Thursday, March 20, 2014

On Rebirth and Remembering

The first day of Spring.

Our Winter in Texas was a bit longer and slightly more severe than usual, so the just-emerging evidences of Spring are much slower and significantly more exciting than I can remember from recent Winter-to-Spring passages.

I have already determinedly dragged my much-loved flip flops from the dark corner of the closet, but have not been able to reassign long sleeves and sweaters to the same hiding place. There's still a chill in the strong seasonal breeze that won't quite let me forget the days of limited sunshine, cold feet, and frosty mornings.

Yes. I am describing a measly Texas Winter. That's all. And I would suggest that no matter where in the USA you live - even if you are still shoveling snow on this first day of Spring - it's just Winter. That's all.

It's not war.

Consider - for just a moment, please - the people of Baghdad.

On this day, in 2003, the people of Baghdad awoke to "an attack of opportunity" as President Bush described it to those of us who wept and swore in front of our TVs at 9 PM on March 19. It was already early the next morning in Baghdad - the first day of Spring. For some Iraqis - those of Kurdish descent - it was to be the celebratory day of Nowruz (New Day). It would be marked with family gatherings and fireworks and talk about hopeful things.

Instead, it was likely a day for panic and taking cover and beginning to mourn the dead.

7,500 civilians died in the 21-day invasion period of our major combat operations in Iraq in 2003. Instead of Nowruz and a nod to the Spring Equinox, the Iraqis had Shock and Awe and a brand new fear of the United States and our allies - the United Kingdom, Australia, and Poland.

I would blame Saddam Hussein if it had ended there. He was a bad man. A stupid man. He was "chronically out of touch with reality - preoccupied with the prevention of domestic unrest and with the threat posed by Iran" (instead of the threat posed by the United States). Surprise. He didn't protect his people.

And so he paid. His city fell. His statue toppled. Eventually he was captured (December 2003), and hanged to death at an Iraqi-American military base in the suburbs of Baghdad called Camp Justice (December 2006).

But like the chill of a Winter that will not go away, so goes the war America took to the Iraqi people 11 years ago today.  21 days of shock and awe did not work exactly as planned in March and April of 2003. There were insurgents to be dealt with and Saddam's sons to hunt and prisoners to prod in Abu Ghraib. Then there were house to house searches for roadside bombers and killing of innocents and demoralization of troops and a military surge. Finally, in December of 2011, the last US soldiers marched out of Iraq.

Oh, if only sunny days had been left in their wake...

The flip flops of freedom are far from out of the back of the closet in Iraq. 2013 was the deadliest year there since 2008 (8,000 casualties). This year is not looking promising - 1,000 people were killed in political and sectarian violence in January alone. We can turn our heads - enjoy our own season of loveliness/one less war - but it seems inhuman...unconscionable...just plain wrong to forget these people. Especially on this day...

 Many buildings damaged during the war sit unrepaired, but there are signs of construction too. There's even a mall of sorts being built not far from where we're staying. Many parts of the city retain a tattered feel, like it's a tired city, weary of the tribulations of the last decade.

Public services are a problem -- electricity can still be patchy, there's no shortage of roads needing repair, unemployment is high, sewage systems are in desperate need of repair. Iraq's to-do list, despite growing oil revenues, is a long one.

May we never forget Iraq.