A year on, the question remains: Is the war in Iraq over?

September 23, 2009

A little over a year ago, then-Baghdad Bureau Chief Dean Yates, my former boss, wrote an entry on this blog entitled ‘Is the war in Iraq over?’

Before he wrote it, Dean went to a famed Baghdad park to take the pulse of ordinary Iraqis, who were then cautiously venturing out to public places for the first time in years, a tentative sign that Iraq was finally emerging from height of the violence unleashed by the 2003 invasion.

For someone who covered the much of worst of the Iraq war — the car bombs, the suicide attacks, the sectarian executions that peaked in 2006 -2007 – from our sand-bagged bunker, it must have been a small miracle to see families dotting Abu Nawas park, a green stretch of trees, swings and benches along the banks of the Tigris.

Last night, I went back to Abu Nawas, named after a poet and bon vivant of the 8th and 9th centuries, to watch Iraqis celebrate Eid, the four-day holiday marking the end of the Muslim holy month.

This time, it was a cross between Disney World and Woodstock.

We joined hundreds, if not thousands, of Iraqis as we walked along a path overlooking the river, where a yellow crescent moon gleamed back from the barely-moving water.

Packs of young men in tight T-shirts, their hair slicked back, sat on a railing checking out the other teenagers. There were vendors selling nuts, grilled meat and cotton candy.

Some families had claimed patches of the crowded lawn for picnics and others sat at plastic tables eating freshly baked meat pies. Under a tree, men smoked nargile, the water pipe stuffed with sweet tobacco. Farther on in the darkness, a crowd of men and boys danced to the sound of drums.

We were shoulder-to-shoulder with other revellers as we turned to walk home.

In a city dotted with checkpoints, where uniformed men with AK-47s stand at every corner, I didn’t see one policeman or soldier. There was none of the fear or swallowed resentment we’ve become accustomed to seeing on people’s faces as they hurry down the sidewalk or line up to be frisked.

But were other people thinking, as I was, how easily such festive gatherings can turn into tragedy? Suicide bombers continue to strike at crowded mosques, markets or tribal meetings. It was a remarkably quiet Ramadan, but  Iraqi civilians are still unsafe in the most ordinary of situations.

On Aug. 19, almost 100 people were killed at the Foreign and Finance Ministries in two huge truck bombings. People were cut down at their desks or on their way to work.

The question remains, 14 months after Dean’s blog, whether or not the Iraq war is over. What will that mean? Is the war over when the world’s attention shifts to another conflict hundreds of miles away? Is the war over when U.S. casualties plummet and it’s suddenly safer for them in Amara than in some American cities? Will national elections in January cement the positive trajectory of the past 18 months, or will they re-ignite violence and undermine hopes for a secure, stable Iraq?

I don’t have a good answer to those questions. I know it would be hard to tell the families of those killed on Aug. 19 – dubbed “Bloody Wednesday” by Iraqis – or the 126,000 U.S. troops still stationed here that the war is over.

Maybe the best response another question. What will feted Abu Nawas, and the whole of Baghdad, look like a year from now?

(Reuters photo by Thaier al-Sudani: Iraqi men celebrate the holiday marking the end of Ramadan in Baghdad)

5 comments

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To this day, it is not known why America went into that country. Saddam knew he would be killed, he didn’t renew oil contracts with America. That angered the Bush people.

But for criminals like Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Bolton to lie to Americans of WMD they could’nt account for, to destory that country to get at Iraqi oil. The war is never over, because of what kind of inhumans they represent, it’ll never be over.

Now it’s asked if the war is over? Ask the families of the hundreds of thousands who died under the American war machine, invasion and occupation.

The war began when America attacked Iraq, when it was run by Saddam Hussein.

The war ended a month later when the Iraqi government (or rather de facto dictatorship) was completely removed from power.

What we have now is an insurgency. A collection of non-government organisations, who are most certainly funded and supplied from outside Iraq. Or possibly even are fighters from outside Iraq.

A war is when two nations fight against one another. Iraq now has a new government, and a population who was happy to see the back of Saddam.

In this case, we have terror groups blowing up and killing civilians in the streets. Masked gunmen kidnapping and murdering police officers and teachers and burying them in mass graves. And a surprising amount of Iranian made explosives showing up now and then after blowing a wheel of an armoured vehicle.

Not really the actions of liberation, is it? More like a war of intimidation and killing civilians.

The Iraq “war” should be called what it is. A peacekeeping mission. The international community has an obilgation to ensure that Iraq remains stable and capable of protecting it’s civilians.

If it is a war, then it is not being fought with Iraq, but those nations who are supporting or supplying the insurgents. And that looks like it will hit the next phase in a few years. Next stop, Iran.

Posted by Anon | Report as abusive

I guess it depends how you define the word ‘war’..
The fighting is certainly not over, and no matter who you want to give official status to, a “soldier”, an “insurgent”, a “mercenary”, the US installed “government” and its “troops”, Iraq is still at war with the invaders.

The people of Iraq still hate the US, the occupiers and their false government, but for most feeding their family is enough reason to become a soldier or policeman. Even if you were not a Saddam supporter now that he is dead he has just been replaced with an even worse situation so there has been no time for celebration..

Iraqis have always tried to survive even since the US helped install the dictator Saddam Hussein, sold him WMD’s and pitted him against the Iranian revolution who deposed the US backed dictator The Shah, to destabilize the region.

They are right to say their oil is a blessing and a curse, for even though there were wide-spread assurances it was about national security, um I mean regime change, and not oil – who now controls Iraq’s oil fields owns their government and has won their no-bid infrastructure re-development contracts??

The war is won, even though it may have cost the public a lot, control is ours! But it is not over, it hasn’t stopped since 1991, and it won’t be over until there is no personal fortunes left to be made from it’s vast oil.
And till Iran is ours too!

Posted by brian | Report as abusive

Well riddle me this, Brian.

You live in a country. It gets occupied by America. You decide to become an insurgent. You get trained, equipped and organised to take the fight to the invaders.

So how come the only thing happening in Iraq is insurgents killing civilians? Carbombs and kidnapping of thousands of innocent people? And almost no confrontation against military soldiers?

Do you really think a person trying to liberate their country would focus their efforts on killing their own people? Where does this fit in to the concept of unconventional tactics?

You are mistaken when you think it is the common Iraqi who resists American occupation. Evidence is mounting that the people and weapons which make this insurgency are from outside sources.

And when the opportunity arises, America will deal with that source.

Posted by Anon | Report as abusive

Not until the fat lady sings!

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