Iraq: The Moral Dilemma Continues

A little over 10 years ago, on the eve of the Iraq war, I
wrote on the pages of the Fairfax Press that Iraq was the West’s moral dilemma
(see here).
I argued that the west had to choose between the least bad of bad options and

 “To say “continue with diplomacy” is to
say “continue with rape, murder and torture”. To say “it is not
our problem” is to say “continue with rape, murder and torture”.
To say “the US is a global imperialist that just wants to control the
oil” is to say “continue with rape, murder and torture”.
Anything except regime change is to say “continue with rape, murder and

Ten years on and views on the Iraq war have hardened in many
people’s eyes. For most people the issue is black or white – right or wrong,
and there is very little grey in public discussion.
Iraq fills our TV screens with violence and mayhem. Last week’s
bombs in Baghdad reinforce the view that the security situation in Iraq is
terrible.  But allow me to put a refined
I recently visited Iraq and have seen that far from being black
and white, Iraq today is as complicated as ever. It is still a moral dilemma and
does not lend itself to definitive statements that the war was either definitively
right, or definitively wrong.
Australian travellers like me are often asked by people in
other countries ‘what is the weather like in Australia?’ There is a wildly
different depending where in Australia you are. North is hot, South is cold.

Likewise asking ‘how is the security in Iraq?’ encourages an
equally broad range of answers, with many regions off limits for non-military
travellers. The world cannot even agree on how many innocent people died in the
war, with figures reaching from the ludicrously low to the ludicrously high.
For me the anti-war group ‘Iraqi Body Count’ seems to have
worked as hard as anyone to get as accurate data as possible and claim in the
range of 112,000-123,000 needless deaths in the decade long war and aftermath.
This is as good a starting point as any for understanding the cost of the war.
What about the cost of ‘no war’?
In the decade before the war Hussain was estimated by Human
Rights Watch and Amnesty International to have killed somewhere between 500,000
and 1 million people.
Can one assume a radical change in Saddam’s approach if
there were no intervention and the consequent continuation of the Saddam
Regime? Can one assume that Saddam would magically have changes, or would it
have been a safer assumption to say his brutal regime would have continued?
Can one say that the cost of ‘no war’ would have been Saddam
killing at least 500,000 people?
That is one heck of a moral dilemma to set up where non-intervention
kills more innocent people than intervention.  
My recent visit though took me out of the world of
theoretical numbers and into the world of real people. While many parts of Iraq
are off limits to the non-military travel, there is one region of safety,
tranquillity and enormous interest. Iraqi Kurdistan.
Iraqi Kurdistan is a part of Iraq you can – and maybe should
– visit. For those who did not support the US led war, perhaps a quick tourism
visit to a safe region is a better contribution to the country, its people and
its economy than tax payers’ dollars than complaining about George Bush’s war?
What is more, most nationalities can obtain a visa on
arrival in Erbil after the short two and a half hour flight from Dubai. So visiting
Iraq on a two or three day stop over on Qantas’ new Kangaroo Route to Europe
via Dubai is quite possible.
That is a bizarre thought: A stop-over in Iraq on the way to
Europe? But is it really safe?
From Erbil, north of Baghdad (Kurdistan’s regional capital)
to the Turkish border, there is a region steeped in history, wonderful nature,
friendly people, economic growth and around a decade of peace and security.
In 1991 following Gulf War 1, Iraqi Kurds, who had been
brutally repressed under the Saddam Hussein regime, had hopes of independence
supported by the Coalition forces. A rapid withdrawal of the Coalition
following the cease-fire gave Hussein freedom to continue repression, until
effective autonomy was created by the United Nations no fly zone.
The Kurds themselves then fell into a decade long civil war
pitting different factions against each other until Kurdish peace was
established in the early 2000’s. In 2005 the Kurdish autonomy was recognised in
the Iraqi Constitution hence now the Kurds have their own parliament, their own
president, and their own armed forces and with their own passport control,
issue their own passport stamps. Since then it has been peaceful.
On a spring day Erbil’s central square is a bustling place
of small coffee shops, hookah-pipes bubbling the sweet scent of apple,
families, children and fountains. Friendly and engaging locals will seek to
engage in a part Arabic, part English, part Kurdish discussion on geopolitics
that will at least result in lots of good coffee being had and new friendships
The Kurds will tell you that they may be no fans of George
Bush, but they were brutally repressed by Hussain. There is a strong
recognition that their current freedom comes at huge expense to those elsewhere
in the country. The discussions around coffee and bubbling hookah pipes shine a
new light on the moral dilemmas of the war.
Discussions show that there are winners as well as losers
from the Iraq conflict. The winners were not just oil companies. Many of the
winners are normal, innocent people like you and me, in this case the Kurds. Discussions
in these coffee shops will move any person who has a black-or-white,
war-was-right-or-wrong view, to one full of a lot more subtlety and grey.
Another example of the moral dilemma can be found in Erbil’s
Abdul-Rahman Park. This magnificent, huge and sprawling park is a welcome
escape into greenery. Fountains, lakes, flower beds and acres of mown grass are
all built over what was the headquarters of Saddam’s feared Fifth Corps, that
for so long was the brutal instrument of Kurdish repression.
The Kurdish people have only been able to build
this island of tranquillity because Saddam Hussein was removed from power. The
park was only competed after Saddam was captured and executed. If there had
been no intervention in Iraq, Saddam would still have been in power and the
2005 Constitutional Autonomy for the Kurds would not have existed. The
repression would have continued and this great park would still have been an
army barracks.
But the dilemma is that Iraq is not just a story of
the Kurds. We still see the mess that is Baghdad and central Iraq. Although gun
violence in Iraq is now lower than in the US – even on a per capita basis –
violence continues in Baghdad and surrounding areas. Peace may have come to the
Kurds, but it did not come elsewhere.
A war many people did not support has given at
least part of Iraq a great future. It left other areas stained with blood. It
is hard to stand in Kurdistan and not support the war and the peace it has
brought. Likewise, it is hard to stand in Baghdad and support the intervention
in Iraq.
But one has to choose. Support for war, supports
the Kurds. Condemning Bush, likewise condemns the Kurds. One can’t have both
outcomes. The moral dilemma continues.

More discussion like this is in: 


One Reply to “Iraq: The Moral Dilemma Continues”

  1. I am from North Kurdistan(Turkey's Kurdistan) We Kurds are third way for peace in Middle East. We demand Turks Persians and Arabs rwspect our being. Kurds are building their own autonomy in Rojava also West Kurdistan(North Syria) this is an safer area in Syria. Kurds try to bring their peace in Turkey Iran Iraq and Syria. We can call it Kurdish sty peace in the Middle East…


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