Thursday, November 21, 2013 - 06.09 GMT
Iraqi invasion needs international probe
Go beyond the Chilcot Report?
By Lucien Rajakarunanayake
With David Cameron issuing an ultimatum to the Sri Lankan Government on investigating alleged war crimes, there are many reports in the media of the delay in the UK releasing the report of the Chilcot Commission on the UK ’s role in the Iraqi invasion. This matter was raised at some of the CHOGM related press conferences held in recent days, too.
In an interview with a Sunday newspaper in Colombo , the UK Foreign Secretary William Hague sought to dispel doubts about the Chilcot report being released and assured it will be out soon.
Reports about the delay in publishing this internal probe by the UK to its role in the Iraqi war, indicate that even if released, this report of a probe held due to strong and persistent demands by the British public, will be subject to heavy censorship by the government to please its ally, the United States, which it readily supported in the invasion. The US objections are mainly to do with the disclosures of the position taken by President George W Bush in exchanges with Prime Minister Tony Blair, and other related diplomatic and military issues relating to the invasion and the conduct of the war in Iraq . The US considers such information as classified or privileged material that should not be disclosed.
The Independent (UK) of November 14, 2013, published a lead story that said the US Department of State’s objection to release of key evidence may prevent inquiry’s conclusions from ever being published, except in heavily redacted form.
It said that: " Washington is playing the lead role in delaying the publication of the long-awaited report into how Britain went to war with Iraq .
"Although the Cabinet Office has been under fire for stalling the progress of the four-year Iraq Inquiry by Sir John Chilcot, senior diplomatic sources in the US and Whitehall indicated that it is officials in the White House and the US Department of State who have refused to sanction any declassification of critical pre- and post-war communications between George W Bush and Tony Blair.
"Without permission from the US government, David Cameron faces the politically embarrassing situation of having to block evidence, on Washington ’s orders, from being included in the report of an expensive and lengthy British inquiry.
"Earlier this year, The Independent revealed that early drafts of the report challenged the official version of events leading up to the Iraq war, which saw Mr Blair send in 45,000 troops to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime.
"The protected documents relating to the Bush-Blair exchanges are said to provide crucial evidence for already-written passages that are highly critical of the covert way in which Mr Blair committed British troops to the US-led invasion."
The Independent further reported that: "Last week, Chilcot sent Downing Street an update on his inquiry’s progress which explained his continuing inability to set a publication date. He described difficult discussions with the Government on the disclosure of material he wanted to include in his report, or publish alongside it.
"He said that over the past six months, he had submitted requests that covered 200 cabinet-level discussions, a cache of notes from Mr Blair to Mr Bush, and more than 130 records of conversations between any two of Mr Blair, Gordon Brown and the White House. Mr Cameron was informed that the inquiry and the Cabinet Office had "not yet reached a final position" on the documents.
"Although the Prime Minister told Chilcot in a letter last week that some documents needed to be "handled sensitively", the Cabinet Office decoded the Prime Minister’s phrases yesterday, telling The Independent: "It is in the public’s interests that exchanges between the UK Prime Minister and the US President are privileged. The whole premise about withholding them [from publication] is to ensure that we do not prejudice our relations with the United States ."
This makes it clear as to how the United Kingdom and the US are seeking to hide from the UK public important information of how the UK went into the Iraqi invasion and the conduct of its troops in the bloody war that ensued. It is certainly a matter for the British public to take up in all seriousness with Prime Minister David Cameron. Will the Labour Party issue him an ultimatum for the issue of the full or even a genuinely substantial Chilcot Report? This remains to be seen.
However, the issue being raised here is much larger than the issue of the Chilcot report, much as we would also like to read it in full. Considering the threat that David Cameron has made of having an international investigation into alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka, what is of larger interest is why the world should be satisfied with an internal UK inquiry into what was clearly an international act of war. It was a war waged by international forces, where the UN as well as the US and British public were lied to about the reasons for the invasion of Iraq and the need for regime change in that country.
It would be relevant here to compare the related aspects of the Sri Lankan armed conflict with the Iraq invasion. There is no evidence whatever to show that there were any foreign troops in the final battles that led to the defeat of the LTTE, that have raised most criticism. The battles between the Sri Lankan troops and the LTTE cadres, and possibly even some of its child soldiers too, were strictly internal confrontations, brutal and bloody as they no doubt were. Further, there is no so-called UN or any other report that tells a different story. There were attempts at foreign interference, such as the David Milliband led effort to have a ceasefire, but it was not part of the battle.
"The Hindu" of today (Nov 20) makes these observations about the controversial conclusion of the war against the LTTE in Sri Lanka . "No one knows how many people were actually living in the no-fire zone to start with. The government agent in Mullaithivu district, K. Parthipan, estimated the population to be around 330,000 in February 2009. Mr. Parthipan, though, had no way of conducting a census in the no-fire zone; he relied instead on reports from local headmen. He did not have any tools to distinguish civilians from LTTE conscripts and irregulars. He had no way of accounting for people who fled the zone to safety as the Sri Lankan forces closed in.
