By Mohamed Harees –
‘Without justice, the most heinous crimes go unpunished; victims are unable to obtain redress, and peace remains an elusive goal, since impunity generates more hatred, leading to acts of revenge and more suffering’. ~ Federica Mogherini
The invasion of Iraq was the most controversial and momentous foreign policy decision in recent memory. Two decades ago, in March 2003, Bush along with his UK slavish ally Blair illegally invaded Iraq, standing virtually alone in their false claims that Baghdad had amassed stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, which led to years of military occupation, imposition of a US-controlled sectarian political system, and years of death and devastation for the Iraqi people – over 1 million died in the US war and occupation, in addition to the hundreds of thousands already dead from the 12 years of brutal sanctions that preceded it.
Although the deception practiced by the Bush led administration has been since exposed, it is rather ironic that its chief architects remain not just free but celebrated members of society, which proves that we are living in a sociopathic world. Today on reflection, this hitherto unpunished aggression underlines how justice works in favour of certain classes of people and States and the contagious nature of impunity, being replicated in other States too on the global scale, as well as the importance of accountability as a founding principle for any new system of governance.
Yes! twenty years after the US-led invasion of Iraq toppled Saddam Hussein, the oil-rich country remains deeply scarred by the conflict. The assault by the US-led international coalition opened a Pandora’s box, traumatised Iraqis, and alienated some traditional US allies.It did not herald a new dawn for democracy in the region as was shown to the world. Corruption and sectarianism have been endemic to Iraqi politics since the invasion. Rather than the anniversary, most Iraqis are focused on “the frustrations of current reality: the kleptocracy, the lack of services. The invasion also elevated a new class of politicians, many of them exiles who returned to vie for power and continue to do so today. A Gallup index of global sentiment ranks Iraq as the third most unhappy country, behind only Afghanistan and Lebanon.
The starting point for understanding the invasion of Iraq was the grand strategy of the US under Bush—to undertake a coercive assertion of global hegemony. The 9/11 terrorist attack on the US was central to understanding the war on Iraq, even though Iraq was in no way involved in it. This attack exposed a terrible, but sub-state, threat to the US, originating in the Middle East and Muslim world, for which retaliation was necessary if American opponents were not to be emboldened. At the same time, hardliners in the Bush administration who had advocated an attack on Iraq even before 9/11 saw it as an opportunity to mobilize support for a war they thought, would be decisive in transforming the Middle East to suit US interests.
To understand the real motives behind the war and why the Bush administration saw an attack on Iraq as the solution to US problems, we need to shift the focus from security threats to the US, per se , toward threats to its strategic situation in the Middle East and its hegemony over the oil market, as Raymond Hinnebusch (2007) The US Invasion of Iraq: Explanations and Implications, Critique: Critical Middle Eastern Studies) explains. First, US oil vulnerability was on the rise. Second, US hegemony in the Middle East required that US support for Israel was balanced by alliances with Arab clients and this, in turn, required US leadership in the Arab – Israeli peace process. Third, Saudi Arabia traditionally had played an effective ‘swing’ role in securing oil and moderating oil prices at the US behest, but the US was dissatisfied with its dependence on the Saudis. US hegemony in the Middle East rested on its unique ability to balance special relationships with both Israel and Saudi Arabia, but this balance was being destabilized. The conquering of Iraq was envisioned as enabling the US to acquire a new compliant swing producer, thus ending dependence on Saudi Arabia.
The conquest of Iraq would also allow the US to achieve privileged access to Iraqi oil at the expense of its economic competitors in Europe and Asia and its emerging global rival, China. Further, it would also allow the US to secure access to Arab oil without Arab alliances and consent and to remove the last remaining constraints on total US commitment to the achievement of ‘Greater Israel’. Equally important, the war on Iraq was expected to assert decisively the military dimension of hegemony; smashing Saddam Hussein, who famously had defied the US, would send the message that the limits of American military power had been overcome.
Another underlying reason for the US invasion of Iraq appears to be a response to the threats against their petro-dollar monopoly. In the 1990s, OPEC, Russia, Iran, and Iraq, began negotiating future oil contracts in Euros and Roubles. In 2003, the Financial Times reported, “Saddam Hussein in 2000 insisted Iraq’s oil be sold for Euros.” The ability to buy and sell oil in Euros, Roubles, or Yuan would reduce worldwide demand for US dollars, expose the inflated dollar, and begin the inevitable decline of value in US assets. US bankers and elite investors wanted to avoid this. After the Iraq invasion, the western bankers and oil companies got what they wanted, for a while. They overturned the Iraq/Russia oil deal in Euros and retained their petro-dollar monopoly. Further, some analysts also believe the Iraq war is an offspring of pre-emption and has dealt a heavy blow to the principle of sovereignty and worry that the Iraqi case will be a dangerous precedent that could have negative consequences on the world order, because there are some countries that have already asserted the right of pre-emptive strike in state-to-state conflicts.
