The invasion of Iraq
Justification number 3
I think all foreigners should stop
interfering in the internal affairs of
There is no justification for
Lt General John McColl gave evidence
to the Defence Select Committee on
“I think the insurgency can be divided roughly into three.
“The first element is what I would describe as the Shia militias, epitomised by al-Sadr and his people. They, in the uprising in April and then in the uprising in August, were dealt, I think, a fairly serious blow - and one can see that in some of the ways in which they have modified their behaviour - and whilst I think they will continue to be a threat, particularly in the South, I do not think they will represent a strategic threat.
“The second element is Jihadists,
epitomised by Zarqawi and his group. I
think that, as long as there is a significant Western presence in
“Which brings us on to the third group, which is the former regime elements. I think, by common consent, over the last year they have developed in terms of coherence and sophistication. I do not think we can deny that. They are trying to represent themselves as freedom fighters, in terms of the western and multinational force and coalition presence, and, in doing so, bind themselves with the other two groups that I have just mentioned. However, I do think the recent successful elections will have been a significant blow, in terms of trying to dent that, because I do not think there is a great deal of support for the former regime elements but they can develop support based upon this idea of being some kind of freedom fighting organisation.
“I think those are the three elements. There is no doubt which poses the major threat, and that is the former regime elements and those who coalesce around them, and those are the people we need to target. Certainly the development in democracy that we have seen just recently is by far the most effective way of doing that.”
This can be taken to be the official view of the British and American military at the beginning of 2005. It is remarkable for the assessment that a mere 1% of the attacks were not home grown (though he doesn’t say what period the assessment covers). It bears no relationship to how the Government portrayed the insurgency, at that time or since.
It is also remarkable in that he
says that this “Jihadist activity” is a response to “Western presence in
McColl’s remarks also reveal the extravagant hopes that the US/UK military authorities entertained that the January elections would dampen down the third element of the insurgency, hopes that were largely in vain, though there was certainly a lull in insurgent activity for a month or so after the election.
The Iraq Coalition Casualty website shows that the occupation force
casualty rate has fallen from a peak of over 4 a day in the month before the
election to an average of 2.21 a day since, making 589 deaths in all (560 US,
12 UK and 17 Others) since the election and uncounted thousands of Iraqis. At the time of writing, total occupation force
deaths stand at 2196 (1997
Blair misrepresents insurgency
I was reminded of General McColl’s
remarks as I listened to the Prime Minister on BBC1’s Sunday AM
programme on 25 September 2005 (see transcript here), at
the start of the Labour Party Conference.
Asked by Andrew Marr if he has anticipated the level of insurgency that
“No, I didn’t expect quite the same
kind of ferocity from every single element in the
The implication of this is that the
“But surely, Prime Minister, the insurgency
is mostly home grown, and not from outside
He might also have asked:
“Surely, Prime Minister, it is an extraordinary
failure on your part that
But Marr, who makes David Frost seem like a rottweiller, allowed this gross misrepresentation of the character of the insurgency to pass. And Blair went on to say, without challenge, that Britain had to stay in Iraq in order to defeat the terrorists that wouldn’t be there if Britain and America hadn’t invaded in the first place, and that General McColl said was a response to our presence:
“There is no doubt in my mind at all
that what is happening in Iraq now is crucial for the future of our own
security, never mind the security of Iraq or the greater Middle East. It is
crucial for the security of the world. If they are defeated - this type of
global terrorism and insurgency in
At which point Marr should have intervened and said:
“But, Prime Minister, our
intervention seems to have brought about this terrorism in
(It was too much to expect Marr to
challenge the illogicality at the heart of Blair’s final sentence, which is
akin to saying that, if
Earlier justifications unusable
The misrepresentation of the nature
of the insurgency has become necessary because the only public justification
that Blair can now advance for the continued US/UK occupation of
The initial justification – that
The next justification – that the invasion was a humanitarian intervention to get rid of the murderous regime of Saddam Hussein and save Iraqi lives (which contradicted the first since Blair had specifically stated that the regime of Saddam Hussein could remain in power if he gave up his “weapons of mass destruction”) – has become progressively less usable as the carnage in Iraq has mounted. It has become harder and harder to say that we intervened to stop Iraqis being killed when, as a consequence of our intervention and under our occupation, Iraqis are now been killed at perhaps a hundred times the rate of extra-judicial killings in the years immediately before the invasion when Saddam Hussein was in power.
