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America’s repeated intervention in other countries is no secret, but the atrocities committed are often brushed aside. The Iraq War is one of those instances. Suspicious of Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction, the Bush Administration invaded Iraq in 2003, ultimately killing 100,000 people, disrupting the country’s infrastructure, and overthrowing the dictator Saddam Hussein. While some may justify the invasion and claim the war was self-defense, much evidence points to the war being the result of the desire for control of oil. Regardless of intentions, the Iraq War was a direct violation of UN resolutions, setting a dangerous precedent for other “defensive” wars, and undermines the credibility of the United Nations. All things considered, the Iraq War was an illegal, illegitimate, selfish war pursued because of oil and had extremely damaging effects that were ultimately not worth the cost the war brought.
The United State’s interest in Iraq dates back centuries. As Peter Hahn, a professor at Ohio State University who specializes in Middle Eastern history, writes in a published work concerning the history of U.S. and Iraq relations, the first Americans to encounter Iraq were evangelical Christians who built schools, churches, and medical facilities. As time passed, Iraq did not become a major figure in foreign affairs until the 20th century. Nazism began to take hold of Baghdad in the 1940s and America feared Hitler would grow to control the city and endorsed the military suppression of Rashid Ali al-Gailani, who was Prime Minister for a short time, by the British. The Cold War also raised fears about Soviet expansionism into the Middle East and motivated America to keep communism out of Iraq, but Hahn says “U.S. leaders showed little support for democracy in Iraq or the advancement of its people, eschewing any such liberal political goals on behalf of the primary objective of keeping Iraq free of communism.” American leaders sought only to stop the spread of communism and cared little for anything else concerning the country, besides oil. This is significant in the understanding of why America got involved in the war and the actions taken afterwards. It is impossible to ignore the gluttonous influence oil has on American-Iraqi politics as Iraq has the second largest reserve of this fossil fuel and oil corporation had already gained a 23.75% share in the Iraq Petroleum Company by 1928 (Hahn). Nevertheless, the Bush Administration still attempts to shift the blame off itself, citing America’s right to self-defense in retaliation against the threat of weapons of mass destruction from Iraq , but these claims are illegitimate with no legal backing and overwhelmed by the evidence that the war was fought over greed.
Oil is obviously the true cause of the Iraq War, but it was officially fought because of weapons of mass destruction. David Krieger writes in an article for the Nuclear Age Peace Organization a very in-depth explanation of the legal complications of the war. UN Security Resolution 1441 commanded Saddam Hussein to stop any production of weapons of mass destruction and to comply with security inspectors as they searched the country for possible threats, or else face repercussions. While not complete, these inspections appeared to be inconclusive, and the Bush Administration still insisted Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. Secretary of State Colin Powell produced intelligence photos of the sites where the weapons were stored and Bush even claimed they knew exactly where they were located. This is very suspicious considering in 2004 the Administration released a statement saying their intelligence about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were completely wrong and unfounded. While the Bush Administration can claim their intelligence was genuinely faulty, it is not unfair to draw the conclusion that this intelligence was deliberately meant to initiate the war against Iraq, especially considering various other factors.
Even if American officials truly thought their country was at risk of an attack from Iraq’s nonexistent nuclear weapons, America still did not have the authority to declare war. Although Resolution 1441 did say Iraq would face repercussions if they continued to manufacture any weapons of mass destruction, it was left for the Security Council to decide what those repercussions would be. Article 2(4) outright prohibits the “threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations,” yet the Bush Administration went through with a war that was clearly not defensive anyway. Therefore, America directly violated international law.
While America did violate international law, some say the U.S. was justified for it. Article 51 states:
Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defense shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security (Krieger).
