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The enduring impact of the invasion of Iraq 2003

Disclaimer: The views expressed are that of the individual author. All rights are reserved to the original authors of the materials consulted, which are identified in the footnotes below.

By Jaspreet Chahal

A brief history

Modern-day Iraq is a six millennia-old society,[1] which has suffered many challenges in the 20th century over harnessing the rich natural resources in their lands, such as their: fertile river valley, black gold and oil.[2] In the 1920s, the British Mandate struck an oil concession with the British-instituted Iraqi-government, in order to keep the oil in foreign hands until the decolonisation movement after World War Two.[3] The 20th century remained a turbulent period for Iraq with various governments and monarchies exchanging power, and radically changing the country to suit their ideologies.[4]

In July 1979, Saddam Hussain became President through the first peaceful transition in over twenty years. However, he very brutally oppressed all opposition to him.[5] In the 1990s, Hussain invaded Kuwait, but decisive international action caused a humiliating defeat to Iraq with harsh consequences.[6] Iraq’s economy sunk, despite owing $50 billion to foreign creditors and a further $10 billion for weapons.[7] And coalition bombing destroyed significant level of industry and infrastructure. Diplomatically, all coalition members cut diplomatic ties and participated in harsh UN sanctions, including the US and many European states.[8]

In 2003, there was increasing fears over Hussain’s threat to the West; firstly, allowing safe havens for members of al-Qaeda and state sponsoring terrorism, similar to Afghanistan before 2001; secondly, developing successful weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The UN resolution 1441[9] was passed compelling Hussain to prove he had abandoned his WMD (as part of the Gulf War peace settlement of 1991). After the inspections, Bush and Blair were unconvinced and decided to launch an illegal war, with the ‘coalition of the willing’,[10] which successfully resulted in the execution of Hussain (in 2006, after being captured in 2003), ending his 24-year dictatorship.

Short term impacts

Iraq almost totally collapsed into a failed state due to the inept occupation by the coalition forces who understood little about Iraq and planned the nation’s future very poorly. A power vacuum occurred and various opposition, fringe groups moved to fill the void through insurgencies. As a result, a climate of violence was fostered as Ambassador Paul Bremer III tried to fundamentally alter Iraqi society through direct rule, which was opposed by the Sunni Muslims, the Ba’thists, and al-Qa’ida.[11] A Shia-dominated government caused violence to continue to civil war proportions in 2006.

Economically, 500,000 workers in the 190 state-owned oil companies were sacked, and foreign takeovers and lowering corporate tax rates allowed under Bremmer. Unemployment ran at 70% in 2004.[12] By 2007, the International Red Cross called the dire situation of the Iraqi’s ‘unbearable and unacceptable’, with people still killed daily in 2008.[13]

Civilians were the predominant victims in the Iraq War, most notoriously in the ‘Fallujah massacre’, with 4,000-6,000 civilians dying, mostly women and children[14] in direct opposition to the Geneva Convention IV, Article 146.[15] The deployment of at least 2,836 chemical weapons by US forces, including white phosphorous and napalm bombs as incendiary weapons was also prevalent, despite being hazardous airborne.[16] Many argue that this has caused slow developing cancers and chronic crises like higher rates of congenital birth defects as a result of using depleted uranium between 1991-2010, but most damage will be clearer in the years to come.[17]

4.5 million Iraqi children were orphans in February 2011, 500,000 children lived on the streets without shelter and basic living items, education had ended due to the destruction to education infrastructures by aerial bombardments by US forces, and economic meltdown leading to child labour.[18] And the Lancet study demonstrated that by 2006, 655,000 Iraqis had been killed directly due to the invasion.[19]

Long term impacts

The destabilisation of Hussain’s government has resulted in unstable governments in Iraq, with varying forces vying for power. Due to the power vacuum after Hussain’s death, fringe groups came to the forefront, and were able to increase recruitment, like al-Qaeda. The sectarian violence following the war into the early 2010s provided the right environment for ISIL’s rapid conquest of Iraq, especially after conquering Mosul in 2014. As a result, the cycle of violence has forced Iraqi’s to seek safe havens in bordering nations such as Syria and Jordan, and others to leave for Europe.[20] Despite the defeat of ISIL, the government still considers it ‘very likely for terrorists to carry out attacks in Iraq and widespread violence likely,[21] this was likely driven by techniques learned in the first six years of conflict where attacks like IEDs and kidnaps first became more common.[22]

