Iraq’s security 2003-2019: death and neoliberal destruction par excellence

‘We Want a True Homeland’, shouted the young protesters this year. It is common for those living outside it to see Iraq as a country of violence, of war and of constant upheaval; a country where the West has ‘tried and failed’ to provide security; as a country of terror, of ISIS, of human rights abuses and tribal conflict. Others may see it as a developing democracy, or a budding western-style economy trying to bloom in a barren, unstable region. It is common for us living outside it to forget that this ‘trial and error’ state is also the homeland of millions of people.

‘Reconstructing’ Iraq

The invasion in 2003 was supported, among others, by those who saw a great opportunity for Iraq to be ‘reconstructed’. The invading coalition was going to help.

On 6 April 2003, while Iraq was still under attack from coalition forces, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz stated, ‘There has got to be an effective administration from day one. People need water and food and medicine, and the sewers have to work, the electricity has to work. And that’s a coalition responsibility’. By the time the Iraqi people had a say in choosing a government, three years later, the key economic and political decisions about their country’s future had been made by their occupiers.

American and British plans for Iraq’s future economy went beyond ‘reconstruction’. The emerging state was going to be treated ‘as a blank slate on which the most ideological Washington neoliberals can design their dream economy: fully privatized, foreign-owned and open for business’ (Naomi Klein, 10 April 2003). Those whose homeland it was, the Iraqi public, were absent from these decisions. Without any democratic process, the ‘charity’, the ‘gift’ of liberal and democratic western states was barely disguised exploitation. In the name of that ‘democratic’ dream of a privatised, foreign-owned and ‘reconstructed’ Iraq, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians have lost their lives.

As Iraq was being bombed by the coalition, Klein predicted,

‘A people, starved and sickened by sanctions, then pulverized by war, is going to emerge from this trauma to find that their country has been sold out from under them. They will also discover that their newfound “freedom” – for which so many of their loved ones perished – comes pre-shackled with irreversible economic decisions that were made in boardrooms while the bombs were still falling. They will then be told to vote for their new leaders, and welcomed to the wonderful world of democracy.’

Almost 17 years later, we see the complete breakdown of trust in the political system; we see corruption, brutality and violence. Protesters carrying the Iraqi flag are demanding their homeland, as their government violates and abuses their human rights, as security forces and anti-riot police open fire using live ammunition and tear gas. As their ‘democratic government’ fails to provide opportunities, social, health and educational safeguards for its children. As, like every one of its governments since 2006, it continues to fail to provide its people with any kind of security.

Regime security

Security does not simply involve and is not limited to physical attacks resulting in death or injury. That ‘only’ 2,337 civilians were killed this year, compared to 3,300 civilians killed the year before and 13,000 the year before that, does not mean that Iraq is now safer, or more secure. Or if it does, it does so only in a very narrow understanding of security. However, security is a much broader concept or category that includes a commitment to human rights, justice, prosperity and the creation of political, social, environmental, economic and cultural systems that are the building blocks of survival, livelihood and human dignity. In a state rife with injustice, poverty, violations of human rights, government brutality and continuous foreign intervention, there can be no security. There can also be no democracy.

However, Iraq’s devastation was not unpredictable. The neoliberal democratic system that was imposed on the country could not have produced a ‘Western-style democracy’, or the outcomes expected in a developed nation. Highly developed nations face no real threat of major war and enjoy economic prosperity, comparatively low levels of crime, and enduring political and social stability. Despite warnings to the contrary by our security services, even the threat of terrorism is minor. Iraq, on the other hand, was and still is a weak state. Between 2003 and 2020 the only constants have been the following: communal violence, terrorism, poverty, weapons proliferation, crime, political instability, social breakdown, riots, disorder and economic failure. In Iraq we observe the lack of basic security that exists in ‘zones of instability’, where Iraq, after 16 years of ‘reconstruction’, still remains.

As in all weak states, the primary security threats facing the Iraqi population originate primarily from internal, domestic sources. In such states, the more the ruling elites try to establish effective state rule, the more they provoke insurgency. Despite it being declared a democracy, Iraq lacks regime security. In Iraq and other ‘liberated and democratised’ states those internal/domestic security threats have gone hand-in-hand with the external threat posed by a collaborative external actor and the neoliberal destruction it brought to the country.

Promises, promises

It was thought – even promised – that an Iraq free of its dictator would become a strong state. A democratic, liberal state, much like those in the developed world. However, Iraq has become a state even weaker, much weaker and less secure, than it was under Saddam Hussein’s iron rule. The continuing protests in Iraq and the killing of protesters in their hundreds by government forces, combined with a persisting insurgency, demonstrate the lack of identification of the population with ‘the state’. What we see contributing to this weakness is the new colonialism masking as political and economic development, through the principle and the process of globalisation. Neoliberal ideology has been promoted to the developing world by the chief advocates of globalisation, the IMF and the World Bank, through their liberalisation programme.

Yes, as predicted, neoliberalism has fostered inequality; a growing unemployment that has gone hand in hand with poverty and mass migration. Globalisation makes security interdependent; terrorism, gun crime and illegal migration are spill over effects of structural, political and economic insecurity in the developing world. Iraq today shows how globalisation incites rebellion and radicalisation.

The advancement of the neoliberal agenda by industrialised states through globalisation has failed to deliver the economic stability and growth it promised. Instead, globalisation continues to increase the gap between rich and poor, between and within states. Ultimately, inequality is the biggest threat to global security.

Iraq’s neoliberal democracy ‘triumph’ can be seen in some of the victims during 2019…

A doctor trying to treat injured protesters in Baghdad was shot dead by security forces on November 6.

Two babies died in a hospital in Nasiriya, when tear gas filled their ward, on November 11.

The members of a family (2 men, 2 women and 4 children) were shot dead by Islamic State members in Iftikhar, on July 24. Another family of 7 was executed by Islamic State forces in Mosul, on August 25. Two of them were children.

When an IED was put in a bus in Karbala on September 20, 12 passengers died.

Iraq has now become the perfect example of physical, political and economic insecurity, destroyed by its purported saviours.

A true homeland?

In the words of Iraqi poet Adnan Al-Sayegh,

From ‘Uruk’s Anthem’

The invaders come after the tyrants,
the tyrants come after the invaders
and nothing happens…
they replace handcuffs
with other handcuffs…
But they destroyed us
Built a prison from our dried blood
And called it a homeland
Then said: be grateful for your country

[1] All casualty figures are from IBC database.

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