News broke this week that the International Criminal Court has rightly issued a warrant for the arrest of Russian President Vladimir Putin due to war crimes committed in Ukraine. Yet 20 years on from the invasion of Iraq, no such warrant has been issued for war crimes committed there. Dominic Carroll of the Irish Neutrality League looks at the obvious parallels between the two wars.
The 20th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq was marked by a continuing escalation of US involvement in the war in Ukraine. The US seems to have forgotten, or chooses not to remember, that the outcome of its invasion was death and destruction on a massive scale, the descent of Iraq into a sectarian civil war, and the emergence of ISIS. Certainly, the US seems oblivious to the many parallels to be drawn between its own unlawful invasion, which it launched without UN authorisation, and Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.
A little more than a year ago, Putin attempted to justify his invasion of Ukraine with the ludicrous claim that Russia was threatened by a Nazi regime in Kyiv. In 2003 the US sought to justify its invasion of Iraq with a false claim about weapons of mass destruction that supposedly threatened the West.
Russia’s targeting of critical Ukrainian infrastructure mirrors US strategy during its invasion of Iraq. Human Rights Watch reported that, during the first month of the war in Iraq, the US Air Force deliberately destroyed Iraqi water, sewerage and electrical facilities, and that “the attacks caused significant and long-term damage, and the civilian cost was high.”
The Russian destruction of Mariupol and the deadly battle for Bakhmut, in which the Wagner Group is laying waste to the city, are both comparable to the 2004 US attacks on the city of Fallujah, during which thousands of Iraqis were killed, including many women and children, and the city was reduced to rubble.
The Wagner Group, a private military contractor, had its American counterpart in Iraq: Blackwater Security Consulting. Among other atrocities, Blackwater carried out the 2007 Nisour Square Massacre in Baghdad, where the company murdered seventeen Iraqi civilians. (Convicted Blackwater operatives were pardoned by President Donald Trump in 2020.)
The mass murder of Ukrainian civilians in Bucha by Russian soldiers is a terrible echo of the 2005 Haditha massacre in Iraq, when twenty-four unarmed Iraqi civilians were murdered by US marines in the town of Haditha – just one of several massacres of civilians by US forces during the invasion and occupation.
The Russian mistreatment, torture and sometimes murder of Ukrainian soldiers in captivity has an obvious parallel with the mistreatment and torture, and at least one murder, of Iraqi prisoners by US forces in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad.
The most significant parallel between Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the US invasion of Iraq is that the true purpose in each case was the pursuit of geopolitical dominance. Just as the US employed its overwhelming firepower in Iraq to increase its control over the Middle East as a whole, Russia has invaded Ukraine and threatened nuclear war in a determined bid to dominate its self-styled “near abroad”. Both wars are clear instances of imperialism.
The US has been the most vociferous in condemning Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. Though the US has been supported by its European allies, including Ireland (disgracefully, given our neutrality), most other countries have declined to line up behind the US because of its long record of illegal and barbarous invasions. The US is seen by many governments as a hypocritical warmonger, not a force for peace.
The Irish Neutrality League contends that the war in Ukraine is a proxy war in which the US and its allies are pitted against Russia. The people of Ukraine are being sacrificed in an imperialist conflict. The US is clearly intent on sustaining the war in pursuit of its own primary objectives: the defeat of Putin and Russia, and to demonstrate to Xi Jinping that the US is willing to wage war against China.
The 2003 US invasion of Iraq had consequences far beyond anything imagined by those who launched it. President George W. Bush and the British prime minister Tony Blair were repeatedly warned by a mobilised global anti-war movement that they would be opening a Pandora’s box by invading a Middle Eastern country. Similarly, in 2023 the global anti-war movement warns that the war in Ukraine will have terrible consequences both within and far beyond the borders of that country for years to come.