2003 in the Middle East, the mask of the “Operation Iraqi Freedom” and the reality behind it


On March 19, 2003, with the support of the United Kingdom, Australia, and Poland, the United States sent almost 180,000 troops into Iraq. It was the first phase that started the Iraq war, also called the Second Persian Gulf War. A disruption that lasted for eight years, which was conceived to be divided into two different phases. The first of the two was the invasion, called “Shock and Awe”, which lasted for over a month (until May 1, 2003), the continuous advancement of the US-led military forces was the first tier of what then became a U.S.-led occupation, consistently opposed by an insurgency of the local population. The second phase instead is the one that lasted until the end of 2011, when on December 15, the last troops of the U.S. left Iraq. The motivation behind this action, as declared by the U.S., was to free Iraq from the obscure forces of terrorism and bring the peace of democracy. For this reason, the mission was called “Operation Iraqi Freedom”. However, the reality of facts goes way further from this: a reality that has come out only after seven years of devastation, that is the invasion of Iraq executed by the president of United States George Bush was useless and aimless. 

The prelude: In 1990, the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq ended with its defeat when a U.S. led coalition fought back the invasion in the Persian Gulf War (ended in 1991). Despite the defeat, the Iraqi branch of the Ba’th Party managed to quickly retain power, with Saddam Hussein as head-leader guiding the oppression of the uprising minority of the country, Kurds, and the majority of it too, Shiite Arabs. The oppression escalated quite quickly, the mass migration of Kurds from Iraq required the help of the Alliance and, consequently, of the United Nations: that was the first of many interventions made by the UN. Iraq was kept under surveillance, both to restrain the chances of a future attack and to slow down the Iraqi progress in building lethal weapons. Nevertheless, the country kept interfering with the inspections made by the UN, one of which brought up to evidence the use of prohibited technology. On September 11, 2001, the Twin Towers were destroyed by a terrorist attack that disintegrated the thin wall – metaphorically speaking – between two worlds. The entire population was a witness to the catastrophe, and everyone knew that was the beginning of something monstrously devastating. After the attack, in 2002 the new president of the United States, George Bush, declared that the attack and the support of Iraq for terrorist groups (such as Al-Qaeda and his group) were imminent danger and its disarming had to be a priority. 


On February 5, 2003, the Secretary of State Colin Powell showed to the UN Security Council what was declared to be a sample of anthrax, the same substance that, after the 9/11 attack, killed five people and infected 17 through poisoned letters, all of them had Iraqi origins. It was held as proof of the evil plans of mass destruction of Saddam Hussein, the president of Iraq at that time. Despite being not-explicitly known that Saddam Hussein had to do with terrorist activities, those proofs that were presented before the Council were fake, it was all a plotted scene with a useful tool that served its purpose perfectly. On March 17 of the same year, Bush put an end to the diplomatic procedures and gave an ultimatum of 48 hours to Saddam to leave his country, and when he refused to do so, the U.S. with allied forces sent the first attack the morning after. 

The truth behind the conflict. To the world, President George Bush and the British Prime Minister Blair presented their mission as necessary to free the Middle East from an oppressive regime and give to the people democracy. Nevertheless, after 13 years, in 2016, the truth came out, and it was announced to the same world that the so famous invasion that started a long-lasting war not only was pointless, but it was also based on lies. Some scholars who studied the events, for example, Professor Angelo Baracca , correlated the event to the neoconservative strategists of 1 the United States who planned on a “Creative Chaos”, a sequence of wars and coup d’etat which aimed to spread democracy and abolish presumed “dictatorships”. As a proof of his theory, Professor Baracca studied the strategy used in 1911 in Syria to take away the power from the – so-called by the neocons – dictator Bashar Al-Assad, to the strategy planned in 2006 with the same aim in Libya. While it is impossible to know the identities of those 2 behind these schemes, it is still clear that the master executors of the big plan knew what they were getting their own countries into. “An effort to overthrow the regime in Baghdad could unravel if we’re not careful, intersecting to create a ‘perfect storm’ for American interests” three veteran diplomats with long experience in the Arab world wrote to Colin Powell on July 29, 2002. The note was contained in a file recently declassified, as published on The Wall Street Journal . This file was 3 classified because the Secretary of the State decided to ignore the warning and continued the mission. But Powell was not the only one who had been almost thwarted: in 2003, right after Prime Minister Blair obtained the permission from the Parliament- although through a lie- to proceed with the invasion with the U.S., John Chilcot presided a commission in London to discover the truth behind the events. An operation which was entitled as titanic and long-lasting, but that resulted in successful 


As it was analyzed in Chilcot’s report , an armed attack of this nature violates the 4 fundamental principles of international humanitarian law which require a distinction between civilian population and combatants, and between civilian infrastructure and military objectives. Despite the lack of formal authorization from the UN Security Council, the intervention was justified based on an approach that will go down in history as a “preventive war”. What consequences did all this have in our reality? A simple pretext was able to destroy not only the Middle East but also other countries as well, and mostly the humankind. Everyone witnessed the disastrous event, whether it was by remote or on the war field. What was presented to be a heroic mission, what was declared to be a victory before it even ended, brought nothing but disruption instead of safety. The Middle East could not help but seeing those who called themselves “liberators” as invaders. In Bagdad, American soldiers started assaulting cities and the inhabitants were assaulting them back; in Bassora, the British troops took over the population, leaving them with no faith in their authority. In the rage of the war, there were no good or bad sides; when the Baath party was dissolved and the leaders were imprisoned, the rightful punishment did not get recognized at the time. Sunnis soldiers united with the Jihadists decided to be gone hiding, while the rest of the Arab forces were dispersed. The impact of the invasion also compromised the fragile borders of each state of the Middle East, shaking down the stability of their structure. 

