Notes From the Margins…

Iraq: a Bad End to a Bad War

  • December 17, 2011
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In March 2003 the United States, backed by its faithful lieutenant Britain and a hastily-concocted ‘Coalition of the Willing’,  invaded Iraq following a campaign of lies, manipulation, propaganda and manufactured intelligence.

After smashing Saddam Hussein’s decrepit army, the invaders proved unable  to install their puppet Ahmed Chalabi in power or ensure security, and began a neo-colonial occupation that soon produced a ferocious counter-reaction.

Despite having predicted that the invasion would be a ‘cakewalk’, the occupiers were brought close to strategic defeat by an insurgency that ripped Iraqi society apart.   Between  150,000 to a million Iraqis may have died as a result of  insurgent attacks on soldiers and civilians,  sectarian violence, terrorist bombings,  and military operations, raids and shootings by the occupying forces.

At its peak in 2006-7, two million Iraqis were forced to leave the country and another two million were Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), most of whom have yet to return to their homes.

From the beginning the transitional government behaved with often breathtaking arrogance and incompetence,  and appeared to have no overriding objective except to restructure Iraq’s economy for the benefit of foreign capital through the Bremer laws – a restructuring that is illegal under international law since the occupying power is not allowed to make permanent alterations to the prevailing laws  in the occupied country.

The war has so far cost  an estimated one trillion dollars – a figure which some analysts predict may eventually be more than double.   It has also generated massive corruption in Iraq and also amongst the occupying forces themselves.

In June this year the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction told the US Congress that 6.6 billion dollars had disappeared in Iraq in what he called ‘the largest theft of funds in national history’ – a theft that the Los Angeles Times attributed to both corrupt Iraqi officials and private US military contractors.

The level of violence decreased from 2007 onwards, following the use of sectarian death squads controlled by the Ministry of Interior and backed by the US military, which tortured and murdered on a massive scale, and also by a counterinsurgency strategy that involved bribing Sunni insurgents to put their weapons down – the same insurgents who had previously been depicted by the Bush administration and Blair governments as agents of evil/al Qaeda/Ba’athist deadenders etc.

Today Iraq is a traumatised country of a million widows and more than three million orphans, according to the Iraqi Orphan Foundation, a country where doctors in Fallujah report that 75 percent of babies born in the city are deformed as a result of weapons used during the two US assaults of 2004.   This year’s Amnesty International report on Iraq described a society in which

Armed groups opposed to the government carried out numerous suicide bomb and other attacks, killing hundreds of civilians. Militia groups also carried out targeted killings. Serious human rights violations were committed by Iraqi security forces and US troops: thousands of people were detained without charge or trial, including some held for several years, although many others were released.

The report also notes that

Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees by Iraqi security forces were endemic; some detainees were tortured in secret prisons and several others died in custody in suspicious circumstances. The courts handed down death sentences after unfair trials and at least 1,300 prisoners were reported to be on death row. One execution was reported, although the real total was believed to be much higher.

None of was present in the  tributes from Barack Obama and his Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta last week.  Though their speeches acknowledged the 4,500 US soldiers who have died and the 30,000 wounded, there was no room for the thousands of veterans who have committed suicide since returning home, which reached 120 suicides per week in 2008 (from Iraq and Afghanistan combined) according to CBS News, or the numerous cases of domestic violence and even murder carried out by Iraq veterans.

In 2009 an Associated Press report on a spate of local murders carried out by former members of the US army’s 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Divsion  Fort Carson, noted that

Soldiers from a Colorado unit accused in nearly a dozen slayings since returning home, including a couple gunned down as they put up a garage sale sign, could be showing hostility fueled by intense combat in Iraq, where the troops suffered heavy losses and told of witnessing war crimes.

In his defence, one of the accused offered his experience in Iraq as a rationalisation, claiming that “There, we were the law, here, the cops are the law.”

Such events cast some doubt on the insistence of Obama and Panetta on the essential nobility of the US military’s role in Iraq.    Of the dead Iraqis, there was no mention at all in the Peace Laureate’s celebration of “one of the most extraordinary chapters in the history of the American military”.

According to Obama:  “Iraq’s not a perfect place. It has many challenges ahead. But we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self reliant Iraq with a representative government that was elected by its people.”

“What we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence,” wrote the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.

The silence that surrounds the Iraq war is one more example of things that we prefer not to talk about,  and it is not surprising that a war that began with lies should also end with them.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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