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Bush, Blair and Howard – Three reckless adventurers in Iraq (Part 21)

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)

Violence is only one reason for the increase in civilian deaths in Iraq. Children in urban war zones were dying in vast numbers from diarrhea, respiratory infections and other causes, owing to unsafe drinking water, lack of refrigerated foods, and acute shortages of blood and basic medicines in clinics and hospitals. The Red Crescent and other relief agencies were unable to relieve Fallujah’s civilian population.

On 14 November 2004 the front page of The New York Times led with the following description: “Army tanks and fighting vehicles blasted their way into the last main rebel stronghold in Fallujah at sundown on Saturday after American warplanes and artillery prepared the way with a savage barrage on the district. Earlier in the afternoon, 10 separate plumes of smoke rose from Southern Fallujah, as it etched against the desert sky, and probably exclaimed catastrophe for the insurgents.”

There was, once again, virtually no mention of the catastrophe for civilians etched against that desert sky. There is a hint, though, in a brief mention in the middle of the story of a father looking over his wounded sons in a hospital and declaring: “Now Americans are shooting randomly at anything that moves.”

A few days later, a U.S. television film crew was in a bombed-out mosque with American marines. While the cameras were rolling, a marine turned to an unarmed and wounded Iraqi lying on the ground and shot the man in the head. But the American media more or less brushed aside this shocking incident, too. The Wall Street Journal actually wrote an editorial on 18 November which criticised the critics, noting that whatever the U.S. did, its enemies in Iraq did worse, as if this excused American abuses.

Of course, it does not. Sachs concluded: “The U.S. is killing massive numbers of Iraqi civilians, embittering the population and many in the Islamic world, and laying the ground for escalating violence and death. No number of slaughtered Iraqis will bring peace. The American fantasy of a final battle, in Fallujah or elsewhere, or the capture of some terrorist mastermind, perpetuates a cycle of bloodletting that puts the world in peril.

Worse still, American public opinion, media, and the recent election victory of the Bush administration have left the world’s most powerful military without practical restraint.” (J. D. Sachs, Iraq’s civilian dead get no hearing in the United States, Daily Star, 2 December 2004)

On 29 March 2006 the B.B.C. programme Newsnight broadcast a film: Soldiers coming home. The film followed members of Iraq Veterans Against the War on their ‘Walkin’ to New Orleans’ protest march.

A veteran on the march, Jody Casey, was asked if the U.S. military had been concerned about the people of Iraq. He replied: “Oh no. Definitely that was not a concern at all … I was not concerned about them at all.”

Asked if this was simply his personal view, or the view of the military in general, Casey responded: “No! I mean that’s why they call them ‘Hajji’ (the Iraqi equivalent of ‘Gook’, the derogatory term for East and Southeast Asians. It was originally predominantly used by the US military during wartime, especially during the Korean and Vietnam wars.) I mean you have got to de-sensitise yourself from them: ‘The’re not people they are animals’. [There was a] total disregard for human life.” [Emphasis added].

The veteran described how Iraqi civilians discovered in the vicinity of detonated improvised explosive devices were routinely shot: “I have seen innocent people being killed. I.E.D.s go off and you just zap any farmer that is close to you … hit him with the 50 [heavy machine gun] or the M-16 [rifle]. Overall there was just the total disregard – they basically jam into your head: ‘This is Hajji! This is Hajji’. You totally take the human being out of it and make them into a video game … If you start looking at them as humans, and stuff like that, then how are you gonna kill them?”

Former soldiers claimed that this attitude extends up the chain of command, right to the top. In April 2004, the Daily Telegraph reported great unease among senior British army commanders in Iraq at the “heavy-handed and disproportionate” military tactics used by U.S. forces who, they said, viewed Iraqis “as untermenschen.” (Untermenschen, German for undermen, is a term which became infamous when the Nazis used it to describe “inferior people” often referred to as “the masses from the East”, that is Jews, Roma, and Slavs – mainly ethnic Poles, Serbs, and later also Russians. The term was also applied to most Blacks, and ‘persons of colour’).

“They are not concerned about the Iraqi loss of life … their attitude toward the Iraqis is tragic, it is awful.” (S. Rayment, US tactics condemned by British officers, Daily Telegraph, 11 April 2004).

An apparent example of the kind of indiscriminate killing described by Casey was reported in The Nation on 12 April 2004: “On November 19, after a roadside bomb killed Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, 15 Iraqi civilians ­ including seven women and three children ­ were allegedly shot and killed by a unit of US Marines operating in Haditha, Iraq. Then, this past Friday, a battalion commander and two company commanders from the same unit were relieved of their duties.

We also know that the Marine Corps initially claimed that the 15 Iraqi civilians were killed by a roadside bomb. But in January, after Time magazine presented the military with Iraqi accounts and video proof of the attack’s aftermath, officials acknowledged that the civilians were killed by Marines but blamed insurgents nonetheless who had ‘placed noncombatants in the line of fire’.

