When during the final days of December 2011, the last US troops stationed in Iraq crossed the border into Kuwait, American officials hailed it as a triumphant accomplishment of a glorious mission that toppled the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein and ushered in a new age of democracy and freedom in Iraq. Such tall claims might have been meant for domestic consumption, but the fact remains that all independent analysts unanimously agree that by all means and standards, US military adventures in Iraq have been an embarrassing failure, without any tangible achievement, doing more damage than good. Now that the Iraq conflict that began with Operation Shock and Awe in March 2003, is finally over, let us have an analytical assessment of the legitimacy and efficacy of this whole campaign, that claimed the lives of four and a half thousand Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, besides costing billions of dollars. To arrive at some final conclusion, we have to decide as to whether the United States was really justified in unleashing its massive military power against Iraq.
The US invasion of Iraq was prompted by a matter of choice rather than necessity. Previously, the United States was drawn into military conflicts when it or some of its closest allies came under direct aggressive assault from some other country. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, Korean War and the US-led invasion of Iraq in 1991; in all such instances the swift US military response was justified as a legitimate act of self-defence or an obligation to assist the victims of aggression, as enshrined in the UN Charter. But this was not the case in 2003, when Iraq had neither attacked the United States or any of its allies, nor had it the power and potential to do so. The Iraqi army of 2003 was only a pale shadow of its former size and strength. Twelve years of rigorous economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations and frequent attacks by US and British aircraft to enforce no-fly zone over Southern Iraq had significantly damaged Iraq’s air defences, communications, and command and control systems and substantially reduced its combat capabilities, making it almost impossible to initiate hostilities against any other nation. Under these circumstances, the United States could comfortably wait for some more time, allowing the sanctions and other forms of pressure to hasten the complete collapse of Saddam’s regime and his military might. While the UN weapons, inspectors deployed throughout Iraq were repeatedly reporting back that they had failed to find any credible evidence of the presence of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons (collectively known as weapons of mass destruction or WMD), the Bush administration chose to initiate war without the backing of the UN Security Council, on the pretext that Saddam’s relentless pursuit of WMD posed a serious threat to the US national security and, therefore, demanded a preemptive strike, before it was too late.
The founding fathers of America like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson believed that freedom and democracy were noble ideals that had to be nurtured in the minds of people through education, persuasion, and an appeal to reason.
When it was evident beyond any doubt that there was no concerted Iraqi effort at that time aimed at invading any other country by means of WMD or even conventional weapons, the US administration asserted that even if Iraq was unable at that time to launch an immediate assault, it was secretly developing a potent WMD programme, which would be ready at some point in future and in such a case, any Iraqi military strike would cause horrifying levels of death and destruction; and, therefore, an immediate preventive attack on Iraq was indispensable to avoid future devastation.
Unlike preemptive attacks, such so-called preventive attacks based on assumptions and hypotheses have never been considered legitimate under any international law. But to justify its invasion, the White House reiterated that it had substantial evidence to suggest that within one to five years, Iraqi WMD would be capable of hitting American skies and cities. In his State of the Union Address on January 28, 2003, Bush referred to the British intelligence reports, according to which Iraq had only recently purchased significant quantities of uranium from Africa. But subsequent investigation by US weapons, specialists revealed that all such claims were based on fraudulent documents or on the unsubstantiated assertions of unreliable Iraqi defectors. After the occupation of Iraq, the CIA set up an Iraq Survey Group (ISG) to provide some evidence that Iraq was pursuing WMD and sent hundreds of weapons specialists. But after scouring every inch of Iraqi territory for over one and a half year, the ISG came back empty-handed.
The number of people killed in this so-called democratization process is believed to be much higher than the number of those who died during Saddam’s rule.
In yet another attempt to justify its invasion, the US administration charged that Saddam Hussein’s regime was systematically assisting, arming and training al-Qaeda and other terrorist organisations and thus, posed a severe threat to the US security. But this claim too proved false, fictitious and baseless, as the staff of the 9/11 Commission while investigating September 11 attacks concluded that there was no ‘collaborative relationship’ between Saddam and terrorist organisations. As a matter of fact, the argument that the war in Iraq was a part of the global war on terror proved counterproductive because, within few months of the invasion, Iraq became a haven for hundreds and possibly thousands of extremists, terrorists and al-Qaeda sympathisers who flooded into the country from the Middle East and elsewhere, to take part in a Jihad against American aggressors and their Iraqi collaborators. The number of US casualties in this armed insurgency was much higher than the number of those who were killed in the regular combat during the initial stages of the war. Although with the passage of time, as the number of US troops rose considerably, the guerilla insurgency was suppressed, there are still genuine fears in the West that those who were trained during the Iraqi insurgency may at any time, use their deadly skills anywhere in the world, as was the case with those who received training in Afghanistan.
Bush further argued that by overthrowing the authoritarian rule of Saddam Hussein, he was paving the way for freedom and democracy in Iraq and the whole of Middle East. But one may ask as to whether it is wise, justified and permissible to impose democracy on some country by means of crippling economic sanctions, sustained aerial bombardment, carpet bombing, cluster bombs and other such lethal weapons. The founding fathers of America like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson believed that freedom and democracy were noble ideals that had to be nurtured in the minds of people through education, persuasion, and an appeal to reason. While they certainly believed that people inspired by these ideals were justified in using force to eliminate the yoke of tyranny, they would be horrified at the thought of using force first and then seeking to inspire a belief in democracy. The abuses committed by American troops in Abu Ghraib and other prison camps would also look appalling and shameful to those great leaders. The number of people killed in this so-called democratisation process is believed to be much higher than the number of those who died during Saddam’s rule. In October 2006, a study published in a British medical journal, The Lancet, by a team of US epidemiologists and Iraqi physicians estimated that about 655,000 people had died in Iraq as a result of the war that had started three years earlier, with about 600,000 deaths directly attributable to violence. The researchers based at Johns Hopkins University defended their results. They said the study was based on a widely accepted scientific method known as cluster sampling and that a majority of the deaths in the sample were substantiated by death certificates. Moreover, the fragile democratic government installed in Iraq through elections held under the shadow of US guns, seems to be making no progress in ending the deep-rooted rifts and animosities among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.
“If the billions of dollars lost in this futile conflict were spent on human welfare programs, the United States could easily have won the hearts of the people.”
If the billions of dollars lost in this futile conflict were spent on human welfare programmes, the United States could easily have won the hearts of the people. Although it won the war in Iraq, it lost its world wide credibility as a responsible nation respecting international law, besides earning widespread hatred among Muslims all over the world, who view it as an abominable aggressor, thirsty for the blood and oil of Muslims. In this whole perspective, we are justified to ask that how the US officials are describing their exit from Iraq as a great success. If Saddam could be tried in the court and executed for his alleged crimes, why is the international community still reluctant to hold the trial of Bush and company for bringing about so much death, destruction and misery, only to satisfy their brutal, barbaric and fanatical war mania.