"Mr. Parthipan’s numbers weren’t supported by the United Nations Panel of Expert’s analysis of satellite images, which suggested a population of 267,618. The U.N. experts then attempted a rule-of-thumb calculation of 1:2 or 1:3 civilian dead for every person known to be injured, which suggested 15,000 to 22,500 fatalities — much lower than the estimates that have now become commonplace. Finally, the panel plumped for an estimate of 40,000, based on Mr. Parthipan’s numbers.
"Notably, the panel did not distinguish between civilians and the LTTE cadre — a fact noted by the U.S. State Department’s December 2009 report to Congress. The LTTE’s regular forces, estimated by experts at around 30,000, were backed by irregulars, the makkal padai, as well as press-ganged conscripts.
"It isn’t unequivocally clear, either, that disproportionate or indiscriminate force was used to eliminate these forces. Satellite imaging shows that right up to May 17, the Sri Lankan Army was facing fire from the LTTE’s 130 mm, 140 mm and 152 mm artillery. The Sri Lankan Army claims to have been losing over 40 soldiers a day during the last phases of the war. The former U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka , Robert Blake, sent a confidential cable to Washington , DC , on January 26, 2009, saying that the Sri Lankan Army "has a generally good track record of taking care to minimise civilian casualties during its advances."
"Jacques de Maio, head of operations of the International Committee of the Red Cross, concurred: on July 9, 2009 he told a U.S. diplomat that Sri Lanka "actually could have won the military battle faster with higher civilian casualties, yet chose a slower approach which led to a greater number of Sri Lankan military deaths."
These facts raise important issues about the figures so frequently quoted about civilian casualties in the final stages of the operation to defeat the LTTE. They do not refer to the presence of any foreign forces in the battle to take it beyond the scope of an internal conflict.
Therefore, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) had all the authority and competence to look into the period since the ceasefire between Sri Lankan troops and the LTTE ended, and the fight against the LTTE progressed to the final stages that saw the LTTE defeated. This authority came from the fact that what was concluded was a wholly internal conflict, and many now recognize the validity of the LLRC and its findings that have not been kept secret in any way.
There could be an issue whether the Government is implementing the LLRC recommendation as speedily as possible, or whether they are in done in full measure. These are matters for debate, discussion and resolution and not ultimata or deadlines.
However, the realities of the war in Iraq make the Chilcot inquiry and report largely irrelevant to the issues before the world and the British public too. Let me list the issues that make it a matter that requires international investigation, even at this stage.
= The British troops, supporting the US and other allied foreign forces, fought in the territory of a land far removed from the UK .
= The victims of the attacks by the British, US and other troops were largely Iraqi citizens, who were killed and maimed in their thousands, in their homeland. These included Iraqis who took up arms against an invading force that brought about regime change, and also threatened the unity of their country.
= Any others killed by these Western troops, whether from al Qaeda in Iraq, or other insurgent groups who opposed the Western invasion led by the US & UK, were also from foreign countries, adding to the international nature of the conflict.
All of this would make it abundantly clear that this was an international military operation. It, therefore, leads to the need for a proper international probe into the invasion of Iraq , the regime change that took place there, and the subsequent military activities of the foreign forces in the country. This also includes the atrocities committed by the invading forces, apart from their military operations, some of which have already been well documented both in the US and UK Courts and through Wikileaks, and other good sources.
It is also necessary to look more seriously at the increasing number of birth defects being recorded now in parts of Iraq where there was intense fighting, which is accepted by medical experts as being caused by the depleted uranium in the "conventional" weapons used by the UK and US troops, and possibly their allies.
The Chilcot Report, whatever its findings and recommendations, will be narrow in content being mainly concerned with the British role in the invasion and subsequent war. There could even be strong criticism of the British role in the sufferings imposed on the Iraqi people, which continue to this day. But, with the US objections to the publication of classified information, and David Cameron’s desire to preserve good relations with the US, even such criticism could very well be muted in the report, whenever it sees the light of day.
The Chilcot Report will not report on the international implications of this operation carried out under the false pretext of the dangers of Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Even though late, what is needed is what David Cameron has threatened Sri Lanka with. It is for an international investigation into a truly international conflict. Whatever the Chilcot Report, with large areas blacked out to please US concerns would say, whenever it is actually released, will not in any way cover the international nature of this prolonged, brutal and extremely bloody invasion of a foreign land.
Even now, it is necessary to make a strong call for a full international investigation into the invasion of Iraq . It is doubtful whether any ultimatum would be issued to the UK (and US) on such a demand, knowing the workings of both diplomacy and power politics. Yet, it is necessary for opinion to be built calling for such an inquiry, especially in the UN and other international fora, to let the world know much more of the truth about the war crimes committed, and huge violations of human rights and international law by those who claim to be the leaders of democratic society today.