Why we're not "cowards" to oppose the invasion and occupation of Iraq - and why John Gray and Tony Blair aren't "brave" for keeping our troops there

“Iraqi government and US forces declared yesterday that they had "pacified" the rebel stronghold of Samarra….Of 70 bodies brought into Samarra General Hospital, 23 were children and 18 women, said Abdul-Nasser Hamed Yassin, a hospital administrator. There were also 23 women among the 160 wounded….. Another resident, Mohammed Ali Amin, said: "There were American snipers on rooftops who were shooting people trying to get to their homes. Even at the hospital the Americans arrested injured boys of 15 saying they were insurgents." The Independent newspaper 4th October 2004

The Iraq war has so far led to the deaths of over 140 British soldiers , over 3,000 American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians. Blair and Bush may claim that the estimate of over 655,000 civilian dead(from a study published in the Lancet) is based on flawed methodology. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act and the BBC we know the chief scientific officer at the UK's Ministry of Defence says the methodology is "tried and tested" and if anything would lead to an under-estimate - as do most experts. Even the minority of experts who dispute the Lancet study's figures estimate over 100,000 civilians had been killed by October 2006 (1) , (2) , (3).

So estimates of the number of people killed in Iraq and Darfur are similar - hundreds of thousands. (4) , (5) , (6), (7) ,(8), (9), (10), (11). The Bush administration (rightly) says the Sudanese government is guilty of genocide in Darfur (12), (13).

They and Blair claim that only the enemies of the US and British forces and the new Iraqi government in Iraq are torturing and killing Iraqi civilians (14). Human Rights Watch , Amnesty International and British and American veterans of Iraq report that both sides are torturing and killing civilians.

To quote Amnesty's 2006 annual report :

Both the US-led Multinational Force (MNF) and Iraqi security forces committed grave human rights violations, including torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary detention without charge or trial, and excessive use of force resulting in civilian deaths. Armed groups fighting against the MNF and the Iraqi government were responsible for grave human rights abuses, including the deliberate killing of thousands of civilians in bomb and other attacks, hostage-taking and torture. (15)

We know from Iraqi hospitals and Iraq Body Count's analysis of news reports that more than half of the casualties in Coalition and Iraqi government forces' assaults on cities held by insurgents are civilians - and half are women and children (16), (17). We know from accounts by American veterans of the Iraq war (confirmed by Pentagon files on compensation claims lodged by Iraqis and Afghans) that civilians are routinely shot at checkpoints - partly due to a lack of Arabic signs and interpreters (almost no coalition troops are taught much Arabic) combined with fear of suicide bombers (18), (19), (20).

All sides - Sunni insurgents, Shia militias and coalition and Iraqi government forces mostly target combatants - all sometimes target civilians. The US government's General Accounting Office provides figures which show 75% of insurgent attacks have targeted coalition forces or Iraqi government forces (21). Given the source these figures arent likely to be biased towards the insurgents. In the assaults on Fallujah eyewitnesses - western aid workers and journalists and Iraqis said US forces targeted ambulances and civilians - (22). Sunni suicide bombers target shia civilians and shia militias carry out "revenge attacks" on sunni men (accounting for many of the civilian deaths in Iraq). However most common on both sides are attacks which target combatants but without any attempt to avoid killing any civilians who may be in the area. Air and artillery strikes in towns and cities are one example.

This is similar to the situation in Darfur where massacres of civilians have also been carried out by both sides - though the Sudanese government side is far stronger and kills far more (23). Everyone (except the Sudanese government) acknowledges that only a neutral UN force can end the killing in Darfur.

Similarly only a neutral UN force can end the many sided war now taking place in Iraq. Even the Iraq Study Group report - compiled by people appointed by President Bush acknowledges that , as one of the sides in the Iraq war, US and British forces are not seen as neutral so cannot disarm the Iraqi militias. Only a political settlement among Iraqis can do that. (24)

Yet the Bush administration continues to make a peace settlement impossible through its determination to kill the supposedly "sectarian" Moqtadr Al Sadr and destroy his Madhi army (25). This is despite Al Sadr has repeatedly telling his followers not to take revenge on ordinary Sunnis for Sunni extremists suicide bombings of Shias . For instance in 2006 Sadr made a speech saying " I totally reject any Shiite-Shiite fighting or Sunni-Shiite sectarian fighting in Iraq under any pretext...Protecting Iraq is our main goal, and the expulsion of the occupation troops from the country is our objective, too" (26).

