This is the second in a series on A Decade of Conflict Leading up to the Arab Spring.
The United States invasion of Iraq took place between 19 March and 1 May 2003. It was presented to the American public and the world at large as an action that would rid the world against terrorism, protect against Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, and liberate the people of Iraq.
The invasion was seen to be successful because it resulted in the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party government in just 21 days and allowed the subsequent occupation of Iraq. It was the first action in what was to become the Iraq War which officially lasted until 18 December 2011.
The difficulty is that Iraq held no weapons of mass destruction, was not in any way involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America (which was the galvanising force behind American support for the invasion), and left the people of Iraq traumatised and devastated after being subjected to nearly a decade of brutal force.
Army Sgt stands guard near burning oil well in Rumaylah Oil Fields [Wikicommons]
It is likely that the invasion of Iraq, a sovereign state, by United States forces was illegal and then Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, said as much in 2004. Far from freeing the Iraqi population, the war resulted in the death of at least 100,000 Iraqi citizens (with some estimates rising to 1 million civilian deaths, see Casualties of the Iraq War).
A heavy bombing campaign lead to the wide scale destruction of infrastructure and services in Iraq, leaving the population without water, electricity, sewerage systems and hospitals. The bombs dropped on Iraq were laced with depleted uranium resulting in a lasting radioactive contamination that will likely remain for generations. There has been a sharp increase in childhood leukaemia, cancer and infant mortality in highly bombarded regions in Iraq.
The war in Iraq resulted in a humanitarian crisis of massive proportions that has spilled over into neighbouring countries.
“UNHCR estimates that more than 4.7 million Iraqis have fled their homes, many in dire need of humanitarian care. Of these, more than 2.7 million Iraqis are displaced internally, while more than 2 million have escaped to neighboring states.” - UNHCR, "Iraq Refugee Emergency"
Malnutrition and disease outbreaks are widespread in a population with a disproportionate amount of widows and orphans.
Finally, much was made of the positive effect that the war would have on the liberation of women in Iraq. In their book What Kind of Liberation? Women and the Occupation of Iraq, Nadje Al-Ali and Nicola Pratt discuss the challenges facing the women of Iraq. They have noted an increase in neo-conservatism and the rise of violence against women, oppression and honour killings. Women and young girls are often forced into prostitution or become victims of sex trafficking and exploitation. Despite the rise of women-headed households, Iraqi women face great obstacles in becoming employed or gaining an education.
More so than ever before, every step of the Iraq War was subject to media scrutiny with many news outlets employing permanent correspondents and embedded reporters in key Iraqi locations. While news outlets struggled to remain neutral amid accusations of propaganda and censorship, Al-Jazeera was noted for being one of the few news outlets to portray Iraqi casualties and present to audiences a view of the devastation in Iraq.
As with the Second Intifada, the people in neighbouring Arab countries received these broadcasts and took to the streets in protest against the Iraqi War. The sentiment was increasingly anti-USA, anti-United Kingdom and anti-Israel with protests in Syria, Tehran, Cairo and later Baghdad and Basra in Iraq itself.
Once again, in the context of rising distrust and conflict following the 9/11 attacks, increasing reports of discrimination and Islamophobia, and war in both Israel and Iraq, Arab speaking people began to feel solidarity to one another and an identification with the Palestinian and Iraqi causes.
- A Decade of Conflict Leading Up To The Arab Spring (introduction)
- The Second Intifada (2000 – 2005)
- Israel / Hezbollah War in Lebanon (2006)
- Gaza War (2008 – 2009)