10 myths about the invasion and occupation of Iraq


I wrote this in 2006, but I think much of it is still relevant…

 

IN PERHAPS the biggest propaganda campaign since the Second World War, the British political and military elite has attempted to serve up a series of distortions, exaggerations and outright lies to the British public in an attempt to gain support for the unpopular invasion of Iraq and the ongoing occupation. There are two types of myth concerning Iraq. Those, such as Iraq‘s Weapons of Mass Destruction (sic), that have been completely discredited, and other, more insidious myths, often believed and repeated even by those who are against the war. These, through constant repetition, have acquired the status of common sense ‘truth’.

 

Ignoring Eduardo Galeano’s truism that "the words uttered by power are not meant to express its actions, but to disguise them"; large sections of the media have echoed and channeled government propaganda. The writer George Monbiot notes, "The falsehoods reproduced by the media before the invasion of Iraq were massive and consequential: it is hard to see how Britain could have gone to war if the press had done its job."

 

It is high time we put the record straight.

 

 

Myth 1: British and American forces "came to Iraq in the first place to bring democracy and human rights." (BBC reporter Paul Wood, BBC News at 10, 22 December 2005)

 

Fact: That the US/UK are sincere about Iraqi democracy is the central myth of the conflict – it underpins all the other myths and is the prism through which all US/UK actions are interpreted.The historian Mark Curtis notes, "The ideological system promotes one key concept… the idea of Britain’s basic benevolence… criticism of foreign policies is certainly possible, and normal, but within narrow limits which show ‘exceptions’ to, or ‘mistakes’ in, promoting the rule of basic benevolence." The historical record clearly shows, rather than promoting democracy and human rights in the Arab World, Anglo-American foreign policy has been systematically opposed to these ideas; installing the Shah in Iran in 1953, supporting Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, arming Turkey in its war against the Kurds and the continuing support for the Saudi regime to name but a few examples.

 

An Iraqi government that reflected Iraqi popular opinion is likely to push for US/UK troops to withdraw (see Myth 10), seek closer ties with Iran, want to use the nation’s energy reserves to benefit Iraqis, and is unlikely to take an ‘acceptable’ position on wider Middle East security and the Israel-Palestine conflict - all anathema to the US/UK Governments.

 

Myth 2: "The reason why we are taking the action we are taking [in Iraq] is nothing to do with oil." (Tony Blair, House of Commons, 15 January 2003)

 

Fact: The control of the energy reserves in the Middle East has long been a key foreign policy objective for the US and UK. In 1945 the US State Department said Middle East oil was "a stupendous source of strategic power and one of the greatest material prizes in world history." Two years later the British Government reiterated the region was "a vital prize for any power

interested in world domination." It seems little has changed. In 1999 General Anthony Zinni, Commander in Chief of the US Central Command, testified before Congress that the Gulf region’s huge oil reserves is of "vital interest" of "long standing" to the US, who "must have free access to the region’s resources." Just before the invasion, the British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw stated one of the long-term priorities of British foreign policy was "to bolster the security of British and global energy supplies."

 

Myth 3: "This is what they [the Joint Intelligence Committee] are telling me the British Prime Minister and my senior colleagues. The intelligence picture they paint is one accumulated over the past four years. It is extensive, detailed and authoritative." (Tony Blair, statement to Parliament on publication of dossier, 24 September 2002)

 

Fact: The thesis that Tony Blair was honest and sincere, if very mistaken, in his stance over Iraq has regrettably gained widespread currency. However this is undermined by the fact he made many statements about the Iraqi ‘threat’ that were contradicted by the very sources he claimed to rely on. Consider and contrast the following statements:

 

·         "What I believe the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt is that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons." (Tony Blair’s foreword to the dossier on Iraq‘s weapons of mass destruction, 24 September 2002)

·         "We have little intelligence on Iraq‘s CBW doctrine, and know little about Iraq‘s CBW work since late 1998." (Joint Intelligence Committee Assessment, 21 August 2002)

·         "I am in no doubt that the threat is serious and current." (Tony Blair’s foreword to the dossier on Iraq‘s weapons of mass destruction, 24 September 2002)

·         "Intelligence remains limited and Saddam’s own unpredictability complicates judgments." (Joint Intelligence Assessment, 9 September 2002)

·         "I have been briefed in detail on the intelligence and am satisfied as to its authority" (Tony Blair’s foreword to the dossier on Iraq‘s weapons of mass destruction, 24 September 2002)

·         "Intelligence on Iraq‘s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programme is sporadic and patchy." (Joint Intelligence Assessment, 15 March 2002)

 

Another example of Tony Blair’s dishonesty is the case of Hussain Kamel, the man in charge of Iraq‘s weapons programmes in the 1980s and early 1990s. Kamel defected in 1995 telling UN inspectors, "I ordered the destruction of all chemical weapons. All weapons – biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed." Not only did Tony Blair fail to disclose this important information, he had the nerve to use Kamel to gain support for the war, stating on 18 March 2003, "Hussain Kamal defected to Jordan. He disclosed a far more extensive BW programme and for the first time said Iraq had weaponsied the programme."

