On April 9, 2003, Saddam Hussein’s government collapsed as the U.S. military swept into Baghdad. The next day, President Bush delivered a triumphant “message to the Iraqi people.” In it, he said:
The goals of our coalition are clear and limited. We will end a brutal regime, whose aggression and weapons of mass destruction make it a unique threat to the world. Coalition forces will help maintain law and order, so that Iraqis can live in security. We will respect your great religious traditions, whose principles of equality and compassion are essential to Iraq’s future. We will help you build a peaceful and representative government that protects the rights of all citizens. And then our military forces will leave. Iraq will go forward as a unified, independent and sovereign nation that has regained a respected place in the world.
Fast forward four years. Monday, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Shiites took to the streets to demand that the U.S. leave. According to the British Guardian newspaper,
they shouted “Yes! Yes! Iraq. No! No! America” amid a sea of banners and Iraqi flags. “We were liberated from Saddam. Now we need to be liberated again,” read one placard. “Stop the suffering, Americans leave now,” demanded another.
Along with the continued death and suffering, the sectarian violence that has been unleashed has resulted in ethnic cleansing of once peaceful neighborhoods. I recently heard a powerful NPR story, “Mixed Baghdad Neighborhoods Become Enclaves.” The reporter interviewed a Shiite father who watched his son being beaten by a Sunni boy with the encouragement of his father, and a Sunni who was told “your son or the house,” while his son was being beaten by Shiites. It’s a situation, said the reporter, where “no one can risk trusting anyone anymore.” Estimates are that 700,000 people have been displaced in Iraq due to sectarian violence. U.S. military officials claim the situation is improving, but as the report concluded, “Even if it becomes safer, it’s not clear what’s been broken can be put back together again.”
And then there is the story of 50-year-old Khadim al-Jubouri. Four years ago, a picture of him went around the world, as he stood with a sledgehammer attacking the base of a bronze statue of Saddam Hussein. Now, according to The Washington Post, he says:
It achieved nothing. We got rid of a tyrant and tyranny. But we were surprised that after one thief had left, another 40 replaced him.
Far from a “unified, independent and sovereign nation,” Iraq four years later is shattered, occupied, and violent. And there is no light at the end of the tunnel.