Debate Forum Left 09/01/10

Rana Odeh

Although there remain 56,000 troops and over 100,000 private contractors in Iraq, the mainstream media has reported the withdrawal of the last U.S. combat units in Iraq as if it means the end of the Iraq War. What this announcement signifies is the rebranding of a war, but not the end of the occupation. The government is privatizing the war by putting it into the hands of tens of thousands of corporate paramilitary forces many of which are highly trained

dangerous mercenaries that will get away with
human rights violations with little to no
accountability. The new disguise of the war will push it further away from the public eye which will make it more secretive and less transparent. This will also give the illusion that taxpayers are relieved from the burden of the war spending, when in fact, the cost of the Iraq War may increase under this privatized occupation.

The financial cost of the Iraq War is reported to exceed $900 billion. However, the human cost of the war is even more unbearable. The
official number of U.S. military casualties is 4,416, and the number of wounded soldiers is 31,911, which excludes a significant number of soldiers with severe mental illnesses. The death toll on the Iraqi side, to which little attention is given, has exceeded 55,000 insurgent casualties, and is estimated to range between 50,000 and 600,000 Iraqi civilian casualties. This wide range estimate is worrisome. The lives of Iraqi civilians are taken so lightly that those who are killed are not accounted for. Imagine a 550,000 body count margin of error; that would never happen had human life been truly valued in this war.

Far and few ignorant people, however, still think that the U.S. invaded Iraq to liberate its citizens and to improve their quality of life, yet nothing has improved for the Iraqi people. There is increased violence, physical health problems, mental illness, displacement, sky-rocketing unemployment rates, limited daily electricity, and limited access to adequate water supplies. This is a country that sits on an ocean of oil resources, but now has ruined cities that look like ghost towns, and a U.S. embassy the size of 80 football fields. Planting the world’s largest embassy in Iraq does not improve the situation of that country, which seven years later still does not have a functional democracy. I thought that is what the U.S. went to Iraq for, to liberate the people and to give them democracy, to show them a “better” way of life: the American Way. Instead, what America has brought to Iraq is death, destruction and record-higher
cancer rates.

A new medical study conducted by a group of British and Iraqi doctors found dramatic
increases in infant mortality, cancer, and leukemia in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, which was bombarded by U.S. Marines in 2004. The rates of infant mortality and cancer exceed those reported by survivors of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. There has been a four-fold increase in all cancers and a twelve-fold increase in cancer in children under the age of 14. Infant mortality in Fallujah is more than four times higher than in neighboring Jordan, and eight times higher than in Kuwait. Just like in Hiroshima, the cancer, infant mortality, and birth defects are likely to pass through several generations. Just because the government and the media have announced the ‘exit’ of the troops, it does not mean their imprint will not haunt the people of Iraq for decades to come.

We can see now, with increased mental illness in Iraq War veterans, that the war has left a devastating impact on them as well. It is vital to make sure that the returning soldiers get the attention and help they need so they can safely and healthily reintegrate into society. With record-high suicide rates among Iraq War veterans, it is absolutely necessary for the government to have a stronger commitment to the Veterans Affairs to provide better VA medical services to the returning soldiers, and to provide the
appropriate care for post traumatic stress disorder and other illnesses that soldiers suffer from. While the number of soldiers who were discharged solely due to mental illness has
increased by 64 percent from 2005 to 2009, many soldiers who should have been discharged were put on physically and mentally impairing medications to help their anxiety, depression, insomnia, and pain, then sent back to war, despite the fact that the labels warn against operating a vehicle or heavy machinery under the influence of the drug. We need to make sure the returning soldiers receive long term care, not just medication, for their illnesses which have shown to have delayed onset.

Seven years later, Iraq is in a more unstable situation than before the 2003 invasion, and high rates of U.S. soldiers are developing mental illnesses. Billions of taxpayers’ dollars spent, the U.S. is in a depressing economic situation, and there has been no apparent benefit to the Iraqi people or to U.S. soldiers. So who did benefit from the Iraq War? That’s a good question to think about and consider regarding Afghanistan, because I doubt that corporate America will give the answer anytime soon.

Rana Odeh is a graduate of the University of Dayton with a degree in English and philosophy. Her research and writings focus on issues of race, class and gender. She can be reached at

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