You don’t believe me? 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.
By contrast, at least thirty thousand Iraqis, and perhaps many, many more, have been killed in the two and a half years since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein (see, for example, the estimates of Iraq Body Count here). The killing rate has increased by a factor of perhaps a hundred because of the US/UK invasion and occupation.
This is a crude estimate, but what it is absolutely certain is that tens of thousands of Iraqis who are now dead would have been alive if the Bush and Blair hadn’t intervened, and there is no end in sight – which is why it’s become increasingly difficult to present the invasion and occupation as driven by a humanitarian desire to save Iraqi lives.
Justification number 3
So, justification number three –
that the US/UK are fighting the “global war on terror” in Iraq in order to
preserve our way of life in the West – has come to dominate in Blair’s public
justification for invasion and occupation, despite the fact that Iraq was a
terrorist free zone before the invasion.
As Blair said in his conference speech
“Terrorism struck most dramatically in
To make this public justification
credible, the insurgency in
Of course, from the outset,
President Bush presented the invasion of
“We will meet that threat now, with our Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines, so that we do not have to meet it later with armies of fire fighters and police and doctors on the streets of our cities.”
Two years later nothing has
changed. In his address to the nation on
Presenting the invasion as a response to 9/11 and a means of preventing its reoccurrence had no basis in reality, but it served the higher presidential purpose of increasing popular support for military action about which many people were sceptical then, and many more are sceptical today.
It is an irony that,
whereas Saddam Hussein kept al-Qaeda out of the part of Iraq he controlled, the
US-led invasion has acted as a recruiting sergeant for al-Qaeda and produced an
environment in Iraq in which it can flourish.
After 9/11, a familiar refrain coming out of
Myth of foreign fighters
It may be that the makeup of the insurgency, and its modes of operation, has changed somewhat since General McColl gave evidence to the Defence Select Committee in February this year. But there is no reason to believe that foreign fighters are now the dominant element in the insurgency.
Two days before Blair gave the impression to Andrew Marr that that they were, The Guardian ran a story entitled Report attacks 'myth' of foreign fighters, based on a report by the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), which judging by the content of its reports has access to information from the US military and other US government agencies, including information derived from detainee interrogation. The Guardian story begins:
“Foreign militants - mainly from
There has been a
widespread assumption that
“The conclusion of this investigation is that the number of Saudis is around 12% of the foreign
contingent (approximately 350), or 1.2% of the total insurgency of approximately 30,000.
Algerians constitute the largest contingent at 20%, followed closely by Syrians (18%), Yemenis
(17%), Sudanese (15%), Egyptians (13%) and those from other states (5%).” (page 5)
Interestingly, the report says:
“One of [our] primary conclusions is the unsettling
realization that the vast majority of Saudi militants who have entered
“Most of the Saudi militants in
Interestingly, also, the report accepts that
“According to The Minister of Tourism,
British problems in Basra
The British media
underwent a minor convulsion about
The British military were completely within their legal rights in demanding that the soldiers be handed over to them, no matter what they had done. It is doubtful if the Iraqi government can be said to be sovereign in any sphere, but there is one area in which it has no legal authority whatsoever, and that is over the activities of the occupation forces, who were granted immunity from Iraqi law by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), that is, by the occupiers themselves, in CPA Order 17.
This was originally signed
by Paul Bremer, the head of the CPA, on
“Unless provided otherwise herein, the MNF [Multi-National Force, aka the occupation forces], the CPA, Foreign Liaison Missions, their Personnel, property, funds and assets, and all International Consultants shall be immune from Iraqi legal process.”