In the case of an armed attack, a country has the right to defend itself until the Security Council has dealt with the situation — though it should be emphasized that the defense should not impair the Security Council’s duties to preserve peace. After September 11, 2001, fears of another attack were not completely unfounded. The former chief UN Weapons Inspector in Iraq, Hans Blix, even said that another 9/11 could be in the works (Krieger). This is something a country cannot ignore. However, Iraq had no connection to the attacks in New York, meaning the aggression would not be able to be considered self-defense under Article 51. If anything, a war against Saudi Arabia would be more justified since the majority of the hijackers in 9/11 originated in that country. Irrespectively, any preventative action taken without the authority of the Security Council would have to be supported by strong intelligence to be internationally accepted, but this is is impossible since the evidence America declared war on was very faulty. Former top U.S. Weapons Inspector David Kay told Congress “We were almost completely wrong about our intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq”. Heedless of Article 51 or any defenses or justification of the Iraq war, Resolution 1441 stated that the Security Council would “remain seized of the matter,” meaning only the Council could authorize any action against Iraq and any other action by a lone country is illegitimate. The Iraq War has no legal backbone and is completely inordinate.
America’s unjustified actions should be of major concern to any American citizen — or rather any citizen of a country — because if the United States of America is allowed to get away with blatantly defying international law and declaring war based on faulty evidence like this, there is nothing stopping other countries from doing the same and declaring war on us, pinning it on the fear America would potentially use weapons of mass destruction on them, the same way we did. What with Donald Trump threatening North Korea over Twitter, Kim Jong Un could justify a war against America using the same reasonings the Bush Administration used. Defying the UN in this way also weakens the credibility of the United Nations. The Nuremberg Principles lists “crimes against peace” as first under the crimes punishable under international law, and one very important thing about law is that it can only be respected and ultimately enforced when applied equally; none may stand above it. “If the US could proceed to war against Iraq on the bases of a claim of potential future attack, it would open the door to a broad range of assertions of potential future attacks by one country against another that would justify unilateral initiation of warfare, whether or not based on factual coundations, paranoia, or simple expediency. It would throw international order into a state of chaos” (Krieger). If certain countries are allowed to escape consequences for unlawful aggression against another country, how can the UN stay true to its task of maintaining world peace, especially if it appears to favor certain countries by allowing this violation go unaddressed? While the Iraq War seems to keep to the back of peoples’ minds, it actually threatens the stability of the world and may bear even more consequences than originally predicted. It undermines the legal system put in place to prevent wars of aggression and sets a dangerous precedent if left unchallenged.
So, why did America take such a risk, violating international law and trusting faulty and perhaps planted evidence, if the Iraq War was not about self-defense? The short answer is oil. Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world and oil production had been increasing rapidly. Two thirds of Middle Eastern oil goes to India and China, so Iraq has a powerful position as a major oil exporter and its favoring of the Eastern or Western Hemisphere may significantly change the world market. Being such a strong force in the industry, Saddam Hussein’s erratic and unpredictable energy export policies made him hard to deal with and dangerous for the market. Iraq was a “swing producer” and there was a strong possibility Hussein would take Iraqi oil off the global market for an extended period of time to damage prices. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, who was a major advocate for the invasion, warned of an impending global energy crisis that would “increase U.S. and global vulnerability to disruption” and leave America facing an “unprecedented energy price volatility” in a 2001 report on energy security. He stressed the impact Iraqi industry would have on oil markets and the functioning of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, “both of which we have vital interest”. As a result, U.S. officials wanted to ensure the free flow of Iraqi oil to world markets by privatizing its production to allow foreign companies to take over, which was done by crippling the oil industry in Iraq through invasion. Considering the position Iraq was in at the time and the strong desire to invade because of the benefits the U.S. may reap, especially with the Vice President being a strong force pushing for war, it is unquestionable the Iraq War was a selfish one that did not consider nor care for the welfare of anyone but America’s pockets.
Not only was the war destructive, but postwar plans for reconstruction did not consider the humanitarian and societal effects of the war and focused only on maintaining Saddam’s authoritarian structures while maximizing the benefits from Iraq’s oil. While one can argue America actually contributed a great deal to reconstruction because of the 17 groups set up by the state department in order to aid it, each were governed by a senior U.S. military officer and imposed martial law. Actual Iraqi citizens remained advisors. This is very ironic considering the same country that contributed to the destabilization and destruction of the country they invaded is the same one to push its own leaders aside and tell them they know how to govern it better than their own people. America did vow to have a “broad and protracted American role in managing the reconstruction of the country,” and to send thousands of troops in the coming years “in defense of the country’s oil fields,” but the ultimate goal was to privatise the oil industry. Upon viewing the current state of Iraq before and after the war, America certainly did not contribute very much to reconstruction. Based on conversations with Iraqi citizens, the country is arguably worse off than before the war, which is a grand statement considering Iraq was previously governed by a tyrannical dictator. Upon reviewal of all the relevant facts, it is clear any claims the Iraq War was not about oil is a blatant lie.
