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“The US war in Iraq declared officially over”

So reads the headlines in today’s New York Times and it’s hard to know how to understand this day, how to overlay its terrible chronology onto the chronology of one’s life: I was, as perhaps were you, at the “No Blood for Oil” protests on February 15, 2003, in New York City—the simultaneous worldwide protests that day constituting the largest mass protest movement in history, and yet to what effect? The war started just over a month later, and lasted until today, though we cannot doubt that the war is over for the US much more than it’s over for the Iraqis.

4,487 Americans are dead; 32,226 wounded in action. For the Iraqis, statistics are harder both to arrive at and to face up to: civilian deaths are conservatively estimated at 113,728, and could be higher than 655,000. And how do we measure the environmental destruction, the loss of millions of refugees, the millions internally displaced? The toll of civil conflict, the years of bombings, the influx of foreign fighters, the devastation to a society… As Ahmed Rashid wrote as recently September 11 of this year: “Of the two invasions—Iraq and Afghanistan—and the one state-salvaging operation, in Pakistan, that Americans embarked on in the past decade, America’s most glaring failure has been its inability to help rebuild the states and the nations where it has gone to war.”

Throughout the war in Iraq, despite a wish to know, to face up to, a wish to mourn, a wish to come to terms with my shame and anger at this war—brutal, illegal, globally condemned, yet perpetrated by my own country—the only thing I could really do was read. And then to reflect on how insufficient that was. So, given that this is a literary blog, maybe one way to mark this occasion is simply to thank those books that “helped,” that informed, that reported back from, and that spoke to that shame and anger, helped me try to comprehend and endure how implicated I was in this war while still feeling powerless to do a thing about it.

(Perhaps it’s worth noting, as we discuss such powerlessness, that in more recent times despite the force and contagion of the “Occupy” movement, the only people arrested have been the protesters; no one has been held responsible for the financial crisis itself. Just as none of those who deceived us into the war in Iraq have faced anything worse than the loss of jobs that they either did unquestionably poorly—Rumsfeld—or had exhausted their term limits in anyway.)

Here are some books—a list by no means exhaustive—for which I feel grateful (in full disclosure I should note that some were published by the press where I work, which is how I came to know of them), with gratitude in particular to those journalists who reported on the war while “unembedded” (did that word exist in common usage before this war?). I recommend them today in particular.

Night Draws Near: Iraq’s People in the Shadow of America’s War by Anthony Shadid

Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq by Dahr Jamail

The Triumph of the Martyrs: A Reporter’s Journey into Occupied Iraq by Nir Rosen

Winter Soldier Iraq and Afghanistan: Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations, Iraq Veterans Against the War and Aaron Glantz

World Tribunal on Iraq: Making the Case Against War, edited by Müge Gürsoy Sökmen,  forewords by Arundhati Roy and Richard Falk

Surviving Iraq: Soldiers’ Stories, edited by Elise Tripp

Mark Danner in the New York Review of Books and such books as Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror and Stripping Bare the Body: Politics Violence War

The Great War for Civilisation by Robert Fisk

Tocqueville by Khaled Mattawa

Specters by Radwa Ashour, translated by Barbara Romaine—this is not about the war in Iraq, but it is a complex and beautiful meditation on documenting and mourning the cost of war, and how one can do either in writing and in life

“The Master of the Eclipse” especially in The Master of the Eclipse by Etel Adnan; Seasons by Etel Adnan

abu ghraib arias by Philip Metres