The US-led military intervention in Iraq in March 2003 was unjustified, illegal, and devastating.

Judging from the consequences, the Iraq war was one of the gravest geopolitical mistakes of all time. The US-led “Coalition of the Willing” carried out “Operation Iraqi Freedom” on 19 March, 2003. Twenty-two days later on 9 April, President George W. Bush announced “mission accomplished”. Another US miscalculation.

According to the US and the Coalition leaders, the military intervention in Iraq was in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US based on the claim that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and for his support to terrorism alluding to his ties to Al-Qae’da, the perpetrators of these heinous attacks on US soil. The US administration also aimed to free the Iraqi people through a regime change.

On all accounts, the Iraq war failed on all these fronts.

Instead, Iraq was destroyed, sectarian violence flared-up, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed, 4.4 million were internally displaced and 2.3 million became refugees. I add to that, the US and its coalition allies bear the moral brunt of the misery and suffering of the Iraqi people for the past 2 decades as a result of the war and its aftermath.

Based on falsehoods, the war alienated the US and the coalition from their allies and left the Americans deeply divided.

The war on Iraq did not lead either to winning the global war on terror. On the contrary, it diverted the US attention from Afghanistan, home to Al-Qae’da whose operatives continued to plot and launch terrorist attacks in European cities and elsewhere.

Madrid was the target of one of those terrorist attacks in March 2004, aka 11M when terrorists simultaneously bombed several trains in Madrid. London was next.
The Spanish government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero had a different response to those attacks. President Zapatero proposed building bridges of understanding instead of walls of division and addressing the root of radicalization and violent extremism the creation of a new UN entity. His initiative led to the establishment of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations in 2005.

The war on Iraq was unjustifiable

One of the Bush Administration’s premiss for using military force against Iraq was to dismantle is cache of weapons of mass destruction.

As numerous investigations by independent and governmental commissions subsequently found, there was no factual basis for either of these assertions. Two decades later, the debate continues about whether the miscalculated decision was the result of flawed intelligence, or the US administration consciously misled the public about Iraq’s WMD capabilities.

To support their proposition, US Secretary- State Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the UN Security Council in one of the most pivotal moments in the international debate over Iraq. He presented what he described as “facts and conclusions, based on solid intelligence” to show that Iraq had failed to comply with UN weapons-related resolutions. He quipped that “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 11 world”.

According to the March 7, 2003 report of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) headed by Dr. Hans Blix, the experts expressed their serious doubts about the existence of such stockpiles of WMD. Fourteen years later, the same evidence-based data was confirmed in the report of Mr. John Chilcot who was commissioned by then British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to chair an Independent Iraq Inquiry Committee to look into how and why Britain went into the war in Iraq. In his 150-page executive summary, which comprises twelve volumes, Mr. Chilcot concludes the lack of sufficient evidence justifying the military intervention and that Mr. Blair and the British government both have significantly underestimated the difficulties and consequences of the war.

In that sense, the war in Iraq was unjustifiable.

The war on Iraq was illegal

The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1284 in December 1999 established UNMOVIC (The United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission). It should be noted that France, Russia and China and Malaysia abstained.. This resolution obliged Iraq to cooperate with the team of UN inspectors and to eliminate and reduce its arsenal of weapons. Iraq rejected the resolution, particularly as it did not meet its requirement for the lifting of sanctions imposed in 1990. From that moment on, President Bush, supported by Prime Minister Blair, decided to increase pressure to prepare for military intervention. The provisions of the resolution were not sufficient to legalize the use of military force against Iraq. It was therefore necessary to propose a new resolution to the Security Council. UN Security Council Resolution 1441 provided a justification for the subsequent US invasion of Iraq. While some politicians have argued that the resolution could authorize war under certain circumstances, the representatives in the meeting were clear that this was not the case. According to the Chilcot report, Lord Goldsmith, British Attorney General, informed Prime Minister Blair in writing that, if this resolution was adopted, it did not, in his opinion, authorize the use of force.

On 8 November 2002, the Security Council passed Resolution 1441 by a unanimous 15–0 vote; Russia, China, France, and Syria, the only Arab state, voted in favor, giving Resolution 1441 wider support than even the 1990 Gulf War resolution.
In view of the legal-political questions that the war could raise, the protagonists of the “ the Azores photograph” decided to propose a third resolution. On February 24, 2003, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States submitted a new text to the Security Council. This draft resolution was never adopted. France, Germany and Russia responded to this draft resolution with a memorandum based on a previous statement on 10 February which stated that: “Full and effective disarmament in accordance with the relevant UNSC resolutions remains the imperative objective of the international community.

In short, the use of military force by the US and the international coalition was illegal under international law. It lacked prior Security Council authorization.

Therefore, the Iraq war was illegal.

The war on Iraq was devastating

The American administration called it: “Operation Iraqi Freedom ”.

The Iraq war was devastating in terms of the loss of human lives of Iraqi people. Accurate estimates of the casualties of the war from day one of the invasion on 19 March 2003 and the ensuing insurgency and civil war is quite difficult as these estimates have come in several forms, categories and from various official and commissioned sources. The casualties, are inarguably, in the hundreds of thousands. The havoc and trauma that this unjustifiable war brought on the people of Iraq should not be overlooked nor forgotten. A respectful and humane account of all the Iraq war’s dead remains a “mission not-accomplished”.

If anything, the war on Iraq has failed to bring stability to Iraq or stem-out global terror. Instead, it appeared to have unleashed the beast of sectarian violence in Iraq and terror inside Europe and beyond.

In Iraq, a regime has been toppled and replaced with an Iranian controlled Shiite-militias leading to the irruption of the bloody Sunni insurgency. Amid this destructive chaos, ISIS was born expanding its reach across the Levant and wreaking havoc in Europe and North Africa.

Regionally, despite their defeat and suffering significant tactical and territorial losses in Iraq and the Syria, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as Daesh, appears to have re-directed their interest and activities in Africa, including by establishing branches across the African continent and expanding into areas already troubled by conflict and other areas previously unscathed by terrorist violence.

Over the past 3 years, a growing number of ISIL-affiliated groups in Africa have shown an ability to launch deadly and coordinated attacks on individuals, civilian targets including religious sites , capture strategic territories, recruit followers using anti-Government propaganda, and conscript child soldiers.

The situation in the Sahel and West Africa is particularly urgent, with some of the most violent affiliates of Da’esh operating in that region. In the last two years, these groups have expanded across large areas of the Sahel, increasing their presence in Mali while penetrating further into Burkina Faso and Niger. They have also expanded southward into countries of the Gulf of Guinea that have so far largely avoided terrorist attacks or have recently emerged from armed conflict.

To date the international community is anguished and paralyzed by fear of terrorist threats.
Global strategies have been so far focused on the security governance policies. The over-securitized responses have left communities caught between the extreme violence of terrorist groups and the heavy-handed policies of government forces.

In this context, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations is working with the Secretary General and the Director of the United Nations Office for Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) to complement the work of other UN entities by investing on prevention tools and addressing the root causes of violent extremism and radicalization especially in identity-based contexts.

History is full of lessons but the tendency continues, consciously or unconsciously, to be oblivious.