An illegal, cruel and fateful war

On the eve of the 11-M attacks, when Spanish society's rejection of the Iraq war was general, Hans Blix told La Vanguardia in Madrid that "there was no conclusive evidence to attack Iraq.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
18 March 2023 Saturday 23:28
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An illegal, cruel and fateful war

On the eve of the 11-M attacks, when Spanish society's rejection of the Iraq war was general, Hans Blix told La Vanguardia in Madrid that "there was no conclusive evidence to attack Iraq." Blix, a Swedish diplomat, director for 16 years of the International Atomic Energy Agency, had been head of the UN inspectors who searched for the alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq from November 2002 until almost March 20, 2003, the date of the invasion. He believed that in three more months he would have been able to present evidence one way or the other. In April, after the capture of Baghdad, the George W. Bush Administration finally recognized that such weapons did not exist.

Hans Blix had been reviled by the US press and by the White House, with the exception of Counselor Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell. Washington was then carrying out an unusual campaign against the UN and against the "old Europe" embodied by France and Germany, which refused to follow him in his challenge to international legality. Blix diplomatically said of Bush and his allies that "I'm not sure they took the issue of legality very seriously." The US, Great Britain and Spain "withdrew their draft resolution before the Security Council to approve the war because they would not have a majority" and "decided to take action."

Colin Powell, played the saddest role of a loyal official presenting false evidence to the Security Council, despite the fact that he himself had thrown intelligence reports about Saddam Hussein's weapons on the floor of the Oval Office. In fact, he had had chemical weapons to gas the Kurds in 1988, when the Iraqi leader was the West's friend against Iran. But in 2003, Blix claimed, "intelligence services exaggerated and misinterpreted fragmentary data and statements by defectors."

The vial of alleged toxic substances in the hands of Powell at the UN was one of the three iconic images of the invasion, along with the demolition of the statue of Saddam in Baghdad on April 9 (intended for television, which avoided showing that there wasn't a crowd of Iraqis in the square) and Bush's “mission accomplished” statement on an aircraft carrier on May 1. They were all far from reality. And the war had only just begun.

Iraq was a country on its knees, penalized by the invasion of Kuwait and subject to a cruel program called Oil for Food. In that first Gulf War his army had been literally buried in the sand by the Americans. But the resistance would emerge in force, dragging the occupying coalition (in the end, nominally 48 countries) into a counterinsurgency war –with phases of civil war– that in 2006 had already cost the lives of at least 655,000 people. The use of depleted uranium ammunition in both 1991 and 2003 left thousands of children suffering from cancer and malformations.

It has been said and repeated that the great mistake of the US was disbanding the army, but even worse was dismantling the Baath party (socialist with Arab characteristics), the base of Saddam's regime, with which the country was left without cadres. professionals, and not only in administration. Hundreds of thousands went unemployed. In addition, the occupation caused a greater division of the country by relying on the Kurds in the north and by trying the same with the Shiites in the south, until then marginalized from power. However, both Shias and Sunnis would go to the insurgency.

The other pretext for the invasion, the presence of Al Qaeda and Saddam's link to 9/11, was another falsehood but, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, terrorism appeared: on August 19, a truck bomb exploded in front of the headquarters hotel. of the UN mission in Baghdad, killing its head, the Brazilian Sergio Vieira de Mello, the captain of the ship Manuel Martín-Oar, deputy to the Spanish ambassador, and 20 other people. The Abu Ghraib prison (whose tortures were denounced by the journalist Seymour Hersh) will be a breeding ground for jihadists. There is even a connection between them and the retaliated members of the Baath party. When local jihadism reconverts under the name of the Islamic State in Iraq, former Saddam men will form part of its leadership.

The occupation made Iraqi politics more sectarian and corrupt, with the Shiite prime minister Nuri al Maliki as a great exponent. That sectarianism has consequences to this day. Sunnis who agreed to fight jihadism were far from rewarded; Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias and their political wing were growing in importance. The rise of Islamic State in 2014 was a result of all this, and since its defeat in 2017 – which led to the destruction of Mosul's medina – Iraq has been mired in constant instability.

In 2007, the US began its withdrawal and in 2021 it closed its combat mission, limiting its military presence to advisory services. The adventure of 20 years ago, aimed at seizing Iraqi oil – in a more open than veiled way – has had an unexpected end: if any country has influence in Iraq today, it is Iran.