Remembering: The first 7 years of the US war on Iraq: The false claims, the illegality, and the often forgotten lessons

The first 7 years of the US war on Iraq: The false claims, the illegality, and the often forgotten lessons

Bob Sheak – Nov. 15, 2010; shared again June 26, 2019

Introduction (June 26, 2019)

I gathered the information in this post, written back in November 2010, as a presentation for the organization, People for Peace and Justice in Athens, Ohio. Peggy Gish provided feedback on the write-up. She was in Baghdad as a member of Christian Peacemaker Teams when, on March 19/20 2003, the US Air Force dropped the first bombs on the city and spent a great deal of time there in subsequent years, witnessing and reporting on the horrors of the war, providing assistance to Iraqis, and always looking for ways to support reconciliation among groups.

There are similarities between then and the Trump, Bolton, Pompeo, et. al., efforts now to create the pretexts and conditions that will justify another war in the Middle East, this time against Iran. As many have reported, such a war would be more destructive than the Iraq War, though as this post documents the costs of the Iraq war both for Iraq and the US are hard to surpass. Once started, a US war on Iran would expand to the whole region and beyond, causing more death and destruction than the Iraq War and possibly so economically disruptive that it would lead to a global economic contraction.

This post from 2010 reviewed what the Iraq war had already cost both sides in death, casualties, resources, and, implicitly, how easy it was for US political officials to rally the media and the American people for this unnecessary war based on lies. It exacerbated the divisions between Shia, Sunni, and Kurds, and latter gave rise to ISIS and the spread of an ultra-fundamentalist version of the Islamic faith and more death and devastation.

From November 2010

False claims made for the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003

The US invaded Iraq in March 2003 on the false claim that Iraq posed an immediate threat to US security and to the Middle East as a whole. In fact, there was no threat militarily to the United States, immediate or otherwise.
Secretary of Defense Colin Powell made the “best” case from US intelligence sources for a military attack on Iraq to the UN Security Council in February 2003. Most of the media loved it. After the US invasion of Iraq, his claims and evidence were determined to be baseless. The UN Security Council did not support the US case for war presented by Powell. As we learned, the policymakers in the Bush administration lied about the reasons for going to war – the alleged link to Al Qaeda, the alleged Iraqi possession of weapons of mass destruction, the alleged acquisition of nuclear materials to restart Iraq’s nuclear capacity, the alleged desire to bring “democracy” to Iraq and then, as a model, to bring democracy to the whole Middle East region….It was about oil and geopolitical advantage.

The invasion and occupation violated the UN Charter, Geneva Conventions….

The US went ahead and launched a bombing attack and invasion on an ill-equipped rag-tag Iraq army with no navy or air force, all of this illegal under international law. According to the UN Charter, a country is only permitted to launch a war against another country under two circumstances. But there was no imminent threat to the US and the UN Security Council had not resolved to give the US the right to invade. Noam Chomsky called it a “preventive” attack by the US, which is defined as illegal in international law. It was a war of aggression.

First Lesson: The destruction of Iraq and the impoverishment of Iraqis did not begin with the illegal and misrepresented US invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

#1 – Iraq was already by 2003 a shattered society and in a humanitarian crisis
Even before March 2003, US policies had already shattered Iraq’s infrastructure and institutions by encouraging Saddam Hussein to launch a futile war against Iran back in 1980. The First Gulf War in 1991, followed by 13 years of brutal sanctions, further wrecked Iraq.

Joy Gordon has written an in-depth account of how the US dominated the UN sanction process from 1991 until the 2003 in her book, The Invisible War: The United States and the Iraq Sanctions. In the following paragraph from her book, she captures the immense destruction wrought by the sanctions.

“…it is important to remember that the U.S. presence in Iraq, and the harm done by the United States to the Iraqi population, did not begin in 2003. Starting in August 1991, the United States was instrumental in imposing the cruelest sanctions in the history of international governance. While the United Nations (UN) Security Council was within its mandate to respond to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the sanctions regime it imposed, in conjunction with the massive bombing campaign of 1991, destroyed nearly all of Iraq’s infrastructure, industrial capacity, agriculture, telecommunications, and critical public services, particularly electricity and water treatment. For the next twelve years the sanctions would prevent Iraq from restoring any of these to the level Iraq had achieved in the 1980s and would devastate the health, education, and basic well-being of almost the entire Iraqi population. The situation was worsened by the corruption in the Iraqi government, and the Iraqi government was not particularly effective in mitigating the harm done by the UN measures. But it was the extraordinary harshness of the sanctions, coming on top of the massive bombing of 1991, that was primarily responsible for the collapse of Iraq’s economy and the deterioration of public services” (pp. 1-2).

