Iraq - how the West lost
Iraq was supposed to be the war that finally erased the memory of defeat in Vietnam but intead, says Simon Assaf, ten years on it is clear that the conflict dealt another blow to imperialism. It was a war designed to demonstrate US military power, but ended exposing its limits. The invasion of Iraq ten years ago was sold on lies. There was a heady optimism that Iraq would become a model for neoliberal success—and that invasion would give a hard lesson to those who challenged US imperialism.
By December 2011, when the last US combat troops left, Iraq had replaced Vietnam as the symbol of imperial disaster. The country suffered over one million dead, countless wounded, maimed and displaced.
Far from the shining example of success, the US emerged from the occupation with few tangible gains. The much sought after oil fields of southern Iraq are now under the control of Chinese companies. In the north, Turkish companies have swept up many of the lucrative reconstruction contracts. The foundation for the failure of the Iraq war was laid before the first Western soldier fired a bullet.
The invasion began on 20 March 2003. Iraq had already been ruined by a decade of punitive economic sanctions aimed at the regime of dictator Saddam Hussein. The West had armed and courted Hussein for years until he invaded Kuwait. Sanctions were put in place following the 1990 Gulf War. They reversed decades of social and economic progress. The country experienced an epidemic of poverty and shortages, and the destruction of its infrastructure.
The “shock and awe” barrage of cruise missiles unleashed by the US in the lead up to the ground invasion destroyed what little remained.
When Western troops poured into the country they were able to drive into Baghdad with barely a fight. The demoralised Iraqi army melted away.
The speed of the initial victory led US president George Bush to make his now infamous “mission accomplished” speech. According to the neo-cons in the US government, the war seemed to vindicate their strategy of the “light footprint”—invade, destroy the enemy and leave in its place a compliant puppet regime.
The US and its allies hoped to replace Saddam Hussein’s regime with exiles. Iraq would undergo “neoliberal shock therapy” that would “reform” whatever institutions and economy survived sanctions and war.
But instead of vast throngs of welcoming locals, the country descended into anarchy. Crowds of looters stripped bare ministries, hospitals, schools and universities. Whatever remained of the infrastructure was quickly cannibalised.
For the exiled Iraqi politicians, the post-Saddam era did not play out as planned. On the surface they appeared to have gained everything they wanted—from ministerial portfolios to lucrative reconstruction contracts. Both US officials and their allies suffered from the same delusion— that there was no need to build a constituency in Iraq as long as they had one in Washington.
But having disbanded the Iraqi army in May 2003, the US discovered there was no army or police left on which to build a puppet regime.
A few weeks after Bush’s declaration of victory, Western troops faced waves of demonstrations demanding an end to the occupation!