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The US war on Iraq

The US war on Iraq
The war was ostensibly launched to eliminate what the US wrongly and misleadingly claimed were Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. (Getty Images)
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Updated 16 May 2020

The US war on Iraq

The US war on Iraq

When weapons of mass destruction became weapons of mass deception

Summary

On March 20, 2003, the US, then led by President George W. Bush, launched simultaneous attacks on Iraq with a view to removing Saddam Hussein from power. The war was ostensibly launched to eliminate what the US wrongly and misleadingly claimed were Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction.

Iraqi troops went underground and launched a guerrilla war whose destructive effects, 17 years later, are still being dealt with. The resulting confusion led to the resurgence of Al-Qaeda and the rise of Daesh and Iranian militias. All of Iraq suffered because of the American decision to invade the country, and the Middle East has never been the same since.

JEDDAH: What shall we call the 2003 US war in Iraq? The Americans had no problem at all in calling it a liberation. From the Arab perspective, however, it was something completely different. If you flip through the pages of our newspaper in the lead-up to the bombing of Baghdad on the night of March 20, 2003, what will strike you is that many Arabs were opposed to the US war in Iraq because they correctly foresaw that it would lead to giving Iraq on a platter to Iran.

US President George W. Bush was always prejudiced against Saddam Hussein. Bush’s cabinet colleagues and advisers, especially Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle and other neocons in the administration, made no attempt to hide their own pathological dislike of Saddam.

There were different theories of how Bush had come to despise him. Some reports said he hated Saddam for having plotted to kill his father during his visit to Kuwait. Whatever the truth, Bush Jr.’s advisers took full advantage of the president’s strong dislike, and fed it with a variety of stories.

The horrific attacks on US soil by Al-Qaeda on Sept. 11, 2001, gave Bush and his advisers a reason to take out Saddam. He was portrayed as a supporter of Al-Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden, and was thus tarred with the same black brush of Muslim terrorism.

Nobody in the Middle East, however, was taken in by this story, since it was well-known that Saddam hated Al-Qaeda more than anyone else. As a Baathist, he saw a great threat to his rule from Islamist terrorists, a much more powerful threat than from his archenemy Iran.

Saudi Arabia declared yesterday that it will not partake in a US-led war on Iraq under any circumstances and voiced strong opposition to any possible US military occupation of Iraq.

From a staff story on Arab News’ front page, March 19, 2003 edition

The post-9/11 atmosphere, however, was such that it was easy to create any narrative and go for the elimination of any perceived enemy. That is exactly what happened with Saddam. A flimsy case was put together that he was in possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), based on flawed intelligence.

Colin Powell, Bush’s secretary of state, made an elaborate speech at the UN, complete with maps and pictures of where the WMDs were allegedly hidden. The wider world was nonetheless unconvinced, and the UN — which had sent its own experts to Iraq on a fruitless search for WMDs — refused to approve the war.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal raised serious concerns on “Frontline,” a show on the US network PBS. “What’s going to happen to them (Iraqi soldiers and officials), especially since the army was disbanded and the government fired? And who’s going to rule Iraq if you have that?” he said.

“Saddam Hussein had perhaps 2 million people controlling Iraq. The US and its allies have close to 150,000. How do you make that work?”

Nonetheless, Washington choreographed a plan to attack Iraq. The pages of Arab News are full of how Saudi Arabia advised the US, its closest Western ally, to call for sanctions instead.

Even after Saddam invaded Kuwait in the 1990s and his army was pulverized by the US and Saudi-led liberation forces, Riyadh convinced Washington not to remove Saddam from power. Saudi officials knew his removal would lead to chaos in the region and provide Iran with a golden opportunity to run amok.

As things panned out later, the removal of Saddam led to horrific atrocities, both in Iraq and the wider region. Al-Qaeda, which was given a severe drubbing in Afghanistan, bounced back and found an ideal and very fertile breeding ground in Iraq.

