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Iraq: 'Killing and striking anything in front of them' - Locals recall 'indescribable suffering' of 2003 US intervention, ask 'where is the liberation?'12:03

Iraq: 'Killing and striking anything in front of them' - Locals recall 'indescribable suffering' of 2003 US intervention, ask 'where is the liberation?'

Iraq, Baghdad
March 13, 2023 at 10:12 GMT +00:00 · Published

Iraqi citizens spoke with Ruptly in Baghdad over the past seven weeks about their vivid memories of the brutal war that led to the eventual ousting of the country’s leader, Saddam Hussein, as well as the continuing impact on their day-to-day lives, ahead of the 20th anniversary of the US military intervention.

“I lost one of my brothers because of the bombings that took place, and many people were disabled and martyred as a result of the American occupation because of their lack of mercy,” claimed one local, Abu Hussein Al-Saadi.

Washington, along with its 'coalition of the willing', launched the offensive on March 19, 2003, on the pretext of Iraq’s 'weapons of mass destruction'.

“I remember it well," recalled shop assistant Ali Al-Mandalawi. "Baghdad became a battlefield, and tanks and security forces of all kinds were deployed.”

The much-anticipated offensive was months, if not years in the making. On January 28, US President George W Bush, in his State of the Union address, attempted to justify the forthcoming conflict as a 'war on terror'.

“We were facing not an ordinary country, but United States, and United States is the enemy of the people and owns everything and the United Nations is in its hands, and they have no objection to killing and striking anything in front of them,” added Al-Mandalawi.

The United Nations itself came under intense pressure. On February 5, Secretary of State Colin Powell outlined the case for war and 'evidence' for the existence and development of WMDs.

The landmark speech, which Powell later came to regret, included a stunning moment of theatre; the production of a vial of white powder he said 'could' have contained anthrax.

The UN had previously passed resolutions on Iraq and sent in inspectors; after all, the country’s leader had a history of development - and deployment - of chemical agents in the 1980s.

Crucially, however, the organisation didn’t sanction war. Just over a month later Washington claimed 'diplomacy has failed' and attacked Iraq anyway, starting with air strikes.

“It caused us terror, specially when I was sitting in the middle of the night when the siren sounded, marking the beginning of the American bombing of Baghdad,” said local resident Nahla Ahmed.

Ground troops followed a day later, plunging the country into chaos. According to the Iraq Body Count project, there have been around 200,000 violent civilian deaths since the intervention, with estimates both below - and above - that figure.

“The days of the invasion were indescribable suffering. I remember everything until now. The war is on my mind, and the Americans originally made us tremble with fear when we mentioned it," recalled Fatima Muhammad Ali. "All safety no longer exists. Before, safety existed during the time of the former regime. Now we live with our feelings of fear, and terrorism killed our lives."

No WMDs were ever found. In 2004, UN and US inspectors concluded any stockpiles had been destroyed a decade previously. As the UK’s 2016 Chilcot Inquiry diplomatically put it; the threat was exaggerated, intelligence was 'flawed’ and there was no plan for the fallout.

"There is nothing left of the infrastructure of society. We are talking about a society. The infrastructure for living does not exist in the first place, but we are talking about society, i.e. the real foundations. Most of them are from the past, because of what is called 'liberation’ and it is not really liberation. The Americans came to us. With governments that are like a game of chess. So what kind of life will we live, present and in the future?”, asked Sadieq Ajami Abbas, a university student.

The US officially withdrew troops by December 2011, although thousands remained as part of security operations or as private military contractors. The continued presence triggered widespread violence, with the instability linked to the rise of the Islamic State (IS).

“Since I became aware of life, and Baghdad is in the hands of the invaders, who are the Americans, I mean, where is the liberation? Where is the liberation to kill society? This is an intimidation of society," said Ajami Abbas. "There is no rational logic that describes what happened with liberation, i.e. liberation achieved by the invasion. We only saw gunshots, killing, and looting."

While human rights groups record life under Saddam Hussein as one of oppression and serious human rights abuses, some living in Iraq today view it far more favourably after the past two decades.

"According to what my father, may God have mercy on him, or my parents told me, life was peaceful, stable and pleasant, and they were reassured by life. And the coexistence was peaceful before the war. It is true that there was a siege and pressure from the state on the people, but there was safety, so my family used to tell me,” concluded Abbas.

