10 years on, Iraq still grapples with violence
AP PhotoThe U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam Hussein aimed to enshrine a liberal democracy in the heart of the Middle East but instead unleashed sectarian violence and endless political disputes.
Launched with the stated goal of wiping out Saddam’s stores of weapons of mass destruction, which were never found, the focus of the divisive war quickly shifted to solidifying Iraq as a Western ally in an unstable region. But the removal of Saddam gave Iraq’s non-Arab neighbor Iran the opportunity to dramatically increase its sway in the country. And since the departure of American forces at the end of 2011, Washington has often struggled to exert influence over Baghdad.
Iraqi officials have not announced any ceremonies to mark the anniversary today, with events more likely to be held on April 9 to mark the day Baghdad fell. Though the war itself was relatively brief, it began on March 20, 2003, Baghdad fell weeks later, and then-U.S. president George W. Bush infamously declared the mission accomplished on May 1, its aftermath was violent and bloody.
Highlighting increasing sectarian tensions, a wave of bombings tore through Baghdad yesterday morning, killing at least 56 people and wounding more than 200. There were 20 explosions and several gun attacks predominantly targeting Shiite Muslims, with most of the attacks striking in Baghdad’s north and east.
The attacks, mostly by car bombs, targeted small restaurants, day laborers and bus stops in the Iraqi capital and nearby towns over a span of more than two hours. The bombings came 10 years to the day that Washington announced the start of the invasion on March 19, 2003, though by that time it was already the following morning in Iraq.
Since the invasion, at least 112,000 Iraqi civilians, several thousand more policemen and soldiers, and 4,800 foreign troops have died in the carnage. Violence, which remains high by international standards, was only brought under some measure of control from 2008 onward, as the American troop “surge” coincided with Sunni tribal militias deciding to side with U.S. forces. But political reconciliation, the strategic goal of the surge, was never fully achieved.
From territorial disputes in the north to questions over the apportioning of the country’s vast energy revenues, a number of high-level problems remain unresolved, while Iraqis still grapple with daily struggles ranging from poor provision of basic services to high levels of unemployment. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s erstwhile government partners, meanwhile, have charged him with monopolizing power, and little in the way of landmark legislation has been passed in recent years.
However, a bright spot has been Iraq’s booming oil sector, which has boosted the government’s coffers and is projected to expand still further.