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Bush, Blair and Howard – Three reckless adventurers in Iraq (Part 19)

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)

The first assault on Baghdad began, officially, on 20 March 2003 shortly following the 01.00 Coordinated Universal Time expiry of the United States’ 48-hour deadline for Saddam Hussein and his sons to leave Iraq. The military action was dubbed Operation Iraqi Freedom. It was announced that Special Operation Forces were already operating inside Iraq. Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States all had special operation forces in the country.

Baghdad woke up to explosions and pyrotechnics. It was Hollywood as President Bush had designed: ‘Shock and awe’ over a city of almost 5,000.000 people. Al-Ahram Weekly, an English-language weekly broadsheet published in Cairo, Egypt, published an article entitled: Incomprehensible destruction. It said among other things, analysing the ‘military doctrine’ that Harlan Ullman, Senior Adviser at the Atlantic Council, who had theorised it, advocated the unleashing of “nearly incomprehensible levels of massive destruction.” (20-26 March 2003).

Actually, the first attack on Baghdad arrived, it seems, even earlier on 19 March from 320 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired by the ships in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. In the first stage of the air campaign 1,000 to 1,500 bombs and Tomahawk cruise missiles would be used against a variety of targets throughout Iraq. A senior Pentagon official announced that air operations would continue on a 24-hour basis all over the country. Included in the arsenal was the Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb – a 21,000-pound weapon which had been nicked-named MOAB, the Mother Of All Bombs. The top commander, Gen. Tommy Franks planned to escalate the intensity of the bombardment, depending on how the surrender talks were going. The building of the Ministry of Oil was carefully spared. (The Independent, 16 April 2003).

The results would soon become available. During the period between 19 March and 26 April 2003, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette of 4 May 2003, “The battle for Baghdad cost the lives of at least 1,101 Iraqi civilians, many of them women and children, according to records at the city’s 19 largest hospitals. The civilian death toll was almost certainly higher. While very few Baghdad hospitals had computerised files, meticulous record-keeping was the norm in Iraq, which for decades sustained an overblown bureaucracy. The hospital records say that another 1,255 dead were ‘probably’ civilians, including many women and children. The numbers, gleaned from archives that separated military from civilians, include those killed between 19 March, when the US air war began, and 9 April, when the city fell to American forces. The biggest number of deaths appears to have occurred on 5 and 6 April when U.S. troops began fighting their way into the city. The records show 1,101 deaths that doctors felt were clearly those of civilians, 845 of which were recorded at three hospitals – Al Kharama, Al Askan and Yarmuk – near the Baghdad airport. An additional 1,255 dead probably were civilians, doctors say, all reported at the same three hospitals near the airport. Even at Baghdad’s largest hospital, such as the 992-bed Yarmouk Hospital, morgues were built to hold only a few dozen bodies. At Al Kharama, 30 per cent of 450 such bodies belonged to women and children, doctors said. Others were men without identification in civilian clothes who the doctors believed were civilians. But a final determination was not made, in part because of the enormous volume of bodies to be dealt with.” (M. Schofield, N. A. Youssef and J. O. Tamayo, Civilian Death Toll in Battle for Baghdad at Least 1,100).

The Los Angeles Times of 18 May 2003 reported that “At least 1,700 Iraqi civilians died and more than 8,000 were injured in Baghdad during the war and in the weeks afterward, according to a … survey of records from 27 hospitals in the capital and its outlying districts. … In as many cases as possible, The Times examined original handwritten records. … In addition, undocumented civilian deaths in Baghdad number[ed] at least in the hundreds and could reach 1,000, according to Islamic burial societies and humanitarian groups that are trying to trace those missing in the conflict. … Not included in The Times’ count were dozens of deaths that doctors indirectly attributed to the conflict. Those cases included pregnant women who died of complications while giving birth at home because they could not get to a hospital and chronically ill people, such as cardiac or dialysis patients, who were unable to obtain needed care while the fighting raged.” (L. King, Baghdad’s Death Toll Assessed; A Times hospital survey finds that at least 1,700 civilians were killed and more than 8,000 injured in Iraq’s capital during the war and aftermath).