Who's telling the truth? Al Sadr or the US military? Is he a sectarian posing as a non-sectarian? Or are The simple answer is no-one knows. John Gray and others assume that given a choice between democratically elected governments and their militaries or their enemies the probability is that we should give our own governments and militaries the benefit of the doubt. All the facts show this assumption is nonsense.

Successive British and American governments and their militaries have a long history of lying. (Hope you're not too shocked to find out that a lot of politicians and military press officers lie John Gray)

You only have to look at the versions of events given by the US military to the media on the capture and return of US soldier Jessica Lynch in Iraq and the death of US soldier Pat Tillman in Afghanistan - and compare them with the actual events as told by Lynch and members of Tillman's unit - to see that the US military lies brazenly. (27)

These lies are constant. In the April 2004 assault on Fallujah and the October 2004 assault on Samarra the US military and the Iraqi interim government claimed all the dead were "insurgents" or "terrorists". In fact journalists visiting Iraqi hospitals found most were civilians and in each case around half were women and children (at least 300 of them in Fallujah) .(28) , (29)

In a second assault on Fallujah in November 2004 they claimed no civilians had been killed. Eyewitnesses said otherwise.(30)

The British government (see section on Blair below) presented their own spin doctor's claims (which directly contradicted British intelligence reports) as if they were British intelligence reports - manufacturing claims that Saddam had a significant WMD capabilities AND would be willing to use them against the US, the UK and their allies (including British forces in Cyprus

Bush and Cheney went much further - claiming Saddam was aiding Al Qaeda in the face of the concensus in the intelligence community that there was no such link (as the US Inspector General , the 9-11 Commission and George Tenet, then head of the CIA , all found - the "slam dunk" quote attributed to Tenet also being a White House fabrication). Cheney continues repeating the lie (31) , (32) , (33). So we know the Bush administration's word can't be trusted either.

What we do know is that Sadr's primary aim is to get US and British forces to leave Iraq and his strategy is to unite Sunnis and Shias to achieve that aim - as he managed to when a million shias and sunnis marched on Najaf recently (34). That may be the main reason the Bush administration are targeting Al Sadr and the Medhi army - with the cover story that it's because he's a sectarian (which he may or may not be).

They don't want to give up the military bases they've built there and the garrisons in Iraq which could give them control of the world's second largest oil reserves (Iraq's) , help keep their allies in the Saudi monarchy in control of the world's largest oil reserves - and provide a potential staging post for attacks on the third largest (Iran's).

The other reason US forces are targeting Al Sadr and the Madhi army is that US Vice President Dick Cheney and the Saudi monarchy are co-operating to back armed Sunni extremist groups (who , like Al Qaeda, believe the only good Shia is a dead Shia) across the Middle East to target Shias in order to "contain Iranian power" . This is reported by the renowned investigative journalist Seymour Hersh (who first reported on the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and torture such as that at Abu Ghraib in Iraq) (35). His reports have never been wrong in a career spanning decades. Their belief that Shia equals Iranian backed may well have become a self-fulfilling prophecy in Sadr's case due to their targeting of him. Much of the Madhi army though, including Sadr, are Iraqi nationalists with little sympathy for the Iranian government or military (who , as the Iraq Study Group report says , are much closer to the SCIRI party which is still in the Iraqi government and its Badr brigade militia - which often clashes with the Madhi army) (36), (37). (Fighting between Sunni and Shias also serves to distract attention from Iraqi popular opposition to the presence of US and British troops - and as an excuse to keep some of them there)

Even if you believe Sadr is behind killings of Sunni civilians the occupation is making him - and people much more extreme than him - more popular in Iraq. Dr. Eric Hearing, (author of 'Iraq in Fragments') points out that Al Sadr is a moderate compared to some of his rivals in the Madhi army (38). He is at least willing to restrain the Madhi army in return for cabinet seats in the Iraqi government. The US offensive against him and his militia - combined with the Iraqi government's failure to set a date for US forces to leave Iraq - has led him and his ministers to leave the Iraqi government.

