Thursday March 7, 2013

Because Saddam Hussein's military was not only easily defeated but mostly destroyed in the 1991 Gulf War, President George W. Bush's administration expected that a new war, named Operation Iraqi Freedom, against the Iraqi dictator would be a quick win.

White House planners believed that the U.S. could accomplish its mission to "disarm Iraq of its weapons of Mass destruction, end Saddam Hussein's support of terrorism and free the Iraqi people" with minimal ground forces and expense.

Against the recommendation of then Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, who advised "several hundred thousand" troops would be needed, the invasion force was cut to 148,000.

Similarly, in a March 16, 2003, interview, Vice President Dick Cheney proclaimed: "every analysis said this war itself would cost about $80 billion plus recovery of Baghdad, perhaps of Iraq, about $10 billion per year. We should expect, as American citizens, that this would cost at least $100 billion for a two-year involvement."

But by then the Bush administration's "cooked" intelligence and sham evidence was yet to be uncovered and the decision to go to war had already been made. During the run-up to the war, millions of people worldwide had marched and demonstrated against a U.S. attack on Iraq.

Anti-war marches and demonstrations occurred in over 500 cities in the United States: on Jan. 18, 2003, 500,000 people marched in Washington D.


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C. and 200,000 marched in San Francisco; on Feb. 15, 2003, 500,000 marched in New York City.

In Bennington, throughout the fall and winter of 2002, peace activists opposed to the war held weekly vigils at the Four Corners, where they were frequently mocked, castigated, digitally vilified and even spat at for their witness.

Dozens of Bennington anti-war activists bussed to the marches in New York City and Washington and nearly 200 students left their MAUHS classrooms to demonstrate at the Four Corners. But it was too late for on March 20, 2003, the sky over Baghdad was lit up by the "Shock and awe" bombardment that heralded the start of the Iraq War. In Bennington, 12 activists were arrested at the Four Corners as they protested the start of the Iraq War.

In fact, the war against Saddam's organized military didn't last long, with President Bush himself acknowledging "mission accomplished" from the deck of a U.S. aircraft carrier on May 3. But many Iraqis did not welcome the U.S. troops as liberators but, instead, saw them as invaders and occupiers. American servicemen and servicewomen soon became the targets of disbanded Iraqi soldiers, sectarian militias, hostile tribes and individuals bent on reprisal for those killed by American troops, bombs, helicopter gunships and accidental killings. Some sought revenge for the half million Iraqi children who died as a result of American-led sanctions imposed on the country following the 1991 Gulf War.

The ensuing suicide bombings, car bombings, buried improvised explosive devices and ambushes by insurgents were met with the massive ground and air firepower of U.S. forces and its coalition allies. The quick win become nearly eight years of brutal counterinsurgency vs. insurgency.

The war lasted until December 2010, when, after a deal was made with a newly elected Iraqi government, all U.S. and coalition combat forces left the country. The end came too late for the 4,409 U.S. troops killed, the 31,928 wounded in action and an estimated 110,937 to 121,227 Iraqi civilians killed. An additional several hundred thousand Iraqi refugees fled to neighboring countries and a minimum of two million Iraqis becoming displaced refugees in their own country.

The non-visible casualties of Operation Iraqi Freedom are, perhaps, more indicative of the shadow type of war that was fought.

In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, from May 1, 2003 to May 1, 2004, 19.1 percent of 303,000 returning Army and Marine troops were diagnosed as suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In 2006, the Veterans Administration reported 20,638 diagnosed with PTSD and in 2007 the Department of Defense Post Deployment Health Assessment reported 16.7 percent of the returning troops were suffering PTSD. 

For many, the war still goes on and the end may never come.

Added to the human losses must be the financial toll which continues to have a disastrous drain on the U.S. economy. According to the Pentagon, $787.8 billion was directly spent fighting the war but, according to the Congressional Budget Office, $1.9 trillion was borrowed and when the costs to replace lost and damaged equipment, wounded veteran's health, ongoing veteran's health care, interest on the money borrowed and the cost to rebuild destroyed and damaged Iraq infrastructure, the total estimated cost is more than $3 trillion; much of which is still carried as part of our national debt.

We must all work together to prevent another Iraq War tragedy from happening -- before it's too late.

Andrew Schoerke, a Shaftsbury residnet, is a member of Veterans For Peace.