Dismantling Bablyon: A Call for Healing in Iraq

by andrewcagle

“We can’t see the scars from these traumas or how far or where the impacts have penetrated. In the comfort of our living rooms, Americans see pictures of disaster but are routed toward new fronts before sympathies develop or questions become too complicated. Television and the craft I practice show us the drama, not the impact, particularly if the results are subtle and occur or become obvious after the cameras and reporters with their notebooks have left. Our tendency is to consider the resolution of the battle or the war or the conflict, not to take in the tragedies that outlast even the most final sort of conclusion. We never find out, or think to ask, whether the village is rebuilt, or what becomes of the dazed woman who, after one strange, endlessly extended moment, is no longer the mother of children.” – Anthony Shadid, House of Stone.

Our Iraq Story

March 22, 2003. I stood in the living room of my home, at age 14, watching Baghdad explode into a dazzling spectacle no Fourth of July could ever match. The talking heads on the television were calling it “shock and awe.” Iraq was distant, a place I knew little about, except that it had oil, a dictator named Saddam, and the US had been figuring out the best way to invade the country for the past few months. In my small world as a young teenager, the images seemed surreal. I didn’t question or think about the consequences of what was unfolding on the Fox News live feed from Baghdad. The events transpiring only occupied a shallow place in my mind at that point. I knew that there were good guys and bad guys. America was going to take out the bad guy, because that’s what we did. We knew what people wanted, and as the good guys, were there to give it to them. I didn’t think about the fact that, in general, your everyday person doesn’t enjoy being bombed. That night, as the glow of an inferno engulfed Babylon flickered on our television screen, there was no doubt that our military adventure in Iraq had begun.

It’s now nine years since the invasion of Iraq. The troops are gone and the beacon of democracy we came to establish shines away on its own, a light to illuminate the path of liberty for others to follow. Or at least, that’s the ending to our Iraq story we were told in 2003. After America was done, Iraq would have the democratic and WMD free society they had always wanted. Things would never be better for the Iraqi people.

Today, the current reality is far from the picture painted by George Bush and Colin Powell during the winter of 2003. Saddam Hussein may be deposed, but Iraq is now dealing with the Arab world’s most promising candidate for new authoritarian leader on the block, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He was our guy in 2006. Maliki was our man in Baghdad. Then again, Mubarak was once our guy, and so was Saddam Hussein before he wasn’t anymore. In the past six years the Iraqi Prime Minister’s greatest achievements include sowing seeds of disunity among the nation’s factions and actions that cast shadows of Saddam in their flaunting of power. Iraq also carries one of the lowest global press freedom rankings, and sits near the bottom of the Corruption Index, 175 out of 182 countries.

The Human Cost

Beyond the destruction of infrastructure and news of a struggling infrastructure, there lies the unseen cost. The human cost of the war in Iraq is the most piercing legacy of the tragedy that continues today. The numbers don’t do justice to the individual lives torn apart and forever altered. They can only give a glimpse of the heartrending price of war.

Population of Iraq: 30 million
Percentage of Iraqis who lived in slum conditions in 2000: 17
Percentage of Iraqis who live in slum conditions in 2011: 50
Number of the 30 million Iraqis living below the poverty line: 7 million.
Number of Iraqis who died of violence 2003-2011: 150,000 to 400,000
Orphans in Iraq: 4.5 million
Number of women, mainly widows, who are primary breadwinners in family: 2 million
Iraqi refugees displaced by the American war to Syria and Jordan: 1.5 million
Internally displaced persons in Iraq: 1.3 million

To put these numbers in perspective, this is what the impact of the war would be in the US if adjusted to be proportionate to total population. Imagine that everyone in Ohio and Tennessee had to flee to Canada, and that today, 88% of those who left as refugees have not returned home. Imagine the entire of population of Chicago died because of violence. You can probably picture the rest of the statistics. Imagine the devastation and trauma we would feel if this were our reality at home.

What do we owe Iraq?

This isn’t so much an answer as it is a call to be the answer. The US government, for the most part, is done with Iraq. The Iraqi government has made clear its disinterest in, and even brazen opposition to, American influence and cooperation. After almost a decade of occupation, who can blame them? I was 14 years old when this war began. I didn’t lobby for war. I wasn’t personally or individually responsible for what happened in Iraq, most Americans aren’t, directly. Regardless of your individual role of involvement or un-involvement, we are all responsible. As things fell apart, we remained pre-occuppied, half a world away. We dismantled a country, a people, and a society, and afterwards put forth a lackluster effort to reassemble it.

So what do we owe Iraq? We owe Iraq healing. We owe the people reconciliation. It’s not as much about trying to be fair as it is simply being human. I don’t think what we did was human, but the cost was — in deepest and most profound of ways. War displays the most abhorrent side of our humanity. Scars inflicted in a moment can last a lifetime. Lives are shattered in an instant, irreversibly transformed. It’s the human pain, the loss, and the indifference we showed to it all, that matters.

How do we offer healing?

There is an axiom that serves as the driving force behind a group of reconciliation workers in Iraq, the Preemptive Love Coalition. The word preemptive, which was used ubiquitously in the run-up to the Iraq war, has taken on the task of peace rather than violence.

“Violence unmakes the world, but preemptive love unmakes violence, and remakes the world.” – Jeremy Courtney, Founder- Preemptive Love Coalition

The best way to give some direction on how to offer healing is two give examples of a couple friends. Bold and sacrificial love brings about healing and reconciliation. Preemptive Love is a group of Americans working in Iraq to provide life saving heart surgeries for Iraqi children. This is their peacemaking mission.

Some other friends of mine are releasing non-fiction book and documentary about the good Samaritan story in wartime Iraq. A group of American peacemakers were already working towards reconciliation in 2003 when the US invaded. A bus accident in western Iraq found them in the care of Iraqis in the community of Rutba. The peacemakers returned to Iraq, unarmed during the invasion, to thank their good Samaritans. The story is being told through the book and film, The Gospel of Rutba.

Healing starts with a desire and vision for love and reconciliation. It requires humility and partnership. In the shadow of devastation, there exists the potential to offer hope and the remaking of a world undone. The quote by Anthony Shadid is enough to make me weep and begs the question: How will you offer and support healing?