The Iraq Inquiry Report (2009-2016) documents how Tony Blair committed Great Britain to war early in 2002, lying to the United Nations, to Parliament, and to the British people, in order to follow George Bush, who had planned an aggression on Iraq well before September 2001.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard conspired with both reckless adventurers, purported ‘to advise’ both buccaneers, sent troops to Iraq before the war started, then lied to Parliament and to the Australian people. He continues to do so.
Should he and his cabal be charged with war crimes? This, and more, is investigated by Dr George Venturini in this outstanding series.
The bloody cost and legacy of the invasion (continued)
MI6 analysts had been telling Blair that invading Iraq was more likely to exacerbate problems than to clear them up. Al-Qaeda, not Saddam, represented “by far the greatest terrorist threat to Western interests” with that threat likely to be “heightened by military action against Iraq.” With considerable prescience, British intelligence professionals warned that “the broader threat from Islamist terrorists will also increase in the event of war, reflecting intensified anti-US/anti-Western sentiment in the Muslim world, including among Muslim communities in the West.”
Blair discounted such concerns. Like Bush, he chose to believe what he found it convenient to believe. Closer to the truth, Blair tagged along with the war boosters in hopes that the U.K. could pick up the crumbs from the invasion and reassert its former economic and political power in the Arab world. Blair had long been a favourite of British neoconservatives. The silver-tongued Blair became point man for the war in preference to the tongue-twisted, stumbling George Bush. But the real warlord was Vice President Dick Cheney. (E. S. Margolis, Iraq War, an unaccountable crime, 12 July 2016).
Incidentally, the Iraq Inquiry Report is also a damning verdict against Bush as it found that the American President and his aides exaggerated intelligence to make a case for invading Iraq, and that planning and preparations for Iraq after Saddam were “wholly inadequate”.
The legal case for U.K. military action was “far from satisfactory.” the Report states. Moreover, while Blair was later attacking France for failing to support a second United Nations Security Council resolution authorising military action, “we [The Inquiry] consider that the UK was, in fact, undermining the Security Council’s authority.” [Emphasis added].
In the end, 244 Labour members of Parliament and 139 Tory MPs voted for the Iraq war. (To say nothing of the 557 MPs who, with the Iraq Inquiry still in its earliest stages – and with that the existential concerns of whether to embark upon another adventure presumably being uppermost in the minds of the people themselves if not their elected representatives – voted to bomb Libya in 2011).
The Report finds that the invasion failed in its stated objectives. It notes: “The risks of internal strife in Iraq, active Iranian pursuit of its interests, regional instability, and al-Qaida activity in Iraq were each explicitly identified before the invasion.”
Not only were 179 British soldiers killed – along with 4,491 US troops – and many thousands horribly wounded, “The people of Iraq have suffered greatly.” According to the most reliable estimates, the number of Iraqi lives lost as a result of the war stands at roughly 1 million. An estimated 5 million more people were driven from their homes. The country remains embroiled in bloody sectarian conflict and extreme economic and social hardship.
Of all those arraigned before the International Criminal Court in The Hague over recent years – such as Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir – none are responsible for even a fraction of the deaths caused by Blair and Bush.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu is not alone in calling for Bush and Blair and other ‘western’ leaders – the Australian ones do not deserve the ‘honour’ of mention by name – to be tried for war crimes.
But there is much more in such inheritance of miasmatic violence, and it is substantiated by the reply of the official spokesperson for the United States to the world, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Madeleine Albright, when – in 1996 – she was asked whether the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children from the sanctions were worth it. She responded that while the matter was a difficult one, the deaths were, in fact, worth it. By “it” she meant the U.S. efforts to achieve regime change in Iraq.
By then Iraq had been not only under the bombs directed by the American Administration against water and sewage treatment plants in the knowledge that such action would help spread infectious illnesses among the Iraqi populace; the American Administration had imposed a brutal system of economic sanctions on Iraq, with the goal of achieving the ouster of Iraq’s ruler, Saddam Hussein, and his replacement with a U.S.-approved ruler. The U.S. aim was to inflict as much suffering as possible on the Iraqi people in the hope that they would rise up and revolt against their own government, or that the Iraqi military would initiate a coup, or that Saddam Hussein would simply resign.
While the sanctions failed to achieve regime change, in the case of Australia because they were deliberately violated for profit, they did succeed in causing untold economic misery for the Iraqi people. By the end of the eleven years of sanctions, the once-prospering Iraqi middle class had been reduced to penury.
