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Who Won the Iraq War?

In October, 2002 I wrote in the first issue of The American Conservative an analysis of the impending Iraq War entitled “The Road to Folly [1].”

I observed, “A war that fails to achieve clear political objectives is merely an exercise in violence and futility.” Having covered 14 conflicts as a war correspondent, I’ve seen a lot of violence and futility.

[2]The White House launched a thunderous, utterly shameless propaganda campaign about phony threats to America and the world from President Saddam Hussein’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction. And on cue, U.S. forces invaded Iraq in March 2003.

In America, the “bodyguard of lies” that Churchill said accompanies every war swelled into an army of liars. The Bush administration’s neoconservatives played a leading role in engineering the Iraq conflict. Media acted as megaphones for the war party. Thanks to the drumbeat of lies and insinuations, over 80 percent of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11.

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A few observers who dared critique George W. Bush’s rush to war, this writer included, were denounced as “un-American,” “traitors,” or Saddam apologists—rather rich in my case since in 1991 the fun-loving Iraqi secret police had threatened to hang me as an Israeli spy.

Invading Iraq would be a disaster for all concerned, I predicted, except for Israel, which would see a potential nuclear rival and the most technologically advanced Arab nation crushed by U.S. power. Iran would also cheer the ruin of the hated Saddam, who had invaded the Islamic Republic with the support of the U.S. and its Arab oil allies.

“Bush is wrong if he thinks Iraq can be turned into another docile American protectorate like Kuwait or Bahrain. He is committing an act of imperial overreach,” I wrote. I also insisted Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction.

In the event, Iraq, a nation of only 24 million, was shattered by U.S. military power. The war laid waste to large parts of this formerly advanced nation, already ravaged by a 12-year U.S.-led economic embargo and daily bombing.

Absurdly, Iraq was even denied lead pencils for its schools lest they be somehow turned into weapons of mass destruction. During the 1990-91 Gulf War, the U.S. Air Force destroyed most of Iraq’s water purification plants and sewage systems. Iraq was denied imports of chlorine to purify its fouled water. The result, according to the UN, was true mass destruction: 500,000 children died from water-borne disease and lack of medicines.

The overthrow of Saddam’s Sunni-led regime opened a religious-ethnic Pandora’s Box in Iraq, an artificial state created by Imperial Britain out of Sunni, Shia, Jews, and Kurds to encompass its newly discovered Mesopotamian oil fields.

In a supremely idiotic act, American proconsul Paul Bremer fired all Baath Party military and civilian officials, gutting Iraq’s organs of government. When U.S. forces failed to put down fierce resistance by Sunni fighters, a much ballyhooed troop “Surge” supposedly crushed the uprising. This is a Republican political myth.

As the Romans used to say, divide et impera. Divide and rule. In reality, Sunni resistance was broken by ethnic cleansing: the unleashing of Shia death squads that inflicted untold barbarities on Sunnis, creating four million refugees, half of them driven abroad. Millions of dollars in American bribes temporarily bought off other Sunni fighters.

The butcher’s bill for conquering Iraq and its vast oil fields: at least 4,483 U.S. soldiers killed and over 33,000 seriously wounded, many with brain injuries. Estimates of Iraqi dead run from 112,000 to over one million. The Pentagon knows, but won’t release the figures.

Remember the grubby Pentagon official Paul Wolfowitz, a leading architect of the war? He glibly predicted invading Iraq would cost a mere $40 billion and would be paid for by plundering its oil.

Wrong. Wolfie’s jolly little war has so far cost $1 trillion. In spite of the drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq, funding the remaining garrison and the American-installed Baghdad regime remains enormously costly. Much of the cost is hidden in the CIA’s $54.1 billion “black” budget.

The Bush and now Obama administrations have concealed the war’s cost from Americans by refusing to pay for it through taxes. Instead, the total cost of this conflict was put on the surging national debt, leaving future generations to pay for Bush’s folly.

Meanwhile, Iranian-backed Shia militias gained ascendency in Baghdad. Rigged elections produced a compliant Shia regime, allowing Washington to trumpet the arrival of democracy in Iraq—the same kind of “democracy” it long nurtured in Mubarak’s Egypt.

Up north, U.S. and Israeli-backed Kurds established a virtually independent oil state that infuriated Washington’s ally Turkey. The Iraqi Humpty Dumpty is broken and won’t easily be put together again.

The expected Iraqi oil bonanza never materialized. Today, Iraq pumps less oil than under Saddam. He threw out Big Petroleum; now, the big U.S. and foreign oil firms are creeping back, hoping to exploit Iraq’s riches. Some 34,000 guards are being hired to protect Iraq’s pipelines. Perhaps Libya’s “liberated” oil may lessen some of the disappointment over Iraqi oil.

President Obama has vowed all U.S. combat troops will quit Iraq by the end of 2011. But a shell game is under way. Two or more heavy mechanized combat brigades are moving just a few hours drive south to new bases in Kuwait, ready to quickly intervene to prop up the tame Maliki regime in Baghdad.

