Why the US should apologise for deaths in Iraq

A US apology will not bring back the thousands of dead Iraqis, but at least it will amount to an acceptance of moral responsibility.

George Bush and Barack Obama in 2013. Photo: Getty.

After the invasion of Iraq, the US electorate sent a clear message to the world. By voting for Barack Obama, the American people signalled their rejection of President George W Bush’s foreign and domestic policies and his destruction of Iraq.

Today, Iraq’s sovereignty is destroyed. Its cultural heritage has been looted or vandalised. Its natural resources have been squandered, and its once-elaborate and sophisticated infrastructure has been laid to waste. Safety, security and the rule of law are virtually non-existent. Terrorism is on the increase. The whole Middle East has either been destabilised or is, as a result of the chaos in Iraq, at high risk of instability or even meltdown. Southern Iraq is largely under the control of Iran. And yet the Bush administration somehow failed to anticipate this outcome.

Hundreds of people were assassinated or kidnapped, or simply disappeared every day. According to Iraq Body Count, over 180,000 have been killed as a result of the war, including up to 134,000 civilians.

The dismantling of the Iraqi state was at the heart of the US invasion. The war was never intended to be one of liberation; there was never an exit strategy. Instead, the focus was on diverting attention from the real strategic aims of the war, and its human and financial costs. The ultimate goal was to control Iraq’s vast oil and gas resources and to remove Iraq as a military and political threat to Israel.

The problem isn’t just the catastrophic failure of the war, or the suffering it has caused: it is the Bush administration’s unforgivable dishonesty towards the American, British and Iraqi public.

In 2005, the Sunday Times reported that the former head of MI6 Sir Richard Dearlove had told Tony Blair and his leading advisers after a visit to Washington in 2002 that “the facts and intelligence” were being “fixed round the policy” by the Bush administration.

Senator Obama’s campaign message to the American public was one of change. The fundamental change needed now is honesty, transparency and accountability with respect to the war against Iraq. Iraqis also want explanations for the destruction of their country.

Real not politicised justice must be seen to be done, to right the wrongs committed in Iraq. The Iraqi people deserve an unequivocal apology for the pain and suffering inflicted upon them. There must also be an offer of compensation, in accordance with international law, for the collateral damage to both people and infrastructure. The war was illegal.

A US apology will not bring back the thousands of dead Iraqis, or ease the suffering of those who have lost their loved ones; it cannot heal the injured, nor will it shelter the displaced. But at least a US apology will amount to an acceptance of moral responsibility, and an admission that it has deceived the Iraqi people.

The hope is that a tragedy of this kind will never take place again, that the public will never again be deceived in this way, that international law will never again be so flagrantly violated.

Unless and until someone is held accountable, those who committed atrocities against Iraqi civilians will continue to walk the streets of London and Washington, safe in the knowledge that they have got away with murder: not only of Iraqi civilians, but also of the members of the British and US armed forces who have been betrayed by their seniors.

Dr Burhan Al-Chalabi is the publisher of The London Magazine and a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts