People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 17

April 28, 2013




Iraq: Ten Years after the US Invasion


Yohannan Chemarapally


TEN years have lapsed since President George W Bush launched his “shock and awe” invasion of Iraq. The consequences of that invasion, launched on March 19, 2003, have been genocidal for the people of the region. Almost a million Iraqis have perished and a larger sectarian war looms on the horizon. Around four million Iraqis were forced to flee their homes and more than a million of them are yet to return home. A million more are internal refugees. There has been an exodus of Christians, who were increasingly targeted in sectarian attacks, since 2003. Only around 200,000 remain out of an original population of over a million and a half.




The use of munitions containing depleted uranium during the wars of 1991 and 2003 has poisoned the environment, causing cancer and other deformities among the Iraqi populace. A report published by a Dutch Peace Group in the third week of March said there are around 300 sites in the country contaminated by depleted uranium. According to authoritative studies, an estimated 400 tonnes of depleted uranium were used in the bombing campaigns led by the US during the first Gulf War alone.


A recent paper published in Germany by the Bulletin of Contamination and Toxicology reported that around half of the children it had surveyed in the Iraqi cities of Basra and Fallujah were born with birth defects. The study estimates that approximately 2000 tonnes of depleted uranium may have been used in Iraq after 2003. Basra had come under heavy bombardment in 2003. Childhood leukemia rate has more than doubled in Basra between 1993 and 2007. In 1993 the annual rate for childhood leukemia was 2.6 per 100,000 individuals. By 2006, it had reached 12.2 per 100,000. Fallujah was singled out for a brutal military attack in 2004 for being the centre of armed resistance to the American invasion. A Pentagon spokesman had even admitted to the use of “white phosphorous” as a weapon against “enemy combatants.” When a person comes in contact with this chemical, it burns the skin off the bones


Iraq, which was once among the most prosperous countries in the world now, is teeming with unemployed and impoverished people. The country had once boasted of having the best health and education infrastructure in the region. Now they are in a state of almost total disrepair. Iraq itself is threatened with partition as the Kurds in the north have virtually seceded. In the rest of the country, sectarian warfare has erupted. And ten years after the Americans “liberated” Iraq, the county still remains under the stringent Chapter VII of the UN Charter, under which the war on the country was imposed.


The US is estimated to have spent around 810 billion dollars on the war effort in Iraq. A Nobel laureate, Joseph Stiglitz, and a fellow economist have together put the estimate at a staggering three trillion dollars. A total of 4,488 American soldiers were killed and 32,220 wounded in action during the eight years of occupation. Hundreds of foreign “contractors” fighting side by with the American and British military were also killed. The British lost 426 soldiers during their military deployment in Iraq.


On February 15, 2003, millions of people had marched in many cities all over the world to protest against the impending American led invasion of Iraq. London, for instance, had witnessed one of the biggest anti-war demonstrations. But President George W Bush and the British prime minister were unmoved by the scale of public protests and warnings from other governments about the illegality of waging war on Iraq and the consequences that would inevitably follow. The US and British governments kept on insisting that Iraq posed an imminent threat to the global community because it was in possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).




The UN Security Council Resolution 1441 which was the basis, on which Iraq was attacked and occupied, was passed on the strength of fabricated dossiers prepared by US and British intelligence agencies. Both the US and British leaders had claimed at the time that they would “without doubt” find Saddam Hussein’s WMDs. The then US secretary of state, Colin Powell, went to the extent of claiming that evidence showing that Iraq had provided training to al Qaeda in using WMDs would be unearthed. Right from the beginning it was clear that there were no moral or legal grounds for invading Iraq.


The occupation of Iraq only brought about disaster on a more unmitigated scale for the people there. After the first Gulf War of 1991, Iraq was subjected to more than a decade of punitive sanctions. According to the UNICEF, more than 5,00,000 children under the age of five perished as a result of the economic blockade imposed on the country. The economic war against Iraq had started a decade before the actual invasion of the country in 2003. In all, according to estimates by international agencies, including the UN agencies, more than a million Iraqis perished as a result of the draconian sanctions the country was subjected to in the decade before the American invasion.


Though many of the sanctions on Iraq were quickly lifted after the toppling of the Iraqi government in 2003, American actions, notably the sacking of civil servants and the disbanding of the Iraqi army, laid the groundwork for chaos and anarchy. Wikileaks published a secret US State Department document which said that more than 109,000 Iraqi civilians were killed between 2003 and 2009 alone. Most of those killed were innocent civilians. Prestigious publications like the Lancet have put the death toll of Iraqis under American military operations at over a million.


