This Thursday, March 14, 2013, photo shows a general view of the crossed swords monument at the site of an Associated Press photograph taken by Karim Kadim of US soldiers taken on November 16, 2008. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
Editor’s Note: This statement on the tenth anniversary of the launch of the Iraq War was signed by Phyllis Bennis, John Cavanagh and Steve Cobble (Institute for Policy Studies); Judith LeBlanc and Kevin Martin (Peace Action); Laura Flanders (GritTV); Bill Fletcher (The Black Commentator); Andy Shallal (Iraqis for Peace); Medea Benjamin (Code Pink); Michael T. McPhearson and Leslie Cagan (United for Peace and Justice); Michael Eisenscher (US Labor Against the War) and David Wildman. All organizations for identification only.
It didn’t take long for the world to recognize that the US invasion and occupation of Iraq constituted a dumb war, as then Senator Barack Obama put it. But “dumb” wasn’t the half of it.
The US war against Iraq was illegal and illegitimate. It violated the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions and a whole host of international laws and treaties. It violated US laws and our Constitution with impunity. And it was all based on lies: about nonexistent links between Iraq and Al Qaeda, about never-were ties between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, about Iraq’s invisible weapons of mass destruction and about Baghdad’s supposed nuclear program, with derivative lies about uranium yellowcake from Niger and aluminum rods from China. There were lies about US troops being welcomed in the streets with sweets and flowers, and lies about thousands of jubilant Iraqis spontaneously tearing down the statue of a hated dictator.
And then there was the lie that the US could send hundreds of thousands of soldiers and billions of dollars worth of weapons across the world to wage war on the cheap. We didn’t have to raise taxes to pay the almost one trillion dollars the Iraq war has cost so far, we could go shopping instead.
But behind these myths the costs were huge—human, economic and more. More than a million US troops were deployed to Iraq; 4,483 were killed; 33,183 were wounded and more than 200,000 came home with PTSD. The number of Iraqi civilians killed is still unknown; at least 121,754 are known to have been killed directly during the US war, but hundreds of thousands more died from crippling sanctions, diseases caused by dirty water when the US destroyed the water treatment system and the inability to get medical help because of exploding violence.
And what are we leaving behind? After almost a decade the US finally pulled out most of its troops and Pentagon-paid contractors. About 16,000 State Department-paid contractors and civilian employees are still stationed at the giant US embassy compound and two huge consulates, along with unacknowledged CIA and FBI agents, Special Forces and a host of other undercover operatives. The US just sold the Iraqi government 140 M-l tanks, and American-made fighter jets are in the pipeline too. But there is little question that the all-encompassing US military occupation of Iraq is over. After more than eight years of war, the Iraqi government finally said no more. Their refusal to grant US troops immunity from prosecution for potential war crimes was the deal-breaker that forced President Obama’s hand and made him pull out the last 30,000 troops he and his generals were hoping to keep in Iraq.
But as we knew would be the case, the pull out by itself did not end the violence. The years of war and occupation have left behind a devastated country, split along sectarian lines, a shredded social fabric and a dispossessed and impoverished population. Iraq remains one of the most violent countries in the world; that’s the true legacy of the US war. We owe a great debt to the people of Iraq—and we have not even begun to make good on that commitment.