I am struck this Independence Day by the similarities in the fight for an American nation more than 200 years ago, and the fight for a new, free, Iraqi nation today. Throwing off the yoke of despotism, ending terror and oppression, providing for democratic self-government, and granting rights and justice for all citizens—all of this has a familiar ring to we Americans as we celebrate every July 4th. But for Iraqis, it represents now, more than ever, an end to hopelessness and a future filled with the promise of freedom.
When I shared these thoughts with an acquaintance the other day, he was quick to point out that America fought her own fight for freedom, but in Iraq’s case we’re “having to do it for them.” I suggested we, and other nations, were doing it as much “with” them as “for” them. He rebutted by saying “if they wanted freedom badly enough” they would have risen up on their own, fought their own fight. His voice fairly shook with contempt for America’s involvement.
I was about to explain the differences between a British despot 2000 miles away in 1776, and a ruthless dictator in your back yard and armed with modern weapons as well as a Gestapo type secret police. But he had to catch a plane for the Live 8 concert in Philly. He spoke of how compassion welled up in him for Africa’s suffering millions deprived of basic human needs. “We all need to come together and fix this” he said, adding we had the power to do it. I agreed, but wondered about his selective compassion for one group of people in desperate circumstances, but calloused lack of concern for another.
Iraq, of course, has had its own relentless and tragic human toll. It’s been documented by several notable international human rights groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Refugees International. The findings of these and similar organizations were released in a 2003 White House Report. It revealed the inhumane consequences of Saddam’s 20 year rein of terror and genocide. Here are a few of the facts:
— Chemical attacks by the Iraqi regime, from 1983 to 1988, resulted in some 30,000 Iraqi and Iranian deaths. Saddam’s 1987-1988 campaign of terror against the Kurds killed at least 50,000 and possibly as many as 100,000 Kurds.
— The regime used chemical and nerve agents against at least 40 Kurdish villages between 1987 and 1988. The largest attack–on Halabja–resulted in approximately 5,000 deaths. Ultimately 2,000 Kurdish villages were destroyed, the bodies of gassed men, women, and children left decomposing in the sun.
–Iraqi leaders privately acknowledged that 250,000 people were killed during the 1991 citizen uprisings, with most of the casualties in the south.
— More than 400,000 Iraqi children under the age of five died of malnutrition and disease over the last seven years because of the nature of the regime under which they live. Food and medical supplies never found their way to the people, much of it stockpiled for the regime’s leaders and cronies and for the military.
— Almost 10,000 documented executions occurred in Abu Ghraid and other prisons over the last 10 years. At least 130 Iraqi women were beheaded between June 2000 and April 2001. Mass graves and torture chambers are still being discovered across Iraq today.
America’s left, including Hollywood’s limousine liberals, delight in reminding us that “no weapons of mass destruction were found” as they continue contesting the US presence in Iraq. But in doing so, they turn their back on the scope of human tragedy reflected by the findings cited above. They display no feelings for the years of suffering and provide no answers for what they would have done to stop the terror and offer relief to fellow human beings who were being systematically exterminated and routinely tortured.
As for weapons of mass destruction…perhaps there are none greater than Saddam himself. The numbers cited above tell a compelling story of mass death and destruction. And clearly, the only real chance for Iraqis mired in years of sustained terror was help from others in the world community of nations. Our being there was, in fact, their only chance for political and social independence. At the moment it’s all very tenuous and dangerous to be sure, but give it time. Just give it time.
This year, amid the fireworks, parades, flags, outdoor grilling, and trips to the lake, my Independence Day will include thoughts and prayers for the Iraqi people. They have courageously stepped on their own path to independence. If they make it, as I believe they can, a world of freedom and prosperity awaits them.