian Revolution in 1979, will not end anytime soon. In the Valley War Bulletin, we had called for regional dynamics toward peace. These are needed now more than ever. There needs to be a grand bargain between Iran and Saudi Arabia (as well as its Gulf Arab allies) to draw down the tension in West Asia. This would reduce the war in Syria and in Yemen as well as in Iraq and Lebanon.

“We want a homeland,” cry the Iraqis in their protests across the country; so do all people in the region.

The United States government now, as then, is not a force for peace. But the voices of the people of the United States are needed desperately by people in the region to amplify their demands for peace and for the chance to build decent lives.

Vijay Prashad, who lives in Northampton, was born and raised in Kolkata (India). He is the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.


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