6 Lies We Need to Stop Telling About the Situation in Iraq

"No matter how big the lie; repeat it often enough and the masses will regard it as truth," said JFK in an undated 1948 speech to Democrats. 

It's true. Look no further than the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, which brought about a long series of lies and exaggerations that shaped the situation in Iraq today.

Rewind to the fall of 2002, when the Bush administration leaked a story to an unfortunate journalist at the New York Times, claiming that Iraq had bought metal tubes clearly intended for use in nuclear weapons.

Over $800 billion, 188,000 dead Iraqis and 4,422 U.S. killed soldiers later, we know today that there was no Iraqi nuclear program. But remnants of some of the lies that helped justify the initial U.S.-led invasion of Iraq are persisting today, making their way into the narrative around the scenes of violence that the country is seeing today. 

Here are six lies that we need to stop telling about the situation in Iraq:

1. The 2003 invasion did not cause the Iraq crisis today.

This particular lie comes courtesy of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who recently called claims that the the 2003 invasion was tied to the current crisis "bizarre." 

But there's certainly a link between the two. The invasion and its aftermath set the stage for the tragedy that has engulfed Iraq today.

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the militant group behind the violent insurgency in Iraq, evolved from a group called Islamic State of Iraq, officially formed after the invasion. 

The Obama administration then contributed to a torrid situation by withdrawing their military support nine years before the Iraqi army was ready.

fascinating study from 2008, "Is There an 'Emboldenment' Effect? Evidence from the Insurgency in Iraq" strongly suggests that attacks in Iraq were linked to presence of American troops.

Researchers noted that attacks spiked by between 5 and 10% shortly after negative media reports about the war appeared in the US media, observing that "insurgent groups responded rationally to expected probability of U.S. withdrawal."

2. The situation in Iraq is a civil war.

In November 2006, news network NBC set political forums alive when it reclassified the Iraq conflict as a "civil war."

The U.S. Army uses five criteria to recognize civil war:

1) The contestants must control territory.

2) There must be a functioning government.

3) Each side must enjoy some foreign recognition.

4) The sides should have identifiable and regular armed forces.

5) They should engage in major military operations.

Back when the narrative shifted to one of "civil war," the situation in Iraq only met the first criteria on the list, according to David A. Patten, a sergeant who'd swapped his professors gown (philosophy) for three sergeant stripes.

Today, with the capture of Mosul, it looks like criteria two and five have been met, which means that Iraq's supposed slip into civil war began just last week, according to the U.S. army.

In an essay "Policing Mutual Genocide," existential philosopher James Leonard Park explains that Iraq's situation can't be called a civil war, or the always seductive narrative: a 1,200 year old battle between two Muslim sects, Sunnis and Shias. In actuality, there's a wider picture here:

"There are two main kinds of 'Muslims' who want to kill each other. But there are also many factions within each major group, which will continue to struggle for some kind of dominance now that the U.S soldiers are gone."

It's also important to remember here that Iraq's Sunni minority is not synonymous with ISIS or its murderous tactics. 

3. The Iraq war was the “moral” choice.

Last August, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that the invasion of Iraq was a "just" and moral decision.

The language of morality was certainly present during the decision-making around the invasion. On the eve of the invasion, 46 U.S. religious leaders, including 20 Bishops from George Bush's own United Methodist Church.

"It is a moral and ethical matter of the highest order, one that we have made a priority for many months as the possibility of war has loomed on our national horizon," adding for that reason they had made it a top priority to "slow the rush to war."

The leaders represented tens of millions of Protestant and Orthodox Christians across the country, and told Bush their views were supported by their congregations. In contrast, the pope later joined them in condemning any invasion, then Archbishop Desmond Tutu attacked the war in 2004 as "immoral."

None of that moralizing has found root in the neo-con subconscious. Ultra-right bastion of interventionism Breitbart London (yes, we now have our own version), is already tying itself in knots to make a new moral case for intervention, knowing empirically that interventions of that kind have never worked.