As a result of this
incident, the British media made the astounding discovery that the
“The chief of police in Basra admitted yesterday that he had effectively lost control of three-quarters of his officers and that sectarian militias had infiltrated the force and were using their posts to assassinate opponents.”
The chief, General Hassan al-Sade, a former officer in Saddam Hussein’s special forces, who was appointed to his post by former Prime Minister, Ayad Allawi , was quoted as saying:
“I trust 25% of my force, no more.”
The excuse given by the
British military for rescuing the SAS soldiers by force – that their lives were
at risk because “they had been handed over to militia elements” – doesn’t make
much sense since the bulk of the
In the aftermath of this incident,
the word “infiltration” has been used continuously to describe the process
whereby the Shia militias came to be present in the
The US/UK “exit strategy” from Iraq
is, we are told, to leave when the Iraqi security forces – police, army,
national guard, etc – are capable of taking over from “coalition forces”, and
to that end “coalition forces” are heavily engaged in “training” Iraqi security
forces. As Blair said in a press
“… we remain until the
Iraqi forces are capable of securing their own country and so that
It was too much to hope that the
revelations about the police in
For a year and more, the US/UK
Only one battalion
A few days earlier, the
“Other senators sharply
questioned the progress being made … in
“‘We fully recognize that Iraqi armed forces will not have an independent capability for some time, because they don't have an institutional base [??] to support them’, he said. ‘And so Level One [that is, capable of operating independently] is one battalion’.
“’It was three. Now it’s
gone from three to one?’ interjected Senator John McCain, a Republican from
“‘Things change in a battalion. We’re making assessments on leadership, on training. There are a lot of variables that are involved here, senator’, Casey said.”
This state of affairs will not come
as a surprise to people who have read stories by Anthony Shadid and Steve
Fainaru in the Washington Post in recent months. Here are the opening lines from their story,
entitled Building Iraq's Army: Mission
Improbable, published on
“An hour before dawn, the
sky still clouded by a dust storm, the soldiers of the Iraqi army's Charlie
Company began their mission with a ballad to ousted president Saddam Hussein. ‘We
have lived in humiliation since you left’, one sang in Arabic, out of earshot
“But the Iraqi soldiers
had no clue where they were going. They shrugged their shoulders when asked
what they would do. The
“’We can’t tell these guys about a lot of this stuff, because we’re not really sure who's good and who isn’t’, said Rick McGovern, a tough-talking 37-year-old platoon sergeant from Hershey, Pa., who heads the military training for Charlie Company.
“The reconstruction of
“Charlie Company disintegrated once after its commander was killed by a car bomb in December. And members of the unit were threatening to quit en masse this week over complaints that ranged from dismal living conditions to insurgent threats. Across a vast cultural divide, language is just one impediment. Young Iraqi soldiers, ill-equipped and drawn from a disenchanted Sunni Arab minority, say they are not even sure what they are fighting for. They complain bitterly that their American mentors don't respect them.”
Charlie Company may not be typical of the Iraqi Army, since it’s based in Baiji, a mostly Sunni Arab town North of Baghdad on the road to Mosul – there are obvious difficulties in occupation forces constructing an Army made up of Sunnis to fight a popular Sunni insurgency against occupation.
In another article,
entitled Militias on the Rise Across Iraq,
“Shiite and Kurdish militias, often operating as part
of Iraqi government security forces, have carried out a wave of abductions,
assassinations and other acts of intimidation, consolidating their control over
territory across northern and southern
“While Iraqi representatives wrangle over the
drafting of a constitution in Baghdad, the militias, and the Shiite and Kurdish
parties that control them, are creating their own institutions of authority,
unaccountable to elected governments, the activists and officials said. In
“The parties and their armed wings sometimes operate
independently, and other times as part of Iraqi army and police units trained
and equipped by the
“Since the formation of a government this spring,
Which is where we came in.
Labour & Trade Union Review