Three days ago I saw the aftermath of explosives that tore through a crowd of unsuspecting bystanders, shrapnel leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. I read how children lost their lives, others lost limbs and a nation looked on in horror. On Monday, this same scene played out over and over again. All of them separate bombings, all on the same day and all in the same country. Iraq is this country, where over 25 blasts rocked major metropolitan areas, many of them car bombs, that resulted in more than 61 deaths and over 274 injured. No doubt the enormity of the loss of life and carnage is hard to imagine but if you had watched the news or read American newspapers you could be forgiven for not knowing it happened at all.
Monday was also significant for another bombing, one that most of us heard about. The kind of terror inflicted at the Boston Marathon just a handful of days ago will not readily leave my mind. The images, testimonies and the moments of bravery demonstrated by people like Carlos Arredondo will continue to haunt me. Unfortunately, the destruction in Boston is all too familiar for those of us that have experienced the unending senseless violence in Iraq. Both for the Iraqi civilians that live in a country that has witnessed more than a decade of war and for US veterans that have returned home to a country that has seemed oblivious to its existence.
The Iraqi people have paid a high price for our invasion and prolonged occupation. Iraq has lost 123,000 civilian lives due to war-related violence (at its lowest estimate) according to a recent study by Brown. Between tremendous casualties, the toxic legacy of the US military’s occupation, and a government that is increasingly authoritarian the war is far from over for the Iraqi people.
I was fortunate to escape the violence when my two deployments ended but for many in my community the battle doesn’t end there. Every day 22 veterans kill themselves. After two occupations, more than 11 years at war, and nearly half of all veterans having served multiple deployments we have exhausted our military and created a traumatized population of veterans that is returning home to a VA health system that can barely take care of them.
For all of these reasons and more my fellow members of Iraq Veterans Against the War and I have united with two powerful Iraqi human rights groups the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq and the Federation of Worker’s Councils and Unions in Iraq and the Center for Constitutional Rights in order to shed light on the need for United States responsibility to repair the damages inside of Iraq, take better care of veterans and service members and to demand for our collective right to heal. We are working together because we know solidarity is key to our success and we also know that if we don’t highlight the true cost of these wars and hold the U.S. accountable for pursuing them, that the next one will be much more likely to happen.
A big thanks go out to MAG-Net members Line Break Media for producing a compelling video and for being incredible allies.
Please visit http://righttoheal.org to sign the petition to demand a hearing with the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and to get more information about our work.
Matt Howard served in the Marine Corps from 2001-2006 as a helicopter mechanic and served on two deployments to Iraq. His experiences in Iraq helped him to see the hypocrisy in the war and set him on a path to join Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW). Howard currently works as the Communications Coordinator of IVAW in New York City.