The Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, with its 225,000 or more deaths in 11 countries, shocked the world; so, in recent weeks, has the devastation wrought by a powerful cyclone (and tidal surge) that hit the Irrawaddy Delta of Myanmar. It resulted in at least 78,000 deaths (with another 56,000 reported missing) and a display of recalcitrance on the part of a military junta focused on its own security while its people perish. Similarly, a devastating earthquake in China’s Sichuan Province that hit 7.9 on the Richter scale and whose tremors were felt 1,000 miles away has swept into the news. Its casualty count has already reached 51,000 with unknown numbers of Chinese still buried in rubble or cut off in rural areas and so, as yet, untallied, and an estimated five million people homeless.
These are staggering natural disasters, hard even to take in, and yet it’s a reasonable question whether, in terms of damage, any of them measure up to the ongoing human-made (or rather Bush administration made) disaster in Iraq. Worse yet, unlike a natural disaster, the Iraqi catastrophe seems to be without end. No one can even guess when it might be said of that country that an era of reconstruction or rebuilding is about to begin. Instead, the damage only grows week by miserable week and yet, as has often been true in the last year, Iraq continues to have trouble even cracking the top ten stories in U.S. news coverage.
Just this week, Iraqi troops moved into the vast, battered Shiite suburb of Sadr City in east Baghdad after weeks of fierce fighting. The first descriptions of the damage — U.S. air power was regularly called in over the last months in this heavily populated slum area — are devastating: "As I moved into the neighborhood," writes Raheem Salman of the Los Angeles Times online, "the destruction from weeks of fighting was horrible. Most of the shops and kiosks have been damaged. Doors are knocked off their hinges. Windows are shattered. The walls are riddled with bullet holes. Some buildings are blown apart by missile fire."