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Ten Years Ago the United States Invaded Iraq

Ten Years Ago the United States Invaded Iraq

by William H. Benson

March 28, 2013

     On March 19, 2003, President George W. Bush ordered General Tommy Franks to invade Iraq. That day jets rained down bombs on military targets in Baghdad, and the next day the land troops marched into Iraq. Last week marked the invasion’s ten-year anniversary.

     In the war’s run-up, Bush had sought and received Congress’s vote of support, but, according to Kofi Annan, the U.S. president had “bypassed the UN Security Council and violated the United Nations founding charter.” The world’s nations opposed the invasion, except for Italy, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Denmark, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and the United Kingdom. On February 15, some six million anti-war protestors took to the streets in 600 cities across the globe.

    On February 26, Hans Blix, the UN chief weapons inspector said that “there was no evidence that Iraq has any weapons of mass destruction,” despite Bush and his cabinet’s proclamations to the contrary. The same day Bush spoke of a post-invasion democracy as a model for the region.

     On March 17, Bush gave Saddam Hussein 48 hours to leave Iraq, but because the dictator failed to comply, the president commenced the war. By May 1, combat operations ceased, and the White House declared “Mission Accomplished.” On December 13, U.S. army soldiers lifted Saddam Hussein from a hole in the ground, and three years later, on December 30, 2006, authorities hung him. The war officially ended December 18, 2011.

     That spare time-line of events fails to convey the human cost that resulted from the U. S. president’s “unilateral” choice to invade Iraq. According to the “Costs of War Project,” the number of Iraqi’s killed were between 176,000 and 189,000. Of the coalition forces, 4,805 were killed. Those numbers represent a huge psychological scar upon the Iraqi people, as well as the Americans.

     The U.S. invasion of Iraq reminds me of Mussolini’s attack on Ethiopia in October 1935. Italy’s troops possessed rifles and cannons, but the Ethiopians were armed with spears, bows, arrows, and a few antiquated rifles. It was a gross mismatch, but not as unequal as Bush vs. Hussein.

      Throughout the eight-year Iraqi war, the anti-war protest movement here and abroad fizzled, a reversal of what occurred during the Vietnam War. When President Kennedy sent the first 7,000 troops to Vietnam in November 1961, there were no protests, but as the war effort sank into a quagmire, college students took to the streets, demonstrated, protested, carried placards, burnt the American flag, and torched buildings. By contrast, during the Iraqi war, U.S. college campuses were quiet.

     Noam Chomsky, a professor at MIT and an early opponent of the war, said that “the activist movements of the past forty years have had a civilizing effect,” and yet those movements dissolved once the bombs began dropping in March 2003.

     When a person or community or nation picks up a weapon and assaults another, everything changes, and for the worst. Nonviolent techniques, though slower than rifles and tanks, will conquer dictators. Newsweek pointed out in its March 8 edition that Srdja Popovic, one of the leaders of the Serbian resistance, OTPOR, overthrew the murderer Slobodan Milosevic in 2000 with nonviolent methods.

     Gene Sharp, a professor at University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, drew up a list of 198 methods, each designed to extricate a tyrant from his or her position, and they include “street theater, social networking, speeches, letters, petitions, slogans, banners, leaflets, and skywriting.” It is unfortunate that Syria’s rebels yielded to the temptation to pick up a gun, because ever since, the continuous cycle of violence has become tragic, with no endgame visible today.

    Could the Iraqi people have removed Saddam Hussein by nonviolent means ten years ago? Could the United States president have accomplished his goal without sending in bombers? For some, the answer is a resounding “yes!” For others, it is not so clear. But nonviolent methods look appealing now in light of the immense destruction heaped upon the Iraqi people over the past ten years.

     To children, words like “weapons of mass destruction,” and “models of democracy,” are concepts that sit high atop the ladder of abstraction. At that ladder’s base reside more concrete concepts, those a child can understand, like feeling terrified when a jet roars overhead and drops a bomb on a neighbors home and kills those inside. Then, there is the despair one feels from loosing a leg or an arm; or burying your brother; or seeing your school leveled, a home turned to rubble, or your sisters cut down. 

     The journalist, Anthony Shalid, asked, “What’s the sin of the children? What have they done?”


     How can we prepare ourselves for another president who will declare another “unilateral” war? We need a more organized and better prepared anti-war protest movement, we need Congressmen who will dare to vote “no,” we need a more united United Nations, and we need some means of reigning in a “shock and awe” president.