'Why did you destroy this country?': Iraqis reflect on brutal legacy of 2003 invasion

ITV News Correspondent Geraint Vincent reports on the the enduring trauma caused by the US-led invasion

An Iraqi doctor was among those to question the legitimacy of the 2003 invasion of his country, asking on the war's 20th anniversary why coalition forces "destroyed" Iraq and brought untold suffering to countless people.

20 years on and Iraq remains a fragile society and a partially functioning democracy that sectarianism constantly threatens to undermine.

ITV News Correspondent Geraint Vincent has spoken to Iraqis living with the physical and emotional scars of a war that still looms large over the international order.

Zainab Hameed, who lives in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, said she was seven years old when the invasion began.

Zainab Hameed still lives in Basra with her family. Credit: ITV News

Recalling the devastating impact the war has left on her country, she explains how her mother and two of her brothers were killed in a coalition airstrike on her neighbourhood, which left her injured.

"The invasion changed my life and changed my country for the worst," she told ITV News.

The invasion was based on what turned out to be faulty claims that Saddam Hussein had secretly stashed weapons of mass destruction. Such weapons were never found.

The moment Saddam Hussein's statue in Firdos Square was toppled. Credit: AP

One estimate suggests around 300,000 Iraqis were killed by direct violence between 2003 and 2019. 179 British armed forces personnel were killed in Iraq and nearly 4,500 American troops had died by 2010.

One of the first British soldiers into Basra 20 years ago was Alan Jones, of the Royal Marines.

He has since expressed regret over his involvement in the war, which saw a huge loss of life and plunged the country into decades of chaos.

"Legal justification for that war probably wasn't as full proof as what it should have been," he said.

"You can't not regret the catastrophes that followed because of it. Mass collateral, mass loss of life within the Iraqi population.

"And you do think about that a lot, yes. So regret? Yes. It is now a regret for me."

'It is now a regret for me,' Alan Jones said as he reflected on his service in Iraq

Saddam Hussein was toppled from power, and America’s war shifted the country’s governing base from minority Arab Sunnis to majority Shiites, with Kurds gaining their own autonomous region.

Many exiles who returned to Iraq after the removal of the dictator had hoped to return to a more stable country, but their hopes were dashed when they came back to a shattered country in which a lot of civilians lacked basic goods.

"The United Kingdom and the United States invaded Iraq without an obvious plan, to build the country or to restore the country," Dr Ali Muthana - who went back to his country after Saddam Hussein had been removed - told ITV News.

"And suddenly you found all our military forces collapsed and we were seeking the first principle thing that human beings are asking for - which is the security."

Dr Ali Muthana described the devastation he witnessed when he returned to Iraq from exile

"What was the reason behind invading Iraq?" he added.

"This is the question I am raising for the United Kingdom and the United States and I hope someone can answer me.

"Why? Why did you come and destroy this country?"

While many Iraqis welcomed Saddam’s toppling, many were disappointed when the government failed to restore basic services and the ongoing battles instead brought vast humanitarian suffering.

Resentment and power struggles between the Shiites and the Sunnis fuelled civil war, leading ultimately to America’s complete withdrawal in December 2011.

The divide was a key factor in the collapse of the nation’s police and military forces when faced with the so-called Islamic State insurgency that swept across Iraq and Syria in 2014.

After the coalition had declared its mission accomplished, Iran was soon engulfed in sectarian violence and them full blown civil war.

Having withdrawn, former US President Barack Obama sent troops back to Iraq in 2014, with around 2,500 remaining currently.

A year later, the former president deployed forces to Syria, where about 900 troops are on the ground.

In both countries, US soldiers are trying to combat so-called Islamic State militants, who are also active in countries spanning from North Africa to Afghanistan.

“Iraq is still under pressure from ISIS,” said retired Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie, who led US Central Command and served as the top US commander for the Middle East from 2019 to 2022.

“We still help them continue that fight. We’ve done a lot of things to help them improve the control of their own sovereignty, which is of very high importance to the Iraqis.”

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