Death And Democracy

September 05, 2016

By Asanga Abeyagoonasekera

“We cannot glorify death whether in the battlefield or otherwise. We, on the other hand, must celebrate life, and are fiercely committed to protecting and securing the sanctity of life, which is the most fundamental value without which all other rights and freedoms become meaningless”

- Neelan Tiruchelvam

In 1991, even when half a million American troops were a few hundred kilometers away from Baghdad, President Bush restrained from invading Iraq. This was a wise move on his part - to control Saddam Hussein’s aggression, by stopping the invasion of Kuwait and not completely dismantling Iraq.

After 9/11, probably the second largest attack on US soil after Pearl Harbour, the US operation 'Iraqi Freedom' in 2003 deposed Saddam Hussein on the grounds of possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). US Air power was seen as invincible against any geography until the soldier’s boots hit the ground to work with Iraqi people to establish a democratic system of gov-ernance which became a nightmare. Following the collapse of the state what we could witness today is a sectarian carnage with many lives lost.

The US intervention to overthrow Saddam Hussein has created a situation that remains untenable for the people living in Iraq. An important question that needs to be addressed is whether the supporters of the US-led invasion had a plan to rebuild the country after dismantling the Sad-dam’s regime. The political climate worsened after the invasion and Iraq has been at the receiving end of innumerable suicide attacks. During Saddam Hussein's reign, radical and jihadist elements were not present and Shias and Sunnis co-existed. Jihadism crept into Iraq when its borders were forced open from all directions. Al Qaeda, which was already present, paved the way for the Islamic State (IS).

Since the US-led invasion in 2003, one of the deadliest attacks on Iraq was few weeks ago in the Karrada district, which targeted innocent civilians and killed over 100 while injuring over 300. The bombing happened when a lorry with explosives detonated while families were out in cele-bration of Ramadan.

In July 2016, around the same time as the blasts, the Chilcot report was released. The Chilcot report or the Iraq Inquiry report clearly stated that it was a mistake to disband Saddam's army and that this led directly to the insurgency and that there was no imminent threat from the then Iraq leader Saddam Hussein, the strategy of containment could have been adapted and continued for some time. It also categorically said that military action at that time was not a last resort." Finally, the report claimed that the Iraq invasion was made on the basis of flawed intelligence assessments, which it were not challenged, and should have been.

Considering the findings of the report in a country with democracy at its helm, the then Prime Minister Tony Blair’s behaviour was clearly undemocratic, bordering on dictatorial. Looking at the chain of command and the decisions taken, there was no representative democratic practice evident. In such an instance, it is interesting to contrast it with the Sri Lankan war crimes issue raised by Western governments, who are keen to investigate the chain of command in the Sri Lankan war against terrorism. As the Iraq Inquiry's findings indicate a complete lack of demo-cratic process, the British law firm, Public Interest Lawyers, has already presented many cases of violation by the British forces before the ICC and has not refused to rule out prosecuting anyone held responsible, including Blair. The ICC reported, in Preliminary Examination Activities 2015 (pg 9), that it had received 1,268 allegations of ill treatment and unlawful killings committed by British forces, and of 259 alleged killings, 47 were said to have occurred when Iraqis were in British custody.

How do the US and the UK undo the damage done to Iraq and its people? It was evident that Iraq lacked a post-war strategy and an appropriate counter-insurgency strategy. Thousands of lives have been lost during and after the Iraq invasion. Iraq taught a crucial lesson to some Western policy experts who believed that invasion and the dismantling of the state was the last resort.

There are certain geopolitical values that are important and should be given the highest priority. German historian, Oswald Spengler in his 1918 work, The Decline of the West pointed out the rise of the urban Western civilisation and it morphing into a world civilisation would be increas-ingly divorced from the soil and this will have serious consequences. This is evident in the pre-sent day, with the rise of violent non-state actors and economic inequality which have created an unjust world which in turn has lost trust in the present global order.

What is seen now are people appreciating their own civilisation, their own geography, their own values and, to further quote Spengler, “each springing with primitive strength from the soil of a mother-region to which it remains firmly bound”. A one-size-fits-all approach to overcome the geopolitical challenges will be unsuccessful and it is essential to find homegrown solutions in partnership with local communities as the way forward.

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera is a visiting lecturer and the Director General of Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka(INSSSL). The views expressed here are personal and do not reflect those of the Government of Sri Lanka or INSSSL. This article was initially published at Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies(IPCS) New Delhi,India for “Dateline Colombo”