The Real Link Between 9/11 and Iraq (Finally) Revealed
You’ve heard the President and Vice President say it over and over in various ways: There was a connection between the events of September 11, 2001 and Iraq. Let’s take this seriously and consider some of the links between the two.
Numbers and comparisons
*1,536 Iraqis died in Baghdad alone in August, according to revised figures from the Baghdad morgue. That’s over half the 9/11 casualties in one city in one increasingly typical month. According to the Washington Post, this figure does not include suicide-bombing victims and others taken to the city’s hospitals, nor does it include deaths in towns near the capital.
*By the beginning of September, 2,974 U.S. military service members had died in Iraq and in the Bush administration’s Global War on Terror, more than died in the attacks of 9/11. (Twenty-two more American soldiers died in Iraq in the first 9 days of September; at least 3 in Afghanistan.)
*Five years later, according to Emily Gosden and David Randall of the British newspaper, the Independent, the Bush administration’s Global War on Terror has resulted in, at a minimum, 20 times the deaths of 9/11; at a maximum, 60 times. It has “directly killed a minimum of 62,006 people, created 4.5 million refugees and cost the US more than the sum needed to pay off the debts of every poor nation on earth. If estimates of other, unquantified, deaths — of insurgents, the Iraq military during the 2003 invasion, those not recorded individually by Western media, and those dying from wounds — are included, then the toll could reach as high as 180,000.” According to Australian journalist Paul McGeough, Iraqi officials (and others) estimate that that country’s death toll since 2003 “stands at 50,000 or more — the proportional equivalent of about 570,000 Americans.”
*Last week, the U.S. Senate agreed to appropriate another $63 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, where costs have been averaging $10 billion a month so far this year. This brings the (taxpayer) cost for Bush’s wars so far to about $469 billion and climbing. That’s the equivalent of 469 Ground Zero memorials at full cost-overrun estimates, double that if the memorial comes in at the recently revised budget of $500 million. (Keep in mind that the estimated cost of these two wars doesn’t include various perfectly real future payouts like those for the care of veterans and could rise into the trillions.)
*In 2003, with its invasion of Iraq over, the Bush administration had about 150,000 troops in Iraq. Just under three and a half years later, almost as long as it took to win World War II in the Pacific, and despite much media coverage about coming force “draw-downs,” U.S. troop levels are actually rising — by 15,000 in the last month. They now stand at 145,000, just 5,000 short of the initial occupation figure. (Pre-invasion, top administration officials like Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz took it for granted that American troop levels would be drawn down to the 30,000 range within three months of the taking of Baghdad.)
While Americans are planning to remember 9/11 with four vast towers and a huge, extremely costly memorial sunk into Manhattan’s Ground Zero, Baghdadis have been thinking a bit more practically. They are putting scarce funds into constructing two new branch morgues (with refrigeration units) in the capital for what’s now most plentiful in their country: dead bodies. They plan to raise the city’s morgue capacity to 250 bodies a day. If fully used, that would be about 7,500 bodies a month. Think of it as a hedge against ever more probable futures.
While the various New York memorial constructions can’t get off (or into) the ground, due to disputes and cost estimate overruns, what could be thought of as the real American memorial to Ground Zero is going up in the very heart of Baghdad; and unlike the prospective structures in Manhattan or seemingly just about any other construction project in Iraq, it’s on schedule. According to Paul McGeough, the $787 million “embassy,” a 21-building, heavily fortified complex (not reliant on the capital’s hopeless electricity or water systems) will pack significant bang for the bucks — its own built-in surface-to-air missile emplacements as well as Starbucks and Krispy Kreme outlets, a beauty parlor, a swimming pool, and a sports center. As essentially a “suburb of Washington,” with a predicted modest staff of 3,500, it is a project that says, with all the hubris the Bush administration can muster: We’re not leaving. Never.
*Roadside bombs (or IEDs), “the leading killer of U.S. troops,” rose to record numbers this summer — 1,200 in August, quadrupling the January 2004 figures according to the Washington Post, while bomb and attack tips from Iraqi citizens fell drastically. They plummeted from 5,900 in April to 3,700 in July. (“It will improve once it’s not so darn lethal to go out on the street,” was the optimistic observation of retired Army Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs, director of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization.)
*According to a recently released quarterly assessment the Pentagon is mandated to do for Congress, Iraqi casualties have soared by a record 51% in recent months, quadrupling in just two years.
*From the same report, monthly attacks on U.S. and allied Iraqi forces rose to about 800, doubling since early 2004. In Anbar Province, the heartland of the Sunni insurgency (where a “very pessimistic” secret Marine Corps assessment indicates that “we haven’t been defeated militarily but we have been defeated politically — and that’s where wars are won and lost…”), attacks averaged 30 a day.
