Operation 'Iraqi Freedom', launched outside the international community, plunged the country into chaos and left hundreds of thousands of victims
MADRID, 19 Mar. (EUROPA PRESS) -
Iraq commemorates this Monday the twentieth anniversary of the start of the invasion led by the United States, launched on March 20, 2003 outside the United Nations with the aim of overthrowing Saddam Hussein, still far from materializing the promise of then US President George W. Bush, to open a new page of democratization in the Middle East.
The invasion, backed by the United Kingdom and Spain, was launched on the premise that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and had been implicated in the attacks of September 11, 2001, arguments that have since been discredited and have damaged the image of Washington in the region.
Bush gave the order to launch the offensive -- which during its early days was known as "Shock and Awe" -- as part of an expansion of the so-called "war on terror" launched in response to 9/11 with the invasion of Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban regime - back in power since August 2021 - although this time it did not have the support of the international community.
Operation 'Iraqi Freedom' had the stated goal of "disarming Iraq, liberating its people and defending the world from grave danger" after advocating for months that Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction, including an appearance by the then secretary of State, Colin Powell, at the United Nations to present alleged evidence of this program.
The invasion, considered one of the biggest mistakes of the Bush Administration, left hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead, in addition to more than 4,000 US soldiers, and resulted in an increase in Iran's weight in the region and an increase of violence that led to the rise of groups like Islamic State, damaging the stated goal of combating terrorism.
In fact, despite the iconic images of the demolition of Hussein's statue in Baghdad in April 2003 and Bush's speech in front of a banner with the slogan 'Mission accomplished', the conflict led to the strengthening of groups such as Al Qaeda and ultimately gave birth to Islamic State, which in 2014 launched an offensive that seized control of parts of Iraq and Syria.
The war was used by extremist groups to unite their efforts against the United States, which has been an important recruitment tool for Islamic State and other militias. In addition, the fact that the invasion was launched outside the international framework served to discredit Washington's moral stance and has had reverberations in other conflicts in which the international community has tried to use its weight to stop an invasion, as is the case from Ukraine.
The war triggered a resistance movement that, although it could not face the US military power during the first phase of the offensive -which ended in a clear victory for Washington-, led to a guerrilla war with terrorist tactics that plunged the country into violence.
The controversial decision of the United States to dissolve the Baath apparatus and the security forces plunged the country into chaos that allowed armed groups to flourish, many of them dependent on illegal activities to finance their activities and that over time increased the intercommunal tensions.
Thus, large-scale violence broke out again in 2006 after an attack on a Shiite mausoleum in the city of Samarra, north of Baghdad, which led to a civil war that left thousands dead and deepened the political and social crisis. According to Iraq Body Count data, by the time of the US withdrawal in 2011, more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed.
Subsequently, the Islamic State offensive, taking advantage of the poor preparation of the security forces and religious tensions --as well as the war in Syria-- allowed the jihadists to declare a "caliphate" that remained in place in the country until December 2017, when Baghdad claimed victory after years of bloody and costly military offensive.
Since then, the relative increase in stability has been hindered by the ongoing crisis of legitimacy of the institutions and the existing tensions between the different groups, which is reflected in the fact that after the last elections, held in October 2021, it was necessary about a year to form the current government.
The fall of the regime and the dismantling of Baath rule led to a strengthening of the Shiite parties and Kurdish groups through a tripartite system of representation alongside the Sunnis at the level of Prime Minister, President and Speaker of Parliament, respectively, and it opened the door to holding various elections, although the system has remained fragile and has not allowed the introduction of reforms that really improve the situation of the population.
In this context, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis staged a wave of protests in 2019 against corruption and the shortage of basic services, in a show of widespread frustration at the mismanagement of the political class and interference from Iran.
The situation is marked by the fact that close to half of the Iraqi population was born after the start of the invasion and faces enormous difficulties in finding employment in an economy almost totally dependent on oil, which during the last decade has meant more 99 percent of exports and 85 percent of government budgets, according to World Bank data.
In January 2021, the unemployment rate exceeded 20 percent, mainly affecting young people, deeply dissatisfied with the political and economic elites, perceived as widely corrupt, while the public system continues to be unreliable due to the inability to reactivate it after two years. decades of conflict and instability.
The increase in the influence of Iran -- part of Bush's "axis of evil," along with Iraq and North Korea -- was one of the unintended consequences of the United States at the time of the invasion, since it opened the door to an expansion of its regional projection that was later materialized in its role in countries such as Yemen, Syria and Lebanon.
Tehran took advantage of the rise to power of various Shiite parties to increase its influence and use Baghdad as a platform, allowing it to connect by land with Syria and directly with its ally in Lebanon, the Shiite militia party Hezbollah. This 'axis of resistance' has played a leading role in the conflicts in the Middle East since 2011, in line with the 'Arab Spring', which also undermined the position of the United States' traditional allies in the region, including Israel. and Saudi Arabia.
Despite this, some voices still defend the invasion, arguing that the situation would be worse if Hussein had remained in power, while the United States still maintains a limited military presence --2,500 troops, well below the 170,000 it deployed in 2007, and for advisory and training duties-- helping to contain the threat from Iran.
Iraq has also managed to strengthen its security forces with US support and, after the end of the 'caliphate', it hopes to stabilize the economic situation through a series of reforms that can finally materialize the demands of the population for a better quality of life. life and fundamental rights nearly two decades after the outbreak of the war.