The Iraqi War: Swimming Against the Tide of Opinion
by Samah al-Momen
At the end of December, 2011 the remainder of U.S. troops departed Iraq. No doubt there will innumerable post-mortems on the success or failure of the mission. Also undoubtedly the majority will see it as the “unnecessary war.” That is the conventional wisdom which is deeply engrained, a result of adverse reporting by the Western media. It is also totally wrong. The effect of the liberation was the launching of a new era in the Arab world. It was the beginning of the domino effect in toppling of Arab dictators. It was in fact the initial spark for the “Arab Spring.” The multiple images of the happy faces of the Iraqis with their inked finger made an indelible impression on the Arab people. It was the first truly free election ever held in the Arab world with the government elected by the majority. This alone was an astounding development in a region known for its sham elections and authoritarian governments. Not only has the Iraqi election initiated a democratic movement, but also serves as a lessons learned model for the subsequent elections in the region.
Despite the presence of the American troops it was totally an Iraqi affair. While the present Iraqi government leaves much to be desired, and democracy is still an on-going and messy process, the stability is far better than most outside observers expected. Corruption and inefficiency within Iraq is pervasive but what Arab country does not suffer this within their political culture?
These pessimistic post-mortems will concentrate on the human toll and devastation in Iraq, which has been immense. Many mistakes were made by the US forces. They did not understand the Iraqi character, had no real post-war plan, did not use the required number of troops, and assumed that the elimination of Saddam Hussein would end the conflict.
The picture presented daily to the American public was a bleak one. Thousands of American troops became casualties and millions of dollars were wasted on rebuilding Iraqi infrastructure. The Iraqis were seemingly ungrateful for the American sacrifices. Frequently they were quoted a saying life was better under Saddam. It should be recognized that no one likes foreign troops on their soil, but in the minds of most Iraqis was the knowledge that these troops provided stability until the Iraqis got back on their feet.
Those Iraqis who reputedly pine for the good old days have forgotten that all over Iraq there are dozens of mass grave sites, containing the bodies of many innocent civilians who were victims of sectarian genocide. They have forgotten the omnipotent fear of the regime, the repercussions of a Saddam joke overheard, and the routine unspeakable tortures routinely inflicted on those who dissented against the regime. It is difficult, however, to forget the fact that almost every family lost someone in one of Saddam’s constant wars.
Secondly the post-mortems will emphasize that the stated objective of the invasion was to stop the development of an Iraqi weapons of mass destruction(WMD) program. The fact that none were found thereby defines the war as unnecessary. This is the general conclusion of the assessments on the war. It is true, but only superficially. The final reports of the WMD inspection teams emphasized that while Saddam had no nuclear weapons, his “strategic intent” was to revive his program as soon as sanctions were lifted. The reports also indicated that the talent and infrastructure to restart the program were still in place. This critical assessment has been ignored by the media.
As an Iraqi, who worked for the Iraqi government media before the war and a Western embassy after Saddam was deposed, and having lived through all the recent wars, I can attest to the fact that all Iraqis knew that Saddam could not be overturned by the people. The deeply embedded intelligence and security agencies were too strong. It had to be an outside interventionist force.
The three institutions of power, Saddam himself, the communist-like Ba’ath party, and the carefully controlled army, were institutions which required destruction in order to build a new Iraq. The dismemberment of the Ba’ath party and the army has elicited much criticism, as it left a huge leadership void resulting in near chaos for several years. The process of eliminating these institutions could have handled much better but in the end only the elimination of the Ba’ath party and Saddam’s army would allow a weak fledgling government to survive.
The fate of the “Arab Spring” hangs in the balance and that makes it even more important that stability and democracy survive in Iraq. Hopefully future post mortems will not include the regret that American troops withdrew too soon and the great hope for Iraqi freedom and democracy vanished with them.