Reflections on the 2003 US Invasion of Iraq

Freedom Monument in Baghdad, commissioned after the 1958 revolution by General Abd al-Karim Qasim and designed by architect Jawad Salim. Photo: Hammody.90/ Openverse
Freedom Monument in Baghdad, commissioned after the 1958 revolution by General Abd al-Karim Qasim and designed by architect Jawad Salim. Photo: Hammody.90/ Openverse

by Hayat Imam

At the 2004 White House Correspondents Ball, President George W. Bush mimed a massive search for Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), looking under tables and chairs and muttering to himself: “The WMD have got to be here somewhere…” The audience dutifully laughed, as Bush looked on smugly. This may have seemed funny to him but it was not a laughing matter for Iraqis. About a half a million Iraqis were killed in the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, justified on the pretext that President Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction. Today we know that the mass destruction was really perpetrated only by the United States. ‘Shock and Awe’ bombs leveled buildings and infrastructure in Baghdad and many cities. The priceless treasures of the land were looted from the museum, ancient manuscripts from the Koran Library torched, Iraqi men and women imprisoned and humiliated in the infamous Abu Ghraib Prison. We cannot forget that we used techniques like water boarding, snarling dogs, freezing temperatures on naked Iraqis, as techniques of torture. In the end Saddam Hussein was brutally killed in a public murder. A once flourishing society was made unrecognizable. The International Criminal Court has just issued an arrest warrant on Putin for war crimes. I think they should consider issuing one for George W. Bush as well.

20 Years later, the devastation and destruction of Iraq in 2003 has a special resonance for me. Although I did not know it then, I had a ringside seat for the unfolding drama of Saddam Hussein’s rise to power.

In 1954, when I was nine years old, my father’s career took him to a Diplomatic Post in the Embassy of Pakistan, in the fabled city of Baghdad. For my parents Baghdad was special because they knew it as the city built during the Abbasid Dynasty, the Golden Age of Islam. But for me it was exciting as the seat of the stories from the 1001 Nights where Alladin found his genie in the lamp, and the clever girl Marjina saved Ali Baba from the 40 thieves. My father was especially delighted because he was a history buff, and Iraq is a place of great significance for all humanity, as the cradle of civilization between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. I will never forget the magical picnics we had on moonlit nights, as we rowed down the Tigris River in huge boats!

But, the peace of those days was soon shattered because trouble was brewing under the surface. The British had colonized large sections of the Middle East, and when they were finally obligated to leave, they made sure to appoint puppet rulers who continued to do their bidding, politically and economically. Two brothers from the Hashemite Clan were put in power as the Royal Rulers of Jordan and Iraq. By the time we came to Iraq the next generation had begun to take the helms, King Hussain in Jordan and King Faisal in Iraq.

In Iraq, oil revenues were booming, but the people were not seeing the benefits, as British Petroleum still continued to reap the highest profits. On a political level, the Prime Minister and the King’s Uncle, the Regent at the time, agreed to have Iraq join the Baghdad Pact, one of the regional pacts that obliged the signing countries to shun the Soviet Union, and tie their futures to the West, particularly Britain and the USA. The Baghdad Pact did not sit well with the nationalistic aspirations of the Iraqi people.

On July 14, 1958, I woke up to screams and noise outside our home. The Iraqi Military had walked into Baghdad and, in a swift Coup, killed the whole royal family, including the young king, his uncle, and also the Prime Minister, ending the monarchy and taking over the government. From our rooftop, we could see high burning flames in the sky. An oil refinery had been set on fire, and burned for days. Since the Baghdad Pact was one of the targets of the mob’s anger, and Pakistan was also a signatory to the Pact, my parents were deeply concerned. We packed some small suitcases in case we had to be speedily evacuated. In the end, the violence died down; we were safe, but heavily guarded by soldiers for a long time.

We left Iraq soon after, but I have always followed Iraqi events with a special interest ever since. The military leader of the coup, Abd al-Karim Qasim, survived for six years, during which time he repealed the Baghdad Pact and got closer to the Soviet Union. He established an ethnically representative government, and set about developing a constitution with land reform and improved women’s rights. Towards the end, he also demanded that the Iraq Petroleum Company, owned by the British and the Americans, share resources and ownership with Iraq.

