It began more than six years ago with a lie, followed by another lie, and another lie, and then two more, ten more, a hundred, a thousand, an avalanche of lies from heads of state and hatchet men and well-fed media types more interested in getting the interview than in getting the facts.
It began with lies like this:
"Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction."
- Dick Cheney, Vice President Speech to VFW National Convention 8/26/2002
... and this:
"We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
- Condoleezza Rice, US National Security Adviser CNN Late Edition 9/8/2002
... and this:
"We know for a fact that there are weapons there."
- Ari Fleischer, Press Secretary Press Briefing 1/9/2003
... and this:
"We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more."
- Colin Powell, Secretary of State Remarks to the UN Security Council 2/5/2003
... and this:
"We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat."
- Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense ABC Interview 3/30/2003
It began with George W. Bush standing before both houses of Congress and an international television audience for his January 2003 State of the Union address and stating that Iraq was in possession of 26,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 500 tons - which is one million pounds - of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent, 30,000 missiles to deliver the stuff, mobile biological weapons labs, al-Qaeda connections and uranium from Niger for use in a robust nuclear weapons program.
Lies. All lies. 4,321 American soldiers have died in Iraq because of those lies, 101 during this year, including Sgt. Timothy A. David of Michigan, who was killed on June 28 when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle. Four more soldiers were killed in Iraq on Tuesday in the midst of the withdrawal. Tens of thousands of American soldiers have been shredded and maimed because of those lies. Nobody knows how many innocent Iraqis have been killed and wounded because, to this day, we don't do body counts. Estimates range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands to perhaps more than a million, depending on who you ask, all because of those lies.
Now, more than six years later, a new president and a new policy has brought about one of the most dramatic and determinative days Iraq has seen since the initial invasion and occupation. "Six years and three months after the March 2003 invasion," reported The Washington Post on Tuesday, "the United States has withdrawn its remaining combat troops from Iraq's cities, the US commander here said, and is turning over security to Iraqi police and soldiers. While more than 130,000 U.S. troops remain in the country, patrols by heavily armed soldiers in hulking vehicles have largely disappeared from Baghdad, Mosul and Iraq's other urban centers. Iraqis danced in the streets and set off fireworks overnight in impromptu celebrations of a pivotal moment in their nation's troubled history. The government staged a military parade to mark the new national holiday of 'National Sovereignty Day,' and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki made a triumphant, nationally televised address."
Triumph comes in strange packages these days. The reality of the situation in Iraq has been best described by Robert Dreyfuss in a Nation article titled "Little to Celebrate in Iraq." Dreyfuss writes:
As we pull back, we're leaving Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in charge. Increasingly, Maliki is taking on the trappings of a dictator. He's established a network of security agencies that report directly to him. He's built a countrywide patronage system to bribe and pay off tribal allies, in anticipation of 2010 elections. He's shown no compunction against using the army, the police and the secret agencies he controls to eliminate rivals. He's used divide-and-conquer tactics to outflank the Sunni-led sahwa movement, known as the Awakening or the Sons of Iraq, driving some of them back into armed resistance and others into sullen resentment or fear for their lives.
And Maliki, despite his protestations that he is a born-again "nationalist," has close ties to Iran. With Iran now revealed as a fundamentalist-run, naked military dictatorship, I expect Iran to act ruthlessly vis-a-vis Iraq, and if he wants to stay in power Maliki will pretty much have to go along.
A prominent Sunni activist from northern Iraq told me Tuesday that anyone who thinks about opposing Maliki in Iraq has to fear for his or her life. The fact remains that despite the resurgence of secular nationalism in Iraq, as evidenced by the results of provincial elections last February, Maliki sits atop a conspiratorial little party called Al Dawa, a fundamentalist Islamist grouping, and he is reliant on a small, secretive clique that surrounds him. During the February election, in order to appeal to Iraqi voters, Maliki posed as a nationalist of sorts, but in fact he is dependent on two outside powers. First, he's dependent on the United States, for despite his bravado about the US withdrawal from Iraq's cities, Maliki desperately needs American backing to remain in power, to build up his armed forces. And second, Maliki is dependent on the good will of Iran, which could topple him instantly if he crossed Tehran.
While Iraq's Shia population celebrated in the streets and Iraq's Sunni population crouched in fear, another group got right to business. "The long-awaited auction of licenses to develop Iraq's huge oil reserves began Tuesday amid unusual contentiousness," reported The New York Times on Tuesday, "as multinationals demanded far more revenue from every barrel of increased production than the authorities were willing to allow. Scores of Chinese, Russian, American and British oil executives, representing eight of the world's top 10 non-state oil companies, gathered in a hotel meeting room in the Green Zone. They listened closely on headphones to translations as bids for six oil fields and two natural gas fields were read out and then rushed into consultations."
The more things change, the more they stay the same in an Iraq torn to pieces, covered in blood, and made of lies.