In the first three years of the American occupation, and especially during the initial “shock and awe” phase, the US according to investigative reports, was killing around 10,000 Iraqi civilians every month. The Iraqi ministry of labour and social affairs has reported that an estimated 4.5 million Iraqi children are now orphans. Some 70 per cent of the children lost their parents after the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. Many of them are now street children, living without food and shelter.




The American occupation also prepared the grounds for a new Iraq that would be ripe for the growth of sectarian politics. Iraq under Saddam Hussein was no doubt dominated by Sunni officials but it was also a fiercely secular government. This correspondent, who was in Iraq several times before the invasion, never witnessed any overt discrimination on sectarian lines. Many leading members in Saddam Hussein’s cabinet were Christian and Shia members of the Ba’ath Party. Sunnis, Shias and Christians lived happily in the same localities till the overthrow of the Iraqi government in 2003. During Saddam’s time, jihadists and extremists were dealt with a tough hand. There were no suicide bombers in Iraq under his watch. But between 2003 and 2008, there were more than 1,100 suicide bombings inside Iraq. Iraq, along with Afghanistan, had become an incubator for extremist groupings like the Al Qaeda. Militants keen to create an Islamic Emirate in the Arab world made a beeline for Iraq after 2003.  


The Americans, mainly to drum up support among the majority Shias in Iraq, had initially introduced discriminatory policies in their efforts to prop up a client regime. The Sunni minority, based mainly in central Iraq, felt justifiably sidelined. The Kurds, based in the north, were anyway long standing allies of the Americans.  In the nineties, the Americans had helped the Kurds to establish an autonomous Kurdish enclave in the north of the country. After the invasion, the Kurds are virtually running their own affairs, rarely bothering to consult the central government in Baghdad. They have been arming their fellow Kurds in Syria who are gearing up for the end game in Syria, despite protests from the central government in Baghdad. Northern Iraq has emerged as an independent oil exporter. In comparison to the rest of the country, it is today a haven of peace and prosperity. Besides the Americans, their strongest backers in the region is neighbouring Turkey, which is either buying and transporting most of the oil produced in Northern Iraq, bypassing the central government in Baghdad.


The rest of Iraq seems to be spiralling into a renewed round of violence and bloodshed despite the American troop formally ending their occupation in December 2011. Around 17,000 American military contractors have remained behind ostensibly to protect the massive American embassy in Baghdad’s Green Zone. The Americans have constructed the biggest embassy in the world in the fenced off high security area of Baghdad. In the first two weeks of February itself, there were two major terror attacks targeting Shia areas. More than 50 people were killed in the two incidents. Thousands more have been killed in the last two years as a result of the escalating sectarian divide. The civil conflict in Syria has had an impact on neighbouring Iraq with which it shares a long and porous border.




Sunni militants, many of them affiliated to the local al Qaeda franchise, have crossed over to Syria to fight against the Syrian government. Forty nine unarmed Syrian soldiers and eight Iraqi soldiers were killed in the Anbar province, near the border with Syria. The Al Nusra fighters, spearheading the fight against the Syrian government, were quick to claim responsibility. The Syrian soldiers had escaped across the border after a battle with the rebels and were being repatriated back to their country, when they were killed in cold blood. There are reports that fighters belonging to Shia militias have also gone over to Syria to protect their compatriots and important places of worship. Many important Shia holy shrines are located in Syria. Though regime change in Syria appears to be only a distant possibility at the present juncture, a Sunni dominated government in Damascus would create more complications in Iraq. The Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al Malki, has warned that regime change in Damascus would spark a full scale war in the region.  


The international community has the responsibility to ensure that those responsible for the deaths of countless Iraqis and the destruction of an entire society be held accountable. The UN secretary general at the time, Kofi Annan, had stated that the US led invasion of Iraq was an “illegal act” that contravened the UN charter. International legal luminaries, including those from the US, are unanimous in their view that the Iraq was a “war of aggression.” Richard Falk, Professor Emiritus of International Law at Princeton University, has written that the Iraq war was an “unprovoked use of armed force against a sovereign state in a situation other than self-defence.” Falk went on to remind the international community that the Nuremberg and Tokyo war crimes tribunals, convened after World War II, had declared such an aggressive warfare to be “a crime against peace.” German and Japanese leaders were duly punished by the war crimes courts as “war criminals.”


George W Bush and Tony Blair, along with others in their administration, should have been facing a war crimes tribunal for their role as architects of the so called pre-emptive war on Iraq. Instead, all of them have hit the lecture circuit big time minting millions of dollars. On the other hand, Saddam Hussein and his associates were sent to the gallows after a show of trial. His close associate and former foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, also facing a death sentence, has been languishing in jail for the last ten years.