Little to Celebrate in Iraq Ten Years On
As Iraqis mark the tenth anniversary of the invasion and occupation of their country in 2003, they are likely to reflect on issues that are often ignored in western cost/benefit analysis.
A western analysis may see an undesirable regime removed, a war won and an occupation ended with fewer casualties than might have been expected, and a country left with a kind of democracy in place. But, seen from Iraq, the picture is not so pretty: it is of a country still mired in chaos, disorder and sectarian strife, all a direct consequence of an illegal and ill-intended occupation -- a failed state, divided and violent, where civilians remain deeply insecure and poverty is rife.
The decision to invade Iraq in March 2003 (an operation that was completed on April 9 with the removal of the regime of Saddam Hussein) was taken on duplicitous grounds. The United States and the United Kingdom cited two main reasons and implied a third to justify their military aggression. They did not, and still don’t, admit to the real reasons for the invasion: to open up Iraq’s vast oil resources to the world market, remove a regime Israel had deemed a threat; and get rid of a major obstacle to western designs in the region.
Instead, Washington and London insisted that Iraq had restarted a weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) programme in contravention of United Nations sanction. No end of dubious intelligence and colourful presentations were wielded to prove a case that of course turned out to be without merit.
The US also alleged that Saddam Hussein had links with al-Qaeda, links that cast the Iraqi leader as a direct antagonist in the “war on terror,” then at a peak. This claim was absurd at the time. It only seems more so now that al-Qaeda has actually gained a foothold in the country it never had before.
Finally, and almost as a fallback position, the US and UK cited Iraq’s miserable human rights record and suggested that democracy might be brought not just to Iraq but the region as a whole. Though neither offered justification under international law for an invasion, it was implied that bringing an end to Hussein’s regime could only be “a good thing.”
As it turned out, the UN withheld approval for an invasion, but the United States and Britain went ahead anyway. What followed -- and still obtains -- were ten years of disaster. The country dissolved into sectarian violence. Terrorism became the order of the day. The proliferation of ethnic militias was matched by an explosion in the number of terrorist groups, most notable among them al-Qaeda.
Corrupt and inefficient government institutions became the norm. Corruption had always been an issue, of course, but even after the first Gulf War and throughout the many years of international sanctions, Saddam Hussein’s governments always managed to keep the lights on.
The problems were manifold. Almost immediately, the occupying powers disbanded the Iraqi army and the Baath Party, two decisions that were instrumental in the chaos that followed. As an occupied territory under UN Resolution 1483, Iraq was ruled directly by the main occupying country, the United States, which appointed a civil ruler, Paul Bremer. It turned out to be a hubristic appointment: The UN refused to transfer frozen Iraqi assets to Bremer without a request from the Iraqi government. To that, Bremer replied: “I am the Iraqi government.”
In addition to arrogance, Bremer also proved incompetent. He established the Iraqi Provisional Governing Council, whose composition depended on a quota system based on sect, ethnic background and religion. Merit and ability was never taken into consideration. The council was, needless to say, under the full domination of Bremer, who used it to rubberstamp his decisions.
The only other power besides Bremer was the Coalition Provisional Authority, CPA. The CPA consisted of US personnel with little or no knowledge of Iraq, or its history and culture. Despite this, the authority was tasked with drawing up the Transitional Administrative Law, TAL -- essentially the Iraqi constitution under occupation. No Iraqi took part in drafting the TAL.
In 2005, the law was presented to the first appointed parliament as the draft upon which to draw up a permanent constitution. Only two months (an exceptionally short time) was given to the parliament to do this. In addition, the Iraqi constitutional committee was obliged to preserve all the controversial articles of the TAL, including articles that gave regions more authorities than the central government, articles that created what came to be known as disputed area between the Kurdish region and the rest of Iraq, and articles that made the constitution almost impossible to amend (hence the continuing disputes between the central government and the Kurdish Regional Government, KGR).
Bremer also established a new army, the National Guards. This force was established on the quota system, and unsurprisingly, units of these Guards have on many occasions deserted the army and joined sectarian militias when violence erupted. In addition, the Kurdish militia (the Peshmarga) was not included or put under the command of the new Iraqi army. Yet the Iraqi government was responsible for subsidising the force.
All of these decisions have led to a humanitarian disaster that has left Iraq much worse off than it was before occupation.
• Iraq is now among the ten most corrupt countries in the world, ranking 169 out of 176 countries in 2012. (International Transparency).
• Iraq is one of the world’s failing states. (Foreign Affairs Journal, 3rd of 149 countries; 2011 Global Peace Index, 2nd of 153).
• Iraq is one of the world’s most unsafe countries. (Global Peace Index 2010).
• With some 4.7 million, Iraq has the biggest number of internal and external refugees. (UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
• Baghdad became the worst city in the world to live in (MERSIR).
• After eight years of occupation, 40% of the Iraqi population could not drink clean water, 27% were living under the poverty line and 30% had no medical attention whatsoever (Amnesty International Report 2010).
• Iraq has 4 million orphans and more than 2 million widows. The 2012 Human Rights Report concluded that “violence against women and girls continued to be a serious problem across Iraq,” while the 2012 UNAMI Report stated its “concern about the respect for the rights and status of women in Iraq, in particular in regard to gender based violence, so-called ‘honour’ crimes, trafficking and domestic violence.”
• The number of people killed was estimated as more than 600,000 people by the respected Lancet Journal in 2007. That would mean the number has exceeded 1 million by now. Among them were more than 450 scientist and university professors (see Baker, Raymond, Ismael, Shereen and Ismael, Tareq, Cultural Cleansing In Iraq, Pluto Press, London & New York, 2010, p.4 & p.p 263-281).
• The Iraqi government was determined to be a sectarian government presiding over a country virtually divided on sectarian lines (Iraqi Study Group-Baker-Hamilton report, 2006).
Despite the many elections that took place in Iraq between 2005 and 2010, the Iraqi political situation still lacks stability. A good number of Iraqi communities feel dangerously marginalised, as demonstrated in the last two months by huge demonstrations in the western part of the country, (Mosul, Anbar, Salah ul-Din and Diyala), as well as in some southern regions. Iraqi Kurdistan has its share of opposition to, and discontent with, KRG policies, represented by the Goran (Change) and other Islamic parties.
Ten years after the invasion, there is very little for Iraqis to celebrate. The immediate past has been one of desperate violence, and the sectarian tensions that were encouraged by the policies of the occupying powers make the future look desperately uncertain. Saad Jawad was a professor of political science at Baghdad University; he is now a senior research fellow at the London School of Economic and Political Science, (LSE) University of London. Sawsan Al-Assaf was a senior lecturer at Baghdad University; she is a board member of the Peace Building-Academy for the Middle East, Spain & Beirut. Copyright © 2013 Le Monde diplomatique – distributed by Agence Global