Socialist Worker

Once Upon a Time in Iraq—an insight into devastation of invasion

Once Upon a Time in Iraq features interviews with some of those who lived through the country’s horrors. It is essential viewing, says Philip Marfleet

Issue No. 2712

 The remnants of the Great Al Nuri mosque in Mosul, destroyed in fighting in 2017 - a legacy of the 2003 invasion

The remnants of the Great Al Nuri mosque in Mosul, destroyed in fighting in 2017 - a legacy of the 2003 invasion (Pic: BBC/Keo Films/Gus Palmer)


The assault on Iraq by US forces during the invasion of 2003 was a “blitzkrieg” says an American marine who fought on the front line.

Backed by massive firepower, US troops operated with “godlike” ferocity, he says, killing at will.

BBC documentary Once Upon a Time in Iraq follows the invasion and the military occupation that ensued. It offers testimony from Iraqis and from those who destroyed their lives and left their country in chaos.

A month after the invasion President George W Bush declared “Mission Accomplished”, insisting, “The people of Iraq are now free.”

Today, Iraq bears all the marks of that brutal assault. Millions are displaced far from their original homes. Millions more are impoverished and living with a government addicted to corruption, violence and sectarianism.

Much of it is gruelling. Video footage shows brutal street fighting, house raids and destruction of most of the city of Fallujah

“The war was a catastrophe,” says a young Iraqi woman who suffered serious injury during fighting between US forces and the Iraqi resistance.

Once Upon a Time in Iraq provides ample evidence of the physical and mental damage inflicted on the population, especially upon children. “We were scared of everything,” says a woman who was an infant at the time of the invasion, “scared even to dream”.

This documentary series is a must-watch for those wanting to understand how US and British forces went to war in 2003.

Much of it is gruelling. Video footage shows brutal street fighting, house raids and destruction of most of the city of Fallujah.

A Special Forces marine recalls “the romance of violent conflict”. A US colonel tells the camera, “We were lethal.”

The fight for Iraq’s future
The fight for Iraq’s future
  Read More

This is a story about the front line. But it tells us less about those who planned and directed the invasion and ran Iraqi affairs in the aftermath.

What shaped the agenda of US strategists who sought “regime change” and decided to dismantle the entire apparatus of the Iraq state?

Why did they send Paul Bremer III—then a businessman—to run the Coalition Provisional Authority that administered Iraq as if it was a European colony of the imperial era?

The series offers only passing references to the “back story” of the invasion.

More testimony from those who planned the Iraqi adventure would have helped us to understand why it was so savage and destructive.

Where are the “neocons” who in the 1990s craved a “New World Order” with the US at its head?

What of the oil executives who worked so closely with Bush and the exiled Iraq politicians paid by the CIA and installed by Bremer to lead a phoney Governing Council?

Most important, who shaped the plans for a “revolutionary” transformation of Iraq?

This was meant to sweep away the old state and bring into being a capitalist paradise of low taxes, poverty wages, deregulated labour and—above all—uncontrolled access to Iraqi oil by US corporations.

The savagery of the invasion and the occupation matched the ambition and greed of those who planned it.

The invasion embedded a new system of sectarian politics that has produced communal conflict, ethnic cleansing and forced migrations in and from Iraq

Once Upon a Time in Iraq might have introduced them as participants in the conflict.

It was they who supervised the pillage of Iraq, including the theft of its oil resources and the looting of its public sector.

A legal expert later called this, “one of the most audacious and spectacular crimes of theft in modern history”.

Perhaps this was an investigation too far for the producers and director James Bluemel.

The invasion of 2003 cost vast numbers of lives.

It massively exaggerated existing inequalities.

And it embedded a new system of sectarian politics that has produced communal conflict, ethnic cleansing and forced migrations in and from Iraq.

Once Upon a Time in Iraq tells an important part of the story, but there’s much more to see.

Once Upon a Time in Iraq starts Monday 13 July, 9pm, on BBC Two.
Iraq Since the Invasion—people and politics in a state of conflict, edited by Keiko Sakai and Philip Marfleet, is published by Routledge on 16 July
 

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