Deaths in Iraq are not due to invasion, says Blair
Civilian deaths in Iraq are not as a result of the invasion
of Iraq or the removal of Saddam
Hussein. This was the Prime Minister’s
extraordinary assertion at the Liaison Committee on 4 July 2006, in response to a question by
Conservative MP, Edward Leigh.
Leigh said to Blair :
“I have only been to Baghdad once, years ago before the
invasion. I walked around and there was no question of any threat to me
personally or anything else. Nobody in this room would dare walk around Baghdad now.”
to which Blair responded:
“Hang on a minute, Edward, you
might have been able to walk around in Baghdad because you were a Westerner there.
If you were someone who disagreed with Saddam’s regime you ended up in a mass
grave. … 300,000 people are in mass graves there.”
Edward Leigh continued:
“Prime Minister, you are not surely suggesting to this
Committee that the ordinary life of Iraqis has in any conceivable way been
improved in terms of their personal security? These are not politicians, not
the people you talk to. Do you accept that tens of thousands of Iraqis are now
dead as a result of this invasion?”
to which Blair replied:
“Well, hang on a minute, they are
not dead as a result of the invasion or the removal of Saddam. They are dead as
the result of the activities of a criminal minority who want to stop the
majority getting the democracy they want.”
This is an extraordinary attempt on
Blair’s part to evade responsibility for the blood that has been spilt in Iraq over the past three years. The plain fact is that Bush and Blair invaded
Iraq in March 2003 and took great pleasure in destroying
the Ba’athist state.
The carnage in Iraq since then has flowed from this action
and the political leaders who initiated this action cannot evade responsibility
for it. Had they not invaded and
occupied Iraq, the carnage would not have
remarkable honesty, Zalmay Khalilzad,
the present US Ambassador to Baghdad, said recently that the overthrow
of Saddam Hussein’s regime had “opened a Pandora’s box of volatile ethnic and
sectarian tensions” (Los Angeles Times article US Envoy Offers Bleak View of Situation in Iraq, by Borzou Daragahi, 6
see ). Bush and Blair opened the Pandora’s
box and they are responsible for the afflictions that have come out of it.
What is more,
under the Geneva Convention on the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of
War, by occupying Iraq Bush and Blair assumed a duty of care for every Iraqi
civilian. Article 27 of the Convention says :
“Protected persons … shall at all
times be humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against all acts
of violence or threats thereof and against insults and public curiosity.”
cannot evade responsibility for civilian deaths by saying “we didn’t kill all
those Iraqi civilians, it was a criminal minority that did it”. By occupying Iraq, Bush and
Blair took on the responsibility for protecting civilians against “all acts of
violence or threats thereof” from whatever source, and
they have signally failed to do so.
Ultimately more lives will be saved
Blair used to advance the
proposition that the innocent lives saved as a result of unseating Saddam
Hussein would more that compensate for the civilian lives lost as a result of
the invasion and occupation. This was
the message he gave the House of Commons on the eve of the invasion (19
“Of course, I understand that, if there is conflict, there
will be civilian casualties. That, I am afraid, is in the nature of any
conflict, but we will do our best to minimise them.
However, I point out to my hon. Friend that civilian casualties in Iraq are occurring every day as a result
of the rule of Saddam Hussein. He will be responsible for many, many more
deaths even in one year than we will be in any conflict.”
The message is clear: left alone,
Saddam Hussein would kill more innocent Iraqis in a year than will be killed in
the upcoming conflict and, ultimately, more lives will be saved by taking
military action to unseat him.
So, on 19 March
many innocent Iraqis would one expect Saddam Hussein to kill in the next twelve
months, if he were left alone?
Presumably, the Prime Minister had a figure in his head when he
spoke. Scores would seem to be a
reasonable estimate: Amnesty International estimated that “scores of people,
including possible prisoners of conscience, were executed” in 2002 , a similar
number in 2001  and
“hundreds” in 2000 . And nobody can accuse Amnesty International
of being soft on Saddam Hussein. So, had Saddam Hussein been left alone, a
reasonable guess is that a few hundred people would have been killed by his
regime since March 2003.
More than three years later, there
is no reliable estimate of Iraqi dead.
“We don’t do body counts”, General Tommy Franks, the US commander of the invading forces
famously remarked. If the bodies are
Iraqi, he should have added for accuracy.
The carers have been so irresponsible in
carrying out their duty that they haven’t even bothered to count the Iraqis who
have died in their care.
The estimates of Iraqi civilian
deaths that exist have been put together by others. From the outset, the Iraq Body Count organisation has compiled a count from online media reports
of incidents in which civilians were said to have been killed. This count is inevitably an underestimate
since not all civilian deaths are reported in the media. As of 9 July 2006, their estimate ranged from 38,843
to 43,273, the range reflecting the fact that different sources often report
differing number of civilian deaths for a particular incident.
Perhaps, 60,000 Iraqis have been
killed while they have been under the care of Bush and Blair. Perhaps double that or treble that. Nobody knows.