Agence France Presse carried the new of the release of cluster and other types of bomb on Najaf, a city of about 1,000.000 people. The same weapon was used at Al Hllah, the capital of Babylon Province, according to St. Petersburg Press of 3 April 2003. The news was confirmed by The Miami Herald of 16 April 2003. On 1 April 2003 Human Rights Watch reported that U.S. ground forces in Iraq were using cluster munitions with a very high failure rate, creating immediate and long-term dangers for civilians. According to Steve Goose, executive director of the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch. “Iraqi civilians will be paying the price with their lives and limbs for many years.”

Cluster bombs were dropped on Baghdad (S. Goldenberg, War in the Gulf: The hell that once was a hospital, The Guardian, 12 April 2003), (T. Frank, Cluster bombs taking toll on children; the explosive can look like toys, Pittsburg Gazette, 15 April 2003), Dibs, Kalar and Kirkuk (M. Howard, Fighting is over but the deaths go on, The Guardian, 28 April 2003).

Each cluster bomb is composed of 200 to 700 bomblets. When each bomblet explodes it fragments into about 300 pieces of jagged steel – sending out virtual blizzards of deadly shrapnel. People are decapitated, arms, legs, hands and feet are severed from their bodies – anyone and anything alive in the immediate vicinity is shredded into a bloody mess.

Cluster bombs cause damage over a very large and imprecise area. Once released, cluster bombs fall for a pre-set amount of time or distance before their dispensers open, spreading the bomblets widely so they can effectively slaughter people over a wide area. The wide dispersal pattern of cluster munitions makes them difficult to target accurately.

Each cluster bomblet is activated by an internal fuze, and is set to explode above ground, on impact, or to be time-delayed – that is, they can be made into time bombs or mines. The smaller bombs are designed to explode near the time of impact. But since 5 to 30 per cent fail to explode at the time set for them, unexploded bombs litter every target area, silent and nondescript, until picked up by an unfortunate child or accidentally kicked by a passerby. In this way they become hidden killers, blending into their surroundings like land mines. And over time cluster bombs become more unstable – they explode more easily. Because of their high failure rate, cluster munitions leave large numbers of hazardous, explosive duds, a great many unexploded ‘dud’ sub-munitions which become de facto antipersonnel landmines which may cause injury or death to civilians long after the war is over… (Amnesty International “Iraq: Use of cluster bombs – Civilians pay the price” 2 April 2003, AI Index: MDE 14/065/2003).

In a letter obtained by the Independent and published on 30 May 2003, the U.K. government admitted that the Allied use of cluster bombs against civilian targets were “not legal.” Anti-landmine charities claimed that the letter by Adam Ingram, the Armed Forces Minister, proved that the Ministry of Defence had broken international law by using the munitions in towns and cities.

And that is not all. Michael Guerin of Le Monde wrote on 16 April 2003: “With my own eyes I saw about fifteen civilians killed in two days. I’ve gone through enough wars to know that it’s always dirty, that civilians are always the first victims. But the way it was happening here, it was insane.”

“Two Iraqis were killed and three others wounded today when US troops shot at an ambulance on a central Baghdad street. The American troops just mowed down the ambulance which was transporting wounded people from the Saddam Centre for Plastic Surgery to another hospital”, Belgian Dr. Geert Van Moorter told an A.F.P. reporter. (Two killed in US fire on Baghdad ambulance, The (Melbourne) Age, 10 April 2003).

Furthermore, American officials confirmed that U.S. jets had dropped firebombs in their drive towards Baghdad. A U.S. military official stated that the effects of the firebombs had significant similarities to the controversial napalm used in the Vietnam war. (San Diego Union-Tribune, 5 August 2003).

American pilots dropped the controversial incendiary agent napalm on Iraqi troops during the advance on Baghdad. The attacks caused massive fireballs which obliterated several Iraqi positions. The Pentagon denied using napalm at the time, but Marine pilots and their commanders confirmed that they used an upgraded version of the weapon against dug-in positions. They said napalm, which has a distinctive smell, was used because of its psychological effect on an enemy.

