Iraq, and our long war for a peaceful and burgeoning society within it, re-earned its place in Britain’s headline news this Christmas; the burst of publicity coincided with the official departure of the U.S military from Iraq.
The purpose of this article is to address what struck me most about this burst of media coverage in December: across both the national newspapers and TV channels, there was an untrammelled and concerning consensus that the war should be written off as an utter disaster. The media justified such an assessment by implying that the western invasion-occupation in 2003 had created the violent sectarian war that has, since then, ruined Iraq. Now this accusation, that it was the western invasion-occupation that caused the bloody sectarian war, must be refuted. One can do this by contextualizing it with a historical perspective of Iraq under Saddam Hussein.
The observation that Iraq has, since 2003, suffered from sectarian violence is an important one, but to make it as part of the argument that the war has been a disaster is desperately misplaced.
The ongoing sectarian violence in Iraq since 2003 was never a war against the western invasion of Iraq; it was an inevitable consequence of the removal of Saddam Hussein. During his 30-year rule of Iraq Saddam had given a great deal of privilege to the Sunni Muslim minority, but he had also, and for just as long, repressed the Kurdish population and the Shia majority. For example, he deported around two hundred thousand Shias in the 1970s, and killed tens of thousands more over the course of his rule; we know this as their bodies were dumped in mass graves that were discovered across Southern Iraq in 2003.
It was this repressive 30-year rule, not the western invasion in 2003, that fostered the hatred that created the sectarian violence that still divides Iraq. Understandably Shia Muslim’s have used their freedom since 2003 to try and avenge their friends and families for the years of repression and misery they faced, while the rump of Saddam’s Sunni elite are still searching for a return to their former power and privilege.
Once one understands that sectarian violence was inevitable in a post-Saddam Iraq, one also sees that the only way such sectarian violence could have been completely avoided would have been for the west to do nothing to attempt to end Saddam’s tyrannical reign. Now is this really a morally defensible view to have? Remember (or perhaps you don’t?) that Saddam was a man who had, with considerable vim, consistently tried to acquire a nuclear warhead, and had also, with equal gusto, sought to cleanse Iraq of her Kurdish population. But Saddam was a busy man, and he also attempted to expand Iraq’s boundaries into the territory of Iran and then of Kuwait, in what were two frenzied attempts to gain a monopoly of the world’s foremost oil supply. Between 1979 and 2003, the machinations of this genocidal mind had led to the very real deaths of least 1.5 million people.
Despite this moral imperative to act, let us ponder the likely outcome if the governments of the US and Britain had endorsed the view that to do nothing about Saddam was the right thing to do.
With no invasion from the west, when Saddam did eventually die and the all-controlling fear he created disappeared, the world would have still been faced with an anarchic and violent Iraq. Now, when this would have occurred, with no western invasion, Iraq would have experienced far greater sectarian violence and disorder; without the power and wealth of the US military to provide some level of security and stability Iraq would have imploded. It’s not like the Iraqi army could have been relied upon as a source of control; without Saddam it would have been torn apart by a power struggle, led enthusiastically by Saddam’s two amoral and irreconcilable sons Uday and Qusay. In this state of affairs, with Iraq free from western intervention and experiencing a hapless civil war, is it not conceivable that Iraq’s ambitious neighbors would have thought it wise to get involved militarily in Iraq? The Iranian theocracy would come from the east in order to protect Shia interest, the Saudi Arabian dictatorship from the south for the Sunnis, and Turkey would have come from the north to prevent Kurdish independence. In that case, there would not only have been a sectarian war confined to Iraq, but there would have been one that poured out onto the entire Persian Gulf region.
So there you have it, it is not such a good idea to suggest the sectarian violence experienced in Iraq, since our war there, has made the entire campaign as disaster. If you do so, you perhaps unknowingly, but inevitably, pitch your tent in the camp that suggests it would have been a good idea to do nothing to end Saddam’s murderous reign. Moreover, and as I have already said, the fact that the sectarian violence was an inevitable outcome of an Iraq after Saddam, makes it a desperately misplaced, and invalid point in the argument against the western invasion-occupation. Unfortunately, this is exactly the case the British media made last December. Such a case must be disregarded, in doing so we can begin to undermine this worrying media consensus that condemns the 2003 war in Iraq as a disaster.