Precisely 14 years ago, the United States declared victory over the battle for the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, and began a formal military occupation. Although then-President Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad’s central Firdos Square was toppled a few days earlier on 9 April 2003, fighting between US and Iraqi forces continued in several districts, and even after victory was declared, the beginnings of the Iraqi resistance against illegal occupation began forming.
When the United States led the “Coalition of the Willing” in an illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003, it had several objectives in mind. Apart from expanding and solidifying its presence and domination over the region, the George “Dubya” Bush administration – shaken by the fact that a large-scale attack against the United States had taken place two years earlier in the 9/11 attack – sought to stamp its authority on all who sought to oppose it, and wanted to send a message to all present and future Arab and Islamic leaders and make an example out of Iraq and Saddam – play ball, or America will send you into oblivion.
Iraq’s neo-Stone Age
Indeed, highly reminiscent of another failed American military misadventure, the Vietnam War, after the US had invaded and decimated Iraq, its people and any chance it could have at a stable, secure and civil state, the US used its raw demonstration of power to threaten those who would not completely and unequivocally toe their line.
Halfway through the debacle of the Vietnam War, US Air Force General Curtis LeMay published in his 1965 autobiography that his response to the North Vietnamese would be to “bomb them back into the Stone Age”. Though he later claimed that he merely meant that the US “could” bomb the Vietnamese so severely that none of the trappings of contemporary civilisation would be present, the point was made to the extent that in 2006, three years after the destruction of Iraq had been held aloft as an example of what would happen if you crossed America, Bush threatened to bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age.
In many ways, that is exactly what happened to Iraq. Though the mass destruction and devastation wrought upon cities such as Ramadi, Tikrit, Fallujah and currently Mosul came at the hands of Iraq’s new rulers in recent years as an overblown response to Daesh, the US also spent over a decade since 1991 systematically destroying and dismantling Iraq, even poisoning its once rich and fertile soil with radioactive weapons.
For instance, it is a well-established fact that the United States flattened Fallujah in 2004 and illegally used white phosphorus munitions that literally burnt people to a crisp. Although the US and its new puppets in Baghdad – whose strings were jointly being pulled from Washington and Tehran – cited Al-Qaeda as an excuse for destroying and depopulating Fallujah, they neglected to mention that on several occasions US forces shot indiscriminately into crowds protesting the American occupation, as documented by Human Rights Watch in 2003. While Iraq was an example for an international audience, the destruction of Fallujah was for domestic consumption – resistance is futile.
During “Operation Desert Storm” in 1991 to expel Iraqi forces from their occupation of neighbouring Kuwait, the coalition under Bush’s father, President George Bush Sr., extensively used depleted uranium (DU) rounds to penetrate the armour of already aging and borderline obsolete Soviet-made Iraqi tanks. The use of DU continued throughout the war and into the 2003 invasion, and the radioactive fallout was so severe that congenital birth defects in Iraq have become worse than those following the atomic bombing of Japan in 1945.
With its infrastructure in ruins, its children born with defects that greatly reduce their quality of life and lifespans, and Iraq’s once region-leading intellectual class decimated by targeted assassinations from Iran-backed militias causing a brain drain in the country, it is easy enough to argue that Iraq has entered into a neo-Stone Age. The country is now wracked by violence, and Baghdad is now a shell of its former glory, with its once-proud people wading through sewage due to a corrupt political environment that would rather line powerful politicians’ and militia leaders’ pockets with gold than take care of its own sanitation infrastructure.
Is it all over for Iraq?
The “Coalition of the Willing” was no more than a collection of largely western powers clinging onto America’s tail, and their morally compromised Arab and Muslim stooges in the region participating in a war of absolute aggression over falsified and fabricated WMD claims. The forces arrayed against Iraq as a whole – and not just the despicable Ba’athist regime – were certainly “willing” to tear up international law in their illegal invasion, but not willing to clean up their mess, a mess that has given us not only rampant human rights abuses under Iraq’s new “de-mock-racy” but also created the conditions for groups like Daesh and Iran-backed Shia jihadists to run amok.
With Iraq’s Kurds announcing that they will be holding a non-binding independence referendum later this year, and increasing calls for the establishment of a Sunni Arab-dominated federal region – as per the constitution – will Iraq finally break apart into three separate Sunni Kurd, Sunni Arab and Shia Arab statelets? While that remains to be seen, many Iraqis do not want this.
The reason why some Sunni Arabs may support the establishment of a Sunni federal region is not because they are separatists, but because the US-installed and Iran-sponsored political system ruling out of Baghdad’s Green Zone has perpetrated almost a decade and a half of abuses against them. The Sunni Arabs have been politically marginalised, tortured in secret and official prisons, accused of being terrorists or at best terrorist sympathisers and generally suffered grievous attacks that pose an existential threat to their continuance as an independent ethno-religious group seeking to acquire the safety, security and prosperity that all humans want.
If the pro-Iran parties dominating Iraq ceased their sectarian persecution of the Sunnis, and made genuine efforts to extend a hand of national unity to the Sunni Arabs with equal opportunities for all, is there any doubt that they would prefer a united Iraq over a fractured one? Of course not. Until foreign meddling that began with the US and was taken over by the Iranians is removed from the Iraqi political scene, we can unfortunately only expect that Iraq will continue to deteriorate and be held in the limbo of the Stone Age that was imposed on it since 2003.
Baghdad was once the centre of the learned, the cultured and the civilised around the globe, and it can be once again if it is left to the care of its own people who have a civilizational pedigree that remains unparalleled in human history. No amount of US destruction or Iranian imperialism can change that.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.