20 years after US invasion, war-scarred Iraq faces uncertain future

AFP , Monday 20 Mar 2023

Iraq on Monday marks 20 years since the start of the US-led invasion that toppled former president Saddam Hussein, but no official celebrations are planned.

People shop at the Shorja market in the centre of Iraq s capital Baghdad on March 19, 2023. AFP


The oil-rich country remains traumatised from the years of war, occupation and bloody sectarian turmoil that followed the operation launched on March 20, 2003.

A semblance of normalcy has returned, but Iraq still battles a range of entrenched challenges, from political instability to poverty and rampant corruption.

Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al-Sudani has not spoken of the US invasion but only of the "fall of the dictatorial regime" of Saddam, who was later caught, tried and executed.

At a Baghdad conference on the eve of the anniversary, Sudani said: "We remember the pain and suffering of our people in those years that were dominated by senseless wars and systematic sabotage."

The US march to war started under then-president George W. Bush and gained pace in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States by Osama bin Laden's militant group Al-Qaeda.

Bush, backed by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, argued that Saddam presented a major threat and was developing weapons of mass destruction, although none were ever found.

"Shock and awe"

Operation Iraqi Freedom was launched with a ground invasion led by 150,000 US and 40,000 British forces, and the "shock and awe" bombing of strategic sites.

Within three weeks, Saddam's regime had fallen, and the invasion forces took control of the capital Baghdad on April 9.

TV footage beamed around the world soon showed US Marines toppling a giant statue of Saddam, and later Bush declaring the "Mission Accomplished" aboard an American warship.

But the invasion had sparked widespread disorder and looting, chaos deepened by the US decision to disband the Iraqi state, ruling party and military apparatus.

The stated US drive to bring liberal democracy to Iraq was soon derailed by violence and sectarian conflict as Shia militants battled with Sunni groups.

By the time US troops left in 2011, the war had claimed the lives of more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians, according to the Iraq Body Count group, while US losses reached nearly 4,500.

The bloodshed would eventually give rise to the Islamic State group whose jihadist "caliphate" brought new horrors across Iraq and Syria before its eventual defeat, after a US-led coalition returned to help fight them.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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