In their book, What Kind of Liberation?: Women and the Occupation of Iraq (2009), authors Nadje al-Ali & Nicola Pratt give us a general but heart-rending sense of the desperate humanitarian situation in Iraq in March 2003, prior to the US bombing and invasion of Iraq:

“Indicators for Iraq before 2003 are sporadic, but those that exist portray a dire humanitarian situation. Following the Iran-Iraq War, the Gulf War of 1991, and over a decade of sanctions, health indicators worsened. By July 2003, health outcomes were considered the worst in the region. As the World Bank and UNDP reported (2003:16), ‘Maternal and infant mortality and malnutrition are high, certain communicable diseases have reemerged to join non-communicable conditions in a double burden of disease. Malaria, cholera, and leishmaniasis are endemic in several parts of the country.’ These trends are largely due to a failing health system and to a deterioration in the water and sanitation systems. In addition, in 2000, the Iraqi Planning Commission found that the food ration was inadequate to meet the nutrition needs of the general population. Meanwhile, increasing numbers of Iraqi women reported suffering from anxiety, sleeplessness, and fear. Education also suffered under the effect of sanctions. During the 1990s, education enrollment rates fell. Girls in rural areas made up a disproportionate amount of this trend, with up to 50 percent not attending school. By the end of the 1990s, illiteracy rates among women aged fifteen through forty-nine were a staggering 55 percent.” (pp. 66-67)

Second Lesson: The war began in 2003 and in the ensuing 7-year occupation increased the devastation of Iraq and the harms to the Iraqi people. There is nothing in Obama’s speech of Aug. 31, 2010, about this.

#1 – Wikileaks revelations – There are many books and articles written about the years, from March 2003, when we launched the war, to the present. Recently, Wikileaks has released a trove of 400,000 internal, classified documents concerning US military operations in Iraq that give us some idea of how brutal the US-led occupation of Iraq has been.

#2 – Some statements on the harm we have done. US policies have left Iraq’s economy and institutions shattered, with corruption in its elections and governance, a society that is deeply divided by religious and ethnic differences, great inequality, and conditions that are especially hard on women and girls. The Iraq people, US soldiers along with the soldiers of US allies, and US taxpayer have paid an awful price for it all. And the example the US has set in Iraq for other nations is one of illegal, unjust, brutal, and war-promoting arrogance and flouting of international and US law. Negotiations, reconciliation, reconstruction, reparations – all are marginalized, if not dismissed, in favor of military force and anti-terrorist war that kills more civilian than combatants.

#3 – A summary of what we have done by Tom Engelhardt. The US leaders said that we were invading Iraq to “liberate” it. Tom Engelhardt summarizes in the following paragraph from his book, The American Way of War (2010) the “devastation” that US forces brought to the country.

“Since then, Saddam Hussein’s killing fields have been dwarfed by a fierce set of destructive US military operations, as well as insurgencies cum-civil-wars-cum-terrorist-acts: major cities have been largely or partially destroyed, or ethnically cleansed; millions of Iraqis have been forced from their homes, becoming internal refugees or going into exile; untold numbers of Iraqis have been imprisoned, assassinated, tortured, or abused; and the country’s cultural heritage has been ransacked. Basic services – electricity, water, food – were terribly impaired and the economy was simply wrecked. Health services were crippled. Oil production upon which Iraq now depends for up to 90 percent of its government funds, has only relatively recently barely surpassed the worst levels of the pre-invasion era” (155)

Third Lesson: We have not achieved victory in Iraq. Rather we have squandered lives and resources and left a devastated society and enormous human suffering and disruption. There is little in Obama’s speech on this.
President Obama’s “Oval Office Speech on Iraq,” August 31, 2010

On August 31 of 2010, President Obama gave a speech in which, among things, he said that he had achieved our military goals in Iraq and thus: (1) “the American combat mission in Iraq has ended [not true]; (2) “[we] have removed nearly 100,000 troops from Iraq….[and] closed or transferred hundreds of bases to the Iraqis….[and] moved millions of pieces of equipment out of Iraq.”[but over 90 bases remain in US hands, including the biggest bases]….and (3) “all US troops will leave by the end of next year” [we’ll believe it when we see it]. He also said that (4) there is an “elected government” in power” [fragile, with Sunni participation fragile and key decisions about the distribution of oil revenues still to be made] and (5) the Iraqi people have rejected “sectarian conflict” [there still violent attacks, though down in number]

President Obama’s speech that we have achieved victory, or something like it in Iraq, and that the US war/occupation can serve as a model for how to deal effectively with authoritarian governments, insurgents or “terrorists” in other parts of the Middle East, Central Asia, or anywhere else in “developing countries,” fails to persuade us.

