Bloody Iraq & Its Future: Part I

"This two-part lesson, with readings and, in Part II, suggested classroom activities, is aimed at helping students consider and develop opinions on the war in Iraq. Part I: What Is Going Right and What Is Going Wrong? Part II: How to Get Out?"

By Alan Shapiro

To the Teacher:
The student readings in Part I and Part II of "Bloody Iraq and Its Future" offer assessments of the situation in Iraq. The reading in Part I summarizes the Bush administration's perspective and then that of its critics. The reading in Part II presents a selection of proposals for ending the American occupation and getting out of Iraq. At the end of Part II are suggestions for classroom activities based on the readings.
If students need more background information, the teacher might find useful the following, all of which are available on this website:
  • Iraq and the United States: The Road to War includes a capsule history of Iraq, a profile of Saddam Hussein, the weapons of mass destruction issue and the United Nations
  • A Democratic Iraq? includes a capsule history of Iraq and discussion of the prospects for democracy in that country
  • American Misconceptions about the War on Iraq covers Bush administration statements during the period before the war and public opinion polls
  • American Treatment of Iraqi and Afghan Prisoners and American Treatment of Iraqi and Afghan Prisoners: Who Is to Blame? cover charges of abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere and determining responsibility
A note on terminology: Various terms are used in the media and by U.S. officials to name those opposing the U.S. occupation and the interim Iraqi governmentóterms such as rebels, terrorists, anti-Iraqi forces, thugs, criminals, and insurgents. Here it seems fairest to refer to the apparent variety of opposing forces as insurgents. According to Webster's Collegiate, an insurgent is "a person who revolts against civil authority or an established government." The civil authorities in Iraq are a blend of American troops and American-appointed and/or trained people. There is no "established government" and won't be even if, as scheduled, elections take place on January 30, 2005 for a provisional national assembly.


Student Reading

Iraq: What Is Going Right and What Is Going Wrong?

