For those who are left
WHO CAN blame the long-suffering people of Iraq for taking to the streets, waving flags, and generally celebrating deep into the night? When word of V-E Day, then V-J Day, came via American newspapers, people on these shores were photographed kissing strangers in Times Square.
The prime minister of Iraq sounded near euphoric when Mosul finally fell, emphasis on fell. For the place remains in ruins.
“This great feast day crowned the victories of the fighters and the Iraqis for the past three years,” Haider al-Abadi fairly shouted. “From the heart of the liberated city of Mosul with the sacrifices of Iraqis from all the provinces, we announce the major victory for all Iraq and Iraqis.”
Last week, Iraqi forces finally captured the capital of ISIS and the country’s second-largest city three years after it was taken over by terrorists bent on making it the center of their global caliphate. In a modern-day Battle of Cowpens, the Iraqis backed the last pocket of resistance against the banks of the Tigris. The difference between last week’s battle and that long-ago struggle in another era: This time the aggressor won. Thank God.
But it wasn’t easy. It might be years before a “final” death toll can be reached. If ever. Does anybody know the exact figures after the Battle of the Bulge? Down to the last man? For, to that last man, one number off is the difference between his life and his death. It matters.
Those who’ve been watching Mosul just say “thousands dead.” Because there’s no way to know how many allies have been killed by terrorists, terrorists killed by allies, terrorists killed by terrorists, civilians killed by terrorists, civilians killed by allies . . . . A more specific number, but doubtless just as wrong, is that 897,000 people have been “displaced,” which is UN-talk for people living in tents, if they’re lucky. And on the run, hungry, and fearful of every sound.
They say the city has been reduced to rubble from the airstrikes, suicide bombers and shelling. Fighters for the government had to blow holes in walls, house to house, to make something of a supply chain to avoid snipers. The city still must be cleared of explosives that remain booby-trapped to doors and windows and childrens’ toys. Which is no surprise. In the last few days, ISIS fighters used their own families—their wives and daughters—as human shields. Why wouldn’t they booby-trap toys? This is the nature of the enemy.
So now the government of Iraq declares a week-long holiday to celebrate its victory. Which reminds us, once again, of a writer named Orwell. In his book about speaking animals on a farm (which was really about the Soviet Union in the 1930s and ’ 40s), around about chapter 8 the animals fought off the neighboring humans at the Battle of the Windmill. It was symbolic of the Nazi invasion of 1941-45, which left the USSR in ruins, not that the comrades in Moscow or the pigs in the farmhouse would notice. Or as only an Orwell could put it in Animal Farm:
“They had won, but they were weary and bleeding. Slowly they began to limp back towards the farm. The sight of their dead comrades stretched upon the grass moved some of them to tears. And for a little while they halted in sorrowful silence at the place where the windmill had once stood. Yes, it was gone; almost the last trace of their labour was gone . . . .
“As they approached the farm, Squealer, who had unaccountably been absent during the fighting, came skipping towards them, whisking his tail and beaming with satisfaction. And the animals heard, from the direction of the farm buildings, the solemn booming of a gun.
“‘What is that gun firing for?’ said Boxer. “‘To celebrate our victory!’ cried Squealer.
“‘What victory?’ said Boxer. His knees were bleeding, he had lost a shoe and split a hoof, and a dozen pellets had lodged themselves in his hind leg . . . .”
They had won, but they were weary and bleeding.
Those who’ve spent the last few years in Mosul know this all too well.