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Special Reports Last Updated: Jun 18th, 2007 - 00:47:04

Setting the record straight on the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq
By Nicolas J S Davies
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Jun 18, 2007, 00:43

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As the decomposition of Iraq has progressed, the country beyond the walls of the Green Zone in Baghdad has become deadly for journalists. Reporting on the war, which was corrupted from the start by the Pentagon's psychological warfare "embedding" program, has now deteriorated to a mainly stenographic exercise orchestrated by the Centcom press office.

The echo chamber of the American corporate media fleshes out this artificial framework to create an alternate, virtual Iraq in the minds of American media consumers, feeding a political debate that bears no relation to the real country our government and armed forces are destroying or its 27 million inhabitants.

But what have our government and our armed forces actually done to the country and people of Iraq? Despite the historic failure of Western journalism, there are plenty of sources of information for anyone who really wants to know.

Despite an awkward complicity in the events it describes, the U.N. has published regular reports on the "Situation in Iraq.� Its human rights reports, in particular, have documented the dreadful consequences of the U.S. invasion and occupation for the population and have contained increasingly frank assessments of the American failure to restore a legitimate or functioning government. The Global Policy Forum, which monitors policy-making at the U.N, is another excellent resource.

Les Roberts of Columbia University has led two international teams of epidemiologists to assess the full scale of violent deaths in Iraq since the invasion, and these reports have been published in Britain by the Lancet medical journal. Last March 14, the BBC obtained correspondence in which Sir Roy Anderson, chief scientific adviser to Britain's Ministry of Defence, had described the epidemiologists' methods as "close to best practice" and their study design as "robust,� exposing the brutal cynicism behind the British and American governments' dismissals of their results. Articles in other academic and medical journals have also made important contributions to an understanding of the crisis.

Iraqi bloggers like Riverbend and Khalid Jarrar have given us an inside look at life under occupation, while independent journalist Dahr Jamail, veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk and a few of their colleagues have reported real news that their counterparts have missed or ignored. And we must not forget that at least 163 journalists have been killed in Iraq, including Yasser Salihee of Knight Ridder, who was shot by an American army sniper as he investigated the chain of command of the Interior Ministry death squads that were unleashed on Baghdad in 2005.

And, while Americans have read about the inner workings of their government in a flood of tell-all (or not) books by former officials, the British public has gained access to a series of declassified and leaked documents that have revealed much more about the planning and selling of the war.

What follows is a brief history of the crisis, with an emphasis on important and revealing facts that the American media have ignored or downplayed:

1. Regime change in Iraq was a long-standing objective of U.S. policy. The C.I.A. has a history of failed coups in countries all over the world, along with a few successful ones, but the one it planned with Iyad Allawi in June 1996 was exceptional in the totality of its failure, as it completely destroyed the C.I.A.'s network of informers and potential agents inside Iraq. On the eve of the coup, the C.I.A.'s satellite communication with its network of plotters in Iraq simply went dead overnight. The Iraqi government had obtained one of the C.I.A.'s satellite receivers at an early stage in the planning of the coup and knew every detail of the plot, as well as the identity of every Iraqi involved. It had arrested them all. [1]

2. Regime change in Iraq remained the ultimate goal of U.S. and British policy throughout the 1990s. U.N. inspectors were convinced by 1995 that Iraq's banned weapons had been destroyed by order of Saddam Hussein in 1991, but the U.N. continued its inspections in an effort to prove to the U.S. and British governments that no weapons had been hidden and retained. This was a fool's errand, since these mythical weapons were an essential part of the American and British rationale for continued sanctions and the C.I.A.'s pretext for regime change, and they were not prepared to give these up. Then, in 1998, the U.S. Congress drafted a bill to formalize "regime change" in Iraq as the official policy of the United States government. It passed overwhelmingly in the House and unanimously in the Senate. Thus, when the Bush administration took office in 2001, the stage was already set for the policy that the neoconservatives had been advocating since the First Gulf War -- the invasion of Iraq and its destruction as an independent power in the Middle East.

