On March 19, 2003, President George W. Bush gave the United States military the order to begin offensive operations against Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power, dismantle his suspected weapons of mass destruction programs and install a democratic government in Baghdad that his administration hoped would usher in a wave of democratic movements across the Middle East.
Ten years later, the only objective that the United States and their coalition allies can be said to have achieved with certainty is the removal of Hussein and his Ba’athist regime from power. The primary objective of the campaign, destroying Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction stockpile, turned out to be based on intelligence that was misplaced. The other, bringing democracy, was a long and costly investment that is still being developed today.
In many ways, the Iraq of 2013 looks better than the Iraq of 2003. For one, Saddam Hussein, a dictator who invaded two of his neighbors, launched chemical munitions against Israel during the Gulf War and held his own citizens hostage through a decades long system of brute force, systemic torture and executions, is gone and dead. The Ba’athist regime that molded Iraq into its own personal fiefdom has been demolished. Iraq’s economy is booming, touting a 10 percent growth rate last year and an impressive oil industry that is selling over three million barrels per day in the world market.
Yet the present and future of Iraq is still very much in doubt. Parliamentary democracy has technically been established but politics in Baghdad is a work in progress at best.
Like Hussein, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has expanded his executive powers in the hopes of increasing his control of the system and marginalizing political opponents. The military chain of command continues to be bypassed by the premier’s office which effectively controls the Ministries of Defense and the Interior without any serious check on its power.
The sectarian slaughter that tore through Baghdad and decimated the fabric of Iraqi society is now effectively over but wide schisms between Sunnis, Shia and Kurds have come to define how the country operates on a daily basis.
Iraq’s Shia, once a persecuted majority, now control parliament and the prime ministership. The Sunni complain, with some justification, that they are treated as second-class citizens by a government that appears to care little about what they have to say. 69 percent of Sunnis surveyed in a recent Gallup poll say that corruption has got worse in Iraq since the United States left. Only 39 percent of Shia Muslims share that view.
All in all, the verdict on Iraq is still out. Ten years of war and occupation have brought Iraqis closer to representative democracy, even if their politicians continue to bicker among themselves and accuse one another of taking the country in the wrong direction. Iraq’s security situation remains serious, with Al Qaeda’s front group weakened from its peak but strong enough to inflict terrorist attacks on government facilities, security forces and civilians. No part of the country is off limits to the insurgent groups who still roam on Iraqi soil, a matter of life that claims the lives of hundreds of Iraqis every month despite billions of dollars of investments in Iraq’s security forces by the Americans.
Will Iraq will muddle through or become a safe and peaceful place for its citizens? Will its politics move away from a system that is dominated by sectarian political parties? It may take another ten years before we know with certainty.