Iraq ... or the brutalisation of a country
Twenty years ago President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair sent in their forces, along with those of their allies, into Iraq. It was an invasion based on the false premise that Iraq, led by President Saddam Hussein, was in possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) that could endanger global security. Tony Blair trotted out the lie that the WMDs could be fired from Iraq within 45 minutes, meaning that Baghdad was in a position to strike its enemies in that brief span of time and so cause widespread destruction in the world.
The invasion of Iraq took place against a background of Hans Blix and his fellow UN inspectors informing the world that there was no evidence of Iraq being in possession of WMDs. The neo-cons in Washington and their friends in London paid no heed. No United Nations sanction was there for any move to be undertaken against the Saddam Hussein regime, for there was little reason to believe that the Iraqi leader was actually a threat to global order. In the days and weeks preceding the invasion, Bush and Blair deliberated on the means by which Saddam Hussein could be removed from power and Iraq could be 'liberated'.
The invasion began on 20 March and by the earlier part of April Iraq was a broken country, its leader toppled. The 'liberation' of Iraq quickly led to a situation where the country swiftly fragmented, with mobs deluded into thinking that democracy, per courtesy of the foreign occupiers, had come into their lives going on a rampage in Baghdad and elsewhere. Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled amidst cheers. His soldiers were on the run, having been unable to mount any credible resistance to the invaders.
Collaborators like Ahmed Chalabi, long funded by the likes of Dick Cheney and cheered by the arrival of the American and British forces, began to believe Iraq was now theirs to mould and reshape. They were soon to be elbowed aside, with American officials taking control of the country in the way the victors in the Second World War took charge of defeated Germany and vanquished Japan. The Iraqi army was disbanded, the consequence being that all Iraqi soldiers went off to join elements that would soon plunge Iraq in sectarian conflict.
The invasion of Iraq was in contravention of the rules of war. It was an unabashed violation of international law, for it was a well-planned assault on a sovereign country by forces who had framed the lie, first, that Saddam Hussein had been linked to the 11 September 2001 attacks on New York and, second, that he had those weapons to push the world into conflagration.
Tony Blair had the British parliament push through his plans for the invasion. At the UN, men like Colin Powell, who later regretted his role, mischievously laid out for the world what they saw as the specific points along which Iraq's leader would fire his missiles into the air and against Iraq's enemies. In those darkening times, it was arrogance shaped on the anvil of neo-imperialism the world was treated to.
Once the invasion was complete and Iraq had been reduced to a shambles, George W. Bush loudly proclaimed that America's mission had been accomplished. It had indeed been accomplished, for an independent and secular Iraq had been ruined and sectarian forces, in the presence of the invading troops, were quickly fanning out to destroy whatever remained of the country. In time, the destruction of Iraq would have grave ramifications, fomenting as it did the rise of such crude Islamist groups as ISIL. No one would ever take the neo-cons in Washington and the Blairites in London to task over their brutalisation of Iraq.
Saddam Hussein would be hunted down and tried in conditions that were a travesty of the law, any law, an insult to civilised behaviour. His execution was the final hint that Iraq as it used to be did not exist anymore. Inexplicably, some people in the West, admiring of the Bush-Blair axis, would propose that the US President and the British Prime Minister be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. It did not occur to these men that these heroes of theirs had imposed the peace of the grave on Iraq.
A million Iraqi deaths later, the International Criminal Court has issued a warrant of arrest against Russian President Vladimir Putin over his country's conduct in Ukraine. Ironically, President Joe Biden, whose country has steadfastly been opposed to the ICC and has argued that it does not recognise the court and that the ICC will never be permitted to prosecute American transgressions in international conflict, has been cheered by the warrant against Putin.
The ICC is thus in the headlines, for Putin is the enemy. It has little time to study the many ways in which the United States, the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation have encouraged a proliferation of the Ukraine conflict through consistently arming Kyiv.
Away in the Middle East, the ICC has never called forth the courage to serve warrants of indictment or arrest against Israeli leaders who have systematically presided over the building of illegal Jewish settlements on occupied Arab land. The ICC has not had the inclination to call to account any Israeli political leader or military officer on the issue of the murder of the journalist Shireen Abu-Akleh.
The ICC has been quick to go after African leaders and warlords accused of atrocities against their people and other people. But it has carefully chosen to look away from the crimes committed in Iraq. No step has ever been taken to have Bush, Blair and their associates compelled to appear before the ICC in The Hague and answer for the destruction they wrought in Iraq.
No law has touched the men who put Iraq to the torch in March-April 2003. Paul Bremer, with pretensions of being a latter-day Douglas MacArthur, as the administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority of Iraq decreed a ban on the Baath Party and the Iraqi army. On his watch, tens of thousands of Iraqis perished, Iraq degenerated into bloodletting, libraries and other institutions in Iraq were destroyed. But nothing was done to haul Bremer before the ICC.
Two decades after the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, it is time to remember the country that once was, to remember the bastion of secular stability Saddam Hussein and his regime built in their years in power, to remember the men and women, dead and alive, whose pride was being citizens of Iraq.
The men who have ruined Iraq may never be tried for their crimes. But their legacy will be one of being remembered with contempt by people who have consistently believed in the law and decency, have always marched on the streets in defence of peace, have never let aggressors sleep in peace in their beds.