Singapore And The Invasion Of Iraq

The Chilcot Inquiry’s findings were released in 2016,  it only confirmed what skeptics of the Iraq War had been saying all these years; the reasons for invading Iraq were completely fabricated. There were no weapons of mass destruction, Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and Saddam’s regime posed no threat to world security.

There is little doubt that the invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussein destabilized the Middle East and ignited the flames of sectarian strife and terrorism. But what many of us forget is how easily politicians and world leaders were duped by the false narrative put forth by the Bush Administration.

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On February 5, 2003, Powell appeared before the UN to prove the urgency to engage a war with Iraq. Although the presentation failed to change the fundamental position of the Security Council, including France, Russia, China, and Germany, Powell succeeded in hardening the overall tone of the United Nations towards Iraq.

It was early 2003. Singapore was gripped by the SARS crisis and tough economic times. On the headlines of newspapers, the other dominant story of the day was Saddam Hussein, Iraq and “weapons of mass destruction”. Goh Chok Tong who was Prime Minister at the time was finalizing a trade deal with the United States. Seeing the Iraq War as a potential for diplomatic leverage, the Singapore Government publicly and vocally expressed its support for the invasion of Iraq. This despite the fact that several major countries like France, Germany, Russia and China had opposed the invasion. Even our neighbors, Malaysia and Indonesia made it clear that invading Iraq would pose a serious threat to the stability of the Middle East.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs then under Foreign Minister S. Jayakumar strongly pushed for the invasion of Iraq, stating that it was a matter of Singapore’s national security. Goh Chok Tong in an impassioned plea stated:

“It is clear to everyone, unless that person wears blinkers, that this is a war to remove the weapons of mass destruction from Saddam Hussein.”

While the government made clear its support of the invasion, Singapore only committed military personnel to the rebuilding and security efforts after the invasion. The Singapore Government in 2003 was to the United States what a cheerleader is to a basketball team; loyally cheering the team on while the boys do the work in the court. In this case of Iraq, it was coffins draped with US flags returning home week after week.

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When it became apparent that Iraq War was becoming a bloody stalemate, George W. Bush and Tony Blair shifted the narrative to “bring Democracy to Iraq”. If “Democracy” was hundreds of Iraqis being killed in car bombs and sectarian violence every month, it certainly didn’t convince anyone.

Back home, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had to justify Singapore’s strong support for the Iraq War. The MFA in a strongly worded letter to the Straits Times on June 11, 2003 justified that Singapore’s support for the Iraq War was a matter of “national security”, even if no weapons of mass destruction were found. In the letter, the MFA rebuked critics of the war saying:

“Singaporeans cannot afford to strike postures fashionable with the oppositionist media in America and Britain at the expense of the security of Singaporeans.”

Now 15 years after the invasion of Iraq, the world is paying a price for the misguided war, Iraq more than any other country. The world has become a more dangerous place because of the invasion of Iraq. And Singapore is once again committing military personnel, this time in the fight against ISIS.

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