Iraq War anniversary and shades of deja vu

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Mar 19, 2013


The 10th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq stirs up feelings of deja vu. There’s talk that Iran already has a nuclear bomb. And the United States is offering aid to Syria’s rebels and getting involved in another distant conflict. These developments recall the $1 trillion war, built on an incorrect premise.

We can’t help but ask why did we believe the claims of weapons of mass destruction, or that Saddam Hussein had ties to the Sept. 11 attacks? And we ask why the two main groups, military and civilian, had to pay such an enormous price for this war.

The total numbers of the dead are still uncertain. The number of U.S. soldiers who died in Iraq is 4,486. And though official U.S. position is to not keep track of Iraqi civilian deaths, the conservative total puts that figure at 121,736.

The most common excuse given is that there was bad intelligence. Recently on a documentary called “Hubris: The Selling of the Iraq War” was shown on MSNBC, a major planner of the war, Colin Powell’s chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson, said there had been a hoax Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. We wonder whether his “stuff happens” explanation is acceptable.

Personally I was opposed to the war not because I had any inside information but because I worried about my relatives in Iraq. Most of them told me they were glad to be rid of Saddam Hussein, and soon after the invasion, I tried to give the new Iraq a chance. However 10 years on, those same relatives, who were comfortable before the war, still don’t have electricity, water or security. Car bombs explode fairly regularly and kill innocents at markets, schools and other civilian locations. Human Rights Watch charges that the regime is violating the rights of vulnerable citizens, especially women and Christians.

They agree life under Saddam Hussein was difficult, but it has become more difficult under Nouri al-Maliki. On the anniversary, the Iraqi people I know are asking why their choice must be limited to the two evils of tyranny and chaos.

As a U.S. citizen, I worked for the U.S. government in the Green Zone. I translated for some diplomats, and I worked with a lot of soldiers. It was a difficult position at times. At least one colleague occasionally asked me what kind of passport I carried, “regular or squiggle”? He meant a U.S. passport or an Arabic one. But the majority of the guys I worked with were fine young men and women proud to serve the United States. Sadly now they are home, and some feel abandoned.

A lot of soldiers have been unable to find a job. Many face the struggle of going from doing something important, serving our country and being treated with respect, to nothing.

It may have been easy to return to normal life after serving in a popular war such as World War II. But it’s hard, as we learned after Vietnam, to return home after serving in an unpopular war. So unpopular is the war that today our politicians don’t wish to say “Iraq,” perhaps hoping that it will disappear on its own. President Obama did not mention Iraq during his State of the Union speech. If he doesn’t talk about it, who will?

Clearly there is a need to talk about it. The number of unemployed veterans is 20 percent. While it’s a good start that a national department store chain announced its plans to hire 100,000 vets over the next five years, some fear it is not doing enough. The Veterans Administration reports that 30 percent of the troops treated have PTSD.

One veteran wrote a song about his experience. He called it, “I’m Evil.” I told him he was one of the kindest people I have ever known and could not possibly think of him in those terms. Regardless, that’s how he feels.

I asked him about the title of the song, he said: “You feel guilty, ashamed, lucky and cursed.”

I asked him why? Maj. Frank Vassar answered: “You can’t undo what you did. You wish you didn’t do what you did. But if you didn’t do what you did, you wouldn’t be here today,” he said. “It’s a circle. You never find an answer.”

Vassar is still with the Air Force. However, many soldiers are out of work. Vassar said potential employers should give the vet “a second look,” because ex-military types are good workers.

“Because of the way we’re regimented,” he said. “The way we stick to our times, we’re used to accomplishing things in a certain time periods. We develop a resolution from point A to point B.”

Companies might listen to the major’s advice and help the soldiers reintegrate after their service. But what of the others who had to pay for mistaken intelligence? Must Iraq’s civilians be reduced to a footnote?

As we hear the nervous talk about Iran and Syria, the answer to the question of whether the war was worth it, might well be no. But that should not diminish the contribution of the veteran. Maj. Vassar said, “I take my hat off to anyone who went over there. I definitely acknowledge that.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: Yasmine Bahrani is a former editor for McClatchy-Tribune and worked at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad during the Iraq War. This essay is available to McClatchy-Tribune News Service subscribers. McClatchy-Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy-Tribune or its editors.


By Yasmine Bahrani (MCT)

© 2013, McClatchy-Tribune

Distributed by MCT Information Services



Still looking for those WMDs.

Estrella Damm

Yeah, not hard to hide them if I give you a few months head start.

jack langhals

They were trucked into Pakistan and are still in their hands.You think Iraq was a tragedy ,what about Nam 58,000 for a bunch of lying crooks in D.C.The only thing about Nsm is they are much more stable than Iraq.And we still can't keep our noses at home,we are on the verge of more conflict in Africa !Bozo is still supporting an Egyptian pres.that wants to eliminate the US and Israel.


Foreign Policy is not your specialty, is it? (Rhetorical Question.)But could you please cite your sources? I'm curious to know how you found out about the WMD's in Pakistan if our own government still doesn't know about them?

jack langhals

I have many sources of information at my beckon call.After 8 years in the Air Force and 17 years with NASA I have sources all over the USA.Some of them are not always reliable but if I put them in print they have been pretty well researched !The problem with most of the sheep in the country they will wait for the slaughter to come to them.You aren't really naive enough to believe the news media and the government.The troops killed in Black Hawk Down from Bragg were my son's neighbors.Now if you want the truth, you talk to the people that were there.What the UN did there was a disgrace as they are world wide.I am only responding to your comments,I was not in favor of any of Wars but one, and I was 8years old and I saw the response from our nation.We have no business running the world and bankrupting this country.We are not done yet.We have Africa,Syria chemical weapons,No Korea and Iran and then we wanted to put up a missile shield in Europe.We forgave their war debt,rebuilt them twice.We will never stop as long as the politicians can make financial gain in Wash.for themselves.


So it takes a few months to hide them but more than 10 yrs. and counting to find them?

It was a lie! When will you CONS face it? They sent your kids over there to DIE for a LIE!

Cliff Cannon

@ deertracker: " They sent your kids over there to DIE for a LIE " I totally agree. Personally,I could never understand the Iraq invasion and no doubt never will. I will always wonder " Why ? "

Being an isolationist,whose priority's are in order: America,America,America. It sickens me to think of our precious young being sacrificed for nothing other than 'politics'

When this disaster gets brought up,it so upsets me. There is one place I go to seek peace and that is to Jason Sparks grave in Monroeville. I never met the young man. Yet,he for me is " the face " of this calamity. And some how,some way, spending a moment near him feels like a gratitude filled apology to him and his family for his unspeakable loss.

It also reminds me, how blessed I/we are to have heroic believers like him in our midst. No matter what I think of the war that claimed his life.


Just think, with a character like his, one of bravery and heroism, he had a very promising future.

Cliff Cannon

@ deertracker: Got a very cool story for you.Our Dad, a W.W.2 vet recently passed away. So we want the vets tombstone for him. I stop out at 'Veterans service ' monday to start the ball rolling.

The very nice lady who works there. Had a book on " The Little Bighorn " battle on her desk. Told her,I was a 'Little Bighorn' fanatic. Generously,she gave me the book.

She also,as it turned out, gave me an extra flag holding case.So yesterday on the 10th. anniversary of the Iraq war starting I returned it. She told me her son was the first wounded soldier in the Iraq war. As a Iraqi " allie " threw a grenade into his lap killing 2 and seriously wounding her son.

It took her son a year to get out of the hospital. So on her desk is a picture of her, Pres.Bush and her son at Walter Reed hospital,from the Presidents' visit there. (10 years later her son now a Lt.Col. still needs a cane to walk with from the mangling he took from his 'teammate')What a small world,huh ?

Certainly,I am grateful, I had the chance to hear her son's story. And it really drives home---to me anyhow---- just how tough it is on our service men & women to fight a war with the enemy both against you and on your " team "

P.S. Your thoughts on Jason Sparks are spot on


WeLL CliFF know me now? Get ready.. I think we'LL be in Syria sOOn; though most of US would like to sEE them kill each other oFF.

Cliff Cannon

@kURTje : Yes,the boss remembered you and I look forward to meeting you someday. As for Syria. Don't doubt it.Hope like hades your wrong,as my son & son-in-law are steaming towards there now as part of a Marine Expeditionary force.