A dozen years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, that country, now effectively another Middle East failed state, remains a bloody, chaotic symbol of the failed US imperial project.
Margaret Griffis, a journalist who has been covering casualty numbers in Iraq since 2006 for Antiwar.com, has published these recent headlines that give one an idea of how life is in today's Iraq:
"Mass Executions Terrorize Mosul; 141 Killed in Iraq"
"132 Killed across Iraq as Airstrikes Continue"
"At Least 4,693 Killed across Iraq in July"
"154 Killed in Iraq, including Dozens of Displaced Children"
"Mass Grave Unearthed in Mosul; 194 Killed across Iraq"
Those are only the articles published by Griffis since July 30. The casualties are acute and ongoing, yet most people in the US, the very country that generated this hellish situation, are willfully ignorant of the situation caused by their government.
Truthout reached out to three expert analysts who provided their perspective on why the war was waged, what the goal of the occupation has been, and which proposed solutions are the most promising.
Economic and Military Hegemony
My first interviewee was Dr. Anas Altikriti, an Iraqi man who is the CEO of the Cordoba Foundation in London, a group that seeks to counter the narrative that global conflicts on religious and political issues are "proof of an inevitable clash between the West and the Muslim world."
Altikriti, who has a PhD in Political Studies from Westminster University in London and organized and chaired the historic march of two million people in London against the war on Iraq, believes the purpose of the invasion and occupation was threefold.
"It's not a secret that the pillars of US interests in the region are oil, Israel, stopping any potential attack on US and its direct interests (AKA 'fighting terrorism') and preventing the development of new nuclear weapon capabilities," he told Truthout. "As such, US interests in Iraq are multifaceted, especially if we took into consideration that Iraq was designed to be the lynchpin in the US strategy for the entire region."
Altikriti believes the US goals also included securing energy sources and pipelines, constructing a number of significant military bases throughout the Middle East and North Africa, creating a buffer zone that impedes Russian and Chinese expansion commercially, but also politically and militarily, across the Caspian Sea, and administering the rise of new regional players that allow for the reshaping of the entire region, which will pave the way for the post Sykes-Picot era.
My second interviewee, Paul Craig Roberts, is an economist who served as the assistant secretary of the treasury under Ronald Reagan and former editor and columnist for the Wall Street Journal and Business Week.
Like Altikriti, he also believes the invasion of Iraq served multiple purposes.
"It put into action the neocon plan of establishing Washington's hegemony over the Middle East, thus enshrining the neoconservative ideology in US foreign and military policy," Roberts told Truthout. "The invasion served Israel by removing a constraint on Israel's freedom of action. The invasion served the power and profit of the military/security complex."
Roberts thinks the arms industry needed an enemy threat with which to justify exorbitant defense spending for another decade; the so-called terrorist threat produced said "enemy," and that enemy was, as Roberts put it, "valuable to the security complex which seized upon it to give the US a police state that dismantled the US Constitution. Little doubt other powerful interests benefitted or expected to, such as the oil companies."
My third interviewee, Ray McGovern, was a CIA analyst for 27 years and now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.
A longtime outspoken critic of the invasion of Iraq and US foreign policy over the last decades, McGovern was also quite frank about his assessment as to why the invasion of Iraq was launched.
"In my view the purpose/goal was/is conveyed by the acronym OIL: O for oil, I for Israel and L for logistics (i.e. the permanent military bases the US coveted in Iraq, knowing bases were not a good idea anymore in Saudi Arabia,)" McGovern told Truthout. "I believe that those who hold strongly that the purpose/goal must have been one or two of these to the exclusion of others are not reflecting the real world. In my view it was all three."
Waging War for Israel
All three analysts did not shy away from sharing their thoughts about how strong of an influence the Israeli government and lobby groups in the US have over US policy, particularly toward Iraq.
Roberts explained that many of the neocons "have financial connections to Israel and to Zionists who support Israel. The strength of Israel is apparent."
Roberts believes that that strength is forceful enough that whenever Israel wants an American UN veto or a Congressional Resolution to defend Israel, Israel gets it.
"Remember recently, the Republican Congress invited the Israeli PM to come to Washington and tell them in a speech before Congress how to block Obama's nuclear agreement with Iran," he added for emphasis. "Remember that Washington sent new money and arms to Israel to replace those used up in Israel's attacks on Gaza. Apparently Obama is sending new weapons systems to Israel to compensate Israel for the nuclear agreement with Iran."
Altikriti, who is also a hostage negotiator, had a similar analysis.
"Israel is the main counsel for the US when it comes to Middle Eastern policy," he said. "Indeed, the narrative of the White House, whoever sits as president, is continuously a close enough reflection of Tel Aviv's briefing papers to Washington."