The information that we’ve gathered does not support a pat-ourselves-on-the-back moment for what the US government and military have done in Iraq in our name. Indeed, we think that President Obama’s declaration of an end of the war is disappointingly close to Bush’s misbegotten statement of “mission accomplished.” Today, Iraq represents seven years of turmoil and violence for millions of Iraqis, and counterproductive costs in life and resources of both Iraq and the United States. Obama says nothing in his speech about the devastation of Iraq’s physical and social infrastructures or the great harm we have done to Iraqi civilians – children as well.

Some evidence on the impacts of US-led Iraq war and occupation on Iraq and why we do not accept President Obama’s up-beat speech.

#1- What is – and has been – the “impact” of the US intervention in Iraq’s infrastructure and environment – a shattered society

#1a – Overall economy -Noam Chomsky, Hopes and Prospects (2010) –“But wars, sanctions, poor management, international competition and disinvestment have left each industry a shadow of its former self. Slowly, Iraq’s economy has become based almost entirely on imports and a single commodity,’ oil, now providing 95 percent of the government’s revenues, leading to dependence on markets that are highly volatile, in large measure because of speculation in financial markets.” The privatization of the Iraqi economy was imposed by US authorities (p. 127)

#1b – Electric power – Abdu Rahman and Dahr Jamail, After False Promises, the Heat in On in Iraq, Inter Press Service, Sept. 21, 2010. Also at: – “Iraqis promised development with the ouster of Saddam Hussein and the arrival of the U.S. are now suffering lack of development as never before. And where it hurts every moment is through the collapse of power supply.” “The problems since 2003 have been far worse.” “June 14 was the hottest day ever recorded in Iraq, with the maximum temperature reaching 52 degrees C (125 degrees F) in Basra. And most of the country’s residents had to suffer through it with no air conditioners, no refrigerators and no fans.”

#1c – Housing: – John Leland, “Cramped Quarters Define Struggles of Iraqi Families, NYT, Feb 27, 2010 – “By United Nations estimates, Iraq has 2.8 million housing units for a population of 30 million, leaving a shortage of about 1.3 million homes. As the population continues to grow, the country needs to build 3.5 million housing units — more than doubling its stock — by 2015, said Istabraq I. al-Shouk, the senior deputy minister of construction and housing.” “Building here is not easy. Iraq lacks adequate services for the housing it has now. According to the United Nations, which is working with the Housing Ministry, 89 percent of Iraqi homes lack stable water sources, and 73 percent are not connected to a sewer system. The average house gets eight hours of electricity a day from the grid. Adding houses will only increase the demand for services.”

#1d – Water: Julia Apland Hitz, “Water, Another Crisis for Iraq,” Earth Institute, June 17, 2010 –

What are the water issues in Iraq? “In a related Reuters report, Serena Chaudhry gives an excellent account of the problem.

• ‘Water levels in the rivers have dropped
• ‘Failing crops have forced possibly millions of people out of rural areas and into cities
• ‘83 percent of sewage is discharged untreated
• ‘Government disorganization means improvement projects are delayed
• ‘US Government reconstruction efforts include sewage and water, but can’t solve the whole problem
• ‘Oil production requires huge amounts of water (1.6 barrels of water for each 1 barrel of oil), so personal and agricultural consumption competes with economic development

“In addition we find that:

• ‘US military forces require a lot of water, and sometimes run out. Then they resort to desperate measures.
• ‘Water rights dominate Iraq’s relationships with neighboring countries.
• ‘Soil salinity and water scarcity are reducing food production.
• ‘Lack of water threatens national hydroelectric production.
• ‘The polluted Shatt al Arab waterway south of Basra:

#1e – Ongoing toxic impacts – e.g., depleted uranium – Jeffrey St. Clair and Joshua Frank, “Iraq Wrecked Environment,” Counterpunch, May 1-3, 2009 —

“Months of bombing during the first Gulf War by the United States and Great Britain left a deadly and insidious legacy: tons of shell casings, bullets and bomb fragments laced with depleted uranium. In all, the United States hit Iraqi targets with more than 970 radioactive bombs and missiles.” “More than 15 years later, the dire health consequences of our first radioactive bombing campaign in this region are coming into focus. Since 1990, the incidence rate of leukemia in Iraq has increased over 600 percent. Detection and treatment of cancers was made unnecessarily difficult by Iraq’s forced isolation under a regime of sanctions, producing what was described by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan as ‘a humanitarian crisis.’

#1f – Cluster bombs – UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “Iraq: Local NGOs welcome cluster bomb ban,”, Feb. 18, 2010 Document&RSS20&RSS20=FS –

“…millions of bomblets dispersed by cluster bombs were still scattered across the country as a result of the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 US-led invasion.”“In Baghdad 331 areas are affected by cluster bomb debris, mostly from the 2003 war, Kati said.” “South of Baghdad, the most affected provinces are Muthana, Basra, Najaf and Maysan, where cluster bomb debris dated mostly from the 1991 Gulf War, he said.”

#2 – Impacts on the lives of Iraqi people?

#2a – Articles on direct or supported violence by US military
• US troop brutality – See Dahr Jamail, “Iraq War Vet: ‘We Were Told Just to Shoot People, and the Officers Would Take Care of Us,” Truthout, April 7, 2010
• Pervasive Violence – see Kamil Mahdi, “What the Wikileaks don’t reveal, Stop the War Coalition, 10-24-10 –
• More on violence – Pratap Chatterjee, “Wikileaks Iraq War Logs Reveal Private Military Contractors Killing With Impunity,, Oct. 25, 2010 –

#2b – Iraqi civilian fatalities – John Tirman, “Wikileaks Docs Underestimate Iraqi Dead,”, Oct. 26, 2010 – – Tirman’s article is the best recent assessment of the various estimates, I think. He estimates that there have been 700,000 excess deaths resulting from the war. He is Executive Director for MIT’s Center for International Studies.

#2b – Millions of refugees
Fred Branfman –, June 22, 1010 -“’Counting both internal and external refugees, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that nearly 5 million of Iraq’s population of 24 million have been uprooted during the conflict,’ the N.Y. Review of Books reported on May 13, 2010…. Five-hundred thousand are homeless squatters within Iraq, whose ‘settlements all lack basic services, including water, sanitation and electricity and are built in precarious places — under bridges, alongside railroad tracks and amongst garbage dumps’ according to Refugees International in March 2010. The emigration of 2-3 million Iraqis to refugee camps in Syria and other Mideast countries decimated Iraq’s educated middle class, with some daughters forced to become prostitutes and sons menial laborers just to keep their families alive.”

#2c – Orphans – Iraq: a country of orphans – John Tirman estimated in Feb. 2009 that there were 5 million orphans. The source: John Terman, “4.5 Million Displaced, 1-2 Million Widows, 5 Million Orphans,” The Nation, Feb 2, 2009
#2d -Children – PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder – Cesar Chelala, “Iraqi Children Bear the Costs of War,”, March 5, 2010. “The great number of Iraqi children affected with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is one of the saddest, and least known, legacies of the Iraq war. That a new clinic for their treatment opened last August in Baghdad is the first of its kind says a lot about how this problem is being addressed. Until now, hundreds of children suffering from PTSD have been treated by Dr. Haider Maliki at the Central Pediatric Teaching Hospital in Baghdad. Hundreds of thousands remain untreated.

#2e – Jacquelin Shoen, “Wounds of War,” Oct 20, 2010 – – “PTSD is equally prevalent amongst Iraq’s adult population, and because its symptoms can be debilitating, it is difficult to foresee how a country with enough political problems can be expected to create stability if fundamental health care issues go unaddressed.

#2f – Imprisonment – Tens of thousands of Iraqi men have spent years in American prisons. Most of the prisons and prisoners have been transferred to the Iraqis, who are known for the brutal treatment of prisoners.

#2g – Torture – Nick Davies and Jonathan Steele and David Leigh, The Guardian
Posted on October 22, 2010, Printed on October 23, 2010

“Almost 400,000 secret US army field reports have been passed to the Guardian and a number of other international media organizations via the whistleblowing website
• “ US authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers whose conduct appears to be systematic and normally unpunished.
• “The numerous reports of detainee abuse, often supported by medical evidence, describe prisoners shackled, blindfolded and hung by wrists or ankles, and subjected to whipping, punching, kicking or electric shocks. Six reports end with a detainee’s apparent death.
#2h – the situation of women and girls has deteriorated
Nadje Al-Ali, “The Iraq Legacy: Millions of Women’s Lives Destroyed,” Alter, March 31, 2008 – [Also Nadje Al-Ali and Nicola Pratt’s book, What Kind of Liberation?: Women and the Occupation of Iraq (2009).]