Even the Iraq Study Group (who want to maintain US bases and a reduced number of troops as 'advisers' in Iraq) acknowledge that Al Sadr may not be in control of the entire Madhi army and can be negotiated with (39). Sadr and his militia even co-operated with the troop surge and "security drive" in Baghdad - until it became clear that one of its main targets was to kill him and disband his militia (40). General Petraeus has said he will negotiate with any militia leaders - except Al Sadr and those of the Madhi army (41).

Occupation, torture and killings of civilians combined with the 'get Al Sadr' policy are further boosting Iraqi nationalists and Islamic fundamentalists like Sadr - and people much, much more extreme than him such as Al Qaeda and anti-Sunni extremists in the Madhi army. Most of their - and Al Sadr's support - comes from the occupying forces they can point to and be seen as opposing.

The security drive in Baghdad has succeeded in getting the Madhi army (some of whom have kidnapped and murdered Sunnis) to lie low in or leave the city temporarily. This has reduced the numbers of Sunnis kidnapped and killed by Shia in Baghdad - but completely failed to prevent (and probably made easier) suicide bombings by Sunni extremists which often kill hundreds of Shias in each attack (42) , (43). It also forced Al Sadr and other Madhi army leaders into hiding. All this makes it harder for Al Sadr and other Shia leaders to restrain factions in their militias considerably more extreme than them.

Our troops are in an impossible situation in Iraq. They're killing and dying for nothing. They cant prevent terrorist attacks and they're given orders that result in them killing civilians and destabilising Iraq further.

That's why the presence of US and British forces' in Iraq (despite being approved by the UN) will fail almost as badly as if the UN allowed Sudanese forces to act as peacekeepers in Darfur. One side in a conflict (even a multi-sided conflict) cannot act as mediators to end it. We should bring British and American troops safely home - and allow the Iraqi government to negotiate a peace settlement that includes Al Sadr. No Iraqi government that doesn't include Al Sadr will be stable.

Yet John Gray calls us "cowards" for wanting to withdraw British and American troops and replace them with a UN force that could end the killing in Iraq.

Next Link - John Gray's Heroes - Number One - Tony Blair- the man whose lies keep costing more lives

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(1) = Guardian 28 Mar 2006 , ‘A monstrous war crime’ (by Richard Horton - Editor of the Lancet), http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,2044157,00.html

(2) See links to responses to the survey by experts in the field of mortality surveys and statistics at compiled by Iraq Analysis

(3) = Note : The one point disputed by some scientists is the pre-invasion estimate of 5.5 deaths per thousand which seems to some people too low given that Iraq had been under comprehensive sanctions over a decade which caused large numbers of deaths due to shortages of food and medicines. Even these sceptics estimate the number of excess deaths caused by the war between the invasion and October 2006 at, as a guess, 100,000 to 150,000.

However Mike Lewis of Iraq Analysis argues that this is because the gross mortality rate is being measured - and the average age of the population (which is much lower in Iraq than e.g Israel or the UK) can affect the gross mortality rate.

In an email Mike Said "a country with high infant and child mortality rates, as well as high rates of violence may have a relatively low gross mortality rate simply because it has a relatively young population. Thus, for instance, the CIA world factbook (taking figures, I think, mainly from UNDP estimates) estimates that the gross death rate in Eritrea is slightly below that in Norway"

There were also concerns that the results suggested more deaths directly from violence than indirectly from starvation, malnutrition, lack of clean water etc caused by the violence disrupting food supplies or causing unemployment etc. (note though that many estimates in Darfur suggest more people are dying directly due to violence than indirectly from knock-on effects).

None of these points are raised by the Bush administration or Blair government, both of whom claim the entire methodology of the study was discredited - a claim refuted by every expert in the field. (Source for all the above - links compiled by Iraq analysis)

(4) = Washington Post 11 Oct 2006 , ‘Study Claims Iraq's 'Excess' Death Toll Has Reached 655,000’, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/10/AR2006101001442.html

(5) = Guardian 12 October 2006 , ‘This terrible misadventure has killed one in 40 Iraqis’by Richard Horton (Editor of the Lancet), http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1919977,00.html

(6) = The Lancet 14 Oct 2006 , ‘TMortality after the 2003 invasion of Iraq : a cross-sectional sample cluster survey’, Gilbert Burnham , Riyadh Lafta, Shannon Doocy, Les Roberts, http://www.thelancet.com/webfiles/images/journals/lancet/s0140673606694919.pdf

(7) = Darfur : A Genocide We Can Stop , ‘New Analysis Claims Darfur Deaths Near 400,000 : Experts estimate 500 people a day are dying’, Gilbert Burnham , Riyadh Lafta, Shannon Doocy, Les Roberts, http://www.darfurgenocide.org/aprildeathcount.php

(8) = New York Times / International Herald Tribune 11 May 2005 , ‘Tallying Darfur terror: Guesswork with a cause’, http://www.iht.com/articles/2005/05/10/news/journal.php

(9) = National Geographic 14 Sep 2006, 'Darfur Death Toll Is Hundreds of Thousands Higher Than Reported, Study Says', http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/09/060914-darfur-deaths.html

(10) = Science 15 September 2006: Vol. 313. no. 5793, pp. 1578 - 1579 DOI: 10.1126/science.1127397, 'Policy Forum SOCIAL SCIENCE: Death in Darfur' by John Hagan1 and Alberto Palloni, http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/summary/313/5793/1578

(11) = Guardian 14 Sep 2004, 'Darfur death toll at 10,000 a month' , http://www.guardian.co.uk/print/0,3858,5015205-103681,00.html

(12) = BBC News 9 Sep 2004 , ‘Powell declares genocide in Sudan’, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/3641820.stm

(13)Channel 4 News 12 Apr 2006 , 'Cracks in the Sudan alliance?', link (former Janjaweed commanders are interviewed saying the Janjaweed militia which has been involved in most of the massacres is entirely a creation of the Sudanese government)

(14) = BBC News 16 Jan 2007 , ‘UN marks soaring Iraq death toll’, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/6266393.stm

(15) = Amnesty International Annual Report 2006 , ‘Middle East And North Africa : Iraq’, http://web.amnesty.org/report2006/irq-summary-eng

(16) = Iraq Body Count Press Release 06 October 2004 , ‘No Longer Unknowable: Falluja's April Civilian Toll is 600’, http://www.iraqbodycount.org/press/archive.php#pr9

Note that IBC's figures are onlyi> based on deaths reported in the media - they are not an estimate of the total number of deaths in the war like the studies published in the Lancet, which is why their figures are so much lower than the John Hopkins study in the Lancet's

"Our maximum therefore refers to reported deaths - which can only be a sample of true deaths unless one assumes that every civilian death has been reported. It is likely that many if not most civilian casualties will go unreported by the media."

(17) = Independent 04 Oct 2004 , ‘Civilians bear brunt as Samarra 'pacified' ’, http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/article39655.ece

(18) = Independent 23 May 2004 , ‘The Marine's tale: 'We killed 30 civilians in six weeks. I felt we were committing genocide' ’, http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/article61655.ece

(19) = Guardian 17 Apr 2007 , ‘'Pentagon opens civilian claim files against military' ’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,,2056341,00.html

(20) = American Civil Liberties Union , ‘Civilian Deaths - The Human Cost of War’, http://www.aclu.org/natsec/foia/search.html. (This is a link to the ACLU's searchable database of the Pentagon files released to the ACLU under the US Freedom of Information Act. Try searching the database with the keyword 'checkpoint'. Accidental killings at checkpoints given the presence of suicide bombers are understandable - the failure of the US military to ensure signs in Arabic , interpreters being present - and the failure to teach troops the Arabic for "get out of the car" aren't.

