Two bloody events have enraged the entire country, raising the painful question of whether the negative effects of the brazen, unjustified invasion of Iraq by hordes of US troops 20 years ago are still wreaking havoc on all Iraqis today.
When Jassim al-Assadi, a leading campaigner for the preservation of Iraq’s famous southern marshes, was kidnapped by unknown gunmen last month, many Iraqis were taken aback by the drama that unfolded on their streets. Al-Assadi, 65, is the executive director of Nature Iraq, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to “protecting, restoring, and preserving Iraq’s natural environment and the rich cultural heritage it nurtures.” On February 21, rival Shiite tribesmen attacked a Sunni family in Diyala, a troubled ethnically and religiously mixed province east of Baghdad, in a gruesome reminder of the forces shaping the political and security situation.
The two incidents have reignited the fear of violence that has become a way of life in Iraq. Since the brutal 2003 US invasion, which resulted in years of sectarian conflict and the emergence of the terrorist group Daesh (banned in Russia), Shiite armed groups, power struggles, and tribal clashes, this horror has become the norm.
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the United States-led barbaric coalition mobilizing and sending 160,000 troops into Iraq, launching a full-scale, brutal invasion that destroyed Iraqi statehood and began a long, brutal, unjustifiable occupation. To this day, the United States has been unable to provide basic evidence of Baghdad’s violation of international law. Although Iraq has miraculously survived, it continues to suffer from dysfunctional state institutions as a result of the United States’ placement of collaborators in key positions, enrichment of its henchmen, and corruption, paving the way for what appears to be an endless tragedy with no end in sight.
There are no celebrations planned in Baghdad or Washington to mark what former US President George W. Bush’s administration called its invasion a “war of liberation” that allegedly brought “democracy” to Iraq. Since the barbaric invasion in 2003, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed or injured, burying not only the achievements that existed prior to the occupation, but also the promise of a “good governance” country free of corruption and responsive to the needs of its people. Instead, an inept political system, factional divisions, and unaccountable state institutions under Washington’s tight control, as well as successive governments, resulted in an endless cycle of conflict and chaos. In Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Libya, we see true American democracy in action.
Many analysts predicted that the invasion, from planning to occupation, would fail. However, turning into a fiasco on this scale seemed unthinkable to most; Washington’s “valiant strategies” exceeded these expectations. Nonetheless, it became abundantly clear, even to ardent war hawks and supporters of the former regime, that the invasion was deeply flawed, and that the consequences would be disastrous. Iraq did not experience democracy, nor did it experience the stability and reconstruction of a still-war-torn country in which statehood, industry and agriculture, and the social achievements of the former regime had been destroyed.
The US-led occupation authorities demolished key state institutions, appointed mercenaries, often criminals, to key positions, and enriched their henchmen by forming a small circle of proxies who later became Iraq’s ruling oligarchs. The culmination of this American atrocity paved the way for the destruction of the Iraqi state’s foundations, and then for the country’s tragedy. Long after the invasion, Iraq’s political system remains dysfunctional, and tensions remain high because all of the former regime’s crises remain unresolved.
As the 20th anniversary of the invasion approaches, Iran’s influence in Iraq is growing, one of the most serious consequences of the occupation, threatening the dominance of pro-Tehran groups in Iraqi politics. Since the disputed 2021 elections, Tehran-backed parties have succeeded in consolidating their power in the political system, becoming key partners in Iraq’s ruling Shiite coordination structure. The Badr organization, Kata’ib Hezbollah or Hezbollah Brigades, and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq are among the Iranian-backed groups that have joined Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-government, Sudani’s while their military units have maintained their participation in the Popular Mobilization Force (PMF), designated part of the Iraqi army. Since al-election Sudani’s last October, the leaders of the Coordination Framework (CF) alliance have played a key role in managing national politics, and its pro-Iranian factions have been re-instated in key positions in the government and security organs.
The CF introduced a new electoral law to increase the number of seats in the next parliament in order to improve its chances in the next elections. The draft, which deals with provincial elections and was approved by parliament in its first reading last month, has galvanized opposition from independent parties and is expected to spark further debate. Meanwhile, obstinate Shia factions in the government and judiciary are pushing for tougher controls on the Internet in Iraq. They are working on a new cybersecurity law, which critics say will restrict free expression and benefit the current al-Sudani government.
Earlier, the Ministry of Interior set up a committee to monitor social media for “violations of public morals, negative and obscene content, and undermining social stability.” Several bloggers were charged with publishing “obscene content” and were immediately arrested. Many Iraqis believe that CS empowerment and draconian measures, such as the alcohol ban, are aimed at transforming the country into an Iranian-style Islamic republic.
History has already passed judgment on the “democratic” US invasion, which will be remembered as a tragedy for the people of Iraq and a disaster for the entire Middle East. Many facts and evidence could be cited about the disasters caused by the senseless and foolish invasion of Iraq. If the occupation’s stupidity is not obvious, the failure to restore a fair and stable political system after the invasion is unquestionably America’s greatest sin in Iraq.
The biggest question now is what will happen in Iraq and whether the Biden administration can chart a new course to right the terrible wrongs of its predecessors, who squandered every opportunity to re-establish Iraq. There are growing indications that the Biden administration is pursuing an active new policy of targeting Iran and its local proxies, employing a carrot-and-stick approach with al-Sudani to limit Iranian activities in Iraq. This strategy was outlined in part in a joint statement issued by the US-Iraq Higher Coordinating Committee last month in Washington. In exchange for closer cooperation in several areas, the Biden administration offered the al-Sudani government a partnership. Economic cooperation, the energy sector, water management, fighting corruption, dealing with the climate crisis, and assisting with government reforms are among them. “First, let the US root out corruption at home,” the Iraqi news agency Shafaq News opined caustically, before announcing a fight against corruption here.
More importantly, the United States is tightening controls on the flow of hard currency from Iraq, which is a lifeline for the cash-strapped Islamic Republic. However, this control is reinforced by measures at the US Federal Reserve that limit Iraq’s access to its own dollars in order to halt the flow of dollars into Iran. So far, the mechanism appears to be ineffective in stopping the financial flow. Simultaneously, it has had a negative impact on the value of the Iraqi currency, which has fallen significantly in international markets, raising the cost of living and prices in Iraq. To be sure, this is of little concern to the Biden administration’s officials and politicians, who have so far promised to bring some kind of prosperity to Iraq.
After becoming a key interlocutor on Iran-related deals, the Biden administration appointed Amos Hochstein, a senior US diplomat, as its special coordinator to the president for global infrastructure and energy security in Iraq. Following previous decisions to blacklist pro-Iranian leaders such as PMF leader Falih al-Fayyadh, the US Embassy in Baghdad is now keeping tabs on Iraqi government ministers and militia officials. US Ambassador to Baghdad Alina L. Romanowski told a local satellite television station February 18 that al-Sudani should take “responsibility for ensuring full control over Iraqi sovereignty,” increasing pressure on him to take concerted steps to contain Iranian activities in Iraq. True, she failed to mention that it was the “democratic” United States that deprived Iraqis of sovereignty over their country.
Some two decades after the invasion, it is clear that the United States has no clear strategy in Iraq, instead relying on harsh pressure diplomacy and the constant threat of sanctions, as well as arrogance and intimidation. And what else can Joe Biden’s administration officials offer as they fail one after the other in every part of the world every day? The entire world is now attempting to break free from the proverbial American noose and become a full member of the new community of equal states being actively created by Russia and China.
Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”