As we approach the 10-year anniversary of the launch of the U.S. war in Iraq, experts begin to examine the consequences.
Related Story: Iraq War's Consequences 10 Years Later
CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. Ten years ago this month, U.S. forces invaded Iraq. The rationale for war was that Saddam Hussein possessed weapon was mass destruction that could threaten America. Political leaders said Iraqis would welcome the U.S. military as liberator, and the war would be over in months. None of that proved true. More than 36,000 American military personnel were kill or injured. Iraqi deaths go as high as a million. A forum in UC San Diego tonight will examine some of the consequences of the war. Joining me now are two men who will be speaking at that event. Professor Ibrahim Al-Marashi is a professor of Middle East history at cal state San Marcos. Thank you for joining us.
AL-MARASHI: My pleasure.
CAVANAUGH: Doctor Wael Al-Delaimy is a professor at UC San Diego, he came to the U.S. from Iraq in 1994.
AL-DELAIMY: Thank you for having me.
CAVANAUGH: How would you describe the situation in Iraq ten years after the invasion?
AL-MARASHI: Ten years the invasion, I would say the 2003 Iraq war unleashed a cancer of sectarianism in Iraq. It pervades the politics. Unfortunately it pervades daily life. Sectarianism wasn't an aspect of politics under Saddam Hussein. Ten years after the events, that's the major consequence.
CAVANAUGH: Sunni and Shiites?
AL-MARASHI: Not just Sunni and Shiites, but amongst Sunnis. Arab versus Kurd, intercommunal and extra communal.
CAVANAUGH: And doctor?
AL-DELAIMY: Well, I think only time would tell, and that's why we're reflecting on it now ten years after. And I believe from all level, it was a loss, it was a defeat. Because economically it cost more than $3 trillion. The influence of the U.S. on Iraq is negligible, politicically or economically, and the loss of life that you just mentioned. Plus I think the human rights abuses have tarnished the image of the U.S. internationally, and that is longlasting. So I think it's -- it was a very bad decision.
CAVANAUGH: A you left Iraq 20 years ago. Supporters of the war say even though no weapons of mass destruction were found, and the war lasted a lot longer than they thought, that the people of Iraq are better off without Saddam Hussein. Is there truth to that?
AL-DELAIMY: Well, if you follow human rights watch and amnesty international, this is baseless in many aspects. It summarized that the new order, that there is summarily arbitrary unlawful detentions of thousands and thousands of people, mostly based on sect. Torture, death squads, and a corruption that has not been seen under Saddam. So democracy is not just about election, it is about the rule of law. It is about giving the freedom for people. And there are hundreds of thousands of demonstrations for the last two months, and they have been persecuted, assassinated. Some of them unarmed being killed.
CAVANAUGH: Professor, your connection to the beginning of the Iraq war is -- I suppose perhaps even bizarre. Your report on intelligence and security in Iraq under Saddam was used as part of the case for going to war in Iraq. How did the U.S. and British government use that information?
AL-MARASHI: Well, it was a journal article I wrote about the intelligence agencies under Saddam Hussein. That was copied and pasted from the Internet. And it went into a UK intelligence quote unquote document that the British parliament voted to go to war against Iraq, more or less based on that document as a factor. And that document was also taken by Colin Powell during his famous presentation to the security council. He said according to this fine paper, it shows the danger that Iraq presents. And the discovery that is documented has been plagiarized well before the war and was never made blatant in the American consequence.
CAVANAUGH: They called it the dodgies doier.
AL-MARASHI: If this dossier is dodgy, the entire argument for war might be dodgy. That question was never asked. But it should have been a red flashing light.
CAVANAUGH: Now, professor, you did not write this intelligence report to make a case for the need to -- for U.S. invasion of Iraq.
AL-MARASHI: No, this was just a primer about how Iraqi society under Saddam Hussein -- how the government of Saddam Hussein stays in power, and it really had to do about 1991. My thesis was about the 1991 gulf crisis. It was just describing events that were considering a decade before.
CAVANAUGH: Did you support the invasion of Iraq in 2003?
AL-MARASHI: That's a question that an -- as an Iraqi American I should never answer properly. Because for the Americans, it was black and white. Pro war or against war. And it's never asked can you be equally against both. Saddam Hussein's government was brutal. But there is also this realization back then that the postwar consequences can be equally as brutal. And so to ask me no to either, did I support the war or was I against it, no, I was deeply ambiv lent. In a perfect world, Saddam Hussein would not have been in power, and the war would have been avoided. It was a Sophie's choice, so to speak. I could never even to this day express my feelings about whether I was pro war or against war.
CAVANAUGH: Doctor, be although you were not supportive of the U.S. invasion as I understand correctly, what did you think might be the best outcome for Iraq?
AL-DELAIMY: Well, what I thought would be the best outcome is if Saddam was removed and then a true freedom and democracy kind of ushers in under the auspice of the United States, that would have been the perfect scenario. Although wiser and older people inside Iraq told me it will never happen as an occupation, destruction comes with occupation, I still kind of hoped this would happen. But clearly after Paul Brenner took over, the destruction began, stage by stage institutionalized, actually, and it has continued till now.
