We had known for weeks it was coming. All the signs were there. The tough talk. The ultimatums and spurious accusations. The belligerent posturing and the troop buildup. But when it arrived, we were still shocked and awestruck.
First, the missiles rained down. Launched from hundreds of kilometres away, they slammed into government buildings in the heart of the city, lighting up the night sky in a grotesque pyrotechnical display.
The next day the tanks and armoured vehicles rolled over the border, their pennants fluttering in the predawn breeze. The invasion was underway as the world looked on in stunned horror. In many countries, there was disgust that one nation’s sovereignty was obliterated by another.
This special military operation was not the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It was Operation Iraqi Freedom, launched 20 years by the United States and its Coalition of the Willing, which included Australia.
For those who watched it play out on their TV screens, its imagery is seared into memory. The burning oil fields, the highway of death littered with burnt-out vehicles and scorched corpses, the bitter street fighting in Fallujah, the car bombs, the atrocities at Abu Ghraib.
George Bush’s triumphant “Mission accomplished” moment in May 2003, even though the war and subsequent insurgency would stretch out for years, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives.
Also etched in memory is the revelation the reason for the invasion and occupation was utterly false. Iraq was not building an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction as alleged. That accusation had been based on a lie. UN weapons inspector had searched prior to the invasion and found none. After the invasion, the occupying Americans could find none either.
The other objective of Operation Iraqi Freedom was to topple Saddam Hussein, just as Putin’s was regime change in Kyiv. Some argue the Iraq invasion was just as illegal as Putin’s. But, worse than that, is that it might just have encouraged him on his course of military adventurism, starting with the seizure of Crimea in 2014 and ending in last year’s invasion of Ukraine. If they can do it, why can’t I?
There are lessons from the Iraq adventure which seem to have fallen on deaf ears two decades later, especially in Moscow.
Gideon Rose, the former editor of Foreign Affairs, the esteemed journal of international relations, writes in his 2010 book How Wars End: “The Bush team fully expected the war to be quick, cheap, and successful … But instead of being able to flip its investment quickly for a nice profit, parlaying the proceeds into new ventures elsewhere, the administration found itself trapped in a quagmire, hemorrhaging blood and treasure.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
The 20th anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom has been drowned out somewhat by other pressing issues, like AUKUS, the cost of living, bank failures and the footy season. But we should not forget it, nor ignore the role our country played.
As we deepen our alliance with the two main invaders – the US and the UK – Operation Iraqi Freedom ought to remind us to take everything they say with a healthy dose of salt.
Source: Canberra Times