Don’t Forget Iraq

It’s been two weeks since the ninth anniversary of the Iraq War’s launch. Watching European news, serious reflection on a conflict that officially ended only months ago seems in short supply. This, even as the fragile, ostensibly liberated nation invaded in 2003, continues to be riven by sectarian tensions that Western meddling remains responsible for.

The grave legacy of Britain and America’s war-before-last, anniversary or not, has been overshadowed by the various present-day crises that continue to grip the news. Nothing too unusual there, one might think. There are plenty of things that are happening right now on both sides of the Atlantic that are worthy of deep concern: the 2012 NDAA bill among them, re-animating much of the Iraq-era assaults on civil liberties that the USA Patriot Act came to embody. However, even that outrageously illiberal bill has been criminally underreported (especially here in the UK) in comparison to other affairs that dance daily through the media. In particular, the cuts and their consequences, the Eurozone crisis and related economic affairs.

Yet Iraq should not be forgotten – for so many reasons, one among them that it highlights rank Western hypocrisy over alleged war-related criminality connected to massive civilian suffering.

Recently, the US and UK have been pushing for a resolution at the Security Council to the on-going horror in Syria, finding their efforts stymied by Russia and China. In Geneva, at the Human Rights Council, the US managed to successfully spearhead a resolution calling on Sri Lanka to demonstrate accountability over its civil war effort.

Yet, nine years since the launch of a war that resulted in mass civilian casualties (between 100,000 and a million depending on who you read,) the possibility of an independent UN inquiry into the Iraq war remains unimaginable.

Why? The tortured casus belli for Iraq looks as lacking in substance as it ever has, the Al-Qaeda-Saddam Hussein links seem to remain as mythical as Baghdad’s ghost WMDs, and the admission of former CIA asset ‘Curveball’ (the man responsible for much of the discredited ‘evidence’ sold to the public over Iraq) that he misled Washington, indicate that claims the Bush White House and Blair’s clique were hell-bent on finding intelligence-of whatever quality- to suit fixed policies are perhaps not insubstantial. A number of high-level figures from inside the US intelligence, political or military camp have stated that Washington ignored intelligence that did not fit what they wanted to hear about the Husseinite ‘threat’.

It is easy to imagine that perhaps the public are just too tired of being reminded about such a deeply unpopular war, too concerned with the problems that arrest us at present to be re-acquainted with the hellish consequences of the second Gulf War on both Western troops and ordinary Iraqis (and let us not forget Pakistanis blown to bits by drones as a part of the Obama ‘War on Terror MK.2’). Such attitudes are not so hard to sympathise with. After all, governments, not citizens, are responsible for such matters. We just want to get on with life, don’t we?

US Army reenlistment ceremony. Baqubah, 2007.

However, from another point of view, as human beings above all else, should we so easily forget, or be ignorant of, the leaden human rights nightmares associated with a war launched in the name of our security? Why shouldn’t we acknowledge that the Iraqis are a people who, even prior to the invasion of Iraq, had their nation devastated by an ineffective Western-led sanctions programme that killed 500,000 children according to UNICEF, without impacting seriously on Saddam?

Likewise, perhaps images of unconscionable physical deformity and infant suffering, ever ignored by many major news networks, likely caused by wartime coalition assaults involving depleted uranium in Fallujah are just too inadmissibly horrifying for sustained reflection. No serious reparations, and certainly no high-level international inquiry has been undertaken into the consequences of the offensives that probably caused the widespread birth defects wrought by western weaponry in that war-haunted city, yet again affecting swathes of innocent children. “Hostiles”, “enemy combatants”, or “Al-Qaeda terrorists” these victims certainly were not.

Is this fair? Doesn’t the media have an obligation to call Washington to account for its lack of action on this under-reported, unresolved human hell imposed on civilians, even years after alleged crimes were committed? This being only one among many other appalling incidents tied to the War on Terror?

Perhaps our mainstream media is too preoccupied with the threat of a fresh Middle Eastern war on the horizon to engage in such an act of remembrance. For if it did, an acute sense of déjà vu might arrest the public, already war-wary and concerned about the consequences of a strike on Iran’s nuclear programme. The publicly stated concerns of former International Atomic Energy Agency staff of ignored facts and hidden agendas at play at the agency combined with compromising statements about the IAEA director revealed by Wikileaks, echo Iraq. The insights of investigative journalist Seymour Hersh have crystallized this sense of history repeating itself- with a little help from Britain’s Prime Minister.

The past, as they say, is the past. It cannot be redeemed, except perhaps by altering the future, or ameliorating the pain of those still impacted by it. This we may still be able to do: the US can still honestly, transparently investigate Fallujah, Haditha, and all the other incidents stained by blood and ignominy. Simultaneously, the martial music intensifying over Iran can be confronted with an alternative theme: that war should not be as Robert Fisk-arguably our best war journalist still writing – once reflected to me, merely a policy option when other approaches have failed.

War, Fisk observed, is “the complete failure of the human spirit.” The inference being that war should not be resorted to without having tried – genuinely tried – to exhaust all alternative solutions.

To this end, perhaps above all others, we must not forget Iraq. So that we never forget what war means- especially for the innocent, including children. As citizens of the world, watching the West being dragged into a new, hellish Middle Eastern war this year, it may be worth telling our political representatives in no uncertain terms that there’s still time to talk to Tehran.

In fact, this was something we could have done in 2003, when Iran made an astonishingly comprehensive offer that could – and should – have led to peace, but was rejected by the idiots “on the hill”, architects of a war that now stands as a warning from history that we forget at our peril.

Iraqi woman photograph courtesy of James Gordon. Soldiers photo courtesy of  The U.S. Army. Published under a Creative Commons license.


    1. Well, for starters being aware is better than not being aware about the horrors unleashed on civilians- it may sound like a small thing but it counts that you care. Secondly, a disastrous war with Iran is being drummed up from certain quarters and if you can protest, talk to people and do whatever you can to try to counter the growing pre-war narrative that is a service to humanity, however small. Additionally, if you can give to charities involved in any post-war humanitarian role in either Iraq or Iran that will go some way to help say even a couple of lives- something that really matters in its own way. “To save one life is to save the world entire” so the Talmud, I believe says- this I do believe in my own way.

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