Rather than democracy, the US/UK-led invasion and occupation of Iraq delivered a bloodbath. Eddie Ford looks at the Wikileaks revelations
Now it’s official – or as good as. Iraq has been reduced to virtual hell on earth by the invading coalition troops. So last week Wikileaks published a record-breaking 391,831 documents, previously secret military logs detailing ‘sigacts’ (significant actions), relating to the prosecution of the Iraq war. In fact, more like a tidal wave than a leak. The truth is out and there for anyone to read in staggering, sickening detail. Stung by the revelations, the Gulf Cooperation Council has urged Washington to investigate the “crimes against humanity” catalogued by Wikileaks.
Of course, this is not the view of the imperialist establishment. We are told that the leaks are “essentially snapshots of events”, containing “both tragic and mundane” incidents, and hence “do not tell the whole story” – so said Pentagon spokesperson Geoff Morrell in a terse statement. Moreover, he added, the leaked documents “do not bring new understanding” to the conflict – sentiments naturally shared by the UK ministry of defence, even if expressed in not such a bellicose manner. The self-serving mendacity of such a claim is so transparent as to be almost comical – if it was not such a grotesque insult to the Iraqi dead and maimed. Washington angrily demanded that the documents be removed from the internet and Iran too denounced the “mischievous” Wikileaks – seeing how they also chronicle the operations of Iranian allies inside Iraq. We in the CPGB, on the other hand, welcome the publication of the documents and can only wholeheartedly agree with the comments made by Wikileaks’ founder, Julian Assange – who reminded us that the “attack on the truth by war begins long before war starts and continues long after a war ends”, but that Wikileaks aims “to correct some of that attack”. Well, it has certainly done that.
Right, no “new understanding” about Iraq – really? OK, thanks to Wikileaks we now know – in near forensic detail – that United States and British troops, and their local satraps, have been responsible for civilian casualties on a massive scale. War crimes, pure and simple. Thus the Wikileaks documents reveal that between 2004 and 2009 there were 109,000 violent deaths – 66,081 civilians, 23,984 people classed as “the enemy”, 15,196 Iraqi security forces and 3,771 coalition troops. In the past, the US military has point-blank denied that it has ever kept a record of civilian deaths in Iraq – but, as the documents demonstrate, this is just another lie to add to all the others. Anyone remember Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction?
Indeed, not only did the US military keep logs of civilian deaths, what has also been concealed is the fact that these logs recorded the actual names of thousands of Iraqi civilian victims – bagged, named and tagged, so to speak. That is, in a triumph of inhuman bureaucracy, the US military records were extensive and quite meticulous. Of course, having said that, the figures we find in the Wikileaks documents are in reality a minimum estimate of the actual number of dead – needless to say, US military logs were often hastily compiled during or just after the heat of battle and hence cannot be entirely accurate.
Therefore the Iraq Body Count project, which has been monitoring civilian deaths throughout the entire conflict, has an even higher death toll – stating that it has clearly documented deaths which either do not appear in the military field reports at all or are not marked up as civilian deaths (or ‘kills’). For example, during the bloody battle of Fallujah in 2004 – which saw US marines engaged in some of the heaviest urban combat since the Battle of Hue City in Vietnam in 1968 – the IBC details between 1,226 and 1,362 such civilian casualties, whilst, by contrast, the US field reports do not list any. And so on.
The IBC believes that, after cross-checking the leaked reports with its own documents, it has identified somewhere in the region of 15,000 new civilian deaths. Which brings the total to about 124,000 slaughtered during the war and subsequent occupation – not counting those grievously injured or traumatised. In the words of professor John Sloboda of the IBC, the new documents show the range and frequency of the “small, relentless tragedies of this war”.
However, the death count could be even worse. In 2006 The Lancet medical journal produced a study based on population surveys or clusters, in which it asserted: “We estimate that, as a consequence of the coalition invasion of March 18 2003, about 655,000 Iraqis have died above the number that would be expected in a non-conflict situation, which is equivalent to about 2.5% of the population in the study area. About 601,000 of these excess deaths were due to violent causes.” Les Roberts, one of the report’s authors, went on to remark that the figure “may not be extremely precise, but it gets us into the ball park”.
What many have found truly shocking about the Wikileaks, for good reason, is the use of widespread and systematic torture by the Iraqi authorities often with the full complicity of the US military, who, of course, were more than capable themselves of engaging in cruel and sadistic behaviour towards their own captives. Or indeed anyone who had the misfortune to come to their attention, such as at roadside checkpoints – which became grisly focal points for semi-arbitrary terror against civilians, with some ending up as target practice for US marines.
Not that any of this has prevented a US military spokesman, colonel Dave Lapan, from telling the BBC that it had no plans to re-investigate the “alleged” abuses. In true Orwellian fashion he insisted that the behaviour of the US military in Iraq has been entirely “consistent” with the UN convention against torture. Lapan stressed that when the allegations involved “Iraqi on Iraqi abuse” the role of American soldiers was simply to “observe and report” what they had seen to their superiors – who in turn would then pass on the evidence to the Iraqi authorities to simply ignore and … continue the torture of their opponents. In other words, the predominate American attitude was to turn a blind eye and absolve themselves of all responsibility.
Reading through the Wikileaks we routinely find matter-of-fact references to beatings, kickings, whippings, raping, electrocution, the use of electric drills on detainee’s legs, and so on. A carnival of torture. Sometimes there are mentions of straightforward summary executions – kill first, ask questions (or cover up) later. One of the documents shows that the US military were given a video apparently showing Iraqi army officers executing a prisoner in the northern town of Talafar. The log states: “The footage shows the [Iraqi army] soldiers moving the detainee into the street, pushing him to the ground, punching him and shooting him” – going on to name at least one of the perpetrators. But nothing was done. In another case, US soldiers strongly suspected army officers of cutting off a detainee’s fingers and then burning him with acid. Yet many of these reports were marked “no further investigation” – case closed.
Examples of casual, and escalating, brutality abound. In one incident in July 2007, as many as 26 Iraqis were killed by a helicopter – at least half of them civilians beyond any shadow of doubt. Literally blown to smithereens. Another record shows an Apache helicopter gunship shot two men believed to have fired mortars at a military base in Baghdad in February 2007 – even though at the time they were attempting to surrender. The army crew asked HQ whether they could accept the surrender but were told they could not – apparently, they were “still valid targets”. So the helicopter crew dutifully killed them. Then a few months later a US helicopter using the same call-sign, ‘Crazyhorse 18’, was involved in another incident in which two journalists were killed and two children wounded.
In general, the Wikileaks indicate a disturbing tendency on the part of the US military to ‘take no prisoners’ – which is, to disregard the supposed conventions and rules of war and decline surrender offers. As an editorial in The Observer phrased it, the leaked files “expose a cavalier attitude towards international law with regard to the treatment of enemy soldiers” and the “disgraceful tolerance of civilian casualties” – with each extra piece of evidence building a “portrait of a military occupation deeply implicated in practices that were illegal under international law and unconscionable in the eyes of any reasonable observer”. Or to put it another way – so much easier, and cheaper, just to waste the bastards.
Of course, the deluge of classified war logs overwhelmingly confirms what was already known about the Iraq war to anyone with a few active brain cells. That, far from bringing civilisation and democracy to Iraq, as obscenely claimed by the likes of Donald Rumsfeld and the neocons – preening RoboCops – the US/UK-led invasion and occupation of Iraq brought carnage. This finally nails the miserable lie that to call for the unconditional withdrawal of all troops from Iraq would be to recklessly invite a “bloodbath” – a common barb directed against anti-war campaigners. Rather, as the Wikileaks documents painfully catalogue, it is the imperialist presence in that country which unleashed precisely that. Yes, the Saddam Hussein dictatorship – originally installed and backed, of course, by the US as a bulwark first against communism and then against the Islamic republic of Iran – was truly grim, but what came afterwards was even worse.
Furthermore, Wikileaks blows out of the water the claims made by ‘leftwing’ apologists for the war such as Norman Geras, Nick Cohen, David Aaronovitch, Alan Johnson, the Euston manifesto and the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. US victory did not bring democracy, trade union rights and ‘civilised values’. With absolute predictability, the exact reverse happened – with the working class movement crushed in the iron vice of imperialist oppression and Islamist reaction. Secularism has been set back decades, as has women’s rights. The country lies in ruins, dismembered, with less than half its population having reliable access to potable water and even fewer to electricity.
According to the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, the Iraq war caused more than 4.7 million Iraqis to flee their homes and seek refuge either internally or externally. In Fallujah, which was bombed almost back into the stone age, the stunning rate of infant mortality, cancer and birth defects have revealed a health crisis that has been called “worse than Hiroshima”. Maybe most damning of all, the Mercer Quality of Living survey in May published the results of “most livable city” in 2010 – ranking Baghdad the very last: it was the least livable city on the planet, due to the complete destruction of Iraq’s sewage treatment plants, factories, schools, hospitals, museums and power plants by the US military behemoth. And still without a government seven months after the elections. What an achievement.
In that sense, social imperialists such as the AWL must take their share of responsibility for the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis – as should all those who urged on, excused or were indifferent to the imperialist invasion and occupation. The CPGB has always called for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all imperialist troops from Iraq, and continues to do so – imperialism can only bring war, misery, death and suffering to the planet.
- My emphasis, www2.newsbbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6045112.stm
- The Observer October 24
- The Independent July 24.