Saturday, February 6 , 2016, 6:58 am | Fair 42º

Tam Hunt: A Postmortem of America’s War in Iraq

As a country, we owe it to ourselves and to the world to never again abide an illegal U.S. war and military atrocities by our troops

By Tam Hunt |

War waged without a clear mandate from the U.N. Security Council would constitute a flagrant violation of the prohibition of the use of force. We note with deep dismay that a small number of states are poised to launch an outright illegal invasion of Iraq, which amounts to a war of aggression.
— International Commission of Jurists, 2002

Today, I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year. After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.
— President Barack Obama, Oct. 21, 2011

President Barack Obama announced Oct. 21 that the United States would be withdrawing all but a handful of troops from Iraq at the end of the year. Despite taking credit in his brief speech for a new war strategy in Iraq following his 2008 election, Obama also reminded us that President George W. Bush set the troop withdrawal deadline in 2008. So the withdrawal deadline was not new, nor was it a surprise.

Obama put a positive spin on the Iraq War itself and its end. It would be hard for a sitting president, as commander in chief, to criticize the war itself as unjust and not worth the loss in life and treasure, particularly considering the harm our actions have wrought in Iraq. Candidate Obama did say as much, however, in 2007: “I am proud of the fact that way back in 2002, I said that this war was a mistake.”

It is incumbent that we reflect deeply on this massive stain on U.S. history as our active military involvement in Iraq draws to a close. We must learn from our mistakes and vow that “never again” will we wage a war of choice and in the process cause untold damage to other nations and to ourselves.

Although direct U.S. military involvement in this illegal war is now coming to an end, it is certain that the United States will maintain a strong diplomatic and economic presence in Iraq for years and decades to come. The Baghdad embassy is the biggest U.S. embassy in the world and, by some accounts, will include many thousands of troops assigned to protect it. The end of U.S. military action in Iraq is to be celebrated, but it is highly unlikely that the United States will truly give up its ability to project force in Iraq.

Despite his celebrating the end of active military involvement in Iraq, Obama actually tried very hard to maintain an active U.S. troop presence in Iraq past the deadline at the end of this year (imposed by the 2008 agreement between Bush and Iraq’s leaders). The United States insisted, as it does with all “status of forces agreements” in every country where U.S. troops are stationed, that U.S. forces must enjoy full legal immunity for any actions taken in Iraq.

The Iraqis refused this condition, so U.S. troops will not remain beyond the deadline. These basic facts were widely reported in the media. What has not been widely reported is why the Iraqis resisted U.S. demands on this issue. We forget all too quickly the damage our presence has done in Iraq in the last nine years.

The Iraqis have been angered, to say the least, by a number of U.S. atrocities committed during our time in Iraq, including Abu Ghraib, Fallujah and many others. One particular incident, the Ishaqi massacre of a number of women and children (all under age 5), has gained special notoriety this year in Iraq, even though it occurred in 2006. This is a result of the Wikileaks cables on Iraq that have been steadily released in Iraq and many other countries. This incident was not widely reported in Iraqi or American media, despite efforts by the United Nations and Iraqis themselves to induce the United States to own up to what happened.

The McClatchy news report on this incident begins: “A U.S. diplomatic cable made public by Wikileaks provides evidence that U.S. troops executed at least 10 Iraqi civilians, including a woman in her 70s and a 5-month-old infant, then called in an air strike to destroy the evidence, during a controversial 2006 incident in the central Iraqi town of Ishaqi.”

A report from the Iraqi Joint Coordination Center in Tikrit, a regional security center set up with help from the U.S. military, stated: “The American forces gathered the family members in one room and executed 11 persons, including five children, four women and two men. Then they bombed the house, burned three vehicles and killed their animals.”

According to a U.N. report to the United States at the time of the incident, which has now been revealed by Wikileaks, U.S. forces approached a farmer’s home in Ishaqi, a small town not too far from Baghdad, after receiving a tip that an al-Qaeda member, a relative of the home’s owner, was visiting. U.S. troops were fired upon as they approached and after undergoing a 25-minute gunfight, the U.N. report states, “troops entered the house, handcuffed all residents and executed all of them. After the initial MNF intervention, a U.S. air raid ensued that destroyed the house.”

