George W. Bush speaks to US troops from Al Faw Palace at Camp Victory in Baghdad. File / Reuters
An embarrassing slip of the tongue by former US president George W. Bush may have drawn laughter from his American audience, but it raised the ire of Iraqis.
In a speech on Wednesday evening in Dallas about Russia’s war on Ukraine, Bush called the invasion of Iraq, which he himself ordered, “unjustified and brutal” — before quickly correcting himself.
The 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq toppled leader Saddam Hussein and ushered in one of the bloodiest periods in the country’s modern history, marked by sectarian warfare and the rise of militants.
Between 2003 and 2011, when the US withdrew its troops, more than 100,000 civilians were killed, according to the Iraq Body Count tracker. The invasion cost the lives of nearly 4,500 Americans.
But on Wednesday it was the war in Ukraine that Bush talked about during an event organised by his foundation.
“The decision of one man to launch a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq, I mean of Ukraine,” he said in a speech, drawing laughter from the audience.
“Anyway — 75,” he added, referring to his own age, to another burst of laughter.
Video footage of the gaffe has since gone viral online, with one post on Twitter having been viewed more than 14 million times in less than half a day. It was also picked widely up by Arab media, stoking anger among Iraqis.
“The spectre of Iraq’s invasion and destruction haunts Bush Jr. His subconscious exposed it when it took over his tongue,” Iraqi journalist Omar Al Janabi tweeted.
“Yes it is a brutal and unjustified invasion which will remain your worst nightmare”, he added.
Iraqis also took to Facebook to criticise the former US president.
“The moment of truth has come — the invasion of Iraq is a lifelong nightmare that plagues your conscience,” Hamza Qusai wrote.
“The crime of your occupation of Iraq and its destruction will remain a nightmare that haunts your sleep and torments your dead criminal consciences,” added Nahedh Al Tamimi.
The US-led invasion of Iraq was launched on March 20, 2003 after accusations that the Saddam regime had weapons of mass destruction. None were ever found.