The twentieth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq will be marked by a continuing escalation of US involvement in the war in Ukraine. The US seems to have forgotten, or chooses not to remember, that the outcome of its invasion was death and destruction on a massive scale, the descent of Iraq into a sectarian civil war, and the emergence of ISIS. Certainly, the US seems oblivious to the many parallels to be drawn between its own unlawful invasion, which it launched without UN authorisation, and Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.
A little more than a year ago, Putin attempted to justify his invasion of Ukraine with the ludicrous claim that Russia is threatened by a Nazi regime in Kyiv. In 2003 the US sought to justify its invasion of Iraq with a false claim about weapons of mass destruction that supposedly threatened the West.
Russia’s targeting of critical Ukrainian infrastructure mirrors US strategy during its invasion of Iraq. Human Rights Watch reported that, during the first month of the war in Iraq, the US Air Force deliberately destroyed Iraqi water, sewerage and electrical facilities, and that “the attacks caused significant and long-term damage, and the civilian cost was high.”
The Russian destruction of Mariupol and the deadly battle for Bakhmut, in which the Wagner Group is laying waste to the city, are both comparable to the 2004 US attacks on the city of Fallujah, during which thousands of Iraqis were killed, including many women and children, and the city was reduced to rubble.
The Wagner Group, a private military contractor, had its American counterpart in Iraq: Blackwater Security Consulting. Among other atrocities, Blackwater carried out the 2007 Nisour Square Massacre in Baghdad, where the company murdered seventeen Iraqi civilians (convicted Blackwater operatives were pardoned by President Donald Trump in 2020).
The mass murder of Ukrainian civilians in Bucha by Russian soldiers is a terrible echo of the 2005 Haditha massacre in Iraq, when twenty-four unarmed Iraqi civilians were murdered by US marines in the town of Haditha – just one of several massacres of civilians by US forces during the invasion and occupation.
The Russian mistreatment, torture and sometimes murder of Ukrainian soldiers in captivity has an obvious parallel with the mistreatment and torture, and at least one murder, of Iraqi prisoners by US forces in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad.
The most significant parallel between Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the US invasion of Iraq is that the true purpose in each case was/is the pursuit of geopolitical dominance. Just as the US employed its overwhelming firepower in Iraq to increase its control over the Middle East as a whole, Russia has invaded Ukraine and threatened nuclear war in a determined bid to dominate its self-styled “near abroad”. Both wars are clear instances of imperialism.
The 2003 US invasion of Iraq had consequences far beyond anything imagined by those who launched it. President George W. Bush and the British prime minister Tony Blair had been repeatedly warned by a mobilised global anti-war movement that they would be opening a Pandora’s box by invading a Middle Eastern country. Similarly, in 2023 the global anti-war movement warns that the war in Ukraine, if it does not end soon, will have terrible consequences both within and far beyond the borders of that country for years to come. It is only sensible, then, that the government of neutral Ireland should be working for an immediate end to the war in Ukraine and for a peaceful resolution to all conflicts.
US aerial bombing of Iraq
Robert S. Dudney, ‘The Gulf War II Air Campaign, by the Numbers’, Air Force Magazine, July 2003: https://bit.ly/40aTWXN
Human Rights Watch, ‘Off Target: The Conduct of the War and Civilian Casualties in Iraq, 2003’: https://www.hrw.org/reports/2003/usa1203/4.5.htm
Nisour Square Massacre
Michael Safi, ‘Trump Pardons Blackwater Contractors Jailed For Massacre Of Iraq Civilians’, Guardian, 23 Dec. 2020: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/23/trump-pardons-blackwater-contractors-jailed-for-massacre-of-iraq-civilians
John Swift, ‘First Battle of Fallujah’, Encylopedia Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/event/First-Battle-of-Fallujah
John Swift, ‘Second Battle of Fallujah’, Encylopedia Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/event/Second-Battle-of-Fallujah