Deadly bombs mark 10th anniversary of Iraq War

Images of war: Two famous photos of triumph in Iraq, and two of devastation and abuse.

Ten years ago yesterday, allied forces invaded Iraq to topple a dictator and build a democracy. But yesterday Baghdad was ripped apart by bombs. Was the invasion worth it?

In Baghdad yesterday, more than 50 people were killed and scores more injured in a series of bombings that took the world back to the darkest days of Iraq’s occupation.

The atrocity encouraged even more sombre reflection than usual on a war which has divided the international community since it began. The invasion of Iraq left deep scars on all of the countries involved, which still remain even a decade later.

The speed of the US-led invasion in March 2003, and the overthrow of the regime within 21 days of the first action, astonished a global audience. On television the world watched the ‘shock and awe’ bombing of Baghdad and crowds cheering as US soldiers tore down statues of the brutal dictator Saddam Hussein.

But the celebrations quickly evaporated as the US, UK and allied forces found themselves involved in a bloody, unpopular and disastrous occupation that was to last until the end of 2011. Troops were attacked daily in bombings and shootings, and rapidly lost the support of ordinary Iraqis.

The BBC estimates that over the ten-year conflict, total deaths include around 4,800 US and allied troops, around 100,000 Iraqi civilians and around 28,000 Iraqi troops. The Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz has estimated the true cost of the war at £1.2 trillion.

This terrible toll was caused, some analysts say, by a failure to plan a successful transition to free Iraqi rule after Saddam. Others maintain the very idea of an invasion by Western armies was doomed to disaster: it would be seen as a hostile, anti-Muslim crusade and transform a brutalised, oil-rich nation into a breeding ground for terror and extremism.

What’s more, these critics add, it was based on a lie; when the public in the US and UK backed the invasion they were told Saddam was a direct threat to the lives of their citizens, as well as an abuser of his own and neighbouring peoples’ human rights. But the deadly weapons he was said to be hoarding – and which he was required to reveal by repeated United Nations resolutions – have never been found.

New dawn or disaster?

Do the leaders of the UK and US, so sure of success that they invaded without UN support, need more time to test their theories? They may not have succeeded in implanting a free society in the Arab world, but it is at least freer that it might have been had Saddam continued in power; and in 20 years time Iraq may emerge transformed.

Or is ten years enough evidence on which to base the judgment of history? The level of day-to-day violence is lower but peace is far from secure. Democracy is still patchy. After all the time and expense, can this be described as anything but a disaster?

You Decide

  1. Around a million people marched in London against the Iraq invasion in February 2003. What, if anything, would you feel strongly enough to go on a demonstration for?
  2. ‘An aggressive, totalitarian, genocidal regime’: is this description applicable to only one side in the Iraq War, or to both? Remember to analyse the terms of the question.

Activities

  1. How should we mark this anniversary? Should we tell our leaders about our reactions to this war? Or think of a way to help its victims?
  2. Polls showed 63% of Britons backed removing Saddam Hussein and 23% opposed the invasion. But up to 10 million worldwide took part in coordinated, global, anti-war demonstrations, the biggest in history. Research public support or opposition to war.

Some People Say...

“Invading another country is always wrong.”

What do you think?

Q & A

How does this affect me now?
The Iraq invasion divided world leaders in a way that the UN has yet to recover from. Intervening to oust unpleasant regimes or combat terrorists has become more common (think Libya or Mali), but getting international agreement to act against human rights abusers backed by strong militaries has become even harder (Syria).
It still doesn’t feel very close to home.
Well, we all bear the responsibility and cost of interventions by our own governments if we live in a democracy. And we can influence how politicians react to threats overseas. A record number of protesters marched through London and other capital cities in the weeks before the invasion: buoyed by opinion poll support, Tony Blair’s government went ahead all the same. Would a prime minister now dare do the same?

Word Watch

Baghdad
The capital of Iraq sits on the Tigris river. It was a centre of trade and learning in the Arab world during the 8th Century, and is said to have been founded on the site of the ancient Babylonian civilisation. Many important antiquities were lost during the invasion and aftermath, either being destroyed or looted.
The international community
The United Nations security council, its top decision-making body, was split on whether to use military force against Saddam Hussein. France, usually an ally of the US and UK, opposed invasion, as did Russia and China.
Shock and awe
A military idea in which generals try to overwhelm opposition with a single, devastating blow which stuns the enemy and destroys their ability and will to resist.
100,000 civilians
There are no official figures for the number of Iraqi civilians killed during the invasion and its aftermath because the US and UK did not collect figures and there was no Iraqi system capable of doing so. Pressure group Iraq Body Count has tried to make the best estimates possible.
Human rights
Saddam Hussein is reported to have killed over a million of his own people, and attempted genocide against the Kurdish peoples in the North and the Marsh Arabs in the South. The most notorious massacre was in Halabja, a town where chemical weapons were used against the inhabitants. He was tried for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide by a court in Iraq and executed by hanging in 2006.

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