Today in Iraq, there exists an environment of violence. Amnesty International argues that many activists have been threatened, beaten in Iraq by factions of the PMU (Popular Mobilisation Units, a security force). In the northern Kurdistan Region, the governments have imposed curfews repeatedly in October/November 2019 and blocked access to the internet, with many believing it was to prevent the circulation of abuses by security forces. 1.55 million people are still internally displaced, (82% are women and children[23]), with some as long-term refugees from the invasion of Iraq, and others from ISIL. Displaced people have severe restrictions on movement, even for medical purposes.[24]

For an extensive period of time, southern Iraqi’s have been unable to access clean water due to multiple governmental failures since the 1980s. In summer 2018, 118,000 people were hospitalised as a result of poor water quality. There have been documented cases of rape, sexual slavery and forced marriage by ISIL forces of Yazidi women and girls from 2014-2017, but no-one has been prosecuted for any crimes like these.[25]



[1] P Marr, The Modern History of Iraq (3rd edn, Westview Press 2012) 8 [2] Ibid, 19 [3] Ibid, 46 [4] Ibid, 38-220 [5] Ibid, 265 [6] Ibid, 319 [7] Ibid, 323 [8] Ibid, 339 [9] United Nations, 'UN Resolution 1441' (UN Org, 8 November 2002) <> accessed 24 November 2020 [10] S Schifferes, 'US says 'coalition of willing' grows' (BBC News, 21 March 2003) <> accessed 24 November 2020 [11] P Marr, The Modern History of Iraq (3rd edn, Westview Press 2012) 381 [12] 'Iraqi unemployment reaches 70%' (Al Jazeera News, 1 August 2004) <> accessed 24 November 2020 [13] I Black, 'Red Cross details 'unbearable suffering' of Iraqi civilians' (The Guardian, World News, 11 April 2007) <> accessed 24 November 2020 [14] N Khawaja, 'Human Rights Violations Under US Occupation in Iraq: An Analysis' [2012] 65(3) Pakistan Horizon 62 [15] N Khawaja, 'Human Rights Violations Under US Occupation in Iraq: An Analysis' [2012] 65(3) Pakistan Horizon 63 [16] N Khawaja, 'Human Rights Violations Under US Occupation in Iraq: An Analysis' [2012] 65(3) Pakistan Horizon 60 [17] T Jones, 'Toxic War and the Politics of Uncertainty in Iraq' [2014] 46(4) International Journal of Middle East Studies 797 [18] Noor-ul-Ain Khawaja, 'Human Rights Violations Under US Occupation in Iraq: An Analysis' [2012] 65(3) Pakistan Horizon 79 [19] T Abdulrazaq, 'Invasion of Iraq: The original sin of the 21st century' (Al Jazeera News: Opinion, Humanitarian Crises, 20 March 2018) <> accessed 25 November 2020 [20] T Abdulrazaq, 'Invasion of Iraq: The original sin of the 21st century' (Al Jazeera News: Opinion, Humanitarian Crises, 20 March 2018) <> accessed 25 November 2020 [21] UK Government, 'Iraq' (Foreign Travel Advice) <> accessed 25 November 2020 [22] F Wherey and others, The Iraq War and the Future of Terrorism: Lessons Learned and New Strategic Trends (RAND Corporation 2010) 105-141 [23] A Van der Wolff, 'The Denial of Identity Cards to Islamic State Affiliates: a Recipe for Renewed Radicalisation?' [2019] 4(31) Middle East Research Institute 1-4 [24] Amnesty International, 'Iraq 2019' (Iraq 2019) <,suspected%20of%20affiliation%20with%20IS.&text=Death%20sentences%20were%20handed%20down,related%20crimes%2C%20murder%20and%20kidnapping> accessed 25 November 2020 [25] Human Rights Watch, 'Iraq 2019' (Iraq) <> accessed 25 November 2020

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