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19 Mar, 2013

Xinhua Deputy Editor: US Has Not Learned Lesson from Iraq

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)

Washington DC, 2013-03-15 – Tuesday will mark the 10th anniversary of the start of the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. A decade ago, along with many other people, I was against this. However, the strong worldwide opposition did not prevent a US-led war being waged in Iraq on the pretext of stopping Saddam Hussein from gaining weapons of mass destruction.

The war in Iraq from 2003 to 2011 was a tragedy, not just for Iraqis but also for Americans; and indeed for the rest of the world as well.

According to figures from the US Department of Defense, by Aug 31, 2010, when the last US combat troops left Iraq, 4,421 US service personnel had been killed, of which 3,492 were killed in action. Almost 32,000 had been wounded in action. Since then, 66 have died, of which 38 were killed in action, and 305 have been wounded in action.

Iraqi civilian casualties have been many times higher. But it has been impossible to put an exact figure on them. Secret US government cables obtained by WikiLeaks in 2010 documented the deaths of 109,000 Iraqis, of which at least 66,081 were Iraqi civilians. Other sources estimate the figure is many times more.

There are also the servicemen and Iraqis who have mental health problems as a result of the war.

Since the occupation ended, the mounting sectarian violence, a devastated society and dysfunctional government have led many to ask whether Iraq today is better than under Saddam Hussein.

On Monday, a suicide attacker drove a car loaded with explosives into a police station in the northern Iraqi town of Dibis, killed five people and wounded dozens, including many students.

The warning 10 years ago that the invasion would open a Pandora’s Box of trouble was not heeded. Neither were the words of the now-deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who warned that the Iraq War would cause horrible global consequences and produce 100 Osama bin Ladens.

While it has finally killed the man who topped its most-wanted list for so many years, the US has slowly started to realize that the Iraq War nurtured radical Islamist groups in many parts of the world.

On the other hand, the US is a war victim, too. It neglected much of its investment in education and infrastructure to pay for the war.

Although the Iraq War was a foreign policy catastrophe for the two countries that committed the most to the invasion, the US and the United Kingdom, neither George W. Bush nor Tony Blair, the two leaders who led their countries to war, has offered any kind of apology, nor have they had to face up to the accusations that they are responsible for war crimes.

It is troubling that only a few news organizations in the US and UK are doing any serious soul-searching about an invasion and occupation that inflicted so much damage on so many ordinary people.

US President Barack Obama, a strong anti-war state senator in Illinois before the Iraqi invasion, also seems unlikely to offer any kind of criticism of his predecessor in the coming days.

In crafting an intervention in Syria to remove President Bashar al-Assad, the US and UK are once again showing their lack of foresight. The rebels that have already received their aid have been accused by international groups of conducting massacres and using children as soldiers and human shields. But the irresponsibility and casual disregard for the consequences displayed by the US and UK are nothing new.

Last Thursday morning at the National Press Club in Washington, Americans from several organizations called on their government to take Cuba off the terrorist list. I asked the panel, which included Congressman James McGovern, who had just returned from Cuba with a bipartisan delegation, why they could not be more ambitious and call for a removal of the embargo. The US has continued its ridiculous and cruel embargo on Cuba despite the disapprobation of the international community.

I always think what the $1 trillion – or more – that the US spent on the Iraq war could have achieved if it had been spent more wisely.

Will the US ever learn anything from the bloody and costly lesson of Iraq?

The author, based in Washington, is deputy editor of China Daily USA.