USC Students for Justice in Palestine

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Anthony Arnove compares Iraq and Darfur

Posted by uscsjp on March 19, 2007

As you read this, we’re four years from the moment the Bush administration launched its shock-and-awe assault on Iraq, beginning 48 months of remarkable, non-stop destruction of that country … and still counting. It’s an important moment for taking stock of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Here is a short rundown of some of what George Bush’s war and occupation has wrought:
Nowhere on Earth is there a worse refugee crisis than in Iraq today. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, some two million Iraqis have fled their country and are now scattered from Jordan, Syria, Turkey, and Iran to London and Paris. (Almost none have made it to the United States, which has done nothing to address the refugee crisis it created.) Another 1.9 million are estimated to be internally displaced persons, driven from their homes and neighborhoods by the U.S. occupation and the vicious civil war it has sparked. Add those figures up – and they’re getting worse by the day – and you have close to 16% of the Iraqi population uprooted. Add the dead to the displaced, and that figure rises to nearly one in five Iraqis. Let that sink in for a moment…

Given the disaster that Iraq is today, you could keep listing terrible numbers until your mind was numb. But here’s another way of putting the last four years in context. In that same period, there have, in fact, been a large number of deaths in a distant land on the minds of many people in the United States: Darfur. Since 2003, according to UN estimates, some 200,000 have been killed in the Darfur region of Sudan in a brutal ethnic-cleansing campaign and another 2 million have been turned into refugees.

How would you know this? Well, if you lived in New York City, at least, you could hardly take a subway ride without seeing an ad that reads: “400,000 dead. Millions uniting to save Darfur.” The New York Times has also regularly featured full-page ads describing the “genocide” in Darfur and calling for intervention there under “a chain of command allowing necessary and timely military action without approval from distant political or civilian personnel.”

In those same years, according to the best estimate available, the British medical journal The Lancet’s door-to-door study of Iraqi deaths, approximately 655,000 Iraqis had died in war, occupation, and civil strife between March 2003 and June 2006 … And you certainly won’t see, as in the case of Darfur, celebrities on Good Morning America talking about their commitment to stopping “genocide” in Iraq.

Why is it that we are counting and thinking about the Sudanese dead as part of a high-profile, celebrity-driven campaign to “Save Darfur,” yet Iraqi deaths still go effectively uncounted, and rarely seem to provoke moral outrage, let alone public campaigns to end the killing? And why are the numbers of killed in Darfur cited without any question, while the numbers of Iraqi dead, unless pitifully low-ball figures, are instantly challenged — or dismissed?

In our world, it seems, there are the worthy victims and the unworthy ones. To get at the difference, consider the posture of the United States toward the Sudan and Iraq. According to the Bush administration, Sudan is a “rogue state”; it is on the State Department’s list of “state sponsors of terrorism.” It stands accused of attacking the United States through its role in the suicide-boat bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. And then, of course — as Mahmood Mamdani pointed out in the London Review of Books recently — Darfur fits neatly into a narrative of “Muslim-on-Muslim violence,” of a “genocide perpetrated by Arabs,” a line of argument that appeals heavily to those who would like to change the subject from what the United States has done — and is doing — in Iraq. Talking about U.S. accountability for the deaths of the Iraqis we supposedly liberated is a far less comfortable matter.

It’s okay to discuss U.S. “complicity” in human rights abuses, but only as long as you remain focused on sins of omission, not commission. We are failing the people of Darfur by not militarily intervening. If only we had used our military more aggressively. When, however, we do intervene, and wreak havoc in the process, it’s another matter. (continued)

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