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Iraq shows a political settlement without accountability cannot deliver peace


Twenty years after the invasion, corruption has prevented the delivery of real democracy.

It has been 20 years since the United States and United Kingdom invaded Iraq with the promise of peace and stability. ‘The removal of Saddam Hussein is an integral part of winning the war against terror,’ said President George W Bush, adding that ‘a free Iraq will make it much less likely that we’ll find violence in that immediate neighbourhood. A free Iraq will make it more likely we’ll get a Middle Eastern peace.’

But instead of stabilizing, Iraq fell back into cycles of conflict, with violence becoming part of everyday life for ordinary citizens. The ripple effects shook the region too, and events in Israel and Palestine today remind us that the US-led invasion did not create a more peaceful neighbourhood.

The world is watching as another conflict erupts following Hamas’s 7 October attack on Israeli civilians, leading the UN to warn of a potential genocide in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt), while armed groups threaten to intervene from Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere, increasing the risk of regional escalation. Shattered, for now, are the hopes of regional stability, regional integration, and normalization of ties with Israel.

Why did the invasion and occupation of Iraq not lead to peace and stability? And what lessons can be drawn to help navigate today’s conflicts? The case of Iraq teaches us that achieving genuine peace from any conflict requires more than a military response and a political settlement. It needs accountability.

Just weeks after bombing much of the country, Bush declared victory aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier, in front of a banner that proclaimed ‘mission accomplished.’

His successors have made similar declarations that followed collapses in peace – most recently, President Donald Trump, after the territorial defeat of the Islamic State (ISIS). Yet Iraq still struggles to reach and stay in the ‘post-conflict’ stage.  

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