By Ryan Endicott
The author was a U.S. Marine Infantryman (Corporal USMC) who served in Ramadi, Iraq in 2005, and is currently a member of March Forward!
The Pentagon has reported that the first soldier killed fighting ISIL was Master Sgt Joshua L. Wheeler. A 20-year veteran, Wheeler was killed during a special operations raid near the city of Kirkuk. Wheeler was seen running into the fight when Kurdish forces were being pushed back by ISIL. As a result, an estimated 70 prisoners were freed.
Wheeler enlisted in the Army infantry after high school, in 1995, and was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan three times before 2004. After being stationed with a special operations command out of Fort Bragg, Wheeler deployed 11 more times to Iraq and Afghanistan. A highly decorated soldier, he was awarded 11 Bronze Star medals, the Purple Heart (posthumously), and has received many additional commendations. Wheeler graduated high school in a class of 100 youths in a small Oklahoma town. He was known and highly respected by everyone in his community. One classmate said, “He was just laid back, but he would keep you laughing. Everybody loved him, everybody. He had a kind heart, and he was a really funny guy.”
A legacy of death: Imperialism out of control
By the time the U.S. officially “ended” the war in 2011, the reality of the occupation was a grim story plagued with a bloody trail of millions of dead Iraqi women, men, and children. While estimates range greatly, it can be safely said that well over 1.5 million people, or five percent of the total population (with some estimates as high as two million), were killed by the brutal U.S. occupation of Iraq. For comparison, in the “most bloody war in U.S. history,” the U.S. Civil War, only 2.5 percent of the population was killed. At least another four million people have been injured, and at least two million Iraqis have been displaced. In 2003 alone, the U.S. carpet bombed Iraq conducting 29,200 airstrikes in the invasion.
For the next eight years, the U.S. conducted another 3,900 bombing missions. After nine years of relentlessly bombing hospitals, schools, bridges, electricity and trash depots, the entire Iraqi infrastructure has been obliterated. Consequently, the occupation has left the war torn people of Iraq in an apocalyptic land poisoned with depleted uranium. With no access to clean water, food, and basic utilities, in conjunction with the chemical toxicity, the conditions are so difficult that one in three babies born in Fallujah died before their first week. Of those new babies that survived their first week, another one in three died before their first month, and many children that made it to their first birthday, will suffer an exorbitantly high deformity rate. Furthermore, an entire generation of Iraqi children has grown up from toddlers to adulthood in a country devastated by war, forced to survive as nearly five percent of the population is murdered, just over eleven percent are brutally injured, and roughly six percent become refugees.
To add insult to injury, once the U.S. had secured its interests—oil and valuable nature resources—the U.S. “ended” the war by pulling out some of its military forces while increasing its private contractors, essentially privatizing much of the war effort. The U.S. paid no reparations to rebuild the country it had destroyed. The result was the Iraqi people were left struggling to survive as the wealth of their country, that before the war had been invested in free healthcare, education, and housing programs, was sucked from beneath their feet by Wall Street.
As the U.S. war in Iraq began to wind down, the U.S. shifted its policy to other countries in the region with nationalized resources. The U.S. waged a propaganda campaign against Iran, installing genocidal economic sanctions that targeted medical supplies and basic human needs. Then in 2011, the U.S. began a bombing campaign in Libya killing over thirty thousand women, men, and children, as U.S. sponsored “rebels” waged a savage terror campaign on the ground. “Rebel” forces were reported to have conducted mass lynching of black Libyans as well as conducting mass executions of Gaddafi supporters. Like the devastating impact in Iraq, the carpet bombing campaign completely destroyed the Libyan infrastructure. Subsequently, the U.S. started a relentless campaign with the intention of bombing Syria. This campaign, as in Libya, led to the U.S. directly supporting “rebel” forces that were clearly and directly tied to Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda affiliates, and extremist elements that would later form into ISIS/ISIL.
In the midst of this regional destabilization, with U.S. funds, weapons, and training being funneled into rightwing and extremist “Islamic” forces, one of the most ruthless and savage forces in the region’s history was born: ISIL. In 2014, ISIL organized and launched an offensive in which it gained huge swaths of land in Iraq, seizing Ramadi, the capital of the Anbar Providence (next to Fallujah) in the summer of 2015. ISIL, like the U.S. before it, has left a trail of death and destruction, conducting mass executions and mass rape as it pillages it way across the region.
What is clear is that the U.S. drive for profit, privatization, and control over natural resources in the Middle East, has completely devastated the entire region. Further, as Joshua Wheeler is brought home in a casket, what is also clear is that the legacy of U.S. imperialism in Iraq is far from over, and many of the worst impacts of the occupation are still yet to be seen.