Iraq 10 Years On: Was It Worth It?
The wheezing traction engine of Blair rage is being cranked into action again, as the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq (20 March) approaches. Each time, the arguments on the anti side become simpler and more removed from what happened at the time.
I couldn’t make it to Thursday’s debate at Goldsmith’s, “Iraq 10 Years On: Was It Worth It?” It wasn’t the most interesting question – that would still be “Was It Right?”, or “Was It Justified?” – but what appears striking from the live blog is that no one cited evidence about what Iraqis think,* which, if you are going to ask that question, might seem to be an important part of the answer.
In 2006, when the sectarian disorder was at its worst, most Iraqis thought that the answer was yes.
University of Maryland Program on International Policy Attitudes (World Public Opinion) poll, in September 2006: “Thinking about any hardships you might have suffered since the US-Britain invasion, do you personally think that ousting Saddam Hussein was worth it or not?” 61 per cent said it was “worth it”; 37 per cent “not worth it”.
I don’t know what the answer would be now, as nobody seems to be carrying out opinion polls in Iraq, although security has improved since 2006 (it is still bad, though: the murder rate has fallen from the peak of 29,000 in 2006 to around 4-5,000 a year now). I suppose media organisations are not interested enough to commission them.
But I have the next best thing, which is the new book by Toby Dodge, Iraq: From War to a New Authoritarianism, which tries to assess the state of the country now. Dodge, of the LSE and IISS, represents a point of view that will hardly feature in the hate fest of the next few weeks, and that did not feature in the Goldsmith’s debate. He opposed the war on reasonable and knowledgeable grounds, and he accepts that the motives of American and British leaders in invading Iraq were straightforward.
His assessment, as might be gleaned from the title of his book, is gloomy. He looks at the three main causes of instability in Iraq:
1. A general legitimation of the use of violence and the flourishing of sectarianism;
2. The weakness of the state;
3. The political settlement established in the wake of invasion: “an exclusive elite pact, specifically designed to mobilise people along sectarian lines and minimise the role of the Sunni and secular sections of society in government”.
Of these, only the second has been tackled, he says, and that only partially. “The civilian arm of the state is still very weak,” Dodge says, but Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, has firm control of the new armed forces and police. For that reason, he asserts bluntly, “Iraq will not return to civil war.”
Dodge says that the political settlement remains unstable. Maliki has done deals with his rival Shia factions, led by Moqtada al-Sadr and Asaib Ahl al-Haq, but the Sunni and the Kurds remain unreconciled, and Maliki has used the security forces to enforce authoritarian rule.
Despite tens of thousands of civilians who have died and the billions of dollars that have been spent, the lives of ordinary Iraqis, in terms of the relationship to their state and to their economy, are comparable to the situation they faced in the country before regime change. The significant positive differences – the composition of the current ruling elite and the democratic national elections – appear to be under sustained threat, and were bought at an unimaginably high cost.
It is a sad story. What a shame it will not be told in the forthcoming orgy of conspiracy theorising.
*Update, 12 Feb: Mehdi Hasan points out that he did mention the Zogby 2011 and BBC 2005 polls. I stand corrected. He noted Zogby’s finding that 30% of Iraqis said they were better off after the invasion. I am sure he also mentioned that 55% of Iraqis were “optimistic … about the long-term prospects for stability and progress in your country”.Tagged in: ban blair baiting, blair rage, iraq body count, iraq war
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