A few weeks before he was murdered last month by gun-wielding men on motorcycles on the streets of Baghdad, the head of the Association of University Lecturers in Iraq, Assam al-Rawi, wrote an open letter published in an English-language Lebanese newspaper. Al-Rawi, a geologist, described repeated and inexplicable attacks on his institution's building by Iraqi and American soldiers, and asked for outside help. The letter was in a way more shocking than the violence that eventually did him in: Two weeks before his own death, this Sunni educator's language was still that of a man who believed somehow, against all evidence around him to the contrary, in the rule of law and retained faith in the possibility of rational behavior.
Hope dies hard, doesn't it?
A few days before our Thanksgiving, the director of the Iraq National Library and Archive closed the doors of his institution indefinitely after it was bombed three times in three weeks, shelled repeatedly for days and had one of its librarians murdered.
It's not clear why, but since the beginning of the invasion of Iraq, 300 Iraqi academics have been assassinated, some under deeply suspicious circumstances. The dean of a Baghdad University, Dr. Khalid al-Judi, narrowly escaped death earlier this year in an attack carried out, according to his bodyguard, by men in flak jackets riding in a four wheel drive GMC truck and carrying American-made rifles. British journalist Patrick Cockburn, who interviewed the bodyguard, reported that the men were likely members of the cadre of mercenaries working for various corporate and government interests in Iraq. "A GMC with the windows down so the men inside can shoot quickly usually indicates former soldiers working for a foreign security company," Cockburn reported. "They were as likely to be South African or British as American."
British-Iraqi sociologist Sami Ramadani, in an open letter to fellow British academics this week, begged his colleagues in western universities to think of their "moral duty to remember the dead and defend the living" among academic associates. The British School of Archaeology in Iraq is gathering funds to assists Iraqi scholars and museums. www.britac.ac.uk/institutes/iraq/newappeal.htm
Here in the United States, the masterminds of Iraq's total ruination - Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle and Feith - remain members of the ruling elite. They go about their business chastened perhaps - or not - by the recent election, but apparently in no danger of being called to account for the 150,000 (or 600,000-plus) Iraqis who have died as a result of their Frankensteinian experiment in nation-building.
We now know with certainty, thanks to the reportage of Risen, Ricks and Woodward, among others, that our worst imaginings of the incompetence and utter inhumanity of our leaders never approximated what was really going on in the White House and the Pentagon.
The American electorate, surprisingly roused momentarily from its obsession with Play Stations 3 by three years of real-time video carnage or maybe just high gas prices, voted last month to throw the bums out of Congress, opening the way for a discussion of American troop withdrawal. For that, we are supposed to be grateful. Americans come home. Yellow ribbons shelved. End of story. Back to the X-Box.
The insurmountable and unspoken and likely never-to-be-attempted real job - moral imperative, really - for the Democrats is this: Justice for the dead, the dying, and the living-but-hopeless in ruined Iraq.
Democrats in Congress, thinking about 2008 and suspecting, probably correctly, that any attempt to do more than get the troops home -- any attempt to sweat Rummy, Cheney, Bush, Wolfowitz, Bremer, Perle and Feith under oath - will bore and annoy those precious "independents" they so need to win elections, will not be bringing these men to account.
It's a crying shame that the architects of our national shame and Iraq's sad disaster, men who shock-and-awed an already ten-years-starved country and then systematically and deliberately dismantled every civil function that had survived the bombing and sanctions - can plan to spend the rest of their days floating around Washington and New York and points west in black limousines, secure and fed behind layers of security, denying their crimes into dotage, while their innocent victims in Iraq fill more graves than Saddam's men could have hoped to dig in decades.