When you open the homepage of the Iraqi Body Count website, a project of a British non-governmental organisation, you are unlikely to miss reading these words: Documented civilian deaths from violence: 185,044—207,979; total violent deaths including combatants—280,000. These figures are of Iraqis killed from 20 March 2003, the day on which the United States of America and its allies, primarily the United Kingdom, invaded their country, until date.
Iraq’s death toll may not seem particularly startling as Covid-19, the illness caused by the Novel Coronavirus, ravages the world. It had, by 29 April, claimed the lives of 59,266 Americans and 21,678 Britons, all of whom died in a span of two months. The short duration in which thousands of lives have been extinguished signifies, ostensibly, that this Coronavirus has been more lethal in its impact than America’s invasion of Iraq.
Yet Iraq’s suffering, even though spread over 17 years, has been no less than America or the United Kingdom’s. Iraq’s population is just 35 million, nine times less than America’s 322 million and nearly twice less than the United Kingdom’s 60 million. The impact of mass death on Iraq’s society is likely equal if not more than what it has been on America’s, more so as the Iraqi Body Count’s figures are widely considered conservative.
It is pertinent to recall the story of Iraq as American President Donald Trump, rattled by the mounting death toll months before he seeks re-election, fans outrage in his country against China. He has claimed that the Novel Coronavirus accidentally escaped a Chinese laboratory and infected the world. And this, despite the Pentagon’s top general, Mark Milley, publicly saying that the “weight of evidence” that China had been negligent in supervising its lab was “neutral.”
Yet, on 28 April, Trump said, “We are not happy with China. We believe it could have been stopped at the source. It could have been stopped quickly and it wouldn’t have spread all over the world.” When told about a German newspaper editorial demanding that China should pay $165 billion to Germany in damages, Trump said, “We are talking about a lot more money than Germany’s talking about… We haven’t determined the final amount yet. It’s very substantial.”
Rewind to America’s war on Iraq. Then too, in the months before the United States invaded Iraq, American President George W Bush and his team fabricated lies about Iraqi President Saddam Hussein possessing weapons of mass destruction and for having clandestinely nurtured links with Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who had scripted attacks on the World Trade Center towers in New York 18 months earlier.
Then too, American leaders had concealed or swept aside intelligence contrary to the rhetoric they employed for whipping up domestic sentiments in favour of the war. Then too, Western leaders, most spectacularly British Prime Minister Tony Blair, endorsed Washington’s line on Iraq and engaged in war-mongering. Then too, Bush cocked a snook at the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency, which was inspecting Iraqi sites to verify whether it was producing weapons of mass destruction, as has Trump at the World Health Organisation in the past few weeks.
It is impossible to predict the behaviour of a new virus and its lethality.
By contrast, America’s war on Iraq was a consequence of Washington’s wilful deception and quest to change regimes in West Asia. Iraq and the region have suffered unduly because America’s recklessness. On the 15th anniversary of the Iraq war, journalist Philip Bump wrote a piece for The Washington Post showing that the Iraq Body Count’s death figures, even though meticulously gathered and corroborated, are an underestimate.
Bump cited a 2013 study, a joint endeavour of researchers in the United States, Canada, and Iraq, to say, “About 400,000 death were probably attributable to the conflict from 2003 to 2011 [when American troops were pulled out, only to be redeployed three years later for checking the Islamic State], about 240,000 of them a result of violence and 160,000 from war-related causes.” In 2018, the Iraq Body Count estimated 82,000 additional deaths resulting from the conflict. Bump added, “It seems likely that the death toll in the past 15 years easily exceeded half a million Iraqis, but how much higher is hard to determine.”
Assume Iraq’s death count until 2015, which was a year after the Islamic State swept much of north Iraq, was 600,000. Bump pointed out, “That is about equivalent to the population of Washington, DC, in 2010. As if every man, woman and child in the District of Columbia were killed in war, dies as a result of failing infrastructure or were killed by Islamic State terrorists.”
For many, it would seem bizarre or unjust to blame on America the deaths caused by the Islamic State, the Iraqi government, sectarian militias and myriad insurgent groups. Yet the US must take the blame because Iraq’s social meltdown had been predicted by both American and British intelligence agencies—and yet their political leaderships decided to go to war.
For instance, the seven-year inquiry of John Chilcot, who was appointed in 2009 by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to examine his country’s role in the war, concluded that Iraq’s interminable chaos and violence had been predicted in an internal report of Britain’s Defence Intelligence Services. The internal report had said that a war would trigger a bloody sectarian conflict.
Not only did Blair ignore the intelligence report, his government “sexed up” a document—Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Assessment of the British Government—before releasing it to the public in 2002. Popularly known as the September Dossier, it claimed that Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, including chemical and biological weapons, and that he had restarted his nuclear weapons programme.
Quite sensationally, the dossier claimed that Iraq could deploy these weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes of an order issued for using them, which the BBC, in May 2003, disclosed had been introduced at the government’s behest. The dossier, the BBC report claimed, had been “sexed up” to justify Blair’s decision to go to war against Iraq.
Blair was taking his cue from Bush, who, according to writer Dylan Matthews, lied on many counts. For instance, in October 2002, Bush claimed that Hussein possessed a “massive stockpile of biological weapons.” The CIA had, in fact, informed the policy-makers that it had “no specific information on the types or quantities of weapons agent or stockpiles at Baghdad’s disposal.”
The CIA also informed Bush that “Saddam did not have a nuclear weapon” and probably would not be able to make it until 2007-09. Bush, however, said in December 2002: “We do not know whether or not [Iraq] has a nuclear weapon.” In September 2002, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice claimed Iraq had purchased aluminium tubes that could only be “really suited for nuclear weapons programmes.” Matthews writes, “This was precisely the opposite of what nuclear experts at the Energy Department were saying; they argued that not only was it very possible that the tubes were for non-nuclear purposes but that it was very likely they were too.”
America spun lies to devastate Iraq. Its GDP per capita in 2018 was $5834, down from the high of $10,326 in 1990, the year before the US-led coalition launched Operation Desert Storm to expel Iraqi troops from Kuwait. To better appreciate Iraq’s downslide, note that India’s GDP per capita was, in 2018, around $2009, a steep climb from the low of $367 in 1990.
The story of Iraq needs to be retold to warn against America engaging in chicanery against China to retain its status as a superpower none can challenge. Trump should be reminded that before he seeks damages from China, his country needs to compensate for the unjust war it imposed on Iraq, and bring to trial Bush and Blair who lied to kill Iraqis in numbers far greater than what the Novel Coronavirus has until now.
The author is an independent journalist. The views are personal.