In May 2011, William Hague went on the BBC’s Politics Show and defended the invasion of Iraq. He did so by saying that:
“It is a much better place than we found it. Remember, it was previously a ruthless dictatorship and it was a menace and a danger to the peace of that region and for the wider world as was shown by Saddam Hussein launching two wars against his neighbours during his time ruling Iraq. Now it is a democratic country. It still has many difficulties but it is a democratic country, its economic prosperity is growing, its potential for a positive role in the region is now growing. So we are leaving it a better place and it was worth doing what we have done”.
‘Now it is a democratic country’.
I was reminded of this upon reading a newly published article by Sarah Leah Whitson, the middle east director at Human Rights Watch. In it, she documents how Iraq is standing on the ‘brink of a new civil war’. She lays much of the blame for this situation firmly at the feet of the supposedly ‘democratic’ Maliki regime.
Among it’s transgressions, Whitson documents how this ‘democratic’ government has recently:
- ‘launched a vicious assault on a Sunni protest camp, resulting in 44 deaths; executed 21 alleged Sunni terrorists in one day, and suspended the licenses of 10 satellite channels, 9 of them deemed pro-Sunni’.
- How ‘Ten years after the U.S.-led invasion, most people still experience electricity and water shortages. Iraq’s education and health services, once Middle East jewels, are skeletons of their past’, while ‘unemployment and poverty have spiraled to record peace-time levels’.
- And how there is a tendency towards ‘increasingly centralized power in the hands of the prime minister; and brutal policing, with mass arrests, unfair trials and endemic torture in Iraqi prisons’.
This is of a pace with previous reports on Iraq by Human Rights Watch, who in 2012 described how ‘Despite U.S. government assurances that it helped create a stable democracy, the reality is that it left behind a budding police state’, which ‘cracked down harshly during 2011 on freedom of expression and assembly by intimidating, beating, and detaining activists, demonstrators, and journalists’.
So then: centralisation of power, endemic torture, mass executions, unfair trials, mass arrests, the suppression of critical media outlets, and the persecution and intimidation of peaceful protestors, with a sectarian bent. None of this sounds very democratic to me.
‘We are leaving it a better place and it was worth doing what we have done’.
I can well imagine that there are some Iraqis who now think the country ‘is a better place’ than it was pre-invasion. For others, it seems, life has become much worse. These people might include, as a War Child report recently pointed out, a huge number of Iraq’s post-invasion generation children. Here are some of the pertinent facts from that report:
- ‘51% of 12-17 year olds do not attend secondary school’.
- ‘One in four children has stunted physical and intellectual development due to under-nutrition’.
- ‘In 2011 a survey found up to 1 million children have lost one or both parents in the conflict’.
- ‘In 2010, 7 years after the conflict began, it was estimated that over a quarter of Iraqi children, or 3 million, suffered varying degrees of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder’.
- ‘The life expectancy of ordinary Iraqis has gone down by two years in just over a decade. If you were born in 2000 instead of 2011 you could expect to live 2 years longer’.
- Between December 2012 and April 2013, ‘An estimated 692 children and young people have been killed’ in conflict related violence., and more ‘than 1,976 children and young people have been injured’. These figures are almost certainly underestimates.
While I don’t want to paint the children of Iraq as passive victims who have only ever experienced misery – there are still moments of happiness and fun and contentment and silliness and hope to be found even in the middle of war zones, i’d expect – it’s clear the conflict has taken a devastating physical and mental toll on them.
‘Potential for a positive role in the region is now growing’.
It is perhaps worth pointing out here that there have been numerous reports that the Maliki regime is knowingly facilitating arms transfers from Iran to the regime in Syria, thus – surely – helping to exacerbate the conflict there.
Hague’s ‘much better place’, then, is a country still wracked by conflict, with a strong likelihood that this conflict will only get worse in the months ahead; where the government engages in the widespread and quite horrific repression of its citizens; where millions of children remain traumitazed and impoverished; and which is contributing to regional instability by allegedly helping to funnel arms to the Assad regime (which is, ironically enough, the new Official Bad Guy on the block). And this is without even mentioning the hundreds of thousands killed and millions displaced since 2003; the decimation of the health sector; and the record rise in cancers and children being born with birth defects.
William Hague now wants to ‘save lives’ and, presumably, make Syria a ‘much better place‘ via military intervention as well. Let’s hope for Syria’s sake that someone can stop him.