 

Myth 4: "I continue to want to solve this issue of Iraq and weapons of mass destruction through the United Nations." (Tony Blair, speech to a Labour Party conference, 15 February 2003)

 

Fact: The recent revelation that Tony Blair told George Bush he was "solidly" behind US plans to invade Iraq in the absence of UN authorisation on 31 January 2003, before he had sought legal advice, suggests Blair’s public utterances about wanting to solve the crisis through the UN were a complete charade.

 

This conclusion is supported by information contained in the Downing Street Memos, in which Jack Straw reportedly said "We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would help with the legal justification for the use of force." A further Cabinet Office briefing paper clarified: "It is just possible that an ultimatum could be cast in terms which Saddam would reject." The goal then, was to use the UN inspectors as a tool for triggering war with Iraq, not as Tony Blair was publicly suggesting, to negotiate for a peaceful solution to the crisis.

 

It is also useful to remind ourselves of a long forgotten story reported by The Observer on 15 February 2004: "A joint British and American spying operation at the United Nations scuppered a last-ditch initiative to avert the invasion of Iraq." With information that could only have been gained by spying, the late Mexican Ambassador to the UN, Anguilar Zinser, said secret negotiations for a compromise resolution that would give the inspectors more time were blocked by US officials.

 

Myth 5: "As the Foreign Secretary has pointed out, Resolution 1441 gives the legal basis for this [war]." (Tony Blair, House of Commons, 12 March 2003)

 

Fact: Unfortunately for Tony Blair, he himself had previously said Resolution 1441 would not authorise war. On 8 November 2002 he said, "To those who fear this resolution is just an automatic trigger point without further discussion, paragraph 12 of the resolution makes it clear that this is not the case."

 

Indeed Resolution 1441 was only passed at the Security Council because it did not automatically authorise war – this was understood by all (the UK and US included) participants. In a joint 11 November 2002 statement, Russia, China and France said, "Resolution 1441 (2002) adopted today by the Security Council excludes any automaticity in the use of force." This account closely mirrors Sir Jeremy Greenstock’s, the UK‘s Ambassador to the UN, understanding of the Resolution: "We heard loud and clear during the negotiations the concerns about ‘automaticity’ and ‘hidden triggers’… Let me be equally clear in response… There is no ‘automaticity’ in this Resolution. If there is a further Iraqi breach of its disarmament obligations, the matter will return to the Council…"

 

Myth 6: "The French position is that France will veto no whatever the circumstances. Those are not my words, but those of the French President." (Tony Blair, House of Commons, 18 March 2003)

 

Fact: President Chirac has consistently argued the US and UK misrepresented his position. Consider what Chirac actually said: "My position is that, regardless of the circumstances, France will vote "no" because she considers this evening that there are no grounds for waging war in order to achieve the goal we have set ourselves, i.e. to disarm Iraq." It seems Tony Blair, not for the first time, was being very selective with the information available to him – the words "this evening" were never included in the British Government’s accounts. For the record, on 10 March 2003, Chirac did make it clear that he supported war if, after a few months, the inspectors said Iraq was not co-operating, "In that case, regrettably, the war would become inevitable."

 

Also, the idea that a veto can somehow be ‘unreasonable’ is completely fictitious. Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, told Tony Blair in his legal advice, "I do not believe that there is any basis in law for arguing that there is an implied condition of reasonableness which can be read into the power of veto conferred on the permanent members of the Security Council by the UN Charter. So there are no grounds for arguing that an ‘unreasonable veto’ would entitle us to proceed on the basis of a presumed Security Council authorisation."

 

Myth 7: "Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld… once again today listed only ‘dead-enders, foreign terrorists and criminal gangs’ as opponents of the American occupation." (New York Times, 17 September 2003)

 

Fact: According to the journalist Patrick Cockburn, "It is difficult to meet Iraqis who do not support the attacks on the Americans." Several opinion polls confirm Cockburn’s observation that the insurgency has widespread support in the wider population. Asked whether they viewed the coalition forces as "liberators" or "occupiers" in an April 2004 USA Today/CNN/Gallup opinion poll, 71 per cent of Iraqis said "occupiers". So it should be no surprise a secret October 2005 Ministry of Defence poll (subsequently leaked to the Daily Telegraph) found 45 per cent of Iraqis believed attacks against the US and UK troops were justified (rising to 65 per cent in the British controlled Maysan province). A recent poll conducted by the University of Maryland corroborates these earlier conclusions, finding 88 per cent of Sunnis and 41 per cent of Shiites approving of attacks on US-led forces.

