Thursday, September 21, 2006

in the name of those who suffer

The BBC's Matt Frei's brief characterisation and personal history of Bush junior in his piece 'Top Gun - Bush rises to the challenge' has helped me to understand him better without admiring him any the more. It argues that, dim-witted and incurious though Bush is, he's not a puppet manipulated by the neocons. Though of course Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Blair and others need to be brought to justice, the major culprit is Bush himself, as far as the invasion of Iraq is concerned.

The reported civilian death count as a result of the invasion of Iraq stands at around 45000, according to Iraq Body Count. The rate of deaths is increasing, though the self-interested regimes involved in the invasion are falling over each other to deny any responsibility for the carnage. And of course the sectarian violence now tearing the country apart makes the blame game slightly more difficult to play.

The figure quoted above is conservative - in fact the IBC website has come under heavy attack for the conservativism of its accounting - but it's a reliable minimum figure. A study published in The Lancet estimated 100,000 deaths around the period of the invasion, but that was highly controversial and I won't rely on it. We all know that the most powerful and destructive military on earth refuses to keep tabs on the number of people it kills, and the same goes for the British military and its government, but it's worth noting that Blair confidently claimed on the eve of invasion that Saddam killed more Iraqis per year than the invading troops would kill during the conflict, however long it lasted. It was a piece of pure rhetoric, with no evidence to back it up.

So how does the 45000 civilians killed in the last three and a half years compare to Saddam's death toll? Blair, in his defence, claimed that Saddam was responsible for 300,000 deaths. The actual number is a matter of much debate, but it is certainly true that in the years leading up to the invasion the numbers of deaths, as reported by Amnesty International, was considerably reduced - to 'scores' in 2001 and 2002, down from 'hundreds' in 2000 - making his dictatorship, at invasion time, no better or worse than many others around the globe. Contrast Suharto, also responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of his own citizens, yet treated as a hero by western, particularly American, leaders in the sixties and seventies, never brought to account (in fact the Americans clandestinely but substantially supported his campaign of mass murder), and at the end of his dictatorship fawned upon as a lovable patriarch by his nervous neighbours and by journalists of Greg Sheridan's ilk.

As human rights watch declared: 'before taking the substantial risk to life that is inherent in any war, mass slaughter should be taking place or imminent. That was not the case in Saddam Hussein's Iraq in March 2003.'

The invasion of Iraq was not undertaken on humanitarian grounds. The pretext was WMD and claims about terrorism. These latter claims have increased as the WMD pretext has been exposed, but it's abundantly clear that the invasion of Iraq became a focus for anti-western extremists. There was no terrorist threat from Iraq before the invasion. Since the invasion, the humanitarian argument has been used continually by Blair, and to a lesser extent by Howard. It should be noted that invasions of foreign countries, historically, have never been undertaken for humanitarian reasons. The world just doesn't work that way.

Whatever the reasons for it, we're very far from having survived the consequences of this intervention.

This post was largely inspired and assisted by the reading of this article by John Sloboda.



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