After seven years and five months, the military phase of the so-called “Operation Iraqi Freedom” has reached its conclusion. It was launched on 20th January 2003 by the then US president George Bush who had military support from a coalition of nations including Britain, Spain, Australia, Poland and Denmark.
According to the organisation “Iraq Body Count (IBC)”, between 97,274 and 106,154 civilians (uninvolved in combat action) died violently since the start of the invasion. 4,600 US soldiers lost their lives and military spending there rose to 736,000 million dollars.
Already around October 2006, the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) and the Iraqi Government had estimated that there were over 1.6 million refugees and/or displaced Iraqis. For 2008, this number rose to 4.7 million –16 percent of the population– with 35 percent of Iraqi children orphaned.
It was, in Bush’s words, a “preventive war”. Stating that Saddam Hussein’s regime had weapons of mass destruction, and that these represented a danger to the US, the western world and its allies in the Middle East, the former president of the world’s principal military power ordered the attack.
Unlike the operation in Afghanistan –which is still ongoing– the attack on Iraq did not have the complicity of the United Nations Security Council (UN). Both the majority of its permanent members (China, France, and Russia) and other powers stated their opposition to the operation.
Hans Blix, then chief UN weapons inspector, had declared that there was not sufficient evidence for the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that, in turn, both the US and Britain did not have the “legal” support –in other words, resolutions from the UN Security Council– to declare war.
Ana Baron, correspondent from the newspaper Clarín in Washington, maintains in her report of 20th August 2010 that Bush “was convinced that due to the oppressive nature of the Iraqi regime, the population would rise up against Saddam and that the military confrontation would not last much longer than a couple of weeks”.
In order to achieve this, 225 thousand US soldiers invaded Iraq by air, sea and land. This was how the fall of Baghdad and Saddam’s subsequent flight would be achieved in less than two months on 1st May 2003. Dressed as a pilot, Bush exclaimed “Mission Accomplished” from an aircraft carrier.
However, it was the Iraqi insurgency which threw overboard the military plans of the Bush administration. Baron maintains that the daily suicide attacks against military and governmental posts and civilian targets made Iraq “one of the most devastating strategic fiascos in US military history.”
The attack on the UN headquarters in Baghdad, and a month and a half on from “Mission Accomplished”, witnessed the US’s real inability to impose its military will on the area. At least 17 people died, including Sergio Vieira de Mello, the Brazilian UN Special Envoy for Iraq.
Everything was in the hands of radicalised groups, explained Gustavo Sierra, Clarín journalist and author of “Under the Bombs”, the book which recounts his experience as a correspondent during the war. “Whether Shiites, Sunnis or the remainder of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, they all had the capability to carry out horrific attacks”.
Meanwhile, he says, “Shiites from the Mahdi Army managed to control the south of the country and tension between factions reached its epicentre with the bombing of the Samarra sanctuary. The US debacle deepened when the Spanish decided to abandon the coalition and leave the Diwaniya base. All the other allies took the same road”.
However, the revelation of the torture of Iraqi prisoners by US soldiers in Abu Ghraib prison in the mass media demonstrated the opposition between the doctrine of “war on terrorism” and respect for human rights. Saddam Hussein was also tortured there.
The ex dictator was found in a bunker on the outskirts of his birthplace, Tikrit. The new Iraqi Supreme Court tried and sentenced him to the gallows for ordering, among other things, a poisonous gas attack against the Kurdish population of Iraq in 1988. Videos of his death were broadcast on television on 30th December 2006.
Six months later, on 4th August 2007, 400 Kurds were massacred in Al Jazeera and Kahtaniya, 120 km from the city of Mosul, in the worst attack since the invasion. On 26th October 2009, now with Barack Obama as president, five car bombs caused 155 deaths in the centre of Baghdad.
One of the insurgency’s favourite targets was recruitment centres for the new Iraqi security forces. In fact, on the Tuesday prior to the conclusion of “Operation Iraqi Freedom”, a suicide attack ended the lives of 61 people and injured another 130 while they were queuing to enlist in the Iraqi army.
In turn, the division between the Iraqi political, ethnic and religious forces –that Hussein violently silenced– is preventing Prime Minister Al Maliki from forming a unity government. Sierra maintains that for the Iraqis, however, “it takes a lot to be able to buy bread (…) or move to anywhere without fear of flying through the air”.
The remaining military forces in Iraq will fall to 10,000, the number of soldiers in charge of the five permanent US bases in the country. Others will undertake ”private security” work for US businesses contracted by the Pentagon and State Department for the “reconstruction”.
*Translation: Rhona Desmond*