How will we remember the Iraq War?
First to make a declaration. I am a pacifist and against all wars. It’s an illusion to view them in terms of winners and losers. Everyone loses, particularly the civilians. I have had personal experience with war, as my family were prisoners of war by the Japanese in WWII in Hong Kong for almost four years. I was born in that Internment Camp. The scars of that experience have remained with my family all our lives.
My second declaration is that in no way do I justify or support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which was an act of military aggression and invasion resulting in the loss of life and destruction.
And I did not support the U.S. invasion of Iraq, resulting in loss of life, civilian suffering and destruction of the country, which continues today.
The United States, the United Kingdom, and some of its allies launched a war against Iraq on March 19, and it has now been 20 years since that war began. The majority of the Global South (countries classified by the World Bank as low or middle-income that are found in Africa, Asia, Oceania, Latin America, and the Caribbean) did not support or take part in the invasion.
The Lies Used to Support the Iraq War
“While the U.S. was able to enlist 49 countries to join its ‘coalition of the willing’ to support invading the sovereign nation of Iraq,’ according to Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK: Women for Peace and co-author of War in Ukraine: Making Sense of a Senseless Conflict with Nicolas J.S. Davies, only the U.K., Australia, Denmark, and Poland contributed troops to the invasion force.”
According to what the late Senator Edward Kennedy denounced as “a demand for 21st century American imperialism that no other country can or should accept,” the invasion of Iraq would display to the rest of the globe the U.S. “full spectrum supremacy.”
Kennedy was spot-on, while the neocons were completely mistaken. While successful in toppling Saddam Hussein, American military aggression failed to impose a stable new regime, leaving only turmoil, murder, and death in its wake. This also applied to American actions in Afghanistan, Libya, and other nations.
Lie No. 1: Iraq supported Al Qaeda when they attacked the US
Amazingly, despite hinting the exact opposite for eighteen months, President Bush suddenly acknowledged,in 2006 in a rare instance of candour, that there was no proof Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had any connection to the 9/11 attacks.
Lies #2 and #3-Iraq’s biochemical and nuclear weapons programmes posed immediate threats
Bush wisely avoided discussing Iraq’s uranium, though he did spend a significant portion of his SOTU defending the war because “had we failed to act, the dictator’s weapons of mass destruction programmes would continue to this day.” This was a year after Bush used his 2003 State of the Union address to portray Iraq’s allegedly vast arsenal of WMD as a serious threat to the United States and the rest of the world. In interviews with USA Today and the Los Angeles Times, Dick Cheney repeated this fudge, saying that “the jury’s still out” on whether Iraq had WMD and that “I am a long way at this stage from concluding that there was some fundamental flaw in our intelligence.” Last year, it was “weapons,” this year, it was “programmes.”
Only a few days later, chief US weapons inspector David Kay resigned and started disclosing to the public what the Bush Administration had been hiding since taking office: that Saddam Hussein’s regime was only a weak shadow of the militarily formidable force it had been during the first Gulf War thirteen years prior, that it had no significant chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons programmes or stockpiles still in existence, and that the UN inspections and allied bombing runs in the 1990s had been much more effective than their critics had believed at eroding these programs.
Lie #4–It Will Be Easy: Iraq as a “Cakewalk.”
“The capture of Saddam Hussein does not mean the end of violence in Iraq,” Bush admitted, putting the lie to the idiotic and arrogant statements by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others that policing Iraq would be a simple matter that could be quickly delegated to Iraqis as soon as they stopped celebrating the US military’s arrival and cleaned up all those flowers they were going to throw.
The clean pictures of unstoppable progress painted by the White House have continued to deviate from reality. On Christmas Day alone, there were eighteen attacks, including nine nearly simultaneous rocket grenade launches on embassies, apartments, and the “green zone,” which is where the Coalition Provisional Authority headquarters are located. In the weeks following Saddam’s capture, the number of US soldiers killed increased, several helicopters were shot down by enemy fire, and several rockets were dropped on enemy targets. The number of US fatalities has surpassed 500, but uncounted Iraqis continue to perish in unreported clashes.
