What the Left Got Wrong About Iraq

Anti-war activists ignored Saddam Hussein's horrendous crimes against ordinary Iraqis. Do they have anything -- beyond anti-Bush demonstrations -- to offer the oppressed in Iran and Syria?

On May 15, 2003, in the early days of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, I took a trip to al-Mufwrakiyya, a village on the banks of the Tigris River two hours south of Baghdad. A U.S. military crane had just toppled Saddam's statue in Baghdad, and I was hard at work documenting the human costs of the U.S. invasion.

Hospital officials in nearby Kuwt had already briefed me on the situation in al-Mufwrakiyya. U.S. airplanes and tanks had destroyed houses and killed innocent women and children there. At least four women had been killed in that village, they told me -- all of them while hiding in their homes.

A reporter for staunchly anti-war Pacifica Radio, I expected to find the villagers angry at the Americans because of their suffering as a result of the war. But that's not what I found.

It's not that the war had been easy. A few feet away from the green reeds on the banks of the Tigris lay the rubble of 11 houses destroyed by American tanks. As I approached, one villager gave me the list of the services absent in his town since the fall of Saddam. There was no electricity, no security, no telephone service, and no running water. An American tank destroyed his cousins' house, he told me, but he was being forced to pay for the reconstruction.

Elsewhere in the town were a handful of houses that had been bombed by the Americans. Three Iraqi civilians died during the invasion -- all of them women taking shelter in their homes.

After some asking around, I found the home of one of the victims. He was a poor man, 63 years old, with no furniture and no art on his walls. The only color in his receiving room was a faded Persian area rug. We were quickly joined by his nephew. They offered tea, and I accepted.

"It was on April 1st at 8 in the evening. That's when my wife died," he explained, showing her death certificate. "The planes came and hit this area. There were four airplanes, and when they came they started to bomb the civilian houses. Most of the people had already left this area when there was heavy bombing, but we stayed in our homes. We were happy when we heard the Americans coming. We were just waiting for the Americans to come."

Still, his family was scared of the invasion. The old man explained that 13 people crammed into the small house that day: all of his daughters, and his daughters-in-law, and sister, and sister-in-law, and his mother. Some of them used to live in Kuwt, he said, but when they heard the war was coming, they fled the city for the comparative safety of small-town al-Mufwrakiyya.

"After that, the tanks began to shoot the area, targeting a few of Saddam's fedayeen, and then the airplanes bombed the town," he said, explaining that his wife and niece died when a missile hit his home. His niece was killed when shrapnel from the bomb hit her neck, her 2-year-old baby in her arms. "The baby was injured, too," he said, "but thanks to God, the next day we got her to the hospital."

"We had to stay here all night with the dead bodies," said the man's nephew, a 42-year-old tailor. His wife also died in the air strike. "The next morning we took them to Kuwt to be buried."

They offered to give me a tour of the damage.

One bedroom was completely destroyed by a Tomahawk cruise missile. The steel door separating it from the rest of the house was full of shrapnel. The steel door, the old man said, was all that saved his life. "I would have been killed, too," he said. "As it is, I have pieces of shrapnel in my stomach and the back of my head."

His nephew pointed to huge cracks in the house's walls and foundation that needed to be repaired before the winter rains came, or the whole house would collapse. But since there had been almost no electricity in al-Mufwrakiyya since the war, he had been thrown out of work like most Iraqis. So, he didn't have the money to support his family -- let alone repair the house.

The old man pointed around the room. "I will have to sell everything to pay for the repairs," he said. Even so, he didn't have much to sell. His furniture and television were destroyed in the blast. "I will have to sell my stove, my cabinets, my silver. I will have to sell it all," he said.

Despite the carnage, he didn't hold any ill will toward George Bush, who was responsible for the death of his wife and the destruction of his house. He said the invasion was the only way to remove Saddam.

"Only America could do this," he said. "If it weren't for America, Saddam would stay. Then his sister would take over and rule the same way. It would go on for generations. Even his grandson would come and grow up and rule Iraq in the same way as Saddam. But thank God now he's gone, and thank God, He brought America to get rid of Saddam and take him away. Now, when the tanks pass in the streets, the children greet them."

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