The impact of Iraq war

FOUR years ago this week the war in the Iraq began. British and American troops are still dying in the middle eastern country. But what has the impact on life in the country been like, and what do the people of Ipswich think of the war today?

By Paul Geater

FOUR years ago this week the war in the Iraq began. British and American troops are still dying in the middle eastern country.

Today political editor PAUL GEATER looks at the war's impact on life since 2003, and LOUISE MORGAN has been speaking to people on the streets of Ipswich.

MANY people saw war with Iraq as inevitable as soon as George W Bush was elected to the White House in 2000.

His father had been president 10 years earlier when America won the war to drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait - but then was powerless to act as Saddam Hussein retreated back into his home country and carried on repressing his own people.

Within two years George Bush senior was out of office, humiliated in a presidential election, and Saddam was still in power.

Most Read

Bush junior and the leaders of the Republican Party in America were determined to have their revenge on this dictator who treated his own people ruthlessly.

The attacks of September 11 2001 gave the new Bush administration a reason to look again at attacking Iraq.

It was branded a key component of the “Axis of Evil” and there were many attempts to link the 9/11 bombers with Saddam's regime.

No firm intelligence linking the Iraq government with Al Qaida was ever found, and while Saddam's regime was ruthless it was seen as a secular regime - not one motivated by religious fanaticism.

However there were persistent reports that Saddam had been building up stocks of weapons of mass destruction.

It was thought unlikely he had nuclear material - an Israeli raid on Iraq's first nuclear plant in the early 1980s had effectively brought an end to that development - but it was impossible to ignore reports he was developing biological and chemical weapons.

Suspicion rose after United Nations inspectors, sent in after the Gulf War of 1991, were expelled from the country and there was no effective monitoring of weapons after 1995.

Attempts to get monitors back into the country were rebuffed time after time until the new Bush administration started to get tough after the Twin Towers attack.

But even after inspectors were readmitted in 2002 they found every attempt at inspecting possible sites of WMDs obstructed by Iraqi officials.

They didn't find any prohibited weapons, but their treatment by the Iraqis meant the world outside remained very suspicious about Saddam's claims not to have WMDs squirreled away somewhere.

Intelligence reports by western government agencies were vague enough to allow their political masters to conclude that there were illegal weapons hidden somewhere in a very large country.

That gave the coalition, led by America, a reason to start planning for an invasion of Iraq - an invasion which started at the end of March 2003.

WHEN the coalition forces went into Iraq during the spring of 2003, the operation seemed to go like a dream.

The Iraqi army folded like a pack of cards and the traditional battle was over within weeks.

The Americans were hailed as liberators in Baghdad and in southern Iraq, whose capital is Basra, the British forces were welcomed and were soon able to patrol without helmets and body armour.

Using their experience of peace-keeping in Northern Ireland, it looked as if order would quickly be restored to the south of the country and that a new civil administration would soon be able to take control.

However it soon became clear that while the Americans had a clear battle plan, they had not thought about the aftermath of the war.

The first thing they did was to disband Saddam's army - leaving his soldiers to return home taking their weapons with them.

The ethnic divisions of the country, split between Sunni and Shi-ite Muslims and the Kurds in the north, soon took a sinister turn and the warring parties also turned on coalition forces who rapidly went from being seen as liberators to being occupiers.

Attacks were - and still are - concentrated on the Baghdad area, but other parts of the country are not immune.

The security situation in the southern, largely Shi-ite, region centred on Basra is better than elsewhere in the country. But it has not been immune from the insurgency which many fear is being stoked by neighbouring Iran.

Over the last four years there has been some political progress - Iraq has its first democratically-elected government and people are free from tyranny in much of the country.

But the level of violence remains stubbornly high. Car bombings, assassinations, kidnapping, and sectarian murder are an everyday occurrence.

The Americans are pushing more troops into the country. Britain is hoping to withdraw its troops from Basra over the next two years - but overall there is little immediate hope of major improvement in what should be one of the richest countries on the planet.

