Mostly Harmless

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Analysis: A decade later, Iraq and Afghanistan remain in turmoil

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First published in The Caravan on Sunday September 11, 2011

The attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 would not only dramatically change American lives, but through the course of the next decade affect millions around the world.

In the wake of the attacks the United States declared wars on Afghanistan and Iraq.

On October 7, less than a month after the attacks, American and British military forces, aided by the Afghan United Front, launched Operation Enduring Freedom to oust the Taliban from power and capture Osama bin Laden.

The Taliban and their Al-Qaeda forces withdrew to Afghanistan’s treacherous mountain range and the war still rages a decade later. Foreign troops are not expected to leave before 2014.

Some 18 months later, the US and UK invaded Iraq.

Most combat troops have since left Iraq in August 2010 with 50,000 remaining in an advisory capacity and are scheduled to leave by December this year. The US Department of Defense says it is in negotiations with the government to extend their stay to the end of 2012.


Most analysts agree that Afghanistan is still engaged in a de facto civil war, with an estimated 35,000 civilians have been killed since the Taliban were driven from Kabul, the capital.

Suicide attacks are not rare; in recent weeks high-ranking government officials including the president’s brother have been killed and Taliban raids on police stations and military compounds have increased in recent years.

Prior to the US invasion, the Taliban had declared growing poppies (opium) contrary to Islamic teaching and was able to critically curb its cultivation.

But by the end of  2001, harsh economic conditions brought about by the war led to an all-time increase in poppy farming and opium production.

Afghanistan now produces 90 percent of the world’s opium supply –  according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime – and contributes to at least one third of the country’s poor economy.

Since the start of the war, only 48 percent of the country’s 26-million population have access to safe drinking water and only 37 percent can use improved sanitation facilities.

Disease epidemics are common and one in five newborns does not survive infancy. A mother dies at childbirth every 30 minutes.

Mujeeb Dadgar, an Afghani study abroad student at AUC, does not believe this suffering is a result of the invasion, which he feels, was justified. Instead, he blames the government of President Hamid Karzai, in power since 2002.

“The euphoria (because of the invasion) was there until recently, in the 2009 re-election of Karzai. After that, the intellectuals have given up and abandoned the country,” he says.

“The corruption and abuse of power is so eminent . . . that many Afghans are asking for the Taliban to come back,” he added.

Dadgar believes that a stricter US policy towards Karzai is needed because his government is slowing down growth and is not bringing about enough economic development.

In Iraq, however, the death toll has been much higher with figures ranging from 130,000 to an estimated 654,965 Iraqis killed since the March 2003 US invasion.

A joint United Nations and World Bank report estimated in 2003 that $35.82 billion was needed to rebuild the country’s infrastructure, debilitated by the 1991 Gulf War, 13 years of UN sanctions, and the 2003 invasion. The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), a US-funded independent oversight office placed the estimate at $45 billion.

However, since the invasion Iraqi and US officials have said that as much as $18 billion are unaccounted for and may have been stolen.

“Nobody in Iraq has any doubt about how bad the situation is,” says Majed Jarrar, an AUC graduate who fled Iraq in 2004.

“The invasion has sent back Iraq 300 or 400 years. Since the invasion there isn’t a single city in Iraq that has electricity for 24 hours a day, Baghdad has three hours of electricity per day. Not a single traffic light operates.” he adds.

Iraq generates about 4,000 megawatts of electricity per month since the invasion; Washington’s goal was 6,000. In May 2006, Iraq had less than ten hours of electricity per day, with Baghdad getting less than four.

While the electric power crisis has been somewhat alleviated, no home survives without power generators.

“That is all in addition to the systematic corruption, systematic destruction of infrastructure. If you look at any statistics that have anything to do with development or advancement, Iraq is always amongst the lowest rated countries,” says Jarrar.

Iraq now has one of the worst human development indicators amongst countries in the Middle East. Only six health clinics have been built out of a scheduled 142 according to the SIGIR report.

Only a quarter of Iraqis (around eight million) have access to portable water, five million less than those who did before the war.

An estimated 49 water and sanitation projects planned by the US government, out of an original 136, will be completed.

