Are You Willing to Walk a Mile in My Shoes? – The Impact of US Imperialism On An Ordinary Iraqi

Traumatic experiences are hard to remember for a reason

The human mind has an excellent device of self-protection. It can forget. It puts away in the farthest recesses the events and emotions that cause distress. Therefore I had to make an effort to look back and try to write about my experience and the experience of my family throughout the difficult years of the Saddam Hussein regime, the 1st Gulf War, the years of embargo, the no-fly zones, etc.

I do not presume a pose of objectivity; my narrative is about how an ordinary Iraqi would see the events that unfolded in the 1990s.

Conducting overseas wars has nothing to do with security for US citizens

I will make an attempt to demonstrate how a decision taken by a president of the US, under various pretexts often not related at all to the security of the US, can have devastating consequences on far-away countries that the majority of US citizens would find difficult to locate on a map.

I will start with the year 1991. The war with Iran had ended in 1988 after 8 long years of futile conflict that led to the significant weakening of both countries. Then came the occupation of Kuwait and the 1st Gulf War.

Example One: The Gulf War

– The tragedy of Iraqi children

During his presidency, Bill Clinton presided over the most devastating regime of economic sanctions in history, that the U.N. estimated took the lives of as many as a million Iraqis, the vast majority of them children. In May of 1996, 60 Minutes aired an interview with Madeleine Albright, who at the time was Clinton’s U.N. ambassador. Correspondent Leslie Stahl said to Albright, “We have heard that a half-million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And — and, you know, is the price worth it?”

Madeleine Albright replied, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.

– Gender, Justice, and the Wars in Iraq: A Feminist Reformulation of Just War, Laura Sjoberg, Lexington Books, 2006

Please take a moment to think about this. A woman, presumably a mother and grandmother, uttered these words. Conjure these children, put them in a row side by side, how long would the row be? Look into the eyes of each one of them; look into the eyes of their mothers if you have the courage. This person is one of the representatives of US imperialism. It is this imperialism that turns a woman into a bloodthirsty beast.

I would like to ask you a question. If these children were blonde and their names Tommy, Bill and Linda instead of Mohamed, Ali and Fatima would the reaction have been the same?

The economic sanctions that were imposed on Iraq and how an ordinary family lived

Sanctions commenced on August 6, 1990, four days after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, and stayed largely in force until May 2003 (after Saddam Hussein was forced from power).

Food and the process of gathering the family during meals, as well as inviting relatives and friends for lunch or dinner is one of the main joys of life. People remember these gatherings for a long time to the smallest details. Alcohol, wine or beer drinking that tends to help people socialize in the west is not common for people in Iraq except for certain small segments of society. Food played an important role in maintaining the social fabric of the Iraqi people. The rationing of food and the speedy deterioration of quality and quantity until they reached the lowest possible level led to appalling conditions of malnutrition.

The majorities of the people in Iraq were, and still are government employees so their salaries would barely suffice to cover any additional expenditure on food. Eggs, meat of any kind, sugar, fruits, etc. were out of the question. There was also the time factor. Life became standing in endless queues for one thing or another. The rations ticket provided us with a sack of flour for a month, which we sieved because it was rough. Then we stopped sieving because there was not enough of it. We used to make bread in the morning before going to work and would give our two boys whatever was available – maybe one egg or a piece of cheese. We used to save just a bit for our dog, Rocky. It was always a constant headache trying to find something to eat for two growing boys. People less well off than we were wholly dependent on the rations and were in dire straits. There were kids in Iraq who grew up almost never having seen a chocolate bar or a banana.

The sanctions covered the widest spectrum of goods imaginable, from equipment and vehicles to medicine, pencils and children’s food. All this was supposed to be “dual purpose” material that could be used by the Iraqi military.

Children and babies began to die at an alarming rate.

Example Two: Amiriyah bomb shelter massacre

The Amiriyah shelter bombing [N 1] was an aerial attack that killed at least 408 civilians on 13 February 1991 during the Persian Gulf War, when an air-raid shelter (“Public Shelter No. 25”), in the Amiriyah neighborhood of Baghdad, Iraq, was destroyed by the U.S. Air Force with two laser-guided “smart bombs.

– Wikipedia

What is not mentioned here is that the doors and all outlets in this shelter were closed and when this huge bomb exploded the people (the majority of whom were women and children) were not simply incinerated, they nearly evaporated.

I think they call this “collateral damage”. Orwell would have been proud of this new–speak expression.

From the start of the war my wife and I decided that we would not go to bomb shelters. We would stay together with the children at home. I think that one of the most awful sounds that I ever heard in my life is the siren warning of an air attack. The whole country lay prostrate under the sophisticated, up to date US air force. They bombed and fired rockets at will.

I avoid making distinctions between the sacrifice of ordinary people, laborers, fellahin in the field, government employees and any kind of celebrity, yet there is an exceptional case that is presented below:

June 27, 1993 – Clinton launches a missile attack aimed at Iraq’s intelligence headquarters in Baghdad in retaliation against an Iraqi plot to assassinate President Bush.

Layla Al-Attar (Arabic:العطار‎‎, ليلى , born in Baghdad, Iraq) was an Iraqi artist and painter who graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Baghdad in 1965. She held five one-woman shows in Iraq, and took part in all national and other collective exhibitions held in the country and abroad. Al-Attar also took part in the Kuwait Biennial (1973), the first Arab Biennial (Baghdad 1974), the second Arab Biennial (1976), the Kuwait Biennial (1981), and won the Golden Sail Medal in the Cairo Biennial (1984). At the time of her death, she was the director of the Iraqi National Art Museum.

On 27 June 1993, Al-Attar, her husband and their housekeeper were killed by a U.S. missile attack on Iraqi Intelligence main building which was just behind her house, ordered by U.S. President Bill Clinton. The building was hit by 24 rockets. Two misfired and hit their house by accident, per her son’s testimony. The attack also blinded Al-Attar’s daughter.

– Wikipedia

Please make any search using Layla’s name and have a look at this lady and her paintings. How many years has it taken the Iraqi people to produce a person like this? The paintings are courageous, feminine and subtle. The direct connection between the decisions of a president under duress due to the Whitewater scandal and the action that he subsequently took to divert attention by launching rockets against Iraq is plausible. The lives and deaths of countless people appear to mean nothing at all to the representatives of US imperialism when it comes to their personal careers.

Example Three: The United Nations is neither benign nor neutral

– US imperialism and the United Nations in Iraq:

To the majority of the Iraqi people the United Nations is just one organization. They are unaware of the intricate bureaucracy and the various organizations that belong to it. In my opinion little has been written as to how US imperialism has used the organization for its own aims. The UN played a prominent role in the daily life of Iraqis and it was not an abstract entity somewhere in New York, but concrete people in offices in Baghdad – in their cars and compounds. On their actions and words depended how much food would be on the table and its quality.

It is beyond my capacity to verify every move or instance. I see my task as describing what is seen from the Iraqi street during that period. There were three organizations that I have to mention and names that I have to state because they became household names in Iraq during that period. And the hatred and suspicion of the Iraqi people towards the UN will last for a long time.

-The International Atomic Agency – Hans Blix (this organization although theoretically independent reports to the United Nations and the Security Council)

-The United Nations Special Commission – Rolf Ekeus and Richard Butler (United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) was set up to implement the non-nuclear provisions of the resolution and to assist the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in the nuclear areas

The statements of these organizations through their representatives detailed above on Iraqi television was watched closely because our lives and the lives our children depended on whether these petty bureaucrats from the UN would finally announce that the country was free from weapons of mass destruction and the sanctions would be lifted. I remember with what aplomb these people played the role of god. They usually stated that – yes, 99.7 percent, of the country was free from WMD and the sanctions and agony and suffering would be over. But as soon as they were outside Iraq they would change their tune and support the continuation of sanctions because they had not yet finished their job and there were still places and organizations to inspect. This was repeated over and over. There was something truly sadistic and Kafkaesque about their behavior and the situation.

The Commission’s operating costs had been approximately $25 – 30 million per year. There was quite a cozy arrangement in the Oil for Food program that Iraq would be paying this money, so a country whose people were virtually just above the starvation level and whose infra-structure was still not functioning properly was providing top scale salaries for a group of bureaucrats from the UN. Later events and publications show that some of the members of this commission were not neutral but agents of/or related to secret services, like the CIA, Mossad and possibly others. Scott Ritter –who worked as Chief Inspector is an example. Later he seemed to have a change of heart. But for a certain period he was quite a star on Baghdad Television. At times it seems to me that some Americans never quite get over their adolescence, they still see themselves in John Wayne roles.

US imperialism using the UN as a platform prolonged the sanctions. They knew very well that there were no WMDs – it was a tool for implementing the US imperialist policy in Iraq and the Middle East.

Example Four: US betrays Shi’Ite and Kurdish rebellion against Saddham

– The No-Fly Zones

The first zone was situated north of latitude 36° N. It was established on 7 April 1991, six weeks after the end of the first « Gulf War ». It covered notably the city of Mosul.

The second air exclusion zone was established south of latitude 32° N on 27 August 1992 and included the southern city of Basra. In September 1996 the United States and United Kingdom enlarged this zone up to the 33th degree of latitude while France distanced itself from this measure and never patrolled this new area.

The two zones covered more than half Iraqi territory but were never formally established by a UN Security Council Resolution.

President Bush on February 7, 1991 made a speech where he encouraged the Iraqi people to rise against the regime. The contents of this speech were dropped in leaflets over Iraq by the US air force.

