We call on those states responsible for the invasion and occupation of Iraq to terminate their illegal and immoral war, and express our solidarity with the Iraqi people in their struggle for peace, justice and self-determination.

In particular, we demand:

  1. An immediate end to the US and UK-led occupation of Iraq;
  2. Urgent action to fully address the current humanitarian crises facing Iraq’s people, including help for the more than three million refugees and displaced persons;
  3. An end to all foreign interference in Iraq's affairs, including its oil industry, so that Iraqis can exercise their right to self-determination;
  4. Compensation and reparations from those countries responsible for war and sanctions on Iraq;
  5. Prosecution of all those responsible for war crimes, human rights abuses, and the theft of Iraq's resources.

We demand justice for Iraq.

This statement was adopted by the Justice for Iraq conference in London on 19th July 2008. We plan to publish this more widely in future. If you would like to add your name to the list of supporters please contact us.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Tadhamun in Reading


This link contains video footage of a recent meeting organised by Reading Peace Group in conjunction with Tadhamun (Iraqi Women Solidarity) on the human rights crisis in Iraq.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Bombing Iraq: just the start?

Barely a week after Parliament voted for air strikes on Iraq, Isis are on the outskirts of Baghdad and there is a growing call from military hawks for the deployment of western ground troops. Belgium and Denmark are the latest countries to join the coalition of western military action against Iraq, but in practice it is the US that is leading the campaign, having now carried out hundreds of sorties, to little effect. Why is this?

George Galloway provided part of the answer when he spoke in the parliamentary debate at the end of September. Speaking of ISIS, he said. “It does not have any bases. The territory that its personnel control is the size of Britain and yet there are only between 10,000 and 20,000 of them. Do the maths. They do not concentrate as an army. They do not live in bases. The only way that a force of that size could successfully hold the territory that it holds is if the population acts as the water in which it swims.” http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm140926/debtext/140926-0002.htm#14092616000877

So Isis are tolerated in some of the areas they control because the alternative is often worse. Thanks to the sectarian policies of the Shia-dominated government of former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, the Sunni majority regarded the Iraqi army as a hostile, occupying force. Isis were part of a broader Sunni uprising against this army, which ran away from Mosul without firing a shot. The real problem is how to isolate Isis from the broader Sunni population, which feels justifiably menaced by the attacks of equally murderous Shia militias. This is not going to be achieved by bombing.

Isis are undoubtedly barbaric, but they are the creation of a very barbaric Occupation that began over a decade ago. There was little religious sectarianism in Iraq before the invasion of the US and its allies. It was they who instituted electoral slates based on religious affiliation and they who supported the now defunct sectarian Shia government of al Maliki, which persecuted Sunnis. Even today the Iraqi Government’s bombing of Fallujah continues and Shia militias mobilised by this Government continue to commit atrocities of their own, for example recently executing 15 Sunnis and hanging them by electricity poles in a public square in a town northeast of Baghdad.

Isis have benefited from the huge amount of war materiel that has flooded into the region. When the Iraqi army fled Mosul, they gained a massive trove of US-supplied weaponry. On at least one occasion, the Iraqi air force accidentally dropped food, water and ammunition on Isis forces instead of their of their own troops.
http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/iraq-pilots-mistakenly-gave-food-ammunition-isis-militants-n214956

There is evidence too of weapons from Saudi Arabia - now part of the supposed coalition against Isis - finding their way into the hands of Isis, just as “moderate” opponents of Assad, trained by the US, later defected to Isis.

Isis also have other sources of support. Oil revenues alone bring in $2 million a day and then there is trafficking in antiquities, hostage taking and ransoms. Isis are now the richest terrorist group in the world, paying twice as much to their members as any other group in the region. Their wealth offers a promise of prosperity to areas they take over which have long been deprived, even before they fell victim to sectarian government policies.

As for the Iraqi army, the problem is far greater than incompetence. While the Pentagon may be exasperated at how little there is to show for the $41.6 billion in military aid it has given the Iraqis in the last  three years, for the recipients it has been a bonanza.

