20th anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq: Liberation statement

On 20 March 2003, US cruise missiles began crashing into buildings across Baghdad, as the US-led invasion of Iraq began.  Television screens across the world showed scenes of death and destruction as the world’s mightiest army, backed by Britain, unleashed its sheer firepower upon the Iraqi population – a people already devastated by many years of inhumane sanctions, consigning them to desperate poverty, malnutrition, and disease.

The war was initiated by the US despite the United Nations regarding it as illegal as well as the fact that an estimated 30 million people in 600 cities across the world had taken to the streets just a month earlier, on 15 February, in a joint demonstration of firm opposition to the imminent war.  Over 1 million took to the streets of London alone in the biggest protest the capital has ever seen.

The US-led invasion was characterised by mendacity and deception from the very start.  In Britain, the dossier alleging that Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, had weapons of mass destruction and posed a threat to Western security, has been widely discredited as a work of pure fiction.

The United States, keen to avenge the 9/11 atrocities in 2001, saw in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq an easy target.  This was despite the reality that Iraq had not been involved in any way in the 9/11 attacks.

In fact, the US, Britain, and much of the Western world had previously regarded Saddam as a useful puppet – encouraging him to initiate the war with neighbouring Iran in 1980, in the hope that the 1979 Popular Revolution could be stopped-dead in its tracks.  Britain’s training of Iraqi pilots in Northumberland while simultaneously selling anti-aircraft missiles to Iran was just one piece of evidence that the West hoped both armies would fight to a standstill leading to the emergence of regimes deemed more acceptable and pliant to Western interests.

After eight years of brutal war, the conflict finally ended in 1988 with neither side being able to claim a decisive victory.  However, the consequences were far-reaching and long-lasting.  The theocratic junta, which had hijacked the Iranian Revolution, used the war to consolidate its hold on power – rallying the population behind its claim to be protecting the nation from the Iraqi invader.  The particular form of militant Shia Islam espoused by the regime in Iran would go on to inspire Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine.

The right-wing in Israel took such developments to be an existential threat to the Israeli state and accelerated the tightening of its grip upon the illegally occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank, leading to the outbreak of the First Intifada and the general side-lining of secular-leftist currents in the Occupied Territories and the coming to the fore of Islamist groups like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Saddam felt encouraged to overreach himself with the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and while this adventure ended in defeat, followed by the aforementioned punitive international sanctions against Iraq, it underlined the instability of the Middle East as a consequence of Western policy in the region.

The invasion of Iraq resulted in the loss of an estimated 500,000 civilian lives, with 4.2 million people being displaced by 2007, according to the UN Refugee Agency.  US troops occupied the country until their official withdrawal in 2011 – although 2,500 remain in order to address the threat of Islamic State, another consequence of the destruction of Iraq and the West’s supposed victory over Islamist terror groups there.

The fact that 20 years on the people of Iraq – not to mention those of Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria – find themselves in a worse position than before US and NATO interventions is not the story the Western media wants to tell. 

The right-wing opposition groups brought in to replace Saddam have since established a corrupt political structure that protects their power through a system of patronage and corruption, buttressed by an array of armed sectarian militias.  It is a widely-held view in Iraq that, “Saddam has gone but 1,000 more Saddams have replaced him.”

Demonstrations against the corrupt sectarian regime have been met with extreme brutality and repression.  In one protest alone in 2019, where young people demanded fundamental political rights, over 600 were killed and many more injured or arrested.

The lessons from the war in Iraq are many but the overriding message must be that any attempt by the West and NATO forces to impose a solution upon the people of the Middle East, or elsewhere in the world for that matter, is doomed to failure.  The peoples of all nations have the inalienable right to self-determination without interference from outside forces. 

In particular, it is not the role of the United States or NATO to act as the world’s policeman.  They have no political right to do so and, as the mendacity and deception around the invasion of Iraq demonstrates, they certainly have no moral right to do so.

As an organisation based upon the principles of peace and freedom from colonial and imperialist oppression, Liberation will continue to uphold the rights of all peoples to determine the course of political developments in their own countries – free from the menace of outside interference and force – in keeping with the inalienable right to national self-determination, and in defence of the integrity of sovereign nations.

There can be no doubt that the invasion of Iraq made the world a more volatile and dangerous place. Those on the side of peace and freedom need to continue to raise their voices in support of peaceful solutions to all conflicts, insisting that diplomacy and negotiations must ultimately be the only weapons deployed, if the world is not going to be plunged into further turmoil. The lessons of what happened in Iraq on this day 20 years ago, what it marked the beginning of, and its continuing ramifications, must be acknowledged and cannot be relegated to mere historical footnote.

20 March 2023

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Photo: M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tanks (MBT) move on route 27 toward An Nu’ maniyah, Iraq during Operation IRAQI FREEDOM / The US National Archives

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