Lie #5–The Moral Justification: Iraq as a Democratic Model.
We must never forget how the George W. Bush administration, hellbent on starting a war in Iraq after the horrifying 9/11 atrocities, distorted the truth, the media, and the public. Only hours after the attacks, at 2.40 pm on September 11, 2001, then-secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld sent a memo to the joint chiefs of staff directing them to collect information that would support invading Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein (as well as Osama bin Laden).
According to the Center for Public Integrity, Bush and his top officials publicly misled the public about Saddam’s threat to the United States at least 935 times in the two years after 9/11. Bush and his supporters repeatedly repeated the talking point “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud” during the lead-up to the war, to the point that it started to sound like the jingle from a shoddy law firm commercial. No weapons of mass devastation were ever discovered, as should be obvious.
Lie #6: The Iraq War was never about regime change
The United States policy has long sought to overthrow the government in Iraq. The CIA has a history of both successful and unsuccessful coup attempts in various nations. The US and UK had been aiming for regime change during the l990s. By 1995, UN inspectors had concluded that Saddam Hussein had ordered the destruction of Iraq’s prohibited weapons in 1991; yet, the UN continued inspections to convince the American and British governments of this. A measure to make regime change in Iraq the official U.S. policy was developed by the U.S. Congress in 1998.
Lie #7: Policy experts in the U.K. supported the U.S. argument for “pre-emptive action”
Documented evidence, however, demonstrates that Blair received a 13-page complete legal opinion regarding the war plan from Lord Goldsmith, Britain’s Attorney General at the time. He declared, “This is not a doctrine which, in my judgement, exists or is recognized in international law,” in response to the Bush doctrine of pre-emption. He highlighted that only the United States disagreed with the idea that military action would be legal without a new Security Council resolution. “Regime Change cannot be the purpose of military action,” he informed Blair. Three British government lawyers, including Elizabeth Wilmshurst, the deputy legal adviser to the Foreign Office, resigned a few days after the U.S. and the UK engaged in military action. She described the invasion as an “aggressive crime.” Then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan referred to it as “illegal.” Benjamin Ferencz, a former Nuremberg chief prosecutor, described it as illegal “violence.”
Lie #8: American troops in Iraq received proper training on the laws of war
No instruction was provided to American troops in Iraq regarding their obligations as occupying forces under the Geneva Convention. All Iraqis were urged to be seen as the insurgents by U.S. troops.
Group Think and Mainstream Media Cheerleaders
Paul R. Pillar, a 28-year CIA veteran and senior analyst who resigned over the Iraq War, is currently a visiting professor of security studies at Georgetown University. “Twenty years after the United States invaded Iraq under the administration of George W. Bush, it is apparent that the war was one of the worst errors in American foreign policy history,” he claims. Iraq did not pose a major threat to the United States or its interests, hence the war was purely voluntary.
According to Pillar, the U.S. intervention in Iraq did not effectively advance the “War on Terror,” but instead made international terrorism more prevalent. As a direct reaction to the U.S. military occupation of Iraq and the sectarian strife that the war sparked, the organization that would later become known as Islamic State started under a different name. The conflict between sects has contributed significantly to the instability that the US invasion sparked and that spread beyond of Iraq. Iranian influence grew, reaching a level in Iraq that it had never attained under Saddam Hussein’s rule, among other regional effects.
Hardly any policy was discussed during the Bush administration or in Congress, according to Pillar: “There was never a National Security Council meeting, a policy options paper, or anything else that could be considered a policy process that addressed whether initiating this war was a wise decision. Furthermore, there was no system in place for incorporating all the information and analysis, including that provided by the intelligence community, that evaluated the invasion’s potential for nasty fallout and offered justification for concluding that the invasion was a terrible idea.
A resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq did come up for a vote in Congress, but the discussion leading up to it was brief and lacked committee hearings. “You can hear a pin drop,” complained long-serving West Virginia senator Robert Byrd of this Congress’ inaction, “there is no discussion. There isn’t a conversation. The merits and downsides of this particular war are not attempted to be presented to the country. Nothing is present.”
Few members of Congress bothered to look at the assessment that the intelligence community had produced at the request of Congress regarding the then-controversial possibility of WMD in Iraq. Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, one of the few who did look and chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, concluded that the administration’s case about Iraqi WMD was weak after reading the estimate. Only 23 senators, including him, voted against the war resolution.
The American public was sold on the Iraq War by taking advantage of their widespread credulity. That success was achieved less through deception than by a relentless drumbeat of speech that encouraged certain misconceptions among Americans. By August 2002, surveys revealed that most Americans believed Saddam Hussein had been “personally involved” in the 9/11 terrorist assault following several months of a pro-war campaign in which the administration’s rhetoric had regularly invoked “Iraq,” “9/11,” and “al-Qaida” in the same sentence.
Ishaan Tharoor, a columnist for the Washington Post, examined how the events in Ukraine related to the 20th anniversary of the American invasion of Iraq. According to him, the Bush administration “presented a phoney bill of goods” to support its ‘pre-emptive’ action against Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship in Iraq. Its search for alleged WMD in Iraq turned out to be fruitless and was based on faulty intelligence. Its conviction that regime change would increase stability in the Middle East turned out to be completely false, sowing a legacy of instability that gave rise to extremist groups like the Islamic State and strengthened Washington’s adversary Iran’s clout in the area. Iraq has been devoured by years of political upheaval, parliamentary gridlock, and corruption, rendering its aim for imposing liberal democracy on the nation illusory.
The Costs of the Iraq War
The price tag for the Iraq War has been staggering and extensive.
Since President Biden’s inauguration almost a year ago, the Pentagon has finally released its first Airpower Report. From 2007, these monthly data have been made available to show how many bombs and missiles have been delivered by American-led air forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria since 2004. Nevertheless, after February 2020, President Trump ceased making these reports public, keeping the ongoing US bombing a secret.
The Watson Center at Brown University’s Costs of War project has generated numerous credible reports on the expenses associated with American operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places.
A thorough accounting of the costs of the last 20 years of war in Iraq includes human deaths and suffering, according to a study report by Neta C. Crawford, co-director of the Costs of War and Montague Burton Professor of International Relations at Balliol College, University of Oxford. There have been thousands of local and foreign combatants killed and wounded, including members of the Iraqi military and police as well as fighters from the United States and other allies. In total, there have been between 550,000 and 580,000 direct civilian and combatant casualties in the two war zones of Syria and Iraq since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve in 2014 and 2003, respectively.
Innocent Iraqis paid a significantly larger price in terms of human expenses, with an estimated 275,000–306,000 civilians dying as a direct result of war-related violence. The indirect death toll, however, is higher. Although it is difficult to estimate the exact figure, it is possible that twice, three times, or even four times that many people perished from indirect factors including displacement, a lack of access to safe drinking water, healthcare, and diseases that could have been avoided. More than 4,400 members of the U.S. military have been killed and another 32,000 have been injured, many of them gravely.
The long-term monetary cost of the Iraq war to the United States, which includes everything from ammunition to medical treatment for disabled veterans, is estimated by academic experts to be between two and three trillion dollars.
The Costs of War reported “More than 8 million people are internally displaced in the two nations, including more than 7 million refugees from Iraq and Syria. Long after the major combat has subsided, the destruction of local infrastructure and the environmental effects, such as war-related greenhouse gas emissions and impairment to local and regional ecosystems, will still be felt. ”
The lack of food, medical facilities, sanitary conditions, and the stressors of displacement may have caused pre-existing medical issues to worsen for some people in the region throughout the wars. They are referred to as excess deaths because it is likely that they would not have happened in the absence of the conflict and because estimating the number of deaths that would have occurred in the absence of the war is necessary.