What is going right in Iraq?
The removal from power of Iraq's tyrannical ruler, Saddam Hussein, his capture, and his coming trial as a war criminal would probably be high on most people's list of what has gone right in Iraq since the U.S. attack on March 20, 2003. Most of the other top Iraqi leaders have also been captured. They and Saddam Hussein are unquestionably responsible for such terrible crimes as the torture and murder of tens of thousands of Iraqis, chemical attacks against other Iraqis as well as Iranians, and the brutal repression of a dictatorship that lasted for 25 years.
Since the American occupation of Iraq began, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has been the lead U.S. agency in the reconstruction and redevelopment of Iraq. It offers on its website ( a detailed accounting of the many projects it oversees and states: "The emergency relief and reconstruction aid delivered to Iraq during the 12 months since the fall of Saddam Hussein in April 2003 was the biggest U.S. foreign aid program since the Marshall Plan [which aimed to rebuild Europe after World War II], delivering $3.3 billion in help to Iraq's people."
A partial list of USAID-supported projects in Iraq include:
  • Restoring and repairing the electric power grid, bridges, water systems, sewage systems, the Baghdad telephone system and providing new railroad track construction. Iraq now has more electric power capacity than it did before the war.
  • Repairing and rehabilitating health clinics and hospitals and more than 2,400
  • schools; providing desks, chairs, books and other furniture and supplies for schools.
  • Vaccinating over 3 million children and 700,000 pregnant women; supplying doses of Vitamin A for more than 600,000 children and 1.5 million lactating mothers.
  • Providing teacher, health educator, and administrator training.
  • Restoring marshland devastated by Saddam Hussein in vengeance against the people who lived and worked there.
  • Expanding tracts of land for farming, providing high-quality wheat seed to farmers, and vaccinating animals.
  • Supporting the development of local and national Iraqi governing councils and preparations for national elections.
  • Helping local groups to tackle a variety of community projects.
The U.S. military has been training Iraqi troops "so they can fight off the thugs and the killers and terrorists who want to destroy the progress of a free society," said President Bush at a news conference on December 12, 2004. He added that "there were some really fine [pro-American Iraqi] units in Najaf, that did their duty....Recruiting is strong."
"There are five steps in our plan to help Iraq achieve democracy and freedom," the president has announced. "We will hand over authority to a sovereign Iraqi government, help establish security, continue rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure, encourage more international support, and move toward a national election that will bring forward new leaders empowered by the Iraq people." (5/24/04)
In a speech to Marines at Camp Pendleton, California (12/7/04), the president declared, "Next month, Iraqis will vote in free and democratic elections. As election day approaches, we can expect further violence from the terrorists. You see, the terrorists understand what is at stake. They know they have no future in a free Iraq because free people never choose their own enslavement. They know democracy will give Iraqis a stake in the future of their country. When Iraqis choose their leaders in free elections, it will destroy the myth that the terrorists are fighting a foreign occupation and make clear that what the terrorists are really fighting is the will of the Iraqi people. The success of democracy in Iraq will also inspire others across the Middle East to defend their own freedom against extremists on the fringe of society with no agenda for the future except tyranny and death...."
Bush has also said that "the idea of democracy taking hold in what was a place of tyranny and hatred and destruction is such a hopeful moment in the history of the world. I'm confident democracy will prevail in Iraq." (12/21/04)
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said to reporters, "There is violence in Iraq, to be sure. But notwithstanding that, hundreds of refugees are returning to Iraq every week. It's estimated that over 140,000 refugees have returned already. Why would they do this?....Clearly these refugees returning home see better days ahead." (12/22/04)
President Bush holds up the prospect of an Iraqi election, scheduled for January 30, 2005, as the brightest hope for Iraq. In that election, the U.S. and its allies in Iraq hope that 14 million eligible voters will create a provisional national assembly,18 provincial councils, and a regional Kurdish parliament. Running for offices in religious, secular, and tribal coalitions, are members of Iraq's three major groups:
  • Shiite Muslims, most of whom live in the south and make up about 60 percent of the country's population of 25,000,000
  • Sunni Muslims, who live in the central area of Iraq and account for 20 percent of the population
  • Kurds, mostly northerners, who also make up some 20 percent of Iraq's people
The task of the provisional national assembly is to draft a permanent constitution to be submitted to the Iraqi people for ratification by October. If approved, voters will elect a fully constitutional government by the end of 2005.
What is going wrong in Iraq?
Critics say that going to war in the first place was wrong.
All of President Bush's repeated statements about Iraq's "direct threat" to U.S. security were wrong. Bush-appointed search teams found no stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons in Iraq, as the president said there were. Iraq had no nuclear weapons program, as he said it did. According to the Bush-appointed 9/11 commission, there is "no credible information that Iraq and Al Qaeda cooperated in attacks against the United States," as the president suggested they had. Nor, reported the commission, did any contacts "appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship" between Iraq and Al Qaeda, as the president said there had been.
U.S. troops were not greeted with flowers, as some administration officials had predicted, but with a rising, violent insurgency. And now, terrorists from outside Iraq are being drawn to the country by the U.S. attack and occupation.
Going to war has meant the deaths and maimings of countless Iraqi soldiers, the deaths of as many as 100,000 Iraqi civilians, and the maimings of many others. More than 1300 American soldiers have died, and some 10,000 have been wounded. After suffering the stress and mayhem of war, many tens of thousands of American soldiers and Iraqis will suffer mental health problems for years to come. Continuing U.S. bombings have devastated Fallujah and other Iraqi towns and left many people homeless.
Revelations about the abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere have horrified Americans and the world. Contrary to statements by U.S. officials that illegal acts had been committed by a few, a Red Cross director said, "We are dealing here with a broad pattern, not individual acts." White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales advised President Bush that the war on terrorism "renders obsolete Geneva's [that is, the internationally recognized Geneva Conventions'] strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners." So far, only soldiers and their immediate superiors have been charged with abuse and torture or responsibility for them. But, critics charge, responsibility in the chain of command reaches to generals, the secretary of defense, and ultimately the president.