The U.N. report notes that “at least 10 persons, namely Mr. Faiz Hratt Khalaf, (aged 28), his wife Sumay’ya Abdul Razzaq Khuther (aged 24), their three children Hawra’a (aged 5) Aisha (aged 3) and Husam (5 months old), Faiz’s mother Ms. Turkiya Majeed Ali (aged 74), Faiz’s sister (name unknown), Faiz’s nieces Asma’a Yousif Ma’arouf (aged 5 years old), and Usama Yousif Ma’arouf (aged 3 years), and a visiting relative Ms. Iqtisad Hameed Mehdi (aged 23) were killed during the raid.”

To sum up, reports from Iraqi and U.N. personnel strongly support the chain of events reported initially by neighbors of the unfortunate family and the claims made by Iraqi police at the time.

The United States conducted an investigation of the incident in 2006 after initially calling it “highly unlikely to be true.” The investigation cleared U.S. troops of any wrongdoing, though the U.S. spokesman, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, acknowledged that up to nine “collateral deaths” may have resulted. Of course, the report was not released to the public.

So we have eyewitnesses and Iraqi police supporting the massacre narrative and a U.S. investigation supporting the narrative that everything was done as required, but with perhaps up to nine “collateral deaths.”

Hopefully, the new attention to this case brought about by the Wikileaks cable will lead the United States to conduct further investigations. When the morgue report shows that all occupants of the home were handcuffed and died of bullet shots to the head, it makes it very difficult to believe the U.S. version of events.

Here’s the U.S. diplomatic cable reporting the U.N. findings to Washington.

This massacre has been widely publicized in Iraq in 2011 and is a major reason why Iraq refused to grant U.S. forces immunity for troops after 2011. In short, the large majority of Iraqis don’t trust or want U.S. forces in Iraq any longer. Incident after incident cannot be ignored. Here’s a short list of other major incidents:

Remember Haditha? In this even worse massacre in 2005, U.S. forces killed 24 civilians in a rampage after alleging that an IED went off near a U.S. convoy (although no evidence was produced of the IED and the late Rep. John Murtha, D-W.Va., generally a pro-military congressman, stated after learning of the investigation that there was no IED). The United States investigated this incident and found that there had been obvious wrongdoing. The report stated that the evidence “supports accusations that U.S. Marines deliberately shot civilians, including unarmed men, women and children.”

Despite the U.S. report confirming killing of innocent civilians, none of the troops has been convicted of wrongdoing, mostly due to deals for immunity and cooperation in prosecution of the squad leader, Sgt. Frank Wuterich. Wuterich has succeeded in delaying his trial and his trial date has still not been set.

Remember the Mahmudiyah rape, killing and burning of a 14-year-old girl and the killing of her entire family by five U.S. soldiers in 2006? This hideous episode was premeditated by a group of U.S. troops and conducted in off-duty hours. Two of the five soldiers have been convicted of these crimes and the three others pleaded guilty.

And of course we remember Abu Ghraib and the Fallujah massacre, in which a major Iraqi city was demolished by U.S. forces in 2004.

War is hell. The message form this true statement should not be, as is all too often claimed, “so get used to it.” Rather, the message should be quite different: “War is hell so do not enter into wars unless absolutely necessary for national security.”

By any reasonable measure the U.S. misadventure in Iraq was a war of choice, not necessity.

What about the bigger picture, beyond the unfortunate incidents perpetrated in Iraq by a few bad apples? Unfortunately, when we look at the big picture, it’s even worse. A number of reports have looked at civilian casualties in Iraq. One of the more controversial reports was published in the British peer-reviewed medical journal, The Lancet, in 2006. It found that there had been about 650,000 “excess deaths” in Iraq since the U.S. invasion. This means that the research team did its best to calculate the death rate in the years preceding the invasion, the death rate in the three years after the invasion (based on numerous interviews in every province of Iraq), using standard epidemiological standards, and then compared the death rates.

The report did not distinguish between those killed by U.S. troops or between civilians and armed forces. Rather, it looked only at the excess deaths. These 650,000 excess deaths, in just three years, should of course be attributed to the U.S. invasion because they wouldn’t have happened without our invasion.

