Posts Tagged ‘Iraqi deaths’

Britain and Iraq: fortunes of war

April 14, 2009

  • Editorial

They swept in from the Fao peninsula on 20 March 2003 with their commanders proudly explaining how their troops could fight, feed and emote with their foes all at the same time. This was the army that had been through Malaysia and Northern Ireland. It could do counter-insurgency. It knew about hearts and minds. It will finally leave Basra this month a humbler force. What happened in the intervening six years was traumatic. Historians will be harsh in their judgment.

The most ignominious moment of Britain’s Iraq war – the subject of a Guardian series this week – came in September 2007, when commanders struck a deal with the Mahdi militia leaders. Iraq’s prime minister Nouri al-Maliki was furious. US commanders accused Britain of cutting and running. Neither told their British counterparts about the Charge of the Knights offensive against the Shia militias, which followed the next spring, until the last moment. The analysis may differ; the crucial flaw may vary from one account to another; but almost all of the players – generals, soldiers and analysts interviewed by the Guardian this week – concur on one point: the Iraq operation, including Britain’s part in it, was an avoidable disaster.

Pre-war planning was negligent. This led to a situation in which 100,000 or more Iraqis may have died. Both Britain and the US were unprepared for the consequences of deposing Saddam and for t he implosion of Iraq’s system of governance. The build-up to the invasion lasted months, yet body armour and plates to protect tanks in the desert were not ordered for fear they would be taken as signs that diplomacy would not be allowed to take its course. There was a serious mismatch between military and civilian resources on the ground. The civilian effort was ad-hoc, hand-to-mouth and left the military too much to do in areas where it had limited experience. Security in Basra, which initially provided troops with a benign environment, might not have degenerated if aid had got in quicker.

Public support corroded and, with it, army morale. There were incidents at welcome home parades. The unspoken bond between a nation and its professional soldiers became strained over the army’s unavoidable guilt by association with Tony Blair’s decision to take part in the invasion. The strategy in the south was less reformist and ambitious than the US operation in Baghdad, which dreamed of bequeathing Iraq with democracy. Britain’s political objective was simply to hold the ring in the south. Even if troops fulfilled their tactical objectives, such as handing over control to the Iraqi army, there was no agreement on the political outcomes.

And bit by bit, US forces, about which British commanders had initially been so dismissive, got better at counter-insurgency. Iraq turned the British argument on its head. US soldiers are now better resourced and trained in counter-insurgency than British ones.

Over-stretched and badly equipped – it all sounds reminiscent of another war the army is waging. And the real question posed by the Guardian series this week is whether anything has been learned. Are miscalculations made in Basra not being reproduced in Helmand? If anything, the task in Afghanistan is harder. The deal which allowed US troops to disengage, and which could still crumble, was between two fairly homogenous groups – the Shia government of al-Maliki and the Sunni tribal chiefs. In Afghanistan, there is neither a central government worth the name, nor a clear enemy. Are the Taliban jihadi foreigners, Pashtu nationalists, farmers by day, fighters by night, or some or all of the above? And are the two allies any more prepared than they were in Iraq to deploy a civilian expeditionary force to assist a military operation in states they judge to be failing? Iraq may already be fading from the headlines, but it casts a long shadow.

War comes home to Britain

March 6, 2009

By Pilger, John | ZSpace, March 6, 2009

John Pilger’s ZSpace Page

Freedom is being lost in Britain. The land of Magna Carta is now the land of secret gagging orders, secret trials and imprisonment. The government will soon know about every phone call, every email, every text message. Police can willfully shoot to death an innocent man, lie and expect to get away with it. Whole communities now fear the state. The foreign secretary routinely covers up allegations of torture; the justice secretary routinely prevents the release of critical cabinet minutes taken when Iraq was illegally invaded. The litany is cursory; there is much more.

Indeed, there is so much more that the erosion of liberal freedoms is symptomatic of an evolved criminal state.  The haven for Russian oligarchs, together with corruption of the tax and banking systems and of once-admired public services such as the Post Office, is one side of the coin; the other is the invisible carnage of failed colonial wars. Historically, the pattern is familiar. As the colonial crimes in Algeria, Vietnam and Afghanistan blew back to their perpetrators, France, the United States and the Soviet Union, so the cancerous effects of Britain’s cynicism in Iraq and Afghanistan have come home.

The most obvious example is the bombing atrocities in London on 7 July 2005; no one in the British intelligence mandarinate doubts these were a gift of Blair.  “Terrorism” describes only the few acts of individuals and groups, not the constant, industrial violence of great powers. Suppressing this truth is left to the credible media. On 27 February, the Guardian’s Washington correspondent, Ewen MacAskill, in reporting President Obama’s statement that America was finally leaving Iraq, as if it were fact, wrote: “For Iraq, the death toll is unknown, in the tens of thousands, victims of the war, a nationalist uprising, sectarian in-fighting and jihadists attracted by the US presence.”  Thus, the Anglo-American invaders are merely a “presence” and not directly responsible for the “unknown” number of Iraqi deaths. Such contortion of intellect is impressive.

In January last year, a report by the respected Opinion Research Business (ORB) revised an earlier assessment of deaths in Iraq to 1,033,000. This followed an exhaustive, peer-reviewed study in 2006 by the world-renowned John Hopkins School of Public Health in the US, published in The Lancet, which found that 655,000 Iraqis had died as a result of the invasion. US and British officials immediately dismissed the report as “flawed” – a deliberate deception. Foreign Office papers obtained under Freedom of Information disclose a memo written by the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Roy Anderson, in which he praised The Lancet report, describing it as “robust and employs methods that are regarded as close to ‘best practice’ given [the conditions] in Iraq.” An adviser to the prime minister commented:  “The survey methodology used here cannot be rubbished, it is a tried and tested way of measuring mortality in conflict zones”. Speaking a few days later, a Foreign Office minister, Lord Triesman, said, “The way in which data are extrapolated from samples to a general outcome is a matter of deep concern.”

The episode exemplifies the scale and deception of this state crime. Les Roberts, co-author of the Lancet study, has since argued that Britain and America might have caused in Iraq “an episode more deadly than the Rwandan genocide”. This is not news. Neither is it a critical reference in the freedoms campaign organised by the Observer columnist Henry Porter. At a conference in London on 28 February, Lord Goldsmith, Blair’s attorney-general, who notoriously changed his mind and advised the government the invasion was legal, when it wasn’t, was a speaker for freedom. So was Timothy Garton Ash, a “liberal interventionist”. On 9 April, 2003, shortly after the slaughter had begun in Iraq, a euphoric Garton Ash wrote in the Guardian: “America has never been the Great Satan. It has sometimes been the Great Gatsby: ‘They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things …”. One of Britain’s jobs “is to keep reminding Tom and Daisy that they now have promises to keep”. Less frivolously, he lauded Blair for his “strong Gladstonian instincts for humanitarian intervention” and repeated the government’s propaganda about Saddam Hussein. In 2006, he wrote: “Now we face the next big test of the west after Iraq: Iran.”  (I have italicized we). This also adheres precisely to the propaganda; David Milliband has declared Iran a “threat” in preparation for possibly the next war.

Like so many of New Labour’s Tonier-than-thou squad, Henry Porter celebrated Blair as an almost mystical politician who “presents himself as a harmoniser for all the opposing interests in British life, a conciliator of class differences and tribal antipathies, synthesiser of opposing beliefs”. Porter dismissed as “demonic nonsense” all analysis of the 9/11 attacks that suggested there were specific causes: the consequences of violent actions taken by the powerful in the Middle East. Such thinking, he wrote, “exactly matches the views of Osma bin Laden … with America’s haters, that’s all there is – hatred”. This, of course, was Blair’s view.

Freedoms are being lost in Britain because of the rapid growth of the “national security state”. This form of militarism was imported from the United States by New Labour. Totalitarian in essence, it relies upon fear mongering to entrench the executive with venal legal mechanisms that progressively diminish democracy and justice. “Security” is all, as is propaganda promoting rapacious colonial wars, even as honest mistakes. Take away this propaganda, and the wars are exposed for what they are, and fear evaporates.  Take away the obeisance of many in Britain’s liberal elite to American power and you demote a profound colonial and crusader mentality that covers for epic criminals like Blair. Prosecute these criminals and change the system that breeds them and you have freedom.

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