Since the beginning of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, a total of 189,000 people have died as a direct cause of the war. The numbers include American and allied troops, opposition forces, journalists, humanitarian workers, and American contractors. Most significantly, 134,000 of the 189,000 deaths are Iraqi civilians. These are the findings of the Brown University Costs of War study, foreboding that the number of civilian deaths is likely to double when a more accurate count is attained.
Further, indirect causes of death, such as the devastation of the health care and water utility systems, will remain for Iraqis long after the violence ceases. The overall picture of Iraq is one of a humanitarian crisis for several reasons, many of which are described below. This is but a snapshot of Iraq now that the US has pulled its military occupation out of the country, and left the population with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s authoritarian regime.
The Cancer Epidemic
The cancer rate has dramatically increased in Iraq as a result of the chemicals used by the U.S. army during warfare, such as depleted uranium and white phosphorous. The rate of registered cancer cases went from 40 to 800 people out of 100,000 following the First Gulf War. During the second U.S. invasion in 2005, the rate astonishingly doubled to 1,600 registered cases out of 100,000 people, which is considered to be an underestimate.
Even more astonishing are the cases of terrible congenital malformations, taking place in Fallujah, where in 2004 both white phosphorous and depleted uranium were used in two separate attacks. The most disturbing defects include babies born with one eye in the centre of their face, with internal organs on the outside of their body, with two heads, and born dead. Others include babies born with severe immune system, central nervous system, skeletal and heart dysfunctions, as well as cases that are yet to be assigned medical terms.
To put it into perspective, between 2007 and 2010, over fifty percentof the babies born in Fallujah had a congenital malformation, in contrast with a rate of under two per cent in 2000. Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, author of a study on the epidemic of congenital malformations in Iraq, explains that "as long as the environment is not cleaned, as long as the source of this public contamination is not found and as long as people are exposed to it periodically on a daily basis, ... [the epidemic of rare congenital birth defects] will persist. And what we can see is that they are actually increasing." It follows that the US should clean the environment of the metals they have contaminated Iraqi soil with.
Imprisonment, Torture and Executions
Under the notorious Article Four, Maliki’s security forces canarrest and detain people merely suspected of terrorism. "Maliki’s jails" are known for torturing their detainees. Among the methods used is the repeated rape of men and women, sometimes with objects like bottles and brooms. Prisoners can be tortured until confession of their alleged crimes, which in some cases is broadcast on national television in order to instill fear in and thus silence the population. This is especially significant given the current protests against Maliki’s Shia dominated militia, particularly among the repressed Sunni population.
Not only does Article Four make it all too easy for government security officials to arrest civilians without a fair trial, but with the reinstatement of capital punishment in 2005, Iraq is the world’s leading country in executions. Human Rights Watch’s Joe Stork maintains that "the Iraqi authorities’ insistence on carrying out this outrageous string of executions, while unwilling to reveal all but the barest of information, underlines the opaque and troubling nature of Iraq’s justice system." The execution rate is so high because it can be applied to a variety of about fifty crimes. Combined with the vague nature of what it means to be suspected of terrorism, government forces have grounds to arrest and detain virtually anyone they please.
Women’s Rights Take a Left Turn
Journalist Rania Khalek argues that the extremist Islamist parties empowered by the Bush administration (i.e. Maliki’s party) and the ensuing sectarian violence have attacked women’s rights. The conflict during the invasion led to the kidnapping of 4,000 women and girls to be sold into the sex trade, often trafficked into neighboring countries. The US took down Iraq’s security structures along with Saddam Hussein, leaving large numbers of widowed women and orphaned children still vulnerable to the sex trade. Moreover, Islamic militants have carried out mass killings of sex workers, imposing a catch-22 on women and girls forced into the sex trade by violence in the first place.
The situation is absolutely deplorable considering women’s rights in pre-war Iraq were amid the most advanced in the region, comparable to North American women’s quality of life. With women’s rights enshrined into the Iraqi constitution in 1970 and Saddam’s adamant stance on quality education and eradicating illiteracy, women were holding high professional positions and running for office. Rania’s overall point is that Iraqi women are worse off today than under Saddam’s regime, women’s rights having been repealed some seventy years.
Refugees and IDPs
Brown University’s study indicates that there are 1.3 million internally displaced people (IDPs) within Iraq, and 1.4 million Iraqis who have sought refuge in neighboring and Western countries. Iraqi refugees within the Middle-East: Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan and Iran, are enduring their worsening situation as the resources in those countries are being stretched.
Within Iraq, Maliki endeavours to bring down the IDP numbers, though not with a sustainable solution to the problem. Maliki wants to buy his way into closing IDP files. The government is offering a cash sum of $3,430 for IDPs to resettle in their homes, or $2,145 to settle in their current location. Not only is this a band-aid solution to the IDP crisis, but it is not even viable in terms of the current budget. Further, the number of IDPs, and thus the extent of the problem, is likely underestimated since many are not registered. Many Iraqis do not want to move back to their homes because they have nothing to draw them there, or because the sectarian violence does not permit them to.
The Resulting Picture
Many Iraqis who supported the taking down of Saddam feel like their security is in more danger post-invasion, that their situation is worse than under Saddam’s Ba’ath regime. The US seems to have created a mess it is not willing to clean up, after having declared war on Iraq under false pretenses. As such, the global picture of Iraq today illustrates countless human rights abuses, one which the public largely does not see because it is not at the forefront of mainstream media.
CNN and Fox News together have reported but three hours and twenty-six minutes dedicated to the ten year anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq (counting throughout March 18 to 20), less than MSNBC’s alone, which spent four hours and thirty five minutes on the topic. Mediamatters.org, which gathered the data, stresses that the quality of the information reported is just as worrisome as the lack of time spent covering the topic. They hint that the opinions were often defending the war or questioning the validity of arguments skeptical of the war. As such, the image that is being disseminated by the ubiquitous corporate mainstream news outlets is inaccurate since it severely understates the gravity of the damage caused by the US-led invasion of Iraq. Maybe the US will take responsibility for these injustices the day the American public and the international community will hold them accountable.