Colin Powell’s death sparks complex array of blame and praise

Former US secretary of state’s role in US invasion of Iraq led to fatalities and misery

Colin Powell: Journalist Muntadher al-Zaidi tweeted, “I am sure that the court of God will be waiting for him.”  Photograph: Shawn Baldwin/Bloomberg

Colin Powell: Journalist Muntadher al-Zaidi tweeted, “I am sure that the court of God will be waiting for him.” Photograph: Shawn Baldwin/Bloomberg

 

World figures have extolled the virtues of the former US secretary of state and military chief Colin Powell, who died on Monday of Covid-19 complications, but Arab Iraqis blame him for the deadly and destructive US invasion and occupation of their country.

They argue that by presenting a fabricated case to the UN Security Council in February 2003, Mr Powell prepared the ground for a war that has produced 18 years of insecurity, political instability and economic decline.

Mr Powell falsely claimed Iraqi president Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and harboured al-Qaeda, the terrorist movement that attacked New York and Washington in 2001.

Although he admitted in a 2011 al-Jazeera interview that he regretted the US invasion as a “blot on my record”, many Iraqis have found his comment unsatisfactory.

Illness and hunger

While the Iraq Body Count project, which maintains a database of violent civilian deaths in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, puts war and post-war fatalities at more than 209,000, this figure is regarded as low and does not take into account tens of thousands of Iraqis who succumbed to illness, hunger and lack of medical supplies due to the war and sanctions.

The Rhode Island-based Brown University’s Costs of War project estimates 9.2 million Iraqis have been displaced within the country or become refugees.

Journalist Muntadher al-Zaidi tweeted, “I am saddened by the death of Colin Powell without being tried for his crimes in Iraq. But I am sure that the court of God will be waiting for him.”

Mr Zaidi was jailed after throwing a shoe at then US president George W Bush during a 2008 Baghdad press conference.

Ruin and slaughter

“Iraqis will not shed tears for Colin Powell,” Kamal Jaber, of the Civil Democratic Alliance and former opponent of the ousted government, told the Middle East Eye website. He brands the Iraq war a “catastrophe” since the US enabled “the most corrupt, most dishonest, most disloyal officials and Islamic extremists to rise to power, ruin Iraq and slaughter Iraqis”.

Democracy activist Ali Khyail told Middle East Eye that, by empowering pro-Iranian Shia sectarian opponents of Saddam Hussein, the US had handed over Iraq to Iran. The 2019 Iraqi protests against the regime were suppressed at a cost of 600 lives.

Iraqi Kurds disagree with their Arab brethren. As US army chief during the 1991 US war to liberate Kuwait from Iraq, Mr Powell implemented a no-fly zone over the Kurdish region to prevent Saddam Hussein’s air force from striking rebellious Kurds who, due to US protection, turned the region into an autonomous zone.

Speaking to the Guardian, Kurdish region prime minister Masrour Barzani praised Mr Powell as a “lifelong friend of the Kurdistan region and Iraq”.

“We worked closely together to rid the country of dictatorship,” he said. “I know he sought lasting peace for this region.”