Change My Mind: Ten Years On, Was The Iraq War Worth It?

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Ten years on from the historic and record-breaking demonstrations against the Iraq war, the Huffington Post UK is asking "Was It Worth It?" at a public debate, co-hosted with Goldsmiths, University of London.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and hundreds of Brits, have lost their lives over the past decade - but the Anglo-American invasion also resulted in the toppling of Saddam Hussein and his brutal regime.

Below, two prominent Iraqi activists - Dr Ali Latif, chair of the Iraqi Prospects Organisation, and novelist Haifa Zangana - debate whether or not we can say the war was worth it.

Can they change your mind?

Both Latif and Zangana will be speaking at Goldsmiths tonight (Thursday 7 February), alongside Clare Short, David Aaronovitch, Mehdi Hasan and others. For free tickets, click here


Pre-debate poll:

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Ten years on, was the Iraq war worth it?

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Who makes the better argument?

Ali Latif Founder and current chair of the Iraqi Prospects Organisation (IPO)

Ten years ago, Iraq was a country beyond desperation. The previous two decades had witnessed the end of a disastrous war with Iran, the first Gulf War, a decade of crushing sanctions and a brutal regime that showed no sign of disappearing. It was a humanitarian disaster unfolding in slow motion, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis lost their lives but it was far away from international focus and the world looked on in indifferent silence. Starved, beaten and abandoned, Iraqis were resigned to spending ever more years in muffled anguish.

The US plan for regime change came as a bolt from the blue, it raised the prospect of what was previously unthinkable - a way out of the ongoing nightmare, no pointless airstrikes or punitive sanctions but the prospect of real change. We were under no illusion that this was a war for our salvation but the end of Saddam's regime was certainly in sight. It was only then that the world's 'moral conscience' awoke and protested against the war and by default the end of the regime.

The war was over quickly but the post-war occupation proved disastrous. The coalition didn't have enough troops to establish the country's security, they exacerbated sectarian divisions and reconstruction efforts failed miserably. Poor planning, arrogance or naivety can be blamed for a lot of what happened but the idea that an alternative such as diplomacy or a home-grown revolution would have avoided what we witnessed is frankly absurd.

Decades of war, poverty and tyranny created a host of complex and intractable problems that were only kept in check by the brutality of the regime. One only needs to look at the countries caught up in the Arab Spring to see that the aftermath is never straight-forward. Moreover Iraq would never have been a Tunisia but a larger scale and bloodier Syria, complete with an ethno-sectarian patchwork, murderous regime and unhelpful neighbours.

Academics, journalists and policy makers may continue to debate the war but it is ultimately a question for Iraqis to answer and time and again surveys show the vast majority happy to be rid of that regime. What's more we have moved on as despite the difficult years, we are now in a position to confront our challenges and decide our own future. We only have to look at the past several years to see evidence of this empowerment. Iraqis through mass protests ensured their constitution was written by an elected committee, at each election they have transformed their parliament and local councils, ridding them of those that did not perform, and they have successfully denied the US the bases it was planning to establish in their country.

Despite these successes, the path toward s democracy will not be easy. The current political system remains dysfunctional, corruption is hampering economic progress and social divisions threaten the very fabric of the country. Yet there is a great deal of optimism. Through my work and visits there, I witness the investment pouring in, the standard of living rocketing and people free to debate Iraq's many woes but also plan for their future.

Iraqis have witnessed many dark days and they continue to be frustrated by a country struggling with its past, present and future, but what's different is that they now have a stake in their country. Bystanders no more, they can help to shape their future. It is still too early to tell where Iraq is heading but as the political system continues to mature and democratic institutions slowly establish themselves it looks likely that we will look back at this war as a starting point for Iraq's journey towards stability and prosperity.

Haifa Zangana Iraqi political activist, artist and novelist

When Madeleine Albright asked in May 1996 about the death of half a million Iraqi children as a result of UN sanctions, she said: "we think the price is worth it." By "it" she meant US interests, propping US hegemony, and preparing for regional military action.

