An American Citizen Apologizes to the Iraqi People

By Jeffrey Ruoff | (Huffington Post) | – –

"In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight road was lost." – Dante Alighieri, Divine Comedy

Dear Iraqi people,

I write to apologize for the illegal 2003 U.S. invasion of your country.

Presidential candidate Jeb Bush has confessed, given what we know now, he would not have authorized the invasion of Iraq, as his brother did. A politician with integrity should have followed that comment with an apology to the Iraqi people. And to the American people. But, better not to open that Pandora’s box, especially if you’re running scared in the Republican primaries.

Though it matters less now, many Americans opposed the assault — including 23 U.S. Senators (among them current Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders) and 133 members of Congress. Speaking before our Senate, James Jeffords (VT), prophetically proclaimed, "this Administration is, perhaps unwittingly, heading us into a miserable cycle of waging wars that isolate our nation internationally and stir up greater hatred of America." The names of these dissenters may now be recorded as righteous among the nations.

As you know, together with millions around the world, ordinary Americans marched in the streets on February 15, 2003 to oppose the invasion of your land, truly hoping that the Bush-Cheney administration might respond to mass, democratic sentiment. But, having already lost the popular vote in 2000, Bush and his cabal were in no mood for compromise.

To the best of my knowledge, in the 12 years since the invasion of your country, its catastrophic occupation, and the chaos that has ensued, no American has explicitly apologized on behalf of the United States, its governmental leaders, its military, its mercenary contractors, its journalists and media, its scholars and universities, its business people and middle classes, its citizens. Too little, too late? You decide.

For the violence visited upon your people, from "shock and awe" to the botched occupation, de facto partition, predictable sectarian war, and the foreseeable rise of ISIS-like extremism, I apologize. Forgiveness is not mine to ask.

For the murders of your children and family members, words fail. Peace be upon them.

For the wanton decimation of your historic capital Baghdad, its archives, libraries, bazaars, bridges, buildings, and neighborhoods, hauntingly depicted in Abbas Fahdel’s 2015 documentary Homeland (Iraq Year Zero), my profoundest regrets. That which is wanting cannot be numbered.

For the American journalists who propagandized in favor of the U.S. invasion, including Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol, and Judith Miller, my deepest condolences for their recklessness.

For the torture of your sons and daughters by members of the CIA, the U.S. military, and other occupying forces, again words escape me. I can share only my sorrow and outrage. Know that you are not alone in your anger and despair at the betrayal of the Geneva Conventions, the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, and the basic tenets of human decency. Abu Ghraib, like Guantanamo Bay, will live in infamy, from here to eternity.

The so-called liberal media, especially the New York Times, bear a heavy burden for rogue reporting leading up to and during the invasion. For those who were fooled into believing the Bush regime’s obfuscations — including David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker, who I believe never publicly recanted his fatal mistake — my profound regrets. A more worthy editor would have resigned from the magazine and taken a vow of silence.

To be sure, the U.S. is not the only superpower to brutally invade other nations: consider France in Algeria, the USSR in Afghanistan, or, more recently, Russia in the Ukraine. Great Britain must settle its own accounts for the 2003 invasion.

With Iraq in ruins, the crooked shall not be made straight again. But the crooked may be prosecuted. Rejecting the notion of collective responsibility, at the Nuremberg trials after WWII, the Allies asked "Who is individually responsible?"

For the invasion of Iraq, its catastrophic occupation, and subsequent fragmentation, we know the answer to this question. Richard Perle. Paul Wolfowitz. Dick Cheney. Donald Rumsfeld. George W. Bush. Elliot Abrams. Colin Powell. Douglas Feith. James Woolsey.

Responding to the Bush administration’s unprecedented torture policy, Democratic Presidential candidate Martin O’Malley has urgently called for a special prosecutor to hold accountable its propagators. In the United States of America, torture now has names and faces: Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, John Ashcroft, George Tenet, legal advisers Alberto Gonzales, David Addington, William Haynes, John Yoo, and John Rizzo, as well as CIA contract psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen.


