Thursday, May 02, 2013

Are Iraqis better off ten years after the invasion? Is Iraq becoming more stable and is its economy booming?

Supporters of the Iraq war are constantly telling us how great life in Iraq is these days. Scottish Labour party member Doug Maughan writing to the Sunday Herald claims Iraq is progressing nicely along the long, hard road to stability, adding that Iraq’s economy is booming (1).

This echoes Blair’s biographer John Rentoul who hilariously recommended Jeffrey Archer in the Times saying much the same thing back in 2010 “Today [Baghdad] is a boom town, rather than a bomb site. If I were a young man, looking to make my fortune, I would be off to Iraq like a shot.” (2).

Are Iraqis really better off than they were before the invasion?

Iraq certainly goes boom, boom, boom with each set of bombs set off by Al Qa’ida, let into the country by the invasion; and growing stronger again since short-lived US funding of ‘Awakening’ militias to fight them ended in 2009  (3) – (9).

Today NATO are quietly collaborating with the Saudi and Qatari Sunni dictatorships (sorry “monarchies”, because it sounds nicer) to arm, fund and train Sunni Islamist armed groups, in order to target the Shia/Alawite axis of Iran, Assad and Hezbollah ; and this Islamic civil war is spreading from Syria to Lebanon and Iraq, with Al nusrah in Syria and Al Qa’ida in Iraq now openly allied to one another (10) – (14).

Perhaps the fact that the Shia government of Iraq has refused to place sanctions on Syria is relevant there. It may have led the Saudis and the US government may have decided they would rather not have a Shia government in Iraq (15).

Polls of Iraqis don’t back up the dominant British and American media story that “of course” Iraqis are better off now than before the invasion either.

A Zogby poll of Iraqis in 2011 found only 30% thought Iraq was better off than before the invasion, 42% worse off, the rest the same or didn’t know (16). From various interviews with Iraqis the fact that under Saddam you could at least know what was and wasn’t safe to do, while since the invasion you could be killed just due to your religion, or kidnapped to extort money from your family, or caught in crossfire, is one of the major reasons.

A Greenberg poll in April 2012 found a majority believing the country was headed in the right direction only among Shia, with most Sunni Arabs and Kurds disagreeing, showing that sectarian divisions are if anything even worse than under Saddam (17).

As for the supposedly “booming” economy a Gallup poll in March this year found 55% of Iraqis say the jobs and unemployment situation has become worse since the end of 2011 and 34% say it’s stayed the same (18).

Inequality, homelessness and hunger have if anything become worse problems even than under Saddam and sanctions. For much of the occupation many Iraqis were searching for food in rubbish bins, many of them refugees created by coalition offensives on cities, or by sectarian fighting (see sources 41 to 49 on the blog post on this link).

Another cause of these problems is corruption under both the Coalition Provisional Authority and elected Iraqi governments. Under Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority billions of dollars of Iraqi UN oil for food funds went missing (19).

Saddam Hussein was certainly a brutal, torturing and genocidal dictator, but his genocides and massacres were over by 2000 – and sanctions could have been lifted at any time as Saddam had proven in 1991 he wouldn’t risk using chemical weapons any more once all the superpowers were his enemies rather than his allies.

So by 2003 war was bound to kill far more Iraqis than it saved, especially run by Cheney and Rumsfeld, the architects of the Latin American death squads in the 80s, who brought the “El Salvador option” to Iraq, with units like the Iraqi Police Commandos (20).

The occupation’s brutality almost matched Saddam for torture and even massacres of civilians, complete with targeting ambulances, like the one in Falluja in April 2004, only stopping short of Saddam's genocides (21) – (22).  Today US trained Iraqi units kidnap and torture Iraqis with all the same torture methods used under Saddam, including rape and pulling out nails with pliers, often just to extract ransom money from their families (23) – (25). Iraqi forces frequently fire on and kill unarmed demonstrators; while US trained Iraqi Special Forces summarily execute suspected insurgents or dissidents the same way they did under Saddam (26) – (30).

The supporters of the Iraq war do have a point in asking how the Arab Spring would have turned out if Saddam had still been in power. The results might, as they suggest, have been bloody, as in Syria, but then that would be no more bloody than the occupation or the sectarian fighting and Iraqi government brutality during and since it.

While life has improved for many Kurds and Marsh Arabs, with the southern marshes now partially restored, the Marsh Arabs were at war with occupation forces for years ; and disputes between the Kurdish regional government and the Iraqi central government over whether the former can negotiate contracts with foreign oil companies or only the central government can do so has been added to Sectarian violence between Kurds and Sunni Arabs who settled in Kurdistan under Saddam. This could produce civil war if a compromise is not reached.

It’s certainly to be hoped that life will improve for Iraqis, but the outlook isn’t good – and if it does improve it will be despite the invasion and occupation and NATO and the Gulf monarchies encouraging a Sunni-Shia civil war across the Middle East, not because of them.

