Fiasco of the Iraq war anniversary
A decade after the US-led invasion of their country, Iraqis are still counting the costs in human suffering and destruction, writes Salah Nasrawi
The newsroom in the villa-turned-office of the Associated Press in the Qatari capital of Doha looked like any other newsroom, except that it was being swiftly readied for “Shock and awe”, the codename given by the Pentagon to the upcoming US-led invasion of Iraq.
In early March 2003, I was sent there as an AP correspondent to join a strong team of editors and writers who would be reporting and supervising news coverage of the war on Iraq.
The gas and oil-rich Gulf emirate was hosting two US military bases and the headquarters of the war command, where daily briefings were planned over the course of the war.
As an Iraqi reporter who had covered the Iraq-Iran War in the 1980s and the 1991 Gulf War for AP, I was also supposed to provide independent coverage from the invaded country’s point of view and help other AP reporters shape their stories by providing input on the cultural and historical background of Iraq.
Personally, I did not support the war, but probably like most Iraqis I was excited at the prospect of the new opportunities that could await the Iraqi people after the expected ouster of the Saddam Hussein dictatorship.
Yet, I already had my doubts about the announced goals of the invasion, especially about its creating a functioning democracy in Iraq. Based on thorough research of the war preparations and previous US experiences of intervention, it had become clear to me that Washington had no nation-building plans for Iraq and that it had thrown together a strategy for the invasion on the fly.
What came to trouble me most and prompted me to leave AP’s war room in Doha after only two weeks was my feeling that I should not put myself in a position where I might be seen as unpatriotic or unconsciously boosting the US-led invasion and occupation of my country.
Indeed, during the standoff with the Saddam regime, I had resisted attempts to be manipulated by the bizarre media fabrication of news about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, which had helped former US president George W Bush make the case for war.
Three months before the war started, I had argued in an article published in the Arabic-language newspaper Al-Hayat that the United States would eventually defeat Saddam’s forces, but that disaster would ensue, leaving the country in ruins.
Ten years after the horrendous adventure, Iraq today is a devastated and tormented nation. Reports published on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the US-led invasion show that both the human and financial costs of the invasion of Iraq are higher than most people realise.
A decade of war in Iraq has killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians and potentially contributed to the deaths of many hundreds of thousands more from indirect causes related to devastated infrastructure.
There are now more than one million Iraqi refugees abroad who have little hope of returning to their homes due to the ongoing political instability and violence. Millions of Iraqis remain displaced inside Iraq, some of them indefinitely, and many of them are living in grotesque conditions.
Iraq’s healthcare, infrastructure, and education systems were devastated by the war. Public services, including water and electricity supplies, are in disarray.
The ripple effects on the Iraqi economy have also been significant, as Iraq now imports most of its food, and farmers and factory workers have found themselves out of their jobs as agriculture and industry have ground to a halt.
Corruption is rampant. Bribery, graft and racketeering are not only widespread, but they are also systematic and institutionalised. Since the US occupation in 2003, Iraq has been ranked by the international NGO Transparency International as among the most corrupt countries in the world.
Most women in Iraq live in poverty, and they are shut out of social life. Violence against women, high rates of female unemployment, increasing religious intolerance and widowhood have further eroded their status.
While it was promised that the US-led invasion would bring democracy, freedom and human rights to Iraq, the country remains enmeshed in a grim cycle of human rights abuses, including attacks on civilians, the torture of detainees and unfair trials.
In a report on the country 10 years after the US-led invasion, the international NGO Amnesty International said this week that a decade of abuses had exposed a litany of torture and other ill-treatments of detainees committed by the Iraqi security forces and foreign troops in the wake of the 2003 invasion.
The report highlighted the “Iraqi authorities continuing failure to observe their obligations to uphold human rights and respect the rule of law in the face of persistent deadly attacks by armed groups, who show callous disregard for civilian life.”
Iraq is now gripped in its worst political crisis since the US-led invasion, amid sectarian divisions, rival clashes and terrorist attacks that have sparked concerns about the country’s post-war stability.
Iraq’s government is in disarray. Nearly half of the ministers have been boycotting cabinet meetings for months, while the parliament rarely meets to debate national issues.
The country’s constitution is a matter of opinion, and its political elite are at loggerheads with each other. Its president has been reported to be clinically dead, while political parties cannot even contemplate choosing a successor.
For months, the country has been gripped by the worst political crisis for years, with Iraq’s three main ethnicities bickering over a power and wealth-sharing structure formulated by the US occupation authorities that made Iraq into a federal state.
A few weeks before last year ended, the political deadlock took a sharp and perilous course as the country’s Shia-led government and its Kurdish and Sunni partners engaged in a bitter power struggle and military standoffs.
The sharpening divide between Iraq’s Shias and Sunnis has given rise to increasing sectarianism. Hundreds of people are still losing their lives to sectarian conflict each month, mostly in attacks by the Sunni Al-Qaeda terrorist group against Shias.
By and large, the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq and its aftermath over the past ten years has inflicted multiple disasters on the country and turned Iraq into a failed state.
Today, Iraq stands on the verge of a devastating all-out civil war that would complete what the Americans started by ruining the country that was once the birthplace of human civilisation.
Surprisingly, many of the writers in the US mainstream media who swarmed over Iraq for the tenth anniversary of Bush’s army marching on Baghdad are still removed from reality and look at Iraq through the lenses of the war’s promoters.
Some of them insist that Iraq today has far better prospects than it would have had under Saddam, citing for example the Shias’ public displays of their faith by hanging up images of their revered saints, or nightly TV talk shows that bristle with barking criticisms of the government.
In talking themselves into believing these lurid fantasies, these reporters do not neglect to mention other signs of progress, such as waiters in Baghdad restaurants taking orders for spaghetti and pizza on iPads, or shopping malls and swanky hotels opening up in some parts of Iraq.
Other US writers have missed the opportunity for real reflection on the anniversary, instead engaging in useless debate about the flawed case for the war made by the Bush administration and by the dysfunctional national security process and tensions between different policy-making bodies.
A decade after the catastrophic invasion of Iraq, the Iraqi people are entitled to know more about the deceit of US policy-makers who deliberately and consciously launched a war to destroy Iraq.
Like during the fiasco of the invasion itself, when the US mainstream media participated in building the case for the war, the fiasco of the war’s anniversary has shown that the same media has not been forthcoming in reflecting on the broader question of why the Bush administration embarked on the vicious enterprise of destroying Iraq, unleashing the dynamics that are now playing out and destroying the wider Middle East.