Iraq war caused huge damage

It’s ten years ago this week that the United States and Great Britain began, on the basis of what was a pack of lies, a destructive war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The war was quickly and easily won, but peace remains absent in a divided Iraq. Although it’s late, it’s still not too late for those responsible to be called to account, both politically and in law.

Two weeks ago in Iraq at least ten people were killed and dozens wounded in a number of attacks. The harsh reality for Iraqis is that this kind of violence has been commonplace since the US-British invasion. In 2012, fully 4,500 civilians died through violence, more than was the case in Afghanistan. It’s not easy to determine precisely how many have died as a result of the invasion and the violent occupation which followed, but estimates run as high as a million and beyond. Millions of others have been forced to flee their homes in the face of the violence.

Amnesty International observed in a recent report that Iraq remains entangled in a grim cycle of human rights abuses, including frequent instances of torture. The secret prisons where this torture takes place have been built, with American aid, in the years since the invasion. Many other problems, such as widespread corruption, high unemployment, poor medical services and lengthy power cuts, are in addition for the Iraqis a daily source of irritation. Political tensions in this already much-divided country have been increasing with greater and greater rapidity over the last few months. Experts are taking seriously the possibility of a renewed civil war between Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurdish groups.

That Saddam Hussein no longer rules the roost in Iraq is a blessing for the country, but it is undisputed that of the fine western promises about a democratic and prosperous Iraq, precious little has been realised. The price paid by Iraqis for the invasion has been high, and according to most of the country’s people it has been far too high. In an opinion poll taken at the end of 2011, 42% of the population stated that they were worse off since the American invasion, a figure which speaks for itself.

In western countries which took part in the war, it has had in addition a disastrous effect on trust in politics and political decision-makers. This also goes for  my own country, the Netherlands, which, while it’s true it did not participate in the invasion of Iraq, did express political support, going on to play a role in the occupation. The continual torrent of lies about Weapons of Mass Destruction – the principal pretext for the war – has made much of the public cynical. The only Weapon of Mass Destruction found in Iraq, after all, was the American-British war machine itself. Along with cynicism came the expressed fears of the many millions of anti-war demonstrators in towns the world over.

The Iraq war also did enormous harm to any faith in international law. The United Nations was pushed aside as an irrelevance in the run-up to the war, sustaining huge damage to its image, which it has yet to restore. In 2003, not international law but the law of the strongest prevailed, which set an extremely dangerous precedent. If the lesson of the Iraq war is not learned, we must fear that the same scenario will develop around Iran from a mixture of sanctions, threats, lies and war.

Last September the South African Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote that former US president George W. Bush and ex-prime minister of Great Britain Tony Blair should be prosecuted for their role in the invasion of Iraq. The many victims and the enormous mistrust in politics mean that it is indeed crucial that these leading actors be called to account. For that, happily, it is still not too late.

Harry van Bommel is a Member of Parliament for the Socialist Party of the Netherlands and the party’s main spokesman on foreign affairs. This article first appeared, in the original Dutch, in the regional daily newspaper Het Friesch Dagblad on 20th March.  2013. 598