Causes and Consequences of the Iraq War

On the 20th of March 2003, US cruise missiles and bombs were dropped on Baghdad, Iraq’s capital city. The target was the then Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein’s and his closest aides, who were believed to be in a meeting. It would be the start of a conflict that would still be going strong seven years later. Even after so many years of US-led invasion, the reasons for invading Iraq are still debated worldwide.

As Allawi (2007) argues ‘in the history of conflicts and wars, there are few instances that match the invasion and occupation for complexity of motive and ambiguity of purpose’[1]. As a result, the Iraq War or otherwise known as ‘Operation Iraqi freedom’ was to become one of the most controversial wars to date especially because of the overwhelming international hostility. It is one of the most important events that affected the world, radically changing 21st century international relations. This essay will be structured as follows the first section will explore the causes of the war.

It argues that the main cause of the war was the perceived threat of Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. This study further argues an attempt to bring democracy to the country and getting rid of the country’s authoritarian leader was another cause of the Iraq war. The second section will explore the consequences such of the war from four different perspectives: the humanitarian consequences, the military consequences, the political consequences and finally the economic consequences. This will be followed by a conclusion.

Hallenbery and Karlsson (2005) argue that the September 11th attacks on the twin towers in 2001 to some extent led to the Iraq invasion. The attack on the twin towers is one of the events that changed the world forever. Soon after the attacks, the then president, George Bush Jr, publically televised America’s War on Terror. The first of America’s target was Afghanistan, in particular the Taliban ‘who openly supported the Al-Qaeda’[2]and ‘allowed Afghani territory to be used for training camps and bases’[3]. However even after the invasion of Afghanistan, America was still concerned about possible threats.

The US concluded that the September 11th attacks showed that ‘some countries could ally themselves with terrorist movements’[4] and most importantly provide them with weapons of mass destruction. Bush was especially concerned by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. It was well known that during the 1980/90’s, Saddam had access to weapons of mass destruction. He had used them on his own people, killing thousands of innocent Kurds during the attack on Halabja[5]. Furthermore Saddam showed persistent hatred towards the west, especially America.

The perceived threat of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction was the main cause of the Iraq War. As already mentioned, soon after the September 11th attacks and the invasion of Afghanistan, Bush placed is attentions onto Iraq. Both the US government and the UK government argued that the invasion of Iraq was necessary for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was seen as part of the axis of evil, alongside Iran and North Korea, accused of seeking weapons of mass destruction and helping terrorism. Secondly, Saddam’s regime was linked to Al-Qaeda.

It was feared that he might pass the weapons of mass destruction to Al-Qaeda who could potentially use them against western democracy’s. Thirdly, Iraq was accused of not only possessing WMD’s but was developing more deadly ones[6]. During 2002, speech after speech, Bush argued that world faced a common problem; Iraq. He pledged to work with the United Nations to deal with the issues posed by Iraq. By the end of 2002 the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 1441; they gave their final opportunity to Saddam to comply with its disarmament obligations of face serious actions.

However, by 2003, the US, UK and Spain introduced the ‘second resolution’ arguing that Iraq failed to take the final opportunity provided by the UN Security Council to disarm. The second resolution meant the authorisation of immediate force to disarm Saddam’s Iraq. [8] However, France’s president Jack Chiroc argued that they would veto the resolution. Crisis talks were held with the leaders of the US, UK and Spain resulting in the withdrawal of the resolution.

The very same evening, President Bush televised a live conference warning that if Saddam Hussein did not leave Iraq in 48 hours the result would be ‘military conflict commenced at the time of our choosing’[9]. Therefore the main cause of the Iraq War was the threat of Saddam Hussein’s claimed WMDs. Prior to the invasion, American policy makers also emphasised ‘the broad benefits likely to result from the removal of Saddam Hussein’s authoritarian regime into a ‘cultivation of a democratic regime’[10]. They argued that democratization of Iraq would improve the well being of Iraqi citizens, politically and economically.

Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, the democratization of Iraq would help stimulate greater economic prosperity and promote further democracy in the rest of the middle east – a region historically characterised by authoritarian governments where there is a wide spread of conflict, instability and widespread poverty[11]. Moreover it was claimed that the democratization of Iraq would set the stage for the settlement of conflicts that had plagued the Middle Eastern region for decades which would mean the chance to create lasting peace. [12] This next section will examine the consequences of the Iraq war.

Soon after the US entered Iraq, the Ba’ath party quickly crumbled. Many of the key members were killed soon after the invasion began. Saddam Hussein on the other hand, went on the run. This left the the country without a leader. Nine months after the war had begun, on the 14th of December, Saddam was finally captured. His capture would be the biggest, and some say only, accomplishment of the Iraq War. Shortly After his rise to power, Saddam’s ruthless tendencies came to light. For example he would often use violence to achieve his political goal, murdering any of his rivals.

He invaded neighbours Iran in 1990 and Kuwait in 1991. He also created a secret police. The most disturbing of his actions could be seen in the events in small Kurdish town, in northern Iraq, called Halabja. As a result of Kurdish opposition, ‘Iraqi aircraft dropped canisters believed to contain a lethal cocktail of the nerve agents sarin, tabun, VX and mustard gas on the town’[13]. Over 5,000 civilians died, most to be believed women and children. Thousands of more were permanently affected[14]. Time and time again, Saddam showed no remorse about killing his own people.

