More than eleven years have passed since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, yet the political arguments in Western capitals on whether the toppling of Saddam Hussein was right or wrong continue to endure. The reasons for these arguments can be clearly seen on the ground in Iraq today and need no further explanation. This controversy has been reignited by recent developments, which are threatening sectarian war and a redrawing of the map of the region amid increased calls for intervention, out of fear that this danger will spread to the region at large.
London mayor Boris Johnson, a leading figure of the British Conservative Party, savaged former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair for his continued defense of the invasion, describing Blair’s argument that what is happening in Iraq today has nothing to do with the events of 2003 as “unhinged.” Blair said that if Saddam had not been toppled in 2003, he would most likely have been ousted by a popular revolution following the events of the Arab Spring and Iraq would still have found itself facing a bloody civil war. As a result, the former prime minister believes there is no need to blame ourselves for what is happening now. Johnson does not hide the fact that, as a member of parliament at the time, he voted in favor of the war under the mistaken belief that there was a post-war plan in place, similar to what happened in Germany in 1945. He also acknowledged that before the 2003 war, Al-Qaeda had no presence in Iraq.
All of these points do not negate the fact that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the havoc wreaked on Iraq through his unending and irresponsible military adventures. They started with the destructive war with Iran, which lasted for eight years and drained the country’s resources, and was followed by the ill-thought-out invasion of Kuwait, which put Iraq on a collision course with the rest of the world and led to harsh sanctions against the Baghdad regime. These sanctions only added to the suffering of the Iraqi peoples, who were already living under a totalitarian regime that utilized harsh and repressive methods. This left wounds in the fabric of Iraq’s society and state.
Next came the invasion of 2003, regardless of the reasons for it and whether they were right or not. Many people expected a better future for Iraq, not to mention greater liberties for its people. But the international powers acted like amateurs and had no plan for the day after the ceasefire. The worst thing was the dismantling of Iraqi state institutions, such as the military, police and ministries, under the banner of de-Ba’athification. This inevitably led to the subsequent chaos, with sectarian armed militias filling the vacuum left by the army. They remain part of the political equation in Iraq a decade after the war.
The responsibility for the chaos that followed is not Bush’s or Blair’s alone, and neither does it lie solely with the officials they appointed to manage the country. A large portion of the responsibility falls on the shoulders of the Iraqi political elite, many of whom were in the diaspora and played an important role in giving advice and guidance prior to the war. They subsequently assumed power and further polarized the country.
Ten years should be enough to learn from experience, change course and try to include those who felt marginalized by the wider political process. Unfortunately, this has not happened. On the contrary, we saw the continuance of policies that served to deepen and entrench division. Talk about division and partition escalated on a daily basis, without anyone believing it would lead to a scenario more violent and bloody than anything Iraq had seen before.
The retreat of the better-equipped Iraqi Army from the advance of around 1,500 insurgents, leaving behind their arms, raises many questions about just what is happening in Iraq’s Anbar province.
In any case, no one will accept Iraqi cities and territory falling under the control of an organization like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria for long. However, even if Mosul and other cities are recaptured by force, it would not resolve the crisis, which has been raging for more than a year and which started with protests and demonstrations in Anbar province.
What is needed is a new way of thinking which accommodates everyone in an inclusive government and which establishes trust between all components of society. The starting point could be the idea of a national reconciliation government, which was called for by Saudi Arabia on Monday.