This month marks the 20th anniversary of the US and UK-led invasion of Iraq, on falsified evidence, that set in motion a series of cataclysmic events from which neither Iraq nor the region has been able to recover. Conservative figures put the number of Iraqis who perished under occupation or in the ensuing civil war at no less than half a million. Many more were maimed or displaced. Few would dare deny that this illegal invasion of a sovereign country remains the most egregious and blatant aggression of the 21st century.
None of the rosy promises peddled by the US and UK in the wake of the invasion and the toppling of the Saddam Hussein regime have been fulfilled. Iraq is a stone’s throw from being classified as a failed country; it is mired in sectarian fracas, official corruption, foreign meddling, terrorism and a near-total collapse of public services. The turmoil in Iraq has afflicted the entire region. Many more lives have been lost as a result. Generations of Iraqis live in despair and anger as they lose sight of hope and recovery.
And yet no one has been held accountable for the invasion of Iraq or for the war crimes that were committed by the invading armies. The culprits remain at large. Meanwhile, last month saw the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – a war that was supposed to last just weeks or even days but is still raging on, with massive loss of life and property. The similarities between the invasions of Iraq and Ukraine are shocking, to say the least: Unauthorized wars, attempts at regime change, gross human rights violations, potential war crimes and the illegal occupation of land.
Some may find excuses for Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine, which has unique historical and cultural links to Russia. NATO’s expansion eastward was in breach of 1990s understandings between the US and Russia. There is a case to be made for Russia’s existential concerns and genuine distrust of the West. Be that as it may, Russia’s invasion is in violation of the UN Charter and international conventions. But it remains a polarizing crisis when it comes to issues such as the state of the world under a unipolar system, the gross failure of the UN as an instrument of conflict resolution and Western double standards in implementing international law. So, it was ironic that the International Criminal Court last week issued an arrest warrant against President Vladimir Putin for an alleged war crime in Ukraine; the first of many, say the Ukrainians. While praised by Russia’s Western foes, the ICC move reeks of politicization and prejudice. That is not to say that Russia is innocent of the alleged violations in Ukraine. That remains to be investigated, after the guns go silent and a political settlement is found. But the speed with which the ICC has moved is itself a sign of selective justice and abuse of power.
Iraq is a case in point, where evidence of war crimes committed by and under the watch of the invading armies is fully documented. And yet no former leader or official of either the US or UK has been charged with war crimes by the ICC or any other body. The same can be said of Afghanistan, which lingered under a 20-year US military occupation.
More incongruous to the people of the region is how the ICC and other international bodies continue to look the other way when a UN member state, Israel, violates scores of UN Security Council resolutions through its ongoing occupation, including annexing land, building illegal settlements, displacing and transferring Palestinians, detaining and killing children and journalists, and bombing residential areas, all of which should have appeared on an ICC indictment list many years ago.
The sad reality is that, under America’s watch, the world’s post-1990 legal structure finds itself in a state of entropy and is beyond repair. The ICC’s warrant against Putin only adds insult to injury when it comes to the supposed integrity of the court itself. And if Putin deserves to have his day in court, then Tony Blair and George W. Bush should appear there first. Further, in an equitable world, the Israeli leaders and generals who oversaw the systematic colonization of Palestinian lands and the killing of thousands of Palestinians in questionable circumstances should also be on the world’s wanted list. Traditionally, it has been said that justice is blind, in reference to its impartiality and acceptance of all victims. But in the cases of Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and many others, Western justice is not only blind but mute and deaf as well. In many weird ways, the West opts for vengeance over justice and, by applying double standards, it only undermines the value and integrity of existing legal bodies.