WORSE than Saddam. That’s how a British newspaper columnist, writing after the publication by WikiLeaks of secret files on the war in Iraq, has, apparently seriously, described the action of the US-led forces that invaded the country to remove the dictator.
The columnist is not alone in this delusional rhetoric: the tenor of much reporting on the disclosures is similar. Before it is allowed to distort history, it is time for a reality check on WikiLeaks’s effort.
The documents make grim reading but the claim of more than 100,000 Iraqi casualties, many of them civilian, must be set against the unmitigated horror of Saddam’s brutal rule. By one account in The New York Times, he murdered as many as a million of his people, many with poison gas. He tortured, maimed and imprisoned countless more. His unprovoked invasion of Iran is estimated to have left another million people dead. Accounts of the number killed in the Iran-Iraq war vary from 500,000 to 1.5 million. There are other assessments of more than 800,000 deaths caused by the dictator beyond the Iran-Iraq war. This is not to minimise the allegations in the WikiLeaks documents. But it does put them into perspective. Worse than Saddam? That’s nonsense.
No less egregious is the suggestion that the killings which took place in Iraq following the invasion, specifically when General David Petraeus was the US commander, were wilfully ignored by the coalition forces. This overlooks the many times General Petraeus appeared before US congressional committees, and ignores the basis for his surge strategy, aimed at bringing an end to the killings, which were in any case mostly carried out by Iraqi regular and irregular forces. Indeed, the WikiLeaks documents show that far from any conspiracy to conceal casualties, the US military did its job in recording them. At the same time, allegations that US commanders did little to stop torture are troubling, as are accounts of civilians killed at the coalition checkpoints. But we need sober reporting, not the hyperbole of some who are all too keen now to express outrage, but were little heard when Saddam was around.
Iraq is still awaiting the formation of a new government after the election seven months ago. The prospects are not promising. Iran, as revealed by WikiLeaks, is meddling at every level in Iraq. The picture is not pretty. But it is a whole lot better than when Saddam was around.