April 15th, 2003 ~ Kudos to both MSNBC's Mike Taibbi as well as BBC World News for their followup reports on Ali Ismael Abbas, the 12-year-old Iraqi boy who, for many, has come to symbolize both the terrible ordeal of the Iraqi people as well as their resilience in the face of adversity. Kudos also, to the Kuwaiti people who have reached out to Ali and other Iraqi children injured in this war to treat their terrible wounds at some of Kuwait's finest hospitals.
Finally, great thanks go to the Iraqi soldiers who, on Sunday, lead U.S. forces to where seven of our MIA's were found alive and despite their wartime injuries, in relatively good health. Five were from the 507th Maintenance Co. captured in the first days of the war and two were helicopter pilots who made a forced landing in the western desert when their Blackhawk had mechanical trouble.
April 10th, 2003 ~ Baghdad has fallen and with it the many statues of Saddam Hussein. In one unfortunate episode, some marines, assisting the crowd with a tank to pull down a particularly stubborn edifice, placed an American flag over Saddam's face. This was shortly replaced by a pre-Saddam Iraqi flag, but the public relations damage had already been done. Elsewhere, looters have been on the rampage in both Baghdad and Basra, stripping the homes and offices of Ba'ath party officials to the bare walls. Two enterprising, but ill prepared gents even ventured to take a hammer to the vault door at the Iraq Central Bank. Their efforts went, as one might expect, unrewarded.
April 8th, 2003 ~ His agonized face and terrible injuries have haunted me since CNN first brought his story into my living room earlier this evening. His name is Ali Ismael Abbas. He is twelve years old. On Saturday night he went to sleep surrounded by his family. Around midnight a missile obliterated his home, killing his father, his 5-months pregnant mother, his brother, an aunt, and three cousins. It also left Ali in Baghdad's Kindi hospital with both arms blown off, terribly burned, and orphaned.
"Our neighbours pulled me out and brought me here. I was unconscious," he said on Sunday. Another of his aunts, Jamila Abbas, 53, looks after him in the hospital, feeding him, washing him, comforting him with prayers and repeatedly telling him his parents have gone to heaven. "We didn't want war. I was scared of this war," said Ali. "Our house was just a poor shack, why did they want to bomb us?" said the young boy, unaware that the area in which he lived, the Diala Bridge district east of Baghdad, was surrounded by military installations.
Then he timidly asked the doctors and reporters assembled around his bed, "Can you help get my arms back? Do you think the doctors can get me another pair of hands?" "If I don't get a pair of hands I will commit suicide," he said with tears spilling down his cheeks. That hit me hard. I do not know if the missile which ripped this boys entire life apart was one of theirs or one of ours. I do know that it is highly unlikely he will receive the kind of care he needs at the Kindi Hospital in Baghdad; the kind of care he COULD get at Walter Reed or Bethesda; the kind of care which would show the world WE care.
I think it entirely appropriate that this boy be med-evacuated back here, along with his aunt, to receive the best medical attention we can provide. We may not be able to repair the terrible losses this boy, like many, has suffered in this war, but we can at least repair his shattered body and begin the healing process both he and his country now need.
April 6th, 2003 ~ The siege of Baghdad begins. Yesterday nearly 3,000 Iraqis, mostly military, were killed or injured in fighting around the Iraqi capital. Today, all roads leading into and out of Baghdad are sealed and Special Republican Guard artillery batteries have taken up positions in schoolyards, hospitals, and mosques in a craven effort to maximize civilian casualties to blame on American troops.
Such despicable and desperate measures clearly indicate the regime of Saddam Hussein is seeing its final days. What is less clear is the ultimate price to be paid by Iraqis and Americans alike. I'm not just talking about lives lost, although that weighs heavily on my heart. I'm looking at the days to come; the aftermath of this conflict.
The direct cost of this war so far has been upwards of $40 Billion and the President has just ramrodded an additional $80 Billion appropriation through congress to cover the next six months of theatre operations. I do not know if that figure includes contracts to Halliburton for getting the oil flowing again. I do know it includes a $3.5 Billion bailout for the airlines, but does not include a penny to retrofit U.S. commercial aircraft with the anti-missile defense technology installed on every El Al jetliner. I guess you and I will just have to take our chances. Either that, or keep shelling out billions upon billions of our hard-earned tax dollars to keep the airlines flying empty.
Those are just the direct federal costs. On state and municipal levels, many budgets have been crippled by the additional burden of anti-terrorism and CBW preparedness and Washington has been doing some major foot dragging with financial help. If the threat of terrorism was high before this war, it's off the charts now. And while our police and other emergency organizations are increasingly overwhelmed, our own homegrown criminal element cannot fail to have noticed the shift in focus from crime fighting to anti-terrorism operations. We will be paying for our perpetual state of "Orange Alert" in many different ways and for a long time to come.
As for the Iraqis, I worry that the zoo of expatriates assembled to participate in the post-war government may turn out to be a gang of Saddam-wannabes themselves. If this was truly a war of liberation and not just about the oil, the Iraqi people have every right to expect democratic elections and self government as soon as possible. Furthermore, they have the right to choose any candidates they wish; including those who might not be as friendly to American oil interests as our administration would like. That is, after all, the cornerstone of democracy. That is what a free people do.
This brings up the Kurds in the north and the predominantly Shiite population in the south. Both groups have earned a place at the table. Both have major axes to grind with the predominantly Sunni population in Baghdad and central Iraq. The Kurds have the added burden of Turkey breathing down their necks and the Ayatollahs in Tehran cannot be ignored as a political force around Basra. All these factions make the post-war reconstruction of Germany, even the former Yugoslavia, look like a walk in the park by comparison. I pray that retired General Jay Garner (President Bush's Iraq equivalent to George Marshall), and his team are up to the challenge. There are many throughout the Arab world, as well as some bent noses on the UN Security Council, who would love to see him fail miserably.
Like most Americans, indeed like most of the world, all I can do is watch this drama unfold on CNN and pray that the people in Washington handle post-war Iraq with more subtlety than they did pre-war Iraq. They got what they wanted. History will now judge them on what they do with it.