It is one of the most bitter ironies of this century so far that a war carried out as part of the so-called war on terror turned out to be one of history’s worst acts of terror.
US NGO Just Foreign Policy estimates that more than 1,450,000 Iraqis have died since the US-led invasion 10 years ago.
That is a death rate of about one in every 17 or 18 Iraqis. The Iraq genocide — as we could easily call it — claimed more lives than the Rwandan genocide.
It can be hard to grapple with such mind-boggling numbers, so let us put it in Australian terms. Consider some kind of disaster that wiped out every person in Canberra, Newcastle, Wollongong, Hobart, Geelong and Darwin. That would be roughly the same amount of casualties as in Iraq.
So much for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
We were told the West had to invade to because of the threat of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction — a transparent lie, since proved to be such. But in the name of saving the world from WMDs, Iraqis were subjected to one of history’s worst bombardments of WMDs.
The invasion began with the US’s “shock and awe” campaign. Naomi Klein says more than 30,000 bombs were dropped in the first six weeks, together with 20,000 precision-guided cruise missiles (amazingly, that accounted for two-thirds of all cruise missiles made up until at the time).
The 2003 invasion, and the 1991 Gulf War before it, left hundreds of tonnes of depleted uranium scattered across the country. Depleted uranium has a half life of between 700 million and 4.5 billion years, so the problem will not go away.
This, along with the other toxic wastes that go along with war, has led to an epidemic of cancer and birth deformations. Before the Gulf War, 40 of every 100,000 Iraqis were stricken with cancer. Al Jazerra said on March 15 that by 2005, the rate had increased 4000%. Some Iraqi doctors say that is still a gross underestimation and prefer to double the figure again.
The city of Fallujah is probably the worst affected. In 2004, US forces twice laid siege to the city, declaring it populated by “enemy combatants”. It used depleted uranium and chemical weapons, such as white phosphorus, and turned the city to rubble.
Researchers later visited 711 families in Fallujah and asked them about incidents of cancer and birth defects. Their results were published in a 2010 study. One of the authors said Fallujah represented “the highest rate of genetic damage in any population ever studied”.
The deaths from cancer and other war related illnesses were not included in Just Foreign Policy’s Iraq war casualty estimates.
We were told that the invasion would liberate the Iraqi people and bring them democracy. Right after the invasion, the US-installed governor Paul Bremer gave Iraqis a taste of exactly what was meant by the terms freedom and liberation, and for whom.
In her book The Shock Doctrine, Klein said that a week into the job, Bremer decreed the privatisation of 200 Iraqi firms. The corporate tax rate was slashed from 45% to 15%.
With the exception of the oil industry, foreign companies were allowed to own 100% of Iraqi assets and could take all profits out of the country, tax-free.
Bremer also took control of US$20 billion of assets from the Iraqi national oil company, about half of which has never been accounted for. The invasion freed markets, but robbed Iraqis.
Supporters of the war insist that Iraq is a better, safer place with Saddam Hussein gone. Refugees International said that today, close to 3 million Iraqis remain refugees in their own country, living in “constant fear, with limited access to shelter, food, and basic services”.
Iraq was one of only five countries in the world where life expectancy fell between 2000 and 2009, the Huffington Post said in 2011.
“Liberated Iraq” is one of the world’s most corrupt nations, says Transparency International. Opposition politicians have accused US-backed Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of organising the arrest and torture of at least 1000 political opponents, Anti-War.com reported last year.
The idea that Iraq is now a democracy is the sickest of jokes. Iraqi police opened fire on an anti-government demonstration in Mosul on March 8, killing at least one, Human Rights Watch reported on March 16. They opened fire on another protest in Fallujah in January, leaving nine dead bodies.
Baghdad man Kadom al-Jabouri gained worldwide fame in 2003 when he was filmed taking a sledgehammer to a statue of Hussein. He told the British Observer on March 9: “I dreamed for five years of bringing down that statue, but what has followed has been a bitter disappointment.
“Then we had only one dictator. Now we have hundreds ... nothing has changed for the better.”
Ten years on, the key players in the war are still eager to justify their atrocities, saying they made the world a better place. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said on March 15 that the Iraq War “the most difficult decision I ever took and the most balanced decision”.
He said the invasion had saved lives and helped Iraqis: “If you’d left Saddam in charge of Iraq, you would have had carnage on an even worse scale in Syria and with no end in sight.”
In an interview with Democracy Now, Arundhati Roy said Blair’s argument was preposterous: “This man is saying, ‘Oh, we did such a wonderful thing. We saved these people.’ Now, isn’t that like — isn’t it insane?
“I mean, I don’t know how to respond to something like that, because it’s like somebody looking at somebody being slaughtered and saying, ‘Oh, he must be enjoying it. We are really helping him,’ ... how do you argue rationally against these people?”
There is no question the anti-war movement was right to protest the Iraq invasion. We were right to stand up against this monstrous and brutal war. We were right to say it was a war crime. We were right to say the politicians who led the drive to war — especially George W. Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard — were war criminals. They are war criminals. They should be brought to justice.
[Based on a talk given to a Sydney Stop the War public meeting on March 18. Simon Butler was a leader of socialist youth organisation Resistance and a key organiser of the Books Not Bombs student strikes against the Iraq War in March and April 2003.]