Iraqi Blogger Riverbend’s 15 Lessons from a Decade of War Underscore Why War and Violence Solve Nothing

As Bostonians and American continue to reel from the bombing on Monday at the city’s world famous marathon footrace that killed three people and injured scores, one of the most famous bloggers of the Iraq War—a young Iraqi woman known as Riverbend—has returned after a six-year hiatus with a reminder that violence and war never solves anything.

Last week, on the tenth anniversary of the U.S. entry into Baghdad, the 33-year-old blogger wrote about the lessons she has observed in the past decade in her country, which she and her family fled. These lessons are a striking counterpoint and context for Americans to ponder—not just because our country led a war of choice in Iraq; but because the horror of the Boston attacks would be considered an everyday occurrence in Iraq.

What follows are Riverbend’s 15 lessons from a decade of war.

1. Life isn’t fair. Neither is death. “We learned that while life is not fair, death is even less fair- it takes the good people. Even in death you can be unlucky. Lucky ones die a ‘normal’ death… A familiar death of cancer, or a heart attack, or stroke. Unlucky ones have to be collected in bits and pieces. Their families trying to bury what can be salvaged and scraped off of streets that have seen so much blood, it is a wonder they are not red.”

2. A rich county can fall into poverty. “We learned that you can be floating on a sea of oil, but your people can be destitute. Your city can be an open sewer; your women and children can be eating out of trash dumps and begging for money in foreign lands.”

3. Justice is a fable not a daily reality. “We learned that justice does not prevail in this day and age. Innocent people are persecuted and executed daily. Some of them in courts, some of them in streets, and some of them in the private torture chambers.”

4. Selfishness and corruption rules. “We are learning that corruption is the way to go. You want a passport issued? Pay someone. You want a document ratified? Pay someone. You want someone dead? Pay someone.”

5. American taxpayers made some Iraqis rich. “We learned that it’s not that difficult to make billions disappear.”

6. Civilized society can easily collapse. “We are learning that those amenities we took for granted before 2003, you know- the luxuries – electricity, clean water from faucets, walkable streets, safe schools – those are for deserving populations. Those are for people who don’t allow occupiers into their country.”

7. Warmongers don’t stick around. “We’re learning that the biggest fans of the occupation (you know who you are, you traitors) eventually leave abroad. And where do they go? The USA, most likely, with the UK a close second. If I were an American, I’d be outraged... I’d stand in passport control and ask them, “Weren’t you happy when we invaded your country? Weren’t you happy we liberated you? Go back. Go back to the country you’re so happy with because now, you’re free!”

8. Militias are locked in cycles of violence. “We’re learning that militias aren’t particular about who they kill. The easiest thing in the world would be to say that Shia militias kill Sunnis and Sunni militias kill Shia, but that’s not the way it works. That’s too simple.”

9. The media fanned the flames of war. “We’re learning that the leaders don’t make history. Populations don’t make history. Historians don’t write history. News networks do. The Foxes, and CNNs, and BBCs, and Jazeeras of the world make history. They twist and turn things to fit their own private agendas.”

10. Obama’s is as hypocritical as Bush. “We’re learning that the masks are off. No one is ashamed of the hypocrisy anymore. You can be against one country (like Iran), but empowering them somewhere else (like in Iraq). You can claim to be against religious extremism (like in Afghanistan), but promoting religious extremism somewhere else (like in Iraq and Egypt and Syria).”

11. The Iraq war did not deliver democracy. “Those who didn’t know it in 2003 are learning (much too late) that an occupation is not the portal to freedom and democracy. The occupiers do not have your best interests at heart.”

12. Mistaken beliefs do not change. “We are learning that ignorance is the death of civilized societies and that everyone thinks their particular form of fanaticism is acceptable.

13. Political propaganda still works. “We are learning how easy it is to manipulate populations with their own prejudices and that politics and religion never mix, even if a super-power says they should mix.”

However, Riverbend also said that the experience of a decade of war “wasn’t all a bad education.” She said that she learned that individuals have a great capacity to show the brighter side of human nature where institutions fail. 

14. Kindness and generosity still exists. “We learned that you sometimes receive kindness when you least expect it. We learned that people often step outside of the stereotypes we build for them and surprise us. We learned and continue to learn that there is strength in numbers and that Iraqis are not easy to oppress. It is a matter of time…”

But she said that those who were responsible for a decade of war and its brutal aftermath have largely emerged unscathed and have not been held accountable. She asks where are the warmongers now, and ponders whether they will emerge again and seek to enrich themselves or take new political power.

“Ahmed Chalabi, Iyad Allawi, Ibrahim Jaafari, Tarek Al Hashemi and the rest of the vultures, where are they now? Have they crawled back under their rocks in countries like the USA, the UK, etc.?” she writes. “What about George Bush, Condi, Wolfowitz, and Powell? Will they ever be held accountable for the devastation and the death they wrought in Iraq? Saddam was held accountable for 300,000 Iraqis... Surely someone should be held accountable for the million or so?”

15. The Iraq war did not make America safe. “After all is said and done, we shouldn’t forget what this was about - making America safer... And are you safer Americans? If you are, why is it that we hear more and more about attacks on your embassies and diplomats? Why is it that you are constantly warned to not go to this country or that one? Is it better now, ten years down the line? Do you feel safer?”

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