The culture in the military is so corrupt that many soldiers bribe their officers to be as far from the front line as possible. These soldiers are often referred to as “astronauts”, because they are so far away from where they are meant to be. According to local reports, “this means that sometimes when a general sends a battalion to fight, only half the soldiers are there.”
http://www.niqash.org/articles/?id=3549

It’s estimated that only one in three soldiers of the 30,000 supposed to be in Mosul  were present when the city fell. Needless to say, the top brass still claim salaries and equipment  for all these phantom soldiers, the profits on the sale of which they share among themselves. Patrick Cockburn, Middle East correspondent for the Independent, commented recently, “A colonel of a battalion nominally of 600 men would get money for 600 men, [but] in fact there were only 200 men in it, and would pocket the difference, which was spread out among the officers. And this applied to fuel, it applied to ammunition… I remember about a year ago talking to a senior Iraqi politician, and who said look: the army’s going to collapse if it’s attacked. I said surely some will fight, he said: no no no, you don’t understand. These officers are not soldiers, they’re investors! They have no interest in fighting anybody; they have interest in making money out of their investment. Of course you had to buy your position. So in 2009, you want to be a colonel in the Iraqi army, it’ll cost you about 20,000 dollars, more recently it cost you about $200,000.”
http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/09/29/the-rise-of-isis-and-the-origins-of-the-new-middle-east-war/

Writing on the \Left Futures blog after the debate, Grahame Morris MP estimated it would cost £1 million a year to fight Isis and could take at least three years. Military action alone would not work, he concluded, and like other MPs who oppose the bombing, he is alarmed by the lack of an exit strategy. http://www.leftfutures.org/2014/10/why-i-opposed-intervention-in-iraq/

Far from exiting, escalation is now the talk of the day. If it is to be “boots on the ground”, will MPs get a vote on that as well, and  will that policy be any more effective? More importantly, what is the future for Iraq, after a dozen years of economic sanctions, a military occupation that killed a million people and displaced double that, now facing endless military operations, piling failure upon failure, disaster upon disaster and promising unending destruction and misery for its people?

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Parliament debates bombing Iraq

Reading the Hansard record of Friday September 26ths debate on going to war, one is struck by the paucity of voices raised against this folly. Caroline Lucas, the sole Green MP and George Galloway, the Respect MP, both made telling points, but of the 24 Labour MPs who voted against, very few got to do more than interject with some challenging questions. One exception was Jeremy Corbyn MP who spoke powerfully against the motion:
“This is the third time during my lifetime in Parliament that I have been asked to vote to invade or bomb Iraq. I have voted against on previous occasions, and I will not support the motion today. I ask the House to think a little more deeply about what we have done in the past and what the effects have been. We have still not even had the results of the Chilcot inquiry.
The current crisis descends from the war on terror, the ramifications of which have been vast military expenditure by western countries and the growth of jihadist forces in many parts of the world. Many people have lost their lives, and many more have had their lives totally disrupted and are fleeing warzones to try to gain a place of safety. Only two weeks ago, it was reported that 500 migrants had died trying to cross the Mediterranean to get into Malta, and many die every day trying to get to Lampedusa. Many of those people are victims of wars throughout the region for which we in this House have voted, be it the bombing of Iraq, the bombing of Libya, the intervention in Mali or the earlier intervention in Afghanistan…
We are right to talk about ISIL’s appalling human rights record, but we should be careful with whom we walk. The Prime Minister pointed out that there had been a ministerial visit to Saudi Arabia to get it on side in the current conflict. We sell an awful lot of arms to Saudi Arabia, and there is an awful lot of Saudi money in London in property speculation and various other investments. Saudi Arabia routinely beheads people in public every Friday, executing them for sex outside marriage, religious conversion and a whole lot of other things, but we have very little to say about human rights abuses there because of the economic link with Saudi Arabia. If we are to go to war on the basis of abuses of human rights, we should have some degree of consistency in our approach.
One should be cautious of the idea that bombing will be cost-free and effective. There was a military attack in Tikrit on 1 September, as reported by Human Rights Watch. It was an attempt to strike at a supposed ISIL base of some sort in a school. It resulted in 31 people being killed, none of whom was involved in ISIL, which was nowhere near. We will get more of that.”
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm140926/debtext/140926-0002.htm#14092616000877
Also called was Labour MP Paul Flynn, who was suspended from the House of Commons last year for a month for remarking that “ministers lied and soldiers died” in relation to the conflict in Afghanistan. He warned:
“This motion is the thin end of a bloody and ugly wedge that will grow and expand and mission-creep into a prolonged war with unforeseeable consequences…
When we went in into Iraq in 2003, only a minority were involved in al-Qaeda, and they hardly figured at all. Now we find, to our horror, that young children who were born here, brought up here and absorbed our values through education are suddenly, in their adolescent years, having their idealism twisted and marching off to behave like mediaeval barbarians. How on earth has this happened? It has not happened because of the mosques or the imams, who were not much in touch with them, but because of the internet and the propaganda that comes from it…
We are living in a world of a war in which on one side there are marvellous, sophisticated, clever weapons, but those are not needed to fight terrorist activity. It did not need a nuclear weapon to bring down the twin towers or a smart bomb to murder a soldier on the streets of Britain. In this asymmetric warfare, there is no military solution. That solution will bring its own consequences in more terror. We must look to having an independent foreign policy free from the United States.”
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm140926/debtext/140926-0003.htm#14092616000889
Diane Abbott MP was the only other Labour MP opposed to bombing who was able to make a significant contribution. She concluded:
“Some people have said that this is not 2003. Sadly, this reminds me too much of 2003. Yes, it is legal, but there is the same rhetoric: national interest, surgical strikes and populations begging to be liberated. I think that it was Walpole who said of another war that the population are ringing the bells today, but they will be wringing their hands tomorrow. We know that the public want something to be done, but as this war wears on and as it drains us of millions and billions of pounds, the public will ask, “What are we doing there? How are we going to get out?” I cannot support this military intervention. I do not see the strategy, and I do not see the endgame.”
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm140926/debtext/140926-0003.htm#14092616000895

