Déjà vu; Iraq after 10 years

Déjà vu; Iraq after 10 years

It has been 10 years since the U.S. invaded Iraq and more than a year since withdrawal of its soldiers were completed. The killings, kidnappings, instability and in-fighting within the country carry on all the same. On March 19th, the anniversary of the U.S. invasion, 56 people died in a car-bomb blast in Baghdad and it did not even make international news. The current carnage in the country is the legacy of the decision taken by the George W. Bush administration to invade Iraq in 2003, against widespread opposition from both within and outside the U.S. The purported reasons for the invasion were to stop Iraq’s program on weapons of mass destruction, to end its ties with Al-Qaeda, and through toppling the Saddam Hussein dictatorship, bring democracy to the country. Along the way, it became clear that there was no program on such weapons, not much connection with Al-Qaeda and not much infrastructure for democracy in the country. By the end of 2012, 4,486 Americans lost their lives in Iraq. The figure for Iraqis is widely disputed, but would not be less than 150,000, including civilians. Hundreds of thousands were injured, traumatized, displaced, became refugees, and trillions of dollars have been spent. Was it all worth it?

Considering the current situation in and around Iraq, the answer is at least doubtful.

Although there is an elected government in Baghdad now, the power struggle still continues and anti-democratic tendencies are abundant. The scuffle has increased after the withdrawal of U.S. troops in December 2011. Since then, sectarian fissures between Sunnis and Shi’ites have been deepened and Kurds in the north have consolidated their independent-like status.

While the Arab Spring and Iranian interference have deepened the sectarian divisions, the struggle between Kurdish groups in the north and the Shi’ite-dominated central government over territorial claims and oil resources have expanded. The International Energy Agency estimates that Iraq could become the second-largest oil exporter by 2030. The ongoing dispute between the central government and Kurds about allotting contracts to international energy companies is not only about the huge economic and political advantages that such authority would provide to its holder, but also sovereignty and the future unity of the country is on the line. Having such resources would inevitably encourage the Kurds toward official independence.

Under these circumstances, thinking positively about the future of Iraq still remains elusive. I contributed to a report published by the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey in July 2007, titled “Iraq’s Future and Turkey: At the Crossroads of Risks and Opportunities.” The Report highlighted the probable scenarios and looked into the ways Turkey could respond to such developments. However bleak the picture the authors drew there, it seems that most of the conclusions are still valid. (The full report can be accessed at http://www.tepav.org.tr/upload/files/1271232024r5640.Riskler_ve_Firsatlar_Kavsaginda_Irak_in_Gelecegi_ve_Turkiye.pdf).

From the U.S. perspective, despite the victory declaration of George W. Bush in May 2003, many observers believe that this “war of choice,” as Richard N. Haass put it, was a mistake for the U.S., in par with the Vietnam War. The invasion without a UN Security Council resolution damaged U.S. legitimacy in the international arena, increased anti-Americanism in the Middle East and affected the balance of power in the region in favor of Iran, proving the difficulty of regime change from the outside and causing huge economic costs to U.S. taxpayers in addition to lives lost, triggering a chain of instability in the Middle East.

Let me ask again: Was it worth all this?