Twenty years later

March 28, 2023

I recently listened to a New York Times podcast titled ‘First Person’ in which journalist Lulu Garcia-Navarro recounts her years of reporting from Baghdad following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Twenty years on, the US and much of the world have moved on. The Iraq war barely registers on the radar screen of a vast majority of Americans or the world at large.

In the podcast, Garcia-Navarro talks to Ali Hamdani who was her local guide and interpreter while she worked as an American journalist in Iraq. Garcia-Navarro reports Hamdani saved her and her colleagues’ lives several times during her multiyear deployment in Iraq. Working for the US-based ‘National Public Radio’ at the time, she received numerous journalistic awards for her reporting from the war zone.

In 2003, Ali Hamdani had just graduated from medical school when his life, and that of his family, was shattered by the American invasion. The country descended into factional fighting and civil war from which it has yet to fully recover.

In her podcast Garcia-Navarro chats with Hamdani exploring how he and his family coped with the invasion and its aftermath. She says, “while I received awards for my reporting, Ali and his family lost everything.”

Several years into the invasion, Hamdani applied for a refugee visa to the US and was granted it based on the work he had done with US personnel. He was relocated to Raleigh, North Carolina where he was allowed to start his life again. “People would ask me where I was from,” Hamdani reports in the podcast. Many Americans did not know the difference between Iraq and Iran, he says. Upon explaining most Americans would nod their heads and move on. “They were not able to give me more than 30 seconds for a discussion about a country the US invasion had destroyed,” Hamdani laments.

We recently passed the 20th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, and during these years I have heard much discussion of the Iraq war, here in the US. It is said that the war was “a failure of intelligence”, “bad decision-making”, “a waste of resources”, etc. But it is rare to hear any sense of empathy or remorse or regret for what the people of Iraq endured.

British newspaper ‘The Guardian’ recently published a detailed article titled ‘From Bush to Blix: what happened to the key figures in the Iraq war’. Of course, none of them – from Bush, Blair and Cheney to Wolfowitz – suffered any adverse consequences for what their rush to war did to Iraq and the region. Many of them, while recognizing the faulty intelligence that led to the war, are still adamant that it was the right thing to do. The consequences for the people of Iraq rarely come into the conversation. In fact, even trillions of dollars funded from US taxpayer money rarely comes into the discussion.

Americans by now have gotten used to seeing large amounts of taxpayer money as coming from a seemingly never-ending pool. US government fiscal deficits used to be a topic of much political arguments and finger pointing. Rarely anymore. Leaving money aside, destruction of human life in faraway lands is written off as collateral damage that is part and parcel of geopolitics.

The US, just like all major powers, acts in self-interest. And it is said that sometimes one has to break things to achieve larger goals. However, there probably has not been another country in human history with the capacity to break as many things as the US has and can. It is also said with great power comes great responsibility, but in practice other considerations often take over.

In the fraught times we live in – a war in Europe and one possibly brewing in the Far East – it is paramount that we look at how we are conducting ourselves. Of course, this is not a uniquely American responsibility. But no other country has the power which comes even close to America’s.

“I don't want to bring children into this world,” says Hamdani in the New York Times podcast. “Many of us may feel we will be fine, but we must think about the world we will be leaving for our children and grandchildren.”

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Washington DC. Website: www.sqshareef.com/blogs