Seven World-historical Achievements of the Iraq Invasion of 2003

Here is a list of the noteworthy, ongoing results of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq beginning in March 2003. (Recall that that invasion was denounced by the UN as illegal, based entirely on lies, and — given the U.S.’s hegemonic position in the world, allowing it to act with impunity — the crime’s architects have never punished.)

  1. The principal achievement of the war and occupation was the dramatic expansion of the al-Qaeda network that had attacked the U.S. on September 11, 2001. An al-Qaeda franchise was established in Iraq for the first time, playing a key role in the Sunni “insurrection” against the occupiers and their Shiite allies, then expanding across the border into Syria where it split into the al-Nusra affiliate and its even more savage rival, ISIL. Iraq also served and serves as a training ground for jihadis now operating from Iraq to Libya and beyond.
  1. The invasion and its consequences encouraged the cause of Kurdistan, an imagined state straddling Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. The Kurds are the largest stateless people in the world, victims of British and French colonialists who divided the region between them after World War I. After the Gulf War of 1991, the U.S. established a “no-fly” zone over northern Iraq to discourage Baghdad from deploying troops in the region. Iraqi Kurdistan had already obtained a degree of autonomy before the invasion but the status became official under the occupation and a referendum for independence is likely to pass soon. This would infuriate Iraq and perhaps provoke Turkey’s intervention. As it is, the autonomous region is locked in struggle with Baghdad over territorial claims and control over oil fields.
  1. The invasion destroyed the Iraqi state, causing it to fracture into three: Kurdistan, the Sunni zone in the west, and the Shiite-majority areas around Baghdad. The Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein had been extremely repressive and brutal. But it had maintained order; discouraged religion in politics; protected the Christian and other religious minorities; promoted women’s rights; imposed no dress code; enforced a criminal code modeled after the Napoleonic law (not the Sharia); licensed rock n’ roll radio stations, allowed the brewing of beer and its sale etc. The Shiite-led regime boosted into power by the occupation has reversed much of this. (A bill to ban the production and sale of beer was just passed by Parliament last week.) But the regime’s power does not extend into much of Anbar Province, ISIL still governs Mosul, and again, Kurdistan has become autonomous.
  1. Because Shiites are the majority in Iraq (60%), and dominate Iran next door; and because the leaders of Shiite parties have studied in Iran or lived there in exile and are sympathetic to Iran’s mullah-led regime; and because the U.S. was forced by peaceful mass protests to allow elections and the emergence of Shiites as the leaders of the country, Iran’s power and influence in the region has expanded dramatically.  (Apparently no one in the State Department thought about that.) Since Iran has not attacked another country in centuries –but was savagely attacked by Saddam Hussein in 1981, sparking a long war killing over half a million people — and since Iran’s friendliness to its neighbor, one of the few Arab countries in which its co-coreligionists hold power, is entirely natural, one can ask why anyone might be alarmed by this. But it does alarm some, the leaders of Saudi Arabia, that crucial U.S. Arab ally governed by Wahhabi Sunnis, most of all.
  1. The invasion produced a regional power struggle between Sunni Islamists on the one hand, and their Shiite (and other) enemies on the other. This is often portrayed as a contest between Saudi Arabia (whose government-backed clerics condemn Shiites as heretics, and who fear the prospects for rebellion in Saudi Arabia’s own oppressed Shiite minority) and Iran, depicted as the protector of Shiites in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen etc. (The so-called “Shiite Crescent” extending from Iran to Hizbollah-controlled areas of Lebanon, in fact, embraces states and movements that have little in common with the Islamic Republic of Iran. But they are all targeted by the medieval regime in Riyadh which tars them all with the Iranian brush.) The Saudis were keen advocates for a U.S. strike on Iran (on the false pretext of a nuclear threat); are major supporters of al-Nusra in Syria and have funded ISIL as well, preferring such Islamist forces to the secular if Alawite-led Syrian regime; and are bombing the hell out of Yemen with active U.S. and British assistance under the false pretext that the Shiite Houthi “rebels” are agents for an expanding Iran. These things would not be happening, had the U.S. not ripped the lid off Pandora’s box in Iraq in March 2003.
  1. The invasion has produced friction between the U.S. and its important NATO ally Turkey (which has the second largest military in the alliance). Turkish war planes are bombing Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units) militia in Syria who constitute the U.S.’s most reliable allies, producing U.S. protests (which the Turks ignore, arguing straight-faced that the YPG are just as terrorist as ISIL). The Turks warned before the invasion of Iraq that it would likely produce regional instability. But Ankara would have allowed the U.S. to attack from Turkish soil if Turkish forces as part of the “coalition of the willing” could be stationed around Mosul, once part of Turkey — the idea being to contain Kurdish nationalism.

Fortunately the parliament rejected the deal. But the predicted instability has occurred. The Arab Spring of 2011 in Syria was not directly connected to the Iraq invasion, but gave the U.S. the opportunity to pontificate that “Assad has lost legitimacy,” demand his immediate resignation, and bankroll the armed opposition including the Kurds. The fact that U.S. efforts to find and recruit Syrian Arab forces as allies — who are not in bed with al-Nusra — to topple Assad have failed so dismally binds the Pentagon ever closer to forces that Turkey wants to wipe out. (The conflict and contradiction are embarrassing to Washington. Oh, by the way, did you notice that the Turkish foreign minister just announced that Turkey would invade Iraq if it “felt threatened”?)