From 2003 and 2023, the wars in Iraq and Syria have resulted in considerable internal displacement and large refugee flows. In Iraq, waves of displacement can be divided into two phases: the original invasion in 2003 to 2011 and the extensive warfare sparked by ISIS operations from 2014 to 2017. Iraq’s infrastructure suffered particularly severe damage in the second war. Many million Iraqis were internally displaced as a result of the American invasion in 2003. 3 million Iraqis were domestically displaced during the conflict with ISIS, more than 1.1 million are still displaced, and more than 345,000 Iraqis are currently refugees abroad, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Refugees.
Conflict-related limb loss is still happening. In addition to continuous hostilities, residents of both nations must contend with war remains like unexploded mines, cluster munitions, and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that failed to detonate. Both countries’ agricultural productivity and access to healthcare are hampered by the presence of mines and cluster munitions. A 2021 report by Humanity & Inclusion (also known as Handicap International) states that 3,225 km were contaminated by explosive ordnance from the 2003 war as well as earlier conflicts between Iraq and Iran (1980–1988) and the 1991 Gulf War, making Iraq the fourth-most explosive ordnance-contaminated nation in the world.
Although Syria has a significant amount of contamination from unexploded munitions, between 100,000 and 300,000 pieces of ordnance were thought to have failed to explode there in 2021. Cluster munitions have polluted almost a third of the nation’s populous areas, and the ongoing battle has cleared very little territory of mines and cluster munitions. Moreover, mines have been placed throughout Turkey’s borders with Syria and both Iraq.
On the other hand, the UN estimates that 2.5 million people in Iraq still require humanitarian aid, including 1.1 million children. In 2021, “about 960,000 persons (422,400 children) are deemed to be in urgent humanitarian need” in Iraq of the total population that required humanitarian aid.
The local and global habitats have been harmed by the wars. Both combatants and non-combatants who survive conflicts must deal with chronic medical disorders brought on by the environment created by conflict, which includes dust, toxic burn pits, smoke from burning oil fields, and other chemical exposures. Moreover, the wars have impacted climate change and greenhouse gas emissions through direct military emissions by participants, the destruction of towns and infrastructure, and the loss of sequestration due to the harm done to marshes and forests. Between 2003 and 2021, the combat zone saw the emission of 98 to 122 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents (MMTCO2e) as a result of U.S. military actions. Any emissions linked to Central Command installations are not included in this.
It is still too early to calculate the whole cost of the American war in Iraq and Syria. ISIS is still being attacked by American forces on the ground and in the air. U.S. soldiers engaged in 313 operations against ISIS in 2022, including 122 in Syria and 191 in Iraq. Both combatants and non-combatants continue to suffer injuries. On February 16, 2023, a raid against an ISIS leader in Syria left four American soldiers reportedly injured. According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, 81 civilians were killed in Syria just last month, in February 2023, as a result of war-related violence. Physical, psychological, and other harm, as well as reconstruction and rehabilitation, will persist even after the conflict has stopped.
The treatment of prisoners by American and British soldiers was extensively and consistently in breach of international humanitarian law, according to a study published in February 2004 by the International Committee of the Red Cross. According to verified allegations, inmates at American CIA-run prisons like Abu Ghraib and others in Afghanistan, Cuba, Romania, Mauretania, and Diego Garcia were tortured and mistreated.
Another war crime of historic dimensions was the US assault on Fallujah. Before the US attack, civilians were urged to evacuate the city, but males between the ages of 15 and 55 were forbidden from doing so. Although a UN assessment that 50,000 civilians, including the sick and elderly, were still present in the city as of the night of November 5, 2004, the majority of the city was extensively bombarded. The city was proclaimed a “weapons-free” zone, which allowed for the immediate execution of any living person who was deemed to be hostile. Afterwards, American officials acknowledged that they had bombed the city with white phosphorus and napalm.
Few media accounts of the conflict to this day adequately examine how much the Anglo-American invasion was motivated by the opening up of the Persian Gulf’s petroleum resources to the global economy.
