You’ve heard the president and vice president say it over and over in various ways: There was a connection between the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and Iraq. Let’s take this seriously and consider some of the links between the two.
Numbers and Comparisons
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.
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 percent this year (which would more than double last year’s 32 percent rise); stagnant salaries (where they even exist); an “inert” banking system; gas and electricity prices up in a year by 270 percent; 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 percent (the recent Pentagon report to Congress offers Iraqi government figures of 18 percent unemployment and 34 percent 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 percent 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 percent of Iraqi children are stunted in their growth.
In other words, economically speaking, Iraq has essentially been deconstructed.
Diving Into Iraq
On Dec. 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 Mohammed Atta, the lead hijacker, had met the previous April in Prague with a “senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service.” On Sept. 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 Aug. 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.
Copyright 2006 Tom Engelhardt