Remembering the War on Iraq: March 20, 2003

Today marks the 15th Anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq.

Neither solid analyses, moral reasoning and decent argument nor history’s probably largest pre-war, anti-war demonstrations worldwide had any discernible impact on the Bush and Blair Administrations’ decision to go to war and do so on a false pretext. Neither could major allies like France and Germany by their opposition to the war on Iraq persuade Washington and London to first try a peaceful resolution in accordance with the UN Charter provisions.

TFF was deeply engaged in preventing this war – also by being on the ground in Iraq – and wants to a) document the research we did and how we argued back then and b) contribute to this tragedy never being forgotten.

We also want to place our analyses and debate articles at the disposal – in one place – of the students, researchers, concerned citizens and others who are willing to spend the time and energy in understanding it more in depth and from a peace and conflict-resolution perspective – which is still far from known in the public debate, politics and media.

We are not – out of what would be false, misplaced modesty – seeking to hide the fact that we made a much more comprehensive conflict analysis and produced much better predictions than the intelligence services, foreign ministries and foreign policy institutes of Western interventionist governments and, grosso modo, the Western mainstream media and their commentator experts (few of whom had, of course, ever set foot on Iraq’s dry soil).

In short, there were alternative modes of understanding back then – and there are in today’s wars too. It would have been possible to solve the conflicts without causing the unspeakable human suffering we see still today – as would the later conflicts.

Wars take place because somebody wants them to be fought for this or that reason – and never the reasons offered to the public. And while wars may also sometimes be seen as mistakes, as wrong means-end calculations – repeated wars are not mistakes.

They are produced by elites who benefit from them being fought and who turn warfare into their nation’s lifestyle, or addiction.

Photo © Jan Oberg: The little boy was photographed in 2002 in the book market of old Baghdad. He must be about 20 years old today. If he is still alive. From the Iraq Photo Series

The invasion, occupation, mismanagement and the 13 years of sanctions destroyed large parts of an ancient civilisation and took the lives of about 1 million people. How many have been wounded in their body and souls? How many have committed suicide during these 15 years? How many became clinically traumatized? How many will hate the US and other West for the rest of their lives?

Well, who knows?

We only know that the whole interventionist, militarist enterprise achieved none of its official goals – deliberately deceptive as they were – outlined as helping to bring about democracy, freedom, development, human rights, the liberation of women – and, of course, stabilisation and peace.

This invasion killed many more innocent Iraqis than Saddam Hussein had ever managed to kill. The one thing morally corrupt Western leaders have argued ever since is, of course, “that we did get rid of the dictator.” The human, social and cultural price for that – minor – achievement was totally out of proportion of any possible legal and moral consideration, devoid as it also was of a need for a fair trial or any other fairness. And they built on the conflict illiterate assumption that conflicts are mainly about individuals.

Additionally, the way it was done, built on a culturally arrogant right to limitless killing in a foreign land – and deliberately of innocent civilians who were already sitting inside Saddam’s cage.

There are words for that: Terrorism – state terrorism. Racism and de-humanisation.

Like is usually stated about Hiroshima and Nagasaki: It must never be forgotten and never repeated.

Tragically, it already has in Libya from 2011 and in Syria from the same year. And the war on Afghanistan – 10/7 in unjustified response to 9/11 – is still on, no exit strategy and no end to the misery in sight.

The United States of today seems constitutionally unable to learn anything from its own history, its failures and deliberate mass killing wars and will, eventually, therefore consume itself in geopolitical overreach and addiction to the militarism that already President Eisenhower warned against and which, in the shape of the much more cancer-like US MIMAC – Military-Industrial-Media-Academic Complex, dominates US foreign policy and undermines, bit-by-bit, what good the US has stood for since 1945 in the eyes of the world.


