Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Are Iraqis better off as a result of the 2003 invasion and overthrow of Saddam?

This is the third of three posts on Tony Blair’s version of what happened in Iraq from the 1980s to the present – and what really happened; and on whether war on Iraq or Iran could be justified or necessary (the first two are here and here). This post looks at whether Iraqis have been better off since the 2003 invasion than they were under Saddam ; what Iraqis have said about it themselves in opinion polls; and what conclusions might be drawn.

Picture - Iraqi refugees. Many have been deported back to Iraq from the US and UK, whose governments claim Iraq is now a safe destination.

Using WMDs on Iraqis,
 supposedly to stop Saddam doing it – 15 years after he’d stopped

Bush and Blair and their supporters on Iraq claim they had to invade to save Iraqis from Saddam using WMDs on them. Yet Coalition forces then used WMDs on Iraqis, just as they had with napalm and Depleted Uranium shells and bombs in the 1991 war and in enforcing the ‘No Fly Zones’ from 1991 till 2003 (1) – (4). This, the fact that they provided Saddam with money, chemicals and hardware to produce and deliver chemical weapons before and after the gassing of the Kurds at Halabja ; and the fact that Saddam’s use of chemical weapons ended in 1988 with the end of the Iran-Iraq war, make it an empty claim.

It’s a constant refrain of the US and British governments in their foreign policy and wars that their enemies are responsible for everything; and that anything they did was to prevent the crimes of their enemies. In fact they are responsible for their own actions, which include using cluster munitions (effectively land mines deployed from planes or by artillery) and WMD such as Depleted Uranium shells and bombs and White Phosphorus in cities including Fallujah – along with new versions of napalm (5) – (8).  The results have been massively increased rates of cancers and birth defects among Iraqi babies and children from 1991 on (9) – (10). Since the April and 2004 Coalition assaults on the city of Fallujah it has the highest rates of all among babies and infants (11).

Many Iraqi, American and British doctors studying Iraqi children and British and American veterans of the 1991 Gulf War and the Bosnian and Kosovo wars also believe their illnesses are caused by exposure to residue from DU munitions used in these wars – and among some units the rate of cancers and birth defects among their children has been extremely high (12) – (15).

Killing and torturing Iraqis - supposedly to save them from Saddam doing it

Ending rape, torture and murder by death squads and secret police is also supposed to be a benefit of the US led invasion. Except they continued under Coalition forces and still continue under the new Iraqi government.

Actions of the US and British governments in Iraq which Iraq war supporters like to ignore also include approving and encouraging systematic torture , which, including beatings over nights and days, working in shifts , breaking arms and legs with baseball bats ; asphyxiation and electric shocks (that’s according to American and British Iraq veterans as well as Iraqis) (16) – (27), ordering the targeting of both ambulances and civilians in the assaults on Fallujah (according to American aid workers and Iraqis in Fallujah at the time) (28) – (29); and giving orders to force teenage looters into tidal canals to drown. All of this was afterwards covered up by military courts martial pretending either that nothing happened or else it was a few troops out of control, to avoid trials that might ask how high the orders had originated (30) – (31). Courts martial, unlike civilian courts, do not have any minimum legal standards and allow witnesses and evidence to be ignored.

Amnesty International’s annual report for 2010, like UN inquiries in earlier years, found Iraqi police rape women and employ the same torture methods used by Saddam (32) – (33).

Amnesty found that ‘Iraqi security forces committed gross human rights violations including extrajudicial executions, torture...and did so largely with impunity....Torture methods reported included beatings with cables and hosepipes, suspension by the limbs for long periods...electric shocks to the genitals...breaking of limbs, removal of toenails with pliers and piercing the body with drills. Some detainees were alleged to have been raped.’