It is also believed he was also responsible for the deaths of his own daughter’s husbands. Altogether, although there is no official count of how many deaths Saddam caused, it is estimated to be around the region of 400, 00 to 50,000. Soon after his capture, Saddam was put on trial for crimes against humanity. He was found guilty killed and sentenced to death by hanging. He was hanged on the 30th December 2006. The removal of the brutal, ruthless, remorseless and genocidal leader is therefore seen a positive consequence of the Iraq War.

Another consequence of the Iraq war is the failure to bring stability and democracy into the country. As already mentioned previously in this study, one of the causes of the war were to democratize the country which would in turn result into stability of not only the country but the whole region. The US led coalition were able to take Iraq within a matter of weeks as the Iraqi army proved weak. Instead the coalition forces faced a guerrilla style war. Insurgency intensified shortly after the war began. It seemed that almost, everyday there was a new story about some type of suicide bomber attack.

However even after seven years, such attacks in Iraq are still are nearly an everyday occurrence. For example, the latest attack which happened on the August 17th 2010, 57 Iraqi recruits and soldiers were killed in Baghdad, while 123 were seriously wounded by a suicide bomber who blew himself up at an army recruitment centre[15]. The consequence of this latest attacks is that even after seven years, coalition forces have failed to stabilize the country. Interestingly, Wehrey et al (2010) argues that the removal of Saddam ‘upset a traditional balance of power in the region'[16], bringing further instability into the country.

Traditionally, the balance of power in the region involved Iran and Arab nations. However with the Iraq war, the balance of power has now shifted towards Iran. Wehrey et al (2010) further argues that this shift in the balance of power has led to widespread concern amongst Arab states because of how easily Iran can ‘manoeuvre in the core of the Middle East, from Lebanon to Gaza'[17]. Therefore one of the consequences of the war and the removal of Saddam has ‘created the perception of increased vulnerability on the Arab side’. [18]

The attempts to bring democracy have also failed. Iraq is no more democratised then before. This can be proven by the recent election results. Although elections were successfully held in 2005 to create a transitional national assembly whose main purpose was to create a constitution. As a result Prime Minister Nouri Maliki was able to formulate a government. However the recent election results have so far not been so successful, as six after Iraqi’s went to the polls, no winner has been declared due to delays and claims of vote rigging.

The importance of the 2010 elections was great as the party who one would be the first to rule over a fully sovereign Iraq since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. [19] However the months of political instability has brought about fears of insurgency violence arising to levels seen between 2003-2006, where violence was at its highest. One of the major consequences of the war has been the huge loss of life. The BBC estimate that over 90,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in since the beginning of the war. It estimated that nearly 5,000 casualties from the coalition forces[20].

However the number of causalities, both civilian and military, have been falling in the last few years. The loss of creditability of both the US and UK governments have been another consequence of the war. Mitchell argues that a number of policy errors were made by both governments. He argues that ‘opinions were not debated, intelligence was selectively used, the invasion lacked sufficient force, there was a failure to anticipate on insurgency and postwar planning was poorly devised. There has been widespread anger that the reasons for war were found true, therefore as some claim, making the war unjust and illegal.

In the case of the British Government, the then prime minster, Tony Blair, popularity had fallen hugely as many believed he had led the country into war under false pretences. Wehrey et al (2010) make an interesting point. They argue that once consequence of the Iraq war is that is ‘has provided an anti-Western motivational focus and consolidated pre-existing grievances’[21]. The beginning stages of the war particularly from 2003 to 2006, presented a narrative of resistance to the US led invasion that proved powerfully ttractive to people across the region ‘whose immediate local grievances may have been unrelated to Iraq itself but who nonetheless may have been inspired toward violence by the war’[22]. Furthermore Al-Qaeda, successfully portrayed Iraq as the most striking example of an infidel invasion of an Arab Muslim land[23]. The economic consequences of the Iraq war have also been great. Reports have suggested that the cost of the war for the US is over three trillion dollars. Before the war, Iraq’s economy was weak due to decades of economic mismanagement by Saddam.

Although Iraq was oil rich- it had huge debts due to Saddam’s wars in Iran and Kuwait. Furthermore economic sanctions from the UN during the 1990’s heavily affected Iraq’s economy. The country was never quite able to bounce back from the sanctions despite the large oil reserves. The impact of the war has worsened the situation. Unemployment it at an all time high and rebuilding infrastructure that was destroyed by the war, has been slow.

The war has also brought about the problems of refugees. The United Nations commissioner for refugees argues that there are nearly one million refugees as a result of the war and roughly about 1. 5 million internally displaced person ‘a third of who are living in settlements or camp-like situations in extremely poor conditions’[24]. In conclusion, the main cause of the Iraq was the belief that Saddam Hussein was in possessions of weapons of mass destruction. Although it was no secret that Saddam had access to WMDs in the past, UN inspections would later find no evidence of them. Another cause for war was the belief that the overthrow of Saddams brutal regime would allow the democraztisation of the country which would improve Iraqi lives and lead to economic prosperity.

Futhermore it would enable peace in a region which was riddled by conflict and instability. The toppling of saddam’s authoraitive rule and then eventual capture of the ruler was one of the rare success stories of the war. However this seems to be the only one. An attempt to bring democracy to the country has yet to be achieved; the casualities of the war have been high, people have lost confidence in governments and some have argued that the war has led to increased terror levels and consolidated an increased anti-western focus. Only time will tell the full extent of the wars further impacts.

With America preparing to end its combat mission and end the number of American troops in Iraq, Iraq’s future looks dim. Even after six months of Iraqi’s going to the polls, a government has still not been formed. Fears are growing that Iraq still may not have the ability to provide security for itself or to be able to govern. Although Iraq may have got rid of their despot leader, the already weak country may have become even weaker as a result of the war.