A Decade Later, Iraq a ‘Broken Country’

Christiane Amanpour, Mary-Rose Abraham and Mark Monroy
Around the World

Insurgents killed at least 65 people and injured more than 200 as a wave of attacks, mostly car bombs, targeted parts of Baghdad and other provinces. The coordinated attacks came on the 10th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and hit mostly Shiite targets, including small restaurants and bus stops.

Violence has dominated Iraq for the past decade. In March 2003, the war began with a “shock and awe” campaign followed by tanks rolling into Baghdad. The U.S.-led forces easily won the war but not the peace as the Iraq insurgency and sectarian tensions between Shia and Shiite Muslims flared. The last U.S. troops left the country at the end of 2011.

Now Iraq is “a broken country with deep wounds, increasing sectarianism and with increasing Iranian influence,” said Shibley Telhami, a professor at the University of Maryland, in an interview with Christiane Amanpour.

Before the start of the invasion, Telhami organized an ad in the New York Times, signed by leading international relations scholars, that it would not be in the American national interest to go to war. He also served as an adviser to the Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan panel appointed by Congress in March 2006 to make policy recommendations on the war.

Telhami conducts public opinion polls in the Middle East and said the overwhelming majority of respondents said Iraq was worse off than before the invasion, although Saddam Hussein was removed and a democratic system had been put in place.

“Elections are not exactly democracy,” said Telhami. “What we see today is sectarianism, and the abuse of human rights on some of the same issues under Saddam Hussein. So I wouldn’t call this a thriving democracy. It’s not inspiring anyone in the Arab world.”

Yet, even after the Arab Spring, Hussein was identified as the top leader, in an open question, by respondents to an Arab public opinion poll in October 2011.

“Saddam Hussein was a despot, and I think the world is better off without him,” said Telhami. “But I think people admired him because he defied America, they see the increasing sectarianism which scares them and because Iranian influence is increasing.”

Telhami said his same polls indicated that the Iraq War had devastated the relationship between the U.S. and the region and much of the world. In addition, he said that the country itself has been devastated. The most conservative estimates are of 100,000 Iraqis killed during the war, and that figure goes up to a million dead. In addition, the country has more than 4 million internal and external refugees.

“We’re talking about disintegration of society. We’re talking about devastation of the middle class,” said Telhami. “We’re talking about things that go far beyond just elections or exercises in power. Those cannot be repaired overnight.”

Complicating the issue are the conflict in neighboring Syria and ongoing tensions in the relationships between the U.S., Israel and Iran.

“For Iraq itself, it’s very hard to see a way out soon,” said Telhami.