On Tuesday night, a forum took place in Vancouver to mark the tenth anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. The event featured Iraqi-Canadian Riadh Muslih and U.S. war resister Rodney Watson Jr. The forum took place inside First United Church in the Downtown Eastside, because that is where Rodney Watson has been living for the past three years, having taken sanctuary in the church to avoid deportation to the U.S.
The following is a written version of Riadh Muslih's presentation, as well as a transcript of Rodney Watson's remarks to the forum. Together, they present a devastating indictment of the war against Iraq.
Riadh Muslih: 'Iraq is now a destroyed country'
A poll by the American network ABC late last week, on the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, indicated that 53 per cent of Americans thought the war was a mistake. I beg to differ. First, this was no war between equal or closely equal protagonists, and it was not a mistake. This was an invasion by two powerful western nations of a country that threatened neither. This was a crime and murders of mass proportions, which did not begin in 2003 but ten years earlier with a ruthless inhumane economic, cultural and political siege the likes of which was not seen in modern history, and may not be seen again.
During the fist ten years, the years of the siege, I stood in Vancouver before many audiences and declared with conviction that the West, with its total siege that came on top of a ruthless dictatorship was in fact helping to bring up an entire generation of angry, ignorant and uneducated Iraqis, and that we would see the results when the gates of that wounded country open up to the outside observer.
The crime did not end with invading the country and setting up an administration. From the outset the new masters set out to do two things:
First, destroy the very institutions of the state. These had nothing to do with toppling a dictator and a dictatorship or removing a political party. This was to get to the civil fabric that binds and organises the country and its people.
The second was to instill concepts of sectarian and ethnic divisions. The trigger was in the formation of the first national governing council made up of self-exiled Iraqis most in the pay of the British and Americans. The "National Governing Council" as it was ironically called was set up and divided according to what they portrayed as how the Iraqi society is in fact organized.
This was the beginning of sowing the seeds of sectarianism and ethnic cleansing among Iraqis by Iraqis. Remember, history shows that imperial powers always set up to nurture certain nationals to do their bidding, and what happened in Iraq was no different. They played one group against another.
The result was a civil war or something close to it and the wonton killing and destruction of the country and its people did not begin in 2003, but ten years earlier.
Iraq is now in fact a destroyed country. I often say had Iraq not had the oil wealth, it would not be unlike Somalia, a failed state.
Ministers, party leaders, senior religious leaders, and a variety of senior officials and members of the government and parliament have set out to enrich themselves on massive scales. Government titles and positions, even academic positions, are proportioned on lines of religious, ethnic and political affiliations. These positions are meant to enable appointees to pilfer the national wealth. They are not appointed with considerations to experience or even education. Only party and sectarian or ethnic affiliations matter.
Spectacular wealth has moved and continues to move out of Iraq by the corrupt and powerful. It is not unlike thieves dividing a loot, often with infighting among themselves. At the same time Iraqis, ten and twenty years later, still lack the very basic services of an urban or even an agrarian society. Electrical power that Iraqis rely heavily on during much of the long summer months is available only eight hours a day, and that's in major cities.
The education and health institutions are totally broken. So are agriculture and irrigation. Iraq which knew very little of private schools and hospitals has become an endless possibility for the private sector in both.
Oil, which is the mainstay of the national economy, after ten years of the siege that had destroyed everything else, is largely sold on the black market due to its scarcity.
Human rights do not fare any better than under the dictatorship. However, Iraqis now say that in the past they had one dictator and the oppression was organized in an orderly manner. If one didn't get involved in anti-government activities, he or she were generally secure to do almost anything. The problem now is that there are multiple masters, each with their agenda and an Iraqi does not know which one to please or offend. Organized crime is rampant: murders, thefts, hijackings, kidnappings, and so on are part of daily life throughout the country.
Woman and children's rights are slowly but surely eroding and reverting to the Iraq of a 100 years ago. Indeed many of the laws that protected women and children are either ignored or, worse, thrown out, all under the guise of religion and the protection of family coherence . Well this family, or rather these families, are now scattered around the face of the globe, many members of the same family in different countries. A couple of million are mostly in neighboring countries, where they are taken advantage of, and child prostitution is not uncommon. Two million more Iraqis are internal refugees. Even some of the most nationalistic citizens do not waste an opportunity to ask a visiting relative or a friend about how to emigrate.
Iraq is a very dangerous place to be in, and the security and democracy that was promised was nothing but a lie -- a big lie. A smoke screen to hide sinister intentions. The tragedy of it all is that it was a lie known in advance of its terrible consequences.