Altikriti believes that Israel holds enough power over US policy that literally every position regarding the Middle East that is taken by the US Congress has to pass what he called the "Israel-OK test" and any new proposal must be shared with pro-Israel "experts," who then pass judgment on whether it should be allowed to progress or not.
"The invasion and occupation of Iraq was undoubtedly an Israeli-stamped-and-approved venture, and the fingerprints of Israeli operatives were all over numerous chapters of the 'Iraq strategy,' particularly pertaining to the Kurdish issue," he explained. "On the few occasions where the US seems to disagree with Israel, it's clear that there is no contradiction, but a disagreement either on tactical aspects or a disagreement on the heft and magnitude of approach, but almost never on the fundamentals of the issue at hand."
McGovern agreed and reminded us of how current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu testified before the US House Government Reform and Oversight Committee on September 12, 2002, a month that was critical for decisions about invading Iraq, and said, "If you take out Saddam's regime, I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region."
"Anytime Israel can get US forces committed in or near the Near [Middle] East, that is icing on the cake," McGovern said. "There is no difference between the policies of Israel and the US in the Near East, where clearly Israel takes the lead."
McGovern said that Israel sees its interest as best served by having "Sunni and Shia kill each other off gradually," and that this sometimes requires support to one or the other or even both sides of the conflict.
"It is impossible to explain US policy without this frame of reference [Israel]," McGovern added. "Sadly, everyone suffers, including I am sorry to say, Israel, during both the mid and longer term."
"Enduring" Military Bases
McGovern spoke to his belief that a major factor of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq was also the goal of establishing a permanent military foothold in the country.
He pointed out that one of former President George W. Bush's most telling "signing statements" occurred under the recent Defense Authorization Act, when he wrote that he did not feel bound by the law's specific prohibitions: "First, to establish any military installation or base for the purpose of providing for the permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Iraq," McGovern said. "And secondly, to exercise United States control of the oil resources of Iraq."
McGovern also pointed toward open acknowledgements from Alan Greenspan and General John Abizaid, among others, that oil and permanent "enduring" military bases were among the main objectives of the war.
McGovern went on to point out, however, how the aim of maintaining the permanent bases hit unforeseen snags.
"In the end, however much the US continued to lust at military bases in Iraq, whether permanent or enduring, [former Iraqi Prime Minister] Malaki and the others said no," he said. "And the exploits of Blackwater, et al. did not strengthen the US hand."
While most Americans have chosen to ignore the ongoing catastrophe and certainly don't feel that the US has any contribution toward its creation, Altikriti was frank about who is to blame for the current situation in Iraq.
"Of course those who actively commit political, security or military mistakes must be brought to account, and as such, those who led Iraq and the Iraqi people politically, militarily, ideologically, etcetera, must be blamed for the disastrous failures of the past 12 years," he explained. "However, I've long argued that the very conditions set by the US (and the UK) from the very outset would have made it impossible for anyone to succeed, even if they tried to with all the sincerity and hard work that they could muster."
He explained that the manner in which every single aspect of the old Iraqi state was callously disbanded, including the Iraqi Army; the rushing through of an unworkable constitution; the propping of groups of political opportunists, agenda-driven ideologues and incompetent political figures, all aimed to form the basis of the "new Iraq," all led to the state of abject failure Iraq seems incapable of shaking off today.
"Those same conditions, allowed for rampant sectarianism, unprecedented corruption, and the predominance of a privatized security and military sector that consumes up to 70 percent of Iraq's healthy GDP," he said. "These, as well as a long list of failures, allowed for the rise of anomalies, including al-Qaeda, and more recently ISIS; nihilistic groups that exist on the cracks within societies created by such desperate levels of failure on every single level, while the Iraqi army has become a pathetic shadow of its former self, paving the way for rabid, zealous, bloodthirsty sectarian militias to fill that gap, backed to the hilt by a government disgraced by the capitulation of its own regular forces."
So when people in the US see the situation in Iraq today and only blame Iraqis for it, Altikriti offers this perspective: "So yes, those operating the failed state are indeed Iraqis, but the conditions that allowed for such personnel to sit at the very helm of Iraqi society and claim leadership were certainly the creation of the US and British invaders and occupiers, along with the failure of the world to live up to its moral and ethical responsibilities towards an entire nation obliterated by Bush and Blair's illegal and immoral act of aggression."
Roberts laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of the US government.
