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Accountability for the War in Iraq

November 23rd, 2008

The Iraqi people’s human and civil rights were – and remain -swept aside by the occupation.

By Burhan Al-Chalabi.

The U.S. Presidential Election has sent a clear and unequivocal message to the world. The American people have rejected the foreign and domestic policies of President George W. Bush.

In Britain, the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, found his position unsustainable and resigned, leaving the invasion of Iraq and its awful consequences as his political legacy. The new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has talked about the need to be open and transparent in order to win the trust of the British public, but has so far shown no sign of addressing or redressing his predecessor’s failed policies in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. The military occupation of Iraq and the exploitation of its vast mineral wealth continue unabated.

To justify the invasion of and war against Iraq, President Bush and Prime Minister Blair cited two violations by the Iraqi regime: of human rights and of UN Security Council resolutions passed just before and after the first Gulf War of 1991. The purpose of the war, it was claimed, was to hold the Iraqi regime accountable under international law.

But by invading Iraq, the U.S. Administration and the British Government were themselves violating UN resolutions and international law, as stated in the Report by Lord Bingham, the Law Lord, and published in the Guardian on 18th November 2008. The Iraqi people’s human and civil rights were —and remain—swept aside by the acts of war and the continuing fact of occupation.

Today, Iraq’s sovereignty has been destroyed. Its wealth of cultural heritage has been looted or vandalised. Iraq’s natural resources have been squandered, and its once-elaborate and sophisticated infrastructure has been laid to waste. Safety, security, and the processes of the rule of law are virtually non-existent. The legal and moral authority of the UN has been undermined. Terrorism is on the increase.

The whole Middle East region has either been destabilised or is as a result of the chaos in Iraq at high risk of instability or even meltdown. To all intents and purposes Southern Iraq is under the control of the Tehran Government, an outcome that many familiar with the region foresaw as talk of an invasion mounted in 2002 but the Bush White House and its associated agencies somehow failed to anticipate.

To get rid of one man, the two Anglo-American powers have brought an entire nation to the brink of devastation. This man, Saddam Hussein, was not at war with the U.S. or the UK, and could not realistically have posed a threat, at any level. He was not even considered any longer, in 2002, to be a serious threat to his Arab and Persian neighbours. Neither did Iraq pose any threat to American or British national interests or security, as it has since been proved to the satisfaction of all but a few of the most die-hard and tunnel-visioned supporters of the failed Bush regime and the departed Mr. Blair.

More than 3million Iraqis have left their homes, most of these having to flee to neighbouring Arab countries or the West. Iraqis now form one of the largest refugee communities in Europe. More than 600,000 civilians have been killed. Tens of thousands more are maimed or injured, traumatised or homeless, often all of these. Wild dogs feast on Iraqi remains. Holy places have been desecrated. Hundreds of people are assassinated or kidnapped every day. Puppet Iraqi Governments under the occupation are prevented from publishing the details and numbers of dead Iraqis.

During the 13 years of the U.S.-led economic and other sanctions imposed by the Security Council, Iraqi children suffered from malnutrition and genetic disorder caused by depleted uranium (DU). Some eminent Western medical authorities estimated in the early 1990s that Iraqi children – babies, toddlers and infants – were dying at the rate of one every six minutes. All the most telling evidence from UN agencies and NGOs and visiting experts in the medical and scientific fields was ruthlessly ignored by the U.S.- and British-dominated sanctions authorities. Between 1991 and 2003 the lifeblood of the nation was drained.

Since the American military occupation, Iraqi children are growing up in what is an even worse situation. The sanctions have been replaced by anarchy, institutionalised sectarian division, mayhem and murder. These children remain in fear of their lives, with no hopes, no dreams, no education, and no health care. They are helpless. For the lucky ones, play time is spent on rubbish dumps, even seeking food amongst this filth. Many others are kept at home for fear of being kidnapped or blown up.