“In fact, Iraq’s women have become the biggest losers in the post-invasion disaster. While men have borne the brunt in terms of direct armed violence, women have been particularly hard-hit by poverty, malnutrition, lack of health services and a crumbling infrastructure, not least chronic power cuts which in some areas of Iraq see electricity only available for two hours a day.

“Meanwhile, rampant political violence has also engulfed women in Iraq. Islamist militias with links to political parties in government and insurgent groups opposing both the government and the occupation have particularly targeted Iraqi women and girls. A new Islamist puritanism is seeing women and girls being violently pressured to conform to rigid dress codes. Personal movement and social behaviour are being ‘regulated,’ with acid attacks (deliberately designed to disfigure ‘transgressive’ women’s faces), just one of the sanctions of the new moral guardians of post-Saddam Iraq.

#3 – Has the US-led war and occupation produced meaningful advances in the political system for Iraqis? Still not clear. There is headway toward the formation of a new government in November of 2010, but the Sunni representatives in parliament are unhappy with it.
Juan Cole (Informed Comment, Nov. 12, 2010) reports that the Iraqis have “finally begun forming a government … 8 months after the parliamentary elections of March 7 [2010]. On last Thursday, the Parliament “elected Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani president once again. By the constitution, the president then asks the leader of the bloc with the largest number of seats in parliament to attempt to form a government, for which he has 30 days….”Talabani tapped Shiite lay leader Nuri al-Maliki, whose current (post-election) coalition has over 140 seats of the 163 needed for a majority in parliament” “…Iyad Allawi’s secular, nationalist Iraqiya Party, including the principal Sunni elected officials, is supported by the Sunni Arabs and the United States. The US fears that al-Maliki is too close to Iran. Cole writes: “As the US withdraws its troops over the next year, Iran’s favorable position in Iraq will now likely be strengthened.”

Fourth Lesson: Most of the goals justifying the war and occupation have not been realized.

We’ve referred to the unfounded public justifications of the Bush administration for launching a full-scale land and air war in March of 2003 [e.g., they had weapons of mass destruction], justifications that have long been discredited. What were the administration’s goals that were not publicized much? Was the “hidden agenda,” achieved over the seven years of the US-led occupation? NO. One implication of this finding is that US power is in decline. The less-publicized US goals, but goals that were vital to US decision makers, were to:

(1) gain control or privileged access of Iraq’s oil, much of the oil in untapped reserves and representing perhaps the second largest potential source of oil in the world (behind Saudi Arabia) – not yet achieved, while the US has become ever more dependent on oil
(2) create conditions in Iraq that would keep the oil flowing to our allies in Europe and SE Asia – Iraq’s oil production remains low and an increasing number of countries are competing for it
(3) gain some advantage from our aspired domination of Iraq in the global competition, especially against China – losing ground here, both in the region and around the globe – e.g., China was the first large country to negotiate an oil contract with Iraq
(4) create a counterforce to OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) – appears that Iraq will not be such a counterforce
(5) demonstrate the strength of the United State’s military power – there had not been a victory for the US military in Iraq
(6) have Iraq pay for the lion’s share of the costs of the US-led occupation – did not happen
(7) put in place a government the US could significantly influence, if not dominate – aside from the Kurds, the majority in the Iraq Parliament are not so dominated and they have close relations with Iran
(8) create a privatized economy, to show the world that a “free market” form of capitalism worked the best – US occupation authorities did shut down many state companies, but not the Iraqi nationalized oil fields, and some state enterprises have been reopened
(9) be in a (better) position to launch a war against Iran – If this happens, Iraq is not likely to be one of the launching pads

Fifth Lesson: The war has been costly to the United States both in terms of finance and in death and injury, physical and psychological, to many of the 1.5 million troops who have spent one or more tours of duty in Iraq

Some evidence on the costs for the United States and its citizens

#1 – How much has the Iraq War cost in dollar terms? What does it continue to cost?

In their book, The Three Trillion Dollar War (2008), Joseph Stiglitz (Columbia University) and Linda Bilmes (Harvard University), estimate that by 2017 the war in Iraq would have cost at least $3 trillion dollars. In a recent article, Washington Post, Sept. 5, 2010, they raise their lowest estimate to $4 trillion. They include costs to date, costs of future operations, estimates of long-term veterans’ medical costs, veteran’s disability, veteran’s social security, repair and updating of equipment, the interest from the debt-based payment for the war, rising oil prices, a higher national debt and higher related interest payments. In the following quotes they explain a couple of reasons (there are more in the article) for why their costs’ estimates have gone up.

