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Twenty years after the shock and awe

March 26, 2023

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Diario de Navarra

Pedro Vázquez de Prada

Teacher of International Office

In March 2003, President Bush ordered the employment of decisive force (shock and awe)against Saddam Hussein's regime. As a result, within days the regime fell, its armed forces were dismantled and the effort to turn Iraq into a democracy began.


After twenty years, almost half a million dead and more than two trillion dollars spent in the area, this analysis compares status today with then. The study states that the prestige of the United States (US) has declined; Iran has increased its influence in Iraq; China has assumed the role of successful mediator, opening ways of understanding in the Middle East; Israel is in its lowest hours; jihadism has been strengthened in global terms; and energy production hovers as another main - and mute - cause of the conflict. For its part, Iraq, with deep structural problems, is still looking for a way to build a balanced and corruption-free state, while the country continues to be a great opportunity for Spain.


Justification for the invasion

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the idea spread in the U.S. government that it was necessary to intervene in Iraq as well. The reason was threefold: Saddam Hussein was a satrap who oppressed the population and did not respect human rights; he was developing weapons of mass destruction that would be a danger to world stability; and he was collaborating with Al Qaeda, even participating in the attack on the twin towers.

The existence of weapons of mass destruction was based on U.S. and British intelligence reports that assured the existence of manufacturing facilities for these weapons that international inspection teams could never verify. Even Colin Powell pledged -and lost- his prestige at the United Nations by wrongly asserting the existence of mobile laboratories.

The motive for the invasion was called into question when Alan Greenspan explained in his memoirs that the real origin of the war was competition for energy sources.

Finally, a coalition invaded Iraq in 2003, dismantled the state, the armed forces and the society became completely unbalanced. Iraqi society's lack of - or indifference to - cultural knowledge produced unexpected effects. Sectarian violence broke out in the country from the Shiite majority that had suffered the ruling Sunni minority. After eight years of attempts to rebuild the state, Obama withdrew forces in December 2011 at a huge human and financial cost to both the U.S. and Iraq.

The US suffered an eloquent discredit during the campaign, not only for the fiasco of its intelligence, but also for calling into question with its behavior the rules-based world order that the country advocated. The intervention was carried out without UN support. Extensive use was made of the Blackwater mercenarygroup . Prisoners were tortured at Abu Ghraib and drones piloted from the US were used to carry out attacks, thus dismantling the concept of combatants, hitherto reduced to participants in the theater of operations.

In 2014, radical Sunni groups had created the ISIS or DAESH caliphate that occupied part of northwestern Iraq and Syria, with terrorists coming from various countries of the world, with funding from like-minded states, and bloody and ruthless actions with the civilian population, reaching very close to Baghdad. The Iraqi government requested financial aid to the USA, which formed an international coalition, with a UN mandate, to put an end to DAESH, which made it partially recover its lost prestige.

Even today, China has been greatly strengthened by its mediation between Iran and Saudi Arabia and its agreement to re-establish diplomatic relations. Moreover, Iran, a natural ally of the Shiites, has consolidated a stronger position of influence in the country than before the invasion.

On the other hand, the first victim of the war was the truth, with the campaign in support of military intervention, denigrating thinkers and journalists contrary to official thinking, and countries that proposed different alternatives. The embedded journalists ended up becoming "stenographers rather than reporters".

Today, Iraq is trying to create a stable, independent security structure capable of containing the jihadist insurgency, while fighting corruption and promoting coexistence between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. Moreover, its energy resources - the main source of income source - are managed directly or indirectly by foreign companies. And Israel is going through one of its lowest hours in 2023, with a serious internal crisis and a highly polarized society.

The US leads the coalition against DAESH and NATO has a training and advisory mission statement . It is not out of the question that we will witness an increased presence of China, which has found a way to foster stability in the area, and of Iran, a natural ally of most Iraqis.

Finally, for Spain, Iraq represents an opportunity to strengthen our influence in the area. We have close ties and a prestige factor that we could take advantage of through the Crown, our culture and our businessmen.