CAVANAUGH: How do you, doctor, explains breakdown in the country, within the country of Iraq into sectarian violence? My understanding was that before the U.S. invasion of Iraq that people of different forms of Islam, different racial minorities, I mean, they lived in harmony. Is that too strong a statement? Or there was not this level of sectarian violence, let's put it that way.
AL-DELAIMY: Yes. For hundreds and more years, there has been no history of sectarian violence in Iraq. There was intermarriage, people lived in harmony. Nobody bothered, what's your sector background, each one has their own belief. Plus Saddam was secular in that aspect. So he didn't try and utilize that. When the invasion happened, the people who came with the invasion who were outside the U.S. were sectarian. And so they were unknown basically, and to get their political clout, they used that sectarianism. And the U.S. actually supported it very, very strongly.
CAVANAUGH: You mean Iraqi leaders that came in with the U.S.
AL-DELAIMY: Yes, yes.
CAVANAUGH: I see.
AL-DELAIMY: And as you might have heard in this recent report, that kind of made an investigation report that showed actually the U.S. deliberately made this sectarianism by putting one sect militia, as part of the police to persecute the other sect. And that has spiralled into thousands of deaths till today.
CAVANAUGH: Ibrahim, I uponed to ask you, a bit criticism of the invasion of Iraq is that America fought the wrong war, that all of our resources should have been concentrated on defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan. What is your opinion of that?
AL-MARASHI: I absolutely agree. The Iraq war was a diversion. And in that diversion, the Taliban was allowed to regroup and rearm. It's not only we fought the wrong war, we fought it at the wrong dime. And that -- the case for weapons of mass destruction, Saddam being a brutal dictator was demonstrated in 1988 when he deployed chemical weapons against the town of halub ja. Why make a case of this all the way in 2003 when it was obvious back in 1988? Why did we turn a behind eye back then? So for all the talk of weapons of mass destruction and the brutality of Saddam Hussein, I found it a bit disingenuous. I remembered a pain in my heart when I saw those pictures of halub jaand thought why is the world and particularly the U.S. not doing anything? So yeah, it was the wrong war at the wrong time.
CAVANAUGH: Considering how the paper you wrote on Iraq was used to help convince the world, really, that the war in Iraq needed to be fought, that Iraq was a threat, what lessons can we learn about the information that we're now getting about other threats around the world? What's the basis of the intelligence used for us to learn about Iran's nuclear program?
AL-MARASHI: Well, I think in the past the term intelligence, just in and of itself was a source of authority. It was beyond scrutiny. It was the assumption that the government knows something we don't know because they have resources that are not available to us. In this day and age, now I think anytime the government uses the word intelligence to justify some kind of executive policy, we have to question that. And I think that incident with my paper demonstrates that any time the term intelligence is used, it's something that should be questioned, scrutinized rather than believed without any doubt.
CAVANAUGH: And doctor, I understand that you are reluctant to speak publicly about what's going on now in Iraq. What is happening as far as you feel comfortable speaking about it, to people who do speak out against the government there?
AL-DELAIMY: Well, unfortunately the -- what is on the surface is that there is democracy, there is freedom of speech, there are many media -- channels, but there is a road mine that if anybody pursues, this they get prosecuted. So as shown in the demonstrations in 2011 the leaders of those demonstrations were detained and then those who were continued were killed. Assassinated. And the same thing is happening now for the demonstrations against the corruption, against the political system that is becoming almost like a dictatorship. They are persecuted, they are being targeted, and the easiest thing is to issue a warrant of arrest and accusation of terrorism. That is the kind of stamp is that given against any political opponent or anybody who speaks against the government.
CAVANAUGH: There was I think it's fair to say a bit of celebration here in the U.S. when the U.S. forces left Iraq. Considering though that the subject of your panel discussion tonight is consequences, what do you both think the responsibility is that the U.S. now has to Iraq and the people of Iraq?
AL-DELAIMY: Well, I think the moral responsibility is is that the U.S. went and essentially destroyed a country and its fabric, its system and left it. And now even when there are people on the ground trying peacefully to demonstrate to get their rights Democratically, the U.S. is not supporting them. And they're leaving them to the brutality and the persecution of the government. So I think instead of ending up like what happened in Syria and it becomes too late, and the death and destruction, the U.S. has to take a moral stand for democracy and human rights, which is supposedly the aim of this invasion.
CAVANAUGH: And Ibrahim?
AL-MARASHI: As a society and particularly the media, the agenda-setters, I have to be wary about Iraq. It had been such a long war the tendency is to forget about the issues. The same thing happened in Afghanistan. The government falls, it's forgotten about, and all the tension is put on Iraq. And the danger when the fourth state or society doesn't keep on monitoring, the consequences of America's war, not just the actual conflict, gives us as a society the tendency to forget. And whether it's Iraq, we have to keep engaged with the subjects.
CAVANAUGH: The conference, Iraq since 2003, 10 years of consequences will take place tonight at the Robinson auditorium at UC San Diego. Thank you both very much for speaking with us.
AL-MARASHI: My pleasure.
AL-DELAIMY: Thank you.