And that

‘‘In May inmates of the womens’ prison in al Kadhimiya told members of the parliament’s human rights committee that they had been raped while held in prison or detained elsewhere’ (34)

 Iraqi US trained “police commando” death squads and other new elite US trained ‘counter-terrorist’ units torture and kill suspects at a whim, having been trained by officers like Colonel James Steele who trained the notorious US backed death squads of El Salvador in the 1980s, who, like Iraqi security forces today, targeted anyone critical of the US or it’s favoured government, including American nuns , not just armed enemies or terrorists (35) – (39). (for more on the ‘El Salvador Option’ from El Salvador to Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan  see this post)

US Sanctions killed more Iraqis than Saddam after 1991,
Since Invasion food situation worse than under Saddam and sanctions

Keith Gilmour commendably mentions the sanctions on Iraq demanded by the US which were estimated by UN officials charged with enforcing them to have caused the deaths of around 5,000 to 6,000 children per month from 1991 to March 2003 (40). British and American government spokespeople will generally claim Saddam was to blame for these sanctions. Saddam was guilty of many terrible crimes, but the extreme sanctions imposed on Iraq at the demand of the US government weren’t one of them.

Many supporters of the Iraq war argue that the war was necessary to end deaths from sanctions without allowing Saddam to develop new WMD threats. Apart from the fact that Saddam had already proven he wasn’t willing to use WMDs on other countries (see conclusion) and hadn’t risked using them on his people since he lost the backing of the US after 1991, the invasion did not improve the situation once the sanctions were lifted, because the Coalition administration and the new Iraqi governments are so corrupt.

More Iraqis face hunger now even than under sanctions and Saddam. New Iraqi governments have cut food rations repeatedly (and again this year ), to a level around a quarter of that before the invasion,  reducing many Iraqis to scavenging in bins for food. This is despite the new governments having a larger budget than Saddam’s regime (41) – (49). Around $8 billion dollars that could have provided food and medicines went missing from Iraqi UN oil fund money appropriated by Bush’s ‘governor’ Paul Bremer (50) – (54).

What do Iraqis say?

It’s common for both sides in the Iraq war debate to point to the answers to some questions in some opinion polls as evidence that Iraqis did or didn’t support the invasion or do or don’t think they’re better off as a result of Saddam being overthrown. While the majority of polls seem to show a majority of Iraqis saying they backed the invasion and are better off as a result of the invasion, there is as much debate between Iraqis about these questions as there is in the US or the UK. Iraqis’. answers to different questions in the same poll are often contradictory, seeming to provide a majority in favour when a question is phrased one way; but when the same question is asked differently, providing a majority against.

It’s also worth considering the fact that Iraqis have grown up in a situation where answering a question about politics in a way that the current government disliked could end up in torture, jail or death for them and their entire families – and continue to live in such a situation today. This cuts both ways though as they may fear not only the coalition or the new government but their enemies too.

Overall though, from what poll results we do have, the majority of Iraqis do seem to think they’re better off without Saddam and to have considered having Coalition troops there as being less bad than not having them there (though a majority have negative views of coalition forces and governments and the new Iraqi governments). Their responses also suggest they do not approve of many the actions of the new Iraqi government or the Coalition – just that they consider the alternatives even worse (55) – (56).

For instance in a poll in 2007 63% of Iraqis said the invasion of Iraq was wrong, 58% said they had no confidence in US or UK occupation forces, with another 27% saying they had ‘not very much’ confidence in them; and 80% thought Coalition forces had done a ‘very bad’ job or ‘quite a bad’ job; while 79% said they opposed the presence of Coalition forces in Iraq; and 70% said Coalition forces had made security worse. However at the same time 63% did not want Coalition forces to leave Iraq; and 51% said attacks on Coalition forces were unacceptable (57).

During 2010 one poll showed more Iraqis now approved of their own government’s performance than of the US government’s performance (though only a minority approved of either) (58). Yet another poll in 2010 showed a majority thought US troops should not leave Iraq yet (59).

Polls are also a matter of perception and perception is shaped by propaganda by governments and their enemies and by what the media focus on and how they frame issues – as is shown by the fact that poll results in Iraq and elsewhere change massively on the same questions in just a few months. People who are very religious for instance may also consider freedom of religion as important as food supply or safety from torture or death. Even people who aren’t religious may consider the right to vote in elections in which different parties and candidates are allowed to be something they value, even if they’re worse off in other ways.

