“On the anniversary of one of America’s worst mistakes, we need to remember not only because we still owe an enormous debt to the people of Iraq. We need to remember because the war’s goals remain in place…”, writes Aayesha Soni. 

Last month marked the 15th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq by the US and its allies. As they choose to actively bomb and militarily engage in Syria this month, reflections of their warring effects in Iraq are still daunting. On the anniversary of one of America’s worst mistakes, we need to remember not only because we still owe an enormous debt to the people of Iraq. We need to remember because the war’s goals remain in place: expanding US military domination, controlling oil and pipelines, building an empire of military bases; and because the wars raging across the Middle East today find their origins in the Iraq War.

The two-decade war against Iraq caused the deaths of 1.7 million civilians – half of whom were children. But this tells you only part of the nightmare. According to UNHCR, there are 1.9 million internally displaced people in the country and 2 million refugees escaped to neighbouring countries. The United Nations Development Programme reports that one-third of the population now lives in poverty. Education has broken down. Further, Iraqis basic needs in drinking water, food, sanitation and electricity are not met. Hospitals lack basic medical supplies and are understaffed. Essentially, Iraq is a carcass of its former self.

In a study entitled “Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005-2009”, it was concluded that dramatic increases in infant mortality, cancer and leukaemia in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, which was bombarded by US Marines in 2004, exceed those reported by survivors of the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Researchers found a 38-fold increase in leukaemia, a ten-fold increase in female breast cancer and significant increases in lymphoma and brain tumours in adults. In the onslaught by the allied troops, there was no regard for civilians as live ammunition and chemical weapons (US forces later admitted that they had employed white phosphorus) were used indiscriminately. Scott Ritter, the former UN weapons inspector observed: “The irony is we invaded Iraq in 2003 to destroy its non-existent weapons of mass destruction. To do it, we fired these new weapons, causing radioactive casualties.” As a result of the use of dangerous weapons, particularly with exposure to uranium, lead and mercury, congenital birth defects have seen a rapid rise too.

If one is assessing the impact on Iraqis during the US invasion, the prison camps, most infamous being Abu Ghraib, can never go unmentioned. Confirmed reports of torture techniques too gruesome to reprint publically, as well as detention without trial of thousands of innocent Iraqis is an ugly stain on the flag of democracy and constitutional rights the US has always claimed to champion. According to a US soldier who was deployed in Samarra in 2005: “It was like the Nazis … like the Gestapo basically.”

The long-term effect of the invasion on the cultural heritage of Iraq cannot be overstated. Iraq-the cradle of civilization, which included some of the world’s greatest cultural treasures and sites, extraordinary museums and libraries, as well as historic mosques and shrines and hundreds of important archaeological sites, now lies in ruins. Documented on the official United States Department of Defense: Cultural Property Training Resource website, details of monuments being used as look-out points for snipers, targeted in aerial strikes and largely disregarded throughout all Western military escapades is an eye opening, yet painful, revelation.

Sold to the public by Bush and Blair in the media as a war that would make us safer, the illegal invasion was a catastrophe. The UK sensed the depravity of the war and in 2009 launched an “Iraq Inquiry,” a seven-year investigation led by Sir John Chilcot. The report makes clear that Bush, supported unreservedly by Blair, was going to invade Iraq no matter what allies advised, no matter what the international community thought, no matter what the weapons inspectors found, no matter that there was “no evidence of any Iraqi involvement with the attacks on the U.S. or active links to Al Qaeda,” and no matter what ambiguities were contained in the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. When the Chilcot report was released in 2016, a Bush spokesman released a defiant statement: “President Bush continues to believe the whole world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power.” Given the almost unfathomable death and destruction unleashed in Iraq and elsewhere that began with the invasion, this continued defiance reveals a staggering moral obtuseness. Further, to date nobody has been held accountable.

15 years on, we need to remember how the overthrow of Iraq’s government, the dismantling of its military, and the eradication of its civil service set the stage for years of military occupation and the imposition of a US-controlled sectarian political system resulting in decades of death and devastation for the Iraqi people. We need to remember that wars waged by power-mad men in the US and other Western countries have effects on the lives of civilians mostly, and that not to learn from our mistakes in the past will only doom us to repeat them. Iraq will forever remain a dark blot on modern day’s morality and humanity.

Dr Aayesha J Soni is a medical doctor and general member of the Media Review Network (MRN).

She was also named as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South Africans of 2017.

Follow her on Twitter @AayeshaJ