Key Dates


  • 1

    US Secretary of State Colin Powell addresses the UN Security Council and provides the rationale for the war on Iraq: The country’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

    Timeline Image Feb. 5, 2003


  • 2

    American aircraft launch a blistering attack on Baghdad. Dubbed “shock and awe,” it knocks out Iraqi anti-missile batteries, aircraft and power installations. The presidential palace is attacked.


  • 3

    US President George W. Bush declares an end to major combat operations. He lands on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in a Lockheed S-3 Viking, and gives a speech in which he announces the end of major combat operations in Iraq.

    Timeline Image May 1, 2003


  • 4

    After spending nine months in hiding, Saddam Hussein is captured.

    Timeline Image Dec. 13, 2003


  • 5

    After a sham trial by the interim Iraqi government, Saddam is executed. Despite prolonged searches by the US, no WMDs were ever found in Iraq.

    Timeline Image Dec. 30, 2006

Much later, Daesh appeared on the scene. Sensing an opening, Iran stepped in and unleashed a sectarian war. Thousands died. Tehran and its many murderous militias used improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to devastating effect. 

As a senior staff member at Arab News, I was part of the team that would select the front page stories and photos; some of them from that time remain etched in our memories. There was a front page on March 19, 2003, with Bush in a cowboy hat with the headline: “High Noon for Cowboy Era.”

The front page also referred to King Fahd’s address to the nation on March 18, in which he said: “The Kingdom will under no circumstances take part in the war against Iraq, and its armed forces will not enter an inch of Iraqi territory.”

Baghdad would be bombed the next night, after the 48-hour ultimatum given by Bush to Saddam had passed. There was extensive reporting from Kuwait, Jordan, Washington, and of course Baghdad.

Arab News had correspondents on the ground who filed their reports to the newsroom in Jeddah. The March 21, 2003 edition had the headline: “Baghdad set ablaze, palaces, Saddam’s family home targeted in aerial bombardment.”

On the following nights, the US unleashed at least 3,000 satellite-guided bombs and cruise missiles at Iraq. There was not an Iraqi WMD in sight. In the “Letters to the Editor” column, readers continued to refer to the elusive WMDs as “the weapons of mass deception.”

“The region continues to suffer the consequences of that war: The increase in terrorism, the political instability and the breeding ground for radicalism. In virtually all cases, the consequences have been much worse than the war itself.”

Siraj Wahab

There was severe criticism in Saudi Arabia, especially because there was no UN approval for the war. In a piece in the March 21, 2003 edition, Adnan Jaber, a Jordanian journalist in Saudi Arabia, was quoted as saying the war “would increase terrorism rather than reduce it since political instability would provide a breeding ground for radicalism.”

His words were profound. The very political instability he mentioned led to many in Saddam’s army, which the Americans had foolishly disbanded, joining Daesh and Al-Qaeda in order to strike a blow against the invaders who had ravaged their homeland for no purpose.




A page from the Arab News archive from March 19, 2003.

There were, as in all wars, moments of comic relief. All of us would gather around the TV screens in the newsroom to listen to Saddam’s famous information minister, Mohammed Saeed Al-Sahaf, making ridiculous claims when he addressed the media every day.

According to him, Saddam’s army was on the verge of victory, whereas the reality was exactly the opposite. The much-touted American “shock and awe” had led to the melting away of the Iraqi military with no resistance. It was later revealed that Iraqi soldiers had simply given up their uniforms and chosen guerrilla warfare by joining Daesh or Al-Qaeda.

The region continues to suffer the consequences of that war: The increase in terrorism, the political instability and the breeding ground for radicalism. In virtually all cases, the consequences have been much worse than the war itself. Arab News was well situated to report the war and its after-effects, and is proud to continue the same dedicated and responsible journalism today.

  • Siraj Wahab is managing editor at Arab News. During the invasion of Iraq, he was a senior member of staff, having joined the newspaper in January 1998.

