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)
After Islamic State seized large swaths of Iraqi territory and the major city of Mosul in June 2014, President Obama ordered U.S. troops back to Iraq. In April 2015 he authorised roughly doubling the number of troops to 3,100, although they would have been in non-combat roles.
After declining since late 2011, State Department contractor numbers in Iraq had risen slightly.
The presence of contractors in Iraq, particularly private security firms, has been controversial since a series of violent incidents during the U.S. occupation, culminating in the September 2007 killing of 14 unarmed Iraqis by guards from the Blackwater security firm.
Three former guards were convicted in October 2014 of voluntary manslaughter charges and a fourth of murder in the case, which prompted reforms in U.S. government oversight of contractors.
Virtually all the U.S. government contractors presently in Iraq work for the State Department. The withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq in 2011 left it little choice but to hire a small army of contractors to help protect diplomatic facilities, and provide other services like food and logistics.
On 14 May 2005 the Wikileaks logs alleged that Blackwater, a private American military company and security consulting renamed Academi in 2011, had shot at a civilian car. The shooting reportedly killed the driver, but also injured his wife and child. According to the logs, the Blackwater guards drove on.
A year later, on 2 May 2006, the logs claim that Blackwater guards opened fire on an ambulance attending the scene of an improvised explosive device attack. Again, a civilian – the ambulance driver – was killed.
There are other cases where Blackwater guards were alleged to have shown disregard even for their own lives. On one occasion, U.S. troops set up a road block after a car was seen dropping what looked like an improvised explosive device. A Blackwater convoy ignored them, rushing past and detonating the bomb.
Outrage at Blackwater’s methods grew. A U.S. Army report dated February 2006 alleged that a Blackwater vehicle escorting U.S. diplomats through Kirkuk had broken down and that guards opened fire on an approaching taxi, killing both civilian occupants. The report detailed how residents took to the streets in protest. Only after discussions with Iraqi security forces and local politicians, and the promise of a U.S. State Department investigation, did the crowds disperse. The promise made in 2006 that the Department of State would conduct an investigation seemed particularly troubling.
On 9 October 2007 an old Oldsmobile, carrying three women and a child, was travelling at about 25 kilometres per hour through a suburb of Baghdad, some forty metres in front of a sports utility vehicle when it was hit by four volleys of shots fired from the vehicle. This was one of several similar vehicles owned by a ‘provider of risk related consulting, management and logistical services called Unity Resources Group Pty. Ltd.’ The shooting provoked strong outrage in Iraq, since it followed closely on another Blackwater shootings on 16 September 2007 which led to the Iraqi government’s attempt to ban Blackwater from Iraq. The attempt failed.
United Resources Group – U.R.G. is an Australian private military and security consulting company incorporated in Australia in 2000. The shareholders are mainly Australians. There are reports that several former British Special Air Service and Australian Special Air Service Regiment veterans and former New Zealand army commandos privately control U.R.G. During the first ten years of operation its registered place of business changed eight times.
It describes itself as having a “diverse client base, spanning government, non-government and multi-national business sectors.” It claims to offer security, advisory, crisis, aviation and facility management services, and a particular ‘cultural sensitivity’. U.R.G. controls private limited companies in Australia and, additionally, in Asia: Unity Resources Pakistan Ptv Ltd, Unity Resources Group Pte Ltd; in the Middle East: Unity Resources Group Pte Ltd – Iraq; in Africa: Unity Resources Group (Kenya) Ltd and Europe : Unity Resources Group UK Ltd and Unity Aviation Ltd. It has extensive operations in North and South America as well as in Central Asia.
Towards the end of the hostilities in Iraq, U.R.G. developed the business from a small consultancy through to independently winning and managing a number of large contracts with multi-national corporations and government agencies. The company’s employees are predominantly Australian nationals, although most of the guard duties at the Australian embassy in Baghdad have been performed by Chilean military veterans. Security personnel also comes from Colombia. U.R.G. is the security provider for United States Agency for International Development contractor R.T.I. International – formerly Research Triangle Institute. One of R.T.I.’s declared purposes in Iraq is “to foster democratic local government.”
In 2008 U.R.G. would win a contract with the Australian Department of Defence to supply troops in the Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan.
Within days of the event in Baghdad, U.R.G.’s chief operating officer Mr. Michael Priddon said that at the time the security detachment gave several warnings to the women as their car sped towards the convoy.
Priddon refused to reveal whether the security personnel involved in the shooting were Australian.
Iraqis who witnessed the incident confirmed that no warnings, verbal, hand signals, shots or flares were used prior to the Oldsmobile being sprayed with gunfire. One witness who worked at a shop overlooking the scene told local policemen that the back door of the contractors suddenly opened and several armed men within the vehicle jumped out and opened fire on the Oldsmobile. Several other witnesses on the street charged that the occupants of the Oldsmobile were fired upon without cause and that the ‘security men’ appeared to have no compulsions about firing into the Oldsmobile.