[3]Washington is trying to keep 10,000-20,000 combat troops in Iraq, rebranded as “trainers” and “anti-terrorism forces.” Iraq has balked but may yet give in. The new, huge, heavily fortified U.S. Embassy in Baghdad will have 16,000 employees and its own private army of mercenaries. What happens to the 100,000 other paid mercenaries in Iraq is uncertain. One certainty: $34 billion in aid lost through fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan will never be recovered.

In the flat, arid Mideast, air power is decisive. The most important indicator of Iraq’s future will be who controls its air space. The U.S. may continue to do so from Kuwait and other Gulf bases, just as Imperial Britain ruled Iraq by means of the RAF. Baghdad won’t be truly independent until it rules its own air space and once again has a real air force.

So what’s the bottom line on the “liberation of Iraq?”

$1 trillion spent. Burning hatred for America across the Muslim world. Animosity in Europe, which warned against Bush’s modern crusade. Huge future expenses to sustain an obedient Iraqi regime while anti-U.S. nationalist sentiment there is boiling. A big boost for Iran’s regional influence. The deaths and wounding of thousands of American servicemen.

The original plan to dominate Iraq’s oil and set up bases there to rule the Mideast has so far failed, and at titanic cost. As we look back on this epic folly and again hear calls for war against Iran, we remember the famed words of King Pyrrhus of Epirus, “one more such victory and we are lost.”

Eric S. Margolis is the author of American Raj: Liberation or Domination? [4]

56 Comments (Open | Close)

56 Comments To "Who Won the Iraq War?"

#1 Comment By Brian in CO On November 27, 2011 @ 10:20 pm

Who won this war? Iran, which sat and laughed as we obliterated one of their fiercest enemies, and of course the military industrial complex which seems to win every war anymore.

#2 Comment By John Finnerty On November 28, 2011 @ 5:29 pm

I agree with Brian Iran won because of the war. Israel wanted to get rid of Saddam being a rival but he was the counterweight to Iran. Now there is none. As with their invasion of Lebanon Israel and the Neocons lead us to disaster. Yet we are still there wasting more lives more money because well I have no idea. Obama just failed to end it another one of his failures and lack of courage as American people would have backed them. Think of all those injured soldiers will the VA help them and the soldiers coming home. I wonder? I hope so but they are not high on the priority list when they should be.

#3 Comment By Mario Troiani On November 28, 2011 @ 6:20 pm

One thing I’ll never be able to comprehend is the failure of Nancy Pelosi’s House to initiate impeachment proceeding against George Bush for taking the Country into the most incredibly foolish war of aggression against a country that had not attacked us, had no ties with Al Qaeda, and had no weapons of mass destruction.

I remember what Saddam Hussein said to Dan Rather during the TV interview less than a week before the invasion. He invited the CIA, the FBI or any other agency of the US government to come to Iraq and check for themselves if he had WMD. He was scared to death of the invasion because he knew the inevitable outcome.

But that empty suit we had for a president and the neo- conservative acolytes he has surrounded himself with didn’t want to hear it.

Hey, after all he wanted to kill my dad…………

#4 Comment By John Kerr On November 29, 2011 @ 2:00 am

There seems to be little sanity in this article or the comments that have followed. Most here have missed the point. Everyone seems to be commenting on the validity of one point of view or another when it comes to America’s involvement in the affairs of sovereign nations. The whole point is that we need to only consider that which effects the defense of this Nation. Period!
Israel believed it had a national interest in destroying the nuclear ambitions of Iraq in 1981 at Osirak. That should have been an internal issue that did not involve the US. The whole point here is that we need to back away from taking sides in foreign conflicts. Those who openly condemn Israel for her actions are just as guilty of wanting to intervene in the affairs of a sovereign nation as those who would favor the actions of another nation. What we should be condemning is the US involvement in conflicts that do not threaten our own sovereignty, period, end of story!
I am surprised that the Saudis have been left out of this whole equation. They have been both the enemy and the ally of Israel when it comes to Mideast policy. And what about the 30 year alliance between Israel and Turkey and then someone brings up some sort of alliance between the Kurds and Israel? My god! All here have oversimplified the whole dynamic in the Middle East when the constitutional and most beneficial thing for the US to do is stay out of the internal affairs of all sovereigns unless they directly threaten our own sovereignty. Those who pity Saddam and the Sunnis, a minority that might have protected a few Jews and Christians but brutally suppressed the majority Shia, should take a reality pill. None of these bastards are worth defending including the stupidity of George the 2nd who was warned by his father, George the 1st, to steer clear of this miserable and unpredictable stretch of sand.

#5 Comment By Rossbach On November 29, 2011 @ 1:50 pm

Who won the war in Iraq? Clearly, those who walked away with the biggest pile of cash (e.g., persons with large holdings in the “defense” industry). Who lost the war in Iraq? Those who couldn’t walk away because they no longer had legs (e.g., thousands of US soldiers and marines).

#6 Comment By Tim Ray On November 29, 2011 @ 8:21 pm

here we go again….why not just throw out 2 million children died…hey….our allies were making good money from Iraqi oil…but i do wonder why…we need an embassy in Iraq…