So, nearly six years after George W Bush announced American “victory” in Iraq, the US has finally found a way to scramble out of the morass it created. To a considerable fanfare, Barack Obama has announced that troops will leave by the end of August next year. As with all politicians, though, you have to look at the small print, and in fact, it turns out that a modest little contingent of 50,000 – the same size as half the entire British army – will not leave, and could stay until the end of 2011. It seems like a clear breach of President Obama’s promise, before he was elected, to withdraw all troops within 16 months of coming to power, but, hey, you know election promises sometimes turn out to be nothing more than, well....election promises.
The US-UK attack did remove a murderous, tyrannical regime – though this, of course, was not the reason for it. Indeed, a few days before the attack, Tony Blair promised Saddam Hussein that he could remain in power – and presumably continue to be a murderous tyrant – provided he gave up his (non-existent) weapons of mass destruction.
We do not know what Iraq would have been like today if we had not bombed it to smithereens. We do know that after the “shock and awe” we inflicted on them, nearly a million Iraqi people today do not have enough food, that many are without electricity for more than half the time, that only one person in three has clean drinking water, that only one in five is served by a proper sewerage system, that cholera is a constant danger, that the country is riven by bitter sectarian enmities, and that, as the BBC’s John Simpson so eloquently pointed out last night, although violence has fallen, it remains one of the most dangerous places on earth.
How many Iraqi deaths did we cause? As far as we and the Americans are concerned, the answer is the one given by Nikita Khruschev when asked about the victims of the great famine created by the Soviets in Russia in the 1930’s – “No one was counting.” A number of independent research organisations, though, have tried to answer the question and have come to the conclusion that we may have been responsible for the deaths of up to 1.4 million Iraqi people.