Today marks the ten year anniversary of the day over a million people marched against attacking Iraq. The papers are full of ‘Iraq: Was it Worth It?’ articles. To those of us implacably opposed to this attack, such a question is as ludicrous as asking ‘The Holocaust: Was it Worth it?’ The bogus War on Terror and the neoliberal principle of intervention for profit under the guise of extending democracy has made the world a more dangerous place. Pursuing this ideology in the face of mass opposition has made the world a less democratic place.
The March to ‘War’
I recall looking on at the seemingly unstoppable march to attack Iraq with a growing sense of horror. I saw US Generals promising ‘Shock and Awe’ as if they were talking about the world’s greatest fireworks display, and not the obliteration of civilian populated cities, towns and villages and literally held my head in my hands in despair. The propaganda was overwhelming.
Almost every news channel almost every hour was telling the public of the US and the UK that Iraq was literally on the verge of pushing the button on a nuclear or biological weapon. Despite UN inspectors urging caution, we were told the government had information we were not privy to and we needed to trust them and let them get on with the hard work of saving the world. This video is a great montage of clips from the time:
It was relentless. If you were opposed to attacking Iraq you were deemed to be some kind of hippy, ‘peace at any price’ traitor. Donald Rumsfeld, the then US Secretary for Defence, likened opponents of a pre emptive strike on Iraq to the appeasers of Hitler ahead of World War II.
The best selling UK newspaper The Sun came out (as did the Murdoch press) in full support of a pre-emptive attack on Iraq.
To accuse the papers or the media of propaganda leading us into an un necessary attack in order for US and UK contractors to make profit were dismissed (even today) by even the supposedly moderate General Colin Powell, as loonies and conspiracy theorists.
The Day of the March
Then came the march. It is important to remember there wasn’t just one march against Iraq. Significant numbers of people, upwards of a million marched on London and other UK cities over a number of weeks, over and again (I went on three!) to say NO. I hesitate to say ‘to this war’, because terming this abominable unprovoked attack a war would be deceitful. It was an attack. Marches took places across the US, Europe and the Middle East. The world was watching and a very large portion of it watching with abject horror and shouting ‘No!’ as loudly as we could. The day was something I will never forget. There was a cycle powered music machine going around with a man singing ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ and people were singing along. The mood in the crowd was anger at the war, but love for humanity and kindness and respect for each other. I recall the atmosphere as generally upbeat and determined. We thought we were going to stop this attack. We believed that with such enormous numbers represented on the streets, the government would heed our call and turn back. We were wrong. Weeks later, the attack commenced.
The Casualties of War
The first casualty of this ‘war’ was the truth. We discovered no weapons of a biological or nuclear nature or facilities to produce them. None. We discovered the case for war, supplied by the UK government to the US government and instrumental in building the case for war, was a fake. The so called ‘Dodgy Dossier’ weaved together pieces of a PhD thesis found online together with other unvalidated, tenuous information. The language of intelligence was altered to suggest a serious and imminent threat. During one of the many fruitless Iraq inquiries Major General Michael Laurie said:
“We knew at the time that the purpose of the dossier was precisely to make a case for war, rather than setting out the available intelligence, and that to make the best out of sparse and inconclusive intelligence the wording was developed with care.”
The government made the decision to go to war and then scrambled to procure ‘evidence’ to support its decision, rather than make evidence based policy as they claimed.
We discovered in the recent Leveson Inquiry into Media Ethics, that the Murdoch press who had been biggest cheerleaders for the war had been meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair throughout the pre war period to synchronise their messaging to the public.
But truth was not the only casualty of this war. The July 2003 death of Dr David Kelly, suicide or no should be remembered forever as a national disgrace. Either the government pressured a whistle blower to the point where he felt his only escape was to take his own life, or they killed him to shut it up. Neither of these options fills me with pride.
Iraq Body Count has been internationally recognised as one of the key sources for figures on deaths in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. IBC collates reports on every death in Iraq from over 90 separate sources. The count encompasses non-combatants killed by military or paramilitary action and the breakdown in civil security following the invasion. In the ten years (and we’re still there) since the invasion of Iraq, between 111,152 and 121,465 Iraqi civilians have died. This is the equivalent of a 9/11 every three months, for a decade. Contrast this against the 179 British troops killed, or the 4,500 US troops lost, and you understand my caution in defining this invasion as a war.
One could argue that 9/11 has been used as a pretext for permanent war by the US and UK governments; that the nature of warfare and rules of engagement have been changed in radical and dangerous ways and that civil liberties have been stolen in it’s name.
Since 2003, the US and UK governments have launched military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, Mauritania, Djibouti, Georgia, Haiti, Uganda, Turkey, Chad and most recently Mali. Far from scaling back, David Cameron recently announced that the new ‘threat in northern Africa’ could last decades. Hundreds of thousands have died, and millions of people have had their lives permanently impacted by injury or Diaspora.
The US government, buoyed by its success in establishing its right to launch pre-emptive attacks on sovereign nations without sanction, has proceeded to act as the world’s bent policeman. From extraordinary rendtion, to the debacles of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, the use and condoning of torture, and now to the ever increasing drone attacks – the US is bullish. US officers manning weaponised drones from the safety of US soil are committing extra judicial killings across the world without reply. By January 2013, US drones had killed 2,629 people in Pakistan alone. The US has not declared war on Pakistan. At least 475 of these deaths were civilian and the others suspected militants who never got the chance to have these allegations tested by a court of law.
There has been a severe curtailing of civil liberties at home, with increased powers of surveillance, secret courts and the US National Defence Authorisation Act making it legal for the first time for a US citizen suspected of involvement in terrorism to be indefinitely detained without trial. Meanwhile, whistle blower Bradley Manning (the 21st Century Daniel Ellsberg) languishes in prison for the third year without trial for showing the injustices of the Iraq War to the people paying the bill.
The governments would still have us believe that all is being done based on a real and existential terrorist threat. But this just doesn’t stand up to analysis.
The chance that an American will perish at the hands of a terrorist at present rates is 1 in 3.5 million per year. There is less than one chance in 20 million that a plane flight will be hijacked or attacked by terrorists, and one chance in 90 million that a passenger will be killed by terrorists.
In the meantime, US public spending on ‘domestic security’ has risen by over $1 trillion since 2001. Iraq’s oil reserves, the third largest in the world, with an estimated 115 billion barrels waiting to be extracted, are now through post reconstruction legislation opened up to Western companies. These reserves were key to a world running out of oil, as Vice-President Dick Cheney noted in 1999, when he was still running Halliburton, an oil services company and contractor which won billions of dollars worth of contracts in Iraq post invasion.
For all these reasons, we need to stop asking ‘Was Iraq Worth It?’ Of course it was worth it to the vested interests that benefit from permanent war. For the rest of us, it is a stain on our history and the gateway to a world we could scarcely have imagined a decade ago.
Learning from History
We must learn from our history. We must refuse to have our civil liberties, our lives and the lives of faceless citizens of far off lands cast asunder for the profit of private interests. Rights won over centuries have been lost in one decade. A drastic and consistent drum beat against this state of permanent war must continue. And for goodness sake let us never again be rallied to un necessary war by power hungry men by the unfounded fear of ‘those people over there’.
Hedges v Obama – Chris Hedges, Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore and others have started a legal challenge of the NDAA in the US courts. See them talking about the challenge and what they hope to achieve.
Stop the War Coalition – join demonstrations against permanent war.