It’s been 20 years since the US invaded Iraq. The memories still bring ‘overwhelming pain’

Twenty years after the USA launched its invasion of Iraq, Mohsin* mentioned the recollections nonetheless deliver him “overwhelming ache”.
“What occurred in 2003, I do not need taking place anyplace on this planet – not simply Iraq, anyplace,” he mentioned.

To this present day, Mohsin, 46, who fled Iraq and located refuge in Australia, mentioned he nonetheless would not perceive what occurred to his nation.

However he would not place blame solely on Iraq’s former president, Saddam Hussein, regardless of him being an “extraordinarily harsh ruler”.
“Who’s guilty? Simply Saddam? No, the US can also be guilty. It wasn’t simply Saddam who we should always blame – the US handled us the identical manner,” he mentioned.

Mohsin fled his residence nation 18 years in the past because the conflict raged, feeling he had no alternative however to go away as a result of life was not getting higher regardless of US forces ousting Mr Hussein.

Iraq’s former president Saddam Hussein was captured in December 2003, and executed three years later after being convicted of crimes in opposition to humanity by the Iraqi Particular Tribunal. Supply: AAP, AP / Darko Bandic

“[The US] mentioned they have been going to return and repair the nation, but it surely seems, no. Insurgent teams and the US navy have been killing folks, they have been taking pictures folks. Anyone who approached them risked being killed,” he mentioned.

Sunday 19 March 2023 marks 20 years since US president , which spiralled right into a conflict that lasted till 2011.
A United States soldier standing outside while another is in an armoured vehicle. A burning oil well is in the background.

US marines close to a burning oil properly on the al-Ratka oilfield in southern Iraq in March 2003. Iraqi troops set hearth to the oilfield as they fled from coalition forces advancing on Baghdad. Supply: Getty, AFP / Odd Andersen

Mohsin believed life would return to regular after a few months, however that was not the case.

“By 2005, it was destroyed. Sectarianism battle broke out… there was nothing left for us there. How was I going to learn from this nation? That is the purpose the place I knew I needed to depart,” he mentioned.
The following yr, Mohsin and his household escaped to Malaysia earlier than travelling to Indonesia.
They got here to Australia by boat in 2010 after he was granted a , but it surely was a tragic journey.
On the way in which to Christmas Island catastrophe struck, and 91 of the 131 folks on board drowned, together with his three younger kids.

“I attempt to neglect the expertise that I had … If Iraq improved by one million instances as we speak, it might nonetheless not be adequate and I’ll by no means return there. All I can take into consideration is the expertise that I had. And I do not need to keep in mind it,” he mentioned.

What sparked the invasion?

The US-led conflict got here in opposition to the backdrop of heightened terrorism fears, in keeping with Benjamin Isakhan, a professor of worldwide politics at Deakin College.
Eighteen months earlier the US had been rocked by the .

“The actual worry within the US at the moment was {that a} state like Iraq may need weapons of mass destruction and that it is perhaps harbouring terrorists,” Professor Isakhan mentioned.

A crowd of people on the streets. Some are carrying a coffin.

Mourners carry the physique of Iraqi Shamil Nafe, 30, alongside the streets of Baghdad’s Adhamiya space throughout his funeral procession, in December, 2003. He was killed by the US forces when an indication supporting captured former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein happened and ended with clashes with troops. Supply: AAP, AP / Muhammed Muheisen

Previous to saying the invasion, Mr Bush claimed that US intelligence had discovered that Iraq had “a number of the most deadly weapons ever devised”, and that it “harboured terrorists, together with operatives of al-Qaeda” — who had coordinated the September 11 assaults.

When the official name had been made, Australia’s then-prime minister and dedicated troops to hitch the struggle. He mentioned it was in Australia’s nationwide curiosity to “deprive Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction”.
However within the early months of the conflict, it emerged that the intelligence suggesting Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was not as strong as had been claimed.

David Kay, then-head of the CIA’s Iraq Survey Group (ISG), mentioned in October 2003 that no weapons of this kind had been found.

A yr later, the ISG delivered a report back to the US Congress following a 15-month search involving 1,200 of its inspectors who had searched websites throughout Iraq. No weapons of mass destruction had been discovered, and the ISG concluded that Mr Hussein destroyed the final of them a decade earlier.
It mentioned Mr Hussein had ambitions to restart chemical and nuclear applications as soon as sanctions have been lifted. However as a result of there have been no current indicators of dialogue or curiosity in establishing a brand new organic warfare (BW) program, Iraq would “have confronted nice troublesome in re-establishing an efficient BW agent manufacturing functionality”.

Claims Mr Hussein had formal hyperlinks with al-Qaeda, which have been used as justification for the invasion, have been additionally being questioned. In 2006, a declassified US Senate report revealed there was no proof of this.

‘Who may really feel pleased a couple of international flag being flown of their homeland?’

