US soldiers at the Hands of Victory monument in Baghdad in 2003. Photo: Technical Sergeant John Houghton / US Air Force via Wikipedia

During and in the aftermath of the US-led war on Iraq, the military contingent sent by Ukraine was the third-largest of the coalition. The mission carried out by the Ukrainian armed forces in Iraq ended on December 9, 2008.

According to official data provided by the US Armed Forces, “more than 5,000 Ukrainian troops … served in Iraq during Ukraine’s five years of service in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.”

The war in Iraq, where massive amounts of depleted-uranium and white-phosphorus bombs were used, took the lives of nearly a million of human beings. No one was ever held accountable, nor faced charges of war crimes, over the invasion of Iraq. No weapons were supplied from outside to the invaded country, nor were sanctions imposed with the aim of stopping, or denouncing, the invasion.

It might be worth recalling that, as confirmed by the inquiry commissioned in 2009 by then-British prime minister Gordon Brown to Sir John Chilcot, the intervention in Iraq was “unnecessary,” the legal bases for military action were “far from being satisfactory,” and the main justification for the attack (the possession of weapons of mass destruction) was based on false claims and data.

The chairman of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations at the time, Joe Biden, was one of the 77 senators who gave president George W Bush the authority to use force in Iraq. Biden was able to select all 18 witnesses in the main Senate hearings on Iraq, and he used that authority to choose mainly people who supported a pro-war position.

We may ask, in hindsight, whether these kinds of policies have brought any benefit, or even a limited stabilization to Asia. One of the possible answers to this comes, once more, from US State Department data, according to which, between 2001 and 2014, “incidents of terrorism” increased by 3,800% – from 355 in 2001 to 13,500 in 2014.

Between 2001 and 2014, deaths in the region from terrorist attacks increased sixfold, half of them occurring in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict

There is some irony in the fact that many among those who condone or play down the violence suffered by millions of people in the Middle East are often the same as those who conflate the exposure of all that with an attempt to “defend” Putin’s nefarious war.

In many debates that have followed Russia’s criminal invasion of Ukraine, much has been omitted or set aside about the role of Ukraine and its leadership – as well as that of now-US President Biden himself – in some of the most problematic chapters of recent history.

This is partly understandable: It is indeed necessary to show unequivocal support and solidarity with an attacked and brutalized people (the Ukrainians), that is, precisely what did not happen in Iraq, and is not currently happening in Yemen.

As late as 2021, thanks also to the military and logistical support guaranteed by the US and other NATO countries, 377,000 people have died as a result of direct and indirect causes of the war in Yemen. Nearly 70% of those killed were children under the age of five.

Within this complex framework it is also possible to include the recent debates involving Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, defined by many observers as “a model for the young generations.” Here, too, it is certainly understandable to identify oneself with the leader of an attacked country, and to raise him to a symbol of tenacity and resilience.

A very different proposition, however, is to accept uncritically the process of “heroization” of a political leader who has been personally involved in some major scandals. The Pandora Papers, for instance, have shown that he and some in his close circle were the beneficiaries of a network of offshore companies through which they hid large sums of money.

From the perspective of those who believe that moral principles should be applied at all latitudes, it is perhaps even more problematic that on January 1, 2020, Zelensky withdrew Ukraine’s membership from the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.

A year and five months later, in the midst of the so-called Israeli-Palestinian crisis of 2021, which took the lives of nine Jewish Israelis (including two children) and 256 Palestinians (including 66 children), Zelensky posted a tweet in which he stressed that the only tragedy in the context of that war was the one suffered by the Israelis, whose sky was “strewn with missiles.”

Not a single word was used by the Ukrainian president to include in the picture the suffering of the Palestinians, whether in the Gaza Strip or in any other areas between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. 

Follow Lorenzo Kamel on Twitter @lorenzokamel.

Lorenzo Kamel

Professor Lorenzo Kamel teaches global history and history of the Middle East and North Africa at the University of Turin, Italy. Among his books are The Middle East from Empire to Sealed Identities (Edinburgh University Press, 2019) and Imperial Perceptions of Palestine (Bloomsbury, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @lorenzokamel.