Iraq: wars and casualties 14 years on | Lily Hamourtziadou

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“The free man is the man who is not in irons, nor imprisoned in a gaol, nor terrorised like a slave by the fear of punishment,” according to Helvetius. The free citizen has freedom of movement, of religion, of speech; he/she is free from constraints put on their right to protest, to participate in government, to have their voices heard and their concerns recognised; finally free citizens are able to fulfil their potential. Human security means freedom from violence and from the fear of violence, from extreme impoverishment, pollution, hunger, homelessness, ill health and illiteracy. It means using processes that build on people’s strengths and aspirations. It means creating political, social, environmental, economic, military and cultural systems that together give people the building blocks of survival, livelihood and dignity.

Moving away from traditional, state-centric conceptions of security to one that concentrates on the security of the individuals, their protection and empowerment means drawing attention to the interface between security, development and human rights and promoting a new integrated, coordinated and people-centered approach to advancing peace, security and development within and across nations.
‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’ was announced by then President George W Bush 14 years ago, as he addressed the American people via live television. Bush warned that ‘helping Iraqis achieve a united, stable and free country will require our sustained commitment’ and appeared to acknowledge the substantial domestic opposition to the war by stating he ‘reluctantly’ authorised military force, but reaffirmed his adminstration’s refusal to ‘live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder.’ It seemed to fit in with the new conception of security that focused on human rights and liberties across the world and the Responsibility to Protect civilians at risk wherever they are.
Since March 2003 a number of wars have been fought in Iraq: aggressive, humanitarian, pre-emptive, civil; they have taken the form of air raids, shootings, executions, mortar attacks, IED explosions and car bombs; they have been fought by several parties, some Iraqi, others non-Iraqi, some occupying, others state-controlled, some insurgent, while others terrorist. There are perhaps as many as 40 different groups, but the major groups of armed insurgency are, Ba’athists, Iraqi nationalists, Sunni Islamists, Salafi/Wahhabi “jihadists” , Shi’a militias, foreign Islamist volunteers. In addition, there are US-led coalition forces and Iraqi government forces.
The daily war, the daily violence that started in March 2003 continues to this day. Death by bomb, death by sword, death by rock, death by torture… The violence that was meant to cease in fact increased; the security that was meant to increase in fact decreased, as the various wars the invasion engendered escalated; the danger produced in turn gave rise to a number of other threats which multiplied and culminated in the battleground that Iraq is today.
Though featured ever less frequently in western media (while daily reported by Arabic sources, like Al-Mada, Al-Maalomah, NINA, Al-Sumaria and Al-Masalah), hard wars are still fought every day on Iraqi soil. Although less prominently reported, they are still evident, for they are material and can be seen and photographed: the burnt-out car that concealed the bomb, the blackened building where the explosion happened, the blood staining the pavement, the wreckage of the market stall where the IED was planted, the bullet holes and shrapnel through concrete, through metal and through flesh.
But there are other, non-material wars being fought. Those are wars of words, wars of ideas, discourse wars. Wars that speak of enemies, of threats, of hegemony and of counter-hegemony, of freedom and of enslavement. Less obvious and not as photographable. Every hard, material war has its ideational counterpart, but discourse wars can take place without any shots being fired, or bombs dropped. The effects of such wars are felt much longer, even for generations after the gunfire has ceased.
In the year since the last anniversary of the invasion, old wars have continued to rage, while new wars have been declared and justified. Wars of arms and wars of words. Old enemies remain, as new enemies are created.
The core of security, the protection from harm, assumes a field of relationships, including a threatener, the threatened, the protector or means of protection, and the protected. In today’s Iraq the blurring of the lines between war and peace, tyranny and democracy, freedom and oppression has resulted in confusion as to who is threatened, who is the threat, who is the protector and what the means of protection are. The relationships between protector and protected, threatener and threatened, are in disorder.
The casualties of war are first and foremost measured in the loss of human life. Since March 20, 2016, nearly 16,000 civilians have lost their lives in Iraq. According to Iraq Body Count, that brings the total civilian death toll to more than 191,000, with the total violent deaths including combatants up to 268,000. The dead are civilians, soldiers, insurgents, terrorists; they are Iraqi, American, British, Italian, Sunni, Shia, Yazidi, Kurdish; killed while fighting, shopping, walking, sleeping…
As the wars continue, more casualties become apparent. One of them is the Iraqi state, a failed state unable to control its territory and incapable of maintaining security. A state so internally divided and externally penetrated that any sovereignty it struggled to possess after 2003 now seems a daydream delusion. It is a state characterised by sectarian conflict, economic debilitation and violence, a state reliant on external intervention and support.
Moderation has been another casualty in this struggle for power. The wars have resulted in increased Muslim hostility, jihadism and radicalisation. Hard-liners have prevailed, while moderates are marginalised and silenced. The prevalent narratives are now the hegemonic and the counter-hegemonic.
As the wars reach their 14th year and a generation is coming of age, childhood is another casualty. Millions of children have grown up in daily violence, bombings and shootings, lack of education, poverty and fear, witnessing violent death as part of a ‘normal’ life. Some have even been recruited as child soldiers, featured in propaganda videos as they carry out executions. What adults are those children growing up to be? How will the trauma of war affect their lives?
A tragic casualty seems to be hope. The most frequently asked question on Iraq, for years, has been ‘How can the war end?’ So many are looking for the answer, the solution, the path to peace. Yet now, more than ever, no answer can be given. The continuing struggle for hegemony, the battle of interests and the battle of rival identities are once again raging, as hope is slowly dying, along with thousands of innocents. As we reach another sad anniversary, the question now becomes ‘How many more people, dreams and ideals will be sacrificed at the altar of this power struggle?’ These wars have resulted in an endless cycle of violence, recriminations, enmity, suffering and death. The hard and discourse wars have mutually reinforced each other, co-constituting a political reality we all have to live in, preventing, rather than facilitating the search for solutions.
The Iraqis, the “liberated” nation Bush had envisaged moving towards democracy and living in freedom, are captives of their own leaders, they are captives of their fragmented society and they are captives of the legacy left by American and British forces. They are trapped in this captivity and are not allowed to escape it by those in power and by those with the power of weapons. Ultimately, it is the interests that are being fought on Iraqi soil that hold the population captive.

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