Remembering Iraq's 14 years of terror, not freedom

Remembering Iraq's 14 years of terror, not freedom
Comment: Iraqis were promised democracy, freedom and human rights by the US and its allies, instead they got a decade and a half of death and destruction, writes Tallha Abdulrazaq.
6 min read
20 Mar, 2017
Today, Iraqi forces continue to advance in Mosul, combatting Islamic State [AFP]

For most of us, today will be a day just like any other.

We will follow our very ordinary, very normal and very human routines of waking up, having a little something to eat, and maybe going off to work, school or simply to enjoy the first day of spring.

However, it is one of recent history's great and grim ironies that this date and this season - representing a renewal of life's bloom - was the day on which the United States and its allies decided to seal Iraq's fate and send it hurtling to its doom.

Prepare for 'democracy' 

The majority of Iraqis will remember what happened on this day, fourteen years ago as the beginning of a catastrophic tribulation that has yet to cease, nor does it show sign of ending any time soon.

The build-up to the war seemed to focus on the potential and fantastical threat posed by dictator Saddam Hussein, who had ruled Iraq with an iron fist for decades. The hounds of war were whipped into a frenzy by the still-fresh wounds of the 9/11 terror attacks, but those baying for Iraqi blood were looking for any excuse to destroy the country.

Amid the vague rambling about Saddam's fictitious WMD programme, there was little mention of the Iraqi people, except as an afterthought when describing what an apparently great country Iraq would become once it had been liberated by American exported democracy.

According to this modern day postcolonial civilising mission, Iraqis - free from the yoke of Baathist tyranny - would be the masters of their own destiny, free to voice their opinions, views and to express their vision for what they wanted their country to become.

Amid the vague rambling about Saddam's fictitious WMD programme, there was little mention of the Iraqi people

The preparatory phase for democracy, though, was pervasive, crippling and extremely deadly to the Iraqi people, who apparently so yearned to be civilised and liberated by western munitions, many of which were irradiated.

Since 1990 and up until the invasion, Iraq had been subjected to a brutal sanctions regime that killed more Iraqis than Saddam ever did. Granted, sanctions were slapped on Iraq as punishment for its invasion of Kuwait – a catastrophic, egotistical decision by the Baathists – though not one that justified the suffering inflicted upon the Iraqi people. 

Between the time that sanctions were imposed and 1995, over 500,000 Iraqi children had died as a direct result of the embargo. The logical conclusion of this is that Iraq itself was being targeted, and not the Baathist regime.

After all, why else would then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright openly say in a televised interview that she thought the deaths of half a million innocent children were "worth it"?

No democracy, only death

In addition to the mass murder inflicted by the sanctions regime that claimed hundreds of thousands of children's lives between 1995 and 2003, the US-led "civilisational mission" to bring Iraq democracy can only be described as a disaster. The British medical journal, The Lancet, published a survey showing that Iraqi deaths, as a direct result of the invasion, had reached 654,965 deaths by 2006 alone.

Along with the half a million children killed a decade earlier, and assuming no one else died in Iraq in the intervening years, that places the number of Iraqis dead as being close to 1.2 million.

the US-led 'civilisational mission' to bring Iraq democracy can only be described as a disaster

Of course, the number is likely to be significantly higher, especially if we take into account the fact that The Lancet's survey was conducted just as the sectarian bloodletting really began in earnest after a Shia shrine in Samarra was bombed by al-Qaeda.

Of course, only a naive individual would believe that the Americans invaded for ideological purposes relating to democratic change, or even purely "for the oil". Then-President George "Dubya" Bush, possessing a weak intellect and a man who has now become internationally synonymous with idiocy, was likely trying to show the world just how big America's muscles were.

By destroying Iraq, he probably reasoned, he would deter anyone from ever considering attacks similar to 9/11 from happening ever again. This, despite the fact that the Baathists had nothing to do with the perpetrators of that or any other "terrorist" attack on US soil. 

Viewed through the lens of the so-called "Global War on Terror", the invasion of Iraq was yet another resounding failure. Instead of a pro-US, pro-West democratic state, Iraq was sent headfirst into the abyss of "terrorism". Iraq became a haven for any number of extremist outfits, Sunni and Shia alike, and also the sectarian Shia Iranian regime's strategic backyard.

Where Al-Qaeda was previously unwelcome and actively sought out and destroyed by Saddam's feared Mukhabarat intelligence agencies, they began to set up terrorist cells and even fiefdoms that the new Iraqi state was too weak and too corrupt to quash.

Despite a Sunni Arab intervention and alliance with the US occupiers that saw al-Qaeda in Iraq suffer major setbacks, the rampant sectarianism of the now pro-Iran Baghdad authorities meant that Sunnis were continuously politically marginalised - targeted and killed for their sectarian affiliation, and subjected to torture and humiliation. 

IS is a symptom of a more sinister pestilence - a lack of national unity, identity or common cause

This reached such drastic levels that Sunni communities lost faith in ever having their voices heard in the shambolic representative parliamentary democracy that Iraq had apparently become.

Instead of wasting their time with voting, they took to the streets in mass demonstrations across the country in 2012 to protest against not only the Shia-dominated government but also the weakness of token Sunni political parties who had long failed them.

Baghdad's response to these unarmed and peaceful protests was brutal. Under the orders of the infamously sectarian former prime minister and current vice president Nouri al-Maliki, demonstrators were attacked and killed in places such as Hawija, where soldiers could be heard shouting sectarian slurs.

It was this brutality, and the subsequent massacres of Sunnis, that allowed the misbegotten lovechild of al-Qaeda and some rogue Baathists - the so-called Islamic State (IS) - to charge onto the scene in 2014 and unleash the war that is being fought out in the streets of Mosul today.

Due to the government's actions, IS could claim to be a defender of the Sunnis, even if their ambitions were far more insidious and evil.

Will Iraq's problems be solved with the defeat of IS? No, because IS is a symptom of a more sinister pestilence - a lack of national unity, identity or common cause.

Until this is resolved and sectarian regional meddlers are curtailed, we can expect more of the same for the foreseeable future.

Tallha Abdulrazaq is a researcher at the University of Exeter's Strategy and Security Institute and winner of the 2015 Al Jazeera Young Researcher Award. His research focuses on Middle Eastern security and counter-terrorism issues. 

Follow him on Twitter: @thewarjournal

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.