Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Post-Saddam Iraq defined by division

1 Comment

Then US president George W. Bush stands on an aircraft carrier beneath a banner that reads 'Mission Accomplished'Ten years ago, on 20 March 2003, a US led coalition invaded Iraq. On 9 April Baghdad fell to the US led forces. On 1 May the then US president George W. Bush landed on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and apperaed under a banner proclaiming 'Mission Accomplished'. He effectively declared victory.

A decade later, peace has not been accomplished. Nobody knows how many Iraqis were killed in the ten years. Some estimates start at 100,000 (WikiLeaks) to 172,000 (Iraq Body Count). Some go as high as 500,000 or more (Lancet). In March 2013 alone an estimated 196 civilians have been killed.

Baghdad is now more divided according to sect than was the case during Saddam Hussein's reign. In some cases, militias and gangs force out one group, such as Sunni, who take over the houses of Shias forced out of other suburbs. Iraqis tell me religious differences were not so important in the past. Now they define you.

Many Christians have fled Iraq altogether. One Christian engineer told me he remembers celebrating religious festivals with his neighbours, such as Eid after Ramadan. They in turn would celebrate Christmas with him. Such interfaith experiences are almost unknown now. Even Sunni and Shia find it unsafe to mix.

How did it come to this? Saddam maintained an oppressive dictatorship, but Iraqis tell me that at least under Saddam you knew where the boundaries were. Now there is uncertainty and indiscriminate violence. Only last week a bomb blast in Baghdad killed 18 people and wounded 67. Such attacks are not uncommon.

In the 1970s and even 1980s Iraq had one of the highest standards of education in the Middle East, comparable in many respects to western countries. Now the educated classes are fleeing. About 40 per cent of the middle class of Iraq — doctors, engineers, academics and teachers — have fled Iraq. Many others without the money and skills have been forced to relocate internally.

Although Saddam is dead, the evolving violence since March 2003 has not been brought under control. There are elements of Sunni and Shia extremists, some former Bathists, al-Qaeda-linked groups, Iranian contingents and criminal gangs all involved at varying levels to create the violence lived on a daily basis by Iraqis.

Was it worth it? It depends who you ask and whether they experienced oppression under Saddam. There is freedom of political expression, and elections, though militias and gangs are used against political opponents.

Some of the latest fears for Iraqis are that the increasing violence in Syria will flow into Iraq. Already an al-Qaeda-linked group killed Syrian soldiers who had sought temporary safety in Iraq. Many Iraqi Christians fled to Syria to escape persecution in Iraq. Now they have to flee again, along with hundreds of thousands of Syrians.

Tragically no solution appears likely to help Iraqis or Syrians in the near future. The violence is likely to continue in both countries for some time. Meanwhile thousands are killed, wounded, made homeless or displaced. It makes you wonder what was accomplished in Iraq. 

Kerry Murphy headshotKerry Murphy is a partner with the specialist immigration law firm D'Ambra Murphy Lawyers. He is a student of Arabic, former Jesuit Refugee Service coordinator, teaches at ANU and was recognised by AFR best lawyers survey as one of Australia's top immigration lawyers. 

Topic tags: Kerry Murphy, Iraq War, George W. Bush



submit a comment

Existing comments

There will always be divisions, as different groups see advantages or disadvantages for them in various courses of actions. Religions should be reconciling influences to co-ordinate peoples aspirations and lead them to harmonious unity or teamwork. Instead religions tend to aggravate the divisions, and lead to greater extremes of divisiveness. this is because for so many people it is the material association of other people of like belief that is given priority over the ideals proposewd by their religion. The question is , "what religion do you BELONG TO?, rather than "What religious ideals to you embrace?".

Robert Liddy | 22 March 2013  

Similar Articles

Watching as Iraq crumbled

  • Donna Mulhearn
  • 20 March 2013

I sat with my Iraqi friend in his photo store. I was his last customer, he said; the bombs would begin tomorrow. And then he began to weep. I remember thinking that his life, and the lives of others like him, would not be given a second's thought once the invasion started. The next day, the bombs began.  


Why we didn't stop the war

  • Justin Whelan
  • 20 March 2013

Iraq was the first war in history to be declared unjust by the people and by almost all Christian leaders in the West before it had started. One poll found that 90 per cent of Australians opposed the war without UN authorisation. Yet under John Howard's leadership we went to war anyway. Where did the anti-war movement go wrong?