Conclusion – Murder, Torture, Rape and Theft
are the same whether you call them democracy or not

None of this can make torturing people or murdering them, or corruption reducing their food rations, justifiable on the grounds that they are now carried out by an elected government. People who are murdered or tortured in the name of “democracy”, by an elected government do not suffer less because the ideology used to attempt to justify the act sounds better on paper. Torture and murder are not democratic acts. A “democracy” which allows or orders murder, rape and torture on a large scale is a democracy in name only; and has more similarities to a dictatorship than a democracy in reality. The actions ordered by Coalition governments and the new Iraqi governments in Iraq do not differ greatly from Saddam’s when he was in power, except in exceeding the level of corruption under Saddam by several orders of magnitude and leaving more Iraqis suffering hunger and lack of medical treatment as a result.

Replacing a dictatorship is only a positive thing if you replace it with something better; and if you do so in a way that does not cause large numbers of unnecessary deaths. Neither requirement has been met in Iraq so far.

While many have claimed Saddam would still be in power if Coalition forces hadn’t invaded there is in fact no way to know whether he would have been overthrown instead – no-one expected the sudden and largely peaceful fall of the Berlin Wall and the German Communist Party or of the Soviet Union either, yet they still happened.

More than anything the facts on Iraq show we should beware of accepting the view of the majority as always (or even usually) being the reality given how quickly the views of the majority change – and how greatly propaganda can influence public opinion if it’s repeated enough times.

(1) = Bennis , Phyllis & Moushabeck  , Michael (Editors) (1992)  ‘Beyond the Storm’  ; Canongate Press , London , 1992, p326 – 355

(2) = Lee , Ian (1991) ‘Continuing Health Costs of the Gulf War’, Medical Educational Trust , London , 1991

(3) = Blum , William (1995) ‘Killing Hope’,  Common Courage Press , Monroe , Maine , 1995, pages 334-338

(4) = Pilger , John (1998) ‘Hidden Agendas’ Vintage , London , 1998, pages 49 – 52

(5) = BBC News 29 May 2003 ‘Cluster bombs 'used in Iraq cities'’,

(6) = Observer 14 Dec 2003 ‘Army shells pose cancer risk in Iraq’,

(7) =  BBC News 16 Nov 2005 ‘US used white phosphorus in Iraq’,

(8) =  Independent 10 Aug 2003 ‘US admits it used napalm bombs in Iraq’,

(9) = Independent 10 Jan 2001 ‘These children had cancer. Now they are dead. I believe they were killed by depleted uranium’,

(10) = BBC News 14 Apr 2000 ‘Iraq's ward of death’,

(11) = 13 Nov 2009 ‘Huge rise in birth defects in Falluja’,

(12) = BBC News 07 Jun 1999 ‘Depleted uranium: the lingering poison’,

(13) = BBC News 04 Jan 2001 ‘Q&A: Depleted uranium weapons’,

(14) = BBC News 18 Jan 2001 ‘Depleted uranium: The next generation’,

(15) = NYT 29 Jan 2001 ‘Doctor's Gulf War Studies Link Cancer to Depleted Uranium’,

(16) = Human Rights Watch World Report 2006 - ‘Torture and Inhumane Treatment: A Deliberate U.S. Policy’ -

(17) = Amnesty International 1 Nov 2005 ‘TORTURE AND ILL-TREATMENT IN THE ‘WAR ON TERROR’’,

(18) = Amnesty International Annual Report 2006 - ‘Summary of Country report for Iraq’’,

(19) = Washington Post Wednesday, September 28, 2005; A21,‘ A Matter of Honor’,

(20) = ABC News 18 May 2004,‘Intel Staffer Cites Abu Ghraib Cover-Up’, and

(21) = ABC News 21 May 2004, ‘Military Punishes Abu Ghraib Key Witness’, and

(22) = Scotsman 27 May 2004,'Soldier left brain damaged after playing unruly prisoner at Guantánamo',

(23) = Independent 14 Oct 2006 - ‘Guantanamo guards 'admitted abusing inmates' -


(25) = Amnesty International 6 Mar 2006 - ‘Beyond Abu Ghraib: detention and torture in Iraq' -

(26) = Amnesty International 15 Mar 2007 - ‘United Kingdom Court Martial acquittals: many questions remain unanswered and further action required to ensure justice' -

(27) = Guardian 16 Sep 2004 - ‘UK officers linked to torture jail' -,3858,5017135-103550,00.html

