The invasion of Iraq: Power, profits, death and destruction


U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Stacy L. Pearsall

U.S. Army Sgt. Bill Stachler throws a smoke grenade to mask his team’s movements during a joint operation with the Iraqi police in Baqubah, Iraq, March 31, 2007. The purpose of the operation is to clear houses and palm groves near the Diyala River of any insurgent forces. Stachler is with the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment.

The world is a big, scary and confusing place. People have things to do and places to be. We work long hours, struggle to accomplish our goals, and relax on the weekends, often while blissfully ignoring the massive bastions of power and wealth that truly steer our lives. When we do finally get a break from the hustle and bustle of life, the last thing that most of us want to spend our free time doing is more complicated work. Government oversight, public policy analysis, budgetary breakdowns and overall accountability go largely ignored. As long as the day-to-day functioning of our lives isn’t too interrupted, no one panics. 

Most of us know of the war in Iraq, but few understand it, and even less have paid proper attention to its buildup and true causes. Few acknowledge the calculated and organized campaigns of disinformation, lies and propaganda that helped the Bush administration to steer the world, with much of America behind them. 

Profits and power; causes of the war

July 18, 2003. A court ordered the Commerce Department to turn over documents produced in a March 5, 2001 meeting of Vice President Dick Cheney’s “Energy Task force,” six months before the attacks on September 11. These documents included a map of Iraq’s oil fields alongside a list of foreign companies that would be interested in acquiring the land, should it ever happen to become available. You know, just in case. The highly secretive Energy Task force was responsible for writing and drafting energy policy, giving those attending the meetings significant leverage over the process.

Vice President Cheney, David Addington, Joe Wall and Neil Patel in a Congressional Staff Meeting. 01/04/2008. (United States National Archives and Records Administration)

A 2007 report by the Washington Post detailed the various meetings of the Energy Task Force. This list included big oil executives, CEOs, political donors, lobbyists, politicians and other important figures. An Opensecrets report that the Energy industry had funneled millions to Republican candidates, many of whom now sat on the task force. 

Many believe that these confidential meetings were a driving force behind the invasion of Iraq. Many of the listed companies and political donors went on to make billions from the resulting war, with many eventually acquiring the very same Iraqi oil fields they expressed interest in. 

Apart from profits, one other source of inspiration looms large; global influence and authority. A letter written in July 2001 by Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld expressed interest to “enhance U.S. credibility and influence throughout the region,” with a victory in Iraq, showing the administration’s interest in the nation existed well before the attacks on September 11, 2001. A decisive victory in the region would help to re-establish the United States as a major global power and would help to paint our military as more of a force to be reckoned with. Early 2000s Iraq was a powerful nation, and taking it would send a clear message to the world. 

There just aren’t enough targets in Afghanistan. We need to bomb something else to prove that we’re, you know, big and strong and not going to be pushed around by these kind of attacks.”

— Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld

After the events of 9/11, the American people were angry and confused. The military stormed Afghanistan and dismantled the Taliban, but that wasn’t enough to accomplish the goals. When trying to assert playground dominance you don’t go after the nerd, you throw down with the other bullies. A memo from Rumsfeld to Bush, dated September 30, 2001, stated that “If the war [in Afghanistan] does not significantly change the world’s political map, the U.S. will not achieve its aim.” Rumsfeld also expressed the need of a goal for “New Regimes in Afghanistan and another key State that supports terrorism.” With that, all eyes turned towards Iraq. 

Propaganda, lies and bad intelligence: How the war was sold to the public

As early as November 2001, the administration’s focus turned to selling the war to the public. As revealed by yet another leaked Rumsfeld memo, the concept of focusing on allegations of weapons of mass destruction arose early on. 

The Honorable Donald H. Rumsfeld (right), U.S. Secretary of Defense, speaks to the press during his visit at Podgorica, Montenegro, on. Sept. 26, 2006. Sec. Rumsfeld is visiting Montenegro, Europe’s newest nation, to enlist its support on the war on terrorism. (DoD photo by James M. Bowman)

In September 2002, Rumsfeld ordered the creation of a Pentagon unit responsible for supplying the administration with raw and unfiltered intelligence related to Iraq, headed by Paul Wolfowitz, former Deputy Secretary of Defense, and Douglass Feith, former Under Secretary of Defense. This became known as the Office of Special Plans (OSP).

Many believe that the office of special plans was founded for the sole purpose of promoting the invasion. The department was known for allegedly manipulating evidence, conducting unapproved task force missions and working to undermine intelligence from the CIA.

The inner workings of the OSP weren’t brought to light until the release of a Mother Jones investigative report by Jason Vest and Robert Dreyfuss titled “The Lie Factory.” 

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged that a primary purpose of the unit was to cull factoids, which were then used to disparage, undermine, and contradict the CIA’s reporting, which was far more cautious and nuanced than Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Feith wanted,” Vest and Dreyfuss reported.

 The workings of the OSP largely remain secretive to this day, but one recurring theme is clear: the department wanted to invade Iraq, regardless of if the country posed a threat to national security or not.

“Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us.”