“… today, as the United States ends combat in Iraq, it appears that our $3 trillion estimate (which accounted for both government expenses and the war’s broader impact on the U.S. economy) was, if anything, too low. For example, the cost of diagnosing, treating and compensating disabled veterans has proved higher than we expected.

…” two years on [since their book was published], it has become clear to us that our estimate did not capture what may have been the conflict’s most sobering expenses: those in the category of “might have beens,” or what economists call opportunity costs. For instance, many have wondered aloud whether, absent the Iraq invasion, we would still be stuck in Afghanistan. And this is not the only “what if” worth contemplating. We might also ask: If not for the war in Iraq, would oil prices have risen so rapidly? Would the federal debt be so high? Would the economic crisis have been so severe?

#2 – How many US soldiers have been killed, wounded, or otherwise physically or psychological harmed by their mobilization for the Iraq war?

#2a – Fatalities – According to, the total number of US military fatalities, beginning in 2003 and through the first months of 2010, was 4,426. The overall total, including 179 UK and 139 “other” came to 4,474 –

#2b – Wounded – Figures from indicate that as of Oct. 16, 2010, there were a total of 32,899 wounded US military soldiers. There were additionally 320,000 with brain injuries, including (as I understand it) an unknown number of war veterans who had suffered concussions.

#2c – PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – Jacquelin Shoen, “Wounds of War,” Oct 20, 2010 – “one in five veterans returning from the conflict report signs of PTSD and depression. However, less than half have sought treatment. What is maybe more alarming is that a 2007 survey of soldiers found that 17 percent of active-duty troops and 25 percent of reservists had screened positive for symptoms of stress disorder.”

#2d – Troops are also affected by unsafe burning of waste from their own military bases. – Adam Levine, “Report: US Military Continues ‘Toxic Burn Pits” in Afghanistan and Iraq. Audit: “Military using Potentially Harmful Methods of Burning Trash,” Common Dreams. Org, Oct. 15, 2010 -“Between September 2009 and October 2010, investigators from the Government Accountability Office visited four bases in Iraq and reviewed planning documents on waste disposal for bases in Afghanistan. None of the Iraq bases visited were in compliance with military regulations. All four burned plastic — which generates harmful emissions — despite regulations against doing so.

#3 – What is the size of and plans for the US troop deployment in Iraq after the withdrawal of “combat” troops?

#3a – How many troops are there now – 50,000 “noncombat” troops

#3b – How long will US troops remain in Iraq – Liz Sly, “Iraqi Officials foresees a US military presence until 2016,” LA Times (Sept 8, 2010) – “’Some form of U.S. military presence will be needed in Iraq at least until 2016 to provide training, support and maintenance for the vast quantity of military equipment and weaponry that Iraq is buying from America,’ Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul Qader Obeidi said. Sly continues: “In addition, Iraq will continue to need help with intelligence gathering after 2011, and the fledgling Iraqi air force will require U.S. assistance at least until 2020, the date by which Iraq aims to achieve the capability to defend its airspace, Obeidi said.

#3b – continued -Tim Arango (NYT, July 2, 2010) – “The withdrawal, which will reduce the number of American troops to 50,000 — from 112,000 earlier this year and close to 165,000 at the height of the surge — is a feat of logistics that has been called the biggest movement of matériel since World War II. It is also an exercise in semantics.” “What soldiers today would call combat operations — hunting insurgents, joint raids between Iraqi security forces and United States Special Forces to kill or arrest militants — will be called ‘stability operations.’ Post-reduction, the United States military says the focus will be on advising and training Iraqi soldiers, providing security for civilian reconstruction teams and joint counterterrorism missions.”

