Parini: Iraq Anniversary

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The tenth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq passed recently, and
Jay Parini has been thinking about the consequences of that war.

Shortly after the invasion of Iraq, I was in Egypt and Jordan, giving
some talks on American literature at the behest of the U.S. State
Department. The idea was for American writers to meet with students and
other writers from the Middle East – a form of cultural diplomacy that
seemed, at least to me, a good way to promote serious conversations,
especially at a time when American bombs were falling nearby on Iraqi
civilians – not a particularly useful way to promote ties between

While in Amman, I was introduced to an army general who
had spent a good deal of time in the region, and he was heading to Iraq
the next week. I remember our conversation vividly. I asked him where
Iraq would be in ten years, and he said: "Well, for a start, we’ll be
long gone from the region. American troops will have been pulled out
because this war is going to prove unpopular and wildly expensive, and
it will have a very negative effect on the U.S. economy. Second, the
Shiite majority will have taken control in Iraq, and they will largely
be directed by Iran, their Shiite cousins. The fight between the Sunnis
and the Shiites will continue, as only Saddam Hussein, using brutality,
could have kept this country together. I don’t see that the US will have
gained anything but an enemy in the region. On top of which, millions
of refugees will have left Iraq for safer places."

Now, ten
years later, I often think back to this chance conversation. It was spot
on, and the situation in Iraq is possibly even worse than the general
predicted. Every week there are bombings, usually in Shiite
neighborhoods, and Al Qaida, once barely present in Iraq, has found a
footing there. The cost in Iraqi lives has been staggering – more than a
hundred thousand dead, and many more wounded. Most communities still
lack basic infrastructure and services, such as water and electricity.

with Nouri al-Malaki in charge, American-Iraqi relations are strained –
to put it mildly. The Shiite strongman supports the Syrian dictatorship
and has allied himself with Iran. Ned Parker and Raheem Salman – two
longtime Middle Eastern correspondents – have written in the World
Policy Journal that "…the reign of Maliki is an object lesson to other
nascent Islamist leaders across the Middle East of how to consolidate
one’s rule from the rubble of a toppled state."

Calculating the
cost to the American public in actual tax dollars is even more
problematic. Millions in no-bid contracts were awarded to civilian
companies like Blackwater – and it’s impossible to calculate the effects
this conflict has had – and will continue to have – on members of our
military and their families. One way or another, we’ll be paying for
this war for decades to come.

Given this moment of
retrospective, it’s hard to imagine that anyone could ever again choose
war as a rational or moral option. One can make a compelling argument
that events like the U.S. invasion of Iraq simply make difficult matters

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