The sanctions continued wreaking death and destruction for years after Albright issued that statement. It is important to note that not one single American official, from President Clinton on down, condemned or even mildly criticised Albright’s statement. There can be only one reason for that: they all agreed with what she had said.
It is impossible to overstate the ever-increasing anger and rage which were boiling over in the Middle East as people saw those children dying week after week, month after month, year after year.
Such important matters did not call for consideration by Australia’s John Winston Howard. A modest solicitor, amply provided with a sycophantic temperament, hence a supine monarchist, and a philistine – altogether an ordinary man, cunning – but no statesman, he made a virtue out of his apparent ordinariness. His name remains associated to ordering in August 2001 an act of piracy against the Norwegian freighter Tampa which was carrying 438 intending refugees – predominantly Hazaras from Afghanistan, rescued from a distressed fishing vessel in international waters – after having refused to Tampa permission to enter Australian waters. An indifferent populace mistook that for an act of strength. As far as the Iraq adventure, Howard dismissed the heartfelt opinion of more than forty specialists in international law who advised against, and sought the opinion of two lawyers employed at the Attorney General department, who borrowed the disreputable last-minute position of Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, QC. With that Howard marched into Iraq. He maintained that position exactly ten years after, speaking on the subject at the Lowy Institute in Sydney. Whatever any American Administration did, Howard followed during his long prime ministership: the United States is Australia’s Great and Powerful Friend. He was to gain from Bush the moniker as a ‘man of steel’.
In fact, instead of offering wise restraining counsel, holding back that “crazy man Bush,” Blair and Howard applied the varnishing reassurance. “By not restraining the US president, each was an enabler in Washington’s worst ever foreign policy blunder.” They were more than that. Both became fellow buccaneers and adventurers. (P. McGeough, Chilcot Report: The mind-boggling incompetence of Bush, Blair and Howard laid bare, www.smh.com.au, 7 July 2016).
Today, U.S. military engagement in the Middle East looks increasingly permanent.
Despite the American Administration and its British and Australian clients having formally ended the war in Iraq – as well as in Afghanistan – thousands of U.S. troops and contractors remain in both countries. American and Australian forces continue to drop bombs on Iraq and Syria faster than American war industry can produce them. The United States is also helping Saudi Arabia wage war in Yemen, in addition to conducting occasional airstrikes in Yemen and Somalia.
Australia says not a word about that. It was a passive accomplice during the war, it was ignored after it, when the Americans installed a Coalition Provisional Authority, and Lewis Paul Bremer III became the country’s chief executive authority. Paul Bremer was totally uninterested in establishing democracy and defending human rights. Instead he imposed on the ‘liberated’ country the neoconservative agenda of the foreign policy of the United States and scripting the plight of Iraqis and other several million people in the Middle East. Just as a satrap would, he signed orders. For instance, Order no.39, signed on 19 September 2003 provided for the privatisation of around 200 state-owned enterprises with leases given for at least forty years. Overnight it became illegal to restrict foreign ownership in any part of the Iraqi economy except resource extraction. Order no. 37 set the tax rate for multinational companies at a flat 15 per cent, with no distinction between corporation and individuals. The effect of this Order is that a poor Iraqi farmer would pay the same tax as the U.S. multinational Bechtel, the company contracted to run Iraq’s privatised water system. This is nothing but the example of victor’s ‘justice’ imposed upon the defeated people. An examination of such Orders further reveals that the war on Iraq was imposed not for any other reason but for pursuing an imperialist agenda aggressively promoted by the neoliberal capitalists of the United States. It is evident from the fact that in 2003, after the occupation of Baghdad, Bremer had signed “a trade liberalisation law that abolished all tariffs, custom duties, import taxes, licensing fees and similar surcharges for goods entering or leaving Iraq, and all other trade restrictions that may apply to such goods”. Moreover, to provide a licence to exploit a defeated country and its people freely, Order no.17 was signed under which foreign companies were given immunity from Iraqi law in regards to acts performed by them pursuant to the terms and conditions of a contract. (M. Mohibul Haque, Chilcot Report and the Iraq war).
Tomorrow: The bloody cost and legacy of the invasion (continued)
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini – ‘George’ devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. In 1975, invited by Attorney-General Lionel Keith Murphy, Q.C., he left a law chair in Chicago to join the Trade Practices Commission in Canberra – to serve the Whitlam Government. In time he witnessed the administration of a law of prohibition as a law of abuse, and documented it in Malpractice, antitrust as an Australian poshlost (Sydney 1980). He may be reached at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.