But in 2003 George Bush, Tony Blair and company labelled "it" Iraqis' human rights. Bush said: "Every woman in Iraq is better off because the rape rooms and torture chambers of Saddam Hussein are forever closed." Paul Bremer, head of occupation authorities, told the world Iraqis "do not have to worry about the secret police. Those days are over."

The reality is different.

The shock and awe that the US and UK subjected Iraqis to was not just the bombardment and destruction of their infrastructure but the abuses and torture. The occupiers paved the way for their continuity.

Human Rights Watch's 2012 report noted that the human rights of Iraqis "are violated with impunity". In 2013 HRW reported Iraq's security forces' continued use of "threats, violence, and arrests of protesters and journalists" and that units from three ministries, as well as from the prime minister's office, have "secret prisons" outside the law, and that there was a "record number of executions in 2012."

The regime is consumed by sectarian, ethnic division, but above all by corruption, squandering 0 billion of oil revenue, 10 times as much as what Iraq has gained from oil for the previous 70 years. Meanwhile, thousands of US "diplomats", Security contractors, CIA operatives and Special Operations units occupy the biggest embassy compound in the region, adjoining and effectively manipulating the government in central Baghdad.

Since 2003 over one million Iraqis died by airstrikes, checkpoint shootings, mercenaries, car bombs, and suicide bombers. Only 150,000 are acknowledged. Typical of the killers is the US soldier who said: "We'd open up on anything. They even didn't have to be armed. We were keeping scores." For him, Iraqis are "not even people, you know. Like, they're not humans."

Over 44% of the regime's budget is spent on security: 800,000 army, police, Special Forces and private security contractors to protect high officials and members of the parliament. A bureaucracy that has doubled in size since 2003 swallows most of the rest: mostly a parasitic social base. Meantime households endure 18 hours without electricity, no clean water (70%) and no functioning sanitation (80%). In Baghdad, nearly two-thirds of the city's sewage still flows untreated to rivers and other waterways.

Oxfam reported in 2007 that 92% of Iraq's children have learning impediments. Kidnapping and assassination of professionals forced whoever canto flee. With hundreds of journalists killed hardly any independent foreign reporter is left inside Iraq.

As for women's rights; Mu'ta, and polygamy have taken us back a century. Mu'ta is a temporary marriage custom revived after 2003. A religious figure blesses a 'fixed term contract' for a few hours or years for a small dowry. A sanctioned form of prostitution for poor woman. Polygamy is presented as a solution to the huge number of widows.

Women are often detained to force their fleeing male relatives to surrender or admit crimes. Sexual abuses and the threats of rape are practised with impunity against both men and women. A detained Imam told a delegation of Iraqi MPs; "They forced us to talk by raping us'." Echoing US' Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004, Amnesty International describes a wing of a Baghdad's prison where "interrogators sodomized detainees with sticks and pistol barrels. Some young men said they had been forced to perform oral sex on interrogators and guards " and if not confess "threatened to rape the women and girls in their families". BBC Arabic reported the death of 34 detainees under torture in the last four months alone.

These systematic abuses are intended, but have failed to break people's will. For seven weeks now hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are demonstrating, in many cities calling for reforms and regime change.

While torture under Saddam was limited, mainly, to those who opposed the regime's unilateral rule, the occupation and subsequent Iraqi regime targeted a wide spectrum of the population. A crime designed to couple collective humiliation with intimidation and terror. We did not struggle for decades to exchange a tyranny with several fragmented tyrannies of a more barbaric nature to add to blatant theft of national wealth and lack of basic services. Those responsible for this tragedy must be held accountable.



Did one of the arguments change your mind?

Ten years on, was the Iraq war worth it?


Agree - Thanks for voting again! Here are the results:



moreless AgreeDisagreeUndecided

Ali LatifHaifa ZanganaNeither argumenthas changed the most minds