The invasion was not only selfish but very damaging to the country of Iraq as a whole and costly for America. Conclusively, it was not worth it. By the time the last of U.S. soldiers left Iraq in December 2011, the war had lasted almost 9 years, cost taxpayers $800 billion, cost 4,500 American lives, and 100,000 civilian lives ― though that number tends to fluctuate and a civilian death toll of 500,00-1,000,000 is not an uncommon figure. The war seems to have cost Iraq the most in terms of lives lost, humanitarian crises, and a destroyed infrastructure.
Among the various atrocities committed by the U.S. in Iraq, the most famous of which is most likely the incident involving the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison. Evidence of prisoner abuse became public and seven soldiers were convicted of the torture and humiliation of detainees. It is contradictory to claim the U.S. helped reconstruction when troops in Iraq actively harmed citizens in the same way Saddam Hussein himself did, as he had tortured his political opponents in that very same prison.
American soldiers have tortured civilians in more ways than one. In a heartbreaking article for the Washington Post, Gail McGowan Mellor writes about five American soldiers who entered an Iraqi home, killed a 14 year old girl’s family, and proceeded to gangrape her before shooting her in the head as well. One soldier confessed what he had done that same night, but was honorably discharged with “antisocial personality disorder” and evidence was suppressed. The case would have gone untried if locals had not killed two soldiers in retaliation, causing another soldier to confess what he had heard. With the war lasting 9 years and the common occurrence of sexual assault between military members, it is not unlikely there were other attacks similar to this one on civilians. This would have never happened if America had not sent troops to Iraq to fight a war that even the discharged soldier said “was for nothing” (Mellor).
Not only did America harm citizens, but contributed to the rise of ISIS. Mark Thompson describes how after the fall of Iraq’s dictator, Paul Bremer, an American diplomat, issued a very damning CPA order without consulting any other officials in an article for The New York Times. Bush himself was unaware of this order and most likely would not have approved it as “keeping the Iraqi army intact was always part of U.S. strategy” (Thompson). Instead of combing through Iraq’s military to cleanse it of any remaining Saddam supporters, Bremer decided to dissolve the entire military. Unemployment was already an issue infecting the country, and with even more unemployed men, people became restless. Coupled with strained relationships between Islamic sects, this pushed these newly unemployed Sunnis into the arms of ISIS; and no small number of them, either. In fact, it is estimated that 20 out of 40 of ISIS’s top leaders had been part of the Iraqi military (Thompson). While ISIS seems to be losing its vigor lately, it is still a terrorist organization unlike any other and America helped fuel it.
Unemployment and poverty not only aided the rise of ISIS, but it has become progressively worse despite America’s alleged efforts to help in reconstruction. According to an article written by Sinan Salaheddin for AP Magazine in 2018, 70 percent of Iraqis under the age of 40 are looking for work, and the overall unemployment rate is 11.2 percent. In areas previously under ISIS control, that number is 22.6 percent. And in the city of Basra, which was once referred to as the “Venice of the Middle East” and sits on the largest oil reserves in the country, has an unemployment rate of 30 percent. This has led to passionate violent protests in the street demanding better public services like clean water, electricity, and more jobs. The poverty rate in Iraq is also estimated to be 22.5 percent. This is not only a result of an incapable government but America’s actions actively, intentionally, and irresponsibly crippling the country.
Considering the civilian lives lost and harmed, the rise of ISIS which threatens not only Iraqis but Americans as well, the restlessness and poverty war has caused, the vast amount of evidence America’s only interest in Iraq was its oil, and the direct violations of international law that threaten world peace, can we really say, with a good conscience, the war was worth it? This war hangs over the heads of the people who perpetrated and benefited from it who never faced adequate punishment for their crimes. Iraq still suffers from the aftermath of the invasion and the world turns a blind eye even when we contributed to it and we have threatened world peace. To continue to turn a blind eye to this war is to turn a blind eye to the stability of the world and enable the transgressions committed.
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