There are two parts to this post. The first, a kind of Prologue, was written in March, 2003.
The second, a Commentary on the failure of the war, was written in August, 2003.
None of this is new material. But a lot of us weren’t blogging or reading websites as much back then as we are now, so perhaps you didn’t see this account. And certainly we were playing catch-up regarding the factions in Iraq which would turn out to be the ingredients for a tar baby to which America found itself glued.
We are still stuck, and the recent Study Group proposals to melt that tar have all the vigor of limp spaghetti. And they have all the nuance of…of a Donald Duck cartoon. If their solutions tempt you in the slightest, perhaps these three year old documents will make you see why the report is worthless.
Even three years out, though, the points Ken Joseph makes are germane — especially given that new folks are in charge. Will the new amalgam on Capitol Hill do any better in its handling of Iraq? Will the new Secretary of Defense prove to be competent enough to pull off a change in observation, orientation, or direction?
These documents are epistles in the true sense of the word. They was written by Ken Joseph, a wannabe “human shield” volunteer in Iraq. An Assyrian Christian (the indigenous people of Iraq, who were there before the Arabs arrived), Mr. Joseph had been raised in Japan by his Christian missionary parents.
The “I Was Wrong” letter grew out of a personal culture clash: the protected missionary culture of democratic Japan in which Mr. Joseph was raised, and the reality of his fellow Christian Assyrians in Iraq. He arrived in a hubristic “Blessed are the peacemakers” mode to offer himself as a human shield. In short order, the hubris was eaten away by the acid reality of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
First the prologue, part of a Newsmax post dated March 28th, 2003:
A few weeks ago, I traveled to Iraq with supplies for our church and family. This was my first visit ever to the land of my forefathers. The first order of business was to attend church. During a simple meal for peace activists after the service, an older man sounded me out carefully.
Iraqi: ‘We Want the War’
Finally he felt free to talk: “There is something you should know — we didn’t want to be here tonight. When the priest asked us to gather for a peace service, we said we didn’t want to come because we don’t want peace. We want the war to come.”
“What in the world are you talking about?” I blurted.
Thus began a strange odyssey that shattered my convictions. At the same time, it gave me hope for my people and, in fact, hope for the world.
Because of my invitation as a “religious person” and family connections, I was spared the government snoops who ordinarily tail foreigners 24 hours a day.
This allowed me to see and hear amazing things as I stayed in the homes of several relatives. The head of our tribe urged me not to remain with my people during its time of trial but instead go out and tell the world about the nightmare ordinary Iraqis are going through.
‘We Live Like Animals’
I was to tell the world about the terror on the faces of my family when a stranger knocked at the door. “Look at our lives!” they said. “We live like animals: no food, no car, no telephone, no job, and, most of all, no hope.”
That’s why they wanted this war.
“You cannot imagine what it is to live like this for 20, 30 years. We have to keep up our routine lest we would lose our minds.”
But I realized in every household that someone had already lost his or her mind; in other societies such a person would be in a mental hospital. I also realized that there wasn’t a household that did not mourn at least one family member who had become a victim of this police state.
I wept with relatives whose son just screamed all day long. I cried with a relative who had lost his wife. Yet another left home every day for a “job” where he had nothing to do. Still another had lost a son to war and a husband to alcoholism.
As I observed the slow death of a people without hope, Saddam Hussein seemed omnipresent. There were his statues; posters showed him with his hand outstretched or firing his rifle, or wearing an Arab headdress. These images seemed to be on every wall, in the middle of the road, in homes.
“Everything will be all right when the war is over,” people told me. “No matter how bad it is, we will not all die. Twelve years ago, it went almost all the way but failed. We cannot wait anymore. We want the war, and we want it now.”
The People Don’t Want the U.N.
When I told members of my family that some sort of compromise with Iraq was being worked out at the United Nations, they reacted not with joy but anger: “Only war will get out of our present condition.”
