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11 years after the invasion of Iraq by US and coalition forces, IBC's Lily Hamourtziadou compares the promises of a better life for Iraqis after Saddam, with the reality of daily life in a country still torn apart by violence every day.

The blurring of war and peace, tyranny and democracy, captivity and liberation

by Lily Hamourtziadou
 19 Mar 2014 

11 years on and questions still remain about the decision to intervene in and declare war on Iraq, based on humanitarian claims made by the leaders of the US and the UK. After the WMD claims were proven to have been unfounded, the justification for the invasion increasingly focused on humanitarian concerns, Saddam Hussein’s cruel regime, internal insecurity, lack of freedom and violation of human rights.

11 years on and Iraq is officially at peace, it is officially a democracy and it has officially been liberated. Yet the lines between peace and war, democracy and oppression, freedom and entrapment have become so blurred, that doubt is cast on both past statements and current realities, even by well-meaning supporters of the invasion.

The speeches

On February 26 2003, 4 weeks before the invasion, George W. Bush stated: “The nation of Iraq, with its proud heritage, abundant resources and skilled and educated people, is fully capable of moving toward democracy and living in freedom.” After the invasion, and after the war was officially over, in November 2003, he spoke of the American mission to spread democracy and freedom. “Freedom can be the future of every nation,” he said to the National Endowment for democracy. “The advance of freedom leads to peace.”

In the UK, Tony Blair was also talking of a “roadmap for peace”… “a larger global agenda –on poverty and sustainable development, on democracy and human rights, on the good governance of nations” (Speech in House of Commons, 18 March 2003). He spoke of his “detestation of Saddam.” Before him, he said, Iraq was wealthy, but

today it is impoverished, 60% of its population dependent on food aid. Thousands of children die needlessly every year from lack of food and medicine. Four million people out of a population of just over 20 million are in exile. The brutality of the repression - the death and torture camps, the barbaric prisons for political opponents, the routine beatings for anyone or their families suspected of disloyalty are well documented. I recall a few weeks ago talking to an Iraqi exile and saying to her that I understood how grim it must be under the lash of Saddam. "But you don't", she replied. "You cannot. You do not know what it is like to live in perpetual fear." And she is right. We take our freedom for granted. But imagine not to be able to speak or discuss or debate or even question the society you live in. To see friends and family taken away and never daring to complain. To suffer the humility of failing courage in face of pitiless terror. That is how the Iraqi people live. Leave Saddam in place and that is how they will continue to live.

War and peace

Years later, Blair had “no regrets” over his decision, which he would take again, as he stated at the Chilcot Inquiry in January 2010. By then, over 110,000 civilians had been killed in Iraq…

Since the war has been “over” in Iraq, that is, since May 1 2003, not a day has gone by when people have not been killed in bombings and shootings. Not one day. In the 3,976 days since the official end of the war, 128,000 civilian deaths have been documented by IBC, on top of the 7,400 recorded during the invasion, coming to a total of 135,500 so far. How peaceful is that? What sort of peace are the Iraqis living in? Iraq has never been as intensely and consistently lethal to civilians as it was during those weeks of “Shock and Awe,” when its hospitals were drenched with the blood of hundreds who found themselves in the path of the invasion, day after day. Yet since those terrible weeks the violence has been constant, relentless, killing between 4,110 (2010) and 29,294 (2006) civilians a year.

The daily conflict has led to millions of Iraqis living as refugees, in poverty and disease, both internally and externally, in need, in fear, in uncertainty. The war-like conditions of their lives make a mockery of any claim to have brought them peace, security or a sense of safety and protection from violent death. War is not over for them. It has not been over since March 20 2003, but has been allowed to continue and flourish, adding more corpses of men, women, children, poor, wealthy, young, old, professionals, unemployed, educated, illiterate, hopeful and hopeless alike. The bombers and the shooters, American, British, Iraqi or any other nationality, have killed people of all ages, social class and religion. Almost indiscriminately.

Iraq is now as dangerous as it was in 2003, when our coalition planes bombed them every night, and no city, town or village is safe. No street, or building. No home, or school, or office. No mosque, no church and no market. It is what happens in war.

