Iraq, four years after that toppled statue
Four years ago, on April 9, the toppling of his statue of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in Baghdad following his deposition became the defining image of US military triumph over the ignominy of September 11, 2001. A carefully orchestrated US intelligence trapeze, which included an unprecedented power point presentation by then US secretary of state, Colin Powell, to the UN seemed to buttress the US case for linking Iraq with 9/11 and finally the Bush team 'let slip the dogs of war' on March 20, 2003.
Soon the world came to know that this was a US charade, and the intelligence manipulation over purported Iraqi WMD cast legitimate aspersions over US rectitude. Four years down the bloodied road, Iraq lies in a shambles and in this period, while official estimates refer to over 3,200 US personnel killed and 65,000 Iraqis (a ratio of 1: 20), independent studies suggest that the Iraqi death toll has crossed 60,000 with more than two million displaced. In a like fashion, the official cost of the war to the US is estimated to be $500 billion while other figures aver it is closer to one trillion. And for the hapless Iraqis,the fiscal and human cost remain incalculable.
However it is not just Iraq that is affected by Saddam's toppling. The extended region from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia to Turkey is now animated by different degrees of internal turbulence. And the South Asian region which has now admitted Afghanistan as its new member cannot be impervious to the events in Iraq and take indignant solace in berating Bush's blunder. While there is little dissent that the March 2003 military action against Iraq was a huge mistake, the alternative is not binary — that the US must immediately withdraw and redress the original transgression.
The toppling of the Saddam statue in April 2003 was equivalent to opening a Pandora's box in a volatile West Asia. Many socio-political and intra-Islamic contestations that had remained embedded for centuries came to the fore with unanticipated virulence. Complex regional strategic cultures that owed allegiance to ethnicity and tribe which were fettered during the colonial era and cynically managed in the Cold War decades are now unshackled. At the core is a radical Islamist ideology which has become more potent and determined in the immediate aftermath of the end of the Cold War and the signs were unmistakable in the events leading up to 9/11.