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 19 September 2004 The Washington Post reported that U.S. forces ‘had turned off’ water supplies to Tall Afar ‘for at least three days’.
Moreover, The Washington Post reported that the U.S. army failed to offer water to those fleeing Tall Afar, including children and pregnant women.
During the assault on Samarra on 1 October 2004 water and electricity were cut off, according to The Independent of 3 October 2004. The Washington Post of 16 October 3004 explicitly blamed ‘U.S. forces’ for this.
On 16 October 2004 The Washington Post reported that: ‘Electricity and water were cut off to the city [of Fallujah] just as a fresh wave of strikes began on 14 October night, an action that U.S. forces also took at the start of assaults on Najaf and Samarra.’ Residents of Fallujah told the U.N.’s Integrated Regional Information Networks that ‘they had no food or clean water and did not have time to store enough to hold out through the impending battle’. The water shortage was confirmed by other civilians fleeing Fallujah. Fadhil Badrani, a B.B.C. journalist in Fallujah, confirmed on 8 November that ‘the water supply [had] been cut off’. In light of the shortage of water and other supplies, the Red Cross had attempted to deliver water to Fallujah. However the United States had refused to allow shipments of water into the Fallujah until it had taken control of the city.
There had been allegations that the water supply was cut off during the assault on Najaf in August 2004, and during the invasion of Basra in 2003.
Some military analysts have attempted to justify the denial of water on tactical or humanitarian grounds. Ian Kemp, editor of military journal Jane’s Defense Weekly, argued that ‘The longer the city [Fallujah] is sealed off with the insurgents inside, the more difficult it is going to be for them. Eventually, their supplies of food and water are going to dwindle.” Barak Salmoni, assistant professor in National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, told the San Francisco Chronicle that civilians would probably be encouraged to leave Fallujah ‘by cutting off water and other supplies‘. These arguments are deeply flawed on legal, humanitarian and political grounds. The majority of the population of Fallujah fled before the American attack. Those who had not already fled Fallujah were forced to remain, since roads out of the city had been blocked, including by British troops. Not only were those remaining unable to leave, but they were likely to consist largely of those too old, weak, or ill to flee – precisely the groups which would be most severely affected by a shortage of water.
Belief that U.S. tactics involved denial of water was widespread. According to the Los Angeles Times, as soon as the women of Fallujah learned that four Americans had been killed, their bodies mutilated, burned and strung up from a bridge, they knew a terrible battle was coming. They filled their bathtubs and buckets with water. Condemnations of the tactic have been issued by several major Iraqi political groups. On 1 October the Iraqi Islamic Party issued a statement criticising the U.S. attack on Fallujah which ‘cut off water, electricity, and medical supplies’, and arguing that such an approach ‘will further aggravate and complicate the security situation’. It also called for compensation for the victims. Three days later Muqtada al-Sadr criticised both the denial of water to Samarra, and the lack of international outrage at it: “They say that this city is experiencing the worst humanitarian situations, without water and electricity, but no-one speaks about this. If the wronged party were America, wouldn’t the whole world come to its rescue and wouldn’t it denounce this?”
Denial of water is one of the misguided tactics which increased distrust of the Coalition forces. Asked in June 2004, in a survey conducted by Oxford Research International, how much confidence they had in U.S. and U.K. forces, almost 51 per cent of participating Iraqis responded ‘none at all’, with a further 29.5 per cent saying ‘not very much’. This in turn was fuelling anti-American violence. A spokesman for the Association of Muslim Scholars, one of the most significant Sunni political groupings in Iraq, reported that the party’s representative in Samarra had told him that ‘there was no water’. He argued that partly as a result of this: “The Iraqis no longer trust the Americans. It is not a question of military manifestations. It is now a question of popular rejection for the Americans, not for the military manifestations.” His analysis was confirmed by the Oxford Research International poll, according to which one third of participant Iraqis regarded attacks against Coalition forces as ‘acceptable’.
Awareness of the issues remained extremely limited among the British public. The British government denied any involvement.
Despite inquiries from C.A.S.I., the Cambridge Solidarity with Iraq, the successor organisation to the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq, which provides information about the humanitarian situation in Iraq, the British government appeared not to have raised the issue with their American counterparts. The then U.K. Minister for the Armed Forces, Adam Ingram denied knowledge of U.S. action to cut off water supplies in Tall Afar, despite coverage of this in The Washington Post. Similarly, the then U.K. Secretary of State for International Development, Hilary Benn had not discussed the issue with his American counterparts. (Response to question by Adam Price MP: Adam Price: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what discussions he has had with counterparts in the US Administration on cutting off water supplies in Iraq).
This lack of communication with the American side suggests a lack of concern for the humanitarian implications of the conflict in Iraq, and an unwillingness to comment on American activities. Concerning British forces, Mr. Ingram claimed that: “With regard to the action of our own Forces, I can also confirm that we have not cut off water supplies to civilians. It is possible that local temporary disruptions may have occurred at some time due to damage from combat with anti-Iraqi Forces but we are not aware of any actual cases where this has happened.”