Arab League chief condemns Israeli air strikes on Gaza

Arab League chief condemns Israeli air strikes on Gaza
Updated 1 min 29 sec ago

Arab League chief condemns Israeli air strikes on Gaza

Arab League chief condemns Israeli air strikes on Gaza
  • Aboul Gheit called on the international community to act immediately to stop the violence
  • the Muslim World League has strongly condemned the attacks at Al-Aqsa Mosque
CAIRO: The head of the Arab League condemned on Tuesday deadly Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip as “indiscriminate and irresponsible” and said Israel had provoked an earlier escalation in violence by its actions in Jerusalem.
“Israeli violations in Jerusalem, and the government’s tolerance of Jewish extremists hostile to Palestinians and Arabs, is what led to the ignition of the situation in this dangerous way,” Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit said in a statement.
The attacks in Gaza were a “miserable show of force at the expense of children’s blood,” he said.
Aboul Gheit called on the international community to act immediately to stop the violence, saying continuing “Israeli provocations” were an affront to Muslims on the eve of the Eid holiday at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Arab League foreign ministers are holding a virtual meeting on Tuesday to discuss the situation in Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, the Muslim World League has strongly condemned the attacks at Al-Aqsa Mosque, it said in a statement.
The organization, issued Tuesday went on to say that it rejected the escalations against worshippers.
Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League further denounced all acts of violence that undermined the dignity and rights of the Palestinian people, as well as provoking the feelings of Muslims around the world.
Al-Issa called on the International community to put an end to the violence, preserve the right of the Palestinian people, provide the necessary protection of civilians, guarantee their right to practice their religion, and stop all violations and attacks.
He also reiterated the affirmation of standing by the Palestinian people. He said he supports all peace efforts to reach a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian issue.
He also said the solution should allow Palestinians to establish their independent state on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as their capital, in accordance with international legitimacy decisions and the Arab Peace Initiative.
Health officials in Gaza said at least 20 people, including nine children, were killed.

US actress, mogul Jessica Alba shows off Arab labels in New York

Jessica Alba showed off a pair of earrings by Lebanese-Brazilian fine jeweler Ana Khouri. (Getty Images)
Jessica Alba showed off a pair of earrings by Lebanese-Brazilian fine jeweler Ana Khouri. (Getty Images)
Updated 6 min 15 sec ago

US actress, mogul Jessica Alba shows off Arab labels in New York

Jessica Alba showed off a pair of earrings by Lebanese-Brazilian fine jeweler Ana Khouri. (Getty Images)

DUBAI: US actress and business mogul Jessica Alba showed off a pair of dainty heels by Lebanese designer Andrea Wazen and accessories by part-Arab jewelry designer Ana Khouri while out and about in New York last week.

The actress — who is also the co-founder of the billion-dollar home care business The Honest Company — was in New York to visit NASDAQ headquarters for the IPO of her company.

Later, she was spotted walking in Manhattan and even appeared on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” wearing a pair of dainty rose-colored mules by Wazen.

Alba showed off the Denver mesh mules in pink, which feature a translucent upper, thin ankle strap and elegant pointed toe shape. The heels complemented a dark sage green bag by Celine and a greige trench coat-and-sheath dress combination.

The entrepreneur and actress wore a pair of pink heels by Andrea Wazen. (Getty Images)

Wazen isn’t the only Arab designer Alba flaunted while out and about in New York. She attended the IPO of her company wearing chunky gold statement earrings by Lebanese-Brazilian fine jeweler Ana Khouri. 

New York-based Khouri has seen her pieces worn by everyone from Nicole Kidman and Charlize Theron to Karlie Kloss and Alicia Vikander.

Wazen is also no stranger to celebrity fans, and has seen her designs sported by the likes of actress Gabrielle Union-Wade, model Ashley Graham, Katy Perry, Kylie Jenner and Jennifer Lopez during her “It’s My Party World Tour” in 2019.

The shoe designer is fresh off a win at the Footwear News (FN) Achievement Awards in December, nabbing the Emerging Talent prize.

“What a feeling… I cannot explain the joy and satisfaction I am feeling,” she wrote at the time, before thanking Michael Atmore, chief brand officer and the director of the event, for recognizing her as this year’s emerging talent, stylist Jill Jacobs for presenting her with the award and her team, who she said she couldn’t have “accomplished any of this” without.

