Monday, 25 February 2013
Iraq’s decade of catastrophe
Ten years after the invasion, it is the Iraqi people who continue to suffer the consequences, argues Mike Phipps
The US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq in March 2003 had wide-ranging consequences. It provoked Britain’s largest ever demonstration, two million people on the streets in one day. More than any other event, it led to the downfall of Tony Blair and determined how history would see him: a discredited liar. It neither eliminated the threat of Al Qaeda nor made the streets of Britain safer. But it is in Iraq that the most profound consequences are still being felt.
The invasion was an unmitigated catastrophe. It left a million and a half dead, 800,000 missing and a million disabled. It created five million refugees. “More than five million children in Iraq are deprived of "basic rights," the United Nations said in November.
In 2004, the city of Fallujah was flattened, with around 5,000 civilians killed. The consequences of that bombardment are still being felt. Several studies reveal dramatic increases in rates of cancers, birth defects and infant mortality in the city. Dr Chris Busby, the co-author of two studies on the Fallujah heath crisis, called this "the highest rate of genetic damage in any population ever studied". The Independent reported, “There is ‘compelling evidence’ to link the increased numbers of defects and miscarriages to military assaults, says Mozhgan Savabieasfahani,” the author of one of the reports.
Not only were the ends of this war based on lies, the means were also tarnished. The full truth about the conduct of British troops is also still emerging. Lawyers representing nearly 200 Iraqis are, ten years on, fighting in the High Court to get a judicial inquiry into years of abuse by British forces.
The Evening Standard reported on 29th January, “The allegations involve killings and torture at British-controlled detention centres between March 2003 and December 2008. The court heard of an eight-year-old girl shot dead as she played in a street with her friends in daylight. A man was also shot dead as he queued for petrol, a teacher was hooded and abused in front of his son and his subsequent death was officially described as ‘natural causes’ and there were a number of drownings.” The Observer asked: “Is Britain guilty of systemic torture in Iraq?”
The puppet government the occupation gave Iraq is also a disaster. The US-led occupation organised electoral lists on the basis of religious affiliation. Victory meant jobs, favours and kickbacks for the group in question. Sectarianism was institutionalised by the occupation, creating a framework for future conflict.
Today the al-Maliki government routinely tortures and executes its political opponents. Mothers and sisters are frequently detained if suspects cannot be found. “Iraq’s leadership used draconian measures against opposition politicians, detainees, demonstrators, and journalists, effectively squeezing the space for independent civil society and political freedoms in Iraq,” Human Rights Watch said in its World Report 2013.
Wholesale corruption riddles public life. Iraq got $100 billion in oil revenues last year but most Iraqis still get only six hours of electricity a day. The health and education sectors are barely recovering, joblessness is over 50% and clean water is scarce. Recent floods saw raw sewage running through the streets of Baghdad.
In recent weeks, Iraqi cities have been hit by huge demonstrations against the government. These are non-sectarian, united mobilisations, with one of the main demands being an end to torture and rape in Iraq’s jails. Protests began on 25th December 2012 when more than 200,000 people demonstrated. They expanded to cities all over the country, in which hundreds of thousands participated.
They have been met with repression. Police shot dead eight unarmed demonstrators in Fallujah, but this response is only strengthening people’s resolve. “The people in Iraq cannot bear any longer to be the victims of this government assigned by the Anglo-American occupation,” observed Iraqi academic Souad Al-Azzawi.
And the occupiers? The US continues to keep a significant military presence in Iraq. It still has 80,000 Iraqi artifacts and refuses to give them back to the Iraq Museum. Like the UK, it has never paid a penny in compensation for all the havoc it wrought.
Here, ten years on, we still await the Chilcot Report into Britain’s role. Like previous reports, it will make criticisms of the way the war was authorised and conducted. But there must be consequences. If the war was illegal, unjustified and wrong, what about holding those responsible to account? What about compensation for the millions whose lives were disrupted and ruined?
Scant chance. Rather than learn the lessons of this disaster, the government seems hell-bent on invading new countries. It’s up to us to ensure that the lessons of the Iraq debacle are not forgotten.