Iraqi activists, academics reflect on US occupation 15 years on

The devastation wrought by the US-led campaign continues to be felt in Iraq today, speakers said.
Saturday 12/05/2018
A file photo showing a US Marine covers the face of a statue of then Iraqi President Saddam Hussein with a US flag in Baghdad, on April 9, 2003. (AP)
A file photo showing a US Marine covers the face of a statue of then Iraqi President Saddam Hussein with a US flag in Baghdad, on April 9, 2003. (AP)

HAMMAMET, Tunisia - Fifteen years after US forces unleashed a “shock-and-awe” bombing campaign on Iraq, the effects of war and occupation linger, said doctors, academics and activists speaking at the Iraqi Forum for Intellectuals and Academics (IFIA).

“Iraq is one of the oldest nations in the world… and everything built by its society has been destroyed,” Ramadan Saudi, president of the International Association for Justice and Development, said at a conference May 10 in Hammamet, Tunisia.

The convention, just before an election in Iraq, put forward a less-than-optimistic vision of the first parliamentary polls since the defeat of the Islamic State (ISIS) and included a thorough rehashing of the “crimes of the invader," including their impact on the country's health and education sectors.

“The coloniser decided to scatter the country and steal its wealth…,” said Sheikh Abdulmajeed Ahmed, general secretary of the forum. “The fragmentation of the state led to anarchy and killings.”

Former US President George W. Bush has expressed regret over intelligence failures leading up to the 2003 invasion but said in 2016 through a spokesman that he “continues to believe the whole world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power.”

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he expresses “more sorrow, regret and apology than you can ever know or believe” over mistakes made during the war.

The devastation wrought by the US-led campaign continues to be felt today, speakers said. This is especially true in towns such as Falluja, the site of repeated bloodbaths during the Iraq war and later an ISIS enclave.

Since 2004, doctors and researchers have noted a sharp increase in birth defects and cancer, which many link to the United States’ use of white phosphorous and other chemical weapons. US officials confirmed using white phosphorus in Falluja but denied deploying it against civilians.

The damage inflicted in Falluja and other towns has been exacerbated by poor infrastructure, inadequate medical care and contaminated water supplies, problems that the central government has done little to address, doctors said.

“It is a collapse in all aspects,” said Iraqi physician Adel Khudhar Abdulazeez Aldori. “Three decades ago, our health situation was among the best in the region… Today we have malnourished children, pregnant women suffering from anaemia and a rise in communicable diseases… Much of our medical equipment has been stolen and the security situation is unstable.”

Even hospitals that are functional are often difficult to access, Aldori said, adding: “There have been many deaths on the way to the hospital.”

Iraq’s education system, once the pride of the Arab world, is equally bleak, experts noted.

“Prior to 1991, Iraq had a 100% gross enrolment rate for primary school and high levels of literacy” but those figures have dropped significantly, said Yarub al-Douri, who heads the IFIA’s committee for higher education and scientific research.

“In 2017, only 100,000 people were admitted to university, after 1 million were admitted into primary school in 2005. That means 90% (of university-age citizens) have lost the chance to go to university,” he said.

The quality of Iraqi education has been undermined, too, Douri said, with children being indoctrinated with “sectarian ideas.” He pointed to videos of Iraqi children repeating Shia slogans at the direction of school administrators and to evidence of politicised curricula.

“They are bringing up a new generation that does not belong to any nation,” Douri said. “Children are now being taught to reject the differences in others.”

Hundreds of academics have been targeted and killed, presumably for their views, said the BRussels Tribunal (named after British philosopher Bertrand Russell), an international activist network opposed to “wars promoted by the American government and its allies.” The group has compiled a list of more than 400 slain academics and says hundreds of others have disappeared or been kidnapped.

This campaign of assassination, BRussels Tribunal said, as well as the general destruction of Iraq’s educational sector, falls on the shoulders of the United States, which it says gave free rein to militias to loot and destroy academic institutions and intimidate or kill academics.

“Most people say Americans had no plans for post-invasion Iraq but we now know the destruction was deliberately done,” said Dirk Adriaensens, a member of BRussels Tribunal’s executive committee.

The United States, which continues to have a military presence in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government, was absent from a February conference seeking funds for Iraq’s reconstruction.

The conference raised $30 billion towards the reconstruction effort, well below its goal of $88 billion. The cost of Iraqi reconstruction has been estimated at $300 billion, nearly twice the country’s GDP.