Just 43 MPs voted against military action. The anti-war movement is a long way from the defeat for the Government last year, when Parliament voted against military action in Syria, breaking the usual cosy bipartisan consensus on foreign policy. A great deal of work lies ahead.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

In Iraq, A Bombing Program Designed for the Weapons Industry

US warplanes are taking out US military equipment as a deadly, but profitable, cycle continues
Bombing Iraq, as retired Air Force lieutenant colonel William Astore indicates this week in “The American Cult of Bombing,” has become a national pastime.  (These days, you can’t be president without sending in the bombers and drones.)  So let’s try to get our heads around the latest U.S. air strikes in northern Iraq against the forces of the new “caliphate.”  It's a campaign that President Obama has already indicated is likely to go on for months and may soon enough spread south to the Baghdad area.  It looks like Washington has finally created the perfect machine for the weapons industry.
Think of it this way: first Washington provides the Iraqi military with training and massive infusions of military equipment to the tune of $25 billion.  Next that military, faced with its first serious opposition, the militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), numbering in the thousands against security forces in the hundreds of thousands, collapses.  In June, two full divisions, 30,000 Iraqi troops, flee the city of Mosul, abandoning their posts in the face of the advance of ISIS fighters.  In all, four divisions of the country’s 14-division army disintegrate throughout the north.  Left behind is a massive trove of U.S.-supplied weaponry, including 1,500 Humvees, 52 U.S.-made M198 howitzers, tanks, trucks, rifles, and ammunition.
ISIS militants, who seem remarkably capable of operating such equipment without an American trainer or adviser in sight, then turn some of that weaponry (as well as weapons captured from the Syrian military) on U.S.-backed forces, including, in the north, Kurdish pesh merga militias.  (They have evidently even brought tanks into play near the Turkish border.)  To save its Kurdish allies from disaster, the Obama administration then sends in the U.S. Air Force (both fighter-bombers and Predator drones) in close support of the beleaguered Kurdish forces.  Doing what air power seems most capable of, the planes begin destroying the armored vehicles and artillery pieces ISIS has brought to bear in Kurdish areas.  In other words, U.S. air power is called in to take out U.S. military equipment (and anyone manning it).
To complete the circle, both the Iraqis defending Baghdad and the Kurds now desperately need new weaponry, and Washington is already starting to supply it in the north and soon undoubtedly in the south as well.  Can there be any question that this is a win-win situation for the American arms industry and the military-industrial complex?  It gives new meaning to American bombing campaigns that, since 1991, have proven to be disastrous regional destabilizers.  Think of this as an innovative profit center for American industry and a jobs-creation exercise of the first order: we provide the weapons, we destroy them, then we provide more.
Given Astore’s “cult” of bombing and its remarkable futility in policy terms, this is a significant development.  And don’t for a second think that it’s a one-of-a-kind situation. After all, Washington has put at least $50 billion in weaponry and training into Afghanistan’s security forces. So the future is bright.
http://www.commondreams.org/views/2014/08/20/iraq-bombing-program-designed-weapons-industry

Monday, 18 August 2014

US intervention is not humanitarian and will not protect the people of Iraq

By Sami Ramadani

Defeating ISIS and the other terrorist groups is vital, but it is also vital that we oppose US intervention in Iraq, which will make matters worse.

