Guest Post – Iraq: The End?

Hannah might be on holiday at the moment, but her dedication to Paperback Rioter remains. Here’s her take on the American withdrawal from Iraq:

I’m on holiday in Paris at the moment.  So far we`ve managed to visit most of the main sights associated with a trip to Paris: the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Seine.  One of the other stalwarts of any foreign holiday is the reassuring presence of the BBC World Service on the hotel cable TV.  It was from this source, this morning, that I learnt that the last US combat troops are leaving Iraq

So ends the seven-and-a-half-year long occupation, and the formative geopolitical event of the new millenium.  It was also one of my formative political moments.  I was 14 when the “Coalition of the Willing” invaded Iraq in the March of 2003.  I woke up, got up as I would any other morning, made my breakfast as usual and turned on the television to see the Americans’ “Shock and Awe” raining down on Baghdad, lighting up the night skyline.  At school assembly, our Head of Year lead prayers for Iraq; she may have lit a candle – my memory isn’t clear – but it was a sombre moment; but in truth, not entirely unexpected.  While the moment the war began came as a surprise, it had been foreshadowed by a long and fractious political process.   Several members of my school year had attempted to organise a walkout in protest, and not those you would have imagined as tuned in to politics.  In the end the teachers got wind of it and put a stop to the idea, although they bought us with for the opportunity to write letters to the Government in school time.  I enthusiastically joined in, as did a great many others in this country.  Around 1 million people demonstrated in London, out of a normally politically sluggish population.  It did nothing.

So what has this year’s long conflict achieved?  The other thing about BBC World is that, released from the watchful eye of the government and querulous and organised conservatives, it is free to drop the pretense that, to the extent that there is objective truth, it always lies equidistant between opposing positons, on any given topic.  I’ve therefore been able to watch the BBC’s finest telling it like it is, on Iraq.  The report opened with an American soldier speeding out of Iraq in convoy crying, “Wooh!  It’s over! We won! America, I love you!  We’ve brought democracy to Iraq!”

The report then cut to BBC correspondent, Hugh Sykes, who called this “triumphalism” and told us that 100, 000 Iraqi civilians had been killed; that Iraq now had a chapter of al Qaeda, which it had never done previously; security was low due to the disastrous decision to disband the Iraqi army in the wake of the invasion; even those Iraqis who do not want Western troops to leave didn’t want them to come in the first place; finally and most, damningly, Iraq, far from being a successful democracy, is now completely without a permanent government

What he did not say is that, however much its apologists resist their classification as such, this conflict has brought civilian casualties on the other side as well, with 191 people being killed in Madrid, in 2004, and 52 in London, in 2005.   

 Jeremy Bowen was even more blunt, on the main 10 o’clock evening bulletin.  It was “impossible”, he said, “to call this a victory.”  4,500 American troops had been killed and 30,000 injured; “huge mistakes” had been made in the execution of the occupation. “We don’t want them” said a representative Iraqi.  It was, the report summed up, “one of the most damaging military adventures in (US) history.” 

They are right.  Judged by any of its publically stated aims, the occupation has been an utter failure: the WMDs Iraq was, ostensibly, invaded to contain never existed and to say that its citizens are better off now is to conjure up this absurd image.   

This news comes the same week that fresh suspicions emerged over the death of WMD inspector and whistleblower, David Kelly.  Truly, this whole period was a shabby, shameful episode of British history. 

Sadly, some mistakes cannot be fixed.  Western forces may be able to extricate themselves from Iraq, but the hundreds of thousands of dead will remain dead and democratic Iraq is unlikely to survive its internal struggles.  To quote Hugh Sykes: “It’s over? We won? No and No.”

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