“Last but not least, I would like to dedicate this award to my beautiful city, my source of inspiration and my home Beirut,” she wrote.


UK-based tower operator to acquire Omantel sites in $575m deal

UK-based tower operator to acquire Omantel sites in $575m deal
Updated 35 min 45 sec ago

UK-based tower operator to acquire Omantel sites in $575m deal

UK-based tower operator to acquire Omantel sites in $575m deal
  • The move signals Helios Towers’ entry to the Middle East market as a major tower infrastructure provider

DUBAI: British telecommunications company Helios Towers has signed a deal with Omantel to acquire 2,890 sites for $575 million from the sultanate’s largest mobile network operator.
The move signals Helios Towers’ entry to the Middle East market as a major tower infrastructure provider.
The deal is expected to bring in a $59 million bump in revenues in the first full year of operations.
It also involves a $35 million plan to add 300 new build-to-suit sites over the next seven years.
“We view Oman as a very attractive and supportive market for foreign investments, with strong growth and exciting future prospects,” the UK-based company’s chief Kash Pandya said in a statement.
He said the acquisition strengthens its business through “further hard-currency revenues and diversification” in what the CEO described as the fastest growing markets in the region.
“We look forward to working with Omantel and the other MNOs over the coming years to further develop next generation mobile infrastructure solutions and services in Oman,” he added.
The partnership reflects Oman’s FDI aspirations, Omantel CEO Tala Said Al-Mamari said, adding it will create jobs and opportunities in the country.
“This move also allows the monetization of our towers at attractive valuation levels, de-lever our balance sheet, and will accelerate network development in next generation advanced technologies,” he noted.
He said it would allow Omantel’s management to focus on innovation and product development while outsourcing infrastructure management to an independent firm.
The transaction will close by the end of 2021, and the long-term partnership will last for an initial period of 15 years.


Dubai teen-led tennis initiative raises awareness for autism 

Dubai teen-led tennis initiative raises awareness for autism 
Updated 11 May 2021

Dubai teen-led tennis initiative raises awareness for autism 

Dubai teen-led tennis initiative raises awareness for autism 
  • Two-week tournament saw a 32-draw men’s competition and a unisex under-14’s doubles contest
  • The initiative, called ACE FOR GOOD, was set up by high school student Hussein Nada

DUBAI: A tennis initiative set up by a Dubai teen has garnered support for Autism Awareness Month.

The initiative, called ACE FOR GOOD, was set up by high school student Hussein Nada in order to bring together tennis lovers to play in support of a good cause.

The initiative comprised of a tournament organized by Rackets Academy and 17-year-old Hussein.

“I decided to create ACE FOR GOOD’which will allow tennis players to give back to the community through supporting a charitable cause,” she told Arab News. “ACE FOR GOOD’s 2021 Dubai tournament perfectly (suited) Autism Awareness Month, (as did) the willingness of the tennis community to support and … make a difference.”

The two-week tournament saw a 32-draw men’s competition and a unisex under-14’s doubles contest.

It was backed by several sponsors including Brand for Less (BFL) Group, Daoud Group, Loca restaurants, Head, Marina Pharmacy Group and the Flower Co.

“BFL Group is so proud of this sponsorship, as we always strive to work for philanthropic causes, since this reflects our values. Nevertheless, sports and fitness-related activities always get our support as we believe in their key role in maintaining our mental health and wellbeing,” Yasser Beydoun, co-founder and managing partner of BFL Group, said.

“We salute Hussein for his initiative and efforts, which made us so excited to take this sponsorship opportunity and support him in achieving this great cause. He showed us that age is never a barrier for doing good; we can all do something good for the community as long as we believe in the cause and in our abilities,” Beydoun added.

As a result of the positive feedback received from players, sponsors, and the tennis community, ACE FOR GOOD is now set to become an annual event in Dubai, with plans also in the works to take it abroad, with a tournament set to take place in Egypt in August.


