What has my new country, the United States, done to my old country, Iraq?

The Baghdad I knew growing up was a place where people of different faiths and different sects lived in an atmosphere of tolerance and acceptance. Though my family encountered some discrimination because we were Christians, hostility and violence were rare.

Compare that with Iraq today. A recent Johns Hopkins University report put the number of violent Iraqi civilian deaths at more than 600,000 since the U.S. invasion. The level of violence has been reported to be so bad that Iraqi groups would enter a hospital and select certain patients for murder.

This is one of the most barbaric forms of human behavior–the lowest of the low. Killing wounded patients in a hospital runs contrary to hundreds of years of Arab and Muslim tradition of protecting the elderly, women, the wounded and children even during open warfare. The Arab armies, after the seventh century, introduced to the world this revolutionary code of conduct, breaking the old tradition of killing and/or enslaving everyone conquered.

The daily carnage of hundreds killed and wounded and the natural desire for self-preservation, at any cost, have resulted in the decline of the moral fabric of Iraqi society. The level of lawlessness and the deterioration of social controls on behavior are continuing to slide downward.

Journalists are hunted down and abused or killed. Hundreds of Iraqis are changing their names in order to hide their religious identity. Iraqis can no longer socialize with different religious groups or marry from another group. Churches and mosques are being bombed. Thugs and criminals with guns roam the streets of Baghdad and other large cities looking for an opportune target to rob or kill.

I grew up in Baghdad as a Catholic Chaldean, a member of the group that ruled the region more than 2,600 years ago. Chaldeans are associated with the Babylonian dynasty and its famous king, Nebuchadnezzar. There are about 1 million of us left all over the world.

Most of my friends in Iraq were Muslims, and in most cases I neither knew nor cared whether they were Sunni or Shiite. These friends never pushed their sect on anyone. Family connections and friendships between Christians and Muslims and among the various sects were strong. More important, the bond of friendship trumped any religion or sect differences then. I know many families and individuals who will go to bat for their friends regardless of their religion.

So, what has the U.S. war done to unearth this sectarian hatred? Psychologists tell me that major life events can lead to self-destructive behavior for some. Or is it simply what Michael Walzer, author of the 1977 classic Just and Unjust Wars, said: “Military defeat and government collapse may so shock a social system as to open the way for a radical renovation of its political arrangements.”

Is this what we have done to Iraq? The invasion and its aftermath caused such a major trauma to the people of Iraq that now some have become self-destructive. Iraq is crying for help. Iraq is in need of compassion and understanding soon, before it slides into Dante’s inferno.

Adil E. Shamoo, who was born and raised in Baghdad, is a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus (online at www.fpif.org).

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