Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

The legacy of the Iraq War 20 years later

 April 19, 2023 at 12:30 PM PDT

S1: It has been 20 years since the start of the Iraq war. One key moment in the run up to the war was a speech given by then Secretary of State Colin Powell , which made the case for the US invasion. It cited evidence that Iraq's then leader , Saddam Hussein , had weapons of mass destruction.

S2: The United States will not and cannot run that risk to the American people , leaving Saddam Hussein in possession of weapons of mass destruction for a few more months or years is not an option. Not in a post September 11th world.

S1: In that speech , Powell referenced a British intelligence report that plagiarized the research of then PhD student and Iraqi American Ibrahim al Marash. It turned into a life altering experience for him. Today , he's an associate professor at Cal State San Marcos , and he's sharing his experience and thoughts on the lasting legacy of the Iraq war. Professor Morici , welcome. Thank you. You've said your research was not only plagiarized , but also misrepresented.

S3: Not only was it taken out of context to justify an impending war in 2003 , key words were changed to make the illusion that Saddam Hussein was working with terrorist groups like al-Qaeda. So in my original article I mentioned the Iraqi state had supported opposition groups to hostile regimes. The word opposition was changed to terrorist groups , and that was part of a larger narrative right up to the invasion of conflating Saddam Hussein with al-Qaida.

S1: And tell me more about how you found out about the report.

S3: I got an email from an academic in Cambridge University in the United Kingdom asking if I had written or contributed to the British intelligence dossier and more or less responded , What dossier are you referring to ? So that comma helped prove beyond a doubt any doubt that plagiarism had occurred , but I just left it at that. I just assumed , How will the world ever find out about this ? And it was that academic who informed the British media they broke the story. And more or less one day you have to imagine I woke up to be to find out. I'm making , you know , the headlines in the United Kingdom and then later around the world.

S1: I want to take a step back here. You know , your work was misrepresented.

S3: So you have to imagine my work was plagiarized and then a couple of pages were padded on that were making the case for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. So it was plagiarism changing keywords and then padding that document about weapons of mass destruction. My research at that time was more or less looking at the security services that kept Saddam Hussein in power. Hmm.

S1: Hmm.

S3: The US never came to the aid that somehow this invasion would make a mess of things again. That was my primary message on the eve of the invasion. And more or less my worst nightmares became realized. Hmm.


S3: And one of my argument is we should be looking at motivations and individuals. So you had President Bush then who probably on an individual level was operating in a post 911 environment , wanted to basically give the nation a victory after the failure to find Osama bin Laden finish the job his father never did in 1991 , removing Saddam Hussein. And then you had personalities around him who were in the Bush administration of the 1990 to 1991 Gulf crisis , who probably also wanted to finish the job that they saw was unfinished since 1991.

S1: You know , you were later called to testify in the British parliament.

S3: So I had just come back to Oxford. I was going through my mail. I found an invitation to go to Parliament. And so on one summer day , I took a train from Oxford to London. It's normally under an hour and on that particular day there was an explosion on the train tracks , so I wasn't able to go to London. The parliament more or less said , Just try to get out of the train and take a taxi to Parliament. So the train had to go back to Oxford. Eventually I found the taxi. The taxi driver drove me to Parliament. There was an entire committee waiting for me the whole entire afternoon and I testified. So it was a harrowing experience. But the tragedy of this first inquiry , because there was a couple of them , was another. British scientist who testified a few days after me. His name was David Kelly. He was found dead in the woods of Oxfordshire not too far where I was studying from. It was ruled a suicide , but to this day it is referred to as the strange and mysterious case of Dr. Kelly's death in the United Kingdom. So basically it was surreal , the entire experience , both getting there and then the aftermath of the inquiry. Right.

S1: Right. I mean , that had have been somewhat horrifying for you. You know , I mean , given all this , it's like you went from a PhD student to a public figure overnight , some 20 years later.

S3: And usually those are kind of a dangerous combination. Um , but on the other level , you know , I still get tweets , particularly from those who are still loyal to , let's say , Saddam or have nostalgia for him that still say I was more or less an architect of the Iraq war. So kind of misremembering it , or as somehow I wrote this document so it could deliberately be plagiarized to justify an invasion that's not just kind of from those who are fond of Saddam. You know , it was a mindset when used to live in Turkey. The Turkish media accused me of that as well. So it's still kind of 20 years after the event. It's misconstrued , and I have to kind of bear the repercussions of people not doing the research into this complicated and convoluted affair.


S3: I think what bothers me the most is the failure to take a lesson from that research that did have real life consequences. And , you know , I was writing about the security sector and Saddam Hussein's Iraq , which was , you know , a network of oppression , but it was also a major job provider for those loyal to Saddam. So we're talking about , you know , hundreds of thousands of people. And I think the key lesson from my research was that if you dismantle this network , you are putting hundreds of thousands of men whose only loyalty was to Saddam Hussein. If you don't give them another future or stake in a new Iraq , then they will try to undermine it. And sure enough , that's exactly what happened. Everything I researched , those institutions , they were disbanded on May 23rd , 2003. And here we are 20 years later , looking at the kind of the consequences of that insecurity of that decision. Not only the security services were disbanded , the entire Iraqi army was disbanded. And I think that's what's most infuriating is that the research that I was looking at , you know , no kind of lessons were learned from that research.

S1: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Jade Hindman speaking with Ibrahim Al Marash about the legacy of the war in Iraq. Talk about that more. I mean , in the time since all of this has happened , you've written a lot about your takeaways from the invasion and the war.