This reminded me of the stories I heard from older Japanese who had welcomed the sight of American B-29 bombers in the skies over their country as a sign that the war was coming to an end. True, these planes brought destruction, but also hope.
‘I Felt Terrible About Having Demonstrated Against the War’
I felt terrible about having demonstrated against the war without bothering to ask what the Iraqis wanted. Tears streamed down my face as I lay in my bed in a tiny Baghdad house crowded in with 10 other people of my own flesh and blood, all exhausted, all without hope. I thought, “How dare I claim to speak for people I had not even asked what they wanted?”
Then I began a strange journey to let the world know of the true situation in Iraq, just as my tribe had begged me to. With great risk to myself and those who had told their stories and allowed my camera into their homes, I videotaped their plight.
But would I get that tape out of the country?
To make sure I was not simply getting the feelings of the oppressed Assyrian minority, I spoke to dozens of other people, all terrified. Over and over they told me, “We would be killed for speaking like this.” Yet they did speak, though only in private homes or when other Iraqis had assured them that no government minder was watching over me.
I spoke with a former army member, with someone working for the police, with taxi drivers, store owners, mothers and government officials. All had the same message: “Please bring on the war. We may lose our lives, but for our children’s sake, please, please end our misery.”
‘Soldiers Hated Their Work’
On my last day in Baghdad, I saw soldiers putting up sandbags. By their body language, these men made it clear that they dared not speak but hated their work; they were unmistakably on the side of the common people.
I wondered how my relatives felt about the United States and Britain. Their feelings were mixed. They have no love for the allies — but they trust them.
“We are not afraid of the American bombing. They will bomb carefully and not purposely target the people,” I was told. “What we are afraid of is Saddam and the Baath Party will do when the war begins.”
The final call for help came at the most unexpected place — the border, where crying members of my family sent me off.
The taxi fares from Baghdad to Amman had risen within one day from $100 to $300, to $500 and then to $1,000 by nightfall.
My driver looked on anxiously as a border guard patted me down. He found my videotapes, and I thought: It’s all over!
For once I experienced what my relatives were going through 365 days a year — sheer terror. Quietly, the officer laid the tapes on a desk, one by one. Then he looked at me — was it with sadness or with anger? Who knows?
He clinically shook his head and without a word handed all the tapes back to me. He didn’t have to say anything. He spoke the only language left to these imprisoned Iraqis, the silent language of human kindness.
That was his first taste of the real Iraq.
Then there is the commentary, from Mr. Joseph, on AssyrianChristians. com, five months later. In some ways it is outdated, in others, prescient. It gives his view, five months after the start of the war, on why it has been lost…lost three years ago.
It is well worth making your way through all of what he has to say. You will note where his hopes did not bear fruit, and you can tell, in hindsight, what he didn’t — couldn’t anticipate. Nonetheless, it is riveting to get a report from someone who is part of a vanishing minority: an Assyrian Christian, someone whose liturgical practices predate our American Christian theology and liturgy by more than a thousand years.
– – – – – – – – – –
I am putting up the whole commentary as it appears. However, I will note that a book he alludes to having written, or being in the process of writing, does not appear to be available. At least I couldn’t find it.
As the dust begins to settle around the dream that was Iraq, the finger pointing is beginning.
“Who lost Iraq?” is the simple, but profound question that many are beginning to ask.
As one who was in Iraq during the time of Saddam and has been their since as an Assyrian Christian, the indigenous people of Iraq the answer to that question is not just academic — it directly relates to the future of our people, the Assyrian Christians who are the original people of Iraq long before the Arabs came.
We are the people of Nineveh to whom Jonah came and comprise one of the last remaining major Christian communities in the Middle East.
First, is the question of Saddam. I was there. In an upcoming book entitled “I Was Wrong,” I describe what life was under Saddam. I was originally against the war, but when I saw the terror that was Saddam and the pain my family lived under I was quickly brought back to reality.
