Professor Bulent Gokay (SPIRE) and Lily Hamourtziadou
Seven years ago, then Prime Minister Gordon Brown commissioned Sir John Chilcot to lead an investigation into the events that led Britain to join the US in initiating the 2003 war in Iraq.
Launching the inquiry, Gordon Brown said: ‘The inquiry will, I stress, be fully independent of Government. Its scope is unprecedented. It covers an eight-year period, including the run-up to the conflict and the full period of conflict and reconstruction. The committee of inquiry will have access to the fullest range of information, including secret information. In other words, its investigation can range across all papers, all documents and all material.’ All this was a response to a disastrous war launched in March 2003 by the US administration, and supported by the British government, under Tony Blair’s premiership.
Tony Blair presented the dodgy dossier to the British Parliament on 24 September 2002. He claimed that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons, the so-called Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), and active military plans for the use of such weapons, which could be activated to reach British targets within 45 minutes. We now know that the infamous claim that Saddam could launch WMD within 45 minutes was ‘sexed up’, by Alastair Campbell, to push Britain into the war.
In order to secure the support for an unprovoked war, Iraq was portrayed as a ’rogue state’, a state which didn’t obey international norms and was governed by a brutal dictator. It was put in the same category as other ‘pariah states’ such as North Korea. But it also happens to be next to two other ‘rogue states’, Syria and Iran, and to have the second largest oil reserves in the world. Since 2003, it has become increasingly clear that there was a principal link with Iraqi oil in shaping US and British decisions that led to this war. Iraq’s proven oil reserves are considered among the greatest in the world. The Iraq war was important in terms of guaranteeing/ safeguarding firm control over the oil riches of the country. Indeed, many writers, and anti-war groups have mentioned the oil dimension as the key reason why Iraq was targeted.
On 6 November 2000, while Americans were distracted by the controversial Florida presidential vote count, the Iraqi government announced that it was no longer going to accept dollars for oil sold under the UN’s Oil For-Food Programme and had decided to switch to the euro as Iraq’s oil export currency – hence launching the so-called ‘secret weapon’ of Iraq. This was the first time an OPEC country had dared to violate the dollar-price rule. Since then, the value of the euro has increased and the value of the dollar has steadily declined. Libya has been urging for some time that oil be priced in euros rather than dollars. In 2001, Venezuela’s ambassador to Russia spoke of Venezuela switching to the euro for all their oil sales.
Before 2003, Iran, Russia, and other countries also indicated that they would like to denominate their petroleum in euros. Since the oil trade is a central factor underpinning the dollar’s hegemony in global trade, all these are potentially very significant threats to the strength of the US economy, and eventually to US global hegemony.
In the end, as we know, the US, in alliance with Britain, intervened in Iraq militarily in March 2003, and installed its own authority to run the country. The invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq may well be remembered as the first oil-currency war. There is now a wealth of evidence to suggest that the invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with any threat from Saddam’s WMD programme and certainly less to do with fighting international terrorism, than it has to do with gaining control over Iraq’s oil reserves and in doing so maintaining the US dollar as the dominant currency for the international oil market.
The war against Iraq, a war started under false pretences and conducted brutally, regardless of its devastating human costs for Iraqi civilians, can therefore be seen as part of a larger equation of global economic and political structures, a convergence of political/economic interests, travelling under the rubric of ‘humanitarian intervention’ and ‘regime change’.
Vested interests in energy, weapons and influential segments of the media industries are always rooted in key parts of government in the US and other western developed countries. These interests have been involved heavily with sustaining their favoured position, and key elements of the US and British political elite are, for most of the time, acting in response to these powerful interests. This is not a conspiracy, it is simply ‘business as usual’.
What is not ‘business as usual’ is the utter devastation of the Iraqi state, all institutions and the irreversible damage done to Iraqi society. The hostilities that began on 20 March 2003 and continue to this day have resulted in the deaths of at least 179,000 Iraqi civilians. Over 17,500 of those civilians have been killed by coalition forces. British forces were engaged from 2003-2011 and again from 2014, with the loss of 179 British men and women. British forces were responsible for the security of four provinces in southeastern Iraq after the 2003 invasion. These were Basra, Missan, Muthanna, and Thi-Qar. From May 2003 to December 2007, 124 Iraqi civilians have been identified as victims of British military action.
Violence is still claiming lives in Iraq
Over 1,100 Iraqi civilians were killed in the month before the publication of the Chilcot report, in June 2016. At least 50 of them were children. In the month of June, 163 civilian deaths were caused by coalition bombings. Between January and June 2016 over 800 civilians were killed in coalition air strikes, nameless civilians who are barely mentioned by western media and will almost certainly be ignored by Chilcot.
As we await the publication of the Chilcot report, and as we celebrate the ‘liberation’ of Fallujah from ISIS forces, violence in Iraq is still claiming innocent victims. Over 200 people were killed by car bombs and suicide bombers on July 2, dozens of children among them, most of them in Baghdad.
Many of the victims in Baghdad on Sunday were children; the explosives detonated near a three-story complex of restaurants and stores where families were celebrating the end of the school year, residents said.
Ali Ahmed, 25, who owns a shop close to where the bomb went off, said that in the aftermath, knowing how many children were inside a shopping mall that was hit, he had begun yelling: “The kids upstairs! The kids upstairs! Save them!”
“But the firefighters arrived too late,” Mr. Ahmed said. (New York Times, July 3, 2016)
Victims of terrorism, victims of imperialism, victims of the mechanism ‘regime change’. As all sides are protecting their interests, who protects the interests of the ordinary citizen, child, mother, father, farmer, policeman, housewife, teacher, road sweeper? Who counts the lost lives alongside their own economic and political benefits?
When Iraq is out of the news we can easily forget that every day brings a new chapter of death and misery. Since the 2003 invasion there has been no let up. The maximum number of deaths in any one month was 4083 in 2014, the lowest monthly total was 254 in September 2010. Whatever is said by Chilcot about the decision to go to war, we should remember that the civilians of Iraq continue to pay a terrible price. Any assessment of the UK’s involvement in Iraq must address the most numerous and direct victims of the conflict.
Bulent Gokay is Professor of International Relations in SPIRE.
Lily Hamourtziadou is Senior Researcher for Iraq Body Count (IBC) and Tutor at Workers Educational Association, Newcastle-under-Lyme.
This post was originally published by Open Democracy on 5 July 2016.