Opinion: Inside Saddam Hussein’s ‘chamber of horrors,’ I reflect on 20 years since the Iraq War

Editor’s Be aware: Peter Bergen is CNN’s nationwide safety analyst, a vice chairman at New America and a professor of apply at Arizona State College. He’s the writer of “The Value of Chaos: The Trump Administration and the World.” The views expressed on this commentary are his personal. View extra opinion on CNN.

Sulaymaniyah, Iraq

20 years in the past, on March 19, 2003, then-President George W. Bush ordered the US invasion of Iraq. Per week later, close to Najaf, a metropolis in southern Iraq, then-US Main Common David Petraeus turned to the American journalist Rick Atkinson and requested him a easy query: “Inform me how this ends.” That is still a wonderful query.

The Amna Suraka Museum, which was as soon as a jail and torture web site utilized by dictator Saddam Hussein’s intelligence brokers in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq, is an effective place to attempt to ponder the legacy of the US invasion and, maybe, an ancillary query: Was all of it price it?

After I visited the previous jail earlier this week, I discovered it situated in a nice residential neighborhood in Sulaymaniyah, within the Kurdish area of northern Iraq. The placement of the jail in the midst of the town was not an accident: Saddam wished the native inhabitants to know what awaited anybody who opposed him, or those that would possibly even be serious about opposing his regime.

The museum is a chamber of horrors showcasing the cells the place prisoners had been tortured by electrical shocks and had the soles of their ft overwhelmed in order that they couldn’t stroll. Juveniles had been delivered to the detention heart and their ages had been modified to be greater than 18 in order that they could possibly be “legally” executed, in accordance with a museum official I spoke to.

The jail cells are every fairly small, with nearly no mild. Throughout Saddam’s period, they had been filled with prisoners who shared overflowing bathrooms.

Within the museum, there’s a lengthy hall – generally known as the “Corridor of Mirrors” – consisting of fragments of glass that characterize every of the 182,000 individuals Saddam’s males killed throughout his 1988 “Anfal” marketing campaign (which is the estimated complete variety of deaths made by Kurdish officers). Small twinkling lights on the ceiling characterize the 4,500 villages within the area that Saddam’s forces additionally destroyed.

Three and half a long time in the past this week, on March 16, 1988, Saddam performed one of the crucial infamous crimes of his murderous dictatorship, killing hundreds of Kurds utilizing poison fuel and nerve brokers.

There’s little query Saddam was one of many worst tyrants of the twentieth century. He killed as many as 290,000 of his personal individuals, in accordance with Human Rights Watch. He additionally launched wars towards two of his neighbors – Iran throughout the Eighties and Kuwait in 1990. Conservative estimates recommend that at the least half one million individuals had been killed throughout these wars.

So, when Saddam was toppled by the People 20 years in the past, at the least some Iraqis had been comfortable. And Iraq at the moment has made some strides to a extra accountable political system in comparison with its neighbors within the Center East. Iraq has held a number of elections because the US invasion in 2003 that had been adopted by peaceable transfers of energy.

And but, after Saddam was toppled by the US, the incompetent American occupation of Iraq contributed to a civil warfare that tore the nation aside, killing a whole bunch of hundreds of Iraqis. Greater than 4,500 US troopers additionally died. The warfare additionally gave al Qaeda a brand new lease of life. The group generally known as al Qaeda in Iraq later morphed into ISIS, which seized huge quantities of Iraqi territory in 2014 and instituted a reign of terror.

The Iraq Battle additionally set a precedent for unprovoked wars that we see enjoying out in Ukraine at the moment, which the Russians are already utilizing to good impact. At a convention in India earlier this month, Russian Overseas Minister Sergei Lavrov known as out what he termed a US “double normal” saying: “[You] imagine that america has the precise to declare a menace to its nationwide curiosity, anyplace on earth, like they did… in Iraq?”

This message might not resonate a lot within the West, however it does within the International South the place the US-Iraq Battle and the Russian warfare in Ukraine are seen by many as wars of selection moderately than of necessity.

After all, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s’ conduct of the warfare in Ukraine is orders of magnitude extra brutal than the American warfare in Iraq. Additionally, Putin’s forces are attacking a democratic state, whereas, in Iraq, Bush ordered an invasion that toppled a dictatorship.

That stated, it’s price underlining among the wars’ similarities: Each wars had been began due to false claims – the US warfare in Iraq was launched on the premise that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and hyperlinks to al Qaeda. The US media largely parroted these claims. Consequently, months earlier than the US invaded Iraq, most People believed that Saddam was concerned within the 9/11 assaults though there was no proof for this.

Putin justifies his warfare in Ukraine by claiming that it isn’t a “actual” nation and ought to be subsumed into Russia. In the meantime, Russian media asserts that its troopers are combating “neo-Nazis” in Ukraine. Regardless of these false claims, most Russians help the warfare, in accordance with unbiased polls.

Additionally, neither the Iraq Battle nor the warfare in Ukraine have had a lot in the best way of worldwide help. Not like the case of the US-led warfare in Afghanistan after the 9/11 assaults, which had a mandate from the UN Safety Council, neither the US invasion of Iraq, nor the Russian invasion of Ukraine had UN Safety Council backing.

Within the museum devoted to Saddam’s crimes towards his personal individuals, you’re feeling the burden of his brutality. The US eliminating Saddam was for a lot of Iraqis one thing to be celebrated, however what adopted, from the civil warfare to the rise and fall of ISIS, has inflicted extra nice struggling on the Iraqi individuals.

To those that say: “Was all of it price it, toppling Saddam given what we find out about how the final 20 years performed out?”, that could be lacking the purpose at the moment. Iraq has a brand new authorities and sits on the third largest oil reserves on the earth. It ought to be one of many richest nations within the Center East, however as a substitute the most cancers of endemic corruption has eaten away at authorities intuitions and worldwide firms are sometimes hesitant to put money into Iraq.

If the Iraqi political class can discover a solution to create establishments that aren’t wormed with corruption, Iraq has an opportunity of shifting ahead.

The 2,500 US troops that stay in Iraq at the moment present not simply assist to the Iraqi army, but in addition make a political assertion that america plans to remain engaged in Iraq for the foreseeable future – moderately than abandoning the nation because it did in Afghanistan in the summertime of 2021, when all remaining US troops had been pulled out.

And we noticed how effectively that turned out.