‘BAGHDAD—Insurgents unleashed a pair of powerful car bombs yesterday near the symbol of US authority in Iraq…Three other explosions brought the day’s bombing toll to at least 24 dead and more than 100 wounded.’ – Associated Press 5th October 2004
“We’re dealing with an enemy that has no conscience. Today there was a car bomb near a school. These people are brutal. They’re the exact opposite of Americans. We value life and human dignity; they don’t care about life and human dignity. We believe in freedom; they have an ideology of hate. And they’re tough, but not as tough as America. (Applause.)" President George W. Bush at an ‘Ask President Bush’ in Clive, Iowa 4th October 2004
“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
“What has to be done in that country is what basically was done in Samarra over the last 48 hours” US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, President Bush’s Secretary of State for Defense, 4th October 2004
“It literally is a fight between the forces of good and the forces of evil, and we should be immensely proud of the part that this country and our troops are playing in that struggle.” Tony Blair on Iraq - Prime Minister's Questions - 3rd March 2004 Hansard 3rd March 2004
He claims that US soldiers such as him were told little about Iraq, Iraqis or Islam before serving there; other than a book of Arabic phrases, "the message was always: 'Islam is evil' and 'They hate us.' Most of the guys I was with believed it." Article referring to US Iraq veteran Michael Blake , Guardian 29th March 2006
“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.” Amnesty International Annual Report 2006 - country report summary - Iraq
There has been a lot of argument over the number of people killed in Darfur - and much more over the number killed in Iraq since the invasion. The complete dismissal of studies whose estimates they dislike by the British and American governments have been kneejerk responses. However arguing over exact numbers is pointless as the most we can get even by the best survey methods are estimate which often rely on estimates of mortality rates before the wars began. (For those who want more details on the various studies and figures and the debates on them click here )
What the studies do tell us is that in both Iraq and in Darfur hundreds of thousands of people have been killed or died due to the indirect effects of war since 2003. This is a vast and continuing loss of lives. To try to stop more lives being lost we need to know why people are being killed , who by , and what we can do to stop it. I'll focus on the Iraq war as it is also a major cause of the failure to end war and genocide in Darfur.
President Bush and Prime Minister Blair have repeatedly referred to the coalition forces and those fighting them in Iraq as opposites - as “good” fighting “evil”. Blair has even claimed that British and American forces aren't killing any civilians - only their enemies are.
Certainly Blair, Cohen and Harry Barnes are all correct that there is a threat to democracy in Iraq posed by religious extremists and extreme nationalists or fascists such as some former Ba’athists. These extremists murder and torture people of other religious or political beliefs or even those with different family names and attack and kill civilians including girls for the “crime” of seeking an education. Yet coalition troops have also killed large numbers of civilians - as have the forces of the Iraqi government our troops are keeping in power. For instance research by Iraq Body Count found that in the coalition assault on Falluja in April 2004 at least 600 civilians were killed – half of them women and children , mostly by coalition forces, in incidents including attacks on ambulances, sniper fire on children and indiscriminate bombing and shelling confirmed by Iraqis and western aid workers.
This was not an isolated incident – every coalition and Iraqi government assault on an Iraqi city to clear them of insurgents has killed civilians, half or more women or children in every case – and in every case the insurgents have returned afterwards. For instance Fallujah was assaulted again in November 2004 by killing more civilians, despite Iyad Allawi’s false claims that there were no civilian casualties. No matter how many times this method fails and no matter the number of civilians killed in the process the coalition repeats it over and over again. Assaults on other cities – like Samarra – similarly result in heavy civilian casualties with more than half being women and children. Thankfully Rumsfeld is now gone - but the coalition's methods in Iraq still involve tactics that kill many civilians.
Similarly with ‘precision air strikes’ which, often kill civilians. Frequently their supposed insurgent target isn’t even there due to faulty intelligence. Then there are the shootings at check points like those described by Jim Massey (who was a US marine sergeant in Iraq).
Accounts like those of Massey are confirmed by the Pentagon's files on compensation claims by Iraqis and Afghans for members of their family killed by coalition forces.
These files also highlight the number of deaths caused by a lack of the use of Arabic signs at checkpoints, US soldiers' lack of even simple Arabic phrases such as "get out of the car" and the lack of interpreters at checkpoints.
A UN report in September 2006 found that the bodies of people tortured before being killed in Iraqi morgues came not only from those killed by militias or the Iraqi government but also from prisons run by US forces – 3 years after the “isolated incidents” of the Abu Ghraib scandal. (see especially paragraph 66 on p16 of this pdf file of the report)
Arguing over whether these killings of civilians by coalition troops are deliberate or accidental is irrelevant. In most cases it is probably accidental. The fact is our troops can’t protect Iraqis from insurgents and Al Qa’ida – and are also killing large numbers of Iraqi civilians themselves. It’s no good blaming the troops or shrugging it off as being “inevitable in war”. Our governments are responsible for these deaths. They sent the troops there. They keep them there. They decide what tactics will be permitted.
Then there are the deliberate killings of Iraqi civilians by coalition troops. The most notorious was the Haditha massacre when US soldiers murdered 24 Iraqis, including children, who lived near a road on which one of the US squad was killed by a roadside bomb. In another case US units in Iraq after having lost soldiers to insurgent bombs to find the nearest Iraqi, kill them and put a spade in their hands to make it appear as though they had been killed while planting a bomb.
