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Friday, July 15, 2005 

We whack Iraq we whack Iraq we whack Iraq we whack Iraq etc

One day, two very different reports on Iraq. Military chiefs attack Iraq lawsuits:

The country's most senior military figures yesterday mounted an unprecedented assault on the Ministry of Defence, accusing it of imposing unacceptable legal constraints on British commanders and their soldiers.

A string of former chiefs of staff attacked the ministry for subjecting British soldiers to litigation - including the prospect of being charged with war crimes under the jurisdiction of the international criminal court (ICC) - which, they said, undermined morale and the crucial relationship between commanding officers and their troops in the field.

They sharply criticised the government in a Lords debate prompted by lawsuits relating to incidents involving British soldiers in southern Iraq. They include the murder of Baha Mousa and other Iraqis allegedly maltreated by soldiers of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment in September 2003.

Let's ignore the simple fact that war in Iraq was illegal, and an aggressive attack on an impoverished state weakened by 12 years of sanctions, and just concentrate on what the British army did once it got there. The article mentions the death of Baha Mousa, who died after being held in custody for just two days.

The occupation was six months old in September 2003 and the British-controlled port city was febrile, with sporadic attacks on British forces, when the soldiers raided the Ibn Al Haitham hotel.

They found five assault rifles and two pistols used for hotel security. Unable to locate their quarry, one of the hotel's owners, they took Baha and six colleagues to the British military base.

According to Kifah Taha, 46, a maintenance engineer who was one of the six, beatings started immediately. There was a competition to see which soldier could kickbox a prisoner the furthest, he claimed.

Each prisoner was allegedly given a footballer's name and beaten if he failed to remember it. Freezing water was allegedly poured through hoods placed over their heads.

Baha suffered the most and on the second night he was taken to another room from which Mr Taha said he could hear him moaning

"Blood. There's blood coming from my nose. I'm going to die."

After punches and kicks, Mr Taha's kidneys failed and he nearly died. He and the other five survivors were eventually released without charge.

I don't know about you, but that all sounds entirely reasonable to me. I can't think why they dared to try to prosecute the kind humanitarian soldiers that cared so deeply about these Iraqi men. Even if the above account is inaccurate, there has been no other explanation about Baha Mousa's death. The family was offered the derisory sum of $8,000 in compensation.

The other major incident of abuse of Iraqis was at Camp Breadbasket in southern Iraq, where British soldiers took photos of Iraqis they had supposedly found stealing food from the camp. This was uncovered after one of the soldiers took the wise decision of taking his photos to a 30-minute developing shop. The employees phoned the police.
The soldiers were ordered to 'work the thieves hard', itself a contravention of the Geneva convention. The pictures included 2 Iraqis who were forced to simulate anal sex, whilst giving a thumbs up. In all, they took 22 pictures. To add insult to injury, the sentences passed on those found guilty of this abuse were later cut without it being released to the press. It was only uncovered when the fiancee of one of the offenders told a local newspaper he would be home within the next month.

If the commanders in charge of soldiers in Iraq can't teach them right from wrong, and can't stop them from treating the people with whom they deal in a proper way, we should withdraw from Iraq immediately. The British part of the occupation is not even in the deadly Sunni triangle, it's in the mostly quiet Shia south. The military is not known for its humility, and this attack on the Ministry of Defence, which is actually trying to hold to account some of the breaches of international law which have occurred, should ignore this arrogant attack on it by those who want similar powers to the US and Israeli armies, which act with impunity and ignore or investigate then whitewash incidents. For once, the MoD is doing a service, and once recognised as such, the more chance the army has of winning hearts and minds with its approach.

The other news from Iraq is even more depressing. 'Civilians bear brunt of Iraqi insurgency':

Iraqi civilians and police officers are being killed by insurgents at a rate of more than 800 a month - one an hour, according to new figures released by the interior ministry.

The figures published yesterday show that between August 1 2004 and May 31 2005, 8,175 Iraqis died as a result of insurgent activity.

About 1,500 of those have died since the Shia-led government of Ibrahim al-Jafaari took office on April 28.

8,175. 8,175. 54 have so far been confirmed to have died in the London bombings. That's something of a difference, and I don't recall having any 2 minute silences for them. Note these are official figures. According to iraqbodycount.net, the minimum number of civilians killed since the war is 22,823, with the maximum 25,869. These are compiled from news reports, and not from hospital figures or based on surveys among the public. A study conducted by the Lancet, which was pilloried in the press after it was released, estimated that 100,000 civilians had died since the invasion. Apart from US soldiers, of which 1,581 have died since the invasion, the US famously 'doesn't do body counts'. If the Lancet study is anywhere near correct, and we should keep in mind it was released in October of last year, and so now is out of date, we can tell why.

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