The post-war western experiment called Iraq is drawing to an end. It’s end is largely unreported in the media in the UK. In the past couple of weeks there have been hundreds of deaths in Iraq. Some of those were covered briefly shortly after the bombings in Boston. Ironically, this highly constrained and transient coverage of the atrocities in Iraq serve only to give the impression that the atrocities are themselves constrained and transient. In fact, the last month wasn’t very different to every month for the last decade.
Imagine a scientist unleashed a disease that could only be contracted by people with AIDS, but also cured them of it. Imagine that it also happened to have the same symptoms as AIDS. Was unleashing such a disease on the world a good idea? Imagine that there were those who pointed out that the disease did get rid of AIDS… and we had to do something to get rid of it, right? No-one with a functioning brain would accept any of this as a good idea and would quickly point out that focusing on the fact that the disease eradicated AIDS is very selective reasoning and even if we had to do something, we had options beyond that and doing nothing. So why are similar arguments in favour of the invasion of Iraq so pervasive and persuasive?
IraqBodyCount.org puts the death count in Iraq since 2003 at over 110 000. This number is based on explicit references in media and arguably a vast underestimate. This paper shows that the Household Survey Method is a more robust basis for measurement. Reports based on this method give far larger numbers. For example, this report shows that 98,000 died in the first 18 months of the war, this report calculated that excess deaths during the invasion totaled 655 000. Note, that that ‘excess’ means that it doesn’t include deaths that would have happened anyway. There has been almost a decade of civil war and sectarian / tribal violence since then. It seems that for every death that is reported in western media there are hundreds reported in international media, and for every death reported in international media there are dozens of unreported deaths. Hussein Al-Alak wrote in a piece for the Palestine Chronicle that, based on figures from Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, there are now 4.5 million orphans in Iraq, 70% of whom were orphaned during the 2003 invasion and the ensuing violence. The human cost goes further. The violence encourages displacement. People flee to safety. Countries like Jordan and Syria have had to cope with between 3.5 and 5 million more refugees. This means that the burden of the effects of our invasion are cast onto these states, having a general region-destabilizing effect. It’s not difficult to project from all this what kind of impact it has on physical and social health: nutrition, environmental, birth defects.
Saddam Hussein was without doubt one of the most evil people who has ever lived, and taking away his power was a just aim. But would we have been so willing to take him out of power if the cost was 3.5 million orphaned British children, 3.5 million refugees rocking up at Dover and ten years of violent civil war? No. So why is it OK if we swap British for Iraqi and Dover for Amman and even choose on their behalf?
So why would anyone enact something so awful? Ignorance? Did the architects of the war not realise what would happen? Near-impossible. Anyone stupid enough to not realise what would happen, while in possession of the facts, would more likely have killed themselves crossing the road earlier in life. The invasion of Iraq had one objective. As it happens taking Saddam down wasn’t it. Taking down Saddam and neutralising his WMD were simply the effects selected by public relations specialists as the justification provided to the populace to give us an easy way to believe our actions are moral. The objective was to ‘stabalise’ Iraq. The definition of stabalise is ‘reduce, to an acceptable level, the cost and risk of buying into the resources of’. Such stability in the balance sheets of the Seven Sisters translates to extreme chaos and violence in the real world.
The problem with Iraq was that it was stepping out of line of the west’s energy plans. Invading the country and installing a proper democracy would be even worse because then the country might start to exercise it’s sovereign rights over it’s own resources. This tends to be met with extreme violence from the established superpowers, as it did when Egypt nationalised the Suez Canal. Democracies are bad because they take into consideration the wishes of the people, which contradict the wishes of the Seven Sisters (and all of private industry in general for that matter) on just about every subject. Stability allows organisation. Organisation allows justice, reduces exploitation. If there was any justice the worlds most powerful firms would be dismantled tomorrow. On the other hand; reduce Iraq to chaos, and you are free to plunder it’s resources as you see fit. The companies might need protection but the public will pay for that and the proceeds will go to friends and benefactors in the private security industry. The people of Iraq will be too busy trying to stay alive to care about their country being bought up. After the invasion of Iraq a government structure was formed based on sectarian divisions. Thus guaranteeing perpetual violence and zero progress. Meanwhile the oil industry has bravely set up camp in the chaos, under the watchful eye of the worlds biggest embassy, the US city within a city in Baghdad, and thanks to economic freedoms ensured by the Western imposition of policies in the chaos-ridden government.
At this point, after explaining why the invasion of Iraq was morally indefensible, many would demand “well, what you have us do?” As if the options were only ‘do nothing’ and ‘do what we did’. Ignoring the possibility that doing nothing would have been better than what we did, there were things we could have done that would have been better than both. It’s also what I think should be our main objective in any such situation: Protect as much of the civilian population as possible.
Right now there is a discussion in the media about Syria. In principal the topic of the discussion is “Which side should we pick, Assad or the rebels?” Ofcourse, as it happens, the powers don’t want to back Assad, so neither do we. So the discussion is focused to “To what extent should we support the rebels?” This completely ignores most of the reality of our situation. The media is very good at providing us with toy versions of discussions, with much of the data removed. In fact, much of the discussion that arrises in general in the media is often about the limited nature of the data made available and whether any conclusions, beyond the sanctioned ones, can be achieved… while no-one bothers to take ten minutes out to find the missing data, which almost always exists. All civil wars have three sides. In this case the regime, the rebels and the general population. Our objective should be, in the case of mass violence, to protect as much as possible of the biggest group: the general population. We should aim to establish safe zones that encompass as much of the population as possible, including no-fly zones, policed by an international peace keeper force. If the rebels and government want to fight, let them, but they would be able to use the populace as shields or targets. Eventually the war will burn itself out. Further, once the populace is secure and safe, they can begin to organise and figure out how they want their country to operate. A similar objective should be the case in less violent situations too. We should provide safe havens for internal democratic processes. They can form the beginnings of a government fit for purpose. If we believe we can’t achieve these objectives, then we shouldn’t be intervening at all.