(1) = Sunday Herald 28 Apr 2013 ‘Iraq well on the road to stability’,

(2) = Independent ‘Eagle Eye’ 26 Jul 2010 ‘Iraq, land of opportunity’,

(3) = Reuters 20 Mar 2013 ‘Al-Qaida claims responsibility for Iraq anniversary bombings’,

(4) = BBC News 15 Apr 2013 ‘Iraq deadly bombings hit Nasariyah, Kirkuk and Baghdad’,

(5) = Washington Post 30 Apr 2013 ‘Wave of bombings further tests Iraq’s stability’,

(6) = BBC World Service 13 May 2009 ‘Awakening Councils face uncertain future’, ; ‘Sunni Awakening Councils, or Sahwa, were paid by the Americans to keep the peace in their neighbourhoods. Often former insurgents who had fought with al-Qaeda, they turned against their former allies and drove them out of much of Iraq. However, the Shia-dominated government has taken over responsibility for the groups and many Sahwa members say they are now being sidelined.’

(7) = McCLatchy Newspapers 01 Apr 2013 ‘Iraqi government at odds with U.S.-funded militias’, ; ‘the militias, known as the Sons of Iraq or Awakening councils… undercutting support for… al-Qaida in Iraq …Under the program, the United States pays each militia member a stipend of about $300 a month and promised that they'd get jobs with the Iraqi government. But the Iraqi government, which is led by Shiite Muslims, has brought only a relative handful of the more than 100,000 militia members into the security forces. Now officials are making it clear that they don't intend to include most of the rest.

(8) = The Hill 29 Jun 2012 ‘Pentagon condemns return of al Qaeda in Iraq, promises 'unrelenting' response’,

(9) = Council On Foreign Relations 18 Mar 2013 ‘Al Qaeda in Iraq’,

(10) = Washington Post 16 May 2012 ‘Syrian rebels get influx of arms with gulf neighbors’ money, U.S. coordination’,

(11) = Sunday Times 09 Dec 2012 ‘Covert US plan to arm rebels’,

(12) = Reuters 14 Nov 2011 ‘Syria urges Arab League to reconsider suspension’,  ; ‘Gabriel Ben-Dor, director of national security studies at the University of Haifa… Ben-Dor said the decision should also be viewed within the context of Arab and Western attempts to contain an emboldened Iran.…“They’re hoping to dismantle the axis of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah... to isolate Iran even more by depriving it of its only major ally in the Middle East.”’

(13) = 09 Apr 2013 ‘Al-Qaida in Iraq admits links to Syrian jihadist fighters’,

(14) = BBC News 10 Apr 2013 ‘Syria crisis: Al-Nusra pledges allegiance to al-Qaeda’,

(15) = BBC News 27 Nov 2011 ‘Syria unrest: Arab League adopts sanctions in Cairo’,

(16) = Zogby Research Services November 2011 ‘Iraq: The War, its consequences and the future’,

(17) = Greenberg Quinlan Rossner Research May 2012 ‘A Major Shift in the Political Landscape - Graphs for the report on the April 2012 National Survey’, , page 28

(18) = Gallup 12 March 2013 ‘Iraqis Say Security Better as Result of U.S. Withdrawal’,

(19) = Reuters 19 Jun 2011 ‘Iraq hunting $17 billion missing after U.S. invasion’,

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

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

(22) = Iraq Body Count 26 Oct 2004 ‘No Longer Unknowable: Falluja's April Civilian Toll is 600’,

(23) = Amnesty International Annual Report 2012 – Iraq – Torture and other ill-treatment, ‘Torture and other ill-treatment were widespread in prisons and detention centres, in particular those controlled by the Ministries of Interior and Defence. Commonly reported methods were suspension by the limbs for long periods, beatings with cables and hosepipes, electric shocks, breaking of limbs, partial asphyxiation with plastic bags, and rape or threats of rape.’

(24) =  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); ‘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….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’

(25) = Guardian 16 Jan 2012 ‘Corruption in Iraq: 'Your son is being tortured. He will die if you don't pay'’,

(26) = Amnesty International Annual Report 2012 – Iraq – Excessive Use of Force, , ‘The security forces used excessive force in response to anti-government protests in Baghdad and other cities, particularly in February and March, using live ammunition, sound bombs and other weapons to disperse peaceful protests. At least 20 people were killed in the protests that began in February.’

(27) = 04 Mar 2011 ‘Baghdad protesters converge on Liberation Square’, ; Security forces around Iraq clashed with protesters last Friday in the country's most widespread and violent demonstrations since a wave of unrest began to spread across the Middle East. At least 14 people were killed

(28) = Reuters 23 Apr 2013 ‘Tensions high after Iraq forces raid Sunni camp, 23 dead’,

(29) = Amnesty International 25 Apr 2013 ‘Iraq: Rein in security forces following the killings of dozens at protest in al-Hawija’,

(30) = The Nation 22 Jun 2009 ‘Iraq's New Death Squad’,