"The war in Iraq is an attack on Islam"

Published: 10 August 2005
Briefing Number 152

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This Briefing challenges the statement that the war in Iraq is an attack on Islam. This argument misrepresents the facts, fuels terrorism, and is a betrayal of the democratic aspirations of Muslims in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.

In 2003 the US, the UK and a coalition of smaller forces defeated the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein. At the time, and since, it has routinely been claimed that the war constituted an “attack on Islam”. Here are three reasons why this claim is false:-

Saddam Hussein’s regime murdered thousands of Muslims: In the decades preceding the war, Saddam Hussein’s regime murdered hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens. The UN puts the figure above 300,000, and has uncovered many mass graves. Most of these victims were Muslim. This slaughter was only ended by the war, and had it not been for the US-led intervention, the crimes of the former regime would probably still be continuing today.

The post-war “insurgency” has targeted Muslim worshippers at mosques: Since 2003, dozens of mosques in Iraq have been bombed by “insurgents”, during or immediately after prayers. Hundreds of devout Muslim worshippers – mostly shi’ite, some sunni - have been murdered, indiscriminately, in Najaf, Karbala, Baghdad and elsewhere. Thousands more have been injured and traumatised. Muslim families and Muslim communities have been devastated.

The attackers have often been affiliated to Al-Qaeda; in some cases have been disaffected foreign terrorist groups; and in other cases have been “home-grown” Iraqi groups, often sympathetic to the former Hussein regime.

These bombings are not designed to benefit the lives or human rights of Iraqi Muslims. Their aim is to ruin the steps towards democracy which Iraq is taking, and to plunge the country into chaos, anarchy and a religiously-inspired bloody civil war. The US-British efforts in Iraq – far from being an “attack on Muslims” – are intended to thwart this campaign of violence against Iraqi citizens, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.

The Iraqi election of January 2005 gave a democratic voice to millions of Muslims: On January 31 2005, over 8,000,000 Iraqis – mostly Muslim men and women - voted in the country’s first free elections. That election resulted
in a government which is broadly representative, and in which the minority sunnis are slowly starting to increase their participation. That Iraqi government gives a voice to Muslims, socially, politically and religiously. It has asked the US, the British and the other coalition forces to stay in Iraq, help build up the fledgling democracy, and train Iraq’s own security forces in combating the insurgency. Far from being a war against Islam, the war has empowered millions of Muslim Iraqis for the first time in their lives, and brought democratic opportunities – flawed and vulnerable, but democratic nonetheless – to Iraq for the first time.


The argument that the US and the British are “fighting Islam” in Iraq is a grotesque misrepresentation. This claim – too often uncritically repeated in the West - fuels Islamist terrorism and encourages the views of groups who behead journalists, shoot aid workers, and suicide bomb Iraqi children collecting sweets.

Islamist fanaticism is driven by hatred of the West, and laced with xenophobia and anti-semitism. The war in Iraq is not a battle between the occupiers and the Iraqi people; it is a battle between a fledgling democracy in the Muslim world, and those who despise the very notion of democracy. To argue that the US and British presence in Iraq is “against Islam” and should be opposed is thus a betrayal of the Iraqi government and people. It stifles the democratic aspirations of millions of Muslims in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.

It goes without saying that both the Israeli and the Palestinian people have a long-term vested interest in seeing Islamist fanaticism defeated in Iraq, and wherever else it manifests itself.