Was Iraq Worth It?
David Aaronovitch, writing for the Guardian (Feb. 24, 2004)
I know it's true that, as an old friend in Australia pointed out to me in an email last week,"It doesn't really matter very much if you were wrong or I was wrong. One hundred years from now, some very clever historians with access to material we all know nothing about may prove the point conclusively, one way or another. What matters is what happens now."
Now, nearly a year after the beginning of the coalition invasion of Iraq, something is beginning to be created, and it doesn't look like anything that anybody quite anticipated. It is more complex, more difficult, more beset by difficulties and tragedies than anyone who supported the invasion ever allowed before the war.
Judging from those relatively few reports that do not deal with the security situation, it seems that parts of the national infrastructure of Iraq, such as electricity and water supply, have taken far longer to repair or construct than expected. Many hospitals still suffer terrible shortages. Unemployment is over 50%. Crime and fear of crime are very high in some places, with many abductions and murders. There is widespread disappointment at the gulf between the material promises and the reality of post-Saddam Iraq.
And, of course, there are the bombings and ambushes, aimed at the Iraqi police, NGO offices, CNN journalists, Shi'a clerics, communists and soon, doubtless, as those targets protect themselves, at buses and markets. The security failure above all has helped to create the other failures. Attempts by coalition forces to contain such attacks have had the inevitable effect of alienating sections of the population whose houses have been raided or who have been subject to rough treatment by occupying forces.
I bundle these negatives together because we are now four months away from the handover of power from the coalition authority to the new sovereign Iraqi entity; an entity whose shape and origin we are still not sure of. And because, between them, they constitute a major reason why the influential organisation, Human Rights Watch, made the judgment a few weeks ago that the invasion of Iraq could not be justified on humanitarian grounds, the grounds that people like me have specifically used to justify it."The difficulty of establishing stable institutions in Iraq," wrote HRW,"is making the country an increasingly unlikely staging ground for promoting democracy in the Middle East."...
...And here we come to it. Three weeks ago, a few days after the devastating bombs in the Kurdish city of Erbil, a representative of the Kurdish PUK, Barham Salih, addressed a meeting of the council of the Socialist International in Madrid."Friends," he told them,"our nightmare of the Saddam Hussein fascist tyranny is over. The world should have acted sooner to end the killing fields and stop mass graves in Iraq. Good social democrats should be making the moral argument that the war of liberation in Iraq came too late for so many innocent victims of Saddam's fascist tyranny. And the lesson for the international community should be (that) it must be prepared to act in time and pre-empt terrible tragedies from happening again anywhere else in the world."
I respect HRW, but there is, in Salih's words, a reproach and a demand, neither of which can be ignored."Most Iraqis," Salih went on,"see the moral and political imperative for the war of liberation as overwhelming." The Guardian's own Salam Pax put it in his different way, two weeks ago."Saddam is gone, thanks to you. Was it worth it? Be assured it was. We all know that it got to a point where we would have never been rid of Saddam without foreign intervention; I just wish it would have been a bit better planned."
Meanwhile many good things have been happening. The Free Prisoners Association, for victims of the old regime, now has 17 offices throughout Iraq. There are 200 newspapers and Iraqis can debate and watch and listen freely. There is, for the first time in the country's history, a woman police officer, and women's organisations are active and demonstrating for equal rights. The Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) has recognised the Iraqi Federation of Trades Unions as"the legitimate and legal representatives of the labour movement in Iraq", despite an unexplained American raid on the IFTU's HQ in December. The UN is back in Iraq and helping to prepare the ground for elections in the next 18 months. The green shoots of civic society are pressing through what Salih has called the"broken clay" of the Iraqi state. This is despite the killing and bombing of organisations associated with this new Iraq...
...You could, as Tariq Ali and John Pilger have suggested, desire victory for the Iraqi"resistance" despite its massacres of the innocent, on the basis that, as Ali has put it,"Occupations are usually ugly. How, then, can resistance be pretty?" Or, in Pilger's words,"While we abhor and condemn the continuing loss of innocent life in Iraq, we have no choice now but to support the resistance, for if the resistance fails, the 'Bush gang' will attack another country. If they succeed, a grievous blow will be suffered by the Bush gang."
Or you could decide to heed Salih."I call upon you to help Iraqi democrats in this critical juncture of the history of the Middle East. To help us transform our country from the land of mass graves and aggression to the land of peace, justice and democracy. I can see an Iraq that is democratic, that is an anchor for peace in this troubled part of the world and a partner to civilised nations in pursuit of the universal values of human rights and justice. Thank you."
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