BURY St Edmunds Conservative MP David Ruffley voted in favour of going to war in Iraq in 2002 and 2003, but now feels seriously let down by the government.

He said: “I voted in favour of the war because I believed the government when it said there were weapons of mass destruction there.

“Had I known then what we know now, I would not have voted in that way. I am gobsmacked that the government led us into war on such false information.”

He is also highly critical of the American strategy for the country - or the lack of it.

“I am astonished by the degree of mismanagement by the US Defense Department, led by Donald Rumsfeld who should have been sacked long before he was finally booted out.

“It is clear that the Americans in particular had no idea what to do after the invasion. They may have known how to execute that but to immediately disband the army and let all those weapons loose in a volatile situation was reckless in the extreme.”

But while he feels bitter about the British government's involvement in Iraq, he has nothing but praise for the troops out there - many of whom are based at Wattisham in his constituency.

He said: “I think the British troops who have been sent out to Iraq have shown a tremendous degree of professionalism in very difficult circumstances.

“They have tried to make the best of a very bad situation. It would not be right to pull them out immediately, but the government has to look at ways of reducing their numbers out there as soon as Iraqi civil forces can take over.”

Ipswich MP Chris Mole voted in favour of going to war in Iraq, and felt there was no point in re-examining that decision now.

He said: “There has been some progress over the last few years, Iraq has the first democratic government for more than 50 years. I don't think anyone thought things would be perfect straight away and to some extent the conflict that is happening there seems inevitable.

“You have Sunnis fighting Shi-ites, but if you look many of these fighters are the same ones who were fighting in Chechnya a few years ago. They have been driven out of there and moved to Iraq.

“The situation there is not helped by the fact that tensions are being stirred by Iran and Syria. What is needed is for the regional superpowers to take more of an active role in making life easier in Iraq,” he said.

Iraq is known as the cradle of civilisation, the world's first farmers are believed to have cultivated the ground between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates. That area is also believed to have been the Garden of Eden.

For centuries this area was known as Mesopotamia, and Babylon was one of the largest city states.

It was part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire for many years.

1919: Modern day Iraq formed, between the wars it was a British protectorate.

After the British left in the late 1940s there were several unstable governments.

1968: Ba'ath Party, of whom Saddam Hussein is leading member, seizes power.

1979: Saddam Hussein becomes president, kills his opponents within the party.

1980: Saddam declares war on Iran. During the 1980s the west supports Iraq as an opponent of the religious fanatics in Iran.

1988: Iran/Iraq war ends in stalemate.

1990: Iraq invades neighbouring Kuwait.

1991: First Gulf War, Iraq thrown out of Kuwait, but Saddam retains power.

2001: Twin Towers outrage.

2002: Pressure mounts on Iraq.

April 2003: Coalition invades Iraq, Saddam toppled.

December 2003: Saddam captured, country descends into violence.

December 2006: With violence continuing, Saddam is hanged for crimes against humanity.

Barbara Codd of Colchester Road, Ipswich

“I'm not sure if were still doing any good out there, what is the purpose of us still being there?

Wouldn't it be better if the Iraqi's sorted out their own problems?”

Brian Gaywood of Canterbury Close, Ipswich

“We went in there under false pretences, as there were no weapons of mass destruction.

However now I think we have a responsibility to stay in there until the Iraqi police are strong enough to manage their own security.”

Janet Anderson of Hawthorn Drive, Ipswich

“I totally disagree with the war.

I don't think we have any other choice than to stay there now though, because of the chaos that's been created.”

Kay Palmer of Chesham Road, Ipswich

“I think the loss of life makes it very difficult to defend the war.

Although I think we should stay there to protect the people left in the country.”

Irene Davey of Lambeth Close, Ipswich

“I'm strictly against the war, I don't like all the young lives that are being lost.

I think the situation's worse now for the people of Iraq, than when they first went in to help.”

Derek Davey of Lambeth Close, Ipswich

“When we first went in to war I thought it was the right thing to do, but now I'm not so sure.

The lives of the Iraqi people may have been better if we had left them how they were.”

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter