The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Emanuel Stoakes Headshot

Why We Must Not Forget Iraq

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

It has been a little over a week since the ninth anniversary of the Iraq war's launch. Watching the UK news over recent days, it seemed that at this milestone moment, serious mainstream media reflection on a conflict that officially ended only months ago were in short supply.

This, even as the fragile, ostensibly liberated nation we invaded in 2003 continues to be riven by toxic sectarian tensions that some careful commentators allege western political meddling remains chiefly responsible for.

Perhaps the grave legacy of Britain's war-before-last- anniversary or not- has been simply overshadowed by the various present-day crises that continue to grip the news. Nothing too unusual there, one might think: there are plenty of things that are happening right now on both sides of the Atlantic that are worthy of deep concern: the NDAA bill among them, re-animating much of the Iraq-era assaults on civil liberties that the patriot act came to embody. However, even that outrageously illiberal bill has been criminally under-reported (especially here) in comparison to other affairs that dance daily through the media; in particular, the cuts and their consequences, the eurozone crisis and related economic affairs.

Yet Iraq should not be forgotten - for so many reasons, one among them that it highlights rank Western hypocrisy over alleged war-related criminality connected to massive civilian suffering.

Recently, the US and UK have been pushing for a resolution at the Security Council to the on-going horror in Syria, finding their efforts stymied by Russia and China; in Geneva, at the Human Rights Council the US managed to successfully spearhead a resolution calling on Sri Lanka to demonstrate accountability over its civil war effort.

Yet, nine years since the launch of a war that resulted in mass civilian casualties (between 100,000 and a million depending on who you read) that easily dwarf those of both of the conflicts that Washington seems to have sought justice for on the international stage, the possibility of an independent UN inquiry into the Iraq war remains unimaginable.

Why? The tortured casus belli for Iraq looks as lacking in substance as it ever has, the Al-Qaeda-Saddam Hussein links seems to remain as mythical as Baghdad's ghost WMDs, and the admission of former CIA asset 'Curveball' (the man responsible for much of the discredited 'evidence' sold to the public over Iraq) that he misled Washington, indicate that claims the Bush White House and Blair's clique were hell-bent on finding intelligence-of whatever quality- to suit fixed policies are perhaps not insubstantial. A number of high-level figures from inside the US intelligence, political or military camp have stated that Washington ignored intelligence did not fit what they wanted to hear about the Husseinite 'threat'.

It is easy to imagine that perhaps the public are just too tired of being reminded about such a deeply unpopular war, too concerned with the problems that arrest us at present to be re-acquainted with the hellish consequences of the second gulf war on both our troops and ordinary Iraqis (and let us not forget Pakistanis blown to bits by drones as a part of the Obama 'war on terror'). Such attitudes are not so hard to sympathise with: after all, the government, not British citizens are meant to be responsible for such matters-we just want to get on with life, don't we?

However, from another point of view, as human beings above all else, should we so easily forget, or be ignorant of, the leaden human rights nightmares associated with a war launched in the name of our security? Why shouldn't we acknowledge that the Iraqis are a people who, even prior to the invasion of Iraq, had their nation devastated by an ineffective western-led sanctions programme that killed 500,000 children according to UNICEF, without impacting seriously on Saddam?

Likewise, perhaps images of unconscionable physical deformity and infant suffering, ever ignored by many major news networks, likely caused by wartime coalition assaults involving depleted uranium in Fallujah are just too inadmissibly horrifying for sustained reflection. No serious reparations, and certainly no high-level international inquiry has been undertaken into the consequences of the offensives that probably caused the widespread birth defects wrought by our weaponry in that war-haunted city, yet again affecting swathes of innocent children. "Hostiles", "enemy combatants", or "Al-Qaeda terrorists" these victims were not.

Is this fair? Doesn't the media have an obligation to call Washington to account for its lack of action on this under-reported, unresolved human hell imposed on civilians, even years after alleged crimes were committed- this being only one among many other appalling incidents tied to the war on terror?

Perhaps our mainstream media is too preoccupied with the threat of a fresh middle-eastern war on the near horizon to engage in such an act of remembrance. For if they did, an acute sense of deja vu might arrest the public, already war-wary and concerned about the consequences of a strike on Iran's nuclear programme. The publicly stated concerns of former International Atomic Energy Agency staff of ignored facts and hidden agendas at play at the agency combined with compromising statements about the IAEA director revealed by wikileaks, echo Iraq. The insights of investigative journalist Seymour Hersh have crystallised this sense of history repeating itself- with a little help from the Prime Minister.

The past, as they say, is the past: it cannot be redeemed except perhaps by altering the future, or ameliorating the pain of those still impacted by it. This we may still be able to do: the US can still honestly, transparently investigate Fallujah, Haditha, all the other incidents stained by blood and ignominy. Simultaneously, the martial music intensifying over Iran can be confronted with an alternative theme: that war should not be as Robert Fisk-arguably our best war journalist still writing - once reflected to me, merely a policy option when other approaches have failed. It is, he observed from decades of bearing witness to conflict: "the complete failure of the human spirit"; the inference being that it should not be resorted to without having tried- genuinely tried- to exhaust alternative solutions to any given crisis.

To this end, perhaps above all others, we must not forget Iraq: so that we never forget what war means- especially for the innocent , including children.

As citizens of a state that plausibly could be dragged into a new, hellish Middle Eastern war this year, it may be worth telling our political representatives in no uncertain terms that there's still time to talk to Tehran. In fact, this was something we could have done in 2003 when Iran made an astonishingly comprehensive offer that could- and should- have led to peace, but was rejected by the idiots "on the hill", architects of a war that now stands as a warning from history that we forget at our peril.