Shortly after, in 1963, the Ba’ath party orchestrated a counter coup against Qasim’s government and he was executed. There were always rumors that the CIA was actively implicated in this coup and, in a 1997 article Patrick Cockburn presented evidence confirming the connection.

The entire coup was orchestrated and fine-tuned by the CIA. But they did more. They also prepared death lists of left leaning individuals who they thought needed to be eliminated. As a result, 5000 people were executed, mostly members of the educated Iraqi elite, doctors, academics, professionals. The man compiling the most names was Agent William McHale, operating under cover of the Beirut bureau of TIME Magazine. And the person who was extremely helpful to him, providing him with many names, was none other than Saddam Hussein. Saddam, a junior officer at the time, was carefully groomed by the CIA and took part in the coup. These events in Iraq were taking place at the height of the Cold War, and were part of a dreadful, grisly, drive taking place all over the world. The CIA compiled similar lists of names for executions of left leaning people in Vietnam and Indonesia.

Saddam Hussein’s power was consolidated, and grew, until he took over Iraq in 1979. History shows that, so long as Saddam Hussein did the bidding of the US, he got huge backing, weapons, perhaps including chemical weapons, and encouragement to fight Iran. Even when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, he said he thought he had the go ahead from the United States. In 2011, Wikileaks released US Embassy cables that show the US Ambassador met with Saddam shortly before the invasion, but gave such ambiguous responses, Saddam could have misconstrued them as support.

The reality is Saddam Hussein was an unsavory character, who was happily supported by the US so long as he worked for them. The US had no qualms inflicting such a leader on the people of Iraq. And when they were done with him, the people of Iraq were sacrificed again, to take him out. While Iraq was not justified in invading Kuwait, the punishment it received was astonishingly brutal. A massive US led coalition initiated an aerial bombing campaign to destroy Iraq’s air defenses, communication networks, weapons plants, oil refineries, and other infrastructure. For the next decade, 1990 to 1999, British and US planes continued sporadic bombings also targeting critical water and sanitation facilities. Indirectly, this caused the unnecessary deaths of some half a million children due to outbreaks of cholera and other gastrointestinal diseases. Sanctions, meanwhile, prevented the importation of chlorine tablets to clean the water.

Justifications for war are couched in various ways: as moral imperatives, or as a necessity for national security; basically, narratives that will help to sell the war to the public. But almost always the real reasons behind military excursions are for economic supremacy, and control of goods, land or resources. In the case of the Iraq war, we had the rationale of the (non-existent) Weapons of Mass Destruction. But, what not all of us knew at the time, is that the decision to conduct “regime change” and oust Saddam, was made on other grounds, long before 2003.

In September of 2000, a neo-conservative think tank called Project for a New American Century (PNAC) came out with a report called Rebuilding America’s Defenses. Some of the authors are familiar to us: Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Jeb Bush, Paul Wolfowitz, all players in Bush’s cabinet. Let me quote from the report: “The PNAC document offers a plan to take military control of the Gulf region, and a blueprint for maintaining global pre-eminence…” The plan calls for a premeditated attack on Iraq to secure regime change. It also spotlights China, N. Korea, Libya, Syria, and Iran for regime change. For the USA, the plan recommends “a world wide command and control system”.

The most obvious advantage the US seems to require, as its unquestioned right, is complete control of the world’s resources – through domination and military might. Anyone, or any country, that gets in the way is an economic threat and, therefore, fair game. At some point Saddam Hussein must have triggered an alarm by a move to chart an independent economic course regarding oil and currency. He, and the people of Iraq, needed to be battered for this.

It is hardly likely that the US government is representing the American public in seeking this level of world domination. After all, a staggering ten million people, in the US and in 600 cities around the globe, flooded the streets in protest against the invasion of Iraq. If it is not representing us, then who is it representing? Could it be other interested stakeholders who want, and require, global turmoil and destabilization? The Fossil fuel industry, who are first in line for control of oil? The Weapons industry, who love nothing more than a state of perpetual warfare? The resurgent Nuclear Weapons industry, the Surveillance Tech industry, who also want their share of the booty? War is indeed good for Business.