S3: So my key takeaway is this disbanding the security sector as well as the Iraqi army on one level , deprived Iraq of an institution that can maintain security. And as a result , in that vacuum , the US army had to become the Iraqi army. And then on another level , disbanding those institutions sent thousands of men with military training to foment an insurgency , to bring down the new Iraqi state. And so that those that parallel process is we're Iraqis that witnessed the ramifications of that to this very day. You see , under Saddam Hussein , violence came from the state. Okay. It was either the secret police or the military that projected violence from the state into society. What happened after the security sector was disbanded was violence could come from anywhere. So it could be from , you know , a nervous American soldier at a checkpoint. It could come from then the militias that formed in the with the collapse of the security sector , violence could come from al-Qaida in Iraq that later became ISIS. And violence could come from your own father in the form of honor killings. You know , this is a sexual awareness or Sexual Violence Awareness month. And this is kind of another ramification. Just simply men , fathers , brothers could get away with honor killings , knowing that there is no , you know , police that are going to stop this. This is one of the ramifications 20 years later that is so important to stress. Hmm.

S1: It sounds like obviously violence is a part of everyday life.

S3: Remember , this is an environment that is much more vulnerable. This is a place where in the last couple of years you've had the hottest temperatures recorded in history since we've been keeping records. And so every day , Iraqis , what are they witnessing ? More intense sandstorms , inability to get access to potable water. And I think this with the collapse of the state as of 2003 , doesn't bode well for Iraq's future. The displacement of farmers , people who make their livelihoods from the environment , we might see a confluence of that insecurity , human insecurity and climate insecurity coming together. If you know men can't make a living off the farms , often they joined the militias and when they get killed fighting the militias , usually then it's women that had who become head of household and they are left to kind of raise their family , but also deal with the fluctuations of climate change.

S1: When America invaded Iraq , one of the reasons given was to free the Iraqis.


S3: Of promises that to the Iraqi people , they would be free from Saddam Hussein to the Iraqi people. That was a promise to the American people. This would end terrorism. Now , what have we seen for the Iraqi people is they might have been they often there's a refrain they removed one Saddam only to have it have him be replaced with 50 other Saddam's or in other words , many dictators. And so these could be a reference to anyone from a , you know , the head of a militia to a , you know , a corrupt politician. And then this was the other paradox was that this was supposed to be part of the war on terror , was supposed to end terrorism. And in fact , what did allow it allowed an opportunity for a branch of al-Qaida in Iraq to morph into ISIS. Uh , it allowed for that branch in al of Al in Iraq to branch out into Syria. So on a couple of levels , the promises that were made , this was a war that resulted in unintended consequences. Uh , Iraqis still face violence. It's just much more diffuse. And also in terms of a war on terrorism , it didn't do much to end terrorism. It also made it more diffuse.

S1: Mm hmm. And you are a historian , but you also have. A real personal connection here to what it is that you study.

S3: I can't imagine what it is for my fellow country folk who endure what I study. If it's kind of drained me to this level where and again where I see kind of very little room for optimism. I can imagine if you are in Iraq and living through this and really have , you know , I mean , probably who you would want to leave the country. And even those options are , you know , not available. So , yes , it does take its toll , not only studying , um , you know , what was life like , uh , prior to 2003 with , you know , Iraq enduring a decade of sanctions after the 1991 Gulf War. But then all the insecurity and tribulations that Iraqis faced after 2003. It does take an emotional toll. Yeah.

S1: Yeah. I mean , you still have friends and family there , you.

S3: Know , and that's the tragedy of Iraq's recent history , is the displacement. Oh , mean , from a major large family since the 1980s , I think only one relative remains in Iraq. They've either dispersed to Dubai , London or the US. So that's also kind of the other long term tragedy is the connections to this land have been severed as well. Yeah.

S1: Yeah.

S3: And you know , I'm glad you asked that , because you're taking now the international and making it local. There are there are a good number of Iraqis who have settled in San Diego , but they've been here since the 1960s , particularly the Chaldean Christian community. And , um , so it's also when I'm talking about the emotional drain , it's , you know , seeing , you know , fellow Iraqis from the Chaldean community seeing their pain because their community , which was in the millions , has almost disappeared since 2003. So it's also , you know , you know , in my interactions with them over the last 20 years , seeing how their community , you know , that's connected to this land since time immemorial , this is a community that still speaks Aramaic , the language that Jesus would have spoken in his lifetime , but also to see how they're linked to Iraq are severed , because particularly this community suffered under ISIS. But even after ISIS , the threats been diminished. This community still faces discrimination that really intensified after 2003.

S1: Ibrahim Al Marash is associate professor of history at Cal State San Marcos and co-author of the book The Modern History of Iraq. Again , he'll be speaking at SDSU s campus of Arts and Letters this Thursday , April 20th at 7 p.m.. For more information , visit Professor Morici , thank you so much for joining us today.

S5: My pleasure.

Ways To Subscribe

On Midday Edition Wednesday, KPBS takes a look back at the Iraq War 20 years after the U.S. invasion began. Iraqi-American history professor Ibrahim al-Marashi shares his thoughts on the war, and his personal and professional connections to the invasion and its aftermath.

Al-Marashi will be speaking about the legacy of the Iraq War at an event at San Diego State University's Arts and Letters 101 7 p.m. Thursday, April 20.


Ibrahim al-Marashi, associate professor of history at CSU San Marcos