The British Government’s public inquiry into the UK’s role in the Iraq War concluded last week with the publishing of a report by Sir John Chilcot, who chaired the Inquiry. Commentators have labelled the Chilcot Report‘s verdicts as damning, and the documentary evidence gathered has pointed to many flaws in the decision of the Blair government’s (and by association, Australia’s Howard government) decision to join the Iraq invasion.
Sajjeling asked five writers of various Iraqi backgrounds to share their thoughts in response to the Chilcot Report’s conclusions. Here is what they had to say…
23-year-old Fadak Alfayadh is a Melbourne law student. Originally from Iraq, she was born in Baghdad and lived between the capital and Nasiriyah before moving to Australia.
I still remember crouching under the stairwell with my family for hours while the bombs dropped around us. I was only 10-years-old at the time, and I had never heard anything so loud. Everything around us shook; windows broke, and all we could do was pray that we be spared.
Months later, bombs were no longer being dropped over us but Iraq had became unlivable. Along with thousands of other Iraqis, my family and I left everything behind and fled to Jordan overnight.
In the aftermath of the Chilcot Report, some comments have come close to romanticising the pre-invasion Iraq of Saddam Hussein’s time. Earlier this month, Kadhim Sharif Al-Jabouri, the man who had knocked Saddam’s famous Firdos Square statue with a sledgehammer a few weeks into the invasion, told the BBC in a TV interview that he feels “pain and shame” when he sees the toppled statue and wishes he could “rebuild it”.
But living under Saddam’s regime was never a tranquil experience. Many people were killed for simply voicing their political opinions or showing slight opposition – Al-Jabouri’s family members included.
Saddam also dragged Iraqis into a number of international wars and disputes. No surprises there, of course; that is what happens when a psychopath rules a nation.
Having said that, the invasion of Iraq was a huge mistake, in my view, because – as the report suggests – other methods could and should have been exhausted prior to taking military action against a Sovereign State. I am confident that, had the UK and their allies equipped them with the necessary means, Iraqis could very possibly have rid themselves of Saddam. I say this because, on numerous occasions prior to the invasion, there were uprisings, attempted assassinations and attempted revolutions initiated by Iraqis against the regime.
Since the release of the Chilcot Report, the media spotlight has of course been focused on the former Prime Ministers who led the UK and Australia into the war. But the comments from John Howard and Tony Blair in response to the Report’s findings have been highly insulting to every Iraqi; their statements held a lack of demonstrated remorse for what they did to us.
On the one hand, Blair said that the world is now “better and safer” after invading Iraq, leaving me to wonder whether he really lives in the same world as everyone else. Similarly, John Howard, continued to defend his government’s decision to invade Iraq back in 2003, further adding insult and grief to the memory of those murdered.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed, and more were forcibly displaced because of this invasion. Blair and Howard’s lack of regret makes me question their humanity and believe them to be more of a cruel threat than Saddam ever was.
I’d like to see Australia initiate its own inquiry to investigate the legitimacy of its involvement in the invasion of Iraq. Australia, under John Howard and his government, contributed to the demolition of Iraq; it too should be held accountable.
30-year-old Ayesha Baba is a Sydney lawyer. Born in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq, she is an Iraqi-Australian of Kurdish ethnicity.
As a solicitor practising in the area of administrative law, reviewing decisions made by administrative agencies of the government, my role requires me to have regard to principles of natural justice and procedural fairness. When arriving at a decision, I am required to give written, transparent reasons based on evidence that would satisfy a reasonable person.
But the findings from the 7-year-long Chilcot inquiry – particularly its assessment that the process of identifying the legal basis for the invasion was “far from satisfactory” – and the information leaked to the public since the invasion, are proof that such practices never took place in the British (and Australian) government’s decision-making in 2003. When I think about the relatively minor decisions that I make in comparison to these governments’ decision to invade a country, I find this assessment to be both baffling and extremely saddening.
Former Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, responded to the findings of the Chilcot report by saying, “I don’t believe that, on the basis of the information that was available to me, it was the wrong decision. I really don’t.”
This justification was described by another former Australian Prime Minister, Paul Keating, as a “stubborn and unctuous denial” that should be “held in contempt by every thinking Australian”.
