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Published: Friday, 12/1/2006

Plight of Iraq's civilians lost in the fog of war

WHEN I wrote about the disturbing disconnect among many Americans with the ongoing slaughter in Iraq, more than a few readers lashed back, calling me a presumptuous fool - and worse. How dare I question their patriotism or support for the troops? Of course they feel bad about what is going on over there but real Americans are hanging tough in the war on terror and not questioning it so much.

Yet some of us presumptuous fools do persist. On a wonderfully mild November day when many of us were recovering from gluttonous Thanksgiving feasts and deciding which game to watch on TV or daydreaming about the start of holiday shopping, Iraqis were recovering from the deadliest carnage in Baghdad since the U.S. invasion.

While American television showed throngs of diehard shoppers lining up for early Christmas sales, Iraqis were queuing up at filled morgues to identify the 200 or more people killed hours earlier. With all the planning, partying, and customary traveling that precede Thanksgiving, a ferocious attack in a teeming Shiite district of Baghdad probably escaped many Americans.

Some may have stumbled across the news as they flipped through channels with the TV remote. But it's safe to say few stopped to lament the most lethal, coordinated assault on Iraqis yet. The horrific attacks no longer shock and awe.

But while Americans relaxed with family and friends last Thursday, five powerful car bombs exploded in Baghdad and a mortar shell ripped through intersections and marketplaces packed with people. The bloody attacks, which left hundreds wounded, were immediately followed by Shitte revenge killings in a predominantly Sunni Arab neighborhood.

Only the President, who unloosed the current butchery in Iraq by destroying its political and social structure with nothing to fall back on, is in denial about the civil war ravaging the country. It began in earnest with the bombing of a major Shiite shrine in late February and spun out of control with the Sunni-inspired massacre on Thanksgiving.

Controlling the escalating chaos seems beyond the capabilities of both American and Iraqi security forces. Indeed, the warfare tearing Iraq apart may not be stoppable with even strong political or diplomatic intervention.

But here's something to consider in the season of goodwill toward all men. Is the blood of hundreds of Iraqis dying violently every day on the hands of those who rammed through regime change despite predicted consequences? And by extension, should Americans who allowed themselves to be misled by the Bush Administration - with patriotic fervor - before the U.S. invasion, also bear some responsibility for Iraq becoming a living hell?

Generally Americans don't feel any blame for Iraq's tragic disintegration. They're mostly detached from the daily torment of Iraqi children, parents, husbands, and wives.

One Chicago writer said typical television clips of the violence in Iraq showing an explosion, or automatic weapon fire, or dead bodies on the streets have "become as much a clich as the weather report or another loss by the Cubs."

Dead Iraqis, wrote Andrew Greeley, "are of no more value to us than artificial humans in a video game." In this country, he candidly observed, Iraqis are viewed as "less than human, pajama-wearing people with dark skin, hate in their eyes, and a weird religion, screaming in pain over their losses."

These people were supposed to welcome their American occupiers as liberators who freed them to remake themselves in the West's democratic image. But America destroyed what little was still standing in Baghdad after the first Gulf War and then fiddled while disparate Iraqi factions fought over a sovereignty in shambles.

Leaders of the so-called "unity government," propped up by the Bush Administration, have no power to protect Iraqis from each other. It's well known that government security forces are aligned with sectarian militias.

Basically millions of Iraqi civilians are on their own when it comes to surviving sectarian revenge and the rising violence. They live in constant fear of dying.

Before the Bush War they lived with a despot - but without regular bombings, incoming mortar shells, snipers, kidnappings, and ethnic cleansing. They lived with electricity and running water in comfortable middle-class neighborhoods.

Many were highly educated professionals in a secular Arab oasis. Now they're just dead Iraqis, charred and mangled bodies that got in the way of an insidious cycle of killing.

A world away we think of them as somebody else's problem - if we think of them at all. No sense spoiling the holiday season. Keep those cards and e-mails coming.



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