It was terrible under Saddam Hussein! The real Abu Ghraib prison was a place where my relatives were beaten every day — after Lunch and Dinner. Monday and Saturday were the days people were hanged.
My relatives reaction to the Abu Ghraib “scandal”? They were angry — angry at the fact that the Americans could not do anything to try and get the truth out of those who oppressed them!
Chemical weapons? I was there! The great fear of the residents of Baghdad in the days leading up to the war were not the Americans — they were afraid of Saddam and all the weapons they believed he had and how he would unleash them on them when cornered. Everybody believed he had every possible weapon to obtain and would unleash it all!
Second, the deep appreciation for the Liberation of their country from Saddam. I was there! Imagine for the first time in your life being able to use a cell phone, surf the internet, speak on the telephone without fear, talk to your neighbors without being afraid, watch ‘normal” TV, wake up in the morning without having to see Saddam everywhere! Happy? They were delirious to have him gone!
Third, though is the real question. Why has Iraq gone so badly? The answer is a bit complicated, but there is an answer and it is still not too late.
Simply put Iraq was lost by Americans. Essentially two types of Americans who ruled Iraq in the days and months following the fall of Saddam.
In my upcoming book, “I Was Wrong”, I detail the many experiences we had firsthand.
The first type was what I call the “good guys”! If Americans have one major fault it is that they are so positive and forward looking and good that they have a hard time understanding how evil Evil really is!
That was the lesson I learned under Saddam. Yes, he was really that evil and yes, in the 21st century there is such evil!
The good guys, were the “aw shucks” Americans that came into Iraq and did their best to organize, fix and restore Iraq. They could not imagine that anyone would purposely try to work against what clearly the Iraqis wanted.
I watched them, many times with tears in my eyes as they worked so hard, under such terrible conditions to make things better for Iraq.
“Why are you here?” I would ask over and over. The answer was always the same: “I just want the Iraqis to have what we have. Just doing my job!”
How simple, how naïve and yet how powerful.
A half century my own parents came to Japan following the end of the war with Japan and are still there. In talking to the men and women risking their lives to see Iraq restored I kept flashing back to my own parents.
A half century after he had first gone to Japan I asked my own father, “Why, Dad did you come to Japan?”
His answer? “Because Japan needed help!” DAD! That’s all? You have been here for 50 years now.
No matter how hard I push him that is all the answer I can get. “Because they need help”? How foolish! How naïve! How powerful!
The first group that “lost Iraq” are the “good guys” — the men and women who gave of their lives and their time to rebuild Iraq so the Iraqis could be free.
As my father, a half century after he first came they cannot understand or fathom how evil people can be that they would work against progress, blow up children, rape women and destroy oil fields.
They just don’t understand!
The second group? “The opportunists”. These were many of the people working in the CPA — Coalition Provisional Authority who were there not to see Iraq restored, but simply to get a good line on their resumes and to get a job in the new administration.
A year ago those who were hoping for a job in a Kerry Administration had every incentive to see Iraq fail. While it is very difficult to point to specific instances, put yourself in the position of a staffer desperate for a job in a Kerry administration in January.
The best way to insure it? For Iraq to fail! Did it happen? I am absolutely confident it did. I saw it every day!
I am putting out a call to all who were working at CPA headquarters and others to come forward with details of how the “opportunists” worked against success simply to insure they would have a job in January!
A “forgotten” poster which was supposed to be posed all over the country announcing the plans of the CPA. “Accidentally” delayed telephones, computer systems and a host of other supplies we saw daily.
A whole class of staffers working subconsciously and often consciously to in their own little small way have Iraq “fail” so they could get a job in a new administration which would be directly linked to the failure of Iraq.
The third group? The mostly British “moslem experts” dispatched to “guide” the CPA.
I met them everywhere. They were and continue to be evil personified . With beautiful British accents, though they always bowled over the Americans, enamored at the “class” that the Queen’s English always provides.
Outwardly liberal, democratic, free-loving, they were in actuality evil, promoters of the Islamic Republic of Iraq, always smiling and deceiving the “nice guys” who trusted the “advisors” as they interpreted, explained the “culture” and in as many ways as they could worked against any success that the CPA might attain by working in a calculated way to deliver Iraq to their paymasters in the evil empire which is radical islam.
Who betrayed Iraq? The “good guys” who naively believed, the “chasers” who desperately hoped Iraq would fail for their simple job needs and the “experts” who systematically dismantled all the good done for the Iraqi people.
In particular, who betrayed Iraq? In contrast to the no-nonsense Military Officer Jay Garner, I had the honor of meeting, I confronted Paul Bremer, his pathetic successor who personally betrayed the people of Iraq by turning it over before it was ready just to personally get out.
Is it too late? No!
We still have time to remedy the mistakes and deliver Iraq once again to is long suffering people.
The most important tool still remaining is the Constitution. Former Ambassador Paul Bremer betrayed the Iraqi people when in spite of the Iraqi Constitutional Committee voting that there “should be no mention of religion or ideology” in the new Iraqi Constitution, pushed on it article 7 which reads “slam is the religion of the state.”
Imagine, fighting a war, sacrificing so many to create “The Islamic Republic of Iraq.”
The United States and fellow donors in the EU and Japan must absolutely demand that the Iraqi Constitution be secular with no mention of religion or ideality as the Iraqi people who are throughout secular want.
Second, is realizing that Iraq is in fact four countries — “Shiastan” in the south, “Sunnistan” in the middle, “Kurdistan” in the Northeast and “Assyria” in the North.
The secret to success in Iraq? Providing maximum local autonomy and self government in the four “states” that constitute Iraq. The way to preserve the whole, as the United States has shown the rest of the world for over 200 years is to provide maximum autonomy to the states.
Can Iraq succeed? Yes it can!
It is succeeding fabulously! Internet service everywhere, freedom to speak, talk on the telephone, business is booming and the list goes on.
Over a half century ago when my parents first came to Japan America succeeded and an enemy — Japan — went on to become a friend and a partner.
Why? Because the US absolutely insisted on a secular and democratic constitution. The pressure was tremendous to compromise and give in, but the US prevailed and the results have “stuck” for 60 years!
We can do the same in Iraq. Follow the example of Japan and absolutely insist that 1800 brave young Americans did not give their lives for “The Islamic Republic of Iraq.” but for freedom, democracy and the rule of law.
An absolute insistence on a secular constitution and local autonomy for the distinct people groups in Iraq is the way forward.
A successful Iraq will “domino” thought the region and the world. After all, freedom is the cry of every man and woman.
If we fail, “The Islamic Republic of Iraq” — an Iranian clone, but with the second largest oil reserves in the world will be unleashed onto the face of the earth in a manner that will pale in comparison to Saddam and Iran.
Stay the course! Insist on freedom, democracy and the rule of law! There is still time before the October 15 vote on the constitution to not ask, not urge, but as America did in Japan 60 years ago insist that the Constitution be secular and democratic with a bill of rights and complete local autonomy to the states so the whole can be preserved by the maximum autonomy of the parts.
As the very simple question, whether you were for or against the war Did 1800 plus brave young men and women give their lives to create The Islamic Republic of Iraq?
The Answer is clear!
It’s been more than three years since Mr. Joseph wrote these words. I am studying the continuing plight of minority groups like the Assyrian Christians (regularly persecuted by the Kurds and other Sunnis), and the gypsies. When I have more to report, I’ll let you know.
Daily, the picture grows more complex. The Assyrians are fleeing to Syria. Some of them had run from Iran to Iraq only to be further persecuted there. Meanwhile, in the beginning flames of the Sunni – Shi’ite conflagration, Israel may be playing both sides against the middle in the hope of surviving these ancient hatreds. And the Kurds in Turkey and Iraq and Iran continue to push for their own sovereign nation.
Shades of Rwanda, only with more factions.