As talk of war and war coalitions intensifies, it is worth pausing to ponder this troubling question regarding one of the bloodiest conflicts of this century: Why exactly did the US invade Iraq?
The Iraq invasion, in March 2003, was portrayed not just as a struggle against despotism but also against terrorism. In the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US, the Americans, along with a collection of western allies, had invaded Afghanistan. The stated aim was to move against terrorism, but it was mainly a knee-jerk reaction to the 9/11 attacks, an attempt to show those threatening America that they would be dealt with severely.
Subsequently, talk of action in Iraq began to be linked to Afghanistan. There was talk (propaganda) of links between the Saddam Hussain regime and al-Qaeda. This was later proven a fiction. Then there was the Bush administration’s insistence that Iraq was a threat to the world because Saddam possessed ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ (WMDs). This was also subsequently proven to be a baseless assertion. But the US proceeded anyway.
So why did the Bush administration go into Iraq? A medley of reasons — oil politics, defence profits, general Neo-con policy — are cited often, but one fact that seems largely lost in the mists of time and spin is that the plan to attack Iraq pre-dated both 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan.
I suppose as a journalist I should have known this anyway but as I say certain factors are always omitted or downplayed in the official propaganda narrative. But I have recently read Bob Woodward’s excellent (2004) book Plan of Attack, and I am astounded by the details of how the Iraq invasion was pushed through as an imperative action.
Woodward documents how the hawks of the Bush team were pushing the Attack Iraq agenda even before George W Bush’s inauguration. As early as then, Cheney was insisting that it was crucial to brief the president-elect on Iraq. In every early briefing, Saddam was mentioned as a problem. Going into Iraq was a priority. Regime change was mentioned again and again. After a long period of military planning and dealing with irritants such as international law (getting UN resolutions ‘authorising’ the intervention) the Americans went in and the rest, as they say, is history.
Today, Iraq is a broken country. Wracked by strife and bloodshed its infrastructure is destroyed, its ancient historical legacy almost forgotten. One wonders if its citizens, given the choice, would have opted for the current scenario of bloodshed, hatred and brutality, rather the option of living in a country run by a despot (propped up by the US) but where health and education were of a high standard and where the communications infrastructure worked.
The invasion of Iraq was a defining chapter in the story of a violent century. But the Iraq war was also a conflict that was openly opposed by tens of thousands of people in capitals across the world. As John Kampfener in his book Blair’s War notes: on Saturday February 15, 2003 “up to 100 million protestors converged in 600 cities in 600 countries. London saw the biggest demonstration in British history — up to 2 million of these people from all parts of the UK taking part in the ‘Stop the War’ rally.”
But they could not stop the war. Because the Lords of War had ordained that Iraq must be invaded and Saddam must be eliminated. And so it was. And here we are.
Alas, such is the reality of despots and despotic regimes…