The humanitarian and economic costs of a single lie. 

The outrageous invasion not only gave birth to a long-lasting war, but it also had costs incredibly elevated, both humanitarian and economic, that many countries had to face, not only the ones directly involved. 

  1. The Occidental point of view According to the statistics of the Brown University , after the formal departure of the 5 American troops from Iraq, the war costed to the U.S. about $1700 billion, plus other $490 billion for the assistance of the veterans. The wars after the invasion accompanied violations of human rights and civil liberties both abroad and in the U.S., and its government conducted counterterror activities in 80 other countries other than Iraq. 4500 Americans lost their lives, and 600 thousand veterans were registered as disabled or with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. After many years, American soldiers who survived to the atrocities of the war confessed that most of the times they could not understand who was the enemy and what was the purpose of their missions. Other countries, like Italy and United Kingdom, took part as allies and the entire Alliance lost 4838 soldiers and no amount of money was estimated for their expenditures, however they had to finance the assistance of those who survived, both soldiers and doctors sent there to help in the fields as well. 

These numbers do not represent the reality of the war. There is a detail that needs to be kept in mind before analyzing the elements of the impacts on the occidental side, especially in the U.S.: the 9/11 attack was a revolutionary event. For the first time, the entire American society saw with its own eyes the beginning of a war. It was not the first time the U.S. took part in a war, but it was the first time that a war took place in their territory. Suddenly, the Middle East, that until that moment felt so distant and far away, had gotten almost too close for the society to bear with it. Lives were destroyed in front of those who thought it could never happen. The instability caused by the fear of the people facilitated Bush to convince the public opinion, which was easy to manipulate, of the necessity of an effective intervention. 

  1. The Oriental point of view Nonetheless, the war had the most significant impact on the Iraqi population, an impact that lasted even after the American withdrawal. According to the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine, the average deaths each day were between 48 to 759, and the average number of war refugees (also in Giordania and Syria) were about five million . But none of these numbers could ever express the real costs and 6 damages that the entire Middle East had to endure. In fact, the impacts keep growing through time still nowadays, both humanitarian and geopolitical. While the rest of the world was trying to catch a breath after eight years, the Middle East had to pay also for the indirect consequences. The disastrous conditions of Iraq gave a chance to Iran to gain advantages by them, while the tension in Saudi Arabia and Syria got accentuated. Instead of bringing a liberal democracy, the invasion and the oppression brought almost 400 thousand deaths post-war (so after 2011 ) and millions of people had to move away and migrate to Europe, which was still recovering from the damages of the Second World War and could not handle another crisis. From violence came only more violence: aggressions made by the Jihadists and the contrasts between Arabs and Kurds and between Shiites and Sunnis. Years after, even President Barack Obama expressed his idea that ISIS itself is the result of Al-Qaeda’s projects combined with the invasion of his own country. Moreover, still nowadays, nine years 7 after the end of the war, there are conflicts within the Middle East and between the U.S. and the latter. At the beginning of the current year, 2020, there was indeed the fear of a Third World War as the tensions worsened between the U.S. led by Donald Trump as president and Iran. Once again, the world would have witnessed a war based on conflicts and schemes, and it is all related to the extreme disruption that was brought into these countries. 

It was not just about a conflict between two hemispheres, nor about bringing peace and democracy: it’s about the Arab population that once again was attacked and destroyed. Yet another attempt to annihilate the identity of the Middle East, centuries of heritage and traditions of a fascinating world that seems so far and close at the same time. The centre of technological innovation and progress has also become centre of violence and conflicts, caused by decades of wars and destruction both external and internal. It is true that most of the internal conflict were already present before the American-led invasion, but the war did nothing but worsen them. After 17 years from the beginning of the Second Persian Gulf War the Middle East hasn’t found its peace yet and our worlds have not come closer together. 


 Bibliography Best, Anthony- Hanhimaki, Jussi M.- Maiolo, Joseph A.- Schulze, Kirsten E., “International History of the Twentieth Century and Beyond” Second Edition, chapter 13, pages 315-333 

Slater, Kathryn- Johns, Andrew L. (eds),” The Eisenhower Administration, the Third World and the Globalization of the Third World “(Lanham, MD, 2006) 

Burnham, Gilbert- Doocy, Shannon- Dzeng, Elizabeth -Lafta, Riyadh -Roberts, Les “The Human Cost of the War in Iraq. A Mortality Study”, 2002-2006 Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University Baltimore, Maryland School of Medicine, Al Mustansiriya University Baghdad, Iraq -in cooperation with the Center for International Studies Massachusetts, Institute of Technology Cambridge, Massachusetts 

Tirman, John “The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America’s Wars” (Oxford) 2011, chapter 2, chapter 7. 

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