They began their revolt on March 1, just one day after Bush halted the war. But Saddam’s battered Republican Guard divisions in the south quickly refashioned themselves and attacked Shi’ite guerrillas. Meanwhile, in the north, several Iraqi divisions moved to crush the Kurdish rebellion.

The U.S. inadvertently helped Saddam annihilate the rebels by agreeing in the cease-fire deal negotiated by General Norman Schwarzkopf to allow Iraqi generals to continue flying their helicopters–a mistake because Saddam then used them to strafe rebels on the ground.

Desperate Shi’ite and Kurdish leaders begged the U.S. military for help. But Colin Powell, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, wanted U.S. troops safely home, not mired in what might become a messy civil war. Secretary of State James Baker feared the “Lebanonization of Iraq.”

American pilots flying over southern Iraq held their fire as the Republican Guard massacred Shi’ites on the ground. Bush refrained from aiding Kurdish rebels in the north, although he finally sent troops and relief supplies to protect hundreds of thousands of fleeing Kurds who were in danger of freezing or starving to death.

The tragedy of the uprisings in the South (called Shiite) and the North (Kurdish) has rarely been mentioned or referred to in the western media. Although the scale of the events and their consequences had a profound impact on the people, the environment and how the Sunni – Shiite rift took on grave proportions. My personal experience was as follows:

The seismic exploration crew that at that time I was heading was ordered to conduct works not far from the town of Karbala, one of the holiest towns for the Shiite all over the world. There are a number of shrines there, the golden domes of which can be seen from far off. The city used to be a thriving community, with pilgrims from all over the Muslim world arriving, strong agriculture and even some cannery industry.

When passing through the city to reconnaissance the area to be explored, I was stricken by the traces that the encounters between the Shiite insurgents and the Iraqi army had left. Even more devastating was the mood prevailing in the street, instead of the bustling, lively city that I knew there was a frightened, gloomy and angry one.

Saddam and the Baathists had an intense and personal hatred for the people of Iraq who live in the marshy area of the south. A people whose way of life goes way back to the Sumerians populates the marshes of Iraq. I worked there for a couple of years and was amazed by the beauty and the diversity of life, the bird population in the winter season was something to behold.

The marshes were also the favorite refuge of the majority of rebels throughout Iraq’s long history. The small group of communist insurgents led by Khalid Ahmed Zaki in 1968, who were met with all the strength of the Iraqi army. Khalid and a number of others were killed, the rest were given long prison sentences. In the 1980s and 1990s the marshes became a haven for the Shiite resistance groups. The Baathist and Saddam decided to destroy the marsh people by destroying their environment. This was carried out more or less systematically from the 1980s and onwards through various drainage projects that brought about the desertification of a vast area. During my last trip there as a geophysicist in the 1990s I was overwhelmed with emotions, I could hardly keep back the tears.

This is just the tip of the Iceberg

The suffering of the Iraqi people has been going on for such a lengthy period that volumes could be written on the subject, the period that I tried to cover is during the 1990s. I have not even mentioned the:

-8 year war with Iran (1980 – 1988)

-The Second Gulf War of 2003

-The occupation

-Bremer’s Seven Step Plan, the new Iraqi constitution

-The Sunni – Shiite rift and its origins and the rise of ISIS

-The series of terrorist acts against the Iraqi people since 2003

I also would like to point to the numbers of Iraqi people who were killed in various terrorist acts from 2003 and till the present date. The Internet yields terrible figures.

In 2006, for example, the figure was 29,441. Between Jan. 1 and Sept. 22, 2017 it is 12,029. Yet I have not heard any mention of them in western media, right or left. There has been nobody coming out saying “Je suis Charlie”, no marching of world leaders in the streets. The racism, double standards and hypocrisy are absolutely breathtaking from my perspective.


The Iraqi people were caught in a dilemma of hatred of the Baathist, Saddam tyranny, love of their country and the constant meddling of US imperialism through the institutions of the UN and later on direct aggression and occupation. I have to stress here that Saddam and his regime were and remained more or less puppets in the CIA game that started in 1963 and brought about the Baathist regime for the first time. Knowingly or unknowingly the Baathist remained pawns, as did most of the regimes in the Middle East. Various plots and machinations brought about the coming of the religious and nationalist-fascist regimes. Any progressive, left or communist movements or people were destroyed or killed.

I would ask my American friends to rid themselves of stereotypes and clichés concerning people from the Middle East, to educate themselves and the people around them on the hard realities of life, of the fact that we have one planet to live on and are neighbors in the largest sense of the word and must learn to survive together.


About Jamal Al-Tahir

Jamal was Born in Basra/Iraq and spent his early school years with his parents who were studying in France and the US. He graduated from high school in Iraq and studied in the USSR, graduating from Moscow Power Institute (now technical university). He returned to Iraq and worked as a geophysicist from 1968 till 1996, mainly in the field and field-related activities. He currently resides in Moscow.

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