Now that the 9-year military occupation of Iraq is presumably coming to an end, it would be appropriate to reflect on the Iraqi people who died as a result of the U.S. invasion and occupation of the country.
How many Iraqis have died in the process? We don’t know. The reason we don’t know is that the U.S. government did not keep count. Unlike U.S. soldiers killed over there, the Iraqi people were not deemed sufficiently important to keep track of how many were dying.
That cavalier attitude toward the Iraqi dead reflects how U.S. officials have long viewed the Iraqi people — as a substandard, inferior class of human beings whose value is considered secondary compared to, say, Americans or Englishmen.
You’ll recall that after U.S. officials failed to find those infamous WMDs that were supposedly going to be launched by Saddam Hussein on the United States at any minute, the primary purpose of the Iraq invasion and occupation was converted from one of self-defense to one of altruism.
Thus, while the troops and the CIA were initially killing Iraqis (and torturing, sexually abusing, and executing them at Abu Ghraib) under the notion that they were protecting America from an imminent WMD attack, once the WMDs failed to materialize, the troops and the CIA remained in the country, killing countless Iraqis for years afterward under the notion that the United States was bringing democracy to the country.
What was revealing about the occupation of the country was there was never an upward limit on the number of Iraqi people whom U.S. officials were willing to kill in order to bring democracy to the country. It simply didn’t matter. What mattered, first and foremost, was bringing democracy to the country, and no price was too high to pay, in terms of Iraqis dying, to achieve that goal.
That obviously presented a fascinating situation. On the one hand, U.S. officials were effectively saying, “We love the Iraqi people, which is why our troops are over here making tremendous sacrifices for their benefit.”
Yet, on the other hand, U.S. officials were willing to sacrifice any number of Iraqis — thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands — in the process of achieving that political goal. The notion gave new meaning to the adage of loving people to death.
U.S. officials say that the entire operation has been successful because it has brought democracy to Iraq. What about the Iraqi dead, which are estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands? U.S. officials say that even if the Iraqi dead do number in the hundreds of thousands, such deaths have been worth it, given that Iraq is now a democracy.
What about the dead themselves though? Would they feel the same way? Of course, we can’t ask them because they’re dead. But we can certainly wonder what their answer would have been prior to the invasion if asked, “Are you willing to give up your life, or the lives of your spouse, children, relatives, or friends, for the sake of democracy in Iraq?”
Of course, such a question was never asked of the Iraqi people. Their lives — any number of lives — were deemed expendable — an adequate price to pay for the U.S. government to bring democracy to the country.
It wasn’t the first time that that cavalier mindset regarding the value of Iraqi life was manifested by U.S. officials. You’ll recall that during the 1990s, the U.S. government and the UN implemented one of the most brutal systems of sanctions against Iraq in history. The purpose of the sanctions was to bring about regime change in Iraq, one in which Saddam Hussein was ousted from power and replaced by a pro-U.S. regime.
During the 11 years of sanctions, thousands of Iraqi children were dying monthly as a result of illness, diseases, and malnutrition. We don’t know exactly how many died but the estimates range in the hundreds of thousands.
When U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright was asked by “Sixty Minutes” whether the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children from the sanctions had been worth it, Albright responded that the deaths had, in fact, been “worth it.” She was the official international spokesman for the U.S. government.
Interestingly, Albright didn’t deny the number of Iraqi children who had died because of the sanctions. There was never an upward limit placed on the number of children who could be killed as a result of the sanctions, after which the sanctions would be lifted. The number of deaths didn’t matter. What mattered was the political goal of regime change, and no price was too high in terms of the number of Iraqi children who could be sacrificed to achieve that end.
One of the most fascinating aspects to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq was the response of those American Christians who supported the operation. They didn’t see anything wrong with the invasion and occupation precisely because they felt that the United States was helping the Iraqi people to achieve democracy. Like U.S. officials, such Christians took the position that the sacrifice of Iraqis was an adequate price to pay to achieve that goal.
Yet, while I’m certainly no Biblical scholar, I just don’t see how that attitude can be squared with Christian principles. As I understand God’s laws, the life of each and every human being is equally sacred. That is, in the eyes of God, the lives of the Iraqi people are not of inferior or secondary value but instead as valuable as the lives of everyone else, including the Americans and the British.
Thus, under what Christian principle could even one person be killed for the sake of democracy? I don’t see it. I just cannot believe that God approves of the propriety of killing even one single person — much less hundreds of thousands — for the sake of democracy or regime change.