Having declared in 2011 that Bashar al-Assad must go, the U.S. was faced in 2014 with the horrible embarrassment of ISIL (that toxic fruit of its Iraq invasion) winning lightening victories from Raqqa to Fallujah, obliterating the Sykes-Picot line dividing Syria and Iraq. The now-Syria based terrorists were approaching Baghdad. So now the U.S. having withdrawn all troops in Iraq was back in action, bombing to prevent such a disaster. And it started bombing ISIL positions in Syria (although with far less efficacy than the later Russian efforts) in league with a list of largely reluctant allies dragooned into formal membership in what Washington likes to call a “coalition” to make its unilateral program for the region sound like the will of what they like to call “the international community” regardless of how many key nations that imagined “community” includes.

The U.S. command that Assad step down was made in the summer of 2011. Turkey’s President Erdogan, hitherto a friend and even mentor of the Syrian leader, opportunistically took up the U.S. demand and demanded his resignation. And Ankara itself began to interfere big-time in the neighboring country it once dominated, targeting Kurds more than anyone else. Since the U.S. relies on these allies, how could there not be a sharp conflict here?

  1. The invasion of Iraq and aftermath resulted in four million Iraqi refugees fleeing the country as of 2007. Hundreds of thousands have poured into Europe, alongside people displaced by U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Libya, and by the turmoil in Syria exacerbated by U.S. actions, producing a massive continent-wide crisis. Many Europeans aptly blame the deluge on the U.S., pointing to the U.S.’s paltry record of admitting refugees from the Middle East and complaining of strained national resources to handle the humanitarian catastrophe. (Another embarrassment.)


This is all what Buddhists call “karmic retribution” for past acts. Or what the Hebrew prophet Hosea referred to when he said “Those who sow the wind reap the whirlwind.” Or what the CIA meant when it invented the term “blowback.” It’s all heading towards something, unless decent people stop it.

But when I watch people like Michael Moore line up behind the foremost advocate of war in U.S. politics, joining (consciously, philosophical) amoral thugs hell-bent on maintaining and expanding the empire when it’s in a stage of precipitous decline, I am not optimistic. Not only will she win, but she will rival Dick Cheney as a cold-blooded latter-day Cold Warrior, cynically exploiting fear and stupidity to try to bring Russia to its knees.

Hillary doesn’t recognize any of these seven basic truths, which to recapitulate are:

  • U.S. actions have greatly strengthened al-Qaeda
  • U.S. actions have encouraged Kurdish nationalism (with unpredictable ramifications)
  • The U.S. through its vicious illegal actions has destroyed the modern Iraqi state
  • U.S. actions have solidified ties between Iran and Iraq’s majority Shiite community, strengthening a country still targeted for “regime change”
  • The invasion of Iraq and the regime change there exacerbated the historical Sunni-Shiite divide, and encouraged Saudi Arabia as the ultra-Islamist protector of the shrines to redouble its efforts to support extremist Sunnis everywhere in the region
  • The results of the invasion place Turkey and the U.S. at loggerheads over the question of Kurdish nationalist movements in both Iraq and Syria
  • U.S. interventions in the Middle East and North Africa since 2001 have produced a massive refugee crisis, inflicted mainly on Europe

She does not acknowledge that George W. Bush’s invasion (that she so passionately endorsed, fully exposing her Valkyrie soul, was criminal and not somebody’s well-meaning “mistake”). She doesn’t have any analysis of the Kurdish question. (She is not — as sometimes alleged by supporters — a “policy wonk” but a lazy intellect who doesn’t know jack-shit about the real world.)

She has never expressed regret for the horrific destruction of Iraq, nor given any attention to the plight of its women, who were (as she surely knows) much better off under Saddam Hussein. (To acknowledge that would be to suggest that sometimes U.S. imperialism favors misogynist Islamists over relatively progressive secularists, for its own pragmatic empire-building purposes. She can’t mention that publicly.)

She deals with the rise of Iran — made inevitable by the U.S. invasion of Iraq — by doubling down on her crude clueless Iran rhetoric, which rests on the assumption — repeatedly debunked by U.S. intelligence agencies — that Iran might pose a nuclear weapons threat. She doesn’t understand the history of the Sunni-Shiite divide; I believe she rolls her eyes in irritation that these people have these differences so hard to understand, impeding the Exceptional Nation’s ability to straighten everything out by bombing, and conquering, and making people die. She doesn’t understand anything about the history of the Kurds and their fate in the region.

She feels no guilt at all about her orchestration of the ruin of Libya. She sees no reason to link her own actions to the flooding of Europe with refugees fleeing terror. But she will probably be the next president, with fellow shieldmaidens Michele Flournoy (as “secretary of defense”) and Victoria Nuland or Samantha Power (as secretary of state).

Never acknowledging what happened yesterday, never able to absorb historical lessons, determined to maintain and expend its global hegemony (just as that becomes absolutely impossible to do, because other nations rise too, and great nations like Spain and Britain actually get humbled over time), the U.S. under Clinton will likely head methodically towards  a showdown with Russia. She wants so badly, to show she can do it. She’ll do it for women, everywhere, to show how strong a woman can be.

And then there will be a sudden strange change in your environment. As you wonder what’s going on you’ll be painlessly vaporized, on account of Hillary’s passion to topple Assad, or forcibly reintegrate the Donbass into Ukraine.

The brilliance of the 2003 invasion will be clarified as never before in that bright blast, as Hillary — a very strong woman — cackles in the background from her bunker about how she came, saw, and a million died.

Gary Leupp is a Professor of History at Tufts University, and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Gary.