They promised a new era “free from dictatorship”. Instead the invasion of Iraq has delivered untold misery, violence and murder. Five years ago, as the US and British armies marched triumphantly into Iraq, George Bush and Tony Blair declared a victory “for democracy in the Middle East”.
They told us this was a war to destroy a despotic regime – albeit one that both Britain and the US had supported in the past. They said it was about hunting down weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) that could be launched in “45 minutes”.
Spurious allegations of Iraq’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks made it part of the “war on terror.”
The occupiers built a house of cards based on lies to cover for imperialism – the economic and strategic reasons that underlay the invasion of Iraq.
After the invasion, the US set up their headquarters in one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces in the heart of the Arab capital. The British took up residence in the southern port city of Basra.
Hordes of contractors, mercenaries and privateers flooded in to plunder the country’s wealth as teams of “experts” arrived to remodel a “neoliberal Iraq”.
European and US multinationals were given control over the economy, with its ports, oil fields and industry. In an echo of past colonial conquest Iraq’s new rulers decreed 100 new laws – including one guaranteeing immunity from prosecution for foreigners.
Bush and Blair declared the initial invasion a success. All that they needed to do was to mop up a few “regime remnants”, hunt down Saddam Hussein and find those WMDs.
But from the first day their occupation was doomed. Far from crowds of locals greeting troops with open arms, tens of thousands of people took to the streets in angry demonstrations – then took up arms to join the growing resistance movement.
The occupying authorities were taken aback by the scale of this opposition, and reacted with punitive and bloody raids.
The image of the hooded figures in Abu Ghraib prison became an icon of the new depths of depravity unleashed by imperialism.
Iraq became a “quagmire” with its regular “body count” updates. Repeated desperate declarations by the occupying forces that they had “turned the corner” were followed by more evidence that, in fact, they hadn’t.
So in June 2003 there were eight recorded attacks by the resistance every day. By the summer of 2007 the average number of daily attacks reached 170.
The US’s own estimate of the opposition it faces has also risen. In 2005 the military calculated that it was facing around 20,000 “insurgents”.
Today they estimate that figure at 70,000. Poll after poll has shown that this resistance enjoys the popular support of the vast majority of ordinary Iraqis.
As the scale of resistance grew, voices of discontent began to be heard among US and British soldiers.
These voices found their way into the pages of anti-war publications circulating among the troops. They spoke of rising discontent at the lies, the horror they witnessed, and revulsion at what they were forced to do.
In the US, veterans of the Vietnam war made contact with the young men and women returning from Iraq. Many now refused to serve in a war they considered illegal and immoral.
This mood became infectious. The first marches by the Iraq Veterans Against the War broke the consensus of unity inside the army. The families of fallen soldiers joined this growing anti-war chorus.
In Britain Military Families Against the War shamed a government that wanted to hide its crimes behind the notion of “support for our troops”.
Today Bush’s infamous declaration of “mission accomplished” in 2003 has been replaced by a frank admission by the chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff that the most powerful army in the world has been brought close to breaking point.
One by one the leaders of the “coalition of the willing” that launched the war have been driven from power. Only Bush remains – a lame duck president with the lowest approval rating ever recorded.
The initial justifications for the invasion have been exposed as lies and propaganda. So our rulers have put new arguments to justify the continuing occupation.
They now say that foreign troops need to stay to “save Iraq from itself”. Occupation troops are portrayed as “policemen” stopping the country from slipping into to sectarian civil war.
Yet it is the occupation that has created and fed the sectarianism.
The US promoted and armed the sectarian militias. The man who organised the butchery of the left in Central America, John Negroponte, was dispatched to Baghdad as the new security chief where he encouraged mass kidnapping and murder – known as the “war of the corpses”.
While claiming to be holding the country together, the US has proposed plans for “soft partition” that would divide Iraq into three parts – a Kurdish north, Sunni centre and Shia south. This partition would cement sectarian and ethnic division and encourage yet more violence.
The occupation has had wider implications around the globe. Far from producing stability, it has sown the seeds for further wars.
Turkey is now engaged in repeated bombings and incursions in the north of Iraq as the struggle for control over oil fields threatens to stoke ethnic conflict between Arabs, Turkomens and Kurds. The occupation has pushed the whole of the Middle East into an uncertain future.
In Iraq, the occupiers now claim that the worst is over thanks to the “surge” of 38,000 troops. Some of the major resistance organisations have declared a ceasefire, and some regions are experiencing less violence.
Where the troops have pulled back, as with the British withdrawal from Basra, violence has dropped markedly. In the restive Anbar province the US military has struck deals with local resistance groups and withdrawn back to its bases.
But other areas that were once calm are now experiencing new levels of violence.
As long as the occupation continues there will continue to be opposition and resistance to it – both in Iraq and around the world. The “war on terror” has given rise to an enormous spirit of resistance, from the democracy movement in Egypt to defiance in the streets of Gaza.
The anti-war movement produced some of the biggest demonstrations in generations, and as images of the millions marching across the world were beamed into Arab living rooms, it destroyed the notion that this was a “clash of civilisations” pitting Muslim against Christian.
Ordinary Arabs began to talk of allies in the “European and American street”. The barriers and divisions started to fall away. Every day that this occupation continues is another day of death and despair, while every anti-war protest sends a message to the millions across the Arab and Muslim world that they are not alone.
That is why we say keep our movement on the streets, keep our governments under pressure and bring the troops home now.