According to Dr. Nafeez Ahmed, executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and author of several books, including A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And How to Save It, as reported in The Guardian, says: “ Iraq War was only partly, however, about big profits for Anglo-American oil conglomerates – that would be a bonus. The real goal – as Greg Muttitt documented in his book Fuel on the Fire citing declassified Foreign Office files from 2003 onwards – was stabilizing global energy supplies as a whole by ensuring the free flow of Iraqi oil to world markets – benefits to US and UK companies constituted an important but secondary goal. To this end, as Whitehall documents obtained by the Independent show, the US and British sought to privatize Iraqi oil production to allow foreign companies to take over. The centrality of concerns about energy to Iraq War planning was most candidly confirmed eight years ago by a former senior British Army officer in Iraq, James Ellery, currently director of a British security firm and US defence contractor, Aegis.”
The War’s Aftermath
The Center for Constitutional Rights has argued “Twenty years after the U.S. government invaded Iraq, we renew our call for reparations for those harmed as a result of the U.S.’s unlawful act of aggression in its cruel, senseless, and baseless war-for-profit.”
The Center goes on to argue: “Ten years ago, we teamed up with Iraqi civil society groups and U.S. service members to demand redress, and this need only becomes more urgent as the incalculable human toll of the war continues to grow: hundreds of thousands dead, some two million disabled, some nine million displaced, environmental devastation, countless people tortured, traumatized, or otherwise harmed in ways unseen, occupation and embrace of torture as policy in the so-called “war on terror,” and an entire generation that was born and raised in only war. Reparations are rooted in precedent and international law, as well as a strong tradition of justice-based organizing by civil rights movements, and we should not let the difficulty of securing justice deter us from seeking it – for Iraqis and all others harmed by U.S. imperialism, exploitation, and genocide.”
The Center goes on to say: “Justice also entails accountability for the perpetrators of these horrific crimes, including those responsible for the torture at Abu Ghraib and other detention centers in Iraq, as well as those tortured and detained in the larger ‘war on terror.’ Since 2004, we have filed three separate lawsuits against U.S-based military contractors on behalf of Iraqis tortured in the infamous Abu Ghraib prison. In Al Shimari v. CACI, three Iraqis enter the 15th year of their effort to seek damages from a company whose employees directed and participated in a conspiracy to commit numerous illegal and depraved acts, from abuse involving dogs to sexual assault to beatings that broke bones and injured genitals. We sued another private contractor, Erik Prince and his company Blackwater, for killing and injuring Iraqi civilians, obtaining a settlement on behalf of some victims of the Nisour Square massacre. Legal efforts against high-level political and military leaders for the invasion itself and the many crimes committed in the ‘war on terror’ pose a different set of challenges, as demonstrated by our efforts to hold high-level Bush administration officials accountable at the International Criminal Court for crimes in or arising out of the war in Afghanistan or under universal jurisdiction.”
William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel in the United States Air Force, has written for several websites, including TomDispatch.com, Truthout, History News Network (HNN), Alternet, Salon, and the Huffington Post, as well as being the author or co-author of three books and numerous articles on military history and the history of science, technology, and religion. He contends the following: “Even though since 2003, Iraq should have received $500 billion in oil income, the state treasury is currently empty. The new system is increasingly characterized by corruption and incompetence. Since 2018, there have been three prime ministers of the unstable, Shiite religious parties dominated administration that the United States imposed.
According to UN human rights estimates, 68% of Iraqis lack access to safe drinking water, 2,000 doctors have been killed, and another 12,000 have fled the country. 54 percent of Iraqis currently live on less than $1 per day, including 15% who make less than 50 cents.
Consequently, neither Iraq nor Syria’s human rights condition nor the state of democracy are sufficient. In Iraq, the U.S. sought to establish participatory democracy. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq stated that torture was still being used in August 2021.
Biden’s approach, when confronted with questions about how he contributed to the invasion’s political viability, has been misleading at best. Independent journalist Michael Tracey claims that during a recent interview with Biden in New Hampshire, Biden repeated the absurd assertion that he opposed the Iraq invasion even before it began. “Well, I opposed the war before it started,” Biden said. Joe Biden’s Jumbled Iraq War Revisionism can be found in Tracey’s article and video.
