In Brief

The Iraq War, 15 years on

Legacy of US invasion still affects the Middle East and divides America

Fifteen years after US forces began the invasion of Iraq, the legacy of the Iraq War still affects the Middle East and divides America.

After false claims Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, the toppling of Saddam Hussein caused civil war between Sunni and Shia Iraqis. Groups including al-Qaeda and Islamic State flourished in its wake, with consequences felt to this day.

The death toll eventually ran to 268,000 according to monitoring agency Iraq Body Count, although unofficial estimates put the number as high as one million.

Where does this leave Iraq now?

Al Jazeera says Iraqi leaders insist the country is in the best state it has been in since the invasion, “even if ordinary Iraqis remain sceptical”.

They point to the military defeat of Islamic State (IS) and national elections scheduled for May as reasons to be hopeful, and an indication there was at least one positive legacy to the US invasion - the successful introduction of democracy.

Yet beneath the claims, “for ordinary Iraqis, the benefits of democracy seem slight and the legacy of the invasion bloody”, says Al Jazeera.

A decade and a half of violence has left many Iraqis looking back on Saddam Hussein’s rule as a period of relative peace and stability. The irony is that 15 years of democracy-building has proved to many that what the country really needs is another strongman leader.

Mercer’s annual survey out today ranks Baghdad as the worst city in the world for quality of life for its inhabitants, even though the country has the resources it needs to rebuild.

As Opec’s second-largest producer of crude oil, Iraq could raise the estimated $88bn it says it needs to reconstruct the country on its own in less than a year. 

But while Iraq’s oil industry “has been one of the relative success stories following the war”, says Krishnadev Calamur in The Atlantic, the country “remains riven by factionalism; its neighbours have an outsized influence in its domestic politics; and terrorist groups, though weakened, can still pull off attacks — even with the lingering presence of US troops”.

“All of these factors remain hurdles standing between Iraq, its oil-production targets, and its goal of becoming a stable country after years of war,” says Calamur.

What is the view from America?

The invasion continues to divide Americans. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre found 48% of people in the US think the decision to use military force was wrong, while slightly fewer (43%) say it was the right decision.

While this is way down on the 71% who supported the war at the time of the invasion, it is still relatively high for a conflict that has been mired in controversy for 15 years.

This could reflect how the perception of the war has changed over time. A month before the last US combat troops were withdrawn in December 2011, a majority of Americans (56%) said the US had mostly achieved its goals in Iraq.

Since then, however, this figure has steadily declined so the majority of Americans (52%) view the war as a failure.

So overall how will it be judged?

“In the most basic of assessments, we accomplished our tactical goal of removing Saddam from power [but] we failed on the strategic aspect of the aftermath of the invasion,” which led to the subsequent Sunni uprising and ultimately the birth of IS, a panel of experts said in The Cipher.

“We replaced one set of accelerants to violence and hatred - the Saddam regime - with others, without fundamentally changing the course of the region for the better,” they said.

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