3. On March 8, 2002, the British government began a formal policy review on Iraq in response to an initiative from Washington. The Americans were proposing "a new departure" on Iraq, abandoning containment and taking military action to bring about "regime change." Only four days later, at a private dinner in Washington, British foreign policy adviser David Manning told Condoleezza Rice that Tony Blair "would not budge in (his) support for regime change,� indicating that Bush and Blair were now committed to this policy. Five days later, British Ambassador Christopher Meyer reported to Manning that he had given Paul Wolfowitz the same message, "We backed regime change, but the plan had to be clever and failure was not an option. . . .� Other leaked Downing Street memos provide more background to these meetings, including a warning from British Law Officers: "Of itself, Regime Change has no basis in international law." [2]

4. To create political support for the invasion, the U.S. and British governments fabricated evidence and stoked fears of non-existent nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. In reality, experts understood that none of the chemical and biological agents sold to Iraq in the 1980s could still be potent as strategic weapons in 2003. The I.A.E.A. had debunked the allegation of nuclear procurement based on some 81 mm. rocket casings before Bush included it in his infamous State of the Union speech. None of this was secret at the time, so that one has to view American and British performances at the U.N. Security Council and elsewhere as political theater to gain domestic support for the invasion rather than as a serious attempt to win international backing.

5. On March 7, 2003, following General Powell's absurd performance at the U.N. Security Council, Britain's attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, gave Blair his 13-page "Full Legal Advice" regarding the war plan. He rejected Bush's doctrine of preemption: "This is not a doctrine which, in my opinion, exists or is recognized in international law." He found many other faults in American legal reasoning, and insisted that any military action to be justified by past Security Council resolutions must be limited to what was necessary to enforce the terms of the 1991 ceasefire resolution. As he had told Blair consistently over the previous year, "Regime Change cannot be the objective of military action.� He warned Blair that he might face prosecution for aggression or murder if he went ahead with the plan. [3]

6. Twelve days later, the United States and Britain invaded Iraq, with token support from Australia, Denmark and Poland. Three British Law Officers resigned, including Elizabeth Wilmshurst, the Deputy Legal Adviser to the Foreign Office. Her letter of resignation called the invasion a "crime of aggression.� This view of the invasion is shared by most international diplomats and legal experts. Kofi Annan called it "illegal.� Former Nuremberg Chief Prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz, like Ms. Wilmshurst, defined it as "aggression,� the same crime for which German leaders were convicted, and in some cases hanged, at Nuremberg.

7. The brutality of the U.S. and British invasion of Iraq has never been adequately documented. The U.S. and Britain bombarded Iraq with about 29,000 bombs and missiles during this first phase of the war. A familiar propaganda campaign surrounding the use of precision weapons preempted precise media coverage of their performance or their destructive power. Rob Hewson, the editor of Jane's Air Launched Weapons estimated that 75 to 80 percent of these weapons struck within 40 feet of their target, meaning that at least 5,000 bombs and missiles struck something else. When they are accurate, even the smallest of these weapons, the Mark 82 500 lb. bomb, destroys everything within a radius of 40 to 400 feet depending on building construction, making their detonation in inhabited areas a horrific nightmare. Even more hellish, Iraqi troop concentrations were incinerated by Mark 77 napalm, a modern version of the napalm used in Vietnam. The Rock Island arsenal in Illinois received an order from the U.S. Marine Corps for 500 new napalm bombs soon after the invasion, apparently to replenish those expended in Iraq. Les Roberts' international team of epidemiologists concurred with reports by the "interim" Iraqi health ministry that between 60 and 80 percent of violent civilian deaths in various periods during the first two years of the war were caused by American and other foreign forces, not by "insurgents,� and that most of these were the result of air strikes. [4]

