On Remembrance Day 2007 – Veterans Day in America
– the great and the good bowed their heads at the Cenotaph. Generals, politicians,
newsreaders, football managers and stock-market traders wore their poppies.
Hypocrisy was a presence. No one mentioned Iraq. No one uttered the slightest
remorse for the fallen of that country. No one read the forbidden list.
The forbidden list documents, without favor, the part the British state and
its court have played in the destruction of Iraq. Here it is:
- Holocaust denial
On 25 October, Dai Davies MP asked Gordon Brown about civilian deaths in
Iraq. Brown passed the question to the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband,
who passed it to his junior minister, Kim Howells, who replied: "We
continue to believe that there are no comprehensive or reliable figures
for deaths since March 2003." This was a deception. In October 2006,
the Lancet published research by Johns Hopkins University in the
US and al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad which calculated that 655,000
Iraqis had died as a result of the Anglo-American invasion. A Freedom of
Information search revealed that the government, while publicly dismissing
the study, secretly backed it as comprehensive and reliable. The chief scientific
adviser to the Ministry of Defense, Sir Roy Anderson, called its methods
"robust" and "close to best practice." Other senior
governments officials secretly acknowledged the survey's "tried and
tested way of measuring mortality in conflict zones." Since then, the
British research polling agency, Opinion Research Business, has extrapolated
a figure of 1.2 million deaths in Iraq. Thus, the scale of death caused
by the British and US governments may well have surpassed that of the Rwanda
genocide, making it the biggest single act of mass murder of the late 20th
century and the 21st century.
The undeclared reason for the invasion of Iraq was the convergent ambitions
of the neocons, or neo-fascists, in Washington and the far-right regimes
of Israel. Both groups had long wanted Iraq crushed and the Middle East
colonized to US and Israeli designs. The initial blueprint for this was
the 1992 "Defense Planning Guidance," which outlined America's
post-Cold War plans to dominate the Middle East and beyond. Its authors
included Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and Colin Powell, architects of the
2003 invasion. Following the invasion, Paul Bremer, a neocon fanatic, was
given absolute civil authority in Baghdad and in a series of decrees turned
the entire future Iraqi economy over to US corporations. As this was lawless,
the corporate plunderers were given immunity from all forms of prosecution.
The Blair government was fully complicit and even objected when it looked
as if UK companies might be excluded from the most profitable looting. British
officials were awarded functionary colonial posts. A petroleum "law"
will allow, in effect, foreign oil companies to approve their own contracts
over Iraq's vast energy resources. This will complete the greatest theft
since Hitler stripped his European conquests.
- Destroying a nation's health
In 1999, I interviewed Dr. Jawad Al-Ali, a cancer specialist at Basra city
hospital. "Before the Gulf War," he said, "we had only three
or four deaths in a month from cancer. Now it's 30 to 35 patients dying
every month. Our studies indicate that 40 to 48 per cent of the population
in this area will get cancer." Iraq was then in the grip of an economic
and humanitarian siege, initiated and driven by the US and Britain. The
result, wrote Hans von Sponeck, the then chief UN humanitarian official
in Baghdad, was "genocidal ... practically an entire nation was subjected
to poverty, death and destruction of its physical and mental foundations."
Most of southern Iraq remains polluted with the toxic debris of British
and American explosives, including uranium-238 shells. Iraqi doctors pleaded
in vain for help, citing the levels of leukemia among children as the highest
seen since Hiroshima. Professor Karol Sikora, chief of the World Health
Organization's cancer program, wrote in the BMJ: "Requested radiotherapy
equipment, chemotherapy drugs and analgesics are consistently blocked by
United States and British advisers [to the Sanctions Committee]." In
1999, Kim Howells, then trade minister, effectively banned the export to
Iraq of vaccines that would protect mostly children from diphtheria, tetanus
and yellow fever, which, he said, "are capable of being used in weapons
of mass destruction."
Since 2003, apart from PR exercises for the embedded media, the British
occupiers have made no attempt to re-equip and resupply hospitals that,
prior to 1991, were regarded as the best in the Middle East. In July, Oxfam
reported that 43 per cent of Iraqis were living in "absolute poverty."
Under the occupation, malnutrition rates among children have spiraled to
28 per cent. A secret Defense Intelligence Agency document, "Iraq Water
Treatment Vulnerabilities," reveals that the civilian water supply
was deliberately targeted. As a result, the great majority of the population
has neither access to running water nor sanitation – in a country where
such basic services were once as universal as in Britain. "The mortality
of children in Basra has increased by nearly 30 per cent compared to the
Saddam Hussein era," said Dr. Haydar Salah, a pediatrician at Basra
children's hospital. "Children are dying daily and no one is doing
anything to help them." In January this year, nearly 100 leading British
doctors wrote to Hilary Benn, then international development secretary,
describing how children were dying because Britain had not fulfilled its
obligations as an occupying power under UN Security Council Resolution 1483.
Benn refused to see them.
- Destroying a society
The UN estimates that 100,000 Iraqis are fleeing the country every month.
The refugee crisis has now overtaken that of Darfur as the most catastrophic
on earth. Half of Iraq's doctors have gone, along with engineers and teachers.
The most literate society in the Middle East is being dismantled, piece
by piece. Out of more than four million displaced people, Britain last year
refused the majority of more than 1,000 Iraqis who applied to come here,
while removing more "illegal" Iraqi refugees than any other European
country. Thanks to tabloid-inspired legislation, Iraqis in Britain are often
destitute, with no right to work and no support. They sleep and scavenge
in parks. The government, says Amnesty, "is trying to starve them out
of the country."
"See in my line of work," said George W. Bush, "you got
to keep repeating things over and over again for the truth to sink in, to
kind of catapult the propaganda."
Standing outside 10 Downing Street on 9 April 2003, the BBC's then political
editor, Andrew Marr, reported the fall of Baghdad as a victory speech. Tony
Blair, he told viewers, "said they would be able to take Baghdad without
a bloodbath, and that in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating. And on
both of those points he has been proved conclusively right. And it would
be entirely ungracious, even for his critics, not to acknowledge that tonight
he stands as a larger man and a stronger prime minister as a result."
In the United States, similar travesties passed as journalism. The difference
was that leading American journalists began to consider the consequences
of the role they had played in the buildup to the invasion. Several told
me they believed that had the media challenged and investigated Bush's and
Blair's lies, instead of echoing and amplifying them, the invasion might
not have happened. A European study found that, of the major western television
networks, the BBC permitted less coverage of dissent than all of them. A
second study found that the BBC consistently gave credence to government
propaganda that weapons of mass destruction existed. Unlike the Sun,
the BBC has credibility – as does, or did, the Observer.
On 14 October 2001, the London Observer's front page said: "US
hawks accuse Iraq over anthrax." This was entirely false. Supplied
by US intelligence, it was part of the Observer's staunchly pro-war
coverage, which included claiming a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda, for
which there was no credible evidence and which betrayed the paper's honorable
past. One report over two pages was headlined: "The Iraqi connection."
It, too, came from "intelligence sources" and was rubbish. The
reporter, David Rose, concluded his barren inquiry with a heartfelt plea
for an invasion. "There are occasions in history," he wrote, "when
the use of force is both right and sensible." Rose has since written
his mea culpa, including in these pages, confessing how he was used. Other
journalists have still to admit how they were manipulated by their own credulous
relationship with established power.
These days, Iraq is reported as if it is exclusively a civil war, with
a US military "surge" aimed at bringing peace to the scrapping
natives. The perversity of this is breathtaking. That sectarian violence
is the product of a vicious divide-and-conquer policy is beyond doubt. As
for the largely media myth of al-Qaeda, "most of the [American] pros
will tell you," wrote Seymour Hersh, "that the foreign fighters
are a couple per cent, and then they're sort of leaderless." That a
poorly armed, audacious resistance has not only pinned down the world's
most powerful army but has agreed to an anti-sectarian, anti-al-Qaeda agenda,
which opposes attacks on civilians and calls for free elections, is not
- The next blood letting
In the 1960s and 1970s, British governments secretly expelled the population
of Diego Garcia, an island in the Indian Ocean whose people have British
nationality. Women and children were loaded on to vessels resembling slave
ships and dumped in the slums of Mauritius, after their homeland was given
to the Americans for a military base. Three times, the High Court has found
this atrocity illegal, calling it a defiance of the Magna Carta and the
Blair government's refusal to allow the people to go home "outrageous"
and "repugnant." The government continues to use endless recourse
to appeal, at the taxpayers' expense, to prevent upsetting Bush. The cruelty
of this matches the fact that not only has the US repeatedly bombed Iraq
from Diego Garcia, but at "Camp Justice," on the island, "al-Qaeda
suspects" are "rendered" and "tortured," according
to the Washington Post. Now the US Air Force is rushing to upgrade
hangar facilities on the island so that stealth bombers can carry 14-ton"bunker
busting" bombs in an attack on Iran. Orchestrated propaganda in the
media is critical to the success of this act of international piracy.
On 22 May, the front page of the London Guardian carried the banner
headline: "Iran's secret plan for summer offensive to force US out
of Iraq." This was a tract of unalloyed propaganda based entirely on
anonymous US official sources. Throughout the media, other drums have taken
up the beat. "Iran's nuclear ambitions" slips effortlessly from
newsreaders' lips, no matter that the International Atomic Energy Agency
refuted Washington's lies, no matter the echo of "Saddam's weapons
of mass destruction," no matter that another bloodbath beckons.
Lest we forget.