The former Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan has recently, once again, attributed the turmoil presently gripping Iraq to the 2003 predominantly Anglo-American invasion of Iraq and the toppling of the Saddam Hussein regime. Annan refers to the Administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority of Iraq Paul Bremer’s short-sighted decision to completely dismantle the Iraqi security forces which, to him, was what critically weakened the Iraqi state and led to the crisis we are presently faced with. Or, in his words,
Kofi Annan. Taken by Ricardo Stuckert_ABr 14.Nov.2003
“You cannot disassociate the situation in Iraq today from the US intervention in 2003. Because not only did the intervention take place, but they dismantled the Iraqi Army, which was the tool of Saddam to maintain law and order. The civil service, the Baathist Party were all [dismantled]. So the structures and state institutions vanished overnight, creating a very serious vacuum, which has led to where we are today. So I don’t think anybody can argue with that. The link is clear.”
One is always wary when the terror apparatus’s of the Iraqi Baath Party state are conflated with stability. Here is the regime which ravaged Iraq, slaughtered tens-of-thousands of Iraqi Kurds throughout the Al-Anfal campaign and later tens-of-thousands Shi’ite Iraqis too in 1991. Many of the state institutions of this dictatorship served first and foremost to prop-up an elite minority at the expense of a clear majority and of Iraq as a whole. Or as Annan phrased it they were, “the tool of Saddam to maintain law and order.”!
One also finds it distinctly unsettling to hear Kofi Annan, of all people, blaming the abolishing of the state institutions of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq almost solely for the state-of-affairs in Iraq today when it was he who was the U.N’s figurehead during most of the lifespan of the “Oil-for-Food” scheme and when Iraq was under economic sanctions. A scheme and sanctions which served to fundamentally weaken the Iraqi people and rendered them dependent upon their Baath oppressors. It also fundamentally undermined the functionality of those very institutions of which Annan laments the demise.
Another thing those economic sanctions did, which it is vital to recall, was pulverize Iraq’s middle class. In any country if you want change, be it political or revolutionary, you need to mobilize the middle class behind your efforts. That’s what was of crucial importance in Iran during the 1979 Islamic Revolution and of course in post-Saddam Iraq. That fundamentally important middle class was destroyed before 2003. As foolish as the quixotic move on the part of the coalition provision authorities to dismantle the Iraqi Army was it was also clear that the lack of a middle class to work with in the aftermath of Saddam’s overthrow was also a fundamental reason that post-Saddam Iraq has been so unstable and chronically chaotic. And the destruction of Iraq’s middle class began in the early 1990’s, not in 2003 and was a clear consequence of the U.N.-administrated sanctions.
Just re-evaluate the status of Iraqi women over the course of the past quarter-century. It certainly got worse after 2003 but that was after a long decline which started after the Persian Gulf War of 1991. After that period and throughout the lifespan of the sanctions regime the rights of women in Iraq declined exponentially. For reasons of political expediency, and given the fact the country and its people had gotten so much poorer and more isolated internationally, Saddam begun to look more inward and embrace more traditional Islamic and tribal values to consolidate his hold on power over Iraq’s brutalized and impoverished population. The chaos and instability which was a result of the 2003 war (when you upend any political or social order you’re going to see a great deal of instability, chaos and violence) has seen the status of women worsen even more. But that decline began in 1991, not in 2003.
The eradication of Iraq’s middle class and the decline of the rights of women aren’t even the most devastating results of those dark days. The sanctions regime saw the weakest in Iraq’s society bear the brunt of the misery and suffering. While strengthening the dictator they saw the very young and the very old bear the brunt of the suffering. Many, tragically, succumbed to it and perished. By 2003 the state institutions Annan refers to were mere shells of what they were before the crippling period of those sanctions.
I’ve always felt it was a great pity that Mr. Annan didn’t speak out about this tragic humanitarian tragedy before events of 2003 – remember administrators of those sanctions at the United Nations even resigned saying they didn’t want to oversee policies they deemed to be “genocidal”. Not only would it not have been in retrospect (like his present condemnation of events which transpired 12 years ago) but perhaps something could have been done and thousands of innocent Iraqi lives could have been saved. Speaking of things that could have been done in retrospect just imagine for a moment if Kofi Annan had resigned as Secretary General of that international body under the pretext that he could not, and would not, be the figurehead of a sanctions regime which empowered a mass-murdering tyrant and malnourished and starved children. That would have been a moral stand and, as I said, might have actually helped to save lives.
But one can nevertheless understand where Annan is presently coming from. Having been the figurehead of such a scandalous and unjustifiable status quo for at least half a decade and not having had the moral fortitude to speak out against it when it would have counted for something of course he now seeks to point the finger elsewhere and absolve himself of any responsibility, never mind guilt.