 

Myth 8: "We have a process… to get Iraq towards democracy and elections… There is no doubt at all the former regime elements and the outside terrorists are trying to stop that happening." (Tony Blair and Ayad Allawi, joint press conference, 19 September 2004)

 

Fact: The Iraqi insurgency is largely homegrown. In May 2004, USA Today, quoting figures supplied by the US military command handling detention operations, reported that out of the 5,700 captives held, only 90 of them were non-Iraqis, or just 2 per cent. The story quotes Lt. Col. Paul Kennedy, fighting in Ramadi: "There are very few foreign fighters." During the November 2004 assault on Falluja, of the 1000 men who were captured, just 15 were confirmed foreign fighters, according to General George Casey. A slightly higher estimate (but still small percentage) is given by a September 2005 Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) report, which stated foreign militants account for less than 10% of the total number of insurgents.

 

We should also remember the focus on Arab ‘foreign fighters’ is, in itself, a red herring. The journalist Robert Fisk: "I can tell you there are at least 200,000 foreign fighters in Iraq and 146,000 of them are wearing American uniform."

 

Myth 9: "Coalition forces take great care to avoid civilian casualties." (George Bush and Tony Blair, joint statement, 8 April 2003)

 

Fact: As early as October 2003, Human Rights Watch reported, "a pattern of over-aggressive tactics, excessive shooting in residential areas and hasty reliance on lethal force" by US forces in Iraq. However, it was the US assaults on Falluja in April and November 2004 that highlighted the US forces total disregard for civilian casualties. Consider what we know about the November attack; A high ranking Red Cross official estimated that at least 800 civilians were killed in the first nine days of the attack; the US State Department estimated that 25 per cent of the city’s housing stock was rendered uninhabitable, with a further 25 per cent severely damaged; Dr Hafid al-Dulaimi, head of the city’s compensation commission, reported that 8,400 shops, 60 nurseries and schools, and 65 mosques and religious sanctuaries were destroyed in the attack.  Furthermore, the US forces committed many serious war crimes during the assault, cutting off the city’s water and electricity supply, bombing a hospital, using chemical weapons, sending unarmed men back to the war-zone and denying access to aid agencies.

 

In October 2004 the Lancet medical journal estimated 100,000 people had died as a result of the invasion: "violence accounted for most of the excess deaths and air strikes from coalition forces accounted for most violent deaths… most individuals reportedly killed by coalition forces were women and children." This figure is likely to continue to rise because US forces are dramatically increasing their use of air power in Iraq, from 60 air raids in September 2005 to 120 in November 2005.

 

Myth 10: "We will stay as long as the Iraqi government and people want us to stay and there is a job for us to do" (Jack Straw, 26 November 2003)

 

Fact: Opinion polls conducted in Iraq since the invasion consistently show the majority of Iraqis want US/UK troops to withdraw. According to the MoD opinion poll, 82 per cent of Iraqis were "strongly opposed" to the presence of coalition troops. The April 2004 USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll found 57 per cent of respondents saying US/UK forces should leave "immediately.", while a January 2005 Zogby International poll found 82 per cent of Iraq’s Sunni Arabs and 69 per cent of its Shiites favouring US withdrawal "either immediately or after an elected government is in place." The results of the recent University of Maryland poll broadly confirms these earlier surveys’ findings, reporting that 87 per cent of Iraqis endorsed a demand for a timetabled withdrawal.

 

Sources

 

Introduction: George Monbiot, ‘Our lies led us into war’, Guardian, July 20, 2004. Znet quotes, http://www.zmag.org/quotes/quotesResults.cfm?topic1=Media

Myth 1: Mark Curtis, Web of Deceit: Britain’s Real Role in the World (London, Vintage, 2003).

Myth 2: Noam Chomsky, ‘A modest proposal’, Znet, 3 December 2002,

http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=15&ItemID=2694. David Wearing, ‘Blair’s next war’, Znet, 4 May 2005, http://www.zmag.org/content/print_article.cfm?itemID=7784&sectionID=1. Ewen MacAskill, ‘Straw admits oil is a key factor’, Guardian, 7 January 2003. James Paul, ‘Iraq: The struggle for oil’, Global Policy Forum, August 2002, http://www.globalpolicy.org/security/oil/2002/08jim.htm

Myth 3: Media Advisory, ‘Star witness on Iraq said weapons were destroyed’, FAIR, 27 February 2003, http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=1845. Michael White, Richard Norton-Taylor and Ewan MacAskill, ‘A litany of failure – but no one to blame’, Guardian, 15 July 2004. ‘Full text: Tony Blair’s speech’, Guardian, 18 March 2003,

http://politics.guardian.co.uk/iraq/story/0,,916790,00.html.