Oil revenues were meant to pay for most of the rebuilding of Iraq’s infrastructure; however, postwar oil profits have fallen short of prewar expectations.

Iraq produces below two million barrels of oil per day (BPD) compared to the 2.5 million BPD it produced before the war even though the country has one of the world’s largest untapped oil reserves.

This shortage of oil production is a product of the Iraqi government being unable to secure pipelines from insurgents and looting. Iraqi energy officials estimate that the country needs to invest $30 billion in upgrading the existing oil infrastructure and build five new refineries to meet domestic demand and compete in international markets.

In terms of combating terror, the war on Iraq has yielded negative results.

Before the war, suicide attacks in Iraq were non-existent. By 2007, more than 300 had been committed.

A Lancet report published earlier this month stated that over 12,284 Iraqis had been killed as result of suicide attacks and a further 30,644 injured since March 2003.

According to Iraq Body Count, nearly 3,000 Iraqis are killed every month since 2007. To bring that number into perspective, it is the equivalent to the death toll of a 9/11 type catastrophe every month for Iraqis.


The question then becomes were these wars justified? Both wars are part of the larger “war on terrorism” initiated by former US President George W. Bush as a response to the 9/11 attacks.

The war in Afghanistan was launched because Al-Qaeda, the perpetrators of 9/11, were based there and received support from the ruling Taliban regime which refused to hand them over.

The goals were dismantling Al-Qaeda, bringing down the Taliban, and creating a democratic Afghanistan. None of these targets have been realized.

It took the US an entire decade to locate and kill Al-Qaeda’s leader Osama Bin Laden and the organization still exists, with many sympathizing cells springing up across the world. Several radical groups such as Al-Shabab in Somalia, have vowed allegiance to Al-Qaeda.

From their mountain strongholds, the Taliban are leading an insurgency against the US-backed Karzai government and although they no longer remain in power, they still maintain influence in the country and are refusing to negotiate.

The Karzai-led Afghan government is unable to initiate the required economic and social development in Afghanistan, has failed to put a stop to the civil war and cannot provide security. It is also widely regarded as corrupt and inefficient.

The 2009 Afghan presidential elections experienced a very low voter turnout of 35 percent, a lack of security and extensive election fraud. Voter cards were reportedly being sold at ten dollars each while warlords threatened villagers into voting for Karzai.

But noted American scholar and historian Juan Cole says: “The Afghanistan war was the right war at the right time”

Cole asserts that the war was successful in breaking up the network of Al-Qaeda training camps that would have been used to attack America.

In Iraq, the Bush administration claimed it was attempting to remove an administration that possessed weapons of mass destruction, harbored terrorists and committed human rights abuses.

The Bush Administration said that Iraq had “snubbed its nose” in the face of all UN resolutions and international law and was in fact a few years away from building a nuclear weapon.

In 2002, the International Atomic Energy Agency sent a team to investigate if Iraq possessed WMDs. In his statement on the investigation then-IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei said that the investigation “found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq”.

Another justification for the war, then Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s alleged links with Osama Bin Laden, was quickly refuted by several US intelligence agencies including the CIA after the invasion.


But the much-respected Jane’s Intelligence Digest as early as 2002 cast doubt on an operational link between Iraq and Al-Qaeda. Alex Standish, editor of Jane’s Intelligence Digest, recently told Australia’s The Age:

“Saddam’s Ba’ath Party regime, despite its Islamic trappings, is a deeply secular and fundamentally socialist ideology. You can think whatever you like about Saddam but he is not so foolish that he would threaten his own region’s stability by financing the extreme and violent likes of al Qaeda.”

According to the Center for Public Integrity, the Bush administration made 935 false statements between 2001 and 2003 about Iraq’s alleged threat to the United States.

More than eight years after the invasion of Iraq, more Americans are coming to realize what most of the world already knew – that the war was not justified.

This was painfully clear to New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd who in September 22, 2002 wrote: “The administration isn’t targeting Iraq because of 9/11. It’s exploiting 9/11 to target Iraq. This new fight isn’t logical — it’s cultural. It is the latest chapter in the culture wars, the conservative dream of restoring America’s sense of Manifest Destiny.”


Written by Ahmed Aboulenein

September 11, 2011 at 7:33 pm

Posted in Analysis, Middle East

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