20 March 2018 marked the 15th anniversary of the United States’ invasion of Iraq. Dubbed ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’, the invasion had America at the forefront backed by a coalition of nations that on the surface vowed to ‘secure the free world from the threat of Iraq’ — as then US Vice President Dick Cheney claimed — but were, in fact, perpetuating American hegemony and imperialism in the world.
The operation was launched ostensibly to rid Iraq of the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) it was secretly accumulating. America’s then Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld — a man who was to profit from the invasion significantly — claimed publically on the 29 January 2003, ‘Iraq poses a serious and mounting threat to our country. His regime has the design for a nuclear weapon, was working on several different methods of enriching uranium, and recently was discovered seeking significant quantities of uranium from Africa.’
A few months leading into the war, state institutions in America and especially the CIA launched a spurious campaign that aimed to show how Saddam Hussein was secretly stockpiling material to develop nuclear weapons.
In reality, the Iraqi regime did not possess any nuclear weapons, a fact validated by the United Nations just a month before the invasion. On February 14, the UN’s nuclear and weapons inspectors informed the Security Council that no proof existed of any WMDs in Iraq. The United States ignored the UN’s appraisal and instead carried on with its plans to invade.
American efforts to re-define Iraq’s history and to impose a Western-style political settlement on the Middle Eastern country, in fact, highlight the pitfalls and harmful elements of Western liberalism and its claims of championing the rights of the downtrodden
It thus becomes evident that America’s invasion was not predicated on keeping Iraq away from nuclear weapons, but instead stemmed from America’s opposition towards an Iraqi regime that continued to eschew American dominance.
Since the first Gulf War between Kuwait and Iraq, Saddam had exercised a foreign policy that was in direct conflict with American interests in the region. Saddam’s independence meant that now Iraq — after Iran’s revolution in 1979 — was another Middle Eastern nation that was slipping from America’s hegemony.
American leaders thus developed a pernicious opposition towards Iraq. In his annual State of the Union address in 2002, American President George W. Bush labelled Iraq, along with Iran and North Korea as the three pillars of his ‘axis of evil.’ Thus, even before the actual invasion, America was promulgating propaganda that cast Iraq in a demonic light; with prominent ‘liberal’ newspapers such as the New York Times at the vanguard of this propaganda.
Underlying these false accusations against Iraq and perhaps more sinister reasons behind the invasion were American leaders’ desire to spread ‘disaster capitalism’ to Iraq and to ‘re-create’ Iraq in the image of West.
‘Shock and awe’ and disaster capitalism: feeding the Military-Industrial Complex in Iraq
Naomi Klein, the author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism argues that the invasion of Iraq was a prelude to privatise Iraq’s state-owned facilities and to bring American corporations into Iraq’s markets, especially oil. Klein builds her theory on what she calls ‘the Shock Doctrine’, an ideological conviction upheld by Milton Friedman and his followers of Chicago School economics.
The Shock Doctrine rests on the idea of ‘shocking’ a nation — either through military coups or direct invasion — and in the immediate aftermath of that shock, promulgating free market capitalist reforms in the shocked nation. The essence of the doctrine rests in the belief that the initial shock will be so powerful as to leave the country paralysed and unable to resist these reforms that would in normal cases be highly unpopular. Klein argues:“It’s hard to believe — but then again, that was pretty much Washington’s game plan for Iraq: shock and terrorise the entire country, deliberately ruin its infrastructure, do nothing while its culture and history are ransacked, then make it all OK with an unlimited supply of cheap household appliances and imported junk food.”
The speed with which America pursued privatisation and opened up Iraq to foreign corporations gives credence to Klein’s arguments and highlights how Operation Iraqi Freedom was in fact meant to allow US corporations such as Haliburton to make immense profits from the conflict.
Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s outstanding book “Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone” in fact highlights how Haliburton developed a utopia for American contractors in the heart of Baghdad — the ‘green zone’. The green zone was stocked by American fast food chains such as Burger King, movie theatres that played American classics and state of the art gyms, while outside the walls of the green zone, war and murder continued to rage in the streets of Baghdad — called the ‘red zone’.
Gaining access to Iraq’s oil reserves and its strategic location was, in fact, central to America’s plans to invade. Noam Chomsky argued in an interview in 2006:“It (Iraq) is the last corner of the world in which there are massive petroleum resources pretty much unexplored, maybe the largest in the world or close to it. Now they are very easy to gain access to.”
Destroying history and culture: America’s quest to rebuild Iraq:
Another, often less scrutinised aspect of the Iraqi invasion was America’s quest to re-define Iraq and build it as a modern, progressive democracy thriving on Western ideals.
Washington, in fact, continued to champion the invasion as an attempt to liberate Iraqi women and to fight ‘dictatorship’ in the region. On the eve of the invasion, George W. Bush in a public address claimed: “To all the men and women of the United States armed forces now in the Middle East, the peace of a troubled world and the hopes of an oppressed people now depend on you. That trust is well placed.”(Emphasis added)
By labelling the Iraqis as oppressed people, Bush was, in fact, promoting the invasion as an attempt to liberate Iraqis from extreme tyranny; a stance that reeks of hypocrisy and was completely devoid of legitimacy.
On a more sinister level, the attempt to rebuild Iraq following Saddam’s ouster meant uprooting long-established cultural and political forces in Iraq and replacing them with Western notions of democracy and human rights. This involved a conscious effort to destroy Iraq’s thousands of years’ old heritage and history and meant turning a blind eye when vagrants looted Iraq’s libraries and historical documents.
American efforts to re-define Iraq’s history and to impose a Western-style political settlement on the Middle Eastern country, in fact, highlight the pitfalls and harmful elements of Western liberalism and its claims of championing the rights of the downtrodden. What Iraq has revealed, and what Afghanistan continues to prove every day, is that it is almost impossible to champion Western notions in the third world without being mindful of local conditions in the Global South.
These past 15 years continue to haunt collective memory in Iraq and the Middle East.
It thus becomes evident that America’s invasion of Iraq was more than an attempt to prevent Iraq from gaining nuclear weapons. The operation hinged on perpetuating American hegemony and on spreading the catastrophic impact of disaster capitalism to a nation that till then had sheltered itself from the debilitating effects of free market liberalism.
Underlying the operation was a false liberal ideal of liberating the Iraqi people from their oppressors; an ideal that in fact meant destroying Iraqi history and civilisation, and one that gave birth to the plethora of problems that plague the Iraqi nation today.
It comes as no surprise, then, that the great intellectual Noam Chomsky called the Iraqi Invasion “the worst crime of the 21st century” — a crime that highlights America’s hypocrisy, and that ripped apart Iraqi society’s social and political fabric.
The writer graduated from Aitchison College and Cornell University with Bachelors’ degrees in Economics and History. He also studied at Oxford University, and his interests include studying the politics of class, gender and race. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org