However, video evidence shows that women and children were shot in their homes while still wearing nightclothes. And while there are no bullet holes outside the houses to support the military’s assertion of a firefight with insurgents, ‘inside the houses … the walls and ceilings are pockmarked with shrapnel and bullet holes as well as the telltale spray of blood.’ ” (K. vanden Heuvel, Haditha, Iraq, The Nation, 12 April 2006).

One eyewitness told Time: “I watched them shoot my grandfather, first in the chest and then in the head. Then they killed my granny.” (Quoted, H. Jaber and T. Allen-Mills, Iraqis killed by US troops ‘on rampage’, The (London) Sunday Times, 26 March 2006).

This is how the incident was originally reported in the Daily Mirror: “Elsewhere, an ambush on a joint US and Iraqi patrol north-west of Baghdad left 15 civilians, eight insurgents and a US Marine dead. An improvised explosive device was detonated next to the Marine’s vehicle in Haditha on Saturday.” (B. Roberts, Brit toll rises after roadside blast kill soldier, The Daily Mirror, November 21, 2005).

The most shocking revelation in the Newsnight film concerned the carrying of shovels and AK-47 rifles on U.S. patrol vehicles; these were regularly dumped beside bodies to give the impression that they had been planting roadside bombs.

Jody Casey explained the orders he had been given: “Keep shovels on the truck and an AK, and if you see anybody out here at night on the roads, shoot them. Shoot them, and if they weren’t doing anything, throw a shovel off.’ At that time when we first got down there, you could basically kill whoever you wanted – it was that easy …” [Emphasis added].

Easy also it was for senior British commanders to condemn American military tactics in Iraq as heavy-handed and disproportionate. One senior Army officer told The (London) Daily Telegraph that America’s aggressive methods were causing friction among allied commanders and that there was a growing sense of “unease and frustration” among the British high command. The officer, who agreed to the interview on the condition of anonymity, said that part of the problem was that American troops viewed Iraqis as “sub-humans”.

Speaking from his base in southern Iraq, the officer said: “My view and the view of the British chain of command is that the Americans’ use of violence is not proportionate and is over-responsive to the threat they are facing. They don’t see the Iraqi people the way we see them. They are not concerned about the Iraqi loss of life in the way the British are. Their attitude towards the Iraqis is tragic, it’s awful.

The US troops view things in very simplistic terms. It seems hard for them to reconcile subtleties between who supports what and who doesn’t in Iraq. It’s easier for their soldiers to group all Iraqis as the bad guys. As far as they are concerned Iraq is bandit country and everybody is out to kill them.”

The officer explained that, under British military rules of war, British troops would never be given clearance to carry out attacks similar to those being conducted by the U.S. military, in which helicopter gunships have been used to fire on targets in urban areas.

British rules of engagement only allow troops to open fire when attacked, using the minimum force necessary and only at identified targets. The American approach was markedly different: “When US troops are attacked with mortars in Baghdad, they use mortar-locating radar to find the firing point and then attack the general area with artillery, even though the area they are attacking may be in the middle of a densely populated residential area. They may well kill the terrorists in the barrage but they will also kill and maim innocent civilians. That has been their response on a number of occasions. It is trite, but American troops do shoot first and ask questions later. They are very concerned about taking casualties and have even trained their guns on British troops, which has led to some confrontations between soldiers.” (US tactics condemned by British officers, S. Rayment, The Telegraph, 11 April 2004).

The second survey by Lancet, published on 11 October 2006, estimated 654,965 excess deaths related to the war, or 2.5 per cent of the population, through the end of June 2006. The new study applied similar methods and involved surveys between 20 May and 10 July 2006.

President Bush dismissed the survey during a White House news conference. “I don’t consider it a credible report. Neither does Gen. Casey (at the time Casey served as Commanding General, Multi-National Force – Iraq from June 2004).” he said, referring to the top ranking U.S. military official in Iraq, “and neither do Iraqi officials” working with U.S. occupying forces.

“We Don’t Do Body Counts” solemnly proclaimed Gen. Tommy Franks, American commander of the invading forces. (“We Don’t Do Body Counts” says Gen. Tommy Frank, 4 April 2003).

At first the U.S. Government claimed that there was no official tally of civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the Iraq War Logs – and Afghan War Diary – as published by Wikileaks and based on evidence provided by whistleblower Manning showed the claim to be clearly false.

Thanks to such sources of information, the world did eventually see the figures. But they were largely based on U.S. military counts. Other evidence showed that these figures provided were a gross under-estimation of the true numbers of casualties.

A reliable British medical journal published a different set of figures, indicating not just thousands of Iraqi casualties, but on closer analysis, as many as one million, if not more – surely, a genocide in anyone’s language!

Between 2004 and 2009, the U.S. government counted a total of 109,000 deaths in Iraq, with 66,081 classified as non-combatants. However, according to the Iraq Body Count, the number of civilians killed since the ‘second’ Iraq war began to the present day was higher: between 160,543 and 179,492. Further analysis of the WikiLeaks’ Iraq War Logs added an additional 12,000 civilian deaths to that count.

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 20

➡️ Part 22

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