Here we go again, the US is using a humanitarian catastrophe to implement imperialist objectives and pour petrol on fire.
It is sickening to see Obama and the Western media shedding crocodile tears for the Iraqi people, after the US-led occupation pulverised Iraq as a society and killed a million of its people. It is obscene to now suggest that the US will fight terrorism and protect the Iraqi people, when the rise of terrorism was the direct result of the US-led invasion of the country.
Emergency humanitarian help to Yezidi, Christian, Shia communities and all victims of ISIS is essential. But this has to be done through genuine humanitarian organisations and the UN (like in Gaza).
Defeating ISIS and the other terrorist groups is vital, but it is also vital that we oppose US intervention, which will make matters worse and is designed to bolster US presence and use Iraqi Kurdistan as a base of operations and aggression against the Iraqi and Iranian people.
Obama's declaration to intervene militarily (humanely of course) in Iraq is the US Vice President Joe Biden Plan (2006) in action: to create a very weak central government in Baghdad and 3 statelets, led by racist and sectarian forces.
The US is already dominating the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)and using some of the Kurdish leaders, particularly Masoud Barzani, as their main asset in Iraq. They have told them not to declare an independent Kurdish state now, because that will mean loss of US influence in Baghdad, where Kurdish leaders have a massive share in power and resources and a strong presence in the central security apparatus.
In unison with this plank of US's policy in Iraq is the formation of a sectarian "Sunni" army. Many of the leaders of these pro-US Iraqi 'Sunni' organisations, including the Saddamist faction of the Ba'ath party, are now in the Kurdish capital, Arbil. See the Wall Street Journal report on US plans for the 'Sunni' army
Barzani's first statement after the fall in June of Iraq's second city, Mosul, to ISIS and its Saddamist allies, was to declare the death of the "old Iraq" and the birth of a new one. He stressed that his Peshmerga forces "will not fight outside Kurdistan" and promptly moved his Peshmerga forces to enlarge KRG area by 40% and stopped along lines manned by ISIS terrorists. The de facto alliance with ISIS on the ground was clear to all.
ISIS, on its part, moved against areas dominated by the other Kurdish Peshmerga force led by former Iraqi president Talbani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which rivals Barzani's forces. They also moved brutally against the Shia communities, Christian villages and Kurdish religious minorities, such as the Yezidis, in the Mosul (Nineveh), Diala and Kirkuk provinces. All these minorities are in areas not under the control of Barzani's Peshmerga. Obama made it clear that his forces will back KRG, the American consulate and a strong military presence in Arbil.
The actions of the Kurdish leaders run against the interests of the Kurdish people. A similar policy was followed by the Kurdish leaders in the 1960's and 1970's. They, like today, relied heavily on US and Israeli backing. They became so dependent on the US, and its ally the Shah of Iran, that they had to abandon the Kurdish people when the US decided to ditch them.
Henry Kissinger brokered an agreement between Saddam and the Shah in 1975 to crush the Peshmerga. Mustafa Barzani was then leader of the Kurdish forces, which were defeated following the cessation of Iranian support and supplies. The US flew Barzani to Washington where he died four years later. His son Masoud has not learnt the historical lesson and is gambling with the fate of the Kurdish and Iraqi people in general.
In a process similar to the rise of al-Qaida in Afghanistan, the US has been turning a blind eye to the rise of ISIS and in some cases backing terrorist groups and secret militia in Iraq for many years.
The US and Gulf sheiks took a strategic decision in 2006 to back the so called "Sunni extremists" to divide and rule and isolate Iran in the region. Seethis article on the emergence of the strategy.  And see two articles on sectarian violence in Iraq and the Joe Biden Plan.  
Another important dimension to the rise of ISIS terror in Syria and now Iraq is that these barbaric forms of terrorism are also serving Israeli interests in the area. It was noticeable that the ISIS "Caliph" and Israeli war criminal Netanyahu declared the death of Sykes-Picot borders between Iraq and Syria on almost the same day.
The Caliph did not mention Israel or its war crimes in Palestine and the region, while Netanyahu declared that the Jordan river will be where Israel will "defend" itself. He also declared his support for an independent Kurdish state.
Meanwhile, Israel's ambassador in Washington explained why Israel and the west should support the ISIS "bad guys" in preference to other "bad guys": <>  Injured terrorists are known to use Israeli hospitals before they are sent back to fight in Syria.
It is clear to me that ISIS is serving Israeli and US economic, political and military objectives in the region. The US is also using ISIS terrorism as a stick to impose conditions on Baghdad, i.e. to cut links with Iran and Syria
Similarly, the US is using ISIS terrorism to make Iran halt supplies to the Palestinian and Lebanese resistance movements and to cut its aid to Syria. Generally, the aim is to make Iran more amenable to US objectives in the region. See my article on the reasons for the rise of ISIS and the composition of its allies in Iraq.
History shows us, not least in the years of the 'war on terror', that when the US and its allies intervene in other people's countries, it is invariably catastrophic. Understanding the imperialist intentions that lay behind the talk of "humanitarian assistance" is essential if we are not to be duped again -- even after the disasters of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya -- into thinking that this time intervention is benign and well intentioned.
Follow Sami Ramadani on Twitter @SamiRamadani1
Source: Stop the War Coalition

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

The Black Hole of Government Contracting

http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/08/01/the-black-hole-of-government-contracting/
by DANIELLE MARIE MACKEY
In January 2008, a 24-year-old Green Beret from Pennsylvania, Ryan Maseth, was electrocuted and killed while showering at Radwaniyah US base in Iraq. The cause, his family alleges in a negligence suit filed in district court in Tennessee, was improper electrical wiring by Kellog, Brown and Root (KBR), the contracting company in charge of the base. He is one of at least eighteen U.S. soldiers who have been electrocuted in similar situations at U.S. bases in Iraq.
Then, in 2012, KBR was found responsible in an Oregon court of knowingly exposing twelve Oregon National Guard soldiers to a toxic chemical, sodium dichromate, at the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant in Iraq. Information from depositions with KBR employees reveals that they were fully aware of the true nature of the yellow dust—which is, according to the chairman of the Department of Environmental Science at NYU Medical School, Dr. Max Costa, “one of the most potent carcinogens known to man” and that can “enter every cell … and potentially produce widespread injury to every major organ.” Two of the soldiers already died from cancer that their doctors attribute to sodium dichromate exposure.
In 2013, KBR was ordered to stand trial yet again, accused of human trafficking in the case of twelve Nepali men, eleven of whom were murdered. The men’s families say that in 2004 they were promised safe jobs in Jordan, but instead were smuggled to Iraq, destined for a KBR-run U.S. Air Force base. They were intercepted by insurgents en route, and their passports confiscated. Eleven were beheaded; the twelfth survived, and is among the plaintiffs in this case, filed in a district court in Texas.
This is a partial list of the allegations of negligence, corruption, and human trafficking that KBR has, or is still, facing from its operations in Iraq.
KBR is also the private military contractor that has made the most money from the U.S. government’s “war on terror”: $39.5 billion over the past decade. Despite its legal battles, the company continues to be one of the three main private military contractors that the U.S. government hires for work on military bases in Iraq.
And KBR is not the only one that wins lucrative contracts from the government despite having been tried for civil or criminal offenses in U.S. courts. In fact, most of the top contractors working for the U.S. government in Iraq and Afghanistan are in the same situation. In most cases, it is legal for the government to overlook unlawful behavior when hiring contractors, and experts say the government has become so reliant on private military contractors in modern warfare, that this is precisely what happens.
Like KBR, these contracting companies are large and multifaceted, offering services from security to intelligence to food service.
“This is the black hole of contracting,” said Tim Shorrock, a researcher who writes about private intelligence companies. “You can pretty much do almost anything and keep your contracts,” he said.
For instance, another of the top contractors, CACI International, is accused in a U.S. district court in Virginia of torture and war crimes at Abu Ghraib. According to court documents, Taha Yaseen Arraq Rashid — an Iraqi citizen who was freed because no evidence ever materialized linking him to terrorism — told the court that CACI employees tried to extract intelligence information from him by shooting him in the head with a taser gun, beating him to the point of breaking his limbs and causing him to lose some vision, and forcing to watch the rape of a female prisoner, among other torture. He is one of five former Abu Ghraib prisoners with similar claims.
On its website, CACI explains its defense: “We have cooperated fully with every government investigation, and we made clear that we would not condone or tolerate illegal or inappropriate behavior by any employee when engaged in CACI business. While three former employees have been cited in various reports in connection with disputed incidents in Iraq, no CACI employee took part or appears in any of the horrific photos released from Abu Ghraib.”
In April 2014 alone, CACI won five new or renewed government contracts.
Additionally, three of the four top recipients of reconstruction money in Afghanistan — Dyncorp, PAE Government Services Incorporated, and Civilian Police International, as named in a recent report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction — have all been accused of a range of civil and criminal violations, including corruption, tax evasion and human trafficking, according to the Project on Government Oversight (POGO).
Although it may seem counterintuitive, in most cases it is not illegal for the government to hire companies that are accused of breaking laws. The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) is the legal authority in deciding under what circumstances a company can be “debarred” from working with the federal government. It declares that a company must have been convicted of one among a short list of felonies within the past three years: tax evasion, fraud, providing false information to federal government regarding a contract, or bribery. If a company has been found guilty of one of these felonies, it is then up to the discretion of the federal government whether to debar it from receiving further contracts, which would last a period of three years.
The government sometimes decides not to debar a company, when the benefit derived from the product the company offers seems to outweigh its unlawful behavior, says Robert Stumberg, the director of the Harrison Institute for Public Law at Georgetown University. “Public interest is complicated,” says Stumberg. “Sometimes [the government] will look at a company and say, “Gosh, you’re really bad, but we choose not to debar you because we need you too much, because you’re too important to kick out,” says Stumberg. “It’s seemingly in the public’s interest to keep it in even though it’s bad.”
Experts suggest that this may be the case for the U.S. government’s relationship with private military contractors accused of misbehavior. “The U.S. government is simply too dependent on private contractors to be able to enforce accountability,” says Neil Gordon of POGO.
The government’s language in some contracts supports Gordon’s point. For instance, one of CACI’s five April contracts is an agreement with the U.S. Navy to provide, among other things, technical, engineering and human resource support on war ships designed for fighting in shallow seas. “CACI Technologies is the only known company which currently possesses the knowledge and expertise to meet the Navy’s technical and schedule requirements to support,” says the Navy report, as justification for a sole-source contract.
In a document justifying another of the April contracts—this one with the U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency, a unit of the U.S. Department of Defense, to extend a warranty on bomb-detection technology—the author of the report justifies contracting CACI because, when the government called CACI to ask if a third party was authorized to do the same work, the company said no. Therefore, the warrantee was extended, says the report.
And it isn’t only the Navy and Department of Defense that believe CACI to be “the only known company” which can fulfill their needs: The CACI website lists key clients that include the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, NATO, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the New Jersey Police, among others. The company’s revenues totaled $3.7 billion in 2013, according to its website. $998 million of this money came from the U.S. government, according to government records, making it the 42nd top recipient of federal contract awards in the year 2012.
Pratap Chatterjee, the executive director of Corpwatch and author of Halliburton’s Army, says that another reason that the government has come to inescapably rely on private military contractors is that the modern U.S. public expects war to be outsourced. “One of the problems with fighting a war is that a lot of it is not sexy. It’s dirty, dull and dangerous,” says Chatterjee. “So modern kids with their Gameboys and Nintendos and McDonalds — why would they go to war? The use of contractors has become key…. The US government is trying to make war easier and more comfortable,” says Chatterjee.
Experts speculate that these companies maintain their significance to the government also through proximity to lawmakers in Washington. For instance, MPRI, one of the subsidiaries of top Afghanistan aid recipient CPI, was created by retired senior military officers who maintain close relationships with the Pentagon, according to the AP.
Campaign contributions may also help. CACI, for instance, has drasticallyincreased its spending on campaign contributions — from $1,500 in 1998, to $160,000 in 2012. KBR’s contributions followed a similar trajectory, from about $12,000 in 2006, to $289,000 in 2012.
Revolving door lobbyists also may give companies leverage. In 2004, for instance, eleven of CACI’s twenty-two registered lobbyists were once U.S. government employees, including former members of the Department of Defense, House of Representatives, the Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard, among other government institutions, according to lobbying records. This relationship with Washington may help the company maintain influence, even while it fights war crimes allegations in Virginia.
But not all of the government’s addiction to contractors can be explained by corporate proactivity. The government also granted companies generous limited liability stipulations that make it relatively easy for them to shift the majority of the responsibility for unlawful behavior back onto Uncle Sam’s shoulders, experts say.
For instance, KBR’s contracts include a legal figure called an indemnity, says Texas Attorney Mike Doyle, who is a prosecutor in several cases against KBR. “What KBR did is get the government to agree that even if KBR kills U.S. soldiers, Iraqis, Brits, the government is on the hook for anything bad we do to anybody. It’s very uncommon you’d allow a contractor to do that,” says Doyle. “It’s kind of unknown why they’d agree to this,” he says.
What is known is the circumstance under which they agreed upon the indemnity. In a videotaped deposition interview in which Doyle questions Mary Wade, KBR’s chief contract negotiator, Wade testifies that the contract between the company and the government — a no-bid contract worth over one billion dollars — was negotiated in one morning. She also acknowledges that mere days after receiving the no-bid contract, the company went back to the government and renegotiated for the indemnity. “It was about risk on performance,” Wade said in the deposition.
Doyle speculates that the government felt they needed KBR in order to go to war. “It seems like KBR basically said, ‘You want your war? Give us this indemnity,’” says Doyle.
Limited liability structures, like indemnity, are a strategic move for contractors because they can “potentially be used to skirt accountability,” says Gary Ruskin, the director of the Center for Corporate Policy. “The intent is to avoid accountability; it works as intended.”
KBR argues that limited liability is non-negotiable if it is to be able to fulfill its duties. In court documents from the case of electrocuted soldier Maseth, the company asserted that indemnity “is based on a long-standing principle,” and is a “fact of life in the modern military, given the U.S. government’s frequent reliance on services provided by war-zone contractors in inherently risky and unpredictable circumstances.”
It argued that if the government goes back on the principle now — for example, by refusing to reimburse KBR for the damages it must pay to Maseth’s family or the U.S. soldiers poisoned by sodium dichromate — then it will endanger contractors’ willingness to work with the government in the future. Thus “allowing Maseth’s family to sue KBR in effect allows them to sue the federal government,” the company argued in the documents.
Despite the fact that it is legal for the government to overlook unlawful behavior in awarding contracts, some experts argue that it’s a problematic on a deep level. “I do think it’s a moral issue,” says Gwynne Skinner, law professor at Williamette University and expert on legal accountability mechanisms for private actors. “We have regulations in our government that say we shouldn’t do business with foreign governments that are engage in human rights violations, so why are we allowed to do so with companies? It’s not only a moral issue, it’s incongruent with our government’s own policy.”
Indeed, the pockmarked track record of companies like KBR and CACI has prompted U.S. congressional officials to introduce legislation seeking to increase accountability over private contractors. They argue that the issue only becomes more important with time, because as the U.S. military pulls out of the Middle East, the number of U.S. contractors in the region is scheduled to increase.
Actors from all sides of the debate, including human rights groups, the U.S. Department of Defense, the Obama administration, and even some contractors have all expressed support for such increased accountability mechanisms.
At least six such bills have been introduced to congress in the past decade; nevertheless, five have died in committee. The one that did pass — the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, passed in the year 2000 — so narrowly defined the exact circumstances in which a contractor violating a law could be prosecuted, that it was inapplicable in all cases but one.
Again, the roadblock seems to be traceable to the government’s reliance on contractors in modern warfare, says Chatterjee. “When these bills come before Congress, in reality not many people care,” he says. “In general, Congress is in the thrall of lobbyists and big money — but with these guys, it wasn’t that they went on the hill and said to senators, ‘You must vote against this!’ Chatterjee says. “Even the Democrats essentially believe they must defend the country against this existential threat of terrorism. So nobody was really in favor of this.”
Attorney Skinner argues that business concerns also impact here. “One force working against accountability is that most people in Congress want to be pro-business, and they still have this belief that regulation makes business really expensive and chills economic growth,” she says. In the end, experts can only speculate about the root cause of the government’s behavior.
Danielle Marie Mackey is a journalist specializing in Latin America. 
This article appears in the excellent Le Monde Diplomatique, whose English language edition can be found at mondediplo.com. This full text appears by agreement with Le Monde Diplomatique. CounterPunch features two or three articles from LMD every month.

Monday, 7 July 2014

It is time for the damage to be compensated

On 10 June 2014 the President of GICJ, Hans-C von Sponeck, held a presentation under the title “Iraq – What Next?” during a hearing at the UK House of Commons, London. In his role as former UN Assistant Secretary General and UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, he provided two detailed observations about the externally-driven Iraq politics during the period 1990-2014.
Image: Volker M√ľnch


Observation 1

Hans von Sponeck began his presentation by explaining that today’s tragic Iraq reality can only be understood if the additive impact of the years before and the years following the US/UK Governments’ illegal invasion and occupation is fully taken into account. To this end he distinguished 3 distinct time periods that all together have contributed to the current calamity.
1990-2003
Sanctions and inadequate humanitarian support
The 13 years of sanctions imposed on Iraq were the most comprehensive economic and financial sanctions ever levied on a country by the UN Security Council (UNSC). Initially the UNSC did not provide any social safety net whatsoever. The Iraqi people were at the mercy of voluntary external donations and these turned out to be well below the minimum estimated by the UN Secretary General to sustain life.
Supposed to be an UN humanitarian exemption, the oil-for-food programme, began only in December 1996. It provided important but severely inadequate subsistence support, amounting to a paltry.51 cents (US) worth of supplies/person/per day. This ‘humanitarian’ programme authorized by the UN Security Council was entirely (!) financed from Iraq’s own resources (oil revenue) and the word ‘humanitarian’ is therefore a misnomer!
One compelling statistic of misery resulting from this reality is that during the years of UN sanctions, Iraq’s child mortality rates were as high as 132 of 1000 children dying before reaching 5 years of age. Together with Afghanistan these rates were among the highest in the world. (UNICEF) A sobering conclusion about the irresponsibility of the UN Security Council was presented in 2000 to the Council by the Ambassador of Malaysia to the United Nations, Dato Agam Hasmy:
“How ironic is it that the same policy that is supposed to disarm Iraq from its weapons of mass destruction has itself become a weapon of mass destruction!”
2003-2011
An illegal invasion and subsequent occupation
The 2003 illegal invasion and 8 years of occupation constituted a period of dismantling every fiber of Iraqi society. There is evidence of horrific violations of the Hague and Geneva Conventions by the occupying powers symbolized by the “Iraqi man with the hood” in the Abu Ghraib jail. People’s courts and tribunals concerning Iraq held in many parts of the world have credibly established the culpability of western leaders, especially former US President Bush and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The most detailed evidence has been compiled by the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission (KLWCC) of which Denis Halliday and I are members. We would like to present to Lord Megginnes of Drumglass of the House of Lords and MPs Jeremy Corbyn and George McDonald as well as other participants two volumes of torture and war-crimes related evidence compiled by the KLWCC.
2012-2014
Chaos and violence
Since the departure of US and other foreign forces from Iraq, social and political chaos has further intensified in the country. The Kurdish-Arab divide is deeper than ever before. Sectarianism and the danger of disintegration remain. Civil-war like conditions in central Iraq have increased. Terrorism and criminal violence have become part of daily life in many parts of the country. National re-building following wars, sanctions and occupation is far below people’s rightful expectations.
National human balance sheet 2014
Total population of Iraq: 33 million people
  • 23% living in poverty (although Iraq is an immensely oil-rich country)
  • 600.000 children live in a streets (new phenomena, unknown before 1990)
  • Iraq ranks 178th out of 181 on the Corruption Perceptions Index (Transparency International)
  • 14% of Iraqis are orphans, most since 2003
  • Increasing hash and heroin abuse (Rare before 2003)
  • Illitracy rate almost 23% (World Bank, 2007. In 1982 Iraq had been awarded by UNESCO for eradicating illiteracy)
  • 5 million school-age children were not in school. (World Bank, 2007)
  • Serious health problems have arisen because of occupation forces’ use of depleted uranium and white phosphorus.
Credible data and additional indicators are available from a wide variety of international sources. One must ask how much can a people endure?

Observation 2

The second observation Hans von Sponeck addressed the question of how to build ‘necessary bridges’ (HoL) to facilitate a return to a human-rights minded political climate in Iraq, which he wholeheartedly supported. Justice, peace and accelerated nation re-building must be the priority of the moment. There was no UN Security Council commitment in this respect when himself and his colleague and close friend, Denis Halliday, served in succession in Iraq, von Sponeck said and this was the reason that both of them subsequently resigned.
The tragedy of Iraq and its implications
It is crucial to realize that the Iraq tragedy has wider implications for the way in which the community of nations lives together. There is great urgency for UN reforms. The perpetrators of 24 years of continuous mistreatment of a people are known. Large amounts of evidence in this regard has been collected. Sir John Chilcot’s demand to have key evidence of possible war crimes by occupation forces published should be respected. The same applies to other evidence involving years of sanctions and occupation. The United Nations and member countries should no longer be allowed to make excuses to avoid releasing such evidence to the public.
Ending impunity
To arraign perpetrators involved during any of the three time periods identified above and the preparation of court cases must no longer be considered utopian. Ending impunity remains a serious demand from civil society. Qualified individuals are available to prepare specific court cases and time lines as well as to mount campaigns to obtain civil society funding. The ICC must be made increasingly aware that their reluctance to accept the mandate and responsibility for hearing Iraq cases against former senior US and UK officials has become unacceptable. The submission by Public Interest Lawyers in the UK of cases of military abuse in southern Iraq is a significant step in challenging the ICC to accept the Iraq file.
Time to pay compensation
Iraq continues to pay compensation for damages resulting from its 1990 invasion into Kuwait. As of April 2014 $46 billion have actually been paid. The UN Compensation Commission must begin to consider counterclaims by Iraqi society for the physical and mental damages afflicted on Iraqi citizens as a result of two wars, sanctions, occupation and the illegal use of munitions. Continued support from both houses of the UK Parliament will give the credibility a justice-for-Iraq process requires and the respect Iraqi society deserves.

See also