Original artwork by Eva Munday 2015, used by permission.

If there is justice on earth, the neoconservative ideologues — who plotted the invasion, fabricated evidence of weapons of mass destruction, falsely attributed the Saudi Arabian-led Al-Qaeda 9/11 attack to Saddam Hussein, lied to and misled the American people, and, in particular, those who designed, endorsed, and implemented our torture policy — will be tried for war crimes.

But, as Iraqis know firsthand from Saddam’s rule and the U.S. invasion, there is little justice in this world. Currently out of power, the American neocons will apparently not even sit before a truth and reconciliation commission that would allow our country to properly seek atonement for its sins.

From Dante’s Divine Comedy, we learn Catholic medieval notions of hell, wherein punishments provide poetic justice for sinners. Dante’s fourth circle of hell holds those guilty of greed, now awaiting the leaders of the Halliburton Company, including Dick Cheney, CEO from 1995-2000. Murderers, for their part, wallow in a river of blood in hell’s seventh circle.

In the ditches of Dante’s eighth circle of hell writhe those guilty of fraud, especially corrupt politicians, evil counselors, and advisors; make room, there, for tomorrow. The ninth circle of hell contains those guilty of treachery and betrayal. All in good company. Donald, Dick, Richard, and Paul, I’ll see you there.

Let the neocons read the writing on the wall: mene, mene, tekel, parsin. "God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians." Empires rise and fall, libraries disappear under the sand.

Of course, I have no standing to formally apologize, for anyone or any organization. I am not an elected official, I don’t speak on behalf of my country, my state, my city, my university, my colleagues, my students, my family, or my friends.

It just shows that being a superpower means not having to say you’re sorry.”

Jeffrey Ruoff is documentary filmmaker and film historian in the Department of Film and Media Studies at Dartmouth College, and OpEd Project Public Voices Fellow.

Republished with the permission of the author from The Huffington Post

Posted in Iraq War | 15 Responses | Print |

15 Responses

  1. ” to the botched occupation”

    The Iraq occupation wasn’t botched .. read CLEAN BREAK and you will understand that the occupation was meant to leave Iraq in chaos …. its part of Likud’s strategy to have its powerful neighbours decimated by US money and NATO lives in readiness for the war to create greater Israel.

    • Botched occupation or not, has the rise of ISIL, the disintegration of Syria and Libya, actually helped Israel (even if all this was somehow Likud’s strategy)? Is Syria now really “contained” in the way the CLEAN BREAK report advocated? Does it make strategic sense, even for Likud, to surround Israel with failed states?

      • Jefftry Ruoff … “Does it make strategic sense, even for Likud, to surround Israel with failed states?”

        Failed states don’t have an army which makes conquering them to establish ‘greater Israel’ that much easier.

  2. Although it was not quite the same focus as your apology, back in 2004 four religious leaders delivered apologies for the Abu Graib torture and other grievously mistaken actions on Iraqi TV. The one by Dr. Donald Shriver was well noted in the Presbyterian Church, of which I am also a member: link to
    Given the author’s interest in Dante, I would note that most mainline Protestant churches both opposed the Iraq war and adopted policies calling for repentance, restitution, and reconciliation.

    • Thanks for the reference to “U.S. Religious Figures Offer Abuse Apology on Arab TV,” link to, I was not familiar with this powerful gesture. (By the way, my apology has been translated into Arabic and I have submitted it to “HuffPost Arabi” as it should, of course, appear in a language that all Iraqis read.) I’m heartened by your description of opposition by mainline Protestant churches to the invasion of Iraq. And, just the record, I myself am not a believer in Dante’s religion, just his poetry.

  3. Jeffrey Ruoff, the largest causes of anti-Americanism among Iraqis are:

    1) the perception since 2003, America has been trying to prevent the Iraqis from building a capable Iraqi Army and Iraqi Air Force that can defend Iraqis from Iraq’s enemies

    2) the inaccurate conspiracy theory that America backs ISIS and Al Qaeda (and back in 2003-2005 the “Iraqi resistance”) against the Iraqi people, the Government of Iraq, and the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF).