4. Removing Saddam Hussein from power was "right."

If you'd asked Iraqis in 2007 if they preferred life under democratically elected Maliki or brutal dictator Hussein, polls at the time suggested half would have said the former, and only a quarter the latter. 

If you're an Iraqi Kurd, an Islamic extremist, a western private security contractor or arms company, removing Hussein had its bonuses, be they new-found wealth or the eventual establishment of a Sunni caliphate

All the feuds between families, sects and tribes built to near bursting under the occupation were close to spilling into rivers of blood in Iraq's cities, factories and fields, where Shia and Sunni work side by side. That kind of blood-letting ruins a nation: Ask Lebanon or Syria.

If it turns out that removing Hussein has led to the world's first heavily armed and well-funded jihadist caliphate, that will count as one of the greatest military blunders in history.

5. The U.S. couldn't have predicted the recent rise of extremism in Iraq.

Clinton was speaking a few days ago to excuse her own administration's withdrawal of troops in 2011, which some Republicans are saying has accelerated the rise of ISIL.

Hindsight is a glorious gift, but American generals didn't have the luxury of that back in 2006 when they predicted al-Qaida would eventually regenerate in Iraq if the withdrawal was too hasty.

Using good ol' common sense, Major General Jeffrey Buchanan warned his leaders:

"If the Iraqi security forces are not able to put pressure on them, they could regenerate."

Lieutenant General Babaker Zerbari, Iraq's most senior military officer, later announced:

"At this point, the withdrawal is going well, because they are still here."

"But the problem will start after 2011," he argued. "The politicians must find other ways to fill the void after 2011. If I were asked about the withdrawal, I would say to politicians: The U.S. army must stay until the Iraqi army is fully ready in 2020."

6. The U.S. didn't have anything to do with the rise in Jihadists

Like it or not, the adverse side-effects of American commercial, defense and diplomatic activities in the Gulf and Israel need to be discussed. It has been akin to jabbing a stick into a hornets nest for 60 years, and the resulting backlash hasn't been pretty. If there has been a war on terror, we've now lost comprehensively.

The American government, led by the U.S. Department of State and the CIA, risked the safety and security of European and American civilians in favor of a corporate elite keen to exploit the Middle East's oil riches.

American leaders and businessmen knew the jihadists were well-armed, well-financed and zealous. They felt provoked, and without heeding the warnings, they poked and they poked and they poked.

And the jihadists eventually fought back, claiming the lives of thousands of Americans in New York City on September 11th 2001.

Radical ideology has undoubtedly played a part, but that ideology is not allied to an absolute good or an absolute evil.

The exact same ideology was exploited by the Americans and the Saudi government in the '70s to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. American Senator Charlie Wilson, when he wasn't womanizing or doing blow, later became famous for arming the same jihadists that would later turn on the United States.

Meanwhile, the rulers of Saudi Arabia were keenly supporting the Afghanistan jihad with mass financial aid, so comprehensive that flights for honeymoon couples, who wanted to work in the refugee camps in Pakistan rather than take up arms, were heavily subsidized.

The subtle twist that Bush made to interpret the events of Sept. 11, 2001 was to present jihadism as opposed to western values.

But jihadism might have more to do with frustration with oppression of Muslims, whether it's by Russian Communists, American neo-liberals or neo-cons.

We can't fight Russia because they have nuclear weapons. The Middle East, like it or not, has al-Qaida. And we can't beat them with more bombs. Is it time to negotiate?

How likely are you to make Mic your go-to news source?

Alastair Sloan

I'm a London-based journalist. I focus on injustice, inequality and the third sector in the UK, and internationally cover stories related to censorship, oppressive regimes, the arms trade and human rights. The Guardian, Al Jazeera English, The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, The Independent or The Evening Standard, as well as Policy Mic.

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