Foreshadowing Iraq: The War on “Life Itself”

September 19, 2011 § 1 Comment

Residents inspect a damaged church after a bomb attack in central Kirkuk, Iraq (Photo: Reuters -- Ako Rasheed)

American University of Beirut professor Omar Dewachi writes at Al Akhbar English:

Washington’s planned withdrawal of troops from Iraq next December is hailed as a turning point for the country. But the war on Iraq was much more than a military battle under the banner of regime change. It was an attack on the social body of a people that predated the 2003 invasion and will outlast a nominal troop withdrawal. As the world marks the ten years anniversary of 9/11 used as a pretext to invade Iraq, reflecting on the burdens of this war is a reminder that 20 years of violent US intervention will take decades to erase.

George Bush’s declaration of ‘war on terror’ in the wake of 9/11 took place one month after I arrived in the US to embark on my doctoral studies in anthropology. An unending war was unleashed with dramatic consequences on the lives of millions of people in the Middle East and the US. After 2003, members of my own family fell victim to the occupation and the sectarian violence, while others were completely uprooted from the city of Baghdad. The war was being felt in the US, as men and women of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent were subjected to physical, symbolic, and bureaucratic violence through torture, surveillance systems, and the new cultural economy of blame and accusation.

In 2003, I began my research on the effects of years of warfare in Iraq by mainly looking at the exodus of Iraqi doctors and the ‘un-doing’ of the Iraqi health system during the 1990s. I was already familiar with the topic. I had trained and worked as a medical doctor in Iraq during the 1990s, where I lived through the collapse of one of the region’s most developed health systems. As a doctor working under sanctions, I struggled in my everyday with the rapid deterioration of the whole country’s infrastructure, the lack of medical supplies, the migration of the medical staff, the dismantling of the service infrastructure, and the mounting of the regime’s coercive violence. We wrestled daily to stock low supplies of saline solutions, cannulas, disposable gloves, and antibiotics. Hospital structures began failing with the absence of maintenance and supplies, as many were on the UN sanctioned list of ‘dual use.’ This was not merely a war on a rogue political regime; it was a war on the social body in Iraq.

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