(21) = United States Government Accountability Office 23 Apr 2007, GAO-07-525T , ‘STABILIZING AND REBUILDING IRAQ’, http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d07525t.pdf - see table on page 7 'ENEMY-INITIATED ATTACKS AGAINST THE COALITION AND ITS PARTNERS'.

(22) = BBC News 23 April 2004 ,‘Picture emerges of Falluja siege’, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/3653223.stm

(23) = Amnesty International Annual Report 2006 , ‘Africa : Sudan’, http://web.amnesty.org/report2006/sdn-summary-eng

(24) = James A. Baker & Lee H. Hamilton (co-chairs) (2006) , ‘The Iraq Study Group Report’, Vintage Books , Random House , New York p64-69 ( esp 67,69) ; Or see online version http://bakerinstitute.org/Pubs/iraqstudygroup_findings.pdf p45-47

(25) = ABC News 13 Feb 2007 , ‘Al Sadr Fled Iraq, Fearing U.S. Bombs’, http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/IraqCoverage/story?id=2872953

(26) = Washington Post 25 Oct 2006 , ‘More U.S. Troops May Be Iraq-Bound : Bigger Force Among Options, Commander Says, Citing Baghdad Violence’, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/31/AR2006103100225.html ( See third page for Sadr quote )

(27) = CNN 24 Apr 2007 , ‘Soldier: Army ordered me not to tell truth about Tillman’, http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/04/24/tillman.hearing/index.html

(28) = Iraq Body Count Press Release 06 October 2004 , ‘No Longer Unknowable: Falluja's April Civilian Toll is 600’, http://www.iraqbodycount.org/press/archive.php#pr9

(29) = The Independent 04 October 2004 , ‘Civilians bear brunt as Samarra 'pacified'’, http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/story.jsp?story=568511

(30) = The Independent 24 November 2004 , ‘Witnesses say US forces killed unarmed civilians’, http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/article21712.ece

(31) = Guardian 7 april 2007 , ‘Cheney defiant over al-Qaida link to Iraq’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,2052001,00.html

(32) = The Independent 17 June 2004 , ‘Official verdict: White House misled world over Saddam’, http://news.independent.co.uk/world/americas/article43280.ece

(33) = The Independent 28 Apr 2007 , ‘Ex-head of CIA accuses Bush over rush to war’, http://news.independent.co.uk/world/americas/article2491761.ece

(34) = Guardian 10 Apr 2007 , ‘Moqtada rallies Shia to demand withdrawal of foreign troops’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,2053247,00.html

(35) = New Yorker Magazine 5 Mar 2007 , ‘Annals of National Security : The Redirection’, http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/03/05/070305fa_fact_hersh

(36) = Guardian 10 Feb 2007 , ‘Surprising partners among Tehran's layer of alliances’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,2010002,00.html

(37) = James A. Baker & Lee H. Hamilton (co-chairs) (2006) , ‘The Iraq Study Group Report’, Vintage Books , Random House , New York - page 5 ; Or see online version http://bakerinstitute.org/Pubs/iraqstudygroup_findings.pdf page 11

(38) = Telegraph 12 Nov 2006 , ‘A vicious monster rises in Iraq's sectarian war – 'the Shia Zarqawi'’, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/11/12/wirq12.xml

(39) = James A. Baker & Lee H. Hamilton (co-chairs) (2006) , ‘The Iraq Study Group Report’, Vintage Books , Random House , New York - page 67 ; Or see online version http://bakerinstitute.org/Pubs/iraqstudygroup_findings.pdf page 45-47

(40) = Guardian 26 Feb 2007 , ‘Radical Shia cleric withdraws backing for Iraq security drive’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,2021323,00.html

(41) = Independent 08 March 2007 , ‘We'll have to talk to militants, says US chief in Iraq ’, http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/article2339289.ece

(42) = The Independent 07 March 2007 , ‘Shia pilgrims die in bomb attack despite US offensive’, http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/article2334906.ece

(43) = Guardian 19 Apr 2007 , ‘We'll be in control by end of 2007 says Maliki. In Baghdad, carnage continues’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/frontpage/story/0,,2060588,00.html

copyright©Duncan McFarlane 2007