Last week marked the ninth anniversary of the United States' invasion of Iraq and the first since the much-bandied-about withdrawal of US troops in December last year.
Neither the invasion nor the withdrawal warrants celebration, especially as the former was an international war crime and the latter a charade.
The invasion in March 2003 did not have the prior approval of the United Nations and according to international law experts and the then UN chief Kofi Annan, it was illegal. The George W. Bush administration misled the American public and the world at large by claiming that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and had links with the al-Qaeda terrorists who used civilian planes to attack the United States on September 11, 2001.
The invasion based on lies — which the Bush administration later attributed to intelligence failure — led to the deaths of some 1.4 million people in a country where another million people, half of whom were children, had died due to 12 years of US-backed sanctions. The stone-hearted sanction-era US Secretary of State Madeline Albright justified the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children as a price worth paying.
The war also brought destruction, especially to Iraq's infrastructure facilities, rendering some 24 million people without electricity for months and years. State-run factories were deliberately bombed to be privatized later or to be rebuilt by western construction companies.
Even educational facilities were not spared. A UNESCO report released in March 2003, coinciding with the invasion, said the education system in Iraq was one of the best in the region with high levels of literacy. The higher education facilities, especially the scientific and technological institutions, were of an international standard, staffed by high quality personnel.
But today, as a direct result of the US invasion, Iraq has lower literacy rate than it had 25 years ago, because the occupying power began its occupation by destroying every aspect of the country's education system, says a statement released this month by more than 15 non-governmental organisations.
Nine years after the invasion, the country's government which is ironically backed by the US and Iran — foes in the ongoing nuclear standoff — cannot boast of providing uninterrupted electricity services to the people. One third of the population has no access to clean drinking water. Unemployment is at an all time high with university graduates working in building construction sites as labourers. All this is happening in a country which is known to hold the world's second largest oil reserves.
However, the invaders spared the oil facilities. When people resorted to looting government facilities, including the world famous Baghdad museum after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime in April 2003, the occupying US forces did little or nothing to stop them. But they gave protection to the oil ministry, underscoring the fact that their mission was not to find weapons of mass destruction or to liberate the Iraqi people from dictatorship, but to plunder Iraq's oil resources.
Multinational oil companies which were absent during the Saddam Hussein era are back and the Nouri al-Maliki government is under heavy pressure from the Americans to enact a controversial oil law that will allow virtual privatization of Iraq's oil reserves. Already the autonomous Kurdistan region in the north has done it by signing production sharing agreements with Exxon Mobil, in defiance of the central government.
On another front, the reconstruction of the destroyed infrastructure facilities is being carried out by US and other foreign firms. They are paid by Iraq's treasury. The state of affairs is analogous to a situation where a man hires the very thug who destroyed his house to reconstruct it.
Civil society activists claim that corruption runs deep in the government with foreign collaboration. The US$ 6.6 billion which went missing and was mysteriously found in Iraq's Central Bank last year following an audit uproar speaks volumes about the corruption and the collusion.
In the United States, meanwhile, the Obama camp made use of the anniversary to drive home a point that the President had honoured his campaign promise that he would bring the troops home.
But this is a big lie. The ground reality points to the presence of some 50,000 US troops backed by 45,000 private mercenaries and 15,000 officials, many of whom are military or intelligence personnel in civil dress. This adds up to a force of 110,000 — bigger than the US presence in Afghanistan.
The presence of the mercenary force is a new concept in the Western war strategy. It allows the Western governments to do the wrong thing in the right way or to commit war crimes and get away. When 17 Iraqi civilians were mown down by Blackwater mercenaries in 2007, the blame was put on the private firm rather than on the US government which hired it. The Iraqi government banned Blackwater, but it returned under a different name — Xe. The US government investigations into crimes committed by private mercenaries seldom end up in conviction. Often cases against the mercenary killers drag on for years and are then dropped.
In Iraq, the private security forces or the mercenaries enjoy some degree of immunity under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). In Libya, too, the private mercenaries hired by Western governments played a major role in the toppling of the Gaddafi regime while in Pakistan, a mercenary killed two youths and got away in January last year.
As Iraq marks the ninth anniversary of the invasion, violence and bomb blasts are still part of Iraq's daily life. So is sectarian violence which was unheard of during the Saddam Hussein era. In the simmering fire, the Iraqi people's cry for war crimes accountability is only a whimper.