n 20 March 2003, as bombs and missiles from the US-led coalition rained on Iraqi cities in the opening “shock and awe” campaign against Saddam Hussein, the tectonic plates of the post-Second World War international order shifted permanently. For those of us who covered the run-up to the war, the invasion and the long aftermath of an occupation marked by the country’s violent sectarian fracturing, the profound consequences of that momentous day were obscured by the shock of the unfolding events.
When US President George W Bush delivered his “Mission accomplished” speech on 1 May, a whiff of hubris was already evident in a country racked by looting and where destabilising struggles for power were emerging. What we could not understand then was the scale of the reckoning to come. Looking back, I recall the jubilation among those who backed the invasion at how easily it had seemed to go. The naysayers had been proved wrong. Saddam and his brutal regime were gone in what was lauded as a brief and model military operation. US arms appeared pre-eminent. It was a chimera.
Two weeks ago, I returned from the frontline of another full-scale and brutal conflict: Russia’s war against Ukraine. Without diminishing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s agency in the crimes he is committing there, Russia’s aggression against Ukraine would not have been possible without Iraq. I am not arguing that Ukraine is a direct consequence of Iraq. The moral equivalences – where they are detectable – are far more complex than Putin apologists claim in whataboutery appeals pointing to Iraq….