Opinion / Wang Hui

West still hasn't learned lessons of Iraq War

By Wang Hui (China Daily) Updated: 2015-10-28 07:30

Most people realize the Iraq War was a mistake, and prominent politicians in the West, the United States included, have openly admitted this. That may well explain why former British prime minister Tony Blair's apology for the "mistakes" of the Iraq War has not caused much of a stir.

Yet, Blair's apology is still significant and it has once again drawn attention to the severe consequences of the war which the US-led West launched 12 years ago. The war only plunged Iraq and the Middle East region at large deeper into continuing turbulence.

"I apologize for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong," Blair said in an interview broadcast on Sunday. "I also apologize for some of the mistakes in planning and, certainly, our mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you removed the regime."

In 2003, Blair followed the lead of former US president George W. Bush and took the United Kingdom into Iraq on the pretext that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was willing to use them. This turned out not to be the case. After the Saddam Hussein regime was removed, Iraq was first mired in bitter sectarian rifts and then plagued by the Islamic State terrorist group.

Both scourges have brought untold sufferings to the Iraqi people. According to a United Nations report, last year, terrorism and violence claimed the lives of at least 12,282 civilians and left 23,126 injured.

Last week, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that the humanitarian situation in Iraq is deteriorating, with more than 8.6 million Iraqis now requiring assistance. Large swaths of land, including 80 percent of Iraq's Anbar province, have fallen into the hands of the IS group.

The perilous situation Iraq is facing today is the direct result of the US-led intervention. The withdrawal of US forces in 2011 left a security vacuum in Iraq, and the country's security forces were incapable of dealing with either the sectarian clashes or the infiltration of terrorist and extremist groups from neighboring countries. But the US and its allies did not learn the lessons of the Iraq war. After Iraq, they continued to instigate regime changes in countries including Libya and Syria, which has only enabled extremist Islamic forces to gain a bigger space for existence in the region.

With the IS group wreaking havoc in Iraq and Syria, the security situation in the Middle East has gone from bad to worse. War and bloodshed have not only led to humanitarian catastrophe but also a refugee crisis in Europe.

What is happening in the Middle East shows the US is repeating its mistakes again. Over the years, for its own economic and security interests in the Middle East, the US has pursued an interventionist policy in the region.

So far, the West's rethink of the Iraq war has only focused on the immediate gains and losses in the region.

Without any deep soul-searching, any rethink will be insufficient and superficial. This was evident in Blair's apology when he said, "we've tried intervention and putting down troops in Iraq. We've tried intervention without putting in troops in Libya. And we've tried no intervention at all but demanding regime change in Syria."

Such an explanation itself is problematic. From Iraq, to Libya and Syria, the hallmark of the West's interference is always salient. In Syria, the US has been constantly arming the country's rebels to press for a regime change.

The biggest mistake of the Iraq War lies in the blatant ignoring of the norms governing international relations by the US and its allies.

The author is a senior writer with China Daily.

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