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)
On 27 April 2010, and not for the first time, Amnesty International called on the Iraqi authorities urgently to step up the protection of civilians amid the surge of deadly violence in the country.
A new Amnesty International report, ‘Iraq: Civilians Under Fire’, documented how hundreds of civilians were being killed or injured each month. Many were specifically targeted by armed groups because of their religious, ethnic or sexual identity or because they spoke out against human rights abuses.
“Iraqis [were] still living in a climate of fear, seven years after the US-led invasion. The Iraqi authorities could do much more to keep them safe, but over and over they [were] failing to help the most vulnerable in society.” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director.
Human rights defenders, journalists and political activists were among those who had been killed or maimed in Iraq because of their work. Religious and ethnic minorities also continued to be targeted for attack.
As a result of the ongoing insecurity, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, including a disproportionately high number of minority communities, had been forced to flee their homes. Internally displaced people and refugees were even more vulnerable to violence, as well as economic hardship. (Iraq’s civilians under fire, 27 April 2010 Iraq: Civilians under fire – Document | Amnesty International, 27 April 2010).
There was already evidence of indiscriminate killings in an article in Voltaire Network: “They Fled Away ‘Like Gangsters’: Murder and Greed in Baghdad” (H.P. Albarelli Jr, “They Fled Away Like Gangsters: Murder & Greed in Baghdad”, 22 October 2010) and in Shadowproof by ‘Emptywheel’: “Fourteen other incidents of Blackwater firing in Iraqi civilians”, 22 October 2010).
Australia withdrew most of its troops in mid-2008.
Last British forces withdrew in May 2011. British forces were part of the initial 2003 invasion and the last British combat troops left in July 2009.
The last convoy of U.S. soldiers departed from Iraq in December 2011, leaving behind a country grappling with political uncertainty: a ‘nominal’ democracy still facing insurgents, sectarian tensions and the challenge of defining its place in an Arab region in turmoil.
For President Barack Obama the military withdrawal was the belated fulfilment of an election promise to bring troops home from a conflict inherited from his predecessor. For Iraqis, though, the U.S. departure brought a sense of apparent sovereignty, troubled by fears that the country might have fallen once again into the kind of sectarian violence which cost the life of many thousands of people at its peak in 2006-2007.
An agreement for several thousand U.S. troops to stay on as trainers fell apart over the sensitive issue of legal immunity. Only around 150 U.S. troops remained in the country attached to a training and cooperation mission at the huge U.S. embassy.
For many Iraqis, security remained a worry. American and foreign companies were already helping Iraq develop the world’s fourth-largest oil reserves.
As at March 2010 there were 95,461 Department of Defense contractor personnel in Iraq compared to approximately 95,900 uniformed personnel in-country.
Contractors perform a wide range of services. As at March 2010, 62,295 personnel – 65 per cent of contractors – performed base support functions such as maintaining the grounds, running dining facilities, and performing laundry services. Security was the second most common service provided, with 11,610 personnel – 12 per cent of contractors.
These data indicate that, as the services required by the Pentagon change during the course of operations, the percentages of contractors providing different types of services also change. The number of Pentagon contractors in late 2008 reached over 163,000.
Of the approximately 95,500 contractors in Iraq as at March 2010, 24,719 were American citizens, 17,193 were local nationals, and 53,549 were third-country nationals. Third-country nationals made up more than half of all contractor personnel.
Contracting local nationals is an important element in counterinsurgency strategy. Employing local nationals injects money into the local economy, provides job training, and can give the U.S. a more sophisticated understanding of the local landscape.
As at March 2015 the Department of Defense only had about 250 civilian contractors in Iraq supporting the 2,700 U.S. troops deployed there; but a handful of new solicitations and potential contracts would soon add to that number.
For the past two decades, the resource-heavy American way of war has dictated that where U.S. troops go, civilian contractors follow. It is a way of doing business which has become ingrained in the Pentagon’s policy as end strength has slowly been whittled away while global commitments show no sign of slackening.
In Iraq – as a Pentagon official said – Department of Defense contractors are tightly focused in their activities, “primarily performing translator/interpreter, communications, logistics, and maintenance functions.”
Overall, there remain about 5,000 mainly State Department contractors in Iraq, which represents a relatively modest footprint as compared to previous years, where there were over 160,000 during the height of the fighting. There are also 54,000 civilian contractors working across the Middle East for U.S. Central Command.
While their numbers are still relatively small in Iraq, the use of contractors in American military deployments in recent years has stirred plenty of controversy – particularly the use of security contractors. Critics have charged that the use of civilians to perform so many non-combat functions has served to downplay the true size of the American commitment.
There have also been plenty of issues revolving around poor contract oversight, human rights issues revolving around contractors from third-world countries, and plenty of waste, fraud, and abuse. In fact, the Commission on Wartime Contracting has reported that as much as US$60 billion was lost to waste or fraud in Iraq, as contractors often subcontracted out to other contractors and the trail of money went wobbly.
By May 2015 the U.S. government was preparing to boost the number of private contractors in Iraq as part of President Barack Obama’s growing effort to beat back Islamic State militants threatening the Iraqi government.
Still, the preparations to increase the number of contractors – who can be responsible for everything from security to vehicle repair and food service – underscored Obama’s growing commitment in Iraq. When U.S. troops and diplomats venture into war zones, contractors tend to follow, doing jobs once handled by the military itself. They are, essentially, mercenaries, modern soudeours to deal with Hajji, gooks, boongs and Untermenschen – the term first used by American author Theodore Lothrop Stoddard in the title of his 1922 book The Revolt Against Civilization: The Menace of the Under-man (New York 1922).
The killings at Haditha generated some media coverage – there have been eight mentions in national British newspapers. One-off horrors of this kind are generally covered in brief and in isolation. During the Vietnam war, the U.S. massacre of up to 500 civilians at My Lai eventually received substantial media coverage. To this day, My Lai continues to be presented as an isolated incident. In reviewing Haditha, The Daily Mail wrote, for example: “It has chilling echoes of America’s darkest hour in Vietnam [My Lai].” (C. Laurence, The Daily Mail, 22 March 2006).
But in fact My Lai, part of Operation Wheeler/Wallowa, was unusual only in that it was reported. Newsweek journalist Kevin Buckley wrote: “An examination of that whole operation would have revealed the incident at My Lai to be a particularly gruesome application of a wider policy which had the same effect in many places at many times. Of course, the blame for that could not be blamed on a stumblebum lieutenant. Calley was an aberration, but ‘Wheeler Wallawa’ was not.” (N. Chomsky and E. Herman, The Political Economy of Human Rights, Volume 1, Boston 1979, at 317).
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.