New revelations about massacres of civilians in Iraq are certainly not needed to confirm the abysmal failure of the “adventure in Iraq”, which is a euphemistic way of putting it since this whole thing is no less than a full-fledged colonial enterprise — indeed replaying the 1920s British one — that has set back the United States’ standing in the Arab and Muslim world by decades.
Unfortunately, more such revelations of criminal behavior will, in all likelihood, be coming our way, and efforts to withhold, delay, misrepresent, decontextualize, or rationalize the information will be just that. Yet too close to the events, we tend to miss the larger historical picture; namely a steady pattern over four years of systematic and systemic human rights violations, extrajudicial killings, secret prisons, ghost detainees, and globalized and privatized torture practice, all of which orchestrated around an originally-conceived design of cultural and religious humiliation (holy books flushed and graffitied-on, places of worship desecrated, prisoners forced to insult their beliefs and so on).
It is time to realize (1) the inevitably negative long term impact of all of this — the immediate, strategic one is that Osama Ben Laden and his self-appointed “Ambassador” in Iraq, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, may have lost Afghanistan but they certainly are well on their way to winning Iraq including the “hearts and minds” of the humiliated ones, and (2) that these killings can no longer be regarded as isolated, unrepresentative incidents.
All the same, this has been fully visible for a while now. Two years ago already, Sy Hersh documented the problem tracing it back pretty high, earlier this year Frontline gave us a sense of the internal magnitude of the practices, and, in between, NYT’s Frank Rich summed it up: Iraq is Vietnam on speed.
Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou is Associate Director of the Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research at Harvard University.