— Vice President Dick Cheney, August 2002

Vest and Dreyfuss went on to elaborate further. “Countless other errors and exaggerations have become evident. The thousands of aluminum tubes supposedly imported by Iraq for uranium enrichment were fairly conclusively found to be designed to build noncontroversial rockets. The long-range unmanned aerial vehicles allegedly built to deliver bioweapons, were small, rickety, experimental planes with wood frames. The mobile bioweapon labs turned out to have had other civilian purposes. And the granddaddy of all falsehoods, the charge that Iraq sought uranium in the West African country of Niger, was based on forged documents‚ — documents that the CIA, the State Department, and other agencies knew were fake nearly a year before President Bush highlighted the issue in his State of the Union address in January 2003.” 

Iraq didn’t have chemical weapons, were not constructing bioweapons, and, above all else, did not possess weapons of mass destruction. 

But who cares about sloppy intelligence? The administration wanted to take the country regardless. In August 2002, the administration formed The White House Iraq Group, a group created to “inform” the public about the purposes in Iraq. The government began a campaign of mass propaganda and disinformation. Most famously, the administration pushed the narrative that Saddam Hussein, the President of Iraq either had or was in the process of acquiring weapons of mass destruction. Little is more effective at scaring the public than the concept of a mad dictator with nukes. 

The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he [Hussein] can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud”

— National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice

The real goldmine of public opinion, however, was utilizing the attacks on 9/11, a horrific tragedy fresh on the minds of the public. The administration pushed a lie that Mohammed Atta, one of the 9/11 hijackers, met with Ahmad Samir al-Ani, an Iraqi intelligence official, inside of a cafe within the city of Prague. This meeting linked the nation of Iraq with the attacks on the World Trade Center. The evidence? An Arab student who claimed to have observed the meeting months earlier. 

This report of the supposed meeting was soon discredited by the CIA, FBI and the Czech government. But whatever, the facts of the situation are more of a suggestion, right? The whole “debunked intelligence” thing didn’t stop the administration from repeatedly regurgitating it to continue pushing the narrative. 

In the end, the propaganda worked. By February of 2003, well over 80% of the nation believed Saddam Hussein to possess weapons of mass destruction, and over 60% supported military action to remove him from power. A Gallup poll found that by March, 72% wanted war. It was finally time.

The war in Iraq: Short but deadly

President George W. Bush addresses sailors and the nation from the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln of the coast of San Diego, California May 1, 2003. A “Mission Accomplished” banner – which refers to operation Iraqi Freedom – hangs from the control tower in the background. (White House photo by Paul Morse)

March 19, 2003. Explosions rocked the Iraqi capital of Baghdad while forces from the United States and the rest of the coalition landed in Iraq. Tomahawk cruise missiles rocked the nation. In just three short weeks, Saddam’s regime was toppled and the Iraqi forces were defeated, but a guerrilla insurgency remained and fought for years to come. The instability in the region caused by the invasion caused an incalculable number of deaths. It left open a security gap, a power void and the opportunity for horrific tragedies to be carried out against Sunni Muslims and all types of innocent people, leaving a massive ripple effect on the region. 

Despite the eventual capture and death of Saddam Hussein, the United States remained in Iraq. On January 10, 2007, years after the regime had been toppled, President George Bush ordered a surge of an additional 20,000 troops into the nation. It wasn’t until the inauguration of President Barack Obama that the United States began to withdraw, finally leaving Iraq on December 18, 2011.

Private profiteering: the groups who benefited from the war

And that’s it, for better or for worse. Hundreds of thousands died and trillions of dollars were spent. And the nation forgot and moved on. However, not everyone lost. A Financial Times analysis found that Halliburton, of which Cheney was the CEO of from 1995 to 2000, received roughly $40 billion in contracts; International Oil Trading company walked away with a $2.1 billion fuel transportation contract; and Lockheed Martin walked away with a $3 billion contract to give planes to the Iraqi government. When all was said and done, the Commission on Wartime Contracting estimated that roughly $60 billion was either wasted or stolen by fraud in Iraq alone. 

But don’t be fooled dear readers, none of this is by accident. OpenSecrets, a government watchdog group, reported that since 1990 the defense industry has made over $360 million in direct political donations, and since 1998 has spent well over $2.7 billion lobbying. And the money spent pays off. National defense has successfully become a private industry. Roughly half of all Pentagon spending since 9/11 (a staggering $14 trillion) has gone to private contractors, and just shy of half of these contracts were deemed as “non-competitive.” Non-competitive contracts mean that the contracts were awarded without bidding, often causing them to cost excessive amounts or not be awarded to the best candidate. At the height of the Iraq war in 2008, half of all western soldiers were private contractors. By the time the United States pulled out of Afghanistan in 2021, private contractors outnumbered armed services personnel by 3:1

Pay attention

The political system and the defense industry has quite a cozy relationship going with one another; major defense companies spend millions lobbying and fueling campaigns, receive billions in contracts as a reward and somewhere halfway across the world people die. We wake up a few hours later and dress for school or work, and the world moves on. I urge one simple task of all of you: pay attention. Don’t ignore the forces that drive the world, as so many of us are guilty of doing. Because when the forces were ignored by the masses, millions of lives were destroyed. And the world moved on.