Critics have said repeatedly that there were not and are not enough American troops to control the country. They charge that except for Britain's 8,500 soldiers, most of the other forces in the coalition are too few to make a significant difference. The U.S. failed to secure enough international support and international troops because of widespread world opposition to the American invasion. As a result:
  • Looting. After the American invasion, there were not enough soldiers to prevent widespread, uncontrolled Iraqi looting. Libraries, museums, theaters, and universities,were stripped of priceless books and archaeological treasures, computers, and furniture. Stockpiles of munitions were taken from weapons depots. And biological agents and radiological material was stolen from public health institutions. Now a rising insurgency has attracted fighters and terrorists to Iraq.
  • Kidnappings and execution-style murders of Iraqis. Everyone from laundresses to interim government ministers associated with the American occupation have been kidnapped and executed. Insurgents regularly attack and kill American-trained Iraqi police and other security forces and are responsible for car bomb explosions at police stations and other security facilities. They also attack Shiite Muslim leaders and mosques in what appears to be an attempt to foment civil war with Sunni Muslims, many of them former supporters of Saddam Hussein.
  • Danger for U.S. forces. On December 21,as soldiers were eating lunch at their military base in Mosul, a suicide bomber exploded a powerful bomb that ripped through their large tent. Twenty-two people were killed, including fourteen U.S. troops. Dozens of others were wounded. Road bomb explosions amid American truck and military convoys carrying supplies, soldiers, and Marines are frequent. For example, the 20-kilometer road between the Baghdad International Airport and the heavily fortified Green Zone is the most dangerous road in Iraq. (Included in the Green Zone are offices and housing for hundreds of American Embassy employees and the headquarters for the Iraqi provisional government.) This crucial road is so insecure that supplies and troops are being ferried, at high expense, by helicopters. If the U.S. cannot ensure security for its troops in their mess hall or on a road between the major Iraqi airport and its own headquarters, how can it ensure the safety of Iraqis at thousands of polling places on January 30?
  • Difficulties training Iraqi forces. According to President Bush, the U.S. has had only "mixed" success in training Iraqi security forces. It was "unacceptable," he said, that some Iraqi units had fled when they faced insurgent fire, and "the whole command structure necessary to have a viable military is not in place." (12/20/04) While as of November 2004 the U.S. military had recruited and trained 114,000 Iraqis for security forces, they are "bottom level," in the view of Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John Warner, who had recently returned from a visit to Iraq (12/19/04). Targeting American-trained Iraqi security forces, insurgents have killed hundreds of police officers over the past year. Many Iraqi police officers now wear face masks while on duty because they are so frightened of retribution. (New York Times, 12/29/04)
  • Poor decision-making. Paul Bremer, the former chief American administrator in Iraq, disbanded without pay the Iraqi army, creating a new army of 350,000 unemployed men ripe for the insurgency. He added to that insurgency by banning the hiring of members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, many of whom had joined the party only because it was virtually required in order to get a higher-level job. Economic and social planning was mostly placed in the hands of Americans hired more for their political loyalty than for their competence and knowledge of Iraq. Congressionally authorized spending for reconstruction has been slow and at times misdirected.
  • Inadequate planning. The U.S. Pentagon was not prepared for the strong Iraqi insurgency. Insurgents have repeatedly dynamited pipelines intended for oil that was supposed to pay much of the cost of the occupation. They have sabotaged electrical power facilities, leaving hundreds of thousands of Iraqis without heat and light during cold winter days and fans or air conditioning during the torrid summers. Nor did the Pentagon planners prepare sufficiently for the equipment needs of U.S. troops, notably body armor and armored vehicles. As a result, American troops have been needlessly killed and wounded.
  • Growing insurgency. While it is impossible to say how many insurgents there are in Iraq, it is clear that there are thousands. They attack daily, especially in the region extending from Baghdad in central Iraq to towns to the north and west. In December 2004, every day there were many dozens of attacks. For instance, Saturday, December 4, 2004, saw the following:
- Mortar attack on Green Zone in Baghdad.
- Attack on Baghdad police station, killing at least 16
- Baghdad car bombing killing 18 outside a Shiite mosque
- Roadside bomb killing of one U.S. soldier near Kirkuk in northern Iraq
- Discovery of ten bodies in Mosul, including 9 Iraqi National Guardsmen
- Discovery of five bullet-riddled bodies in Sinjar, west of Mosul
- Killing of two American soldiers
- Car bombing in Mosul alongside bus bringing in Kurdish militiamen, killing 18
- Killing of 3 Turkish truckers by roadside bomb near Mosul
The Pentagon's original plan was by the end of 2003 to reduce U.S. forces to 50,000. The plan now is to increase U.S. forces to 150,000, especially for security during the scheduled January 30, 2005 Iraqi elections. Insurgent attacks on candidates and polling stations to sabotage the elections have already begun.
Leading Sunnis are urging a voters' boycott, arguing that a fair election is impossible when there is so much daily violence, especially in Sunni areas. If, as a result, Sunnis are underrepresented in the provisional national assembly, they will view it, and any constitution it produces, as illegitimate. This will almost certainly fuel further insurgent violence.
"A classified cable sent by the Central Intelligence Agency's station chief in Baghdad has warned that the situation in Iraq is deteriorating and may not rebound any time soon, according to government officials. The cable [was] sent last month." (New York Times, 12/7/04)
"A classified National Intelligence Estimate prepared for President Bush in late July spells out a dark assessment of prospects for Iraq....The estimate outlines three possibilities for Iraq through the end of 2005, with the worst case being developments that could lead to civil war....The most favorable outcome described is an Iraq whose stability would remain tenuous in political, economic, and security terms. 'There's a significant amount of pessimism,' said one government official who has read the document...."
(New York Times, 9/16/04)
For discussion
1. What questions do students have about the reading? How might they be answered?
2. Can students add to the accounts of what has gone right and what has gone wrong in Iraq?
3. Consider the president's five-step plan "to help Iraq achieve democracy and freedom." What accomplishments to date support the president's vision? Which of the steps do students think will be hardest to accomplish? Why?
4. In the judgment of students, what are the worst things that have gone wrong in Iraq? How do they account for them?
5. Why, according to a National Intelligence Estimate, does Iraq face the danger of civil war? What do students know about the three major divisions in Iraqi society—Shiite Muslims, Sunni Muslims, and Kurds? Other groups, such as Christians and Turkmen, are very small minorities.

This lesson was written for TeachableMoment.Org, a project of Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. We welcome your comments. Please email them to: