[Media-watch] Tony Blair's Latest Lies About The War In Iraq

David McKnight david at milwr.freeserve.co.uk
Sun Oct 17 18:01:03 BST 2004

        Global Terrorism, Human Rights And Democracy
        Tony Blair's Latest Lies About The War In Iraq
        by Voices in the Wilderness; October 13, 2004 http://www.zmag.org/content/print_article.cfm?itemID=6406&sectionID=15 

    As the British Government have discarded one set of lies about Iraq, used to justify the invasion, they have replaced them with a new set - this time aimed at justifying the ongoing military occupation. 

    Thus, at press conference with the US-appointed Iraqi Prime Minister (and former CIA asset) Ayad Allawi on 19 Sept, Tony Blair declared that we are now fighting a "new Iraqi conflict" which he identified as "the crucible in which the future of . global terrorism will be determined." According to Mr Blair, this "new conflict" pits an Iraqi government that is "trying to create . [a] democratic [Iraq] . [that] respects human rights" against "former regime elements and . outside terrorists." Given the source it should come as no surprise to learn that every one of these statements is false. 


    Blair's emphasis on the role of "outside terrorists" - and his conflation of the ongoing war in Iraq with "global terrorism" - 'runs counter to the US military's own assessment that the Iraqi insurgency remains primarily a home-grown problem' (LA Times, 28 September). Indeed, 'US military officials said Iraqi officials [who have spoken of foreign insurgents "flooding" into the country] tended to exaggerate the number of foreign fighters in Iraq to obscure the fact that large numbers of their foreign countrymen have taken up arms against US troops and the American-backed interim Iraqi government.' "They say these guys are flowing across [the border] and fomenting all this violence. We don't think so," a senior military official in Baghdad explained. "What's the main threat? It's internal." 

    30% OR 2%? 

    In one recent interview, the US-appointed Iraqi PM Ayad Allawi claimed that foreign fighters constituted 30% of insurgent forces. In reality they probably form less than 2% - maybe much less. Indeed, in a Sept. 26 TV interview, the head of US Central Command, Gen. John Abizaid, 'estimated that the number of foreign fighters in Iraq was below 1000' [1], while the former deputy commander of coalition forces puts the number of insurgents at around 50,000 (Independent on Sunday, 3 Oct). Furthermore, much of the resistance appears to be actively hostile to Zarqawi and his followers [2]. 


    At the same time as debunked the one myth, however, Abizaid appeared to be replacing it with another, claiming that, "the primary problem we're dealing with is former regime elements of the ex-Baath Party." While it is certainly true that there are former Ba'athists among the insurgents, it is unclear how large a role they actually play [3]. For obvious reasons the US and British governments like to present the insurgents as either 'Saddam loyalists' or 'foreign fighters'. However, since their assault on the vehemently anti-Saddam Sadrist movement in April, they've been forced to admit a third category: Sadrist 'militiamen.' Nonetheless, there appear to be plenty of insurgents who fall into none of these categories. 

    "WE HAD TO ACT" 

    One such individual was recently profiled by Jason Burke in the Observer (12 Sept). 'Abu Mujahed' was 'pro-American before the invasion,' Burke writes, but 'his faith in the US was shaken when, via a friend's illicitly imported satellite TV system, he saw 'barbaric, savage' pictures of civilian casualties of the fighting and bombing. The next blow came in the conflict's immediate aftermath, as looters ran unchecked through Baghdad.' "When I saw the American soldiers watching and doing nothing as people took everything, I began to suspect the US was not here to help us but to destroy us," he explained. "I thought it might be just the chaos of war but it got worse, not better." He quickly found that many in his neighbourhood shared his anger and concluded that 'the time had come . "we had to act".' 'Nothing had been planned in advance . and the others in his group were not working to any plan. Everything they did was improvised. And each of the seven-man group had a different motive: "One man was fighting for his nation, another for a principle, another for his faith."' According to Burke, 'His justification for the struggle was an inconsistent mix of political and economic grievances and wounded pride: "We are under occupation. They bomb the mosques, they kill a huge number of people. There is no greater shame than to see your country being occupied."' 


    Turning to Blair's claim that the US-appointed Iraqi Government is "trying to create . [a] democratic [Iraq] . [that] respects human rights," once again, the reality is very different. Thus Jason Burke notes that 'the lineaments of a new nation are emerging. Ironically, much of it looks like Saddam's Iraq, though without the systematic repression . The new police see their job as maintaining order - in a brutal, often lethal fashion - not protecting citizens against crime. The government has responded harshly to media criticism . [and] Allawi has even created a secret intelligence service and talked of 'emergency powers' to counter violence. All of this confirms a pre-war memorandum to Tony Blair from senior UK government advisers . pointing out there was no certainty that any 'replacement regime' in Iraq 'will be any better' [than Saddam's]' (Observer, 19 Sept) [4]. 

    In July a reporter for Knight Ridder Newspapers was invited by 'an Iraqi lieutenant Colonel, an intelligence officer under Saddam Hussein's regime . to observe an afternoon of his interrogations. What followed was a scene that would probably have sparked a scandal had American forces been involved,' she noted (19 July). Prisoners, blindfolded with scraps of cloth and bound by plastic ties were subjected to 'interrogations that included blows to the head and threats against their families.' "Don't talk to me about human rights," one interrogator told her. "When security settles down, we'll talk about human rights. Right now, I need confessions.' 

    'LEAVE ... [OR] BE SHOT' Iraq's democratic and human rights credentials were also on display in Najaf during the three-week-long siege of the Imam Ali shrine. Journalists who protested police orders to leave the city were told: "You have been warned. You have two hours. If you don't leave you will be shot."' (Independent, 16 August). The police then 'followed up [these] earlier threats by arresting one journalist, Ahmed al-Saleh, who [wa]s working with al-Arabiya TV network and firing warning shots at the Sea of Najaf hotel, where nearly all foreign and Arab journalists are staying' (Independent, 17 August). Journalists at the hotel were then told by a police lieutenant: "We are going to open fire on this hotel. We are going to smash it up. I will kill you all. You did this all to yourselves", claiming that 'four snipers would be positioned on the roof of the police station to fire at any journalist who left the hotel. ' 

    Nonetheless, 'Downing Street warned against journalists in Najaf making claims that there was a clampdown on the media. "I think we should not be too hasty to turn this into a debate about free speech," a No 10 spokesman said, responding to news of the death threats. "There is quite a lively media in Iraq for the first time in years . We are sure that any action taken by [the Iraqi authorities] is consistent with the security situation," he explained (Independent, 17 August). 

    On 7 Aug, at the start of the assault on Najaf, the Iraqi Government closed the offices of the Arab television station al-Jazeera and banned it for 30 days (AP, 7 Aug) - the ban was later extended indefinitely (Guardian, 6 Sept) 


    On 24 Aug 2003, the Washington Post reported that the US had 'begun a covert campaign to recruit and train agents [from] the once-dreaded [Iraqi] intelligence service to help identify resistance to American forces.' Whilst these officials 'acknowledge[d] the sensitivity of cooperating with a force that embodies the ruthlessness' of Hussein's regime and the 'pitfalls in relying on an instrument loathed by most Iraqis and renowned across the Arab world for its casual use of torture, fear, intimidation, rape and imprisonment' they claimed that 'an urgent need.ha[d] forced unusual compromises.' According to Iraqi security sources, 'about two-thirds of the new [Iraqi National Intelligence Service] [i]s made up of former members of the Mukhabarat and other intelligence groups that worked under the old regime' (Chicago Tribune, 4 Aug); a strange way to set about creating an Iraq that 'respects human rights.' 


    But what about Blair's claim that there is currently a process "to get Iraq towards democracy"? Is this the saving grace? Well, elections are scheduled to take place by the end of January 2005 but, as the Independent's Patrick Cockburn notes, '[i]n present circumstances it will be impossible to hold elections which have any meaning in Iraq. Iraqis will not recognise as fair an election in which the ballot box is strapped to the back of a US tank' (18 Sept). 

    Over the past 18 months, the US has consistently stalled on one-person-one-vote elections in Iraq, seeking instead to 'put democracy on hold until it can be safely managed' (Salim Lone, director of communications for the UN in Iraq until Autumn 2003, Guardian, 13 April). More recently it has made a number of moves to control the forthcoming electoral process [5]. Furthermore, according to Newsweek (7 June), 'No one is better equipped [to use official powers to influence the planned elections] than [Iraq's US-appointed Prime Minister Ayad] Allawi.' On 27 Sept. Time reported the existence of 'a secret "finding" . proposing a covert CIA operation to aid candidates favored by Washington.' Meanwhile the Economist (18 Sept) reports that the opposition groups that sided with the US before the war are discussing a so-called "monster consensus list" of candidates - an idea which 'could create an essentially a one-party election . look[ing] uncomfortably like the plebiscites choreographed to produce 98 percent majorities under Saddam Hussein' (New York Times leader, 26 Sept, see the 37th voices newsletter for more info). 


    To summarise: all the signs are that occupied Iraq is not headed for democracy but for some sort of authoritarian regime. Furthermore the simple truth is that US and British troops are currently fighting a war against Iraqis resisting the military occupation of their country by forces that have killed thousands of Iraqi civilians and have no right to be there. "I don't begrudge them," a Marine officer told the New York Times, about a mortar attack on a US base. "We'd do the same thing if some foreign dudes rolled into San Diego and set up shop" (2 May). As one Marine infantryman explained to AP: "We shouldn't be here. There was no reason for invading this country in the first place. We just came here and (angered people) and killed a lot of innocent people. I don't enjoy killing women and children, it's not my thing." (AP, 22 Sept). 


    [1] According to US military intelligence agents in Iraq, the role of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi - the man allegedly responsible for scores of suicide bombings inside Iraq - has been 'exaggerated by flawed intelligence and the Bush administration's desire to find "a villain" for the post-invasion mayhem' (Telegraph, 4 Oct). According to one agent: "The overwhelming sense from the information we are now getting is that the number of foreign fighters does not exceed several hundred and is perhaps as low as 200. From the information we have gathered, we have to conclude that Zarqawi is more myth than man." Recent reports for an Arab intelligence service concur, judging that Zarqawi's own group has fewer than 100 members inside Iraq (Newsday.com, 4 Oct). 

    [2] This goes without saying for the (Shi'ite) Sadrist movement since Zarqawi reportedly regards Shi'ism as an "infidel ideology" and is suspected of being behind an August 2003 attack on a Shi'a mosque in Najaf (Guardian, 23 Sept). The Kuwaiti daily al-Rai al-Aam recently reported that several of the Sunni resistance groups, commanding a total of "7,000 fighters across Iraq",'plan to unite under one umbrella and rein in sectarian attacks by [Zarqawi's followers]' (AFP, 4 Oct) "If Zarqawi does not abandon his plans to instigate a sectarian rift, the groups will force him to do so even if that requires taking up arms against him," the paper quoted one of its sources as saying. 

    [3] Back in April Robert Fisk reported the findings of an Iraqi academic who lives in Fallujah, who had reported to a conference on Iraq held by the Centre for Arab Unity Studies in Beirut that '80 per cent of all rebels killed were Iraqi Islamist activists. Only 13 per cent of the dead men were primarily nationalists and only 2 per cent had been Baathists' (Independent, 10 April, the figures presumably refer to the cases that he had examined). 

    [4] Note, however, that there is nothing 'ironic' about any of this eg. prior to the invasion, Milan Rai noted that the evidence suggested 'that the men leading us to war are intent on . maintaining the structures of power and ways of operating much as they are' (War Plan Iraq, Verso, p. 133). 

    [5] Earlier this year the US passed laws banning the Sadrist movement - which, it has been estimated, would get about a third of the Shiite vote in a free election - from taking part in elections; and granting a US-created electoral commission wide-ranging powers to ban candidates. See voices briefing 'So Long as You Win' for background and sources. 

    Voices in the Wilderness UK has been campaigning on UK policy towards Iraq, in solidarity with the Iraqi people, since February 1998. For more information see www.voicesuk.org.

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