As regards to the disastrous after-effects of the war in Iraq, it caused many more problems than it resolved. Diplomatically, to the US, the Iraqi Invasion showed that the cost of unilaterally forsaking diplomatic channels can be enormous, with the world opinion of the US today being is at its’ nadir. It is also a fact that Middle East today and the instability spreading across the continents find their origins in the Iraq War, with the US led so-called ‘War on Terror’ expanding beyond Afghanistan and Iraq to envelop Yemen, Libya, Syria, and beyond. The Iraqi war created the conditions for terror groups like ISIS to emerge. As the ‘War on Terror’ transformed into a ‘War of Terror’, drones, air strikes, and special-operations forces are today replacing the massive numbers of ground troops, while the UN is being systematically relegated to side-lines as a spectator in a Machiavellian world controlled by the dictates of US Exceptionalism.
In his book about the history of the Iraq War, Blood on Our Hands: The American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq, British journalist Nicolas Davies writes, “As a whole, the world has made great strides toward peace, with a steady decline in conflict since the Cold War.Yet America continues to play a destabilizing role. American militarism spreads chaos and undermines the framework of international law and cooperation.” The report by the Royal United Services Institute, a military think-tank at the heart of the British establishment on ‘Wars in Peace: British Military Operations Since 1991’, concluded, ‘Far from reducing international terrorism… the 2003 invasion [of Iraq] had the effect of promoting it. ‘The rise of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was a reaction to this invasion, and to the consequent marginalisation of Iraq’s Sunni population (including de-Ba’athification and army disbandment).’‘Today, AQAP and other radical jihadist groups stretching across the Iraqi-Syrian border, pose new terrorist threats to the UK and its allies that might not have existed, at least in this form,’ without the 2003 US-led invasion’. Further, the cost of all this goes beyond Iraq.
It is therefore the responsibility of the international community not to allow such Iraq-type invasions and US Exceptionalism to triumph to their detriment. Furthermore, in the hierarchy of the world’s international crimes, the top three are genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. It’s hardly in question that the Americans and British committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Iraq. So what penalties are their leaders paying? The enormity of their crimes seems irrelevant. For both Bush and Blair, impunity is their ultimate entitlement.
Impunity arising from this US led Invasion has parallels in Sri Lanka too, a country that has been facing an impunity crisis. The common thread for all the violent acts has been a culture of impunity that has persisted in the island from the time Sri Lanka gained independence 75 years ago. Racist monks and influential politicos with criminal records were still at large. Sri Lanka has been unable to hold accountable the perpetrators of these spate of violence, riots or the war that ended in 2009, despite its continued commitments to international organizations –a lack of substantive movement towards accountability pervaded specially in the past decade. The government continues to shield the perpetrators from any form of accountability. Rajapaksas have a history of startling public crimes committed with impunity. An exploration of judicial history exposes Sri Lanka’s Impunity Club. While the Rajapaksas have much to answer for, from alleged stolen assets to war crimes, the corruption and impunity that contributed to the current crisis had been enjoyed by Sri Lanka’s political elite for many decades before they took power.
In a ICJ report titled The Crisis of Impunity in Sri Lanka (2012), it says, ‘..in Sri Lanka, impunity has over the years become institutionalized and systematized: mechanisms to hold state actors to account for their actions have been eroded; checks on the arbitrary use of power have been diluted, if not dissolved; institutions to protect the independence of the judiciary have been eviscerated; the Attorney-General has become politicized; and political forces have continually sought to influence and interfere with the judiciary. Blatant disregard for the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary has crippled the justice system, leaving victims with little or no prospect of remedies or reparations for serious human rights violations’
More importantly, even beyond, those of us at the grass-roots, the bystanders should not take the eye off the ball and therefore should remember this day of US/UK invasion, because the war’s goals still remain in place: expanding US military domination, controlling oil and pipelines, building an empire of military bases and also the wars raging across the world. Before the war, across the globe, some millions of people, in hundreds of cities and dozens of countries all over the world including US, rose up embracing the same slogan; “the world says no to war!” The call came in scores of languages and the cry “Not in Our Name” echoed from millions of voices. Although it did not stop the war — and almost everyone knew that it could not and would not stop the war — it sent the message to the rulers that for once, citizens were not just apathetic in the face of their governments’ resort to the use of mass violence. For once, populations showed that even if it did not affect their immediate lives in their cities and countries, they cared. Even when the matter at hand was the lives of people far away, they cared.
We must therefore in our ways help the world to understand profoundly and intuitively what the Iraq invasion was, what it did to humanity, how much suffering it caused and for how little justifiable reason. We can therefore help build up grass-root level human chains to prevent such lying, warmongering empires from playing war-games and ruining people’s lives in the future, in the way they did 2 decades ago.
As Sri Lanka stands in its own shadow, it, Sri Lankans too should reflect on the harm that impunity has caused to their country’s international image and the gradual erosion of confidence of its’ people in the process of rule of law. Failing to hold those accountable for their actions, and inactions that lead to harm and loss, and compensate the victims adequately, fails humanity as a whole.