Myth 4: Richard Norton-Taylor, ‘Blair-Bush deal before Iraq war revealed in secret memo’, Guardian, 3 February 2006. ‘Conspiracy – The Downing Street Memo – Part 1′, Media Lens, 27 June 2005,

http://www.medialens.org/alerts/05/050627_conspiracy_the_downing_street_memo.php. Martin Bright, Peter Beaumont and Jo Tuckman, ‘British spy op wrecked peace move’, The Observer, 15 February 2004.

Myth 5: ‘PM statement on Iraq following UN Security Council resolution’, 8 November 2002,

http://www.number-10.gov.uk/output/Page3206.asp. ‘Joint Statement by China, France and Russia Interpreting UN Security Council Resolution 1441 (2002)’, 11 November 2002,

http://www.staff.city.ac.uk/p.willetts/IRAQ/FRRSCHST.HTM. United Kingdom explanation of vote on UN Security Council Resolution 1441 (2002)’, 8 November 2002, http://www.staff.city.ac.uk/p.willetts/IRAQ/UK081102.HTM.

Myth 6: ‘The gall of France‘, Guardian, 15 March 2003. ‘Full text: summary of attorney general’s legal advice on March 7 2003′, http://www.stopwar.org.uk/Attorneygeneralsadvice.htm

Myth 7: Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, 18 September 2004. ‘Poll: Iraqis out of patience’, USA Today, 30 April 2004, http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/iraq/2004-04-28-pollcover_x.htm. Sean Rayment, ‘Secret MoD poll: Iraqis support attacks on British troops’, TheTelegraph, 23 October 2005, http://telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2005/10/23/wirq23.xml&sSheet=/portal/2005/10/23/ixportaltop.html. ‘What the Iraqi people want’, Program on International Policy Attitudes, 31 January 2006, http://www.worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/pdf/jan06/Iraq_Jan06_rpt.pdf.

Myth 8: Peter Eisler and Tom Squiteri, ‘Foreign detainees are few in Iraq‘, USA Today, 5 July 2004. Mark Mazzetti, ‘Insurgents Are Mostly Iraqis, U.S. Military Says’, Los Angeles Times, 28 September 2004. ‘US inflated foreign fighters’ number’, Aljazeera, 18 November 2004. Brian Whitaker and Ewen MacAskill, ‘Report attacks myth of foreign fighters’, Guardian, 23 September 2005. Robert Fisk, This is a resistance movement, whether we like it or not’, 29 October 2003, http://www.thetruthseeker.co.uk/article.asp?ID=1205.

Myth 9: ‘Hearts and minds: Post-war civilian deaths in Baghdad caused by U.S. forces’, Human Rights Watch, October 2003, http://www.hrw.org/reports/2003/iraq1003/index.htm. Dahr Jamail, ‘800 Civilians feared dead in Falluja’, Inter Press Service, 16 November 2004, http://www.ipsnews.net/interna.asp?idnews=26296. Jonathan Steele and Dahr Jamail, ‘This is our Guernica‘, Guardian, 27 April 2005. ‘Denial of water to Iraqi cities’, Cambridge Solidarity with Iraq, 10 November 2004, http://www.casi.org.uk/briefings-new.html. ‘IRAQ: Medical needs massive in Fallujah – Red Crescent, IRIGnews.org, 10 November 2004,

http://www.plusnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=44075&SelectRegion=Iraq_Crisis&SelectCountry=IRAQ. George Monbiot, ‘The US used chemical weapons in Iraq – and then lied about it’, Guardian, 15 November 2005. ‘Iraq: Fears of serious violations of the rules of war in Falluja’, Amnesty International, 12 November 2004, http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engmde140562004. ‘GIs force men fleeing Fallujah to return’, Associated Press, 12 November 2004, http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory?id=246764. Rory McCarthy, ‘US denies need for Falluja aid convoy’, Guardian, 15 November 2004, http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,1351332,00.html. ‘US increases air attacks in Iraq‘, Aljazeera, 20 December 2005, http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/3D38A39E-D8B2-499D-9FA4-2C941EBB8332.htm.

Myth 10: Sean Rayment, ‘Secret MoD poll: Iraqis support attacks on British troops’, The Telegraph, 23 October 2005,

http://telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2005/10/23/wirq23.xml&sSheet=/portal/2005/10/23/ixportaltop.html. ‘Poll: Iraqis out of patience’, USA Today, 30 April 2004, http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/iraq/2004-04-28-poll-cover_x.htm. ‘Majority of Sunnis to shun vote: poll’, http://www.zogbyworldwide.com/int/readinthemedia.cfm?ID=6278. ‘What the Iraqi people want’, Program on International Policy Attitudes, 31 January 2006, http://www.worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/pdf/jan06/Iraq_Jan06_rpt.pdf.

 

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