Scholar Stephen Zunes noted four years ago that Biden “had a lengthy history of false statements” over Iraq. ” For instance,” Zunes says,” Biden used his position as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to insist that Iraq had somehow reconstituted a sizable arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, a nuclear weapons programme, and sophisticated delivery systems that had long since been eliminated in the run-up to the crucial Senate vote authorizing the invasion.”
Several specialists refuted that untruth in real time, months before the invasion. Yet in the middle of the summer of 2002, then-Senator Biden, wielding the gavel of the Foreign Relations Committee, excluded them all from two days of highly publicized hearings about Iraq.
Military Impact on Business and Higher Education
It’s striking how seldom we discuss how the war has changed how we teach our children in this day and age when cultural battles centred on our educational system make headlines. Don’t be astonished, but the Department of Defense (DOD) grew to be the third-largest source of financing for research at American universities in the years immediately following 9/11. A staggering number of universities (mostly state universities) have laboratories and research centres established by the DOD and other military-related agencies like the Department of Homeland Security to fund research into weapons and armour, military strategy, bioterrorism prevention, and intelligence gathering.
And even now, financing for university research is still provided by the military, frequently — pardon my use of the word — surpassing spending for subjects relating to human services. For instance, in 2022, the Military allocated $130.1 billion for university research facilities. You can tell what our country values most by contrasting that with the $353 million provided by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality for university-based research into the creation of more equal and affordable healthcare. Only $100 million was invested in academic research aimed at enhancing learning outcomes. In other words, it doesn’t take much digging to figure out what our country’s top priorities are.
The beneficiaries of wars are weapons manufacturers. Raytheon CEO Greg Hayes said to investors in January of 2021: “Look, peace is not going to break out in the Middle East anytime soon. I think it remains an area where we’ll continue to see solid growth.” By solid growth, he means killing will continue.
Hayes forthrightly revealed the deeply vested interests that foment manufactured wars rooted in lies and propaganda. The connections between military personnel, politicians, financiers, military contractors, and news outlets maintain the steady flow of wealth (weapons companies got $768 billion in 2021) from public coffers to private hands. These people are hardly policy experts since every war they promote in a cynical sing-song tap dance routine meant to bamboozle and distract is a lost cause; they are just war profiteers.
The Costs of War project says that there has been zero accountability for the lies, disinformation, propaganda, and documented war crimes committed by the U.S. that include: torture, murders by drone attacks, the ravaging of civil society, and the wanton destruction of cities, and infrastructure.
Andrea Mazzarino co-founded Brown University’s Costs of War Project. She has held various clinical, research, and advocacy positions, including at a Veterans Affairs PTSD Outpatient Clinic, with Human Rights Watch, and at a community mental health agency. She is the co-editor of War and Health: The Medical Consequences of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mazzarino states the following: “The legitimacy of the U.S. position in Iraq lies at the very heart of the ongoing crisis. The U.S. government invaded another country for strategic and commercial reasons, in violation of its most solemn treaty obligations under the UN Charter, but it has failed to impose its will by force on the population. Every day that it continues to wage this war and to kill or drive Sunni Arabs out of the country compounds the seriousness of the international crime it has committed. While UN Security Council Resolution 1546 and subsequent resolutions have made a weak attempt to chart a course toward a genuine restoration of Iraqi sovereignty and independence, this has been doomed to failure by the U.S. government’s refusal to relinquish the original goals of the invasion or to give up the illegitimate and murderous role it is playing in Iraq’s affairs in pursuit of those goals.”
Past wars fade in the memories of most people, and the younger generations who have not personally lived through them don’t get a full appreciation of the horrors of war, or in some cases, have no interest in learning about them. And memories of the past often get altered or edited, and the brutal lessons are faded or even disappear.
We would do well on this 20th anniversary of the beginning of the War in Iraq to not forget the truth and learn lessons from it.