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.
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