    3) the perception that America backed Saddam Hussein against the Iraqi people and the Iraqi resistance that was attempting to overthrow Saddam Hussein

    The anger Iraqis have about the 2003 invasion is a lower priority for most Iraqis than their top three perceived grievances against America.

    Obviously these top three grievances are unfair and inaccurate, and I am not trying to defend Iraqis for having them. But America needs to try harder to listen to and understand Iraqis in their own language and own voice; and directly respond to Iraqis.

    Most Iraqis don’t understand and care much about Americans criticizing other Americans or America’s internal divisions.

    • I have heard that the “Arab street” (which now includes Facebook and social media, as Juan Cole has shown so brilliantly) is nostalgic for Saddam, so awful have been the results of the US invasion of Iraq and the ensuing chaos. Does anyone have further evidence that this is the case? “Nostalgia for Iraq’s Saddam Hussein flowers on social media,” link to

      • Jeffrey Ruoff, thanks for your response. Iraq is as you know very complicated. One aspect of what happened 2003-2008 was a de-facto undeclared war between Iraqis, their Government of Iraq, and their Iraqi Security Forces, against about 15 other Arab countries.

        The “Iraqi resistance” and initially Al Qaeda were backed by Iraq’s neighbors with combat enablers, including funding, trainers, advisors, equipment, logistics, command and control.

        You are absolutely right that Saddam Hussein was and to a lesser degree continues to be very popular person in non Iraqi Arab countries. This is as true among leaders as it is among Arabs on the street. Part of why is because Saddam was the great Sunni Arab lion who kept the evil Persians, twelvers, Kurds, and Israelis at Bay. Protecting the entire Arab world from dangerous enemies.

        This led to a lot of Iraqi anger against Iraq’s neighbors. Videos of Iraqi leaders and ordinary Iraqis yelling epithets and f bomb equivalent hate speech in Arabic at their neighbors was shown on Arab media, including Arab social media. In many cases non Iraqi Arabs were persecuted and physically abused or killed by Iraqi mobs inside Iraq. Foreign Arab embassies and foreign arab business interests were sacked by angry Iraqi mobs.

        Iraqis were wrong to do this, because it drove away non Iraqi Arab trade, investment and tourism; devastating the Iraqi economy. The Iraqis were unable to protect themselves when the neighbors retaliated by backing the Iraqi resistance and Al Qaeda.

        In 2004 and 2005, Al Qaeda systematically killed, eliminated, and incorporated almost all Sunni Arab Iraqi resistance. By 2006, Al Qaeda was by far the most significant Sunni Arab militia inside Iraq, and the largest military threat to Iraqis, the Government of Iraq, Iraqi political parties, the Iraqi Security Forces, the Iranian backed sectarian Shia militias, and MNF-I.

        Al Qaeda was able to pay their soldiers, NCOs and officers more than the Iraqi Army was able to pay. To ordinary Iraqis this was proof that America must be paying for and secretly backing Al Qaeda.

        One of the reasons why violence inside Iraq dropped by 95% in 2007 and 2008 was because Iraq reconciled with her neighbors, who were increasingly afraid of the Al Qaeda frankenstein monster they had initially backed.

        Regarding the issue of nostalgia inside Iraq, I think everything changed during the 2014 ISIS (Al Qaeda renamed) blitzkrieg that nearly overran all of Iraq, and potentially could have led the the deaths of hundreds of thousands or millions of Iraqis. Another big issue was that PM Maliki felt forced to implement Khamenei’s sectarian agenda inside Iraq when from the Iraqi perspective President Obama abandoned Iraq and the Iraqi Security Forces. Khamenei replaced many nonsectarian patriotic effective officers inside the Iraqi Security Forces with incompetent sectarian Khamenei quislings, scaring many Iraqi Sunni Arabs and even non Sunni Arab Iraqis.