#3c – How many bases does the US still have in Iraq? – Chulov, “Iraq withdrawal unmistakable signs of US military on way out,” Guardian [UK], August 31, 2010. “Around the country there are unmistakable signs of a military on its way out. “Over the past two years US forces have closed down 411 bases. They will maintain 94 bases nationwide, at least in the weeks immediately following tomorrow’s ceremony. Many, however, will be outposts where a small number of US forces will train and mentor Iraqi soldiers. They may occasionally patrol with them or join in on raids, but the US mission is designed from now on to be very much in the background. “At least 12 large bases will remain initially; Camp Victory at Baghdad airport, the nearby Camp Liberty, two bases inside the Green Zone, Taji and Balad bases north of Baghdad, bases in Mosul, Kirkuk and Ramadi, as well as al-Assad to the west, and forward vases in Nasireyah and Basra.
#3d – 20,000 US Special Forces remain in Iraq. Andrew Mulligan, “Iraq War Still Risky,” Georgetown U. via UWIRE, Aug. 31, 2010. [Not clear whether the US special forces are counted in the 50,000 non-combatant troops.] “At roughly the beginning of the Vietnam War, the American military created special operations forces for exactly the kind of work that is currently being done in Iraq. Many of the advisers currently in Iraq belong to these same units: the Army Special Forces, or Green Berets. The SF mission is to train and lead indigenous forces in combat, and they have successfully completed missions like these around the world, from Vietnam in the 1960s and ’70s to Panama in the ’80s, and now in Afghanistan and Iraq. They were referred to as advisers even then, and they are the soldiers that are training the Iraqi and Afghan military and police forces.

“However, they are also the soldiers that drop from helicopters onto rooftops, engaging in direct action missions against insurgent and terrorist cells. In recent years, Army Special Forces have subtly shifted their mission from training local soldiers and police to a broader focus on unconventional warfighting. This will likely remain the case in Iraq, as Special Forces soldiers continue to hunt down terrorists in an effort to improve Iraq’s shaky security situation. In short, our soldiers will still have their boots on the ground….

“Army Special Forces are some of the most highly trained soldiers in the American military. They are truly the best of the best, the Defense Department’s equivalent to Lebron James. They will continue to fight in Iraq, along with the roughly 20,000 American soldiers assigned to “advise and assist” Iraqi forces on patrols and during training exercises. These soldiers have their work cut out for them, as terrorist and insurgent groups promise to ramp up their attacks on the budding Iraqi security infrastructure.”

#3e – Iraqi Special Forces – Shane Bauer, “Iraq’s New Death Squad,” The Nation, June 3, 2009 – – “The Iraq Special Operations Forces (ISOF) is probably the largest special forces outfit ever built by the United States, and it is free of many of the controls that most governments employ to rein in such lethal forces. The project started in the deserts of Jordan just after the Americans took Baghdad in April 2003.

There, the US Army’s Special Forces, or Green Berets, trained mostly 18-year-old Iraqis with no prior military experience. The resulting brigade was a Green Beret’s dream come true: a deadly, elite, covert unit, fully fitted with American equipment, that would operate for years under US command and be unaccountable to Iraqi ministries and the normal political process.

#3f – The State Department will have thousands of private contractors -Melina Milazzo, “3 Years After Blackwater Massacre in Iraq, Contractors Still [There], Salon, Sept 16, 2010 – “Despite the troubling lack of oversight, the United States is dramatically increasing its reliance on private security contractors. With the U.S. drawdown in Iraq, the Department of State plans to more than double the number of private security contractors it employs, from 2,700 to 7,000.

#3g – How many private contractors (outside the State Department) are there in Iraq – Pierre Tristam, “Private Contractors vs. Troops: How Many of Each?, March 2010 – “As of March 2010, there were 95,461 DOD contractor personnel in Iraq compared to approximately 95,900 uniformed personnel [now down to 50,000 or so] in-country.

#4 – The issue of oil and the growing competition from China and other countries for access to the oil?
Juan Cole interviewed on PRI’s The World program about “Developing Iraq’s Oil Industry,” May 27, 2010 – His main points: (1) new fields have not yet been developed, (2) established fields still need improvements; (2) production is down slightly; (3) oil companies are concerned about security; (4) Iraq government determined to get major benefits from oil industry as well
Michael Schwartz,, “Whatever Happened to the Neocons’ Grand Schemes to Control Iraq’s Oil?” Feb 2, 2010 –
– “Perhaps threatened by the possibility that Chinese companies might accumulate the bulk of the contracts for Iraq’s richest oil fields, leaving other international firms in the dust, by December a veritable stampede had begun to bid for contracts. In the end, the major winners were state-owned firms from Russia, Japan, Norway, Turkey, South Korea, Angola, and — of course

— China. The Malaysian national company, Petronas, set a record by participating with six different partners in four of the seven new contracts the Maliki government gave out. Shell and Exxon were the only major oil companies to participate in winning bids; the others were outbid by consortia led by state-owned firms. These results suggest that national oil companies, unlike their profit-maximizing private competitors, were more willing to forego immediate windfalls in exchange for long-term access to Iraqi oil.”

Lesson Six – The forces in support of war, or a military-oriented foreign policy, in the United States are strong and unabated

In the United States, unfortunately, there are many powerful groups, communities, and just ordinary citizens that support a militarized foreign policy. Why? Many parts of the US have benefited from the Iraq War financially, ideologically, and/or politically.