Another study, by Opinion Research Business, a British polling firm, found an even higher number of excess deaths, more than 1 million. This report was not peer-reviewed.

Wikileaks documents revealed in 2011 that the U.S. military tallied about 100,000 deaths from incidents involving U.S. troops, in total, with about 66,000 of those constituting civilian deaths. One academic who has analyzed the Wikileaks data in detail, concluded that this data very likely represents a massive under-reporting of deaths. The reasons should be obvious: how would the U.S. military collect casualty information from air raids, artillery fire, drive-by shootings, etc.?

Even if casualties “only” amount to 100,000, the enormity of this crime should still be obvious.

But isn’t Iraq now on the right track, an example of modern democracy taking root? Doesn’t this justify at least some of the massive damage we’ve done? Time will tell, but the data available thus far are not encouraging. The Economist magazine issues its “Democracy Index” every two years and its 2010 report was not encouraging with respect to Iraq.

The four categories in this report are “full democracy,” “flawed democracy,” “hybrid regime” and “authoritarian regime.” The 2010 report found that Iraq ranks 111th in the world in terms of democracy and is barely a “hybrid regime,” literally one spot above the “authoritarian regime” category and only 10 places above Cuba (at 121). In other words, Iraq is not a democracy at all.

Democracy may improve in Iraq but even if it does I, for one, could not on this basis justify such massive loss of human life, in terms of both our own troops, or the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives lost.

And let’s not forget the price tag of almost $1 trillion already spent on Iraq. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz concluded in a 2008 book that the total cost of the Iraq war to U.S. taxpayers is likely to be well more than $3 trillion before our involvement is finally ended.

I hope that the record of our impact on Iraq will eventually be taught to American students in high school and college, to remind us of why we should do our best to avoid war unless absolutely necessary.

The Iraq was is over for us, but the mentality that led us into the Iraq war is most definitely not over. It is only through education and constant vigilance that we can avoid further misadventures that lead to massive killings, displacements of entire populations, and the huge price tag that accompanies war.

On a personal note, this commentary was hard for me to write. I’ve followed the Iraq War very closely, from the first day newspapers contained reports of a possible war in Iraq in 2002, until the present. My personal history on this issue goes back even further, to the first Persian Gulf War, during which time I served in the Army as an enlisted soldier. I wasn’t sent to the Gulf and didn’t see combat; rather, I was kept on guard detail of U.S. military facilities near my station in southern Germany. But the threat of war was very real to me and not something I looked forward to.

During the second Gulf War, I read about all of these incidents (except Ishaqi) at the time they happened and was disgusted and ashamed. I am still disgusted and ashamed now. Researching and writing about these incidents is trying on one’s psyche and soul.

I constantly ask myself how could Americans be so complacent in the face of massive and ongoing evidence of brutality and human rights violations, war crimes, cover-ups and financial schemes to defraud taxpayers of billions of dollars (that’s a topic for an essay in itself)?

Most Americans don’t seem to take the time to learn about the impacts of our foreign policy on other people around the world, or on own country. This is due in part also to an all-too-compliant U.S. media that finds it difficult to cover the negative aspects of our policies, whether our president is Republican or Democrat.

My hope is that through better education more Americans will learn about these issues and become engaged. Eventually, we may truly be able to “end the mindset that got us into the Iraq war,” as candidate Obama urged before he got caught up in the apparatus of war itself after he was elected president.

Future essays will examine in more detail the effect of the “military-industrial complex” on U.S. foreign policy and our collective psyche, which President Dwight Eisenhower warned about as he left office in 1961.

— Tam Hunt is a frequent Noozhawk contributor and Santa Barbara-based philosopher, lawyer and biologist. Click here for his blog, Thought, Spirit, Politik.

» on 11.07.11 @ 03:41 AM

This isn’t satire, is it?

» on 11.07.11 @ 10:50 AM

PGL, why would you ask if it’s satire? This is constructive social criticism, and it’s not funny. Many Americans are too lazy or complacent to demand that we do what’s right. They are too intellectually lazy to demand that the people who represent us be held responsible for wrongdoing.

