Fifteen years after the illegal invasion of Iraq by the Bush administration—which both UN opposition and massive global protests failed to stop—new polling shows that many in the United States still refuse to recognize the war as a mistake even as Iraqis and people throughout the region continue to pay the price.
In the New York Times, Iraqi author and filmmaker Sinan Antoon, who moved from his home country to the U.S. after the 1991 Gulf War, described visiting Iraq in the months and years after President George W. Bush claimed the U.S. military would "liberate" Iraq from Saddam Hussein's dictatorship and bring democracy to the Iraqis—only to find dysfunction and violence now ruling the country.
"Removing Saddam was just a byproduct of another objective: dismantling the Iraqi state and its institutions," wrote Antoon. "That state was replaced with a dysfunctional and corrupt semi-state...Iraq later descended into a sectarian civil war that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands more, irrevocably changing the country’s demography."
The Russian news network RT posted a two-minute video to mark the anniversary, offering an abridged look at the destruction caused by the 2003 invasion and its effects —including the flourishing of ISIS and more violence perpetrated by the U.S.-led coalition in efforts to defeat the group, long after the U.S. declared combat operations over in 2010.
The British group Iraq Body Court estimates that at least 180,807 Iraqi civilians have been killed in the violence that's plagued the nation since 2003. Separate estimates of all deaths directly and indirectly related to the U.S. invasion put the figure closer to 500,000, while others place the number at one million or more.
Researchers have estimated that at least 3.5 million and possibly more than five million have been displaced as a result of the war.
Nearly 5,000 U.S. coalition members have been killed in the violence that's ensued since the invasion, according to iCasualties.org—including 11 who were killed while fighting ISIS in 2018.
Though more than 70 percent of Americans polled by Pew Research Center in March 2003 agreed with the decision to invade Iraq, just 43 percent told poll-takers this week that it was right to use military force. Forty-eight percent said the U.S. should not have waged war in Iraq.
A poll by the Huffington Post/YouGov was less evenly-split, with only 24 percent on respondents saying the U.S. was right to send troops to Iraq and 50 percent disagreeing.
In a statement on the anniversary, Win Without War's executive director Stephen Miles asked, "Have we learned nothing?"
President Donald Trump has exhibited little interest in diplomacy, instead ramping up U.S. military actions in Syria, Afghanistan, and other countries and threatening to void the Iran nuclear agreement. The president's willingness to engage in talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un over his nuclear program has left the group cautiously optimistic.
"While we fervently hope the past 15 years have shown us that there is no military option for solving conflicts like this, we must also remain vigilant," wrote Miles. "Diplomacy takes time and resolve, and should these talks immediately yield results, we must not let the Trump Administration replay the Iraq playbook, launching our nation into yet another devastating war of choice."
In his op-ed, Antoon stressed that while politicians who now express regret over the Iraq War tend to frame it as a "blunder" or a "mistake," from the perspective of Iraqis who have lived through the destruction caused by the U.S., the war is better understood as a crime.
"Those who perpetrated it are still at large," wrote Antoon. "Some of them have even been rehabilitated thanks to the horrors of Trumpism and a mostly amnesiac citizenry. (A year ago, I watched Mr. Bush on 'The Ellen DeGeneres Show,' dancing and talking about his paintings.) The pundits and 'experts' who sold us the war still go on doing what they do. I never thought that Iraq could ever be worse than it was during Saddam's reign, but that is what America's war achieved and bequeathed to Iraqis."