What would have happened had there been no Iraq War in 2003 and Saddam Hussein had stayed in power? Where would we be today?
It’s the 28th of April 2017. Saddam Hussein, president of Iraq, now a member state of the newly reconstituted United Arab Republic (with Syria and Egypt), is celebrating his 80th birthday. There are big processions on a gloriously sunny and very hot day in Baghdad. Among visiting foreign heads of state was Zimbabwe’s 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe, who joked that if Saddam gave up smoking Cohibas and started drinking herbal teas he might even live to be as old as him. However, Western leaders boycotted the celebrations, with British Prime Minister Theresa May – who says (at least ten times a day) that she supports a “strong and stable government” in the UK, denouncing Saddam as a “despicable tyrant.” Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson went even further, calling Saddam “a dreadful mugwump thingymujig.”
tate television shows Saddam’s favorite movie, The Sound of Music, on a loop. In his address to the nation, the grey-haired Iraqi strongman, now appearing old and quite frail, looks back at his time in power and identifies the avoidance of war in 2003 as a major turning point. A planned US-led invasion of Iraq was averted by mass public protests, an unprecedented level of civil disobedience in Western countries, and threats of mutinies from soldiers, who refused to take part in an illegal enterprise.
“If the invasion had gone ahead, the result would not just have been catastrophic for our country, but would have meant war spreading to other nations too,” Saddam said. “The US would have been encouraged to attack other independent countries such as Libya and Syria. Radical jihadist groups would have sprung up in the chaos that ensued. They would not only have unleashed terrorist carnage in the Middle East – slaughtering Christians and other religious groups, but the ‘blowback’ would have affected Western capitals too. There would also have been a massive refugee crisis caused by people fleeing the war zones. The whole world would have become a much more dangerous place. Thanks be to Almighty God that the war was prevented.”
But Saddam’s claims were mocked by Western neocons and ‘liberal interventionists’ who believe that not taking military action was a terrible mistake. “A great opportunity to bring peace and democracy to the Middle East was lost in 2003,” the hawkish US Senator John McCain declared. “If an evil dictator like Saddam could have been toppled then the benefits to the region and the entire world would have been enormous. If only we had gone in.”
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair told the BBC: “I look back at the aborted invasion of Iraq with great regret. The Iraqi people lost out big time by our failure to carry out ‘Shock and Awe.’”
Meanwhile, human rights groups said that, although the situation under Saddam had improved in recent years, they were still concerned by reports of anti-government activists being detained without trial.
“I opposed a US invasion in 2003, but I think that we should have armed the Iraqi resistance to get rid of the butcher,” said campaigner Peter Tatchell. “I think that’s an option we should still be considering today.”
Later, Saddam said that the reconstruction of the United Arab Republic had been a key factor in deterring US attacks on independent countries in the region. The new UAR has signed a non-aggression pact with Iran and is in a mutual defense pact with Russia and China. Even the most bellicose US presidents have steered clear of threatening Iraq and its allies with military action and were pressured to eventually lift sanctions on Iraq, Syria, and Libya.
Meanwhile, many commentators believe the formation of the UAR was a major factor in Israel finally agreeing to a new Palestinian state with meaningful sovereignty. However, tensions remain between the UAR and Israel, as well as Iraqi Kurdistan, where a new independence referendum will be held later in 2017.
“Although difficulties still lie ahead, history will show that the events of 2003 were a real turning point,” Saddam concluded. “A nightmare scenario was avoided. US aggression was thwarted. Instead the countries of the Middle East are making real progress.”
Well, that’s what could have happened.
But this is what actually DID happen.
The US and its allies invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003, claiming that the country possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Since then over 1 million Iraqis have lost their lives. Over 4,800 soldiers from the US and its allies have also died, including 179 from Britain.
In 2007, it was reported that between 12 and 20 percent of returning Iraq War veterans suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
As its opponents predicted, the war caused a refugee crisis of epic proportions. In 2007, the UN said that the number fleeing Iraq had reached 2 million, while there were an estimated 1.7 million internally displaced people. By the end of 2015, the UN said the number of displaced Iraqis had reached 4.6 million. Among the many Iraqis who were forced from their homes, were the country’s Christians, who have faced terrible persecution.
In 2016, it was reported that 80 percent of Iraq’s 1.5 million-strong Christian community had fled since 2003.
Fourteen years on, the US military is still in Iraq – now seeking to “liberate” Mosul from Islamic State terrorists (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), who would not have existed without the previous “liberation” of the country. Even Tony Blair, one of the architects of the war, has partially acknowledged that, without the Iraq War, there’d be no Islamic State.
The plight of young women and gay people in Iraq has gotten worse. In 2011, a HRW report said that young women were “widowed, trafficked, forced into early marriages, beaten at home, and sexually harassed if they leave the house.” Child marriage has risen since 2003, with 25 percent of women being married off before their 18th birthday.
In a 2009 Guardian article, Peter Tatchell who had supported arming Iraqi opposition groups to topple Saddam, noted how “Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, homophobia and the terrorisation of LGBT people has got much worse… The western invasion ended the tyrannical Baathist dictatorship. But it also destroyed a secular state, created chaos and lawlessness… The result has been an Islamist-inspired homophobic terror campaign against LGBT Iraqis.”
Regarding press freedoms, Iraq was 130th on the Press Freedom Index in 2002, the last full year of Saddam’s rule. It’s now 158th. In its latest report, RSF says that “Iraq is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists, who are targeted by gunmen with pro-government militias and by militant opposition groups, including Islamic State, which has embarked on a war of territorial conquest in Iraq. The murders of journalists go unpunished and, if investigations are opened, they yield no result.”
On the wider issue of human rights in Iraq, here is the 2002 Amnesty International report and here is the one for 2016/17 for you to compare.
Meanwhile, IS terrorism has spread around the world from Iraq, including to Western cities.
Oh, and those WMDs – the ones the war was supposed to have been about – never did show up. Would it have been better to have left the cigar-smoking, Sound of Music loving, dictator Saddam and his country alone in 2003?