Last week was the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq by the United States and its ‘coalition of the willing’ on 19 March 2003. Ten years after the ‘shock and awe’ bombing campaign on ‘strategic targets’ in Baghdad, which started the invasion, consensus is growing that the war was a key landmark in the demise – if not the beginning of the end – of the ‘American empire’.
Already in December 2011 – when the last US troops were leaving Iraq more than eight years after then president George W. Bush made a ‘Mission Accomplished’ speech on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln – The Guardian in London, under the heading “Last Post in Iraq: this is the death knell of the American empire”, wrote: “What was intended to be a demonstration of power turned into the most costly boomerang in history, in both blood and treasure ... (and) the end of the brief unipolar world” that existed since the end of the Cold War after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
A recent article on the Alternet website, analysing the demise of the American empire, states that “future historians are likely to identify the Bush administration’s rash invasion of Iraq in that year as the start of America's downfall.” Although this article correctly assesses that there are many other factors in play, the Iraq invasion at least sped up the process and exacerbated some of those factors.
With the perspective of time and new information coming to the fore, the folly of that war becomes increasingly clear. And so does the reality that the pretexts for the war were built on probably naked lies or, at best, on what a recent BBC investigation exposed as “the greatest intelligence failure in living memory”.
US troops invaded Iraq, backed by troops from Britain, Australia and Poland (the so-called ‘coalition of the willing’) in what was called “Operation Iraqi Freedom”, based on the premise that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction and was in the process of developing nuclear weapons.
At the time, British prime minister Tony Blair confidently declared that “the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons (and) that he continues in his efforts to develop nuclear weapons”.
Not only were no such weapons ever found, but since then the US Secretary of State at that time, General Colin Powell, has expressed his regrets that he was used by the Bush regime to deceive the United Nations with fake intelligence – which the Bush and Blair regimes knew to be false.
Two days before the invasion, on 17 March 2003, Bush gave the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and his sons 48 hours to leave their country or else face an American invasion. To the Iraqi people, he made a pledge that “the day of your liberation is near”.
Two days later, when announcing the invasion, Bush said it was aimed at, among others, “helping Iraqis achieve a united, stable and free country and will require our sustained commitment”.
But what are the realities 10 years later?
· It triggered factional conflict inside Iraq, which presently has the highest incidence of terrorist activity on the globe with the killing of an estimated 220 people last month alone;
· The Iraq Body Count, a public record of violent civilian deaths since the 2003 invasion, estimates the civilian death toll at between 111 762 and 122 224;
· Reports emerged alleging that prisoners had been tortured, raped and sodomised in the prison;
· A study titled Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005-2009 found that Fallujah, where during 2004 the US military carried out two massive sieges of the city using large quantities of depleted uranium ammunition and white phosphorous, has "the highest rate of genetic damage in any population ever studied”; and
· Another study, which included the city of Basra, found increasing numbers of birth defects, particularly neural tube defects and congenital heart defects. It further revealed public contamination with two major neurotoxic metals – lead and mercury.
President Bush promised the American people a short, relatively “cheap” war, claiming that it would cost between $50 and $60 billion to overthrow the Hussein regime and establish a functioning government. The reality is somewhat different, and Nobel prize economist Joseph Stiglitz estimated in 2008 that the Iraq war could cost America up to $5 trillion. A recent study by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies says the Iraq War costs could exceed $6 trillion, when interest payments are taken into account.
To add insult to injury, much of the cost was hidden from the American public through various ways, among others by making use of private contractors (some of which to this day remain as security companies in Iraq) and the use of supplemental appropriations. According to one estimate, 70% of the costs of that war (and the one in Afghanistan) between 2003 and 2008 were funded with supplemental or emergency appropriations approved outside the Pentagon's annual budget. This practice amounts to little less than fraud.
And, in the end, it was all about oil. As MotherJones.com reports: “There was the fact that the only building American troops protected during the post-invasion rioting was the Oil Ministry. There were all those lovely maps of Iraqi oilfields that we learnt had been part of Dick Cheney's (US vice president at the time) energy task force since long before 9/11. There was the urgency over restoring Iraq's oil production that seemed to take precedence over almost everything else. Hell, no less than Alan Greenspan (chairperson of the Federal Reserve at the time) conceded after the fact that the war was ‘largely about oil’."
Small wonder that a serious commentator such as historian John W. Dower holds the view that “the Bush administration’s war planners are fortunate in having been able to evade formal and serious investigation remotely comparable to what the Allied powers pursued vis-a-vis Japan and Germany after World War 2.”