When Iraq was invaded in 2003, ostensibly to crush the imminent threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction and undeniably as a belated form of retribution for the 9/11 attacks, there were those in the western world who felt that it was a plausible response for the acts of terror that had materialised out of a clear blue sky on that unforgettable day. Here was a madman, probably developing weapons to kill us all and harbouring and training the maniacs that demolished half of New York, getting what he deserved.
Not long after that, it started to smell a tad fishy.
After unleashing a pyrotechnic killing display with smug and petulant pride, the US and its buddies started looking a little thin on justification. None of the infamous weapons of mass destruction were discovered, let alone used on anybody. The hijackers of 9/11 turned out to be mostly Saudis without an Iraqi on the list and the people of Iraq seemed less than overjoyed at being liberated, presumably happier with the devil they knew and the oppressive but predictable stability he provided.
Being squarely on the back foot and needing some kind of moral justification for being there in the first place, Bush and Blair concocted the “freedom of the people of Iraq from tyranny” as their retrospectively stated original aim. Besides the obvious fact that nobody bothered to ask the people of Iraq if they needed or indeed wanted highly explosive freeing from the sky, the whole story was thin at best. Coming as it did after the red-faced admissions of not finding anything remotely destructive on a mass scale, the new excuse looked as desperate as it no doubt was.
The “freedom of the people” line looked doubly lame when annoying observers asked pointed questions about all of the other oppressed people in dictatorships around the world and when they would be freed with such liberal doses of “shock and awe”. What about Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Tibet, North Korea, Darfur and all the others? Are they next? Why choose Iraq’s lucky oppressed citizens in some sad version of a bulk green card lottery and free the shit out of them with the world’s most trigger-happy military machine? It really did not compute in any ethical sense although strategically of course it added up quite nicely in an oily, geopolitical kind of way.
To a large extent, this seems to describe the currently perceived Iraqi paradigm: A misguided invasion of a truly nasty and oppressive yet ultimately toothless dictatorship that made a mockery of Western ethics and exposed the US and UK as little more than resource-greedy, oil-grabbing warmongers, happy to gobble up and spit out the minnows of international law and the UN in their pursuits. The ensuing instability has lead to endless bomb blasts and civilian deaths, leading most people to agree that the Coalition should withdraw.
Withdrawal could be a bad idea though.
After a bedraggled Saddam Hussein was fished out of his rabbit hole and summarily executed, the “free the Iraqi people” line took on a new and sinister twist. Years on and who exactly are they still being freed from? The Ba’athist party has long since been dismantled and its head has been quite emphatically cut off. Who are these people fighting for the freedom of Iraq from the Coalition in such a focused, funded and violently bloody manner?
As a direct result of the misguided invasion, the war in Iraq has become a battle for the control of a massively oil rich country as well as a front, along with Afghanistan, for Al-Qaeda and its allies to engage the West and flex their angry muscles. Anyone with the money and the inclination is now literally able to fight for control of a very wealthy country or part thereof for their own agendas. I suspect that even those fighting on the ground have little idea who is really funding whom and whom they are really fighting.
In other words, knocking out Saddam has put Iraq onto the open market in a perfect power vacuum. The toughest, nastiest bidder will win in an international cage fight for the ultimate prize and there is no shortage of hungry contenders. It is no longer a simple issue of the misguided Coalition invasion, although they certainly picked the fight to start with. There is now a churning bloody mess involving Sunni and Shiite militia, Al Qaeda, and probably Iran, for all their protestations of innocence. As for the funding of the insurgency, who actually knows whose oil dollars are being slipped into whose blood soaked hands and for what exact reasons?
The fact that this has become a war to destabilise and win control of Iraq, and not a simple continuation of a cohesive resistance to the Coalition invading force by Iraqi’s is obvious from the number of Iraqi civilians that are purposefully being targeted by insurgents. That exposes the “free Iraq from the unlawful invaders” line to be about as weak as the “free the Iraqi people from tyranny” line.
Day after day the reports roll in of hundreds of people being killed in suicide bombings, car bombings and shootings. Sometimes these attacks are levelled against Coalition forces or Iraqi police but more often than not, they are in market places, buses or on busy civilian streets. It quite simply is a mess with no apparent band-aid big enough to patch it up.
Of all the propaganda and counter-propaganda that one gets bombarded with, the litmus test one could apply to determine whether one is dealing with a terrorist or freedom fighter has always been to see if said organisation attacks and kills innocent civilians to further their agenda. This is a daily occurrence now in Iraq. Civilians are being targeted on purpose and it is certainly not being orchestrated by the Coalition.
Human Rights Watch has this to say about a 2005 report they published:
“The report documents the assassinations of government officials, politicians, judges, journalists, humanitarian aid workers, doctors, professors and those deemed to be collaborating with the foreign forces in Iraq, including translators, cleaners and others who perform civilian jobs for the U.S.-led Multi-National Force. Insurgents have directed suicide and car bomb attacks at Shi`a mosques, Christian churches and Kurdish political parties with the purpose of killing civilians. Allegations that these communities are legitimate targets because they support the foreign forces in Iraq have no basis in international law, which requires the protection of any civilian who is not actively participating in the hostilities.
“Insurgent groups also have tortured and summarily executed civilians and captured combatants in their custody, sometimes by beheading. And they have carried out attacks against legitimate military targets, such as army convoys, in such a manner that the foreseeable loss of civilian life was greatly disproportionate to the military gain. “
For all of its many, many lamentable faults and human rights abuses of its own, Coalition policy has never included the purposeful killing of innocent civilians although far too many have no doubt been caught in their gung ho, rock and roll crossfire.
The other factions don’t seem to play by the same rules. Civilians are fair game and they are killing them constantly and purposefully in a ruthless campaign of violence.
For this reason alone, perhaps the US and UK should not be allowed to leave their mess to resolve itself. They should probably never have invaded in the first place but since they have now done so, they need to see it though and, if nothing else, use their considerable resources to act as the protectors of the ordinary people of Iraq, until some kind of viable natural Iraqi leadership emerges.
Surely, you might say the Coalition has shown it is not worthy of such a virtuous task? It is not a trivial point at all. There seems, however, to be cause to suggest they may be the best of a very bad bunch for the job.
The original aggressors now represent the only chance for peace and protection for the average Iraqi. There is no indication that a Coalition withdrawal would bring peace as some commentators have suggested; in fact the opposite seems true with a mad and bloody scramble for power the only obvious and somewhat predictable outcome. There seems no other reasonable course of action but for the US and UK and their patchwork of bowing and scraping allies to stay in place to protect the people of Iraq from those who would use them so cheaply in a lives-for-chaos transaction designed ultimately to acquire power.
Once again for the average Iraqi, its better the devil they now know.