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 [1]:


“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.”


Pandora’s box

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 happened.

With 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 March 2006, see [2]).  Bush and Blair opened the Pandora’s box and they are responsible for the afflictions that have come out of it.

Geneva Convention

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 [3]:


“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.”


So, Blair 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 March 2003) [4]:


“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 2003, how 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 [5], a similar number in 2001 [6] and “hundreds” in 2000 [7].  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.


What is 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.


No rules

Before 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.


Now, 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.


The US 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 [8].  It was based on the experiences of US embassy employees.  It makes grim reading. 


Humanitarian intervention?

The 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” [9].


Sage advice from a close friend

The 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 leave?”


The close colleague who gave this advice was Dick Cheney – in a New York Times interview published on 13 April 1991 [10].  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 [11], as he famously did to Vladimir Putin in Ljubljana in June 2001 [12].  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.



David Morrison

9 July 2006

Labour & Trade Union Review






[3]  See ICRC website