This is a demeaning sight in one of the richest countries in the world, one which had developed fast and successfully in areas such as health, welfare, medicine, education, roads, housing and literacy, a model for other Middle East nations in how to use and spread oil wealth, and for the developing world—until just 19 years ago. Modern Iraq, if such a term can be used, is now a permanent and shameful scar on the conscience of those who conspired to invade and occupy Iraq to further their national and personal ambitions.

Iraq is a failed state. For Iraqis, life is hell. Things worsen by the day. Secular Iraq had made great strides in improving the lot of all of its people in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, in all social and economic areas. Sectarian Iraq is the most corrupt nation in the world, a perfect export model of U.S. political hypocrisy in action.

The occupiers use every conceivable excuse to justify the failure of the war in Iraq. They dismiss resistance to the occupation as mere terrorism, and other labels insulting to the Iraqi people but considered palatable to U.S. domestic consumption. All that is bad and violent is attributed to the Iraqis and their traditions or nature; the Americans and the British, of course, bear no responsibility for the breakdown in order and the monumental increase in sectarian violence since 2003. Abuse, torture, humiliation and rape are treated as a side show, left to committees to get it out of the glare of negative publicity and to dampen public anger and frustration of the conduct of the war.

The war was never intended to be one of liberation. There was never an exit strategy. Instead, initiatives are taken to divert attention from the true extent of human and financial losses by the war, and to justify continuing the occupation.

The real quagmire of the U.S. Administration is not just to be found in the catastrophic failure of the war, which was doomed to fail from the start; it is not even in the extent of human and financial losses and suffering, both Iraqi and American. Death and destruction is the business of war.

No, at the heart of this swamp is dishonesty with the American (and British and Iraqi) public. The American and British public, legislators and voters were inveigled into this disaster. The true aims of the war were never shared by its architect with the American people for fear of being rejected for what they really were— American Imperialism, a modern day spin for politically, commercially and religiously motivated colonial imperialism. The American and British Governments conspired with much of the western media and pulled the wool over the eyes of most of the others—who largely seemed all too ready to listen to their masters—to hide the facts, continue the deceptions, and prolong the suffering and pain of the Iraqi people.

President-elect Obama’s message to the American public is that of change. The most fundamental change needed is honesty, transparency and accountability with respect to the war against Iraq. The American public deserve to know what their loved ones died for. Iraqis also want to know the Bush administration’s hidden agenda for the invasion, destruction and continuing occupation of Iraq.

In Britain, bereaved parents also deserve to be told for whom their sons and daughters died. This was no war for the greater good, Queen and Country. It was for oil.

In March, 2005, it was revealed by The Sunday Times that in 2002 the then head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, told Tony Blair and his leading advisers after a visit to Washington that “the facts and intelligence” were being “fixed round the policy” by George W Bush’s Administration.

In his resignation speech, Tony Blair said: “I did what I thought was right for our country”, all this in the face of irrefutable evidence that he and his closest aides deliberately misled the British public and the Labour Party into believing there was palpable national risk to Britain at the hands of a WMD-bearing Saddam Hussein. To date, the British Government has ignored all attempts to set up a proper public, judicial or parliamentary inquiry into what led to the Anglo-American invasion—the biggest western blunder in the Middle East since Suez, and one of far greater consequences.

In a democracy, the executive must be held accountable to the people. Only this can and will restore faith in the most fundamental principles of democracy, namely accountability.

Officials of the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein were quickly held accountable for their crimes, and punished, some—including Saddam Hussein himself—executed for their felonies and atrocities. But to date; there has been no independent judicial or political process in the US or UK to hold anybody accountable for the violations and crimes of invading Iraq and what has happened since—what is still happening without an end in sight.

Hiding behind “dodgy dossier” or expressions of faith, hope and belief in the so-called Western system or “spread of democracy” are not legal justifications for avoiding responsibility. Advocating the politics of fear to pursue personal or national agendas cannot be accepted in the civilised world.

Real not politicised justice must be seen to be done, to right the wrongs committed by the Bush Administration against the Iraqi people. The first step is to announce a date for the withdrawal of American forces and their imports of Iranian and Iraqi cronies.

– Dr. Burhan Al-Chalabi (FRSA) is Chairman of the British Iraqi Foundation.

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