Tyranny and democracy

Iraq has had a democratically elected government since 2006. Nuri al-Maliki and his party were again elected in 2010 and another election is due to take place next month. It will be the first not to take place under US occupation.

Officially, Iraq is now a democracy… a far cry from the cruel dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, as echoed in the speeches of George W. Bush and Tony Blair, with its repression and brutality, torture, perpetual fear and terror. Or is it?

A tyranny is a cruel and oppressive government or rule, with unrestrained exercise of power and undue severity or harshness. Iraqi democracy has all the characteristics of a tyranny. Since 2006 thousands have been arrested, imprisoned and tortured by the regime. Protesters have been shot at and killed, any insurgency is met with shelling that kills insurgents as well as civilians, while political opponents have been persecuted. In the past 2 years, since the US army has left Iraq, the situation has deteriorated to where now there are nightly shellings and mortar attacks by the Iraqi army, in addition to the terrorist acts which never ceased.

In Ramadi and Fallujah, residents have accused government forces of illegally detaining citizens, torturing and raping them, while doctors and NGO workers accuse the government of war crimes. The Iraqi army is reportedly preventing medical supplies from entering the cities.

On February 14, Nikolay Mladenov, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s Special Representative for Iraq and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, expressed great concern about the deteriorating security situation in Fallujah. "More than 60,000 families have been displaced since the fighting broke out in the Anbar province," he said, and "the displaced families are running out of food and drinking water and suffer from poor sanitation and limited access to health care."

Angry protesters have been demanding “an end to checkpoints,” “an end to unlawful home raids and detentions,” and “an end to gangsters and secret prisons.” It sounds like something out of the Saddam Hussein era. It certainly does not sound like a democracy where the power lies with the people and the laws made to protect their rights, where there is equality and equal representation, where there is respect and where citizens are not subjected to torture and killing by the state.

Captivity and liberation

“The advance of freedom leads to peace,” said George W. Bush. A liberated Iraq would, presumably, become peaceful. No internal threats and itself no threat to other states. As has already been established, there is no peace in Iraq, but is there freedom?

An essential feature of liberty is the freedom from external restraint. "The free man is the man who is not in irons, nor imprisoned in a gaol, nor terrorised like a slave by the fear of punishment,” according to Helvetius. The free citizen has freedom of movement, of religion, of speech; he/she is free from constraints put on their right to protest, to participate in government, to have their voices heard and their concerns recognised; finally free citizens are able to fulfil their potential.

In war-torn Iraq, where children are blown up and shot on their way to school, where daily hunger torments nearly a third of the population, where fear rules in every town and every village, how free can people be? How free can people be when they fear for their lives, when they fear their neighbours, their rulers? How free can people be when they fear roadside bombs when driving, car bombs when shopping, gunfire and suicide bombers when stopping at checkpoints or attending a funeral? How free can people be when they fear mortar fire and shelling as they go to sleep? And how can people, children, fulfil their potential in such a state?

The Iraqis, the “liberated” nation Bush had envisaged moving towards democracy and living in freedom, are captives of their own leaders, they are captives of their fragmented society and they are captives of the legacy left by American and British forces. Moreover, they are trapped in this captivity and are not allowed to escape it. They are not allowed by those in power and they are not allowed by those with the power of weapons -in Iraq, in the wider Middle East and in the West. Ultimately, it is the interests that are being fought on Iraqi soil that hold the population captive.

The interests are political, financial, regional and wider foreign and they are the interests of local terrorist gangs, insurgents and political elites. Ironically, this has come as a result of an invasion that was purportedly done in the interest of the Iraqi population and it is they who have paid the highest price, with their freedom and their lives.

As for our interest in them, it decreases with each passing year. They are no longer ‘our’ problem, no longer ‘our’ responsibility. It’s been 11 years since ‘Shock and Awe.’ They are still paying the price and we are not. We have moved on, while they still suffer in their terror, in their captivity and in the uncertainty that comes with not knowing when all this is going to end.