"What Washington did in Iraq, Libya, and is attempting in Syria is to remove a secular leader who kept Shia/Sunni violence at bay, thus unleashing violence between the sects," he said. "Some thinkers believe this was done on purpose in order to eliminate functioning states that could constrain Israel. Others think Washington got carried away with neocon hubris: 'cakewalk,' 'six-week war costing $70 billion to be paid out of Iraqi oil revenues,' etc.' "
Roberts also sees the rising radicalism that has come to dominate the region as on the shoulders of failed US policy as well.
"In Libya, Washington used Islamists to overthrow Gaddafi and then sent these forces to Syria to do the job on Assad," he said. "It appears to me that these jihadists have realized that they are an independent and strong force and that they are redrawing artificial Middle Eastern borders created by the British and French. Possibly these are people who have had enough of Western domination and have decided to bring it to an end, including Washington's puppets in the oil states."
McGovern, like Roberts, reminded us of some of the infamous promises made by the neocons and Netanyahu before the invasion was launched.
"Back to 2002, did Bush think removing Saddam would make that part of the world safer for Israel," he asked. "Of course, so did Netanyahu, and it was going to be a 'cakewalk,' right?"
As for possible solutions, none of the three analysts held out too much hope, but were certainly clear on some first steps that could be taken.
"The US-UK attack on Iraq destroyed Iraq in order to, ostensibly, save it (we know the real reasons) from a 'cruel dictator,' " McGovern said. "Iraq is now destroyed. This war fits the classic definition of a war of aggression as defined by the Nuremberg Tribunal: "The supreme international crime, differing from other war crimes only in that it contains the accumulated evil of the whole." Thus those responsible, from George W. Bush, to Tony Blair, right on down, should be put on trial."
In McGovern's view, the US played the key role in destroying the country of Iraq and is responsible for the more than one million Iraqi dead because of the war, several million civilians wounded, more than two million Iraqi refugees into neighboring countries, three million internal refugees, and he said that what the US did in Iraq is, "A war crime, pure and simple."
As for another US aim that caused the current bloodbath in Iraq, McGovern said, "Divide and conquer is the imperial name of the game," and offered this as a general role the US might play in something akin to a solution: "The US should use whatever influence it retains to arrange an international conference of stakeholders in Iraq, from near and far; encourage them to help the Iraqis shape the future; pledge a substantial sum of money for rebuilding, and then get the hell out."
Roberts believes the entire occupation was a failure and doubts that Washington can do anything about Iraq.
"The solution will be determined by violence," he said. "Either the Islamic State will prevail or it will not. Probably Washington's interest in the Middle East is waning as Washington realizes that the constraints on the American Uni-power are Russia and China. The peace deal with Iran is probably best understood as getting rid of the Middle East fight in order to be able to deal with Russia and China."
Roberts added that he believes, as part of a geopolitical strategy, Russia and Iran should be allied with the Islamic State, because the Islamic State is an enemy of Washington and of "Washington's puppets in the Middle East."
"It is a strategic mistake for Russia and Iran to help Washington combat the Islamic State," he added. "Russia and Iran should be helping the Islamic State to dislodge Washington from the Middle East. But stupid and foolish policies are the history of the world."
Altikriti believes that the Iraq that existed prior to 2003 is no longer possible to attain.
"Prospects for a national conciliation are rapidly receding with the constant stream of Iraqi blood being shed at the hands of other Iraqis and the millions of displaced Iraqis, because of the actions of their 'fellow' Iraqis, all this while the US continues to play havoc from the skies under the guise of fighting ISIS," he explained. "Personally, I see the entire map of the Middle East as being in the process of being redrawn according to the new facts on the ground, not least the rise of ISIS and its like throughout the MENA [Middle East North Africa] region, as well as the ongoing catastrophic events in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, which seem to have become realities which must be accepted as part and parcel of the entire region."
Altikriti sees the ongoing Western support of the "authoritarian despotic regimes in the Gulf" [Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, etc.], as another problem with US policy in the Middle East. He believes the failure of the US to condemn a military coup that crushed a fledgling democracy in Egypt as an additional problem, as the coup's success has led numbers of youngsters toward disbelief in the ideals of democracy, making them more receptive to the more violent perspectives (based in binaries of good/evil and us/them) offered by ISIS and other radical groups.
Nevertheless, despite these grim projections, he remains hopeful for both Iraq and the Middle East and looks toward the younger generations for what they might bring forward as a solution.
"I don't think that the US, and the other major players, are in full control of events, and what [the US] wants might turn out to be its own downfall," he said. "I still have great faith in the younger generation of Arabs and citizens of the MENA region, who are creating their own conditions of interaction and engagement with political, media and economic spheres. I believe that to be the main factor which is beyond US and the West's control or even reach."