19 years since the US invasion of Iraq, has the West learned any lessons? — Analysis
Nearly two decades, and nearly a million deaths later the media beats the drums for war again
In March 2003, the US invaded Iraq. It was now known that it was built on lies. As many as one million Iraqis were killed in this war. The West seems to have lost so many lessons from the disastrous Iraq War, despite all the bloodshed that was inflicted upon the Iraqi population.
The Americans were told during the preparations for the war against Iraq that Saddam Hussein was needed to bring about world peace. This was due to his alleged possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) as well as his alleged links with Al-Qaeda, among a number of other claims about Hussein’s genocidal ambitions. Britain’s then-prime minister, Tony Blair, even likened Saddam Hussein to Adolf Hitler; this was at a time when anti-Middle Eastern sentiment was high and the 9/11 attacks were ripe in the minds of the Western public, who had been informed by then-US President George W. Bush that the ‘war on terror’ was akin to a ‘crusade’.
It turned out that almost none of the major allegations about Saddam Hussein were true, despite the Iraqi president’s other crimes against humanity. Yet, with no evidence, Western media fell in line and presented the invasion of Iraq as a just war, despite the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) in Geneva stating that it constituted a war of aggression and a flagrant violation of international law prior to the invasion occurring.
Likely due in large part to the media coverage at the time, which had demonized everything Middle Eastern and Muslim, US public support for invading Iraq prior to ‘Operation Iraqi Liberation’ was between 52-64%, jumping up to 72% support on invasion day.
In the first two months of the ‘Shock and Awe’ invasion of Iraq, more than 7,186 Iraqi civilians were said to have been killed. Yet, Western media reported at that time celebrating the victory of the US and UK as if no such death or destruction had occurred, without ever asking about the WMD. A BBC reporter, Andrew Marr, said on April 9 of British PM Tony Blair that “He said they would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath and in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating. And on both of those points he has been proven conclusively right.”
In spite of reports of war crimes by the US and UK, there was no blind support for US-UK government coverage. According to The Guardian, the US airstrike on a Red Crescent Maternity Hospital in Baghdad resulted in a massacre.
It is believed that over 100,000 Iraqi civilians died in the first two years following the invasion. George W. Bush, however, was still able to win a re-election bid in 2004. With the United Nations Security Council not authorizing the invasion and countless reports about civilian targets being attacked, there were calls for Bush and Blair to be prosecuted for war crimes.
Time Magazine, which was still covering the Bush administration on October 6, 2003, had only minor critiques to offer about President Bush’s miscalculations. “fixing Iraq,” whilst The Economist went with a headline in May that read: ‘Now, the waging of peace’, which was endorsing the idea of nation-building in Iraq and ignoring the alleged war crimes.
Eventually, all the major news outlets in the West, including the likes of CNN, BBC, Fox News, and others, bowed their heads in shame of their one-sided reporting on what had occurred in Iraq and what Noam Chomsky called their participation in ‘manufacturing consent’.
Peter Van Buren, a former US State Department official based in Iraq for a year, was asked about whether the Western media had learnt its lesson from Iraq and said the following:
“Lessons learned? No. La [‘no’ in Arabic]. Nyet [‘no’ in Russian]. In 2003 as an officer at State Department, I was horrified to see how the mainstream media acted as not just stenographers for the government’s lies but as amplifiers, using anonymous sources at great cost of their credibility in order to construct and serve a narrative calling for war. When their true editor-in-chief, George W. Bush, stood up, a mix of Ben Bradley and Lou Grant, to proclaim ‘you were either with us or with the terrorists,’ the media stifled dissent in their ranks nearly completely. There has been little change in 2022. The media again beats the drum for war, albeit this time as stenographers for the Ukrainian government’s propaganda. Most of the footage and imagery from Ukraine come directly from them, and these anonymous sources in 2003 are no longer used. Crushing dissent has caught up with the times, so voices for restraint are not just left off the New York Times op-ed page, they are canceled, deplatformed, and sent down the social media memory hole, unemployable as Putin-lovers.”
The crimes in Iraq today are well-known to Westerners, but the leaders of both the United States (and the United Kingdom) have not been held accountable for their actions. The war has left Iraq divided in terms de-jure, societal ethno-religious, and the thousands of US troops still present in Iraq. NATO even announced early last year that they were expanding their own mission to 4,000 personnel in Iraq.
Additionally, Iraq is now facing the fall of ISIS as well as a sectarian Sunni war, US occupation, torture centres, chemical weapons deployment against civilians and US occupation. This has had a negative impact on the collective memories of the young generation of Iraqis. Iraq’s young people now face an corrupted elite made up of confessionalists. [sectarian]This system of government was largely based on the manufactured culture of nepotism.
After 19 years of destruction, has the US been able claim victory over Iraq? It is not. Washington continues to struggle to maintain enough power to counter the influence of Iran. Iran jumped in to take the place of Washington with its allies who had been established to defeat ISIS and Al-Qaeda.
Before the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, Iraq had not been divided along sectarian lines. It also didn’t have any problems with Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. Since 2003, the country has been broken apart and many of the media outlets that sided with Western governments have become propaganda machines. The active undermining of the Iraqi experience of war, with countless Western journalists saying things like, we should care more because the bombs are dropping on “relatively civilised” people, can be put down to racism, and it is this sort of dangerous rhetoric which enables Western audiences to ignore the alleged 6 million victims of the failed ‘war on terror’. The US government will forever lose its moral superiority over other nations unless the Iraq War perpetrators are held accountable.
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