|Lord Butler’s investigation found pre-war intelligence unreliable [GALLO/GETTY]|
Let’s face it – we were conned. Iraq had no WMDs and no links to Al Qaeda. Saddam Hussein never tried to purchase uranium from Niger or steel rods for centrifuges.
There was no threat – and the Bush administration and its allies knew it. They were clever, though. In the months preceding the invasion, we were drenched with drip-drip propaganda from the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon.
They played us like a symphony. They threatened, bribed and browbeat the UN and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) into playing the same tune, accompanied by Number Ten’s dodgy documents and Tony Blair’s convincing boyish grin.
At least former Secretary of State Colin Powell has the decency to be ashamed of his part in the con. Once the most respected member of the administration, he spun an elaborate fairy tale for the UN, antics he would later describe as “a blot” on his record.
Everyone forgot that prior to their campaign, the IAEA was poised to give Iraq a clean bill of health and many UN members were pushing to lift the crippling sanctions that had cut short the lives of up to 500,000 Iraqi children.
Changing the story
A US town celebrates Jessica Lynch’s
Make no mistake. This was a belligerent war of choice, planned long before the former Texas governor and his neoconservative coterie moved in to the White House. It was a scheduled step towards their hoped-for New American Century and New (marionette-managed) Middle East.
After the shredding of the Iron Curtain, they saw a chance to use their power to rid Israel of a foe and ensure America’s strategic rivals would never get their hands on Iraq’s sea of oil.
Donald Rumsfeld, US defense secretary until the Iraq quagmire prompted his resignation last November, would call this assertion “utter nonsense”. In fact, he already has. “We don’t take our forces, go round the world and try to take other people’s real estate or other people’s resources, their oil,” he once said. But that’s exactly what’s happened.
Even after troop reductions, Iraq will inherit five or more permanent US bases and the largest American embassy in the world. Moreover, Washington is pressuring Iraq’s government to pass an oil law permitting foreign oil companies to seal lucrative deals for decades to come.
As Alan Greenspan, retired US Federal Reserve chief, rightly pointed out, “It is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: The Iraq War is largely about oil.”
When they could no longer hide the truth – no thanks to a supine media – they switched their story. Iraq was bombed, invaded and occupied to bring love, light, freedom and democracy to a long-suffering people.
We were groomed to believe the end justified the means even as we watched “Shock and Awe” first light up Baghdad’s night sky in March five years ago, as well as the scorched and limbless corpses left in its wake.
They conned us again on April 9 by bussing in poor disgruntled Shias from what was then Saddam City to throw shoes at the statue of Saddam in Baghdad’s Firdous Square under the pretence that they were passers-by.
We were told that the statue’s destruction was a spontaneous act carried out by a grateful populace even as a US marine dragged it to the floor – but not before one of America’s finest climbed up to cover the dictator’s face with an American flag that “coincidently” had been flying over the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.
Then there was the story of Jessica Lynch, exclusively concocted by Pentagon Productions. With the aid of sycophants in the media, they told us a tearjerker about Lynch, a photogenic young private who had been ready to fight to the death before she was captured by the enemy.
Remember the grainy footage of her “rescue” straight out of a Hollywood action movie? The commandos landed without an Iraqi soldier in sight. They kicked in the unlocked doors of the hospital where she was being treated for injuries suffered during a vehicle accident and whisked her off to safety.
“Our brave heroes,” sobbed patriotic grannies from Vermont to California. There was just one problem – Jessica turned out to be a reluctant heroine. She spilled the beans. The Iraqi doctors and nurses had been kind to her and had been trying to find a way to hand her back to the Americans. And what’s more, she hadn’t been raped or beaten, as insinuated by the Pentagon.
|US soldier Sabrina Harmon over Manadel
al-Jamadi’s corpse in Abu Ghraib [GETTY]
But those who have been conned the worst are the Iraqi people. They were told to expect a better life without fear of a knock on the door at 4am or the threat of being dragged off to a torture chamber.
Those of us who remember Haditha, Fallujah and Abu Ghraib know how hollow those promises ring today.
Since 2003, up to one million Iraqis have been killed either by the Coalition, at the hands of government-backed militias or by insurgents’ bombs. Four million Iraqis have been displaced from their homes. One million – the brightest and the best – have emigrated, leaving hospitals without doctors and universities sans professors.
Millions of Iraqis are struggling with poverty due to unemployment and rampant inflation. Oxfam International, a conglomerate of aid groups, says four million Iraqis are going hungry and require humanitarian assistance.
The Baghdad-based Women’s Rights Association (WRA), which has surveyed 12 Iraqi provinces, found that an increasing number women and children are scavenging for food in garbage bins.
During the same period, 43,000 Iraqis have been detained in US facilities; only 1.5 percent of them have ever been charged with a crime. Those are the ones we know about. Thousands more have simply disappeared.
The availability of electricity, drinking water and proper sewage disposal is below pre-war levels. Almost $9 billion earmarked for reconstruction is still unaccounted for, while many reconstruction projects were never started or remain half-finished.
The American people were conned too. On March 16, 2003, Dick Cheney told Meet the Press that the Americans “will be greeted as liberators”. Someone should tell Cheney, the US vice president, that almost 4,000 of Iraq’s “liberators” have died in his war.
In December 2002, George Bush’s top budget official Mitchell Daniels estimated the cost of war would run $60 million at most. In March 2003, that estimate jumped to $2 billion. To date, the war has cost the US Treasury more than $845 billion.
Some economists blame the war for triggering rising oil prices and for a US recession whose repercussions are being felt around the globe.
Perhaps the con-merchants weren’t so clever after all. Their debacle in Iraq has encouraged a more polarised world and destroyed the US’s credibility as a force for good in the Middle East.
The only real winner to date has been Tehran. The US not only disposed of its arch-enemy Saddam, but is backing an Iraqi government stuffed with Iran’s ideological brothers.
No one knows Iraq’s future. Will Iraqis join together in a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation? Will the Americans and their allies ever hand over real sovereignty to the Iraqi people rather than a meaningless scrap of paper? Will a shiny new Iraq ever rise from the ashes and become the envy of the region?
And most importantly – will we ever allow ourselves to be conned like this again?
Linda S. Heard is a syndicated columnist specialising in Middle East affairs based in Cairo.