There were, of course, legal implications. The denial of water to civilians is illegal both under Iraqi and international law. Article 12 of the Transitional Administrative Law, as issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority and which served as a constitution during the interim period, states that: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and the security of his person.” International law specifically forbids the denial of water to civilians during conflict. Under article 14 of the second protocol of the Geneva Conventions, “Starvation of civilians as a method of combat is prohibited. It is therefore prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless for that purpose, objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population such as food-stuffs, agricultural areas for the production of food-stuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works.”
C.A.S.I. called on Members of Parliament to raise this issue with ministers as a matter of urgency. The U.K. government should have used its influence with its American ally to ensure that all military operations were conducted within the bounds of international law. In addition to the suffering caused to the civilian population, use of these tactics by U.S. forces would place British troops at risk from rising insurgency. C.A.S.I. also hoped that the issue would be taken up by international NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. In addition, C.A.S.I. urged journalists on the ground in Iraq to investigate the mentioned reports further, in order to build up a clearer picture of use of those tactics. The U.K. media was invited to give greater weight to the plight of civilian populations in their coverage of conflicts such as Fallujah. (with grateful acknowledgment of the contribution by C.A.S.I., www.casi.org.uk).
Successive American Administrations have committed war crimes and other serious violations of international law in Iraq as a matter of routine policy. Beyond the now-infamous examples of torture, rape, and murder at Abu Ghraib prison, the United States, with the complicity of its allies – including Australia, has ignored international law governing military occupation and violated the full range of Iraqis’ national and human rights: economic, social, civil and political rights. The occupation of Iraq has not been leading to greater respect for human rights and respect for democracy, as promised by the Bush, Blair and Howard governments – as well as their successors. Rather, the presence of foreign troops has entrenched a climate of lawlessness and feeding an increasing spiral of violent conflict which will not end until the occupation ends and underlying issues of justice are dealt with.
As documented by the Center for Economic and Social Rights of New York, there are at least ten categories of U.S. violations of human rights. They are, briefly:
- Failure to allow self-determination. The ‘full sovereignty’ that the Occupying Powers claimed would have been restored to Iraq on 30 June 2004 is so far without legal effect. Genuine self-determination requires the free exercise of political choice, as well as full control over internal and external security, and authority over social and economic policy.
- Failure to provide public order and safety. The U.S. violated international law and caused untold damage to the people and heritage of Iraq by allowing the wholesale looting of Iraq’s public, civilian, cultural, and religious institutions and properties.
- Unlawful attacks. U.S. forces – often assisted by allies such as Britain and/or Australia – have routinely conducted indiscriminate attacks in populated areas of Iraq, causing widespread and unnecessary civilian casualties. Ambulances, medical staff and facilities have been targeted by snipers and regular forces in violation of the Geneva Conventions. To date there has been no official effort to seek accountability for these war crimes.
- Unlawful detention and torture. It is regular policy for U.S. forces, and their allies or accomplices, indiscriminately to arrest and detain Iraqi civilians without charge or due process. Up to 90 per cent of Iraqis detained under the occupation were reported to be innocent bystanders swept up in illegal mass arrests.
- Collective punishment. Taking a cue from Israeli tactics in the Occupied Palestinian Territories which have been widely condemned as war crimes, The United States and its allies have imposed collective punishment on Iraqi civilians. These tactics include demolishing civilian homes, ordering curfews in populated areas, preventing free movement through checkpoints and road closures, sealing off entire towns and villages, and using indiscriminate, overwhelming force in crowded urban areas.
- Failure to ensure vital services. The United States and its allies are legally required to meet the needs of Iraq’s population by maintaining electricity, water, sanitation, and other services vital to people’s life, health, and well-being.
- Failure to protect the rights to health and life. The United States and its allies have been. violating Iraqis’ rights to life and health by failing to ensure access to healthcare and to prevent the spread of contagious disease.
- Failure to protect the rights to food and education. The U.S. and its allies are bound to ensure that the population has physical and financial access to food and education. This is not so.
- Failure to protect the right to work. In violation of the right to work, the United States summarily dismissed more than half a million workers, civil servants, teachers, and other professionals – without any evidence of wrongdoing or opportunity to defend themselves. In addition, foreign corporations – which are mainly American – generally rely on foreign rather than Iraqi contractors, exacerbating the unemployment crisis, and slowing the reconstruction process.
- Fundamentally changing the economy. As an Occupying Power, the United States is prohibited from imposing major legal, political, or economic changes in Iraq. However, the Coalition Provisional Authority issued a number of executive orders which aimed to privatise Iraq’s economy for the benefit of American corporations, with little consideration for the welfare and rights of the Iraqi people. These changes violate international law and have no binding legal effect. (US Violations of Occupation Law in Iraq Report to the Ninth Session of the Human Rights Council, The Universal Periodic Review. (US Violations of Occupation Law in Iraq).
Tomorrow: Australia’s involvement in Iraq
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.