Khair for All — Saudi charity celebrates another successful Ramadan

Khair for All — Saudi charity celebrates another successful Ramadan
Updated 4 min 48 sec ago

Khair for All — Saudi charity celebrates another successful Ramadan

Khair for All — Saudi charity celebrates another successful Ramadan
  • Khair, the Arabic term for good, well-being, blessings and benevolence, was the operative word founder Abdulmajeed Hashem chose for his charity

 

 

JEDDAH: With Ramadan drawing to a close, a family and friends charity celebrated the success of their ninth consecutive year in operation ahead of Eid festivities.

Abdulmajeed Hashem, the 25-year-old founder of Jeddah-based charity Khair for All, told Arab News about how his family and friends played their part in giving and lending a helping hand this holy month.

Whilst endeavoring to get involved in the spirit of Ramadan aged 16, the Jeddah-born Hashem discovered that local charities in his area had too many volunteers. However, he knew that there was no cap on good that can be done — so he founded his own charity.

Khair, the Arabic term for good, well-being, blessings and benevolence, was the operative word founder Hashem chose for Khair for All.

“We started in about 2012 with a small group of my cousins and friends. We decided to start by giving out meals for Iftar Sayim,” Hashem told Arab News.

Iftar Sayim is the charitable act of providing ready meals, usually dates, water, laban and a sambosa, to Muslims in Ramadan for them to break their fasts with.

One month worth of essential food items laid out in batches ahead of packaging and distributing. (Zeina Sweidan)

“That simple beginning turned into something that grew in size, in number of volunteers, in effort — we just kind of started from there and it naturally grew.”

Hashem and his team purchased Iftar Sayim meals using their own money and began distributing them in the suburbs of Jeddah — soon they found themselves in a daily routine they could not do without.

“Meeting here everyday, setting up the packs and distributing them ourselves has really been a bonding experience with our group,” he said. “We really enjoy this activity — it’s become a part of our Ramadan that’s very important to us.”

A less fortunate suburb in Jeddah receiving Khair for All monthly packages. (Hussain Abedi)

The global health crisis did not stand in the way of the charity’s vision for 2021, and while adjustments had to be made and precautions taken, they swiftly adapted and made the necessary changes for another successful Ramadan.

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 has played a role in getting the youth moving, according to the Khair for All founder. “I feel like with the new direction a lot more of my friends have been more willing to volunteer,” he said. “More people are ready to go and take on these projects.

“I’ve definitely noticed an increase in enthusiasm and energy in the past few years, and I think it’s very much linked to the direction of the country.”

Khair for All sets no limits on where and how it can be of service, and so ventured into more sustainable projects in which their effects will be seen in the years to come.

While Iftar Sayim is the basis for why Khair for All began, in 2014 Hashem and his team discovered that there were more ways to help the community than to simply help break their fasts.

Khair for All volunteer stuffing monthly packs of essential food items into the back of his car just before the Maghreb prayer — the time in which Muslims break their fasts. (AN/Zaid Khashogji)

“We later shifted to giving monthly packs,” the Khair for All founder said. “We kind of understood that families needed something more stable, something that would make them not have to worry about where their food was coming in for the next month.”

Since then, packaging monthly supplies consisting of basic goods and necessities has become the primary activity of the charity — and they soon found themselves working with local schools.

“We like to have more of a lasting impact in the places we’re helping out, rather than just providing a meal and then going back home,” Hashem said. “We want to provide something to the communities that we can see grow ourselves, so we’re really focusing a lot on education.”

Hashem and the team began pooling money together each year to improve the state of impoverished schools in Jeddah.

“Vision 2030 emphasizes a lot of the power the youth can have,” he said. “We believe any way we can make the schools a better learning environment for the kids would be a way of having a more lasting impact.

“We do a lot of work getting new chairs, painting and providing internet — and I hope we can continue to do more things like that in the future.”

Hashem believes that more direct communication with people in the community is necessary to address the real underlying issues, rather than just basing measures on assumptions.

“Basically, put our energy into what they tell us they need,” he said. “Talk to everyone there, and get to know them really well — that way, it’s addressing actual problems.”