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 $600 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.