Iraq: 'Killing and striking anything in front of them' - Locals recall 'indescribable suffering' of 2003 US intervention, ask 'where is the liberation?'12:03
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Iraqi citizens spoke with Ruptly in Baghdad over the past seven weeks about their vivid memories of the brutal war that led to the eventual ousting of the country’s leader, Saddam Hussein, as well as the continuing impact on their day-to-day lives, ahead of the 20th anniversary of the US military intervention.

“I lost one of my brothers because of the bombings that took place, and many people were disabled and martyred as a result of the American occupation because of their lack of mercy,” claimed one local, Abu Hussein Al-Saadi.

Washington, along with its 'coalition of the willing', launched the offensive on March 19, 2003, on the pretext of Iraq’s 'weapons of mass destruction'.

“I remember it well," recalled shop assistant Ali Al-Mandalawi. "Baghdad became a battlefield, and tanks and security forces of all kinds were deployed.”

The much-anticipated offensive was months, if not years in the making. On January 28, US President George W Bush, in his State of the Union address, attempted to justify the forthcoming conflict as a 'war on terror'.

“We were facing not an ordinary country, but United States, and United States is the enemy of the people and owns everything and the United Nations is in its hands, and they have no objection to killing and striking anything in front of them,” added Al-Mandalawi.

The United Nations itself came under intense pressure. On February 5, Secretary of State Colin Powell outlined the case for war and 'evidence' for the existence and development of WMDs.

The landmark speech, which Powell later came to regret, included a stunning moment of theatre; the production of a vial of white powder he said 'could' have contained anthrax.

The UN had previously passed resolutions on Iraq and sent in inspectors; after all, the country’s leader had a history of development - and deployment - of chemical agents in the 1980s.

Crucially, however, the organisation didn’t sanction war. Just over a month later Washington claimed 'diplomacy has failed' and attacked Iraq anyway, starting with air strikes.

“It caused us terror, specially when I was sitting in the middle of the night when the siren sounded, marking the beginning of the American bombing of Baghdad,” said local resident Nahla Ahmed.

Ground troops followed a day later, plunging the country into chaos. According to the Iraq Body Count project, there have been around 200,000 violent civilian deaths since the intervention, with estimates both below - and above - that figure.

“The days of the invasion were indescribable suffering. I remember everything until now. The war is on my mind, and the Americans originally made us tremble with fear when we mentioned it," recalled Fatima Muhammad Ali. "All safety no longer exists. Before, safety existed during the time of the former regime. Now we live with our feelings of fear, and terrorism killed our lives."

No WMDs were ever found. In 2004, UN and US inspectors concluded any stockpiles had been destroyed a decade previously. As the UK’s 2016 Chilcot Inquiry diplomatically put it; the threat was exaggerated, intelligence was 'flawed’ and there was no plan for the fallout.

"There is nothing left of the infrastructure of society. We are talking about a society. The infrastructure for living does not exist in the first place, but we are talking about society, i.e. the real foundations. Most of them are from the past, because of what is called 'liberation’ and it is not really liberation. The Americans came to us. With governments that are like a game of chess. So what kind of life will we live, present and in the future?”, asked Sadieq Ajami Abbas, a university student.

The US officially withdrew troops by December 2011, although thousands remained as part of security operations or as private military contractors. The continued presence triggered widespread violence, with the instability linked to the rise of the Islamic State (IS).

“Since I became aware of life, and Baghdad is in the hands of the invaders, who are the Americans, I mean, where is the liberation? Where is the liberation to kill society? This is an intimidation of society," said Ajami Abbas. "There is no rational logic that describes what happened with liberation, i.e. liberation achieved by the invasion. We only saw gunshots, killing, and looting."

While human rights groups record life under Saddam Hussein as one of oppression and serious human rights abuses, some living in Iraq today view it far more favourably after the past two decades.

"According to what my father, may God have mercy on him, or my parents told me, life was peaceful, stable and pleasant, and they were reassured by life. And the coexistence was peaceful before the war. It is true that there was a siege and pressure from the state on the people, but there was safety, so my family used to tell me,” concluded Abbas.