Judging by what Amnesty International say, perhaps 300 people would have
been killed by Saddam Hussein’s regime in the same time, had he not been
replaced by Bush and Blair.
So, it would have taken Saddam Hussein’s regime hundreds of years to
match the carnage produced by Bush and Blair in a few years.
absolutely certain is that tens of thousands of Iraqis who are now dead would
have been alive if Bush and Blair had left Iraq
alone. What is more, the rate of killing
has accelerated in recent times. And
there is no end in sight.
the invasion, when Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq,
Iraqis knew that, as long as they refrained from political activities against
the regime, they were likely to be free to get on with their everyday lives. They knew the rules of the game, and they
knew that they broke the rules at their peril.
under the Bush/Blair regime, in many parts of Iraq
outside the Green Zone in Baghdad,
there are no rules, and individuals don’t know what to do to stay alive. That is the awful legacy that Bush and Blair
have visited on the people of Iraq. They destroyed a functioning state and have
brought about chaos.
Ambassador in Baghdad,
Zalmay Khalilzad, recently compiled
a report on daily life in Baghdad
for his masters in Washington. It was leaked to The Washington Post and published on 16 June 2006 . It was based on the experiences of US embassy
employees. It makes grim reading.
Prime Minister has been fond of pointing to mass graves in Iraq,
as a justification for invading Iraq,
in the absence of “weapons of mass destruction”. “If you were someone who disagreed with Saddam’s regime you
ended up in a mass grave. … 300,000 people are in mass graves there”, he told
Edward Leigh. This is yet another
example of Blair giving false impressions about Iraq.
(I leave readers to puzzle out how
Blair knows how many Iraqis were killed and put in mass graves when Saddam
Hussein ruled Iraq, but he hasn’t a clue about how
many Iraqis have been killed since March 2003 while he and George Bush have
been ruling Iraq.)
The vast majority of civilian deaths during
Saddam Hussein’s rule occurred well over a decade before the invasion, which
they are now being used to justify. They
occurred in the aftermath of the Iran-Iraq war, when the US/UK backed Saddam
Hussein, and in the aftermath of the Gulf War, when the US/UK urged the Shia and Kurds to rise up against the regime, and then
stood idly by as Saddam Hussein suppressed the revolt. As the Amnesty International reports indicate,
no such killing was going on at the time of the invasion in March 2003.
A case can be made on humanitarian
grounds for taking military action against a sovereign state in order to
prevent actual, or imminent, killing of civilians on a grand scale within its
territory. A case cannot be made on humanitarian grounds for taking military action in
response to the killing of civilians years ago – since such action inevitably
leads to more civilians being killed. It
may even lead to a humanitarian disaster, as has happened in this instance. For this reason, Human Rights Watch concluded
in January 2004 that “the invasion of Iraq cannot be justified as a
humanitarian intervention” .
Sage advice from a close friend
carnage in Iraq
would have been avoided if only Bush had taken the sage advice of a close
friend about the difficulties that would begin the day after Saddam Hussein was
overthrown. Here is this advice:
“If you’re going to go in and try to
topple Saddam Hussein, you have to go to Baghdad. Once you’ve got Baghdad, it’s not clear what you do with
it. It’s not clear what kind of government you would put in place of the one
that’s currently there now. Is it going to be a Shia
regime, a Sunni regime or a Kurdish regime? Or one that tilts toward the Ba’athists, or one that tilts toward the Islamic
fundamentalists? How much credibility is that government going to have if it’s
set up by the United States military when it’s there? How long
does the United States military have to stay to protect
the people that sign on for that government, and what happens to it once we
The close colleague who gave this
advice was Dick Cheney – in a New York Times interview published on 13
April 1991 . He was explaining why US forces didn’t overthrow Saddam
Hussein after the Gulf War.
It is now over two years since the
occupying powers handed over sovereignty to a US-appointed Iraqi Government,
and the US pro-consul
Paul Bremer went home. Since then, there
have been two elected Iraqi governments.
The second was finally put together in early June by the new Prime
Minister, Nuri al-Maliki,
an event that was hailed in London and Washington as an important
milestone in the onward march to freedom and democracy in Iraq. Why the second elected government should be
any more successful than the first is not obvious.
Shortly after al-Maliki
had put the finishing touches to his government, he was invited to the US Embassy
within the Green Zone in Baghdad and
informed that George Bush was in the next room.
Bush had made a surprise visit to Iraq, a surprise
to the world and a surprise to the supposedly sovereign government of Iraq. That says all that needs to be said about
which power is sovereign in Iraq.
Bush told al-Maliki
that he had come to Baghdad to look him
in the eye ,
as he famously did to Vladimir Putin in Ljubljana in June
2001 . The real reason for Bush’s visit to Iraq was to try to boost his sagging
domestic poll ratings, by associating himself with the “success” of an Iraqi
government being formed.
9 July 2006
Labour & Trade Union
 See ICRC website www.icrc.org