Speaking about the shooting days after it occurred, the brother of one of the women killed, Dr. Paul Manook, said: “I will [pursue legal action], but it is not only compensation I am after. It is a review, and a thorough investigation into the practices of these companies.” Dr. Manook, who lives in England, said of security contractors operating in Iraq: “These people don’t understand Arab culture, or the sensitivities of the local population. I don’t think they have proper training in these conditions, and [they] seem to kill people without restraint.” And he added: “Western governments also need to ask themselves whether the use of private armies is morally justified.”
The company defended the actions of its employees and was subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing.(Mary Dunn, Security company Unity Resources Group defends shooting, The (Melbourne) Herald Sun, 11 October 2007).
In April 2008, Mr. Paul Wolf, an attorney from Washington, D.C. filed a lawsuit against R.T.I. International and U.R.G. on behalf of the father of the woman who had been killed while she was the front-seat passenger in the Oldsmobile.
According to Wolf’s complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the passenger and the driver, Dr. Paul Manook’s sister, Ms. Antranick were shot to death by U.R.G. employees despite that neither she nor the driver of the Oldsmobile, Mary Awanis Manook, posed any threat whatsoever to the U.R.G. employees, who prior to the shooting “had just dropped off an employee of R.T.I. and were returning to their base of operations”.
Wolf’s suit explained that the two women “were returning home from church at the time of the incident.” He was also able to produce a statement by an Iraqi policeman who had been present at the scene “to the effect that U.R.G. armoured convoy” sped off ‘like gangsters’ after the shooting, leaving Ms. Antranick and Ms. Manook to die. The U.R.G. employees did not call an ambulance or otherwise try to rescue or assist the people they had just shot.
“[The] defendants have created and fostered a culture of lawlessness among their employees and agents, encouraging them to act in defendants’ financial interests and at the expense of the lives of innocent bystanders”, the claim said. “[They] have acted with evil and malicious intent in promoting their business interests at the expense of innocent human life. Defendants have earned, and continue to earn, huge profits from the war in Iraq.”
The suit went on to state: “This is not the first time URG employees have killed defenseless people in Baghdad. [In June 2007] URG employees killed 72-year old Kays Juma when he failed to stop at a security checkpoint. On or about June 24, 2007, Defendant’s [U.R.G.] agents shot another civilian in the Karada neighborhood.” Kays Juma was an Australian and college professor who had lived in Baghdad for 25-years, and drove his vehicle on the same route nearly every day for all of those years.
Finally, Wolf’s suit alleges, “Defendants [U.R.G.] have acted with evil and malicious intents in promoting their business interests at the expense of innocent human life. Defendants have earned, and continue to earn, huge profits for their work in Iraq.”
R.T.I. and U.R.G. sought promptly to have Wolf’s suit dismissed. Wolf countered with filed opposition to R.T.I.’s and U.R.G.’s motions to dismiss. Argued Wolf, R.T.I. was “liable for aiding and abetting in the murder of the two women “because RTI was acting under color of state law in its work to reorganize the Iraq government.” Wolf argued further that R.T.I. had “its own duty to Ms. Antranick regarding its hiring and supervising of URG” and that “it breached its duty, knew of the risk of harm it was creating and this was the proximate cause of Ms. Antranick’s death.”
In March 2010, however, a U.S. federal judge ruled on Wolf’s complaint finding that R.T.I. could be sued in the U.S. for the deaths of the women in Iraq. The judge granted Wolf jurisdictional discovery over U.R.G. The security firm reportedly did not comply with scheduled proceedings, and instead argued that because the judge had dismissed the federal claims there was no diversity of citizenship and therefore the state diversity tort claims must be dismissed. U.R.G. missed at least two deadlines set by the judge. Said Wolf at the time, “Worst case is that Unity will be dropped from the case, and we will be left suing RTI, and have to sue URG separately in another country like Australia or [the United Arab Emirates].”
Wolf lost his case in August when it was dismissed, without prejudice, in federal court in North Carolina on purely technical grounds.
Wolf filed the case anew in federal court in Washington, D.C. Assigned to a judge in Billings, Montana, the judge accepted the claims on the grounds of wrongful death and other torts. That judge then sent the case to North Carolina, where R.T.I. is headquartered. The judge in North Carolina then held that his court could not hear state law claims brought by one alien – in the case the estate of a non-citizen – against another alien such as U.R.G.
The lawsuit against R.T.I. and U.R.G. received serious press attention in Australia. The Sydney Morning Herald commented that “The security company guarding the Australian embassy in Baghdad has been involved in at least 39 shootings – probably dozens more – and has fostered ‘a culture of lawlessness’ among its employees”.
In the Australian Senate, Senator Dr. Russell Trood, Liberal from Queensland, said: “I do have concerns about the contract [granted in 2009 to guard the Australian embassy in Baghdad for $ 9 million-a-year]. I have concerns about awarding a contract to a company that has a long history of, if not lawlessness, then certainly a long history of allegations being made about its behaviour.” And he asked: “Is the [government] aware of the current proceedings? And what did they do to determine that Unity was a fit and proper organisation to be awarded the contract in light of the US proceedings?” (D. Welch, Embassy security contractor accused of lawlessness, World, The Sydney Morning Herald, 16 October 2010).
Nor was much value placed by British troops on the lives of the Iraqi people.
Continued Saturday: 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.