Even before ISIL rose to power through utter brutality and sheer terror, debate has raged over the origins of the crisis in Iraq. Just how and why has the USA become embroiled in sectarian war in Iraq? Who holds the smoking gun?
For many anti-war commentators, such an answer is simple. In 2003, President George W. Bush used the context of 9/11 and the justification of non-existent weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) to pursue a punitive war against Iraq, plundering their lucrative oil industry. For pro-war commentators, such an answer prompts thumb-twiddling and shifting uncomfortably in their seats. Perhaps what I will argue here will draw ire from those who buy into the popular misconceptions of the Iraq War. However like many who support democracy and freedom for the Iraqi people, I feel compelled to once again place the current state of affairs in context. This, in the faint hope that we will all learn from the harsh lessons of the ongoing tragedy in Iraq.
The truth is that the West has been at war in Iraq since 17 January 1991, when the US-led coalition expelled the Iraqi occupation from the sovereign state of Kuwait. Saddam’s justifications for invading Kuwait were wholly unfounded in both a legal and moral sense and faced widespread condemnation – even from the Soviet Union. Indeed, Saddam Hussein had been waging illegal war and genocide in the decade prior to the liberation of Kuwait. Such brutality conducted by the Hussein regime fostered the sectarian divisions that would boil over once Saddam’s terror state fell. Additionally, during the period between the 1991 liberation of Kuwait and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, violence did not cease. War stuttered on. Coalition no-fly zones were established in the north and south of Iraq to protect the Kurdish and Shiite populations respectively from persecution and death. The British and American planes were continuously fired upon by Iraqi anti-aircraft weaponry. This is war. Therefore, those who purport to be anti-war and thus deplore the invasion of Iraq must also deplore the preceding two decades of unparalleled Iraqi belligerence. The two counts of violation of sovereignty, through the invasion of Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990. The repeated violation of its international obligations to disarm and discontinue its WMD production. The conduct and attempted conduct of genocidal campaigns against civilians of minority groups. The support of international terrorist groups and the conduct of brutal state terror. Hussein’s Iraq treated international norms and obligations with deliberate contempt and brought invasion upon itself after decades of resolutions, concessions and limited military action. Bush’s legacy as President is undoubtedly tainted by the strategic error of invading Iraq in 2003. However, it is Saddam Hussein who holds ultimate responsibility for dragging his country into a war with no end in sight.