(28) = BBC News 23 Apr 2004 ‘Picture emerges of Falluja siege’,

(29) = Guardian 17 Apr 2004 ‘'Getting aid past US snipers is impossible'’,

(30) = Guardian 03 May 2006 ‘Iraqi, 15, 'drowned after soldiers forced him into canal'’,

(31) = Guardian 07 Jun 2006 ‘Soldiers cleared of Iraqi teenager's manslaughter -Court martial absolves trio of 15-year-old's drowning’,

(32)  = BBC News Online 21 Sep 2006 - ‘Iraq torture 'worse after Saddam' ' -

(33) = Amnesty International World Report 2010 (covering 2009) – Country Report Iraq, ;(once pdf loads, scroll down to page 125 (by PDF page number) or 178 (number marked on page)

(34) = New York Times 03 Apr 1998 '4 Salvadorans Say They Killed U.S. Nuns on Orders of Military',

(35) = Joan Didion (1983)‘Salvador’ Granta Books, London, 2006, pages 15-17, 18, 38

(36) = New York Times Magazine 01 May 2005 ‘The Way of the Commandos’,

(37) = Guardian 20 May 2005 ‘British lawyers to pursue Iraqi security forces over killings’,

(38) = Washington Post 11 Mar 2005 ‘Suicide Bomber Kills 47 in Mosul’ ; ‘Third Mass Grave Found; Police Official Ambushed in Baghdad’,

(39) = Shane Bauer ‘Iraq’s new death squad’ in The Nation 6th June 2009,

(40) = Guardian 29 Nov 2001 ‘The hostage nation : Former UN relief chiefs Hans von Sponeck and Denis Halliday speak out against an attack on Iraq’,,,608578,00.html

(41) = UNOCHA IRIN news service 02 Apr 2006, ‘IRAQ: Food prices rise after reduction of monthly rations’,

(42)= UNOCHA IRIN news service 9 Sep 2007, ‘IRAQ: Food rationing system failing as Ramadan approaches’,  

(43) = UNOCHA IRIN news service 17 Oct 2007, ‘IRAQ: Hundreds forced to scavenge for food in garbage bins’,

(44) = UNOCHA IRIN news service 4 Dec 2007, ‘IRAQ: Government to cut items from its free food handouts’,

(45) = Allawi, Ali A. ‘The occupation of Iraq’ Yale UP, New Haven & London, 2007 (paperback edn)

(46) = Refugees International 04 Oct 2007, ‘Iraq: Fix the Public Distribution System to meet needs of the displaced’,

(47) = IPS/ Ali al-Fadhily and Dahr Jamail 03 May 2008, ‘Corruption Eats Into Food Rations’,

(48) = UNoCHA’s IRIN news 08 Nov 2009 ‘IRAQ: Food insecurity on the rise, says official’,

(49) = UNoCHA IRIN news 01 Apr 2010 ‘IRAQ: State food aid package slashed’,

(50) = CNN 31 Jan 2005‘Audit: U.S. lost track of $9 billion in Iraq funds’,

(51) = Guardian 07 July 2005 ‘So, Mr Bremer, where did all the money go?’

(52) = ABC News 06 Feb 2007‘Waste in War: Where Did All the Iraq Reconstruction Money Go? : Congressional inquiry probes former Bush official's handling of billions ofdollars,

(53) = Guardian 08 Feb 2007 ‘How the US sent $12bn in cash to Iraq. And watched it vanish’

(54) = Independent 28 Jul 2010 ‘US unable to account for billions of Iraq oil money’,

(55) = Iraq Analysis - Opinion Polls in Iraq, , (provides links to various polls conducted between 2003 and 2007)

(56) = Oxford Research International Feb 2004 ‘National Survery of Iraq’

(57) = BBC, NBC & AHK poll of Iraqis Aug 2007,

(58) = Gallup 26 Aug 2010 ‘Iraqis More Approving of Own Leadership Than of U.S.’,

(59) = AFP 24 Aug 2010 ‘Iraqis say 'wrong time' for US withdrawal: poll’,


1 comment:

TONY said...

Good comment piece in the Guardian the other day, Duncan. I have taken the liberty of posting it: