Instability found 20 years after US invasion of Iraq, but no weapons of mass destruction

The Nation  |  Mar 21, 2023

 Instability found 20 years after US invasion of Iraq, but no weapons of mass destruction

Two decades have passed since the US invasion of Iraq, known originally as "Operation Iraqi Freedom," with the war's legacy continuing to reverberate throughout the region.

Sunday marked 20 years since US warplanes began a campaign of overwhelming bombing across Iraq known as "shock and awe" that set the stage for American forces to invade the country, ultimately toppling the Iraqi military, and with it, Saddam Hussein's government.

The war marked Washington's second in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and led to the ouster of Hussein, Iraq's longtime ruler who was hanged after being found guilty of crimes against humanity by an Iraqi court.

Hussein's weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) touted by the Bush administration as the impetus for the war were never found, however. The claims made before the American public and the United Nations marked "one of the most public—and most damaging—intelligence failures in recent American history," the US government determined

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"The flaws we found in the Intelligence Community’s Iraq performance are still all too common," the report from the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States found in its 2005 report.

In Hussein's absence, however, instability reigned with the US turning its focus to fighting a growing number of threats from terrorist organizations, including al-Qaeda in Iraq, which would morph into Daesh/ISIS. Washington simultaneously sought to embark on a tenuous effort at nation-building that produced markedly mixed results.

While US forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011, many would return in 2014 to combat the threat posed by al-Qaeda in Iraq's successor.

Daesh/ISIS would grow to become a terrorist organization without peer, claiming unprecedented reach and territorial control, including about a third of Syria and 40% of Iraq by 2014 before a US-led international coalition rolled it back, ultimately destroying its "caliphate" five years later.

But its threat persists. Military operations continue to take place in both countries to stamp out remaining cells and senior leadership as Daesh/ISIS continues to inspire and direct attacks far beyond the Middle East.

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To date, the US has spent some $1.79 trillion on the wars in Iraq and Syria, and 4,599 US troops have been killed, according to a tally from the Costs of War Project, a research group based at Brown University. Future costs from veterans' medical and disability care are estimated to bring the US financial toll to $2.89 trillion by 2050.

And about 580,000 civilians are estimated to have been killed in Iraq and Syria since 2003. Up to four times that number may have died as a result of what is known as "indirect deaths," which include people who died as a result of displacement, access to safe drinking water, and preventable diseases.

"Nearly every war begins with an ostensibly clear cause, high aims, and optimistic assessments about its outcome, duration, and costs. So it was with the Iraq war began in 2003, which the United States launched under the ultimately proven false assertion that there were weapons of mass destruction being produced and stockpiled by the Iraqi government," the Costs of War Project said in a report marking the 20th anniversary of the Iraq War.

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"As the Costs of War project has documented consistently, these optimistic assumptions are confronted by a record of death, high and ongoing costs, and regional devastation," it added.

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