Was the 2003 invasion of Iraq a humanitarian intervention?
When the US and Britain declared that they would invade Iraq in 2003, they cited a number of reasons for this invasion. The three most important reasons were to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end the links between Saddam Hussein and terror groups, such as the Al Qaeda, and to free the people of Iraq by ending Hussein’s tyrannical rule. As more information about the invasion emerged, it became clear that none of the reasons that the US and UK had forwarded for invading Iraq were valid (Broinowski 2012). Nonetheless, the US has stuck to the argument that the invasion of Iraq was a humanitarian measure. However, there are several things that point in the opposite direction.
As more information emerged about the Iraq invasion and the reasons that inspired it, a number of things became clear. There were no weapons of mass destruction found in the possession of Iraq. What is more intriguing, however, is that the White House was fully aware of this long before the invasion was ordered. After a thorough inspection, the UN released a report indicating that there was no reason to believe that Iraq was in the possession of any weapons that would pose a threat to the rest of the world (Philips 2006). A former UN weapons inspector and a retired US Marine Corps member in Iraq reinforced this view when he publicly announced his strong convictions that Iraq did not have any weapons of mass destruction. Intriguingly, back in 2001, Secretary of State, Colin Powel, stated that he did not believe that Saddam Hussein had developed the capacity to have any weapons of mass destruction (American Embassy Press Section 2013).
Given these facts, it is not difficult to see that the US and Britain were both fully aware that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction in his possession. Yet Bush and Tony Blair went ahead to cite this as a reason for the invasion. What was there to hide? There was certainly a reason why the US and Britain would tell such a blatant lie to validate an invasion of Iraq. What is more, it could never happen because they wanted to extend a sympathetic arm towards the oppressed Iraqi people since they stated this as another reason for the invasion of Iraq.
There is no question that the Iraqi people were suffering a reign of terror by Saddam Hussein (Totten 2011). This, therefore, begs the question of whether the conditions in Iraq justified humanitarian intervention. History is riddled with examples of countries where military intervention was required to restore dignity of the people of those countries. When the French threw their weight into the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, they did it to stop ongoing slaughter (Human Rights Watch 2004). This mission in the DRC was backed by the UN. Liberia, Cote d’Ivore and Somalia are other examples where military intervention was unquestionably necessary to end a humanitarian crisis. Nevertheless, when Iraq is brought up, questions arise whether the military intervention was really necessary.
The Human Rights Watch has on certain occasions advocated for humanitarian intervention by way of military force to stop genocide. For instance, when it became apparent that there was going to be massive loss of life in Rwanda in 1994, the Human Rights Watch made unheeded calls for military intervention. Military force often ends in many deaths and widespread destruction. Therefore, the threshold that is required to call for military intervention without the consent of the host government should be exceptional. According to the Human Rights Watch, military intervention should be used as a last resort to stop impending genocide (Human Rights Watch 2004). Other forms of oppression may be loathsome and deplorable, but anything less than genocide is not worth deploying military force to stop.
In addition, military force should only be employed when it is beyond doubt that there is no better way to deal with the crisis (Labor and Trade Union Review 2004). This is because many countries may be spoiling for an opportunity to settle their scores with their adversaries, and the pretext of invading another country on humanitarian grounds is never too far from the question. Therefore, in light of the US invasion of Iraq, there is reason to believe that the military invasion of Iraq occurred not because the people of Iraq extremely needed humanitarian aid, but probably because there were some political scores to settle (Walt 2012).
This is not difficult to believe, considering that the invasion started only one and a half years after the 9/11 attacks but over two score years since Saddam Hussein began his dictatorial rule. Where was the US since 1979 when Saddam assumed office? Where was the US in 1982 when Saddam committed several crimes against the residents of Dujail? Well, the US was always there watching. But, suddenly, when Al Qaeda struck in 9/11, the US assumed the heroic role of saving the people of Iraq from the longstanding oppression of Saddam Hussein. Why did it take so long? The answer is simple: the US did not have the interests of the Iraqi people at heart in the first place. The military action that the US took was more likely part of the response to the 9/11 attacks.
Out of the three reasons that were floated for invading Iraq, the most valid one was probably that the invasion was aimed at cutting the links that Saddam Hussein had with the Al Qaeda. Yet no substantive connection between Saddam Hussein and the Al Qaeda was ever established even after the invasion. In effect, this means that apart from the humanitarian reasons, there is probably no other valid motive that the United States could give for its invasion of Iraq.
Humanitarian intervention in military form should uphold the tenets of humanitarianism in all its operations. Not only should the invading power have the military strength to intervene, but it should also have the capacity to facilitate reconstruction (Johannessen 2010). In this light, there is sufficient evidence that the operations of the US and UK troops during the invasion of Iraq did not hold up to the required humanitarian standards. There is evidence that many detainees in the US military camps were tortured during interrogation (Philips 2006). This begs yet another important question that would help understand whether the motive of the Iraq intervention was really a humanitarian intervention. How would torture correspond to humanitarianism? Torture usually comes in handy as a military tactic to get a vital information. This implies that there was something at stake for the powers that ganged up against Iraq, most notably the US. Again, given the timing of the invasion, it is not implausible that the invasion was primarily part of a counter-terrorism strategy rather than a humanitarian intervention.
Another reason to believe that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was not a humanitarian intervention is the strong opposition it engendered in several countries. Even longstanding allies of the US refused to take part in the operation. France, Canada, New Zealand and Germany strongly opposed this invasion (Mobilizingideas 2012). Moreover, the rallies that were held against it all around the world were just too many, including the rally held in Rome that attracted three million people, the largest ever anti-war campaign. Even more importantly, the UN, being the most influential body that defends humanitarian interests, was strongly opposed to the invasion (Taylor 2012). With such magnitude of will against the 2003 invasion of Iraq, it is hardly a fact that the operation was a humanitarian intervention.
The circumstances surrounding the 2003 invasion of Iraq give sufficient reason to believe that it was not a humanitarian intervention. Perhaps, its aftermath would clear the haze and depict more transparent picture. What do Iraqis think about the invasion? Did the intervention bring the long desired peace that the US, the UK, Poland and Australia preached it would? There were qualms, even before the invasion, that this action would lead to a humanitarian crisis and many deaths (Lindsay 2003).
The 2003 Iraq intervention yielded to a war that threw stability in Iraq out of the window. To date, Iraqis do not feel safe in their own country (Hsu 2012). They not only fear foreigners but they also fear each other. Iraqis have developed an extreme sense of xenophobia due to the instability that was engendered by the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
The invasion of Iraq could be justified on any grounds but that it was a humanitarian intervention. The powers that invaded Iraq gave a number of reasons for their invasion of the Middle East country. However, after the invasion, it became apparent that two of the principal reasons were flimsy. These false speculations included the assertions that Iraq was harboring weapons of mass destruction and that Hussein had links with the Al Qaeda. Therefore, the only justification for the invasion of Iraq was that it was carried out to release the people of Iraq from the yoke of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. However, a scrutiny of the circumstances surrounding the invasion of Iraq reveals that the arguments proposed by the invading powers are not coherent enough to make a plausible argument. For that reason, the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was not a humanitarian intervention.