Intervention does not work

21 december 2022 | Forum for Democracy

The Dutch parliament is being asked to approve the extension of the Dutch military presence in Iraq for another year.  This means that the country will have had a military presence there for nearly 10 years, with the first intervention dating back to 2003.

Unlike France and Germany, indeed, the Netherlands sided with the illegal Anglo-American invasion of Iraq and participated in the occupation.  Some 1,200 Dutch troops were deployed in the first two years of the US-UK occupation, starting in July 2003.  The invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the ensuing civil war, killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.  The Netherlands shares moral responsibility for this terrible toll.

The current presence dates from 2014 when the Americans also returned to Iraq to fight the Islamic state, having officially left in 2011.  The Netherlands was involved in at least one horrific event, in 2015, when an F-16 from the Dutch air force killed 70 civilians near Mosul. Today there are some 200 Dutch military personnel in Iraq, on the pretext that the war against the Islamic state has still not been won - even if the West claimed it had defeated ISIS in 2019.

So the prolongation of the Dutch presence (and of Western forces generally) shows that it is has not worked and is not working.  It is a classic example of mission creep: ISIS having been defeated territorially, it has now morphed into a guerrilla army.  The original mission has been forgotten and a new one – policing – has taken its place.

As a consequence, the Iraq intervention is beginning to look a lot like the Afghanistan intervention, which lasted 20 years from 2001 to 2021.  It cost $1 trillion, thousands of American lives and hundreds of thousands of Afghan lives.  Yet it ended it total failure and a rout: nearly 200 people were killed, including 13 US troops, in the suicide bombing at Kabul airport as the Americans left in August 2021.  As with ISIS in Iraq, the Taliban were initially defeated in 2001.  They then regrouped as a guerrilla but inexorably won back territory until, for years, the official Afghan government in reality governed only the centre of the capital.  The Taliban is now in full control, as they were before 2001.

Not only was that intervention a failure, it actually funded the very insurrection the occupying forces were fighting.  The US occupation forces used subcontractors for logistics and these companies paid protection money to the various Taliban-associated militia which controlled most of the country.  It was a surreal situation.

Moreover, as the Afghanistan Papers showed – a collection of documents obtained by the Washington Post in 2019 – US army officers and Pentagon officials systematically lied to their superiors about the way the war was going, pretending it was going well in order to preserve and increase their jobs.  Institutional self-interest won out against the truth and military victory.

The justification now for the continuing Dutch and allied presence in Iraq demonstrates the same futility of such interventions.  If Western forces are still required, 19 years after the illegal invasion, 8 years after the proclamation of the Islamic state and 2 years after its defeat, then it shows that they have failed.  Yet paradoxically, as in Afghanistan, the longer the intervention continues, the more difficult it becomes to admit that failure because the political capital invested gets higher and higher as time goes on.

Not only does the continuing Western presence in Iraq demonstrate the sheer impossibility of bringing such regions under control – regions which in any case do not affect European security.  It also shows the folly of siding with the Americans who are pursuing their own geopolitical agenda.  Iraq with its Shiite majority is prey to terrible violence between rival Shiite groups, some of whom are friendly to Iran.  The real purpose of Western intervention is therefore in fact to keep Iraq out of the Iranian sphere of influence.

In other words, the intervention is not 20 years old but 40 years old, dating as it does from the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran and the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988.  Iraq under Saddam Hussein was then supported by the Americans to wage war against the Islamic Republic: the future super-hawkish Secretary for Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, who would oversee the 2003 invasion, visited Saddam twice in Baghdad during this period to arm him with weapons including chemical weapons (which Saddam used against both the Iranians and the Kurds). 

Iraq is a quagmire and the sooner Western forces leave that country to its own devices, the better.


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