US sowed 20 years of misery

A protester is seen in front of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, 25 kilometers north of downtown San Diego, California, the United States,

March 18, 2023. [Photo/Xinhua]

Twenty years after the United States-led invasion of Iraq, the world continues to call for Washington to be held to account for its aggression and the misery it caused to millions of innocent Iraqis.

The invasion of Iraq started on March 20, 2003, after Washington accused Baghdad of developing weapons of mass destruction. The claim was later found to be false. Kofi Annan, then United Nations secretary-general, termed the war illegal, saying the action was not in conformity with the UN Charter.

Hassan Imran, a legal activist who is a board member at Law for Palestine, a nonprofit that has offices in Sweden and Manchester, England, noted that the US had acted unilaterally outside the collective ambit of the UN Security Council, citing a right to self-defense, but this had been very problematic in the eyes of a majority of international law experts.

"Self-defense in international law has certain conditions, mainly that it should be against an imminent and proximate threat to one's territory, and this was not met in this case," Imran said, adding that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction.

The unprovoked war also raises questions in regard to international governance and U.S. double standards, as well as its self-assumed role as the regulator of international law to help bring alleged perpetrators of crimes to justice, observers and analysts say.

According to the Costs of War project, which was founded more than a decade ago at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs and was codirected by two scholars of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, it was estimated that the Iraq War could have cost U.S. taxpayers more than $2 trillion.

It noted that the ensuing war, in which the U.S. ground presence peaked in 2007 with more than 170,000 soldiers, caused tens of thousands of deaths, destruction and political instability in Iraq. Further, among the consequences was "the increase in sectarian politics, widespread violence and the rise of the Islamic State militant group with its terrorist attacks throughout the Middle East".

Although the U.S. government officially ended its war in Iraq in 2011, the repercussions of the invasion and occupation, as well as subsequent and continuing military interventions, have had an enormous human, social, economic, and environmental toll, the study said. An estimated 300,000 people have died as a result of the war, while "the reverberating effects of war continue to kill and sicken hundreds of thousands more", it said.

Deeply polarized

"One has to be cognizant of the fact that Iraqi society is deeply polarized," said Arhama Siddiqa, a research fellow at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad in Pakistan. "Building on my experiences during a visit last year, there is one stratum of society which is extremely rich and one section which is in the perils of extreme poverty — no in-between."

Iraq "is only somewhat starting to recover from decades of tumultuous events", she said, which include the 2003 U.S. invasion, the 2014 anti-Islamic State coalition and regional proxy wars.

"It took Iraq more than 30 years to settle the reparations for its invasion (of) Kuwait. The U.S. invasion took place in 2003, so one can't expect (any such reparations to Iraq) to happen in the short to medium term," Siddiqa said, adding that Iraq has also failed to present a unified front.

Last year, more than 30 years after the United Nations Compensation Commission was created to ensure restitution for Kuwait owing to Iraq's invasion of 1990, the reparations body announced it had processed its final claim, amounting to $52.4 billion in total.

According to the United Nations, 1.5 million successful claims were awarded, out of a total of about 2.7 million lodged with the commission. If all the claims had been found legitimate, it said, that would have meant a total payout of $352.5 billion.

"Payment of reparations for an illegal invasion is a key principle of international humanitarian law," said Ahmad Ghouri, director of internationalization at the School of Law, Politics and Sociology at the University of Sussex in England.

Paying reparations

"By requiring new leadership of an invading country to pay reparations for an earlier regime's actions, international law aims to deter future wars of aggression. Another aim is to provide transitional justice to people affected by illegal invasion."

He also cited the plight of refugees and other non-nationals in Iraq after the fall of the government of Saddam Hussein on April 11, 2003, which has been well documented.

"However, no such compensation is demanded by the UN Security Council from the United States of America or the United Kingdom, although it has undoubtedly established that their joint invasion of Iraq in 2003 was illegal," Ghouri said.

"All parties, including the U.S. and the UK, committed war crimes including massacres and torture on a massive scale. On the face of this illegal invasion, the UN's inaction to create a commission to compensate Iraq, its people, and foreigners affected by war is a mockery of international law and the law of war."

Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi, who gained fame for hurling his shoes at President George W. Bush in a news conference to show his anger at the corruption and chaos that followed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, said he is still furious.

"The same people who entered 20 years ago with the occupier are still ruling despite failures and corruption. The United States knows very well that it brought in pseudo politicians," he told Reuters, recounting his actions back in 2008 during a Baghdad media briefing.