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Two popular and long-established collections of  war poetry of the
First World War

Minds at War
A comprehensive
anthology of poetry of the First World War. All the greatest war poems of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon and war poems of over 70 other notable poets. All set in the context of the poets' lives and historical records. With historic photographs and cartoons.  Edited by David Roberts.
 400 pages £15-99 (UK)

Out in the Dark
Anthology of
First World War poetry recommended for students and the general reader.
19 poems by
Wilfred Owen
, 27 by Siegfried Sassoon and over 90 more war poems by 45 significant poets including women writers. Contextual information and basic notes on many poems. Illustrated.  Edited by David Roberts.
185 pages - £10-99 (UK)

Falklands War Poetry cover

Iraq war 2003 - what really happened 
David Roberts The War Poetry Website

The Iraq war of 2003 was an unprovoked attack on a weak and almost defenceless country. It was illegal under international law. [See quotations from the Judgement of the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal on the Quotations page.]

The conquest took just 21 days. The occupation of the country by mainly American forces lasted over seven years  -  officially until August 2010, although some 50,000 American soldiers and military contractors stayed on after this date.

 It is commonly understood that the 2003 - 2010 Iraq war started with the bombing of Iraq’s capital city, Baghdad on 20 March 2003. It might be more accurate to say that the war began with the first Gulf War of 1991 when the US bombed and devastated Iraq’s vital facilities. The bombing put out of action, for example, eighteen out of twenty of Iraq’s power generating plants. The war continued through sanctions which attempted to limit the power of Iraq.

 Sanctions had been put in place by mainly western countries acting through the United Nations Security Council. What they did was put strict and sometimes devastating limit on supplies to Iraq including, for example, chemicals necessary for water purification. These caused many thousands of deaths and a terrible weakening of the general population.

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 For more information on this please see the article on the warpoetry website, entitled Lessons from Iraq and a report there based on an interview with a former assistant Secretary General of the United Nations.

 Alongside the sanctions was a little publicised and now forgotten bombing campaign by US and UK forces from 1991 to 2002.

 The years of bombing caused enormous damage, loss of life and the destruction of the Iraqi airforce. Tony Blair, UK Prime Minister, and George Bush, President of the United States, sought to portray Iraq to the world as an enormous threat, but it didn't even have an air force.

 It hadn't always been like this. In the 1980s United States was an enthusiastic backer of Saddam Hussein, supplying him with a great deal of military equipment including materials useful for developing nuclear weapons, chemical weapons and biological weapons. For example, some seventeen bacterial and viral cultures were licensed to be sold by American companies to Saddam Hussein. During 1985 and 1986 Iraq used chemical weapons on four occasions against Iran. Nevertheless, America continued to assist Saddam Hussein in his chemical and biological weapons development.

 In 1987 the Iraqi army was carrying out atrocities against the Kurdish population in the North, sometimes erasing whole villages. In 1988 came the strafing of Halabja with mustard gas and nerve toxins. It was estimated that 5000 people were massacred. Military equipment from America, France, Germany, Britain and others continued and the US blocked a sanctions proposal against Iraq following the Halabja massacre.

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Saddam Hussein was capable of utter ruthlessness and brutality. Yet, extraordinarily, he had another side to his character. He did a great deal to further the well-being of the majority of  Iraqi citizens.

 At one time Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, had been a prosperous country with an enviable free National Health Service and an outstanding national education system – free up to and including university level.

 But by 2003 - has consequence of the first Gulf War in 1991, the punitive sanctions and eleven years of bombing, Iraq was a weak, impoverished, and almost defenceless country  -   an easy victim of an aggressive superpower. 


 In America George Bush, suggested a connection between the destruction of the twin towers - the two skyscrapers of the world trade centre in New York - and Saddam Hussein. As everyone knows the twin towers had been destroyed by terrorists on 11 September 2001. In his State of the Union address to Congress on 28 January 2003 George Bush said, "Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists including members of Al Qaeda . . .  before September 11 many in the world believed Saddam Hussein could be contained.” The terrorists that destroyed the twin towers had no known connection with Iraq. Nevertheless, George Bush made that connection.

 Like Blair in Britain, Bush tried to create fear of Iraq as if it were a terrifying enemy. He said, "the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder."

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 In Britain, Tony Blair used the alleged threat of weapons of mass destruction to try to justify an attack on Iraq. He claimed that Iraq had these weapons (nuclear, biological, and chemical) and weapons factories across Iraq. Saddam Hussein and Iraq, he said, were a threat to Iraq’s neighbours, to Britain, and the whole world.

 The text of Tony Blair’s speech to the UK Parliament can be read on the war poetry Web site.


 On 5 February 2003 Colin Powell, United States Secretary of State, presented a dossier of evidence to the UN Security Council purporting to prove a massive programme of illegal weapons building by Iraq. Colin Powell’s totally misleading information was supplied to the world's press and in the UK and US it was faithfully disseminated, often with corroboration by experts who should have known better, but for some reason not justified by evidence, offered instant analysis supporting the idea of a massive Iraqi threat to the world.

 The evidence presented by Colin Powell and the media included maps showing the countries most at risk from Iraq’s missiles and weapons of mass destruction.

 This barrage of pseudo-evidence may have convinced many in the United States and Britain but it did not convince the leaders of the supposedly threatened neighbouring countries. All of Iraq's neighbours, even Kuwait and Iran, opposed to US bombing of Iraq.

 The United Nations would not support the war. All the countries neighbouring Iraq would not support the war. The majority of countries in the world would not support the war. The majority of people in Britain would not support the war.

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 In countries across Europe and around the world there were numerous and enormous protests  -  especially on 15 February 2003.  That day saw what was by far the largest and most numerous protest demonstrations the world had ever seen. In the UK in London alone 2,000,000 people marched to protest against the proposed bombing.

 In Rome the largest of all anti-war demonstrations saw three million people on the streets.

 Yet all the wishes of the great majority of people in the western world was ignored by Bush and Blair and their supine supporters. The British Parliament, as if unaware of the truth, as if unaware of the views of the British people, voted for war. The bombing went ahead with an enormous barrage of missiles raining down on Baghdad. A few of these came from the UK. Most were American.

 Between March 20 and May 2  -  the US dropped over 30,000 bombs on Iraq, +20,000 precision guided cruise missiles. All this was to be part of a beneficial process  -  according to George Bush. He had stated in his eve of war speech, "America has no ambition in Iraq except to remove a threat and to restore it to its people." It was also to "remove weapons of mass destruction."

 The absurdity of the claims of Bush and Blair has seldom challenged how do you find weapons of mass destruction or remove the threat of a defenceless and impoverished country, or restore a country to itself by dropping 50,000 bombs and missiles.


 Donald Rumsfeld, U.S  Secretary of State, described the purpose of the bombing as shock and awe.


 This was only part of his purpose, a tactic to overwhelm the Iraqi defence forces and people psychologically.


But the missiles did not fall at random on Baghdad. They were targeted  at government ministries -  all of them, except the oil Ministry. The purpose of this targeting could only have been to destroy the records, tools, and facilities essential to administer a modern state. Without these facilities and records there could only be social chaos, a country in turmoil, an ungovernable state.

 It is inconceivable that those who planned the bombing would believe they were making Iraq easier to govern all safer or likely to turn Iraq towards greater democracy.


Within 21 days Iraq was subdued, police forces and the Iraqi Army were dismissed. The inevitable consequence was violence in the street faction against faction fighting for control, wholesale murder, robbery, gangs and individuals fighting for survival  - and the impossibility of coordinated resistance to the invader  -  all of this was part of the US plan. It was not, as is often claimed, something that took the invaders by surprise.

 The result of this planned chaos was that the door was open for the US to install its own governor, Paul Bremmer, who could rule by edict, reorganise the state, privatise state-owned assets such as the banks and the oil industry, and contract America’s own companies and corporations to reconstruct Iraq and be paid with Iraq’s oil revenues.  Corporation tax was dropped from 40% to 15%. Iraq’s major Commercial assets could be sold off at fire-sale prices to foreign investors without any restrictions. Profits would be taken straight out of Iraq.

 Most countries in the world were horrified by the behaviour of the United states. But 36 of them were persuaded to send troops in support of the US occupation. Numbers of troops were sometimes token only, and the stay of many was short-lived. 

The effect on terrorist organisations was that they had a huge surge in support. They were angered by the violent treatment of the people they identify with and reacted by threatening retaliation against UK and especially US citizens and US interests around the world. The war was a major stimulus to anti-American and anti-British feeling. From this time security of parliament buildings of belligerent powers and airports throughout the world was massively increased to cope with a terrorist threat which may well be exaggerated but which was vastly stimulated by America’s invasion and takeover of Iraq.  

 Over seven years after the war, which was supposed to make Iraq and the world a safer place, Iraq is a country wracked by sectarian violence. Britain and America live in a state of paranoia with politicians telling us we live under a constant threat of terrorist attack.

 Politicians and media provide one view of the Iraq war. The stories of the people of Iraq remain, as yet, unpublished in the West. Astonishingly few photographs of the seven-year war have appeared in the Western media. But quite a lot is known about the experiences and responses of US and UK soldiers and the general populations of Britain and America. A small part of this has appeared in the form of poetry and reflects the feelings people had about the war, opinions held about the buildup to the war and the way the war was run, and the experiences of the war. The war poetry website is one place you can read some of this poetry.

 David Roberts

 8 December 2010  -  Revised 23 July 2011

 Iraq War videos and poetry of the war are available on this website.

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