What we need is to bring each of the Iraq War architects before Congress, and on live TV, to answer questions about this invasion. Start with Bush, then Cheney, Rice, Wolfowitz, Perl, Frumm, and Rumsfeld. Then move on to question every Senator and Congressman who voted for it. Just questions - no need for jail time, just a public answering. Public censure would be enough.

No consequences means no deterrence. Yes, hindsight IS 20/20, but the invasion was also pretty plainly illegal back in 2002.

» on 11.07.11 @ 12:09 PM

Good grief! Monday morning quarter backing is now the new social consciousness in America. Tam, you have no clue what is going on over there, I guarantee you, you don’t. Obama didn’t either until he was in the oval office. Why else would a card carrying, leftist, socialist, America hating, military despising rat like Obama change so thoroughly his attitude on this seemingly unnecessary and capricious war?

Obama, who is now engaged in the worst form of social divisiveness based on class envy, who has pushed through the worst economic policies in our country at the worst possible time solely to make his leftist agenda the norm, be so adamant about drone bombing and extending the wars the left loves to hate?

Is it that he is suffering multiple personality syndrome? Really loves killing people and bombing things using push button warfare? Or maybe the military has pictures of him fondling little boys in the park. Or his wife is a child abuser or any number of impeachable offenses that the evil right wingers would use to keep their war going?

The fact is it’s a very bad place over there and those who have the intel won’t tell you bird brains the whole truth and for obvious reasons. But your lefty loony socialist guy in office does know and he has to do what he has to do no matter what you armchair war protesters think. Get a friggen clue. I don’t like how these wars were executed any more than you lefties, but for entirely different reasons. I believe GW was hell bent on not looking like a big bad guy to the world after 911. But that “I’m just a really nice guy who is pissed at terrorists” attitude was the wrong approach to warfare.

As for your suggestions Rambler, they are exactly what our enemies want too. Go figure, little puppet.

» on 11.07.11 @ 01:30 PM

The trouble in America is that we have so many pathetic people who believe that there is always some secret reason for doing the wrong thing - it just can never be told because that would help our enemies. It never occurs to them that sometimes wrong is just wrong, and no amount of apologist rhetoric will make it right.

Watch them lather at their mouths, spittle flying, ranting all sorts of insanity about (what next?) fondling little boys? These are sick minds.

No, it is not second-guessing when the evidence was against the invasion from day one. They had to lie about intel to get support, and even then we knew they were lying. The pathetic sheeple of our great nation wanted us to slaughter somebody for 9/11. No need to focus on guilty parties. Now the butcher’s bill is on the table and they want nothing to do with it.

Face it AN50, you backed a criminal for the highest office. You will never admit it, because you are too weak. What preserves our enemies is the insistence by our lathering neocon fringe that we may do wrong and be unaccountable. It’s for our enemies to recruit haters when we do hateful things. You and your ilk make it easy for them.

» on 11.08.11 @ 01:57 AM

I hesitate to jump into this because I know where it leads, but what the hell.

Tam and I went round and round on this a couple weeks ago.  He thinks if he just keeps calling “illegal” that makes it so.  It does not.  I’m not going to rehash the arguments but you can read them yourself.

As far as saying they lied to get us into war that is quite a charge.  A lie denotes that one is intentionally deceiving people.  That clearly was not the case with WMD.  Pretty much all intelligence agencies internationally thought Iraq retained chemical weapons. 

Just put your thinking caps on for 10 secs.  So, by your tortured logic, the Bush admin knew that there were no WMD and yet sold the war on that basis, knowing full well their lie would be discovered,  but sold it on that basis anyway because GW wanted to satisfy some daddy complex?  Nonsense.  They didn’t lie.  Get over it.

Obama has just lost a war we won.  Gave it away.  Whether you think it was a good idea or not the fact of the matter is we turned an enemy into an ally, got rid of an active supporter of terrorism, got rid of a brutal dictator who was violating his precious UN obligations on a daily basis, and had corrupted members of the security council with the criminally run oil for food program. 

Because of his inept and incompetent foreign policy and his inattention to the negotiations with Iraq for a Status of Forces agreement, he’s quite possibly squandered all of our efforts.  Pathetic.

» on 11.08.11 @ 03:25 AM

Iran on track to get the bomb:

This is wonderful news!  Right as we surrender the field to them due to Obama’s incompetence.  Lovely.

This pretty much guarantees a war in the Middle East.  This is what a passive approach to foreign policy gets you.  By pursuing a UN based approach and allowing China and Russia to veto any efforts to aggressively deal with Iran’s obvious nuclear weapons program, we now pretty much have a 100% probability of a war.  Sooner rather than later.

This was so predictable it’s horrifying.  There is absolutely zero, zero good, that can come from the Iranians having nuclear weapons.  All scenarios are bad, ranging from the apocalyptic to the merely hugely destabilizing.  We never, ever should have arrived at this juncture.  Stand by sports fans, its going to get ugly over there. 

PS:  we’ll be back there, like it or not.

» on 11.08.11 @ 02:20 PM

Piece on Iran by Brett Stevens:

Gee, maybe having 50K troops in Iraq would be pretty useful in dealing with this problem…..

» on 11.08.11 @ 02:34 PM

Apparently, reading comprehension among the lefty loonies is at an all time high here. Must be the toxic smoke they inhale from that funny tobacco.

Nobody is suggesting we return to the days of dumping pollutants wantonly or allowing pirates and gamblers to use our system for lining their pockets. What is being suggested is that regulations whose only purpose is obstruction, making paranoid idiots feel good and lawyers rich be rolled back, got it morons? We have saddled this country’s economy with so much unnecessary crap so a bunch of non-producers can have a worthless job, its rediculaous and the left loves it.

News flash, Wall Street has made more money in the first term of the Obama administration with all its lawyer driven regulations than the preceding two terms of the Bush administration. Laws don’t make people behave idiots, morals do. This is something the left stubbornly refuses to accept, that somehow you can remove personal responsibility from the individual and replace it with over arching regulation.

It doesn’t work. If you have no responsibility, don’t believe in the law imposed, you will go around it, its human nature. Laws only work if you believe in them. Behavior is values driven and values come from your belief system. Therefore if you don’t believe in the values of the law you will disobey that law until caught and punished. But even then, despite punishment, your behavior will resort to where your values drive it, not what some law says you have to do.

The left, driven by its tyrannical, obsessive need to control other people’s behavior through coercion (law), needs to figures out what humanity already did millennia ago. It’s what you believe that drives values and values determine behavior. Law is powerless against that and many a tyrant, dictator, monarch, religion and totalitarian ruler have discovered that the hard way and after inflicting much pain and suffering on humanity.

» on 11.08.11 @ 05:26 PM

Witless, as always, full of baloney. Now it’s Iran and nukes? What about Pakistan and nukes? Or India? Or North Korea?

Because the noecons managed to convince everyone with enough gullibility to vote for invasion, you think they were not lying. Every shred of their invasion “justification” has been discredited. Most of it has been shown to be crap from day one. The shreds you cling to do not amount to justification, just your desperate need to dodge responsibility.

And if you voted for Bush, you ARE responsible. He was the neocon candidate in 2004.

Yeah, I’m tired of re-hashing this tired argument. You are too stubborn to admit you were wrong, and probably too old to learn.

I imagine you run (or ran) your families the way you want to us run the world. Complete dominance. Reflect on that, I’m certain it will resonate in your thick skull.

» on 11.08.11 @ 07:05 PM


As usual you don’t know what you are talking about and you are a walking cliche of mindless left wing talking points.  If you really believe that any administration would willfully and knowingly lie to the Congress, the American people, and the UN to get into a war; while knowing full well they would be found out, you are even more delusional than I thought.  (and I think you are pretty delusional as it is).  Grow up, it’s so tiresome.

» on 11.08.11 @ 07:28 PM

They really didn’t think they would be found out. They actually thought they could put a lid on the whole thing. As for your completely foolish inferences about wasting a won war,

Maybe the real issue is not the lying, but the stupidity and hubris that led them to believe they would be able to ride a lie to glory. You share that proclivity, Witless.

» on 11.08.11 @ 07:59 PM

Are you out of your mind?  On what planet could they think with 85 x 24/7 news outlets following every army unit around that they would be able to hide the fact there were no WMD?

