March 19 marks two gloomy anniversaries: the 12th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq and the 5th anniversary of the Nato intervention in Libya. Both overthrew Arab dictators; both left the local people in such horrific straits that many of them look back with nostalgia to the days of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi.
I was in Iraq with a dozen of my CODEPINK colleagues a month before the US invasion in 2003. While we found a country wracked by 13 years of draconian Western sanctions and a people scared to openly criticize Saddam Hussein, we also found a middle class country with an extremely well-educated population where women made up the majority of university students and participated in all aspects of public life.
I’ll never forget my first conversation with an Iraqi woman in Baghdad, Eman Khammas. “Oh, you’re from the United States,” she remarked in perfect English. “Who is your favorite black woman poet? Do you like Nikki Giovanni or June Jordan or Alice Walker?” Taken aback, I asked how she knew about these women. “I studied them when I was doing my English degree at the University of Baghdad”.
Today Khammas and her family are refugees, as are millions of Iraqis who were forced to flee the violence unleashed by ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’. By 2007, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said that the number of people fleeing Iraq reached 2 million and that within Iraq there were an estimated 1.7 million internally displaced people. With the civil war raging today, that number has only increased, as have deaths.
While military contractors made out like bandits, US taxpayers wasted 1.7 trillion dollars on the Iraq war, money that could have funded healthcare and education here at home. American families lost 4,488 of their loved ones, with tens of thousands of veterans suffering from PTSD and other war-related maladies.
Yes, the US overthrew Saddam Hussein, but it also destroyed the nation’s infrastructure and tore asunder the societal fabric. By disbanding the entire Iraqi military and bureaucracy, and supporting a sectarian Shia government, the US created a power vacuum – a space for Isis to seize power. Isis currently controls a huge swath of Iraq, some 13,000 square miles, and wreaks havoc on the predominantly Shia population.
Libya is a similarly tragic tale. When the peaceful protests against Muammar Gaddafi were met with government violence, an armed rebellion emerged that called for military help from the west. With Nato’s help in this ‘humanitarian intervention’, Gaddafi was overthrown in October 2011.
Today, Libya is considered a ‘failed state’ run by extremist militias and two opposing governments vying for power. Ex-rebel commanders, former exiles, Islamists, tribal leaders are all fighting for control.
Before the ‘liberation’, Libya was the richest country in Africa. It provided all Libyans with free healthcare and education. Today Libyans have almost no functioning public services, with daily blackouts and water shortages.
On the anniversaries of these two epic failures in Iraq and Libya, anti-war activists are gathering for four days of actions from March 18-21. They are protesting the past interventions, the present-day US participation in wars in the Middle East and the possibility of a new war with Iran.
The activities include a ‘spring cleaning of Congress’, where activists will march into the offices of the most hawkish members of Congress, dusting off the cobwebs of war and the fingerprints of military contractors. They’ll take a bus tour of warmakers and their enablers, including the Pentagon, the FBI, the lobby group AIPAC and the right-wing American Enterprise Institute. The gathering will culminate at a rally at the White House.
By: Medea Benjamin