In some cases like these those responsible face court martials and jail sentences but these won’t bring the dead back to life and don’t prevent more such atrocities.
These are not isolated incidents though. Many US veterans of the Iraq war confirm that it's common for US soldiers to open fire on the nearest Iraqis they can find if they are attacked using IEDs ('improvised explosive devices' or roadside bombs) as at Haditha - and for Iraqis to be shot and then a shovel and an AK47 put in their hands to make it appear as if they were planting a roadside bomb. So the notorious case of US soldiers dragging a disabled Iraqi man from his house and putting a shovel and AK47 in his hands before shooting him was not a one off incident. Many US soldiers are not involved in these killings and oppose them - possibly even a majority are not involved - but there is a large minority who are - and superior officers are doing little to prevent it other than occasional trials to make each type of killing appear like a one-off incident
Again whether the troops involved are to blame in these situations or whether they ‘cracked’ under the pressure of constant fear and seeing their friends killed is not the issue.
The issue is that the longer the war continues the more civilians each side will kill – some accidentally as at Falluja, others deliberately, as at Haditha. Either way they will all be just as dead as Iraqis killed by insurgent groups – insurgent groups fed by the presence of foreign troops and the mass unemployment created in Iraq – of which more later.
The torture and murder of Iraqi civilians by coalition forces who are meant to be there to protect them is sadly not a matter of a few soldiers out of control or isolated incidents. We know this from the testimony of both Iraqis and British and American troops in investigations by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Committee of the Red Cross. While I agree with much of the Euston Manifesto it’s claim that Amnesty International have exaggerated human rights abuses by the Bush administration is wrong.
Academics, journalists and trade unionists are being murdered in Iraq (most famously the trade unionist Hadi Saleh ). So are huge numbers of civilians in terrorist bombings. The question in most cases though is who by?
Supporters of the Iraq war talk a great deal of former Ba’ath party fascists among the insurgents. They ignore the fact that as many of Saddam’s former Mukhabarat torturers and secret police now work for the coalition and the new ‘democratic’ government as for its opponents.
Each year hundreds of academics who have criticised the presence of coalition troops or the new Iraqi government are murdered in Iraq without anyone claiming responsibility. The answer in most cases is that we don’t know who carried these attacks given that in many cases “unidentified gunmen” are responsible and no group claims responsibility - but elements on both sides are probably organising assassinations, murders and terrorist attacks – and those responsible on both sides should be condemned and opposed. As one Iraqi government poster
Indeed according to Seymour Hersh (who has never yet been proven wrong in decades of investigative journalism) US Vice President Dick Cheney is among those organising “black operations” funded by Saudi money and “unaccounted for” Iraqi and American money (such as that which disappeared under the Coalition Provisional authority) to organise attacks on armed Shia groups (seen as agents of Iranian influence) by sunni extremist groups inspired by Al Qa’ida across the Middle East. This policy aims to "contain Iranian influence" much as the policies of backing the Contra death squads in Nicaragua and the Mujahedin in Pakistan and Afghanistan aimed to "contain Soviet power".
Cheney believes that this time he and the Saudis have complete control over those they back and can direct them to only attack armed groups such as Hezbollah. This is likely to be wishful thinking at best as support to the Mujahedin showed. CIA and ISI support for Islamic extremists such as Hekmatyar resulted in strengthening Hekmatyar's faction - which was subsequently alleged to be involved in the 1993 truck bombing of the World Trade Center.
These Sunni extremist groups (like Al Qaeda) believe that all Shia - armed or not - are "apostates" and as much targets for elimination as non-Muslim "infidels"
Many of the suicide bombings in Iraq have targeted Shia pilgrims - including many Iranian pilgrims travelling to the Shia holy places in Kerbala in Iraq.So Cheney may well be aiding the same suicide bombings he publicly condemns. That means some of the $20 billion of Iraqi money (much of it unaccounted for) gone under Paul Bremer’s ‘Coalition Provisional Authority’ (and much of that going to “ghost employees” in Iraq) may be be funding the terrorist groups' bombing Iraqi shia.
If all these deaths brought democracy and peace closer in Iraq then there might still be an argument for keeping our troops there. In fact they make the very forces our governments say put democracy at risk in Iraq stronger. After the invasion Moqtada Al Sadr was a minor Shi'ite cleric. In ??? polls gave him % support. Now he has %. The only hope for Iraq not collapsing into worse civil war lies in Iraqi nationalism like that of Sadr's. At the same time nationalism is a threat to democracy if it becomes so extreme as to make any opponent of the Iraqi government be seen as a traitor. Secular democracy that didn't emphasise religion would be ideal given the variety of religious beliefs in Iraq (sunni, shia, Christian and agnostic/atheist/secular). However that is not an option that currently has any support - and British and American government support for it merely de-legitimises it by association with torture and killings during military occupation. It similarly strengthens support for Islamic fundamentalist leaders who have been willing to stand up to occupation.
What is the point of our troops being kept in Iraq to ‘protect’ Iraqi civilians when they can’t protect them and end up killing many civilians themselves and strengthening the extremist , nationalist and criminal groups in Iraqi society while weakening support for democracy by putting forward thugs like Iyad Allawi as phony ‘democrats’?
copyright©Duncan McFarlane 2007
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email me BBC News 16 Jan 2007, ‘UN marks soaring Iraq death toll’, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/6266393.stm Guardian 29 Mar 2006 'If you start looking at them as humans, then how are you gonna kill them?' http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,1741699,00.html