*A sideline record in the War on Terror: Afghanistan’s already sizeable opium crop is projected to increase by at least 50% this year and would then make up a startling 92% of the global supply. According to Antonio Maria Costa, the global executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, those supplies would exceed global consumption by 30% — so other records loom. (Meanwhile, according to the Washington Post, the investigation into the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden has hit a record low. His trail has gone “stone cold… U.S. commandos whose job is to capture or kill Osama bin Laden have not received a credible lead in more than two years.”)
The Iraqi Condition
Along with civil war, the ethnic cleansing of neighborhoods, the still-strengthening insurgency, and the security situation from hell, Iraqis are also experiencing soaring inflation, possibly reaching 70% this year (which would more than double last year’s 32% rise); stagnant salaries (where they even exist); an “inert” banking system; gas and electricity prices up in a year by 270%; massive corruption (“An audit sponsored by the United Nations last week found hundreds of millions of dollars of Iraq’s oil revenue had been wrongly tallied last year or had gone missing altogether”); lack of adequate electricity or potable water supplies; tenaciously high unemployment, ranging — depending upon the estimate — from 15—50/60% (the recent Pentagon report to Congress offers Iraqi government figures of 18% unemployment and 34% underemployment); acute shortages of gasoline, kerosene, and cooking gas in the country with the planet’s third largest oil reserves, forcing the Iraqi government to devote $800 million in scarce funds to importing refined oil products from neighboring countries and making endless gas lines and overnight waits the essence of normal life (“Filling up now requires several days’ pay, monastic patience or both…”); an oil industry, already ragged at the time of the invasion, which has since gone steadily downhill (its three main oil refineries are now functioning at half-capacity and processing only half the number of barrels of oil as before the invasion, while the biggest refinery in Baiji sometimes operates at as little as 7.5% of capacity); government gas subsidies severely cut (at the urging of the International Monetary Fund); malnutrition on the rise and, according to that Pentagon report to Congress, 25.9% of Iraqi children are stunted in their growth.
In other words, economically speaking, Iraq has essentially been deconstructed.
Diving into Iraq
On December 9, 2001, Vice President Cheney began publicly arguing on Meet the Press that there were Iraqi connections to the 9/11 attacks. It was “pretty well confirmed,” he told Tim Russert, that Mohamed Atta, the lead hijacker, had met the previous April in Prague with a “senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service.” On September 8, 2002, he returned to the program and reaffirmed this supposed fact even more strongly. (“[Atta] did apparently travel to Prague on a number of occasions. And on at least one occasion, we have reporting that places him in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official a few months before the attack on the World Trade Center.”) All of this — and there was much more of it from Cheney, the President, and other top officials, always leaving Iraq and 9/11, or Saddam and al-Qaeda, or Saddam and Zarqawi in the same rhetorical neighborhood with the final linking usually left to the listener — was quite literally so much Bushwa.
These were claims debunked within the intelligence community and elsewhere before, during, and after the invasion of Iraq. We learned only the other day from a belated partial report by the Senate Intelligence Committee that U.S. intelligence analysts were strongly disputing the alleged links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda while senior Bush administration officials were publicly asserting those links to justify invading Iraq. We learned as well that our intelligence people knew Saddam Hussein had actually tried to capture Zarqawi and that the claim that Zarqawi and he were somehow in cahoots was utterly repudiated last fall by the CIA. None of this stopped the Vice President or President — who as late as this August 21 insisted that Saddam “had relations with Zarqawi” — from continuing to make such implicit or explicit linkages even as they also backtracked from the claims.
As is often the case, under such lies and manipulations lurks a deeper truth. In this case, let’s call it the truth of wish fulfillment. The link between 9/11 and Iraq is unfortunately all too real. The Bush administration made it so in the heat of the post-9/11 shock.
Think of that link this way: In the immediate wake of 9/11, our President and Vice President hijacked our country, using the low-tech rhetorical equivalents of box cutters and mace; then, with most passengers on board and not quite enough of the spirit of United Flight 93 to spare, after a brief Afghan overflight, they crashed the plane of state directly into Iraq, causing the equivalent of a Katrina that never ends and turning that country — from Basra in the south to the border of Kurdistan — into the global equivalent of Ground Zero.
Tom Engelhardt [send him mail] is editor of TomDispatch.com, a project of the Nation Institute. He is the author of several books, including The Last Days of Publishing: A Novel, The End of Victory Culture, and in the fall, Mission Unaccomplished (Nation Books), the first collection of Tomdispatch interviews. His new blog is The Notion.