After a decade of Western-led intervention in Iraq, many questions remain about the price of ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ in a highly fraught political and security environment
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq by the United States, Britain and their allies. According to former leaders, U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the coalition mission was, “to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people”. However, the UN Security Council did not agree with the American and British justifications to go to war with Iraq. France, China, Russia and a major part of the International Community didn’t believe that an Iraq reeling from 13 years of sanctions posed an imminent threat to its people or to neighbouring countries.
After the invasion the US and its allies committed a number of catastrophic policy blunders, rendering the promise of democracy, human rights and social and economic development into nothing more than empty rhetoric. Firstly, the policy of “winning hearts and minds” was supplanted by the military strategy of ‘shock and awe’. Second, there was direct military rule instead of handing full sovereignty to the new Iraqi leadership. Furthermore, instead of a prudent policy of restructuring the already viable and effective security and military institutions, the standing network of establishments were destroyed, leaving 140 thousand American troops to do the job of policing 30 million people, with catastrophic results.
Eventually, the different communities retreated to their sectarian and ethnic enclaves for protection and for the survival of their various cultures. Presently, the country is fast descending into three separate entities. Real questions have to be asked about the achievements and failures of a decade-long intervention in Iraq by Western-led forces and regional powers. However, the most important questions to be answered by the International Community are: what are the merits of future interventions given the present deadlock in the Security Council?; how does the International Community deal with the intransigence of autocratic super powers willing to protect violent regimes and cover up their atrocities?; is there a template that would fit scenarios such as the ongoing slaughter of the Syrian population by its regime?; and in the wake of this, what are the mechanisms for intervening in other countries?
This leaves us with further pressing questions; what is more important, human rights or democracy, and can the former be achieved without the latter?
Whilst the present Iraqi government is considered to be democratic since it was elected by a considerable section of the population, old practices are still evident. Iraq today is coloured with extra judicial killings, government-sponsored assassinations, abductions and torture, secret prisons, the politicisation of the judiciary and the disregard for and marginalisation of, the legislative assembly.
Despite many credible international reports proving all the above injustices, the West seems to have shied away from direct and forceful condemnation of the regime, leaving us to wonder if the regime change was worth the price paid in untold human cost?
Shedding further light on some of the aforementioned issues and questions as well as putting forward remedies for this seismic and tragic event, The Cordoba Foundation along with The Sharq Forum are holding a timely conference on 8th April at The Commonwealth Club, London. Themed, “Iraq 10 Years on – a decade of turbulence”, the conference will primarily review and examine the achievements and failures of a decade-long intervention in Iraq by Western-led forces and regional powers. The conference will also examine the possible nature of future international interventions in the region. Despite the huge cost to state and society, Iraq will continue to play a strategic role in the region, provided it addresses its internal political and social challenges.
Speaking at the conference are a number of dignitaries including the Rt Hon Ms Clare Short, former minister for International Development, Waddah Khanfar, former Director-General of Al Jazeera & Director of the Sharq Forum, and Professor Norman Kember, Emeritus Professor of Biophysics at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry and a Christian pacifist activist, who was held hostage for four months after travelling to Iraq in 2005. Dr Anas Altikriti, CEO of The Cordoba Foundation was part of the team that successfully negotiated the release of western hostages including Professor Kember in 2005. The conference will also see contributions from Mohamed al-Daini, former member of the Iraqi Parliament, Professor Rosemary Hollis from City University London and former Director of Research at Chatham house.
It is hoped that this gathering of international stakeholders and experts will help chart a course to a proper democracy where all Iraqis feel safe, equal and enjoy the fruits of a real change.