For more information about the author, see here.
To email Andrew, click here.
To see Andrew’s speaking videos on these topics, click here
The following was published in the Age here on August 14, 2004, after approximately 18 months after the start of the Iraq War. Would the arguments change now?
The left lets its hatred of Bush blind it to the fact that Iraq is better off now.
Since Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 9/11 members of the anti-Bush, anti-war movement have almost let it pass into indisputable fact that George W. and Saddam Hussein are as bad as each other. They imply that Iraq would have been better off without the war. Really?
Let’s look at security, health, education and population movements as just four objective indicators to ask if this war was worth fighting.
First, security. The anti-war website Iraqbodycount.net estimates that between 11,487 and 13,458 Iraqis have been killed since the start of the war. Added to that are 1049 coalition deaths listed. That is a staggering 14,507 deaths since March 19 last year – a horrendous average of 28.5 people, real human beings, a day for the 509 days.
How could this ever be justified? Wouldn’t Iraq have been better off without this?
It is estimated that Saddam killed between 500,000 and 1 million of his own people in the 13 years since the Gulf War, not including the effects of the sanctions. The lower number averages out to be 105 a day.
Assuming Saddam had stayed in power, as the anti-war movement would have had, and assuming his regime did not fundamentally change, Saddam could have killed between 53,445 and 106,890 innocent people in the same 509 days.
In other words, the war probably cost between 38,938 and 92,383 fewer lives than the so-called peace would have cost.
The difference is starker when you look to other human rights abuses, such as America’s revolting treatment of prisoners. About 30 deaths of prisoners in US custody are unexplained, and trials have begun for service men and women involved in the torture of perhaps hundreds of prisoners.
Saddam executed more than 1500 prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison alone in 1999. Some reports have him ordering 2000 in one day in 2001. No guards stood trial in Iraq when Saddam was in charge.
The anti-war coalition also talks about the destruction of the fabric of Iraqi society, including their health and education systems.
It is true that the education system in Iraq was highly regarded and had achieved nearly universal primary enrolment by 1980, one year after Saddam had taken power. However, in the early 1980s public funds began to be siphoned off for military expenditures and other priorities. By the time the war started there were 15,000 school buildings in Iraq and 10,000 of them needed repair.
Since the end of “major hostilities”, as Bush hubristically declared, what has happened?
Nearly 2000 schools have been rebuilt and a new curriculum, free from the ranting of Saddam, has been introduced.
The Iraqi health-care system declined under Saddam from one of the best in the region to one of ruin.
During the 1990s, spending on public health was cut by more than 90 per cent with devastating results for the lives of average Iraqi citizens, partly due to the sanctions, and partly due to the Government’s priority spending on the military and government officials, such as Saddam himself.
Over the past 14 years, an average of only 4 per cent of health-care facilities saw any rehabilitation or reconstruction. As much as 65 per cent of equipment in Iraq’s hospitals was not functional or was in need of repair or replacement.
Yet Iraq spent more on the military than Australia did.
Today all 240 Iraqi hospitals and more than 1200 primary health clinics are operating across Iraq, although a great deal of work is still needed to bring them up to scratch.
What of population movements? Before the war Iraqis were fleeing their country by the thousands – including many who came aboard the Tampa. Today the UN is not so much looking at people leaving Iraq, but people voluntarily returning. If life in Iraq is worse now, why are people going back there instead of leaving?
What I don’t understand in this debate is why well-meaning people of the left allow themselves to be so blinded by their hatred of George Bush, that somehow they think Saddam was the better option.
I wish the US had invaded for humanitarian reasons, but it didn’t. I wish the UN had authorised the invasion, but it didn’t. I wish John Howard had not lied to the Australian people, but it appears he did. I wish the US had handled the occupation well and not abused prisoners, but it didn’t.
I do not, and never will, support the reasons that Bush, Howard and others gave for the war and I hope they are held accountable at the ballot box.
But none of these failings justifies the position many anti-war people hold – that Iraq was better off before the war, or that Saddam’s peace was a better option than Bush’s war.
Andrew MacLeod is an international lawyer and early warning specialist for the United Nations. These are his personal views.
More discussion like this is in: