SADDAM Hussein was a brutal dictator to those who were not his own, especially Kurds and Shi’ites. Removing him, no matter what followed, was imagined to leave Iraq a better place and Iraqi citizens full of gratitude. But it has not, it has been whole lot worse for thousands and thousands of Iraqis and gratitude is the last thing they feel. While it is not helpful to point the finger of blame (who is more to blame than anyone else?), it is important to recognise that post Saddam Hussein, Iraq has been a much darker, conflict riven place than it was while he was alive.
Removing ISIS from Iraq and especially from Mosul is more obviously a step in the right direction. The world has seldom seen a more brutal regime, born out of a brutal ideology, devoid of any recognisable religious faith. But will the people of Mosul experience the days to come as better? Having now achieved its military freedom, what now for Mosul? Will Mosul now be a ‘better’ place than it was even under the ISIS thugs or will it be a place of hopelessness and squalor? If it is the latter, then one thing can be predicted with certainty, violence and the threat of violence will remain behind every pile of rubble. In helping to ‘free’ Mosul with human life and suffering commensurate with or greater than leaving them in charge, how are we better than ISIS if we now walk away and leave Mosul residents to their own devices?
Australia has played a small, but we are led to believe, a crucial role in the defeat of ISIS in Mosul, a role played out in the strategic training of the Iraqi army and in the bombing of ISIS positions in the city. The city is now in ruins and its citizens in a state of great pain and deprivation. Iraqis are clearly stoic and resilient people, but how are they to recover from this position? Does the Iraqi government have the will and determination to care for its people and restore their humanity in a truly non-partisan manner, or are we to see another stage in the ongoing struggle for one faction’s dominance over another? Equally important, even if it does have the will, does it have the capacity?
Australia was a high profile partner in the campaign to topple Saddam. That this was an ill-conceived campaign based upon a falsehood is a fact of history. What is also a fact of history is that the Allies have been entirely negligent in their strategy to support, nurture and resource an inclusive and equitable civil society in the aftermath of the military campaign.
We have again been involved militarily. Is this the end of our involvement, or indeed of our responsibility? I would strongly argue that it is not, that we must now have involvement in the restoration of the city. How that involvement and resourcing is played out is of course a matter for the Iraqis and particularly the citizens of Mosul. When a major natural disaster occurs anywhere in the world there is an expected and immediate response from the international community. Even if a country can normally be expected to look after itself; the need for restructure in the shortest possible time requires international support. In this case much of the collateral damage has been caused by the pre-emptive strikes of allies including Australia.
I fully realise the cost of involvement in the campaign to ‘free’ Mosul has been more than simply a dollar figure. But what is the dollar figure?
Already an estimate is available for how much (in billions) it is going to cost to rebuild the city. There is urgent need for the international partners involved in the campaign to sit down with the Iraqi government and municipal leaders in Mosul to determine an appropriate share of the cost of rebuilding in cash or kind. It is urgent that Australia and Australians be in the forefront of this discussion. Currently defence spending, illegal immigrant prevention, and terrorism strategy is entirely dominating the field that was once occupied by diplomacy and foreign aid. This must be reversed, otherwise Australia and Australians will run from one conflict to another, with the outcome of one campaign contributing to the next, in the self-deluding belief that we are contributing to a better world.
It should be entirely unacceptable for the Australian budget not to include a substantial figure for the re-structuring of Mosul, its schools hospitals and housing, a figure many times that spent on the military campaign. If it is not, we can only assume that Australia has entirely lost its compass, believing that military might conquers - it never has and never will. Victory is hard won and only achieved through friendship, restitution, equity, dignity and respect. The children of Mosul deserve to see a little of this so that they might grow up with hope and not become adults in the revolving door of violence.
It is urgent. House reconstruction should be a real possibility within months, schools and hospitals also. Employment must be provided first to Mosul citizens. We know we Australians are good at the military thing, it is less and less clear that we have a heart for the restitution and well being of any beyond our borders unless we can somehow make a dollar from the deal. About time there was some evidence this is not true.