You are entering the far-left twilight zone Babbler if you really think they knew full well there were no WMD and went ahead and flat out lied about that.  Good god man, you’re losing it.  Get a grip on yourself.

If they knew it was all a hoax, why did they set out to look for them and scour the country for them?  Remember the Iraq Survey Group?  How one earth could something like that be covered up?

If you bother to read the at least the key findings you will see Saddam deceived even his own generals, they thought they had WMD too.  It also says they retained the capacity to restart and had all intentions to do so after the UN left. 

You think Dick Cheney is so diabolical, wouldn’t he be smart enough to plant some WMD so they could show the world they found it?  Good grief.  You might consider a course in critical thinking.

» on 11.08.11 @ 09:51 PM

Gotta love these guys who say they disapproved of W & Co. , yet we all know they voted for them - TWO TIMES!  Dumb as doornails and now they want us to listen to more of their know it all drivel. Never happen, just wasting air.  What rocks did they crawl out from under?

» on 11.09.11 @ 01:24 AM

I did vote for Bush.  Considering the alternatives we had:  the dufus Al Gore and the windbag John Kerry, I made the best choice.  Don’t tell me you actually voted for these two idiots…...

» on 11.09.11 @ 02:52 PM

Rambler, my beef with Bush was not why we went to war, but how it was executed. I am sick and tired of every nit wit and arm chair secretary of state second guessing what goes on, simply because those who hate us make stupid charges against us.

In the case of Afghanistan for example we had plenty of overt reasons to invade that country and pound the ever lovin crap out of them until the begged for surrender. We have had every reason to do the same to Pakistan. Where Bush erred was in trying to fight a “nice” war. Damn it war is not friggen nice! Don’t do it if you can’t stand or stomach the horror war will bring. But if you do make that ultimate decision then damn it let the dogs lose and don’t even think about being nice.

As for Iraq, none of us knows what the real motivation was for that sorry mess. But I trust Bush who had this idiotic notion of “nice” wars didn’t do it for all the dopy reasons the left keeps throwing out there. His actions didn’t match the accusations. However, as with Afghanistan, if he was committed to war in Iraq he should have gone in with at least as much if not more firepower than his dad did in the first gulf war. Otherwise don’t friggen do it!

As for Tam and you dopy disillusioned pacifists out there the world is not nice, it hates you and wants you to die and those are our alleged “friends”. Our enemies don’t bother to tell you they just act. Wake up and pull yer collective heads out of the sand before they fly another plane up your disillusioned arse.

» on 11.10.11 @ 03:21 PM


In another thread where you were taking the Ron Paul tact that Iran is no big deal, you mentioned the 2003 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that said Iran had stopped its Nuke program.  It was widely panned at the time but lefties like you siezed upon it as a way to not take any real action against Iran.

Well, the new IAEA report shows that NIE was crap:

You still maintain Iran is no biggie?

» on 11.11.11 @ 01:30 PM

If Iran gets the bomb:

» on 11.13.11 @ 08:05 AM

O.K. , Witless , I think we have found your guy for 2012. War with Iran? Romney says bring it on ( where did we hear that before?).
  Without use of your favored tactic of using links and thoughts of others , keeping it under 200 words, give us your plan for Iran . Stay right here and tell us what your ideal plan is - from the first bomb dropped to the last boot leaving the country when we achieve “mission accomplished”.

» on 11.13.11 @ 03:05 PM

As opposed to doing nothing and have the entire middle east nuke up or much worse, we should make it clear and unequivocal:  under no circumstances will the US allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. 

You tell them, we can do this the hard way or we can do this the easy way but you’re not getting nukes.  You have 15 days to come clean or we’ll cut off your supply of gasoline and strangle your access to finance.  In conjunction we actively support dissident groups.  Keep the option open of destroying their entire nuclear infrastructure.  Keep that hanging over their head.

Warn them if they interfere with commerce and shipping in the Gulf or sponsor terrorist attacks around the world the retribution will be swift and direct at the regime’s leadership.

No need for boots on the ground.  This regime will collapse quickly with the proper pressure.  Its very unpopular.

What is your plan?

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