AFP US soldiers in Iraq in March 2003
NOS Nieuws•vandaag, 16:51
“Compatriots, at this time US and coalition forces have embarked on a military operation to disarm Iraq, liberate its people and defend the world from grave danger.” Thus began the speech with which President George W. Bush from his Oval Office announced to the Americans and the world that the invasion of Iraq had begun, exactly twenty years ago today.
The raid, part of the war on terror against Islamic extremism, had two goals: to end the reign of Saddam Hussein, who had ruled Iraq since 1979. Saddam was a brutal dictator who ruled Iran (1980) and Kuwait (1990) invaded, suppressed Shiites and Kurds and used chemical weapons, including against its own population.
The invasion, by the so-called coalition of the willing, also came about because of the weapons of mass destruction. In the run-up to the invasion, the Americans and the British claimed that Saddam had it, although this was strongly doubted internationally.
It was therefore very important to the coalition parties to find weapons of mass destruction, but that did not happen. In the end, the Americans had to admit that Iraq did not have WMD, weapons of mass destruction.
From a military point of view, the raid was a success. Less than three weeks after its start, Baghdad is taken. The whole world sees how a huge statue of Saddam Hussein is brought down on Firdous Square in the Iraqi capital, the symbolic end of his power.
VII Photo / Redux
The statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad’s Firdous Square is torn down
Bush announces on May 1, 2003 that the military operation against Iraq is over
Saddam Hussein is taken from his underground hideout, December 2003
In early May 2003, President Bush announced from an aircraft carrier off the American coast that the war had been won. “Mission accomplished,” reads a banner behind him.
Saddam Hussein manages to escape the hands of the Americans for another six months, but is taken from an underground shelter near the city of Tikrit in December 2003. He is on trial, sentenced to death and hanged at the end of 2006.
After the invasion, US efforts are focused on rebuilding Iraq politically and economically. Nation building is the credo, but that is hardly getting off the ground. Years of political instability followed.
It is not possible to get the three population groups (Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds) to work together peacefully. The Americans are fighting a fierce battle with insurgent groups and the country has been plagued by attacks and violence for years.
Ultimately, the last Americans will leave at the end of 2011. Responsibility for security will then lie entirely with the Iraqis.
In general, the Iraqis are better off now.
Iraq expert Judit Neurink
In the years following the invasion, the Shiites gain more power, at the expense of the Sunni minority, which enjoyed a preferential position under Saddam. The bitterness about this is a breeding ground for the rise of Islamic State, which has been conquering large parts of Iraq since 2013. The last IS fighters will not be expelled until 2018.
The Iraqi economy is suffering badly and corruption is rampant. A frequently asked question is whether the Iraqis are better or worse off now, twenty years after the fall of Saddam.
In general, they are better off, thinks journalist and Iraq expert Judit Neurink, who lived in the country for a long time. “The population no longer groans under the yoke of a cruel dictator, but a third still lives below the poverty line,” she says in the NOS Radio 1 Journaal.
Mass unemployment is a huge problem. “Many young people do not find a job. Most jobs are in the government, other sectors are not developed.” For example, hardly anything has been done about the infrastructure since 2003. “Trains are no longer running and no roads are being built.”
Iraq has huge oil reserves, but “foreign investment is needed to rebuild that industry,” says Neurink.
United, stable and free?
In his speech announcing the invasion, Bush said it would make Iraq “a united, stable and free country.” Neurink is critical of this. “It is reasonably quiet there now, but the question is how long it will stay that way.”
The country has not become a unity either. “It is precisely because of the Americans that there are enormous differences between religious and ethnic groups.”
Democracy is there, “but limited”, says Neurink. “And it’s a forced democracy, it hasn’t been gradual. All in all, Bush’s promise hasn’t materialized much.”
Earlier this month, Nieuwsuur made a report about what the Dutch participation in the mission in Iraq has achieved:
Back to Iraq, where the Americans found no weapons of mass destruction
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