It seems that no one paused to think about what would happen after the death of Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi leader was the United States’ initial reason for invading the country in 2003, and western media did much to emphasise his wicked reputation. But the void left after a government suffers a sudden death was never going to be resolved quietly. Violence and disorder following the intervention of the west comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with recent world history. Take Palestine, for example, whose troubles were escalated after British colonisation. Turn also to Syria, where the actions of the west against the government have caused horrific violence on both sides of the conflict. Can western countries make claim to peacemaking when their history of intervention is littered with violence? The events of Iraq since 2003 suggest not.
The United States’ reasons for invading Iraq were never selfless. Saddam Hussein was deemed an immediate threat to US security, and the validity of the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction is questionable. The invasion was fuelled by a hatred incited by the events of 9/11. One only has to look at the vast increase in Muslim hate crimes across the US to recognise that this was an issue not addressed by the American government before they attacked.
Unfortunately, the actions of an extremist minority, and the resulting intolerance by the west, took its toll on the people of Iraq. A website tracking the public record of violent deaths in the country since the 2003 invasion reasons the death toll to be at 224,000. Civilians died of bombing campaigns as much as militants did, and many more were permanently disabled or otherwise wounded. The bombs weren’t just from the west, either: the power vacuum left by the removal of Saddam Hussein’s government led to heavy sectarian violence between Shias and Sunnis in a struggle for power that has lasted up to the present day. But civilians were also the target of other attacks, some direct and others incidental, that reached beyond the immediate impact of a bomb and continue to haunt Iraq today.
Western war crimes were made possible by the dehumanisation of Iraqi people. One such example of this is the gang-rape of fourteen year-old Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi and the murder of her and her family in an Iraqi village to the west of Al-Mahmudiyah. One of the five US soldiers convicted of the crime later confessed that he ‘didn’t think of Iraqis as humans’. Britain, too, has been held to scrutiny after increasing accusations of war crimes in the country during the occupation. The men who raped, tortured and murdered Iraqi people are the same men who were celebrated at home for their heroism. Being a soldier does not make someone a hero, and nowhere is this clearer than in the ever-mounting evidence against western soldiers in Iraq. Nevertheless, the impact of the Iraq War on US and British soldiers is well-known. Recovery centres and dedicated charities provide help for those returning from Iraq and other countries with psychological and physical wounds. Awareness of ex-soldier suicide rates and the increase in violent behaviour amongst men who served in the war is on the increase. Help is available for those suffering from PTSD and physical disabilities.
But what of the people of Iraq? For the remaining family of Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi and others like them who suffered directly at the hands of western soldiers, the psychological scars left behind will not heal. But western intervention affected Iraq as a whole as well as those individuals. Since the 2003 invasion, more than four million Iraqis have been displaced, many of them families. According to the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, around 4.5 million children have become orphans, 70% of them since western intervention started. Iraq’s healthcare structure has been torn apart, and half of Iraqi doctors have left the country. All of these factors have a serious impact on the mental as well as physical wellbeing of those affected. Combined, they create a health crisis that is being seriously under-reported – while the fate of western soldiers continues to take priority.
If people are not shocked by the plight of the Iraqi people as a whole, they must at least consider the west’s impact on the children of Iraq. A report by Joanne Baker in 2013 detailed the suffering of Iraq’s youngsters in statistics. Of the four million people displaced since 2003, for example, up to two million were children. Around 20% of these children were reported missing by their families since 2003, amounting to around 93,500 children. Moreover, many of those displaced are suffering further from malnutrition, lack of shelter, and lack of basic healthcare and education. Around 18% of people over the age of nine are illiterate. Because of poor nutrition and water quality, only one in five children will reach their fifth birthday. A report by the World Health Organisation found that 70% of Iraqi children were suffering from trauma-related symptoms. It is worth considering, too, that these figures are from two years ago, and one year before the re-entry of western forces into Iraq.
This report does not begin to cover the entirety of the west’s impact on Iraq. The long-term economic consequences of the war are still developing, and the growing crisis in Syria continues to worsen the situation of Iraqi people. With western intervention restarting in 2014, three years after the withdrawal of troops, the world is beginning to see other consequences that will engulf the Middle East before moving beyond its borders. One such consequence, of course, is ISIS, a product of American intervention that will further the destruction of Iraq and the Middle East for the foreseeable future. We cannot know the fate of Iraq if the west had not intervened, but it can be said with certainty that many of the country’s current problems may have been lessened, or might not have existed at all.
– Ellen Finch, Correspondent (Our World)