Iraq: The legacy of a disastrous invasion lives on

Iraq: The legacy of a disastrous invasion lives on
Comment: A straight line can be drawn from the day the invasion began 14 years ago, to what is unfolding in Iraq today, writes Usaid Siddiqui.
5 min read
20 Mar, 2017
May 2003, then President Bush declared the success of the US-led invasion of Iraq [AFP]

"It's a slam dunk case" former CIA Director George Tenet famously said in December 2002, making the case for the presence of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) in Iraq - in an effort to push for the Second Gulf War that began fourteen years ago in March 2003.

Months into the war, reality had dawned on the Bush administration that former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was in fact not in possession of WMDs, and the most accusatory charges made to topple the now deceased leader had been thoroughly debunked.

The damage however had been done.

America's occupation of Iraq would go on for nearly nine long years, leaving hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead, extremism now at its zenith and millions displaced or seeking refuge in unfamiliar settings.

From bad to worse

Hans Blix, head of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission that oversaw weapons inspection project in Iraq, concluded as late as February 2003 that no stockpiles of WMDs were found. But despite this, the Bush-led government had long made up its mind to invade Iraq, with or without the blessing of the international community.

When probed over whether the government had a plan for what would happen once Saddam was toppled, the Bush administration remained evasive. Within weeks of the war it was clear a long term strategy in Iraq had never been seriously contemplated.

Within weeks of the war it was clear a long term strategy in Iraq had never been seriously contemplated

The US administration's incompetence was embarrassingly obvious, as looting and ransacking of government ministries took place while the American soldiers simply watched; except of course the oil ministry which remained unscathed – an early vindication of those few who called out the imperialist ambitions of the Bush cabinet, at a great cost to their standing in public life. 

Paul Bremer, the point man for the US government in Iraq disbanded the Iraqi army leaving thousands of Iraqi soldiers out of work. The US administration had been so sure their invasion had been a resounding success, Bush confidently declared victory aboard the USS Lincoln in May 2003 with a sign behind him reading "Mission Accomplished".

For Bush and all those who reveled in the toppling of Saddam, the chain of events that would follow will forever remain a stain on their reputations.

  Read more: Remembering Iraq's 14 years of terror, not freedom

The vacuum left in the aftermath of Saddam's departure saw many competing groups fight for legitimacy that left hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead, and many more displaced as coalition forces and extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda (which previously did not exist in Iraq) ravaged the once beautiful nation.

The Watson institute at Brown University has estimated that as of April 2015, approximately 165,000 Iraqi civilians were killed as a direct result of the US-led war, while asserting the actual number is likely to be much higher.

Once the WMDs pretext was no longer a sustainable justification of American presence in Iraq, the Bush administration played the democracy card, asserting that Iraq's future was bright, now that a brutal dictator had been removed from power.

Once the WMDs pretext was no longer a sustainable justification of American presence in Iraq, the Bush administration played the democracy card

Yet the US installed leader former Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki seemed only concerned with maintaining power by playing one group against the other, with little attempt to unite a country fraught with sectarian and religious violence.

Playing the favorites with his largely Shia base while alienating the Sunni minority, torture of political dissidents, rampant corruption and nepotism led many, including his American backers to conclude that Maliki had been an enormous failure.

Any slim chance of Iraq stabilising was dealt a final blow in 2014 when so-called "Islamic State" (IS) would declare a caliphate right under the Iraqi government's nose, capturing major cities such as Fallujah and Mosul.

The group has heralded in a new era of unimaginable repression and brutality that has made even the likes of Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the leader of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban denounce the organisation.

Led by former Baathists and Iraq army officers released earlier by Bremer, IS has gone from strength to strength occupying and controlling the lives of several million people; a predicament that has pulled the Americans back to preserve whatever little they had achieved, if anything at all.

Justice unserved

Despite the colossal damages and losses Iraqis have suffered being a pawn in the geopolitical interests and opportunism of major world powers, no recourse to justice has ever been provided.

Bush, whose distortions led the world into a foreign relations quagmire remains scot free. In the era of a Donald Trump presidency, his atrocious legacy is being overlooked as he utters a line or two against the incumbent president that is music to the ears of Trump detractors, including members of the Democratic Party.

In the era of a Donald Trump presidency, Bush's atrocious legacy is being overlooked

In light of Trump's constant tormenting of the US mainstream media, Bush made headlines criticising Trump's attacks calling the free press "indispensable to democracy".

Few remember that it was his administration that bombed the Al-Jazeera Bureau in Baghdad in the early days of the invasion, and had frequently accused the channel of abetting and facilitating "terrorists".

A straight line runs across from the day the invasion took place to what is unfolding in Iraq today. During a town hall meeting in Reno in 2015, Bush's younger brother Jeb faced the wrath of a young student who plainly put to him, "Your brother created ISIS".

Most astute observers of the conflict would largely agree with that statement.

Any attempt therefore to rejuvenate his legacy or conveniently ignore the ramifications of Bush's actions, - even if it may be to take a swipe at a demagogue like Trump - would be an insult to the thousands who lost their lives as a direct result of his reckless actions. These are actions that will reverberate for many years to come.

Usaid Siddiqui is a freelance Canadian writer. He has written for PolicyMic, Aslan Media, Al Jazeera America and Mondoweiss on current affairs.

Follow him on Twitter: @UsaidMuneeb16

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.