This was, of course, against international law. Diplomats and lawyers convened conferences and drafted rules to limit its deployment starting in the late 1960s. In 1980, United Nations delegates adopted many of their proposals when they approved Protocol III of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. Incendiary attacks against ‘concentrations of civilians’ became war crimes. Most of America’s allies and greatest adversaries, their way smoothed by development of alternate military technologies, endorsed the compact in relatively short order.

America refused to accept the world’s judgment. Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush did not even submit Protocol III to the Senate for discussion. Over time, however, events changed the calculus of national advantage; Commanders in Chief came to appreciate the benefits of working within global consensus. President Clinton and his successor George W. Bush changed course, and urged ratification. In 2008, in the face of multilateral alliances assembled to regulate landmines and cluster munitions, and concern that international law to manage conventional weapons was slipping out of U.N. control, the American senate ratified the protocol. President Barack Obama signed it in 2009.

Napalm is a terrifying mixture of jet fuel and polystyrene which sticks to skin as it burns. The United States is one of the few countries which makes use of the weapon. It was employed notoriously against both civilian and military targets in the Vietnam war. The upgraded weapon, which uses kerosene rather than petrol, was used in March and April 2003, when dozens of napalm bombs were dropped near bridges over the Saddam Canal and the Tigris river, south of Baghdad. “We napalmed both those [bridge] approaches.” said Colonel James Alles, commander of Marine Air Group 11. “Unfortunately there were people there … you could see them in the [cockpit] video. They were Iraqi soldiers. It’s no great way to die. The generals love napalm. It has a big psychological effect.”

The revelation that napalm was used in the war against Iraq, while the Pentagon denied it, has outraged opponents of the war. “Most of the world understands that napalm and incendiaries are a horrible, horrible weapon.” said Dr. K. Robert Musil, former director of the organisation Physicians for Social Responsibility. “It takes up an awful lot of medical resources. It creates horrible wounds.” Dr. Musil said that denial of its use “fits a pattern of deception [by the U.S. Administration].”

The Pentagon said it had not tried to deceive. It drew a distinction between traditional napalm, first invented in 1942, and the weapons dropped in Iraq, which were: ‘Mark 77 firebombs’. They weigh 510lbs, and consist of 44lbs of polystyrene-like gel and 63 gallons of jet fuel. Officials at the Pentagon said that if journalists had asked about the firebombs their use would have been confirmed. A spokesman admitted they were “remarkably similar” to napalm but said they caused less environmental damage. In other words: the journalist had asked the wrong question!

But John E. Pike, one of the world’s leading experts on defence, space and intelligence policy, and director of GlobalSecurity.org,, said: “You can call it something other than napalm but it is still napalm. It has been reformulated in the sense that they now use a different petroleum distillate, but that is it. The U.S. is the only country that has used napalm for a long time. I am not aware of any other country that uses it.” In addition, Marines returning from Iraq chose to call the firebombs ‘napalm’. In an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune, Marine Corps Maj-Gen James F. ‘Jim’ Amos confirmed that napalm was used on several occasions in Iraq Dr. Musil said that the Pentagon’s effort to draw a distinction between the weapons was outrageous. Pike commented: “It’s Orwellian. They do not want the public to know. It’s a lie.” (A. Buncombe, US admits it used napalm bombs in Iraq – GlobalSecurity.org, www.globalsecurity.org, News, 10 August 2003).

Tomorrow: The bloody cost and legacy of the invasion (continued)

GeorgeVenturini 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.

⬅️ Part 18

➡️ Part 20

2 comments

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  1. wam

    such revelations identify, the rabbott’s no information on operational matters, as an avoidance of lying.
    Does anyone doubt our defence personal ministers lie by omission or by not being asked the right question??

  2. Michael Taylor

    Sometimes, wam, they are asked the right questions, but they give the wrong answers. Foreign Ministers are good at that too. Remember Downer’s repeated “I don’t know” responses when asked about the Iraq wheat scandal?

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