        No doubt many Sunni Arab Iraqis now being killed, abused, hurt and threatened by ISIS are nostalgic for Saddam, because whatever Saddam’s other faults . . . he was better than ISIS. How many, we don’t know. We can’t poll inside ISIS controlled parts of Iraq.

        It appears to me that this Saddam nostalgia is a lot less important to Iraqis than:
        1) driving ISIS out of Iraq
        2) strengthening the Iraqi Security Forces, including by making them less sectarian, less corrupt, more multi-ethnic, more professional . . . and removing Khamenei’s malign influence inside them.
        3) disbanding and disarming all Iranian backed sectarian Shia militias inside Iraq, giving the Iraqi Security Forces a complete monopoly on force inside Iraq

        Obviously (3) cannot happen unless (1) and (2) happen first, because Iraqis desperately need Iranian help to fight ISIS right now.

        “so awful have been the results of the US invasion of Iraq and the ensuing chaos”. This is true from an Iraqi perspective. Many Iraqis think America deliberately backed the Iraqi resistance and Al Qaeda and helped them mass murder Iraqis and destroy Iraq.

    • Jeffrey Ruoff, any administration would likely have many officials from the 41st, 42nd, 43rd administrations because that is where the current foreign policy talent pool comes from. Obama had many officials from 41st, 42nd, 43rd administrations too. Bush had many officials from 41st and 42nd. I think that foreign policy advisors should not be partisan.

      Jeb would be a very different President from his brother with the caveat that it would be very difficult for Jeb to win the republican nomination.

      Jeb is married to a Mexican American. Jeb’s Mexican American son is married to an Iraqi Canadian. I think Jeb is likely to be emotionally vested with Iraqis if elected.

  4. Taking advantage with malice of forethought at a time of great national sorrow, those we trusted most LIED TO OUR NATION perpetrating the attacks on and subsequent occupation of Iraq. The complicity of corporate-controlled media malinformation and our highest ranking officials claims based on fabrications of factoids set the entire tragedy into action,

    There is absolutely no way to “apologize” for malinformation-induced murder, widespread destruction and depreciation of the way of life in Iraq which continues today. The citizens of the United States allowed this to happen and we are not going to fix it.

    Rather than apologize, what we as U.S. citizens can do is try to make damn certain THIS WILL NEVER HAPPEN, AGAIN.

    Which is the best that can be done at the present time in our once great country.

  5. Well, I think we can, and should, apologize *and* work to make sure it never happens again. To call the invasion a “mistake,” and then not apologize, as many officials and presidential candidates have done, is to dissemble. It’s the old “mistakes were made” passive voice of Reagan Contra. Of course, nothing can undo the past. If you believe that America is a democracy, then the American people, via our elected representatives, are responsible for the invasion, occupation, and destruction of Iraq, which Noam Chomsky has called “the worst crime of the 21st century.”

    • *and* work to make sure it never happens again.”

      one way to achieve that would be for governments throughout the supposedly first world to acknowledge that the charge to invade / destroy Iraq and ensure secretarian chaos for the future was lead by zionists (perle feith wolfovitz) following CLEAN BREAK proposals that called for the destruction of Israel’s militarily powerful neighbours. This same set of war criminals are behind the tragedy in Libya / Syria and even now still pushing for the bombing of Iran. Until governments face up to this ‘fact’ Israel firsters will push for further destruction wherever they see a threat irrespective of whether such action is necessary or warranted. They are, I repeat, war criminals along with Blair and Bush and should face trial at the hague … but as we have seen on countless occasions this ‘fact’ immediately labels the author as anti semitic and their careers and lives are destroyed by zionist controlled / manipulated media leaving only those who close their eyes to the real ‘fact’ to wring their hands and issue meaningless apologies and hope it won’t happen again leaving the way clear for AIPAC / Netanyahu and Co to continue pushing their lies and distortions and financing any presidential candidate who has the obliteration of Iran as their principle platform.

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