Former US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel has said that the 2003 Iraq invasion was a mistake. Hagel pointed out that Saddam Hussein, who was executed in 2006, was initially no great threat to the US.

After a lecture in Abu Dhabi on Monday, Hagel was responding to a question posed by Khaleej Times about the possible US interests that led to the 2003 war.

"I have said publicly many times since the invasion on Iraq that I thought it was a mistake, because we did not need to do it," he said.

Hagel noted that Saddam already had no control over 30 per cent of northern Iraq - Kurdistan - as well as the south. Moreover, the UN also had control on the oil and its distribution. "It's amazing to me that the media and others just completely eliminate what was going on in the 10 years prior to 2003, when Saddam Hussein was essentially paralysed.

"He (Saddam) was no threat to the US - going back where you (KT) quoted my 'interests' and where a nation responds to its own interests."

Hagel noted that the "mistake" opened a can of worms for Iraq and the region, as a number of nations including Syria and Libya faced destabilisation due to sectarian violence, civil wars, falling of economies and an expansion of terrorist organisations.

"I believe that (war on Iraq) set an emotion and a lot of the dynamics that we've seen play out now in the Middle East."

Hagel highlighted that forcing a democracy on a country can often lead to disastrous outcomes. "I don't blame the US invasion alone for that, there were seeding cultural dimensions and historic dimensions in the region, which were there long before we invaded Iraq.

"But to essentially destroy and decimate institutions of Iraq, the Ba'ath Party and the military, and to believe that we were somehow going to impose our institutions, the US institutions and build a US modern democracy in Iraq - was completely false."

The 2003 invasion, he noted, "totally disregarded the history and the culture of the country".

"Iraqi people will come to this (democracy) on their own, in their own way, in their own time. We can promote human rights and democratic values and principles, but we can't force it," he said.

Courtesy Khaleej Times