Basim Alansari was already an Iraqi refugee as he watched his nation crumble on reside tv at his pupil lodging in a regional NSW college.
Mr Alansari was solely 9 years previous when he escaped the 1990 Gulf Conflict — sparked by Iraq’s invasion of neighbouring Kuwait — together with his household, and at last got here to Australia by boat when he was 17.
He felt giddy with pleasure after watching US troops drape an American flag over a statue of Mr Hussein.
“I keep in mind calling my dad and I am going Saddam is gone!,” he mentioned.

He was met with heavy weeping by his father, who had narrowly escaped dying row below Mr Hussein’s rule.

Basim Alansari.jpeg

Basim Alansari. Supply: Provided

When Basim thought his dad’s uncommon crying was on account of happiness, he mentioned his dad screamed at him.

“Who may see a international flag being flown in their very own homeland, and really feel pleased in such a second?” Mr Alansari recollects his dad saying.
Mr Hussein went into hiding after US troops seized the capital, Baghdad, lower than a month into the invasion. He was captured in December 2003, and executed three years later after being convicted of crimes in opposition to humanity by the Iraqi Particular Tribunal.
After his overthrow, which ended a brutal 24-year rule, extra violence adopted.

Al-Qaeda’s chief in Iraq, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, who was killed by US forces in 2006, began waging bloody assaults designed to show majority Shi’ite Muslims in opposition to minority Sunnis in a civil conflict. It will definitely transpired and engulfed Iraq from 2006 to 2008.

A photo of two teenage men and a young boy.

Basim Alansari (centre) and his two brothers in Iraq earlier than they travelled to Australia. Supply: Provided

Large protests in Australia and around the globe

Because it turned more and more obvious that the US would invade Iraq, tens of millions of individuals took to the streets calling for a peaceable answer.

Between six and 10 million folks demonstrated the world over on 15 and 16 February, 2003, in keeping with a BBC report on the time. Some have labelled it the most important single coordinated protest in historical past, with the Guinness World Information recognising Italy as having the most important anti-war turnout at three million folks.

Mohammad Awad was among the many tons of of hundreds of people that rallied throughout Australia that weekend.
Mr Awad remembers heading out together with his household to shops in Bankstown, western Sydney, the place they purchased markers, paint, and glitter to design posters.

He recalled his dad and mom explaining that they have been going to the demonstration as a result of what was taking place was “unfair”.

Man smiles in a black thawb near  the water.

Mohammad Awad attended the anti-war rally in Sydney as a younger boy. Supply: Provided / Mohammad Awad

“It was our first schooling on imperialism and all the pieces happening within the Center East; why American intervention by no means works, all that form of stuff,” Mr Awad, now 23, mentioned.

I keep in mind [chanting], ‘John Howard is a coward’.

“I had by no means been to a protest earlier than, I had by no means seen such an enormous demonstration of individuals earlier than.”

Demonstrators marching down a street. Some are holding placards that read "NO WAR".

Protesters in Sydney referred to as for no conflict in Iraq on 16 February, 2003. Supply: AAP, AP / Dan Peled

Many distinguished Australians have been additionally vocal of their opposition to the conflict, with the late Heath Ledger becoming a member of fellow actors Joel Edgerton, Naomi Watts, and hundreds of others at a rally in Melbourne after the invasion was introduced.

And in January of that yr, Toni Collette and Judy Davis have been amongst anti-war activists who tried to current Mr Howard with an utility for US citizenship as a result of he had aligned Australia with Washington’s hardline stance in opposition to Iraq.

“He’s blindly following Bush, like a sheep, right into a pit and who is aware of what the repercussions could also be,″ Collette mentioned on the time.

A man with his arm on another's shoulders standing in a large crowd.

Heath Ledger (proper) and Joel Edgerton at a protest in entrance of Victorian State Library in Melbourne on 20 March, 2003, following the announcement of the Iraq invasion. Supply: AAP / Julian Smith

The conflict’s toll

In 2008, Mr Bush agreed to withdraw US troops from Iraq, a course of that was accomplished below President Barack Obama in 2011 — the identical yr Britain’s remaining forces left.
Australia ended its operations in 2009.
The variety of civilians that died in the course of the conflict is troublesome to determine. In 2009, three years earlier than the conflict ended, 110,600 Iraqis had been killed.
George W Bush carrying a platter with a roast turkey and fixings as soldiers watch on.

In 2008, Mr Bush agreed to withdraw US troops from Iraq, a course of that was accomplished below President Barack Obama in 2011. Supply: AAP, AP / Anja Niedringhaus

When saying the invasion, Mr Bush mentioned the US would assist “construct new Iraq that’s affluent and free”.

Professor Isakhan mentioned that promise had not but been fulfilled, and given Australia was a participant, the federal government ought to do extra to make sure it’s.

He mentioned “easy issues” like offering alternate and scholarship applications for Iraqi college students would go a way in serving to obtain this.

Professor Isakhan believes the West has discovered “plenty of laborious classes” within the wake of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
“You possibly can’t go into these very advanced and conflict-ridden societies and repair them in 5 years and switch them into strong democracies in 10 or 20 years,” he mentioned.
“There isn’t any easy repair, and I feel that is actually an enormous drawback for international coverage in the meanwhile… as a result of staying away is an issue, and stepping into is an issue.”

*Title has been modified.