1,000 days ago today, the U.S. invasion of Iraq officially began. Since then, over 2,300 coalition troops and as many as 100,000 Iraqis have been killed. Zero weapons of mass destruction have been found and the cost of the war has topped $200 billion dollars. We speak with Iraqi humanitarian Sami Rousuli in Karbala and Robert Fisk in Beirut. [includes rush transcript]
President Bush took to the nation’s airwaves on March 19, 2003 to declare that the war to "disarm Iraq" had begun. Bush claimed the United States was entering the conflict reluctantly but that the war was needed to prevent Iraq from having what he called weapons of mass murder.
The Independent newspaper of London has published a series of statistics to mark what has happened in the 1,000 days since then:
- Zero weapons of mass destruction have been found.
- At least 30,000 Iraqi civilians have died so far though some studies put the toll over 100,000.
- 66 journalists have been killed.
- 183,000 British and American troops remain in Iraq.
- Over 2,300 U.S. and coalition troops have been killed.
- At least 16,000 U.S. troops have been wounded in action.
- $200 billion has already been spent by the U.S. And news reports today indicate the total cost of the Iraq and Afghan wars could top half a trillion dollars.
- Between 60% and 80% of Iraqis still strongly oppose the presence of U.S. troops in their country.
- 67% of Iraqis feel less secure because of the occupation.
- There are currently an average of 90 attacks staged each day by the Iraqi resistance.
- 8% of Iraq’s children are suffering acute malnutrition.
- Sami Rousuli, he was living in Minnesota at the time of the invasion but has since returned to Iraq to live. He now heads up the Muslim Peacemaker Team. He joins us from Karbala.
- Robert Fisk, Middle East correspondent for the London’s Independent who has reported extensively from Iraq during the war.
JUAN GONZALEZ: To talk about these first thousand days of the Iraq war, we’re joined from Iraq by Sami Rousuli. Sami was living in Minnesota at the time of the invasion, but has since returned to his native country to live. He now heads up the Muslim Peacemaker Team in Iraq. He joins us from Karbala. We are also still on the line from Beirut with journalist Robert Fisk, who has reported extensively from Iraq during the war. I’d like to begin with Robert. Your thoughts on this, the thousandth day of this war.
ROBERT FISK: Well, I have said them before on your program, and I will say them again: The Americans must leave, the Americans will leave, and the Americans can’t leave, and that’s the equation that turns sand into blood. An Iraqi was saying to me only yesterday, actually, in the Gulf area, you know, he said, "I don’t want the Americans to go, because I’m fearful of what will happen, and they really must go as soon as possible, and I can’t wait for them to leave." I’ll be interested to see what your guest in Karbala has to say on this. I think that, you know, the whole operation has been a disaster, not just because of the lies which we maintained in order to enter Iraq and to invade it illegally, but primarily for the Iraqis themselves.
I mean, I discovered in August in Baghdad by looking at the computers at the central mortuary, that 1,100 Iraqis had died by violence, been killed, many of them by death squads. In Baghdad alone, just in July, now, you spread that across, you know, Mosul, Kirkuk, maybe Erbil, all way down to Basra, through the months, and you must be talking of 3,000 to 4,000 a month. That’s 36,000 to 48,000 a year. That makes that 100,000 figure, which you mentioned, as being quite conservative.
And the Iraqis are suffering the greatest of all of us, and we don’t care about who dies. We don’t give them names or identities. We don’t show pictures of their coffins with flags on. We don’t show many pictures of American coffins with flags on for that matter. This is a gigantic tragedy which is being inflicted on the Iraqi people.
And for what? You know, okay, well, many of them including the Shiites, in particular, the Shiites and the Kurds, are very happy Saddam is gone, but we have replaced it with a hell disaster. And more and more Iraqis are saying, "Well, you know, for what did we do this? What is it for?" And when I talk to them, I have no answer. Maybe your colleague, our compatriot in Karbala does or maybe you do, but I don’t know what we say, because I don’t think we care about Iraqis. I don’t think we care about Arabs, in general. I don’t think we care about the Middle East as a people. We care about its oil and its resources. And those 1,000 days have been — I mean, I’m using this word "hell disaster," that was the phrase that Winston Churchill used about Palestine in 1947, and it certainly applies to Iraq today.
JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to bring in Sami Rousuli in Karbala. Can you hear me?
SAMI ROUSULI: I hear you well, and I really wish you, to the people in the West, happy holidays, while Christmas is approaching, and peace upon you, all of you, and we say "Salaam." So, talking about the Iraqi situation for the last almost three years, I agree absolutely with Mr. Fisk. I have been reading his articles, and he said it well. People, tomorrow, are getting to the election polls, and they are excited, as they were in the beginning of this year, and it also when it was for the referendum of the constitution last October 15. They run when they hear the religious leaders, especially in Karbala and Najaf and the south, calling for a commitment to be done for the election as religious duty, and this time, Mr. Ayatollah Sistani, he sent his fatua just a couple of days ago informing his followers to go to the poll centers, casting their votes without preferring any slate, as he did in the past, which is the current government, but apparently, he is not happy with their work, and as he stated about a month ago that they didn’t accomplish much, and they didn’t represent the Iraqi needs.
So, he also emphasized on two things to be assured by the Iraqis, when they go and cast their votes, they vote for a religious committed person, and he meant to seek justice by this religious representative, and justice, as you may know, one of God’s 99 names in the Islamic teachings besides, salaam, peace, and truth. The second thing that he assured or emphasized the — to be a nationalist representative that assured and secured the Iraqi unity. So, two of these factors, he called upon the Iraqis — Shiites in the south — to be adhered to when they cast their votes.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Sami —
SAMI ROUSULI: They tried to — yes.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Sami, I’d like to ask you, you have been working very hard to free the four kidnapped Christian Peacemaker activists, and you yourself have had family members kidnapped and had them freed. What’s the latest on your efforts in that area?
SAMI ROUSULI: Kidnapping is a daily thing, besides assassinations and the killing machines that took place since the occupation started. In regard of our friends, four friends of the CPT, we still are continuing in praying and sending messages through the Iraqi media and from direct outlets to the kidnappers to hear our voices along with the voices across the globe, that those people are real friends of the Iraqi people, and they have no value within the U.S. and U.K. governments. So, we still, as MPT, Muslim Peacemakers Team members, and other organizations that friends — and they know about the CPT and their work in Iraq — are working hard to deliver the call to free those wonderful people who helped us personally — I believe, they shifted the approval rate of the President Bush to be under 40% in the U.S., because they wrote many stories directly from the Iraqi daily life, who they lived side by side, helping them to free their loved ones, who were detained by the Iraqi forces and the U.S. forces since October 2002. So, no word from the kidnappers yet, but we are in video waiting for the positive outcome.
JUAN GONZALEZ: We are talking with Sami Rousuli from Karbala, with the Christian Peacemaker Teams. We also have on the phone, from Beirut, independent journalist, Robert Fisk.