After nearly nine years of a botched military campaign, and suffering 4,500 in dead and 30,000 wounded, the US is calling it a day in Iraq. The US must be thanked for choosing discretion to valor which we are certain was prompted by the stark reality on ground. The question one fails to find an answer to is why it took so long for the lone superpower to realize that it was fighting losing war.
Many, including the then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, believe the occupation and the war in Iraq was illegal despite UN Resolutions 1486 and 1546, these being post-facto resolutions designed to sanctify the US and UK led “coalition of the willing’s” occupation of Iraq.
It was not certainly the money either, nearly a trillion dollars of US taxpayers’ money in fact, that forced the US to pull out of Iraq. And there was certainly a divided house in the US about the Iraqi venture but it was certainly not public opinion at home that compelled the US to leave Iraq; Bush’s spin doctors managed to hoodwink the great majority of the Americans by convincing them that there was an imminent threat from Saddam, poised to strike with his “vast arsenal” of nuclear weapons. It sounds incredible but it is true that as many as nearly a hundred and fifty excuses were fabricated to rationalize Operation Iraqi Freedom. But then those who are familiar with history will not have forgotten that the script of Operation Iraqi Freedom predates 9/11 by several years.
Neither was it the many dead and wounded US servicemen and women, that forced the US to reconsider its continued presence in Iraq. This was the bloodiest war since Vietnam and there is a parallel with Vietnam insofar as the casualty figure goes. But this is not where the parallel ends. There is another parallel, that of a campaign in which the US ended up being on the losing side. And whatever is being bandied about as achievements is an unsuccessful attempt to put a gloss on an otherwise dismal narrative of US performance in Iraq, an effort to glorify defeat.
The figure of Iraqi dead is not well documented; the world has lost count of the civilian casualties in Iraq, which runs into hundreds of thousand. And most of the Iraqi dead fall in the category of what is abominably described as collateral damage. But even a hundred thousand Iraqi lives do not raise the concerns of the so-called civilized world. After all, it is a pittance compared to the lofty objective of bringing “freedom” and “democracy” to the Iraqi people. The question is have the US and UK been able to meet the goals to establish democracy, security and a pro-Western regime?
It may be too early to predict the long term consequences of a campaign that was conceived in deceit, lies and opacity. As Mao is reported to have said, in response to a question when asked what were the lessons of the French Revolution, that it was far too early to tell. It is too early to tell how the Iraqis will address the many issues that they are faced with in an even more truncated Iraq that they are inhering from the Americans than what they were living in under Saddam.
It is difficult to concur with the US defense secretary that the cost in both American and Iraqi lives “has been worth it, to establish a stable government in a very important region of the world.” Most of the rest of the world see differently.
The ethnic and sectarian divide is as deep as it had ever been. Already the Al-Iraqiya parliamentary bloc, which represents Iraq’s Sunni Arabs, has withdrawn from parliament, accusing Shia Arab Prime Minister Nouri-al-Maliki of monopolizing power.
There had been spate of bombings in several parts of the country as the last US troops were leaving. There is potential for political instability, and the chances of collapse of the Maliki government have become more likely after Iraqi authorities issued an arrest warrant against the Sunni Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi recently under anti-terrorism laws.
But while for now we should leave the Iraqis to pick up the pieces and order their lives as best as they can — to overcome the ethnic and religious divide, balance the strong strategic pulls from its neighbors, resist the pressure to play the role of a western lackey — it may be of benefit to those predisposed to or harboring the thoughts of intervention beyond their borders, or flaunting their military might to settle political issues, to take lessons from what can best be described as a military disaster.
It is said that the US made many mistakes. And commentators like Jonathan Steele have ended the debate with one short sentence. He writes: “The central problem was not that the Americans made mistakes. The occupation was a mistake. The day that Bush decided to have an occupation was the day he ensured its defeat.”
The writer is the Editor for Defense & Strategic Affairs of The Daily Star.