Opinion: Inside Saddam Hussein’s ‘chamber of horrors,’ I reflect on 20 years since the Iraq War

Editor’s Word: Peter Bergen is CNN’s nationwide safety analyst, a vice chairman at New America and a professor of follow at Arizona State College. He’s the writer of “The Value of Chaos: The Trump Administration and the World.” The views expressed on this commentary are his personal. View extra opinion on CNN.

Sulaymaniyah, Iraq

Twenty years in the past, on March 19, 2003, then-President George W. Bush ordered the US invasion of Iraq. Per week later, close to Najaf, a metropolis in southern Iraq, then-US Main Basic David Petraeus turned to the American journalist Rick Atkinson and requested him a easy query: “Inform me how this ends.” That is still a superb query.

The Amna Suraka Museum, which was as soon as a jail and torture web site utilized by dictator Saddam Hussein’s intelligence brokers in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq, is an effective place to attempt to ponder the legacy of the US invasion and, maybe, an ancillary query: Was all of it price it?

After I visited the previous jail earlier this week, I discovered it positioned in a nice residential neighborhood in Sulaymaniyah, within the Kurdish area of northern Iraq. The placement of the jail in the course of the town was not an accident: Saddam wished the native inhabitants to know what awaited anybody who opposed him, or those that may even be enthusiastic about opposing his regime.

The museum is a chamber of horrors showcasing the cells the place prisoners have been tortured by electrical shocks and had the soles of their ft crushed in order that they couldn’t stroll. Juveniles have been delivered to the detention heart and their ages have been modified to be greater than 18 in order that they might be “legally” executed, in response to a museum official I spoke to.

The jail cells are every fairly small, with virtually no gentle. Throughout Saddam’s period, they have been full of prisoners who shared overflowing bathrooms.

Within the museum, there’s a lengthy hall – referred to as the “Corridor of Mirrors” – consisting of fragments of glass that signify every of the 182,000 individuals Saddam’s males killed throughout his 1988 “Anfal” marketing campaign (which is the estimated complete variety of deaths made by Kurdish officers). Small twinkling lights on the ceiling signify the 4,500 villages within the area that Saddam’s forces additionally destroyed.

Three and half many years in the past this week, on March 16, 1988, Saddam carried out one of the crucial infamous crimes of his murderous dictatorship, killing 1000’s of Kurds utilizing poison gasoline and nerve brokers.

There may be little query Saddam was one of many worst tyrants of the twentieth century. He killed as many as 290,000 of his personal individuals, in response to Human Rights Watch. He additionally launched wars towards two of his neighbors – Iran in the course of the Nineteen Eighties and Kuwait in 1990. Conservative estimates recommend that a minimum of half one million individuals have been killed throughout these wars.

So, when Saddam was toppled by the Individuals 20 years in the past, a minimum of some Iraqis have been comfortable. And Iraq immediately has made some strides to a extra accountable political system in comparison with its neighbors within the Center East. Iraq has held a number of elections for the reason that US invasion in 2003 that have been adopted by peaceable transfers of energy.

And but, after Saddam was toppled by the US, the incompetent American occupation of Iraq contributed to a civil warfare that tore the nation aside, killing a whole lot of 1000’s of Iraqis. Greater than 4,500 US troopers additionally died. The warfare additionally gave al Qaeda a brand new lease of life. The group referred to as al Qaeda in Iraq later morphed into ISIS, which seized huge quantities of Iraqi territory in 2014 and instituted a reign of terror.

The Iraq Battle additionally set a precedent for unprovoked wars that we see enjoying out in Ukraine immediately, which the Russians are already utilizing to good impact. At a convention in India earlier this month, Russian International Minister Sergei Lavrov referred to as out what he termed a US “double normal” saying: “[You] consider that america has the suitable to declare a risk to its nationwide curiosity, anyplace on earth, like they did… in Iraq?”

This message might not resonate a lot within the West, however it does within the International South the place the US-Iraq Battle and the Russian warfare in Ukraine are seen by many as wars of alternative fairly than of necessity.

After all, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s’ conduct of the warfare in Ukraine is orders of magnitude extra brutal than the American warfare in Iraq. Additionally, Putin’s forces are attacking a democratic state, whereas, in Iraq, Bush ordered an invasion that toppled a dictatorship.

That mentioned, it’s price underlining among the wars’ similarities: Each wars have been began due to false claims – the US warfare in Iraq was launched on the idea that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and hyperlinks to al Qaeda. The US media principally parroted these claims. Because of this, months earlier than the US invaded Iraq, most Individuals believed that Saddam was concerned within the 9/11 assaults regardless that there was no proof for this.

Putin justifies his warfare in Ukraine by claiming that it isn’t a “actual” nation and must be subsumed into Russia. In the meantime, Russian media asserts that its troopers are preventing “neo-Nazis” in Ukraine. Regardless of these false claims, most Russians assist the warfare, in response to unbiased polls.

Additionally, neither the Iraq Battle nor the warfare in Ukraine have had a lot in the way in which of worldwide assist. In contrast to the case of the US-led warfare in Afghanistan after the 9/11 assaults, which had a mandate from the UN Safety Council, neither the US invasion of Iraq, nor the Russian invasion of Ukraine had UN Safety Council backing.

Within the museum devoted to Saddam’s crimes towards his personal individuals, you are feeling the burden of his brutality. The US eliminating Saddam was for a lot of Iraqis one thing to be celebrated, however what adopted, from the civil warfare to the rise and fall of ISIS, has inflicted further nice struggling on the Iraqi individuals.

To those that say: “Was all of it price it, toppling Saddam given what we learn about how the final 20 years performed out?”, that could be lacking the purpose immediately. Iraq has a brand new authorities and sits on the third largest oil reserves on the earth. It must be one of many richest international locations within the Center East, however as an alternative the most cancers of endemic corruption has eaten away at authorities intuitions and worldwide firms are sometimes hesitant to put money into Iraq.

If the Iraqi political class can discover a option to create establishments that aren’t wormed with corruption, Iraq has an opportunity of transferring ahead.

The two,500 US troops that stay in Iraq immediately present not simply assist to the Iraqi army, but in addition make a political assertion that america plans to remain engaged in Iraq for the foreseeable future – fairly than abandoning the nation because it did in Afghanistan in the summertime of 2021, when all remaining US troops have been pulled out.

And we noticed how properly that turned out.