Having been welcomed to Australia as a refugee with my family in 1993 by the Keating government, and having witnessed the change in Australia over the years from a harmonious multicultural society to one where our empathy and compassion appears to be reducing each year, Keating’s response to Howard’s failure still to provide proper reasons resonates.
When asked about my background, many people respond with a comment along the lines of, “Oh good, the Kurdish areas [in Iraq] are not affected”. While this may be true to some extent, hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians have been killed. The US justified the invasion by framing it as a war that would bring the gift of democracy to Iraq and assist minority groups such as the Kurds.
But while the cost to human life has been less for the Kurds, there is no stability. Many Kurds would rather Saddam Hussein’s regime. No one will deny that he was a brutal leader, but he was a leader that maintained rule and control and provided good conditions for the majority of the people – including Kurds – as compared to the current state of Iraq.
Regardless of the decision in 2003 to invade Iraq and the damage so far, I believe that there is always the opportunity to go back and repair what remains repairable, and to put in place genuine measures, planning, competent management and provisions to avoid further destruction. I hope, for the people of Iraq and for the Australian people’s faith in their government, that the Chilcot Report goes to serving some of this purpose.
26-year-old Hawraa Adnan is an Arts graduate from Perth. She is of mixed Iraqi heritage, with a Kurdish grandfather and an Arab grandmother hailing from Sulaymaniyah and Diwaniya respectively.
“I feel like I’ve been picked up from my normal life yesterday and placed in this new one today. I never get used to this,” Murtada Marzog tells me. An Iraqi immigrant, he was forced to flee Baghdad a decade ago.
As Iraqi exiles, the news of Saddam’s fall brought me and my family great joy. It meant that we would finally be able to return to Iraq; and that we did. We packed our bags and headed off to meet our family in 2004 for the first time in 14 years.
There was no easy way to get to Dora, Baghdad, where my extended family had settled. We took a plane to Dubai, a ship to Basra, and then endured an eight-hour drive to the capital. Those first three months in Dora were the happiest of my life, making so many new friends with the cousins I never knew, going out in packed cars to Karada for late night ice cream and feeling like a real teenager for the first time.
As an Iraqi kid who experienced trauma in my childhood, I had never felt like a normal child. I always felt older, and at 15-years-old I felt 40. I was vaguely aware of the jailing of the men in my family, including my dad who was jailed for seven years. I only later learned that not all who were taken away were actually jailed; many were executed on the same day that they were taken. This information only became available 14 years later, when the invasion opened up the jails and their records to the Iraqi public. Many of our missing family were declared dead, and I witnessed my family go through unbearable Post-traumatic stress disorder in full swing – particularly my cousins whose fathers, unlike mine, never returned.
After returning to Australia, we kept hearing about the rising violence in Dora; first came the church massacre, and then the systematic targeting of Shias. Finally, our family in Iraq fled to Al-Naseej, a city about two hours south, and Dora was officially segregated with giant concrete slabs, just like many other districts before it.
What started off as a perceived blessing turned out to be a horrific curse.
Iraq is treated like game of monopoly by the world, and the Chilcot Report proved to me that we can’t expect any support from the same people who gifted a militarised nation with sectarian wars.
The only way out is a cultural revolution by the Iraqi people, recognising that we are not and will never be a homogenised Muslim country, but a nation of diversity to be celebrated. We need to discard the classism left behind by Saddam and form a new Iraqi identity – one of healing, feminism, recognition and commemoration. How will we ever be valued if we don’t value each other?
Never forget that civilisation lives in Iraq’s eyes.
20-year-old Sarah Yahya is a Sydney journalism and international studies student, and 2015 Australian Young Citizen of the Year. Born in Baghdad, she belongs to the Iraqi ethnoreligious minority of Mandeans.
When the Chilcot Report was published and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair apologised, I did not celebrate. I didn’t breathe a sigh of relief, and I did not feel that a path to justice had even been paved. The word ‘sorry’ was constantly repeated, but how do you say sorry to the million people you have displaced, the thousands you killed and the homes that you destroyed?
What is the point of your sorry when Iraq is left to pick through the ruins of one of the worst attacks it has suffered in over a decade, killing 250 of its people in Karada?
The Report doesn’t matter to those who are weeping over their lost family and friends, because none of those responsible will face trial for their war crimes.
Dozens of vigils and tributes for the lives lost in the Baghdad Attacks were held in the last week by Iraqis around the globe. I attended few of them in Sydney, but I felt something different while there than in any other vigils I attended in the past. I felt the intense anger of the mourners in attendance and, whenever I looked to my left or right, I saw people weeping. But for the first time, I also saw Christians, Jews, Kurds, Mandaeans, Muslims and Yazidis mourning together.
Say what you will but that, for me, was a rare sight to see. It wasn’t about religion anymore. It was about the Iraqi people slowly realising that it is up to them to do something. Either that, or wait for another vigil to be held.
With 13 years of bloodshed in Iraq and counting, one would have expected that the Chilcot Report would attempt to detail the human tragedy and sufferings of the Iraqi people within its 2.6 million words. Surprisingly, however, not not a single Iraqi was interviewed during the 7 years of the Iraq Inquiry.
Ultimately, the Report did not reveal anything that we didn’t already know. The decision to invade Iraq was based on “flawed intelligence”, and there was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein. The so-called liberation that the West promised with the 2003 invasion never happened. Iraq’s oil wealth disappeared, street violence exploded, terrorism emerged and the Iraqi government is more corrupt than ever.
If the war had truly been about liberation and had thus been carried out with more detailed planning, Iraq would have at least been stable like it was under Britain’s imperial rule there 100 years ago. The Invasion was a reckless act, an unnecessary war and demonstrated complete thoughtlessness in neglecting to consider the consequences that followed.
If there is anything that the Chilcot Report failed to mention, it is the role played by senior civil servants and cabinet ministers who are just as much to blame as Tony Blair and his generals.
In the words of Colonel Talat Issa, a former republican guard jailed under Saddam’s regime, “We had one Saddam before, and now we have a thousand Saddams”.
35-year-old Abdul Nasser Alkhateeb is a Sydney Digital Marketing Manager. Born in Baghdad, the Iraqi-Kiwi is a Muslim of Arab-Iraqi background.
Since that surreal night when I watched the live feed of US troops entering Baghdad and toppling the statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square, I’ve heard and seen hundreds of politicians and racists alike heralding the salvation/democratisation/invasion/destruction/rape of Iraq as a victory of Good over Evil. In their view, they were saving the people of Iraq from themselves and despite all evidences, bombings, cartoonish bad guys and rising death tolls, these figures remain adamant that theirs were honorable intentions.
Meanwhile, as Tony Blair tears up, George Bush feigns ignorance and John Howard attempts to spin the results of a seven-year-long investigation by framing them as Sir John Chilcot’s mere “expression of opinion”, Iraqis – in their dispossessed millions around the world – live in constant numbness. The pain of a homeland lost to them is a torn up wound, bleeding endlessly.
I know very well the hypocrisy of the west and the lies it tells its people so they can feel good about themselves, sleep better at night and watch their sports peacefully. I’d known it to be a farce even when Bush said, “At this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger”.
I am still blown away by the world’s passive acceptance of the Chilcot Report findings, as though it were an inconsequential ancient document and not damning evidence of war crimes. Blair, Bush and Howard will live as free men and their war crimes will be a footnote in their records.
Iraq was always known for its poets, philosophers, scientists and scholars. The only Iraqis leading their people to destruction are the lowest, most cowardly, and most corrupt of people. It is these people who are malicious enough to fuel the sectarian and racial divides tearing the country apart as a way of covering for their own ineptitude and bursting bank accounts. And no-one can justly describe them more eloquently than Iraqi poet Ahmed Matar in his poem, “The Answer to your questions”.
My questions are many, but they all have one answer:
“You are all damned bastards.”
And tomorrow, when history turns a page on this farce,
When your mention is thrown into the dustbin of history
If, a dustbin will even have the likes of you
Nothing will be remembered by people about you
Except for one question
Borrowed from an ugly evil, only made beautiful by your own ugliness
“Is this what you call courage?”