Two Iraq Anniversaries

by David French

Thanks to Commentary’s Michael Rubin, I was reminded that this March brings us two Iraq anniversaries: the tenth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, which many people will discuss and debate, and the 25th anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja, which almost no one will remember.  

In the coming days, much of the commentariat will cite each others’ opinion pieces to support their by now unshakable belief that Operation Iraqi Freedom was a terrible mistake and horrific failure. Yet few — if any — of these pieces will grapple seriously with the world that would exist if we either (1) decided not to topple Saddam Hussein; or (2) did as they urged and cut and run from Iraq just as the al-Qaeda-dominated sunni insurgency was ascendant.  

Saddam was a genocidal tyrant who launched two wars of aggression that led to upwards of 1 million deaths; he violated his cease-fire agreements with the United States; he harbored and supported international terrorists; he was a prime financier of the suicide-bombing campaign in Israel during the Second Intifada; he fired on our pilots enforcing no-fly zones protecting Kurds and shiites from further genocide, and — yes — he still harbored ambitions for rebuilding his chemical-weapons arsenal. Given Saddam’s past practices when confronted with internal instability and rebellion, it is easy to imagine an Arab Spring genocide in Saddam’s Iraq that would make the Syrian civil war seem like a minor skirmish. 

There is much more to say about the Iraq War, and there is certainly reason to be disappointed that the present Iraqi democracy hardly lives up to the high ideals of the Bush “freedom agenda.” But there are no more Halabjas, there is no genocide in Iraq, and al-Qaeda in Iraq is a pale shadow of its former self. For those achievements — so dearly bought with American blood — I am and will remain deeply grateful.