8. American soldiers were brainwashed to believe that Iraq was responsible for the September 11, 2001, alleged terrorist attacks in the United States, and they have treated the population accordingly. U.S. military personnel receive negligible training in the laws of war, usually one hour during basic training and another one hour briefing on deployment to a war zone. There is no specific training on the special responsibilities of an occupying power under the 4th Geneva Convention, even though Article 144 of the convention commits all countries to provide such training. A recent survey by the U.S. Department of Defense found that only about half of U.S. soldiers and marines in Iraq would report a unit member for killing or wounding a civilian, 36 percent believe that torture should be allowed "to gather important info about insurgents,� and 17 percent say that "all non-combatants should be treated as insurgents.� A PTSD study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on July 1, 2004, found that 14 percent of soldiers in the 3rd Infantry Division and 28 percent of marines in the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force reported being "responsible for the death of a civilian" in Iraq. And, since 2003, U.S. special forces trained by Israeli mist'aravim assassins in Israel and North Carolina, have prowled the streets of Iraq by night to murder suspected Iraqi resistance fighters -- what Donald Rumsfeld called "manhunts.�

9. Like hostile military occupations throughout history, the U.S. and British occupation of Iraq has confronted every member of the Iraqi population with a terrible predicament: the life and death choice between resistance and collaboration. Because the international community has failed to respond to the illegal invasion of Iraq and has treated it as a fait accompli in several U.N. Security Council resolutions, there is no middle ground available to the people of Iraq. After four years of occupation, those who were at first willing to trust their invaders (against every historical precedent) have seen no restoration of legitimacy or sovereignty. The so-called Iraqi government in the Green Zone can neither challenge the interests of its American masters nor provide basic services to the population. The 60 percent unemployment caused by the occupation has made it possible to recruit young men to its armed forces, but it inspires no loyalty from most of them, and many are also using their weapons and training to fight against the occupation. Two million more have chosen the only way out of the excruciating choice between resistance and collaboration, fleeing their country to live in social, political and economic limbo in Syria or Jordan.

10. The U.S. assault on Fallujah was a historic war crime in itself. Civilians were encouraged to leave the city before the attack, but males between the ages of 15 and 55 were forbidden to leave and were turned back at checkpoints. From the night of November 5, 2004, following the U.S. presidential election, most of the city was heavily bombed. A Marine on nighttime sentry duty on the outskirts of the city wrote that he didn't know how anyone could have lived through the air raids and firestorms that he witnessed. One of the first targets was the Nazzal Emergency Hospital, which was bombed to the ground in the early hours of the first morning, killing doctors, staff and patients. The city was declared a "weapons free" zone, meaning that anyone alive could be considered hostile and shot on sight. Survivors described elderly men and women being shot in the street and wounded people trying to reach the main hospital being killed by American snipers from the hospital roof. AP photographer Bilal Hussein saw a family of five machine-gunned as they tried to swim the river to safety. The scale of the attack is perhaps best conveyed by the subsequent assessment that 65 percent of the buildings in this former city of 300,000 people were completely destroyed. Neither reliable casualty figures nor the excavation of mass graves nor any investigation of this serious war crime can be expected until after the end of the U.S. occupation.

11. The central front in the propaganda war over Iraq has been the effort to portray the continuing violence of the occupation as the result of a "sectarian" conflict or civil war between Sunni and Shiite Iraqis, with the U.S. occupation forces as peacekeepers or "referees.� American media consumers have been led to believe that their troops have become embroiled in a centuries old blood feud. Nothing could be further from the truth. The territory that is now Iraq has never seen anything like this in all its history. The sectarian aspect to this crisis stems from American policy, which set out to destroy the traditional, secular, nationalist politics of Iraq in favor of exploiting ethnic and sectarian differences to establish its occupation government. Western reports of "sectarian violence" and speculation over the prospect of "civil war" began in the lead-up to the carefully staged "election" in January 2005. And yet an analysis of reported violence between Iraqis that month reveals other motives for nearly every single violent incident: 43 percent were attacks against the U.S.-backed security forces; 36 percent were directly related to the election; 11 percent targeted officials of the "interim government"; 5 percent of the victims worked for the Americans in other capacities; and the remaining 5 percent were insufficiently documented to identify any motive at all. Not a single incident was ascribed primarily to sectarian hatred.

12. Following the installation of the "transitional" regime in February 2005, some Sunni resistance forces came to see the Shiite and Kurdish sectors of the population that had participated in the U.S.-backed political process as collaborators. Attacks against civilians by resistance forces have played into the hands of Centcom P.R. operations and have become the focus of much Western reporting. Few Americans realize that 85 to 90 percent of all resistance operations have been against military targets, at least 70 percent against foreign occupation forces. {See Iraq Index, Brookings Institution] As the latest U.N. human rights report points out, "The distinction between acts of violence motivated by sectarian, political or economic considerations was frequently blurred as a multitude of armed and criminal groups claimed responsibility for numerous acts of terror." In this environment Centcom has shaped reports of violence in the media as either sectarian or al Qaeda-related, in spite of evidence of widespread violence against civilians by both U.S. forces and Iraqi forces recruited, trained and directed by the Americans.

13. Violence by U.S.-trained Iraqi auxiliary forces took a new and deeply disturbing turn after the Americans recruited and trained Special Police Commando units for the Iraqi interior ministry in 2004 and 2005. The training of these forces was supervised by retired Colonel James Steele, who was sent to Iraq as counselor for Iraqi Security Forces to Ambassador John Negroponte. Steele is a former commander of U.S. military advisors in El Salvador who also worked secretly as a principal member of the Iran-Contra operation, overseeing arms shipments to the Contras in Nicaragua from Ilopango airbase in El Salvador. His role in Iran-Contra became public after he failed a polygraph test and confessed to the F.B.I., but his background in the dirty war in El Salvador is even more disturbing in light of the common pattern of atrocities committed by his trainees in both El Salvador and Iraq. Negroponte remains a shadowy figure in the background in both cases whose role deserves to be thoroughly investigated. He can hardly be trusted or effective as a senior American diplomat when much of the world suspects him of masterminding atrocities in half a dozen countries.[5]

14. The newly formed SCIRI "transitional" regime merged its Badr Brigades militia into these interior ministry forces under the supervision of Interior Minister Bayan al-Jabr, a senior Badr Brigades commander. His senior U.S. advisor was former D.E.A. Chief of Intelligence Steven Casteel, a veteran of the drug wars in Latin America. These forces were unleashed on Baghdad in April and May of 2005, beginning a campaign of detention, torture and extrajudicial execution that has claimed tens of thousands of victims. Yasser Salihee's reporting for Knight Ridder, a U.N. human rights report in September 2005 and a well-publicized American raid on an Interior Ministry torture center exposed the nature and dimensions of this campaign, but it continued unabated, defended by denials from Casteel and other American officials. As this campaign failed to terrorize the Sunni population of Baghdad into submission, U.S. forces supplied increasing levels of direct ground and air support to the Interior Ministry death squads, eventually reverting to a primary role in attacks on many parts of Baghdad during Operation Together Forward in 2006 and the "Surge" in 2007. [6]

15. The actions of the U.S. government over the past four years have revealed a great deal about its actual goals in Iraq, enabling us to see them more clearly through the fog of war propaganda. While "reconstruction" has proved to be pure propaganda in most cases, the U.S. has spent billions of dollars on construction at its own military bases in Iraq and, most importantly, on the 104-acre occupation headquarters it is building in the Green Zone. Officially, this is a U.S. embassy, but it is 10 times the size of the largest actual embassy in the world, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, and it is clearly not designed as a diplomatic mission to a sovereign country. As the rest of the country is gradually demolished by daily air strikes and artillery fire, work on the occupation headquarters is proceeding around the clock seven days a week. Construction workers from India, Pakistan and the Philippines complain that they are beaten when they do not work hard enough and that they are "treated like animals.� Four years into the war, President Bush has finally acknowledged U.S. plans for long-term bases in Iraq, comparing them to the U.S. military presence in South Korea.

16. Even more revealing of U.S. goals in Iraq is the history of its plans for the future of Iraq's oil. Ibrahim Bahr al Uloum, the oil minister in the current puppet government, is a former exile who was a member of the U.S. State Department's pre-invasion Oil and Energy working group, which concluded that Iraq "should be opened to international oil companies as quickly as possible after the war" and favored "production sharing agreements" with Western oil companies as the most promising vehicle for doing this. The latest U.S. legislation funding the war in Iraq makes continued U.S. support for the puppet government conditional on the Iraqi Council of Representatives' approval of a hydrocarbon law that adopts precisely this development model, replacing the nationalized Iraqi oil industry with a privatized system in which Western oil companies would share in production revenues and control the allocation of contracts. The Iraq National Oil Company would only retain 17 of the 80 known oil fields in Iraq, and Western companies would assume no obligation to reinvest profits in Iraq, employ Iraqi workers or partner with Iraqi companies. The potential profits to Western oil companies from Iraqi oil under this scheme could conceivably exceed their profits from the rest of their worldwide operations combined. Now, are you still confused about the reasons for the invasion? [7]

17. Based on the studies in the Lancet, at least half a million Iraqis have been killed in the war, possibly a million. The American campaign of ethnic cleansing has killed 5 to 15 percent of the Sunni Arab population and driven another 30 or 40 percent of them from the country. Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, was destroyed by a slow-motion version of the U.S. assault on Fallujah. U.S. Marines fighting in Ramadi have compared it to Stalingrad, with teams of snipers hunting each other through the otherworldly landscape of the ruined city. U.S. forces have laid siege to smaller towns, imposing collective punishment on their populations in flagrant violation of international law: they construct berms or razor wire fences around them and cut off electricity, food, water, medicine and other essential supplies; then they conduct raids and call in air strikes on "suspected insurgents.� This model is being adapted to parts of Baghdad that are resisting the new American offensive, over the impotent protests of the puppet government.

18. In August 2004, U.S. forces attacked the Shiite enclave and sacred city of Najaf, which was under the control of followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr. Since then, al Sadr has avoided widespread armed confrontation with the occupation forces, and has instead quietly expanded his base of support throughout the southern half of the country and the Shiite population of Baghdad. The American strategy to deal with the Sunnis first and worry about al Sadr later has backfired. After four years, the Sunni resistance is stronger than ever, conducting about 150 operations per day over the past year, while al Sadr has become the main Shiite leader. He has begun to reach out to Sunnis in the spirit of Islamic and Iraqi unity to form a united political front against the Americans. His limited cooperation with the U.S.-backed regime in the Green Zone and generally peaceful opposition to the occupation has been a skillful balancing act that has saved much of the population from greater bloodshed and enhanced his own position. Successfully reuniting his followers with the Sunni-led resistance to form a united nationalist political front would undermine the American rationale for continued occupation, but the U.S. response could be a massive escalation of violence against the entire population.

19. The latest U.N. human rights report stated that 54 percent of Iraqis are now living on less than $1 per day, including 15 percent on less than 50 cents per day; 68 percent have no safe water to drink; 2,000 doctors have been killed and another 12,000 have fled the country, reducing the number of doctors in the country by 42 percent. The American offensive in Baghdad has raised the prison population from 31,000 to 38,000, with most of the new prisoners in the custody of the Americans or the Interior Ministry. This is of concern to the U.N. because prisoners are most likely to be tortured or murdered in Interior Ministry jails, while those in American jails are accorded the least rights of all, and are often detained indefinitely without charge or trial. The U.N. is also concerned about detentions by the Kurdish regional government -- there have been demonstrations in Irbil by relatives of people who have disappeared without trace after being arrested by Kurdish authorities. Meanwhile new emergency regulations for all of Iraq have expanded the death penalty to apply to property crimes like theft and destruction of property. The Central Criminal Court established by the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad has sentenced 256 people to death, and has already executed 85 of them. Most trials, including capital ones, last between 15 and 30 minutes, and the judges' deliberations on guilt and sentencing are even faster. The U.N. report found that criminal courts in Iraq "fail to meet minimum fair trial standards,� citing a long list of irregularities, and noted that "such trials are increasingly leading to the imposition of the death penalty.� [8]

20. The most prevalent false claim by supporters of the occupation is that the illegality of the U.S. invasion is irrelevant to Iraq's current problems. A staffer at Senator Bill Nelson's office told me recently, "That's in the past. The question is what to do now." I hope this report makes it clear that the illegitimacy of the U.S. position in Iraq lies at the heart of the ongoing crisis. Our government invaded another country for strategic and commercial reasons, in violation of its most solemn treaty obligations under the U.N. Charter, but it has failed to impose its will by force on the people of Iraq. Every day that it continues to wage this war increases the suffering of its victims and compounds the nature of the international crime it has committed. While UNSC Resolution 1546 and subsequent resolutions have attempted to chart a course toward a genuine restoration of Iraqi sovereignty and independence, this has been doomed to failure by the U.S. government's refusal to relinquish the original goals of the invasion or to give up the illegitimate and deadly role it is playing in Iraq's affairs in pursuit of those goals.

The people of the United States have a responsibility to stop the horror of this war, hold American war criminals responsible for their crimes and make amends to the people of Iraq. If we cannot fulfill these fundamental responsibilities as international citizens, we should not be surprised at the inevitable consequences -- more unwinnable wars, wasted and tragic human sacrifice, terrorism, international isolation, crushing debt, helplessness in the face of economic and ecological crisis, and the failure of the political process, not in Iraq, but in the United States. If we fail to curb the international crimes of our venal and murderous political and business elite, we are effectively leaving the job to the leaders and people of other countries, acting in their interests, not ours, and therefore employing quite different methods. We still have a choice, but, as Gabriel Kolko wrote in Century of War (1994), "There are no easy solutions to the problems of irresponsible, deluded leaders and the classes they represent, or the hesitation of people to reverse the world's folly before they are themselves subjected to its grievous consequences. So much remains to be done -- and it is late.�


[1] Scott Ritter. 2005. Iraq Confidential. New York: Nation Books. (pp. 162-169)

[2] Michael Smith. September 18, 2004. "Failure is not an option, but it doesn't mean they will avoid it," The Daily Telegraph.

[3] UK Attorney General Lord Goldsmith�s secret report to Prime Minister Blair on �legality of military action against Iraq�; and further discussion of the legal status of the invasion, International Law Aspects of the Iraq War and Occupation

[4] Les Roberts, Riyadh Lafta, Richard Garfield, Jamal Khudhairi and Gilbert Burnham. 2004. "Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: cluster sample survey," The Lancet 364: 1857-1864. Nancy Youssef. September 25 2004. "More Iraqi civilians killed by U.S. forces than by insurgents, data shows," The Miami Herald.

[5] U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. 1993. Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters. (pp. 6-7,9,41-2, 265-6, 274, 301, 377,381, 393-404, 488-9, 491, 496-9, 503). Dennis Kucinich. May 4, 2006. Letter to Donald Rumsfeld, The Congressional Record: E727-E729. Duncan Campbell. June 2nd 2004. "An exquisite danger," The Guardian.

[6] Tom Lasseter and Yasser Salihee. June 27,2005. "Sunni men in Baghdad targeted by attackers in police uniforms, Knight Ridder Newspapers. Anonymous. July 3, 2005. "Revealed: grim world of new Iraqi torture camps,�The Observer. U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq, Human Rights Report 1 July -- 31 August 2005. Dahr Jamail and Arkan Hamed. April 19, 2006, "Baghdad slipping into civil war," Inter Press Service.

[7] Dennis Kucinich. May 23, 2007. Question of Personal Privilege, The Congressional Record

[8] U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq, Human Rights Report 1 January -- 31 March 2007.

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