Friday, 12 April 2013

Iraq 10 Years On

The 10 year anniversary of the Iraq War past us by last month, replete with a reasonably large media discussion. This blog will look at the results of the war, the motives behind it, and give a little analysis of the media discussion. Apologies again for the length, but this is an issue so central to the international post-war perception of Britain that it needs a thorough treatment.

The Legacy

Civilian deaths are hard to ascertain (General Tommy Franks claimed that ‘we don’t do body counts’) and vary widely, but are at least 111,903 according to the Iraq Body Count. Opinion Research Business put it at 1,033,000, and Just Foreign Policy estimates 1,455,590. One of the most respected studies comes from Lancet, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, which put the total number of deaths at around 650,000 in 2006. Iraq is the second largest source of refugees in the world (second only to Afghanistan), with nearly 1.5 million even today. In 2007, the UNHCR estimated there were over 4 million externally and internally displaced Iraqis. Nearly 5,000 coalition troops have died. A U.S military veteran commits suicide every 65 minutes, many from Iraq. The war was the deadliest of any war in history for journalists: Al Jazeera’s headquarters were bombed by the US military, despite the fact that they ‘supplied the Pentagon with their headquarter’s coordinates in Baghdad in February 2003’, and two Reuters journalists were infamously mown down by a US gunship in 2007 (a family who tried to help the victims were then open fired upon, killing the father and injuring his two children), revealed in a video given to Wikileaks by Bradley Manning.

The BBC, perhaps trying to atone for its poor reporting in the run up to the war, has done some good work on Iraq recently. A joint BBC Arabic- Guardian documentary revealed how the US appointed a man who headed Reagan’s near-genocidal wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua, Colonel James Steele, to fund and recruit Shia death squads in the early years of the Iraq War. It partly blames this US counter-insurgency policy for starting the civil war which left 3,000 dead bodies a month on the streets of Iraq at its height in 2006-7. Hugh Sykes returned to Iraq for the BBC World Service to interview Iraqis. Their feelings were clear: as one put it in a message to George Bush, ‘on judgement day, Jesus will be on my side, not yours’. Another was asked if Iraq would have been better off without the invasion, to which she replied: ‘I don’t care about Saddam, I care about my family. Without the invasion I wouldn’t have lost my family’.  

The city of Fallujah was assaulted twice by the US for being a hub for insurgents. Depleted uranium and white phosphorus were used, contrary to international law. The results have been almost too much for one to emotionally contemplate- the legacy of the chemical warfare was described by one study as ‘worse than Hiroshima’. One of the authors claimed it was ‘the highest rate of genetic damage in any population ever studied’. It recorded a ‘38-fold increase in leukaemia, a ten-fold increase in female breast cancer’, and ‘infant mortality was found to be 80 per 1,000 births compared to 19 in Egypt, 17 in Jordan and 9.7 in Kuwait’. There is little doubt that this is the result of the US assaults. Recent court cases have revealed that the practice of torture, which we know to have been institutionalised by the US, was almost as wide-spread and as systematised in UK forces.

Today, Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s Prime Minister, is widely considered dictatorial, and has been slammed by groups like Amnesty and Human Right Watch for running a state responsible for ‘rape, executions and torture’. Saddam-era prisons operate as torture cells much as they did under the US-UK occupation, and Iraq now executes more people than it has for almost a decade, according to Amnesty. Waves of bombings from groups which didn’t exist in Iraq prior to 2003 (such as Al Qaeda in Iraq) still regularly hit the country, and some fear a return to full-blown sectarian warfare. According to the Economist, ‘less than 40% of Iraqi adults have a job, and… a quarter of families live below the World Bank’s poverty line’. It is well understood that the war increased the threat of terrorism hugely, through the fomentation of hatred towards the West. Finally, Nobel Prize winner in Economics Joseph Stiglitz has put the cost of the war at over $3 trillion dollars.


It barely needs pointing out that the reasons for the war had no correlation to their professed aims, which were to dismantle Iraq’s (imaginary) Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), and to bring democracy to Iraq. No one except the most deluded thinks it was for any noble reason; as Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve said, ‘the Iraq war [was] largely about oil’. As noted in an earlier blog of mine, the objective wasn’t access, rather control. They could achieve access if they wanted, but control requires a puppet regime, something Saddam was too unreliable to be. In the 80’s when he was fighting against the enemy (Iran) and using chemical weapons ‘on his own people’, the US and UK was happy to arm and support him (interestingly, the late Baroness Thatcher’s government lost £1 billion of tax-payer money funding Saddam at the time).

Tony Blair has since admitted that he would have invaded Iraq even without the reason of WMD. He explained how ‘obviously you would have had to use and deploy different arguments about the nature of the threat’. Secret intelligence briefings were leaked days ago which revealed how Blair was told in 2002 that ‘Iraq had no nuclear weapons and any actual WMD would be “very, very small” and would fit on to the “back of a petrol lorry”’. But after his famous visit to Bush in 2002, ‘Blair appeared to be a changed man’, and started pressuring the intelligence services to find evidence that showed Iraq had WMD. An excellent documentary by Panorama shows the intelligence officers who peddled the lies in the lead up to the war and the willingness of top officials to hear the faulty intelligence. For instance, it reveals how Saddam’s Foreign Minister and intelligence chief approached French intelligence services and the CIA six months prior to the war to tell them that Saddam had no WMD- but this intelligence was completely ignored. Informants who were assessed as ‘fabricators’ by the CIA and MI6 were used as vital sources of information, and evidently-forged documents were used as authentic. What is clear is that these apparent intelligence failings weren’t mistakes as such, but an intentional bending of the truth, or outright lies.

Top-secret documents have allegedly been given to the Chilcot Inquiry showing that Blair and Bush made a pact in 2002 to go to war with Iraq no matter what; this is contrary to claims by the pair that they were waiting until the last minute to see if Iraq would ‘disarm’, and wanted to go through the UN, as international law requires. It is clear that they were set on invading, with or without the UN and with or without WMD. British combat troops started operations in Iraq before the House of Commons even voted for war, apparently showing that they were prepared to invade even with or without parliament. Sir William Ehrman, a senior member of the Foreign Office, told the Chilcot Inquiry that they were receiving intelligence ‘in the very final days before military action’ that WMD had been dismantled in Iraq.

Oil-industry executives and government ministers met in the run up to the war to discuss the future of Iraq’s oil, which was described as ‘vital’ to British interests in documents from the inter-departmental Oil Sector Liaison Group, an arm of the British state. The oil industry was considered the ‘first main target’ in Iraq. The Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War has been repeatedly delayed as the Coalition government has sought to delay the release of documents from the New Labour era (this is partly to cover up from their establishment friends, in the same way that Obama refuses to prosecute any Bush or CIA officials for torture, and partly because of the Conservatives’ overwhelming support for the war). History will judge this in the same way it does nearly every other war- as a criminal act of aggression launched on the back of lies spread by self-serving elites.

Media Coverage

One of the most interesting contributions to the debate has been from John Bolton, former Ambassador to the UN for George W Bush, who explained in the Guardian how ‘the issue was never about making life better for Iraqis’, and that ‘while President George W Bush and others sought to justify military action… as helping to spread democracy, such arguments played no measurable role in the decision to end Saddam's regime…that was not the motive, should not have been, and will not be in future interventions’. During his incredible piece of propaganda, the former senior Bush official inadvertently accused his old boss of making up the reasons for going into Iraq. His analysis of the ‘mistakes’ is that what the US should’ve done was overthrow Saddam in 1991, and then have moved to overthrow the Iranian and Syrian governments in 2003. Only a depraved individual like Bolton, who thinks the afore-mentioned Bradley Manning should be put to death, could draw the conclusion from the Iraq disaster that what was really needed was more war, earlier, and in more countries. It certainly reveals something about the mentality of members of the Bush administration.

A no-less revealing contribution from a far more respectable source came in the form of a Financial Times editorial on the ‘lessons from Iraq’. According to the newspaper, which is the major business publication in the country, the main negative consequence of the war is that Western governments now adhere to an ‘unofficial rule that military intervention requires UN Security Council backing’. Last time I checked there was a well-established official rule that military intervention requires UNSC backing- it’s called international law. Furthermore the FT laments that the ‘reticence to intervene’ has prevented the West from arming rebels in Syria; in the FT’s eyes, the real issue with Iraq is that is has caused Western governments to become less war-like. Lastly, the war has left ‘western publics too sceptical about intelligence’- namely, they are less likely to swallow the lies next time around. That the worst results of the Iraq War are considered to be these, and not the destruction of an entire country, tells you something about the media.

An article in Foreign Policy explains how ‘the war in Iraq is regarded by most Americans as a costly mistake’: this constant emphasis on the ‘mistake’ clouds the truth about what the war was: a calculated crime that should be punished through existing institutions like the International Criminal Court (which the US refuses to sign up to, for obvious reasons; the UK on the other hand, is part of the court). The parameters of debate are often bounded between those who think that the war was too costly and unwinnable, and those who think that it was winnable and a correct choice. The large part of the public who think the war was wrong (as in immoral) aren’t represented in the debate. Polls show 22-37% of the population think Blair should be tried as a war criminal- that side of the debate certainly doesn’t get a fair hearing in the media. There are exceptions- the highly-respected Desmond Tutu recently refused to meet with Blair on principled grounds, and coverage is far better than it was at the time of Vietnam- but the debate is still far too narrowly framed (for a more in-depth analysis of the media’s role in the Iraq War, I can’t recommend John Pilger’s documentary ‘The War You Don’t See’ highly enough).

Britain is yet to come to terms with the ruin it has left in Iraq- the public seems not to fully appreciate the misery and damage that has been caused by our government. Iraq is a country of similar size to Britain, and has been utterly decimated by the invasion, on the basis of lies. Until we as a nation fully realise what we have wrought in Iraq, we have little chance of stopping this from happening again.


  1. Great post - amazingly our noble crusade for democracy in Iraq was originally called "Operation Iraqi Liberation" which literally spells oil!