The Iraq that has emerged from the American invasion and occupation is now a thoroughly wrecked land, housing a largely dysfunctional society. More than a million Iraqis may have died; millions have fled their homes; many millions of others have been scarred by war, insurgency and counterinsurgency operations, extreme sectarian violence, and soaring levels of common criminality. Education and medical systems have essentially collapsed and, even today, with every kind of violence in decline, Iraq remains one of the most dangerous societies on earth.
As its crisis deepened, the various areas of social and technical devastation became ever more entwined, reinforcing one another. The country’s degraded sewage and water systems, for example, have spawned two consecutive years of widespread cholera. It seems likely that this year, the disease will only subside when the cold weather makes further contagion impossible, but this “solution” also guarantees its reoccurrence each year until water purification systems are rebuilt.
In the meantime, cholera victims cannot rely on Iraq’s once vaunted medical system, since two-thirds of the country’s doctors have fled, its hospitals are often in a state of advanced decay and disrepair, drugs remain scarce, and equipment, if available at all, is outdated. The rebuilding of the water and medical systems, however, cannot get fully underway unless the electrical system is restored to reasonable shape. Repair of the electrical grid awaits a reliable oil and gas pipeline system to provide fuel for generators, and this cannot be constructed without the expertise of technicians who have left the country, or newly trained specialists that the educational system is now incapable of producing. And so it goes.
On a daily basis, this cauldron of misery renews powerful feelings of discontent, which explains why American military leaders regularly insist that the country’s current relative quiescence is, at best, “fragile.” They believe only the most minimal reductions in U.S. forces in Iraq (still hovering at close to 150,000 troops) are advisable.
Even if Washington prefers to ignore Iraqi realities, military officials working close to the ground know that the country’s state of disrepair, and an inability to deal with it in any reasonably prompt way, leaves a population in steaming discontent. At any moment, this could explode in further sectarian violence or yet another violent effort to expel the U.S. forces from the country.
Michael Schwartz’s new book, War Without End: The Iraq War in Context (Haymarket, 2008), has just been released. It explains just how the militarized geopolitics of oil led the U.S. to dismantle the Iraqi state and economy while fueling sectarian civil war inside that country. read article