No, the Anglo-American invasion did not set out to establish democracy and the rule of law, or at a minimum to teach Arabs the beauty of democracy. It set out to destroy the country as a first step to move on and destroy other countries in the neighborhood. Like any imperial power of the past, no foreign power sheds the lives of thousands of its soldiers and spends unimaginable sums of money for the sake of the targeted country. There is no benevolent imperial power. It all comes down to one thing and one thing alone, and that is to suck out the blood of the victims.
And in closing, to illustrate the tragedy: the very Iraqis who suffered under the dictatorship and who celebrated its downfall now wish it had never gone.
Rodney Watson Jr: 'We should never have been in Iraq'
Thank you for coming out tonight.
My name is Rodney Watson. I'm from Kansas City. I signed up as an army cook, and I ended up searching for explosives in vehicles.
I also witnessed a lot of racism towards the Iraqi people, by our own military personnel and by civilian contractors -- the beatings, the [use of slurs like] 'sand niggers' -- just a lot of things I didn't agree with.
And knowing that I joined for what I thought were honorable reasons -- to help protect my country from a potential threat -- to find out it was a lie in the middle of your deployment was devastating to me; it really angered me. And the treatment of the people I saw by our own forces and the contractors was appalling to me, because I did witness racism back home growing up myself. And to see other people of colour being treated the same way my own people back home were treated made no sense to me and it angered me a lot.
Still to this day there's a lot of fire inside of me to keep on speaking out against this, even though this war's fading fast in the memories of many around the world. It's still fresh in my mind, and I know it's still fresh in your friends and families minds back home.
[To Riadh Muslih] I'm sorry. I want to apologize for what has been done to your country. There was no justifiable reason for what has been done. The racism that we brought, the hatred that we brought, the violence that we brought, the murders that we committed.
I didn't commit murder myself, but I came very close many times to having to draw my weapon and take someone out, but thank God that I did not have to do that. Because if I would have come back knowing that I took a life of another human being for unjust reasons, for a lie, that would have destroyed me. I can understand why so many veterans today are having such hard times in dealing with and coping with what they've done over there. I'm just guessing, but I think a lot of them are feeling guilty for what they've done, for what they took part it.
I know there are a lot of Republicans who still believe that the Iraq War was a good war to fight, but that's a lie. Look at me. I've been in this church for three years now. All I want to do is be free and work, to take care of my family. For three years, barely being able to see my wife and son, while George Bush is sipping lemonade on a Texas ranch. Him, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell -- all of them who are responsible for this war -- something needs to be done about this, something needs to happen. I don't know what needs to be done in terms of prosecuting these people, the real criminals, the war criminals, but something needs to be done.
I'm not going to give up now. I risked my life for a lie, and right now I'm risking my life for the truth. And the truth is we should have never been in Iraq. It's been a long road, a long journey for me, being in this situation. I've been ridiculed, criticized -- I know I'm doing the right thing. I knew I was doing the right thing by not going back into that war. It doesn't faze me when I face critics [now], because I know what I did is right.
I'm not a coward. I'm not a traitor. I love my country enough to tell my country the truth -- we should have never been there.
And all these lives that were lost, were lost for what? What are they dead for? All these mothers, all these brothers, all these sisters, family members, friends -- they're dead now, people who could have been here right now.
Over half a million Iraqis dead, thousands [of U.S. soldiers] dead and wounded, missing limbs. And are we going to let a Nobel Peace Prize allow us to do this again. Are we going to follow the same thing that happened in Iraq in Syria and Iran next? This is where it's going to head if people don't rise up and start speaking their minds -- we're going to end up in World War Three.
These are the facts: we are causing a turmoil in the Middle East that needs to end, and I'm not taking anymore part of it. That's my stand right here. I've been standing since 2006 against the war in Iraq.
I know the war is over, but we still have troops in Afghanistan and people are still suffering in Iraq. And people are still suffering on the U.S side from the effects of that war. And it just hurts me knowing that so many precious little lives have been lost.
I don't understand it, and I wish that this world would change.
I really wish that people would find the courage within themselves to say 'enough is enough.'
I know one thing: I did the right thing. And I should not be punished for it. The decision we made was the right one. We all made a conscious decision we felt was right in our hearts.
I'm married to a Canadian, with a Canadian son, and yet this Conservative government has been trying to break me up and break me apart from them. And, as God is my witness, I'll die trying to fight for them, to remain with them. That is my word. I love them that much.
I'm not here to hide or be silent. I'm here to voice my opinion and be vocal about my opinion of that war. And that war was a tragedy. A tragedy that will take many years to heal. And it won't heal unless we all being to raise our voices against the pain and suffering.
All we're doing is adding to the suffering -- by allowing things to be done in our name by our taxdollars, we silently agree with it.
When are we going to stand up and say 'enough is enough,' and let the healing begin?
I just want to say, I love you all. We're all brothers and sisters. All of us. I don't care if you're gay. I don't care if you're Iraqi or America or Canadian. We're all brothers and sisters.