Lies, damned lies and weapons of mass destruction

March 19-20 marks 10 years since the beginning of the war on Iraq. Before the war, Socialist Alternative argued, along with other opponents of US imperialism, that the war was predicated upon lies and would bring nothing but death and carnage to Iraq.

There are times you would love to be proven wrong. This was one of them. But the reality of the destruction of Iraq was significantly worse than most people expected. Ten years on, the country has not even begun to recover.

Every war is based on lies – whether it be lies that German soldiers bayonetted babies and raped nuns in Belgium, or lies that Iraqi soldiers removed premature Kuwaiti babies from incubators. No empire is ever honest about its plans to dominate other countries. Here are the lies they told 10 years ago.

Lie #1: It was about liberation and democracy

Before the war, we heard account after account of the horrors of Saddam Hussein’s rule over Iraq. These horrors were real: back when he was an ally of the US in the 1980s, Saddam used chemical weapons to crush a Kurdish uprising, killing 6000 people with weapons purchased from his allies in the USA.

But while Saddam’s regime was brutal, the US never intended to free the country.

One US goal was to secure control over Iraq’s extensive oilfields. Another was to establish and maintain powerful military bases in Iraq to project force around the region. Neither of these goals was in any way compatible with a democratic Iraq, as any real democracy would insist that the oil revenues be used to help the population, and would also insist on foreign troops respecting its sovereignty.

Within days after the beginning of the occupation, the lies about liberation were exposed when a non-violent protest in Fallujah was machine-gunned by US troops, killing more than a dozen people. Their crime? Asking US troops to leave a school they were using as a temporary base so their children could return to normal life.

It would be only a year until horrific photographs showed that Saddam Hussein’s old torture chambers at Abu Ghraib were not shut down, but were merely under new management, US soldiers being photographed carrying out unspeakable crimes against Iraqi political prisoners who dared to demand freedom for their country.

Lie #2: Weapons of mass destruction

Without a doubt, this was the most infamous lie of the war. According to George Bush, Saddam Hussein was operating mobile chemical weapons laboratories, capable of developing deadly gases to spread over the West if he were not stopped. According to a secret dossier Tony Blair loved talking about, Iraq was capable of unleashing weapons of mass destruction against Britain at only 45 minutes’ notice.

This bullshit was reported night after night by every Western media outlet of note. Absolutely no evidence supporting either claim has ever been found. Blair’s dossier was later proven to be fraudulent. Perhaps the most compelling evidence that Iraq had no chemical weapons in 2003 is the fact that none were used by Saddam’s troops to defend the regime. This is in sharp contrast to the widespread use of depleted uranium, white phosphorus and other WMDs by the invading and occupying US forces. In Fallujah, DU and white phosphorous used in 2004 are still causing cancers and birth defects today.

Lie #3: Links between Iraq and September 11

As soon as the Afghanistan war had begun, these dubious links were being made in the press. Again, no evidence has ever surfaced, and prior to Iraq being targeted by the “war on terror”, Al-Qaeda had no influence in Iraq at all.

Lie #4: “Our troops” avoid killing civilians

This myth was shot out of the sky by the “Collateral Murder” video, leaked to Wikileaks, showing trigger-happy soldiers in a helicopter gunship shooting journalists and then anyone who came to help them. For allegedly leaking this evidence counteracting the lies about the war, Bradley Manning has spent three years in jail, much of it being tortured in solitary confinement.

Several years ago, a study into the number of deaths caused by the occupation appeared in the prestigious British medical journal Lancet. Using the same statistical methods used to estimate death tolls in other situations of genocide (including the Rwandan genocide and wars in the Congo), the study concluded that the occupation had been responsible for causing more than 600,000 deaths. Since Iraq’s population is similar to that of Australia, this would be like killing every single person in Canberra, Darwin and Launceston.

Many of the deaths were caused directly by bombs and bullets of the occupying forces, their victims considered nothing more than “collateral damage”.

Others died due to resistance actions or as a result of the civil war the occupation caused (see Lie #6). Others died because the occupation and the resulting chaos removed their access to medical treatment and basic hygiene.

These figures on casualties were confirmed by Opinion Research Business, a UK company which estimated that by September 2007, more than 1.2 million had been killed as a result of the war – as many people as the entire population of Adelaide.

Lie #5: Opposing the war is “betraying Aussie soldiers”

One of the most effective lies in getting people to acquiesce in the war was the idea that opposing the war once it began was a betrayal of Australian soldiers, especially once soldiers started to die in the war. This lie really started in the time of the Vietnam war, when Hollywood popularised the claim of veterans being spat upon by anti-war protesters – a claim that academic studies into the period have found no evidence for in newspapers from the era. The closest they found were reports of anti-war veterans being spat upon by supporters of the war.

The soldiers who died in Iraq did not die for freedom, democracy or any other ideal worth supporting. They were sacrificed as pawns by a brutal war machine, and to let our sympathy for them be channelled into support for the brutal war machine that killed them would be appalling. The troops still there should be immediately withdrawn, apologised to for being used as pawns and given all the support they need to help them deal with any physical or emotional trauma they suffered there.

Lie #6: “We need to stay to prevent chaos and civil war”

Before the war, Iraq had no history of sectarian violence between the Sunni and Shia communities or the small Christian community. Although the regime did favour Sunnis and discriminate against Shi’ites, intermarriage was common, and Baghdad’s suburbs were all home to a mixture of Sunnis and Shia.

When the resistance to the occupation grew in 2004, unity between Sunnis and Shia was one of its main strengths, and from very early on, the occupation forces tried to break it. Sunni troops were used to attack both Shia resistance fighters and Shia protests, and Shi’ite collaborators were sent to attack Sunnis. The November 2004 siege of Fallujah triggered an enormous united march of Sunnis and Shia that marched around a hundred kilometres from Baghdad to show solidarity with those under attack.

Faced with this unity, the occupying forces took action to break it. In 2005, CNN and the Chinese press documented a little-known incident in which British special forces dressed as Sunni insurgents were captured by Iraqi police. They were described as “in full Arabic dress, in a civilian car packed with explosives” – in other words, in the process of setting a car bomb – when they were arrested outside a Shi’ite mosque.

The British army actually launched a military attack on the jail in which these terrorists were being held, in which their two men escaped along with dozens of other prisoners. This incident occurred merely weeks before the bombing of the Golden Dome Mosque in Samarra in February 2006, which was the catalyst for the Sunni-Shia civil war that has racked Iraq since then. While no evidence has ever come to light that this bombing was caused by the occupation forces, it would fit with their divide-and-conquer strategy at the time.

Since the occupation forces started this civil war, the consequences have been horrific. While the initial attacks were carried out by the occupiers, the hell they unleashed has developed a life of its own as people seek revenge and the victims of those revenge attacks seek further retaliation.

Every suburb of Baghdad has now been ethnically cleansed and is single denomination. So many doctors have been killed (by Sunnis in retaliation for helping Shi’ites or vice versa) that Iraq’s health system, the best in the Middle East prior to 1992, cannot even deal with normal illness, much less large numbers of bullet and bomb wounds.

The idea that the occupation forces that deliberately caused this carnage to dominate the country could ever fix it is as despicable as it is naive.

This was a war of terror, based on lies. The individuals who led the war should be prosecuted, but more than that, the system of capitalism that leads to war after war needs to be overthrown.

Andrew Cheeseman
For Socialist Alternative (AU)