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Every Day is Memorial Day in Baghdead


Listen to George W. Bush give his predictable speech on Memorial Day, if you want, but I’d rather pay attention to what Lily Hamourtziadou, a researcher for Iraq Body Count, had to say.

Here was Bush:

The greatest memorial to our fallen troops cannot be found in the words we say or the places we gather. The more lasting tribute is all around us — a country where citizens have the right to worship as they want, to march for what they believe, and to say what they think. These freedoms came at great costs — and they will survive only as long as there are those willing to step forward to defend them against determined enemies.

Yeah, everything’s relative, especially on Memorial Day. But that right to worship didn’t extend to the Muslims who were swept off the streets of America right after 9/11, the right to march didn’t include the hundreds of thousands of protesters who were kept out of Central Park and instead herded through cattle pens during the Republican National Convention in New York City in 2004, and U.S. CEO Dick Cheney clearly doesn’t respect people’s rights to say what they think. He’s threatened those who disagree or publicly cursed them.

Bush’s speechwriters cast him — and us — as underdogs, causing the president to say:

As before in our history, Americans find ourselves under attack and underestimated. Our enemies long for our retreat. They question our moral purpose. They doubt our strength of will. Yet even after five years of war, our finest citizens continue to answer our enemies with courage and confidence. Hundreds of thousands of patriots still raise their hands to serve their country; tens of thousands who have seen war on the battlefield volunteer to re-enlist. What an amazing country to produce such fine citizens.

What’s amazing is the length of this agonizing war — though, contrary to Bush, it’s not yet five years old. But let’s focus on just the past week. Iraq Body Count, one of the most thorough sources for counting the carnage, gives a weekly wrap-up. Here’s how IBC’s Lily Hamourtziadou saw the past week, ending Sunday, May 27:

More than 80 die on Monday 21 May. Gunmen kill 7 inside a minibus near Hibhib, one of them a child, while US forces shoot dead a civilian in Ishaqi, after their patrol is hit by a roadside bomb. In Baghdad, Fallujah and Baquba, police find 51 bound and tortured bodies.

On Tuesday 22 May 125 lose their lives. In the day’s largest incident, a car bomb blows up 25 people, including 3 children, in Amil, Baghdad. Gunmen shoot dead 8 college students in Baghdad, while mortars kill another 4 students in Adhamiya, Baghdad. Near Baquba, gunmen kill 6 people, mother, father and 4 children, while US forces kill 4 civilians in two different incidents in Baghdad and Mosul. In Albu Ubaid, east of Ramadi, a suicide bomber enters a house and blows up 10 members of the same family. Police find 46 bodies in 5 cities, most of them in Baghdad.

On Wednesday 23 May 110 die, including 20 killed by a suicide bomber in a café in Mandali, 3 children killed by mortars in Khan Bani Saad, a primary school pupil killed when mortars fall on his school in Mahmudiya, and 8 policemen. 49 bodies are found in 6 cities, most of them in Baghdad.

Around 100 die on Thursday 24 May, among them 35 people who die when a car bomb explodes during a funeral in Fallujah. Gunmen set up a fake checkpoint and shoot dead 11 people inside a minibus when it stops. After planting a bomb among the bodies, they blow up another 2 who come to the scene. 2 more civilians are shot dead by US forces, while a truck driver is killed by Blackwater security contractors in Baghdad. Also, 27 bodies are found, most of them in Baghdad.

On the quietest day of the week, 58 die on Friday 25 May. In an attack on Aswad village, gunmen kill 17 people, while mortars kill 2 children in Baghdad. Police find 26 bodies, mostly in Baghdad. In Kufa, Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr calls for all Iraqis to fight the occupying forces united.

Another 60 civilians are killed on Saturday 26 May. In an air raid over Sadr City, Baghdad, US planes kill up to 5 people. According to several reports and witnesses, as well as Iraqi officials, the dead are civilian drivers queuing in their cars to buy petrol. 11 cars are destroyed in the raid. During another air strike by British forces, up to 8 civilians are reported killed in Basra. Police find 27 bodies, mostly in Baghdad.

Around 75 are killed on Sunday 27 May. Among the victims, a famous Iraqi calligrapher shot dead in Baghdad, a child blown up by a car bomb in Fallujah, 2 farmers, a head of council and his assistant, and 3 women and a child killed by mortars in Baghdad. In Baghdad police find 44 bodies, tortured and shot in the head.

Hamourtziadou tries to put this into perspective:

Statesmen talk of morality, use moral reasoning to convince us civilians, us moral agents, to gain our support or to manipulate. Political elites use moral rhetoric both to gain support and to make their public feel good about themselves, to feel they are perhaps giving something up themselves (the lives of their soldiers or their resources) out of their own humanity, for the benefit of others, far away. Elites also use ‘fear’ to gain support; they speak of ‘imminent threats’ as they target people’s emotions and insecurities, making them feel as though the state is taking action to protect them.

The reality is that states go to war to pursue their self-interest. The US-led attack and occupation of Iraq had nothing to do with those values that Americans, or any of us in the West, hold dear: Christian ideals, democracy, equality, human rights. We went to war to gain politically and economically. Saddam Hussein’s regime was no longer friendly, and the US stood to lose politically and economically, if the unfriendly Iraqi regime continued to have control of the country and its oil.

So the US did not go to war against Iraq to help it. It also did not wage war on Iraq to destroy it. The intention was neither to help nor to exterminate, but simply to achieve its own goal: control of the region and its resources. Unfortunately, the means by which it has tried to achieve its goal, the reckless and belligerent methods it has employed, have caused devastation on a scale not even the most pessimistic of us could have foreseen.

But it wasn’t that bad a week, by Iraq War standards. Nothing compared with this past April 18, when a string of car bombings killed more than 170 in Baghdad, prompting shopkeeper Ahmad Hamid to tell Reuters, “The street was transformed into a swimming pool of blood.”

On the other hand, what has happened in Iraq since May 27? On May 28 in Baghdad, a car bomb killed at least 20 people in the Sinak commercial district of Baghdad, and this morning a bus exploded in central Baghdad, killing at least 20 more.

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