Notre Dame expert on 20-year anniversary of Iraq war: Justifications of war based on unfounded claims

Atalia Omer, professor of religion, conflict and peace studies in the Keough School of Global Affairs and core faculty member of the Keough School’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, focuses her research on religion, violence, peacebuilding, conflict transformation and justice.

Reflecting on the 20-year anniversary of the Iraq war, Omer sees the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq as being based on the false justification that weapons of mass destruction existed there, that the U.S. was responding in kind to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and that the “war on terror” that eventually justified the invasion and occupation of Iraq is far from over and made the world less safe.

“This lie (about weapons of mass destruction) was an effort to show the consistency of the decision to invade with just war theory (the presumption of just cause for war),” Omer said.

“And while this lie receded to the background as a narrative frame, an anti-Muslim orientalist and unfounded association of the attacks of Sept. 11 – which featured Islamic activists – with the secular regime of Saddam Hussein has provided an enduring narrative underpinning the ongoing global infrastructure of the so-called ‘war on terror.’    

“Tragically, the destruction of the Hussein regime resulted in the emergence of Da’esh (ISIS) and the proliferation of sectarian violence and destruction in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, which persists until today,” Omer added. “It reductively explained the violence of Sept. 11 as an outcome of culture and religion, rather than of historical and geopolitical factors and the meddling of the U.S. in the region before those momentous events (including the devastating sanctions regime in the 1990s).

“Instead of asking historically grounded questions explaining the attacks of Sept. 11, the reaction to the event signaled a move to American (white) ‘innocence’ undergirded by reductive and orientalist rhetoric about a ‘clash of civilizations’ and a gendered appeal to ‘save Muslim women.’ Considering that, contrary to perceptions, the ‘war on terror’ is ongoing, we must continue questioning the link between al Qaeda and the attacks on Afghanistan immediately following Sept. 11 and, two years later, the turn to Iraq.”  

Omer can be reached for interviews or further comments at [email protected] .

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