Inside Story Americas

Have lessons been learnt from the Iraq war?

We ask if ten years on from the invasion of Iraq US politicians and media have learnt from their mistakes.
Last Modified: 21 Mar 2013 12:19

In March 2003, the US launched the invasion of Iraq. It was a war predicated on the claim that Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction posed an imminent threat to US and British interests.

"We don't see a lot about what Iraq is like for Iraqis, it's a very difficult story to tell. We have seen some stories about American veterans and those are often ... about the veterans who are pleased with the decision they made that if they had to do it all over again despite the injuries that they suffered, some of them quite severe, they would go to war again in Iraq ... we are not getting a good sense of the kind of the full accounting of the tragedies of the Iraq war, for Americans or for Iraqis."

- Peter Hart, the activism director for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting

American forces took Baghdad on April 9, 2003, but the US entanglement was just beginning. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have lost their lives in that war.

And it is estimated that over 4,400 US military personnel have been killed, nearly 32,000 have been injured.

It is also estimated the war has cost US tax payers at least $1.7tn over the past decade.

But for all the media coverage of the Iraq war's 10th anniversary, little time has been dedicated to the enormous costs, many of them spent on no-bid contracts to defence firms with close ties to the Bush administration.

Defence contractors received $138bn, with just 10 firms receiving 52 percent of the money. And the firm that raked in the most cash, Halliburton spin-off KBR, has close ties to Dick Cheney, the former US vice president.

Meanwhile the US government has yet to pay out $490bn in benefits owed to veterans and their families.  

"I actually believe that life in Iraq was safer for many Iraqis under Saddam than it was under what's been created as a result of the US invasion and occupation. In Saddam's Iraq, if you kept your mouth shut ... you generally could keep yourself and your family safe. Now in Iraq you have some of the same realities with various faction leaders, if you speak out against them, your family could be hunted down and killed ... Iraq is incredibly destable, you still have suicide bombings, that was very very rare under Saddam's regime."

- Jeremy Scahill, the national security correspondent for The Nation

Iraqi human rights groups and US veterans have filed a joint case against the US government in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights demanding accountability and reparations for both wounded veterans and Iraqis.

The 10th anniversary of the Iraq war was greeted with little fanfare in Washington.

But the same media outlets who finessed the Bush administration's case for war have been covering the anniversary. Often using the same analysts and journalists who failed to question the official narrative ten years ago.

So, ten years on from the invasion of Iraq, are the right questions finally being asked? And have US politicians, pundits and journalists learnt from their mistakes?

Inside Story Americas, with presenter Shihab Rattansi, discusses with guests: Jeremy Scahill, the national security correspondent for The Nation; Peter Hart, the activism director for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting; and Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the senior correspondent for The Washington Post and a former Baghdad bureau chief for the newspaper.

"I joined the army in 2001, I was 19 years old, it was a few months after I graduated from high school. People always ask: Why did you join the military? And I don't really know. I think part of it was looking for adventure, part of it was trying to do something good with myself, something positive with my life.
"My second deployment, which was the actual invasion of Iraq, was where I got to really experience Iraqi culture, meet Iraqi people. We felt pretty awful because we came to a factory in Iraq that we basically took over and made our operations base. And people had been working there, the factory had been running until we got there. So some of the folks who had worked there came and did work for us at our small base.

"And we would eat lunch together every day, and they were so generous. And we would lay out this cardboard on the floor and everybody would sit down. I was tasked with guarding these people yet I felt more connected to them than the people from my unit I was serving with. We would go to this little market, down the street from where our base was all the time, we would get vegetables and eggs. That was a real treat for us ... I would just be standing around chatting with these kids .... I really liked seeing them. It was a bright spot in my time there.

"When I look back at 10 years of war, you know, this little boy is in his 20s now, and how does he feel and what is his life like after having his whole youth be in an occupied country. I dream of going back and trying to find some of the people who I was connected with and find out what has happened to them in the 10 years since we've met."

Maggie Martin, an Iraq war veteran


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