An entire generation of Iraqis have been robbed of their childhoods and those responsible for the devastation will never face accountability.

For many around the world, it is hard to believe that it was almost two decades ago that then-US President George W Bush initiated one of the most wantonly destructive and blatantly illegal wars of aggression in modern history. 

The invasion of Iraq was sold to the world as a bringing of democracy and the toppling of dictatorship, and it was said to have been necessary for American national security and to prevent another 9/11 attack. The reality, as we all know, was far more sinister, yet many have forgotten those early days in the haze of the passage of time.

However, for Iraqis, this is all far too easy to believe at it is their lived reality, a compounding misery that started with the American-led invasion, moved into a brutal occupation, led to the rise of Sunni and Shia jihadist groups, and is currently the playground of competing global interests over a feckless, corrupt, and woefully sectarian political system.

A lifetime of war and suffering

For women giving birth on the eve of war all those years ago, one can only imagine their worry at not only the impending bombs they had suffered for all too long — over more than a decade of punitive Western airstrikes and sanctions — but also their fears over how their children might grow up.

Those children have now become adults and, in their 18 years of life, have known nothing but war, conflict, sectarianism, and hopelessness. Those who had come with their tanks, heavy artillery, and advanced warplanes and promised democracy, freedom, and stability instead brought with them horror and a retinue of corrupt Iraqi politicians in tow, ready to install into the vacuum left by the violent removal of Saddam Hussein.

The early years of these children’s lives would have been kicked off by such maddening displays of sadistic torture as the Abu Ghraib scandal, except it was only scandalous to those not experiencing it. To those who went through being raped, violated, and humiliated by US forces, it was more than a scandal, it was a war crime of the worst kind. 

Ali al-Qaisi, the man under the infamous hooded prisoner photograph, described the horrors he experienced in great detail and is, to this day, traumatised and disabled as a result of his experiences.

Iraqis then witnessed the phenomenon of sectarian death squads who picked up civilians off the streets of major Iraqi cities and forcibly disappeared them or else dumped their tortured corpses in public after they had murdered them. 

As a demonstration of the nexus between Iraq’s political elites and foreign powers, most of these death squads are not only supported by the neighbouring theocracy Iran, but included ministers in government. The notorious Badr Organisation, now a mainstay of both parliament and the Iraqi cabinet, tortured and quite literally butchered Sunni Iraqis for no other reason than their religious affiliations. 

One of its main commanders, Baqir Jabr al Zubeidi, better known as Bayan Solagh, was appointed as interior minister, housing minister, and finally as transportation minister. Another senior commander of the Badr Organisation, Hadi al Ameri, was also transportation minister and his deputies continue to control the interior ministry.

The rampant sectarianism, now seemingly a matter of public policy, and agreement between both the United States and Iran allowed the tyranny of former Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, who ruled Iraq in bloody fashion between 2006 and 2014, to take root. 

It was on Maliki's watch that security forces brutalised Sunni protesters simply for peacefully demonstrating against the increasing marginalisation of their communities. His actions, according to an Iraqi parliamentary probe, led directly to the loss of Mosul in the summer of 2014 and the rise of Daesh’s short-lived and totally illegitimate “caliphate”.

Even after Daesh’s defeat in late 2017, Iraqi children born during the invasion, now 14-years-old, began to witness their government’s continued slide into even deeper levels of corruption and mismanagement, poisoning of the environment and water supplies, and the repression of even Shia Arabs whose votes had hitherto been viewed as necessary for maintaining the illusion of “democracy”. 

The 2018 election results were marred by the fact that only a paltry 44.5 percent of eligible voters bothered to turn up – a damning indictment of the failed political process.

Indeed, the very next year mass protests exploded onto the streets, primarily led by Iraq’s impoverished Shia youth. The authorities’ response was stereotypically brutal, killing hundreds and wounding tens of thousands, with dozens being abducted, never to be seen again.

Western crimes will never be held to account

Now, in 2021, these children have emerged into an adult world in which they were denied a childhood their entire lives. They are now expected to make a life for themselves, study, get jobs, and perhaps even one day have families of their own.

But everything is weighed against them, the odds are certainly not in their favour. Many of them will be suffering from profound trauma from the impact of invasion, occupation, civil strife, and a government that serves the interests of its own elites and foreign masters rather than the Iraqi people.

Meanwhile, the Western politicians who have put them in this position in the first place are enjoying quiet – and often lucrative – retirements. Bush himself seems to have immersed himself in artistic endeavours but one wonders what might have been if he had always directed his energies into creative endeavours rather than the mass annihilation of a people. For a start, perhaps his art could have been better but, more importantly, hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis might still be with us today. 

Tony Blair, Bush’s friend and former British prime minister, enjoys a multimillionaire's lifestyle and spends much of his time pontificating about democratic institutions and Britain’s place in a post-Brexit world. If this odious man had truly cared about freedom and democracy rather than simply Western supremacy, he might have restrained his friend’s more violent tendencies. Instead, he actively facilitated them with Britain committing its fair share of war crimes that will never be held to account.

However, and unlike the man they deposed in Iraq, both of these men will never face a court of law for their actions. 

Now, imagine the perspective of an 18-year-old Iraqi who has had their entire lives shaped by the militancy of two white men many thousands of miles away, and who has had their entire past and future robbed by their murderous avarice. 

No one can blame them for thinking that notions of right and wrong, accountability and justice, are nice fantasies reserved for everyone but them.

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