14 years on, where’s Iraq’s democracy?
March 20th marks the 14th anniversary of the beginning of the US-led military campaign to invade Iraq and to topple Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime.
2003 was a fateful year for Iraqis, with some hoping that there would be a new era of freedom and democracy and others sceptical about American intentions. After all, then-president George W. Bush was the son of former US president George H.W. Bush, who started the process of the destruction of Iraq during the 1990-91 Gulf War, so it was unlikely that his son would be more generous to Iraq.
By the time the Americans and their allies invaded Iraq illegally, Saddam had been president for 24 years since 1979, though he was in de facto control years before then.
The invasion failed to introduce the democracy, freedom and liberty from tyranny that the Iraqi people were promised. Not only did Iraqis fail to see any real positive change in their circumstances but the opposite occurred, with the Iraqi people looking on as their country was torn apart, its constituent peoples each pulled in different directions and within the orbits of foreign powers meddling in Iraqi affairs.
It is as though the preceding years of sanctions, death and destruction wrought by American air power before the invasion was not bad enough. Iraq was subjected to sanctions and the controversial UN-administered oil-for-food programme, which saw Iraqis get no real payment for exporting their oil but would instead receive food, medicine and other humanitarian aid. While on paper this seems a humane way of slapping sanctions on a dictatorship without harming the people, the reality is that Iraqis were given substandard products that were in some cases harmful to consumers.
Apart from that, more than 500,000 Iraqi children died as a direct result of sanctions by 1995, with probably hundreds of thousands more in the ensuing years up to 2003, not to mention the other innocent men and women caught up in the inhuman sanctions regime. Did the invasion alleviate their suffering? Did the rate at which the Iraqi people were being systematically killed drop?
The answer to that can only be an emphatic “No”. In the first three years after the invasion, a British medical publication, the Lancet, recorded that 654,965 Iraqis had lost their lives by June 2006 as a direct consequence of the invasion. If we take just the 1995 and the 2006 figures, that is more than 1 million people who have had their lives snuffed out of existence.
Of course, the Iraq war continued officially until the United States under Barack Obama withdrew in December 2011 but its effects, such as the creation of a hyper-sectarian environment that allowed Iran to exert ever greater control over extremist Shia militants, who in turn provided a fertile ground for al-Qaeda to evolve into the rabid terrorist threat of the Islamic State (ISIS).
Now, 14 years on, it is doubtful that ISIS’s defeat in Mosul will herald a new beginning for Iraq, as the core symptoms of corruption, sectarianism and foreign meddling have yet to be dealt with.
The circumstances and consequences of the 2003 invasion have created a ripple effect of misery that, tragically, will not be ending any time soon.