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A decade after the Iraq invasion

on 15/09/2019

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

A decade after the invasion of Iraq by US led forces, calls are still being made for an independent inquiry into Australia’s role in the conflict.

南宁桑拿

And a human rights organisation is also calling for investigations into abuses that it says continue to this day.

Ten years ago, this month, the United States and its allies invaded Iraq.

“At this hour American and Coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from great danger. On my orders coalition forces have begun striking selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein’s ability to wage war.”

The initial ferocious air strike – under the military doctrine of shock and awe – was the start of what the Americans dubbed Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The following day, on the 20th of March 2003, ground forces invaded Iraq.

The bloc contributing troops in the first phase was named by US President George W Bush the Coalition of the Willing, and included just four countries — the US, Britain, Australia and Poland.

Australia put up approximately 2,000 Defence Force personnel, including a special forces task group, three warships and 14 fighter jets.

Baghdad was occupied less than three weeks later, on the 9th of April, and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his central leadership went into hiding.

Then on May the 1st, from the deck of an aircraft carrier and with a “Mission Accomplished” banner behind him, US President George W Bush made this bold declaration.

“Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle for Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.”

Among the reasons given by President Bush and his administration for the invasion was the liberation of the people of Iraq from a brutal dictator and to bring them democracy.

But chief among the reasons was the belief that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, also known as WMDs.

No WMDs were ever found, and instead of welcoming American intervention sectarian violence fanned by insurgents frustrated the US military and politicians.

Today, combat operations have ended in Iraq and troops have been drawn down.

But the country remains in a parlous state.

Iraq expert, Dr Benjamin Isakhan from Deakin University has told a conference examining the decade since the war that Iraq is now one of the most violent and difficult countries in the world.

He says its infrastructure is crumbling, its government is increasingly authoritarian and many of the people live without adequate sewerage, electricity or water.

Dr Isakhan says Iraq is neither more peaceful nor more prosperous, and only marginally more democratic, than when the country was invaded in 2003.

International rights group Amnesty International is calling for a full investigation into fresh allegations of human rights abuses by Iraqi officials.

Amnesty suggests such abuse is the cultural legacy of the war.

Amnesty International spokesman Michael Hayworth says 129 people were executed in Iraq in 2012.

“It’s doesn’t matter who is committing the abuses, whether it was the previous regime, whether it was international forces, whether it’s the current Iraqi authorities. It’s that this culture of impunity in Iraq needs to stop and wherever there are allegations of torture, other ill-treatment and human rights abuses, they need to be investigated and if there is sufficient evidence people at the most senior levels necessary need to be prosecuted for those abuses, otherwise we are going to see the cycle of violence, the cycle of impunity, torture and human rights abuses continue in Iraq.”

Just before the 2003 invasion, Andrew Wilkie was working at Australia’s senior intelligence agency – the Office of National Assessments.

After repeatedly raising his concerns internally, he quit his job in protest at Australia’s impending involvement in the coalition preparing to invade Iraq.

Mr Wilkie, now an independent member of federal parliament, says time has not diminished the shocking reality that Australia’s involvement in the Iraq War was unethical, unnecessary and illegal.

“Not ethical in that it is wrong to use force except in the most extreme and justified circumstances. Not necessary because what was needed was to give the weapons inspectors more time to try and find these mysterious weapons of mass destruction and if they couldn’t find them that would have been the end of the whole WMD line of attack or argument for war. And not legal because Iraq’s material breach of UN sanctions at the time did not in itself in international law justify the use of force. There was never a specific UN resolution authorising the invasion of Iraq.”

Mr Wilkie is still calling for an independent inquiry into Australia’s role in the Iraq war.

“Ten years have passed and my concern has not diminished one bit. In fact I am probably even more concerned that we are still to have a proper inquiry into Australia’s involvement in the war. We are still to clear up the public record and put on the public record the facts of the matter and we are still to hold the perpetrators of this debacle to account.”

Brian Martin, a Professor of Social Sciences at the University of Wollongong, supports that call.

Professor Martin is an expert on social activism and the suppression of dissent, and says Andrew Wilkie was a superb whistleblower.

“It’s always necessary to examine actions that lead to enormous suffering in the world and certainly the invasion of a country. I’d say Andrew Wilkie was one of the most effective whistleblowers because he did everything right, he went straight to the media and he resigned.”

Professor Martin says questions remain about the political responsibilities and moral obligations of the United States and its key coalition partners, including Australia.

He’s voiced a concern expressed by many who opposed the war in 2003.

“A lot of people are thinking for themselves and saying, why are Australian troops being sent to a place in the world where there is no threat to Australians? In fact the bigger threat to Australia, arguably, is that going into Afghanistan and Iraq could increase the risk of terrorism in Australia.”

Professor Martin also argues there’s a final irony in the war’s legacy for the United States — that the primary aggressor in the Iraq conflict suffered the most diplomatically.

“One of the results of the invasion was a decline in the reputation of the United States government around the world, especially in the Middle East.”


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