History of Iraq and the Iraq War
Iraq is a republic located in the Middle East. Its borders, drawn by Britain after War World I, contain diverse religious and ethnic groups. The country gained independence in 1932, but the subsequent decades were marked by internal conflict based in part on the lack of practicality created by the arrangements that Britain had made. In 1979, Saddam Hussein assumed power and ruled Iraq tyrannically until his downfall in 2003.
In 1990, Iraqi forces invaded the neighboring country of Kuwait in a bid to dominate the region. The following year, a coalition of forces led by the U.S. sought to free the Iraqi hold on Kuwait by bombing the Iraq's infrastructure and invading by land. Saddam Hussein quickly withdrew his Iraqi forces from Kuwait but remained in power. As a result of the actions taken by the U.S. and its coalition, Iraq's infrastructure and military were heavily damaged; also, international sanctions were imposed on Iraq. These measures, however, failed to dislodge Saddam Hussein as the leader, and the Iraqi population suffered greatly due to sanctions and the regime's continued brutality.
Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration argued that Saddam Hussein's regime was a threat to international security and needed to be disarmed. The international community supported weapons inspections in Iraq, to which Saddam Hussein agreed. They did not turn up any evidence for illegal weapons, but Iraq did not fully comply with the inspections.
While some countries, including France and Germany, continued to support further inspections, the U.S. and Britain built a case for urgent invasion based on the suspected weapons programs, Saddam Hussein's hostility to the West, and his alleged support of international terrorists. The invasion went ahead with congressional approval but without the approval of the U.N. Security Council.
The 2003 bombardment of Iraq by coalition forces and subsequent land invasion quickly toppled Saddam Hussein and his regime and led to the dictator's capture at the end of the year. The Coalition Provisional Authority, headed by an American proconsul, was authorized to govern and rebuild Iraq while a constitution was drafted and an interim Iraqi government was formed.
A constitution was approved in 2005, and after several rounds of elections, a unity government was brought to power in mid-2006. Coalition forces continue to occupy Iraq, so the permanent government does not have total sovereignty.
The U.S. administration considers the institution of democracy in Iraq as its major achievement. Though weapons of mass destruction have not been found, it points out that Saddam Hussein's arrest and trial and judgment by his people for his crimes against humanity were extremely positive developments for the region and for the Iraqi people.
For the critics, however, in addition to emphasizing the war's illegality, they have noted the U.S. administration's manipulation of certain key words such as "freedom" and "democracy" to cloak other, less altruistic motives, including control of Iraq's vast oil resources and protection of Israel. Many of these critics see imperialistic tendencies in the decision to go to war, and argue that the Bush administration used propaganda and outright lies to obtain support.
They also argue that the U.S. invaded Iraq without an exit strategy and, as a result, the military has become bogged down in a quagmire that may prove more costly and deadly than expected.
Revelations that the U.S. has repeatedly contravened international conventions to which it is a signatory has further bolstered critics. In 2004, images of torture committed by members of the U.S. military at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were released, to much international outcry.
The U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has also drawn criticism. Detainees, considered enemy combatants, have been denied legal recourse, while allegations of torture at the camp have also been made. In late 2005, information surfaced that the U.S. was using extraordinary rendition to transport enemy combatants and have them tortured in foreign countries. Several European countries were accused of hosting "black prisons," while others were accused of providing air space for "black flights." Coalition forces have faced a strong resistance movement since the invasion; fighting has also been intense between rival Iraqi factions. The U.S. administration views the insurgency as illegitimate, but it has widespread support within Iraq and throughout the Muslim world, based on the view that the war was an act of aggression and has resulted in an illegal occupation. The insurgency's successes have led to another perspective: that the situation in Iraq has only worsened and has attracted militants from numerous countries.