Today, March 20th, 2023, marks the 20th anniversary of the war in Iraq, a conflict that had profound and long-lasting effects on Iraqis, the Middle East, and the world. Despite the stated objectives of the war, such as the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime and the establishment of a democratic government, it was widely criticised for its high human, political, and economic costs.
The war was initially justified by the belief that Saddam Hussein’s regime possessed weapons of mass destruction, but no evidence was found to support this claim. As a result, many questioned the validity of the war. Although the war led to the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime, the subsequent occupation and rebuilding of Iraq were much more challenging than anticipated. The country continues to experience sectarian violence and political instability, and the US-led efforts to establish democracy and stability in Iraq have been largely unsuccessful. The conflict resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives and thousands of US military personnel, making it costly in terms of human life. It also had a substantial financial cost, with estimates suggesting that the total cost for the US could be as high as $2 trillion as of 2020.
The Iraq War has also been viewed as contributing to the destabilisation of the Middle East. Ongoing conflicts in Iraq and neighbouring countries have led to a humanitarian crisis and a flow of refugees. The war’s consequences have been far-reaching, with impacts that are still being felt today. On this anniversary, it is important to reflect on the lessons learned from this conflict and to work towards promoting peace, stability, and prosperity in the region.
A high human cost
The human cost of the war cannot be overstated. In the case of Iraq, the consequences for its citizens have been significant. The war in Iraq has led to the displacement of millions. As of January 2023, there were 1.3 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Iraq, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. These are people who have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict, persecution, or natural disasters. Many of them live in camps or informal settlements, where they face difficult living conditions and limited access to basic services.
In addition to the IDPs, many Iraqis have fled the country and become refugees in other countries. According to the UN Refugee Agency, as of January 2023, there were over 236,000 Iraqi refugees registered in other countries, primarily in neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. However, many more Iraqis are believed to have fled to other countries but have not registered as refugees, making it difficult to estimate the total number of Iraqi refugees accurately.
While many Iraqis have been displaced by the war, some have also been able to return to their homes in the years since. According to the International Organisation for Migration, as of December 2021, over 4 million displaced Iraqis had returned to their homes. However, many of these returnees continue to face challenges in accessing essential services and rebuilding their lives, as many homes and infrastructure were destroyed during the conflict.
The Yazidi Community
The Yazidi community, an ethnoreligious minority in Iraq, has been severely affected by the Iraq War and its aftermath. In 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) carried out a genocide against the Yazidi community, killing thousands and displacing hundreds of thousands more. Yazidi women and girls were particularly targeted, with many being kidnapped, sold into slavery, and subjected to sexualised violence. This atrocity forced many Yazidis to flee their homes and seek refuge elsewhere, with many still living in displacement camps in Iraq. The process of returning to their homes has been slow and difficult, with many facing challenges in rebuilding their lives.
Even before the genocide by ISIS, Yazidis in Iraq had long been subjected to discrimination and marginalisation. They were denied access to basic services such as healthcare and education and faced difficulties in finding employment. Despite the international community’s attention to the Yazidi genocide, the situation has not improved significantly. While ISIS has been largely defeated in Iraq, there is still ongoing insecurity in many parts of the country, including areas where Yazidis live. Yazidis continue to be at risk of violence and persecution, and many are afraid to return to their homes.
The genocide by ISIS has had a significant psychological impact on Yazidi survivors, with many experiencing trauma and suffering from mental health issues. The ongoing insecurity and displacement have also added to this trauma. The international community has provided support to Yazidi survivors, including mental health care, but much more needs to be done to ensure that they can rebuild their lives and have access to basic services. The plight of the Yazidi community is a reminder of the ongoing struggles that minorities face in Iraq and highlights the need for continued attention and support for these populations.
Devastating for women and girls
The Iraq War of 2003 had a profound impact on girls and women in Iraq, particularly in the areas of security, education, and health.
The war and the ensuing violence in Iraq have dealt a devastating blow to the security of women and girls, who have faced a heightened risk of sexualised and gender-based violence, including rape, sexual assault, and forced marriage. Additionally, extremist groups like ISIS have targeted women and girls for attacks. The conflict has disrupted education for millions of children, including girls, with many forced to drop out of school due to security concerns or economic hardship. According to a 2019 report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), nearly 3 million children in Iraq were out of school, with girls being more likely than boys to be out of school.
The conflict has also taken a significant toll on the health of girls and women, especially in areas that have been affected by violence and displacement. Women and girls have encountered barriers to accessing healthcare, including reproductive health services, and have been at increased risk of maternal mortality and morbidity.
The war and subsequent instability in Iraq have also impacted the political participation of women. While women played an active role in the 2019 protests that erupted in Iraq, they remain underrepresented in political and public life.
The Urgent Need for Peaceful Solutions worldwide.
As we mark the 20th anniversary of the war in Iraq, we must remember the profound and lasting impact it has had on the country and the wider region. Our thoughts are with the Iraqi people, including the Yazidis and Kurds, who have suffered greatly as a result of the conflict. The destabilization of the region and the long-term costs of the war continue to be felt to this day. The false claims made to justify the invasion only serve to underline the suspicions of neo-colonialist tendencies and the desire for control and power in the region.
The scale of the loss of human life and ongoing suffering caused by this war is heartbreaking. It is clear that important lessons need to be learned by governments and international actors, particularly given the alarming increase in global conflicts in recent years. As we reflect on the 20th anniversary of the Iraq War, we must renew our commitment to promoting peace and understanding, and work towards a world where violence and conflict are no longer seen as the answer to our problems.
This article was written by:
Ariane Alam is the Communications Manager of CFFP.
Zehra Tuzkaya supports our Anti-Racism work as a student assistant.