TFF conducted two fact-finding mission before the war – in 2002 and 2003, the latter ending less than a month before the invasion. We conducted about 165 interviews in Baghdad, Babylon and Basra in the south and with top officials of the UNIKOM mission at the demilitarized zone at the border between Iraq and Kuwait.

We talked with high-level politicians, 5 hours with Number Three man in the system, Dr Tariq Aziz, with Saddam’s primary weapons adviser and liaison with the international missions, Parliamentarians, Baath Party officials, CSOs – civil society organisations, and one intellectual in house arrest. We interviewed the heads of all UN missions present. And we were generously invited to give lectures at the House of Friendship for dignitaries, field marshalls, Baath Party members etc.

At no point were we “misused” by anyone to appear in radio or television.

In between our meetings – some arranged by the tiny Swedish-Iraqi Friendship Association, official meetings by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other meetings freely by ourselves – we explored the mentioned cities, their marketplaces, mosques, historical sites, museums etc. and talked with people in shops who invited us in for a cup of tea, with people in the streets who stopped us and wanted to tell us what they felt about the situation, conversed with families enjoying their Friday, visitors to Baghdad’s oldest café, bookstore owners, bakers, hotel owners, taxi drivers and, of course, some foreign diplomats too. (See the photo series mentioned above).

No, we were not experts on Iraq and were not in command of the Arab language. But we were open, intensely listening and dialoguing about possible ways to avoid the invasion that everybody feared would happen anytime. We tried to understand this conflict from “the other” side. Top officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs granted us late evening meetings, eager to tell us everything – because of having been systematically deprived of all options to interact with Western political circles. The West did not answer letters from Baghdad.

We felt – deeply – the civilisation, the hospitality and the special heart-warming, genuine welcome the foreigner would get in this amazing culture – in contrast to what the author had, almost simultaneously, experienced with Israeli security people at Tel Aviv’s airport or how the foreigner is met in today’s Europe, particularly if being a Muslim.

It deserves mention that although every Iraqi knew that the risk of the US starting a war was high and increasing (and sanctions had been strangulating the country for years) – and they knew the West better than the West knew Iraq – we who looked Western and could just as well have been perceived as Americans when walking the streets did not experience as much as one instance of unfriendly or threatening attitudes or utterances. Kindness and decency all around.

There are experiences in one’s international life that compels one to reflect on the deeper meaning of concepts such as decency, civilisation and generosity and to compare them with how they are expressed in our own Western societies.


TFF is a network of peace and conflict researchers, theoreticians and practitioners. It’s people-financed and, therefore, independent of government and corporate funding. It’s all-volunteer and operating on a shoestring budget.

We are not – out of what would be false, misplaced modesty – trying to hide the fact that we made a much more comprehensive conflict analysis and produced much better predictions than the intelligence services, foreign ministries and foreign policy institutes of the Western interventionist governments and, grosso modo, the Western mainstream media and their commentator experts (few of whom had, of course, ever set foot on Iraq’s dry soil).

It’s up to anyone in doubt about the validity of this statement to read the materials on the links below – but we are not publishing them here for that reason.

We based our analyses and predictions on these four elements:

a) our fact-finding visits;

b) some reading about Iraq and the region;

c) knowledge and practical experience from decades of work in the field of peace and conflict studies; and,

d) on-the-ground experience from numerous conflict zones such as Yugoslavia, Georgia, Somalia and many other places our team members had work (mostly in UN missions).


We take pride in producing analyses as things happen and not, as most academics, publish studies years after things have happened. And in doing both diagnosis, prognosis and coming up with peace proposals when they matter most. Being critical and constructive years later may be helpful for research and public education but much less so for the people whose lives are acutely at stake.

And it is before the violence breaks out that lively public debates and intelligent ideas about violence-prevention and peace-making are most needed.

• Click here for a selection of writings by TFF Associates at the time and as they were written at the time.

Jan Oberg is a peace researcher, art photographer, and Director of The Transnational (TFF) where this article first appeared. Reach him at: Read other articles by Jan.