Friday, September 12, 2008

The Tragedy of Iraq

If ever a true history of Iraq is written in school history books for future generations, the teacher could use it to count the lies and the war crimes.

The Tragedy of Iraq

Pauline Mitchell
The Guardian
September, 10 2008

Relations between the Western powers and Iraq had been strained since the Ba’ath Socialist Party came to power in 1968, and a few years after that the government managed to oust the British and United States oil monopolies and nationalise the oil for Iraq. The West, though, never gave up hope of getting it back.

The first big lie was told in 1991 when President of the United States, George Bush senior, said that Iraq had invaded Kuwait. At first glance that was true, but the lead up to that invasion tells a different story. The big Ramalia oil field straddles the border between Kuwait and Iraq and Kuwait had been drilling aslant-wise into the Iraqi field and stealing Iraq’s oil. Iraq asked Kuwait to stop this practice but they did not and the Iraqi government went to the United States embassy in Iraq and told them that they might have to use force and what would the United States do? The then United States Ambassador, April Glaspie, said that the US was not concerned as it was an internal problem and they would not interfere.

So the Iraqi troops did go into Kuwait, they made rapid progress and did not meet with much resistance because the Kuwaiti rulers were not popular with their own people. Meanwhile, back in the United States, the propaganda machines were allowed free rein to demonise the Iraqi government and its troops. Stories such as the troops were massacring civilians on their march to the capital, hospitals were being destroyed, etc, and who could forget the one about the Iraqi troops pulling babies out of their incubators and throwing them on the floor to die! … all lies. Then came the Iraqi retreat from Kuwait and the "turkey shoot" with US helicopters firing on the retreating troops ... a war crime. And how would you class the fact of the United States bulldozing and burying Iraqi troops alive in their trenches ... an atrocity?

The first Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq commenced on January 16, 1991 and lasted until March 1, 1991 — about 43 days. During that "Shock and Awe" assault the United States unleashed 88,500 tonnes of bombs in 110,000 air raids, deliberately targeting and destroying all civilian support systems, water storage, pumping stations, food production and processing facilities etc, a war crime. They also used cluster bombs and weapons with depleted uranium.

There were the oil wells too! There were a lot of pictures taken of the burning oil wells near the Kuwaiti border — Iraqis did this in revenge said the US administration — but did they? Western oil experts said that it was not easy to fire an oil well; it would take well-placed chemical and incendiary bombs to do this. The United States had stocks of napalm canisters in Iraq at an airbase, and in fact, I’m pretty sure that a pilot came forward some months after that war and confirmed that it was the US because he was one of the pilots.

Then in 1991, directly after the "Shock and Awe" campaign, the United Nations Security Council placed sanctions on Iraq. But Bush Senior also issued another authorisation saying that the sanctions would not be lifted until the removal of Saddam Hussein.

The sanctions were in place for 12 years, everything was restricted, especially anything that had a "dual purpose", which was nearly everything. The "Shock and Awe" raids on Baghdad had smashed the infrastructure so rebuilding and repairing were extremely difficult, agriculture suffered because fertiliser was classed as "dual purpose" as it could have been used for bombs. Medical supplies were restricted because some medicines could be used in chemical weapons.

A shipment of children’s immunisations from Britain was stopped because it was classed as "dual purpose"; even pencils for school children were classed as "dual purpose" because of the lead in them! These were the most savage sanctions ever put on a country and one of the sanction inspectors resigned over them.

Nevertheless, several times the United Nations inspectors commented on the fair handling and distribution of these restricted supplies by the Iraqi government. By the 10th anniversary, John Pilger reported that 500,000 children had died as a direct result of the sanctions, and who could forget the words of the Clinton administration’s secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, when she was told that 5,000 Iraqi children were dying each month because of the sanctions, and her reply was "We think the price is worth it!" Also, during these sanctions, illegal "No fly zones" were put in place by the United States and Britain so they controlled the skies over most of Iraq and things that they didn’t like were fired on. But all this did not dislodge Saddam Hussein.

In 1998, the Republican-controlled Congress passed the "Iraqi Liberation Act" which virtually called for the military overthrow of Saddam Hussein and in 1999 when the Clinton administration hadn’t acted on it, an open letter was sent to him condemning him for not implementing it. The letter was signed by such war hawks as Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Armatage and others. Then in the year 2000 something happened that struck fear into United States capitalism — Saddam Hussein changed to the Euro currency to sell Iraq’s oil.

In the election year of 2000, the removal of Saddam Hussein was a plank in George Bush Jnr’s campaign for president. George Bush Jnr won the election, but not by fair means. It was contested for a long time because there were the electronic failures and malfunctions in the voting system, there were missing ballot boxes, closed voting booths and intimidation at others. So the second Bush regime started under a cloud and in the first year, its approval rating sank to an all-time low.

Then came the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York on the September 11, 2001 and everything changed. A frightened and grieving people looked to the President for reassurance and protection, and President Bush gave them that reassurance; he branded the Muslims as terrorists, putting in place harsh anti-terrorist laws and pinpointing Afghanistan and al Qaeda, then invading Afghanistan.

But six days after that attack in New York, President Bush had signed a top-secret document directing the Pentagon to start planning for an invasion of Iraq. So the rumour mill began to work overtime again — the terrorist organisation of al Qaeda was also in Iraq, it said — and without doubt Iraq had weapons of mass destruction — nuclear, chemical and biological weapons; one weapon inspector resigned over these US lies.

The Bush administration said that Iraq just kept hiding them. In those circumstances, how can anyone prove that they haven’t got something? Then, of course, we had those wise words from Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld who said that "the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence"!

All this time the United States troops were building up in Kuwait, the United States tried to get the UN Security Council to support an attack on Iraq but were not successful because it violated the United Nations Charter … so the US cobbled together the "Coalition of the Willing", and in March 2003 the United States attacked that already crippled country.

Matt Howard, a United States soldier who had taken part in that invasion, toured Australia a couple of years ago speaking of his experiences in those first few weeks. He told about military convoys running over children and others in their path because they were ordered not to stop for anything on their way to Baghdad.

He also told of the children along the roadside who begged for food, and he actually threw them some food from the supplies he had, but he was severely reprimanded by his superior who said that they were soldiers and were not there to hand out humanitarian rations. When he got to camp he asked the commander what to do with the other rations and was told to "bury them with the other trash". He also told of a new weapon where the bullet did not have to hit its target to cause damage.

This account by Matt Howard and all the other soldiers who took part in this invasion have now become extremely valuable. At the beginning of last month it was admitted by the White House that no tapes or emails of the period between March 1, 2003 to May 22, 2003 have been kept, that is, the weeks leading up to President Bush’s decision to invade and for the first two months of the war unleashed on a country that had not attacked the United States and had no weapons of mass destruction — another war crime. It is estimated that more than 10 million emails are missing or have been deleted and a huge piece of this critical history has been lost.

Also to protect itself, the US administration only allowed journalists in who were "embedded" with the United States forces and it was hazardous to be an independent reporter. The International Federation of Journalists has called for an enquiry into the shelling of a Baghdad hotel in April 2003, which killed two foreign journalists the day before Baghdad fell, as evidence shows that it was no accident. Iraq remains the most dangerous country to report from; up to last year 232 journalists had been killed since the invasion of 2003.

The invasion of Iraq was first of all to find the weapons of mass destruction, but then it changed to toppling Saddam Hussein and we remember the many pictures of a jubilant crowd pulling down Saddam Hussein’s statue which was supposed to indicate to us that the people wanted it — but it came out later that it was what we would call a "rent-a-crowd". When the United States troops entered Baghdad, the first thing they did was to put guards around the oil ministry; other ministries were left to be looted or destroyed. So there are no records, personal or national, but as well as destroying a nation’s records, the US succeeded in destroying world history too.

Known as the "Cradle of Civilisation", the famous Iraqi National Museum was one of the first looted, while the US troops looked on. It is estimated that over 15,000 museum pieces, ranging from statues to clay tablets were stolen or smashed.

Some pieces have been recovered but most will never be recovered. But what will never recover are the significant archaeological ruins dating back to 2,500 years BC, near the ancient city of Babylon. Damage to historical records is ongoing. Babylon is the site of a helicopter landing zone and layers of earth were removed so the destruction of that legendary city is complete. But that is not the only one; all across southern Iraq there has been looting of Mesopotamia’s archaeological sites and the ancient city of Ur, the site of another Babylonian city, was bulldozed and has been completely obliterated.

In November 2004, the US launched a major attack on the city of Fallujah. First there was an intense bombing campaign intended to drive out all the women and children; all the males aged between 15 and 45 years who attempted to flee were turned back.

Terrible stories emerged from eyewitnesses and independent journalists who risked their lives to report on this. They reported that hospitals were emptied and patients and hospital employees forced outside to sit or lie on the floor and troops tied their hands behind their backs. This is a violation of the Geneva Conventions that says that medical facilities should not be attacked in any circumstances. When some residents started to go back to Fallujah under tight military surveillance, they found a desolate world, no power, no running water, the smell of corpses and lakes of sewage — Fallujah had been a modern city of a quarter of a million people.

Matt Howard’s mention of new weapons could partially explain another mystery. When people started to return to Fallujah there were many eyewitness reports of cranes, bulldozers and trucks taking away tons of soil — this was never explained. The United States and British troops in Iraq breached international law by depriving civilians of food and water in Fallujah and other cities ... this was to encourage the residents to flee before the assaults began, said the US led forces, but using these things as a weapon of war on a civilian population is another breach of the Geneva Conventions and a war crime.

Cluster bombs were used extensively in the 1991 war on Iraq and Human Rights Watch say they are to blame for the death and injury of more than 4,000 civilians after the fighting ended. Cluster bombs have been used again in Baghdad and the cities of Basra, Najav, Kerballa and Hilla. Using cluster bombs in civilian areas is also a violation of the Geneva Conventions. Robert Fisk, an independent journalist, described what he found in the wards of the Hilla teaching hospital and he said that what he found was proof that something illegal, something quite outside the Geneva Conventions occurred in the villages around the city once known as Babylon.

Prior to the US invasions, Iraq enjoyed the highest living standards in the Middle East. Iraqi doctors were among the most sophisticated and highly trained, hospitals and pharmacies had the latest equipment and were well stocked, patients came from other countries for treatment.

There are now 2.4 million displaced people in Iraq, refugees within their own country, and tens of thousands are homeless in Baghdad, two million more Iraqis have fled to neighbouring countries and a million have been killed. Is it any wonder there are suicide bombers? Women who have lost their husbands and children and homes can now only think of revenge and to become suicide bombers; teenagers who have lost their parents and have no future want to become suicide bombers. Then there are the photos from that prison that shocked the world, but the prison is still there and torture is still rampant, and there are many prisons in Iraq.

What the US has done to Iraq is appalling but their own nation has not escaped unscathed. At least 300,000 troops suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or depression, another 300,000 have sustained traumatic brain injury and there is an extremely high suicide rate among veterans. When the soldiers do come home, hospital care is inadequate and in many cases non-existent, and many vets are now homeless.

Families have broken up and there is an extremely high rate of divorce. Hundreds of military veterans who testified at the Winter Soldier 2008 hearings held on March 13?-?16, 2008 and organised by the Veterans Against the War told of the systematic beatings, jailings, torture, humiliation and killing of civilians, which was a part of the standard military operations. So far there have been more than 4,000 American deaths in combat. Then there is the corporate pillaging and the corruption and the military contractors who are not answerable to anyone; they earn a very high wage but also have a very high death rate.

Every United States administration has had its wars, but the administrations of the Bush family have destroyed the whole nation of Iraq and its people and have destroyed any respect that the US had. The present Bush administration has become known for its flouting of all international laws and treaties and changing policy to suit its own imperialism.

The world continues to be appalled at the long and ongoing slaughter of a people and the destruction of a nation which was no threat to anyone, and it is only when we put it all together do we realise the absolute enormity of the crime.

In 1946, after the Second World War, the Nuremberg judges ruled that:

"To initiate a war of aggression ... is not only an international crime ? it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole".

*Pauline Mitchell is Secretary of the Campaign for International Co-operation and Disarmament. The above is an address she delivered at the Unitarian Church, Melbourne.