• The corporations associated with the huge military-industrial complex increase their sales and profits.
• The military establishment itself is able to justify its extraordinary budget by fighting wars.
• The President along with too many elected officials in the U.S. Congress advance a bipartisan, pro-war budget and agenda and have won votes as a result.
• The large veterans’ organizations typically defend the militarized foreign policy of the US government.
• Thousands of communities across the United States support the government’s large military budgets, especially when they have military bases in their areas or local business with contracts to produce weapons or military-related supplies. The benefits are extra employment, additional taxes, and spurs to the local economy.
• Burgeoning private firms prosper that provide services to the troops, security to embassies and officials, experienced former soldiers for special operations, and intelligence to the military.
• Millions of citizens who pride themselves on being patriotic have adopted the idea that military force is the only way to protect America and its interests here and abroad.
• And there is the widely held view that the Iraq War was a necessary war and represents one victory against an alleged movement of international Islamic terrorism.
• The media – are by and large an echo chamber of the official war narratives – Check out these two books, for example: Anthony Dimaggio, When Media Goes to War, and Norman Solomon’s War Made Easy
Lesson Seven – The forces for peace in the United States appear weaker today than in 2002-2003. And yet the voices for peace have not been silenced. Here is just one example.

Freda Berrigan. “Sunrise on Sunset for Iraq?, Foreign Policy in Focus, Feb. 26, 2010.

“March will mark seven years since the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq. But Joshua Brollier, co-director of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, points out that the people of Iraq have endured 19 years of economic and military warfare at the hands of the United States. Thus, ‘it is hard to genuinely say what a New Dawn could look like for the people of Iraq, especially when it comes to U.S. involvement in the lives of Iraqis.’

“Brollier contrasts the $150 billion that the United States will spend on military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in fiscal year 2011 with the $330 million set aside for Iraqi refugee assistance. ‘If these excessive and ineffective combat funds were redirected to refugee assistance, locally directed projects and much-needed infrastructure, maybe then a crack could open up for reconciliation and trust to be built between the people of Iraq and the United States,’ he writes . ‘Changing our troop designation from combat brigades to advisors will not suffice; neither will a new name for more of the same.’


Some possible actions were suggested in the discussion the followed the presentations,
• the members of the group referred to fund-raising efforts to groups in Iraq, or even in the US (e.g., Veterans for Peace) that are known to be doing or supporting vital work in health care and providing other essential services for Iraqis.
• There was also some discussion on how to educate the community on the facts that document the harm we have done to Iraq and that the US continues to maintain a significant military presence in the country.
• In addition, there may be ways in which we can join or support groups that are working to ensure that veterans obtain the support they need and deserve.
• Further, there is a place for public forums perhaps, letter writing, small “house parties,” expert speakers, relevant videos that are focused on the issue of Iraq.
• One problem is that the war appears not to be a priority of the American people, who are confronted with grave economic and other pressing problems. Is there an effective way to link, say, the low-wages, unemployment, and housing foreclosures to the Iraq War, both wars, the hugely bloated military budget?

Themes suggested by our document for speaking out in various forums:

#1 – Dispute those who argue that the US-led war/occupation in Iraq has “ended.” Take issue with Obama and the bipartisan support of the US Congress on this issue.
#2 – Make the case that the harms done to Iraq and its people and to US soldiers (and taxpayers) are enormous and should serve as an example of how war is a vast waste of resources, human and otherwise, ineffective in advancing the interests of the majority of Americans, and immoral in the final analysis.
#3 – Support funds for reparations and reconstruction for Iraq (see Berrigan’s article above).
#4 – Support the needed medical and other assistance for Iraq veterans and other veterans who have served in the US armed forces.
#5 – Speak out against the other wars of the United States. We need the money for building a green economy and jobs at home, which would bring us more security than any war in sight.
#6 – Speak out against the extension of US troop deployment in Afghanistan beyond next year; in other words, bring all the troops home
#7 – Speak out against the rumblings for a war on Iran when they are reported

One thought on “Remembering: The first 7 years of the US war on Iraq: The false claims, the illegality, and the often forgotten lessons

  1. Dear Bob, I always appreciate your writings, but I want to especially thank you for this entry that gives a lot of substantial information of what war in Iraq meant and how tragic it would be if the US started a physical war with Iran.

    Thanks, Peggy


    On Wed, Jun 26, 2019 at 3:24 PM Vital issues – challenging pol and ec


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