The Intercept reports: In February 2004, U.S. troops brought a man named Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badry to Abu Ghraib in Iraq and assigned him serial number US9IZ-157911CI. The prison was about to become international news, but the prisoner would remain largely unknown for the next decade.
At the time the man was brought in, Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba was finalizing his report on allegations of abuse at Abu Ghraib’s Hard Site — a prison building used to house detainees singled out for their alleged violence or their perceived intelligence value. Just weeks later, the first pictures of detainee abuse were published on CBS News and in the New Yorker.
Today, detainee US9IZ-157911CI is better known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State. His presence at Abu Ghraib, a fact not previously made public, provides yet another possible key to the enigmatic leader’s biography and may shed new light on the role U.S. detention facilities played in the rise of the Islamic State. [Continue reading…]
C.J. Chivers reports: Early this year, a Facebook user in Baghdad using the name Hussein Mahyawi posted a photograph of a slightly worn M4 assault rifle he was offering for sale. Veterans of the latest war in Iraq immediately recognized it. It was a standard American carbine equipped with a holographic sight, a foregrip that was military-issue during the occupation and a sticker bearing a digital QR code used by American forces for inventory control. Except for one detail — an aftermarket pistol grip, the sort of accessory with which combatants of the current generation often pimp their guns — it was a dead ringer for any of the tens of thousands of M4s the Pentagon handed out to Iraqi security forces and various armed militias after toppling Saddam Hussein in 2003. And here it was on the open market, ready for bids.
Was this a surprise? No. A little more than four years after the United States withdrew all its military forces from Iraq, and not quite two years after a smaller number of American troops began returning to the country to help fight the Islamic State, the open sale of such an M4 was part of Iraq’s day-to-day arms-trafficking routine. Mahyawi’s carbine was another data point attesting to an extraordinary and dangerous failure of American arms-trafficking and public accountability and to a departure from a modern military’s most basic practice: keeping track of the guns.
Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the United States has handed out a vast but persistently uncountable quantity of military firearms to its many battlefield partners in Afghanistan and Iraq. Today the Pentagon has only a partial idea of how many weapons it issued, much less where these weapons are. Meanwhile, the effectively bottomless abundance of black-market weapons from American sources is one reason Iraq will not recover from its post-invasion woes anytime soon.
An inkling of just how expansive these arms transfers were, and how stubbornly resistant they are to precise measurement, is apparent in a new attempt at weapons-tallying compiled in a project led by Iain Overton. Overton is a former BBC journalist who is now the executive director of Action on Armed Violence, a charity based in London that researches and lobbies against weapons proliferation and violence against civilians; he is also the author of “The Way of the Gun,” a dark examination of some of the roles firearms play in modern society. With a string of Freedom of Information Act requests that began last year, he and his small team of researchers pooled 14 years’ worth of Pentagon contract information related to rifles, pistols, machine guns and their associated attachments and ammunition, both for American troops and for their partners and proxies. They then crosschecked the data against other public records. Overton is releasing the data and his analysis today. It covers 412 contracts and merits pause for reflection as the parties to the international Arms Trade Treaty gather this week in Geneva. The treaty, which took effect in 2014 and of which the United States is a signatory, is intended to promote transparency and responsible action in the transfer of conventional arms and to reduce their diversion to unintended hands — exactly what the United States often failed to do in recent wars. [Continue reading…]
Crux reports: Catholic leaders in the Middle East say that the United Sates has the “moral responsibility” to help stop the savagery against Christians in the region, and to provide assistance to help them stay in the region, because it was the U.S. that unleashed the chaos in the first place.
“They were the ones who invaded [Iraq] in 2003 and changed the whole region, and they had the moral responsibility to fix the situation before leaving the country,” said the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil, Iraq, Bashar Matti Warda.
Jean-Clément Jeanbart, Greek Melkite Archbishop of Aleppo, the “martyred city” of Syria, said that the U.S. has a two-fold responsibility. On the one hand, he asked the U.S. government to ensure that the aid being sent to the region is also distributed among Christians, which, he said, means entrusting a portion of it to the churches.
As the system is set up, he said, all the aid goes to the refugee camps. Yet Christians see their lives at risk there, so they generally choose to seek shelter at churches and convents instead.
“If the help went to the churches, it wouldn’t mean that they’re giving special rights to Christians, but that they’re actually helping everyone,”Jeanbart said at a press conference held on Wednesday during the Knights of Columbus’s 134th Supreme Convention, which took place in Toronto, Canada.
The many Christian churches in the region – in Syria, there are six different Catholic rites alone – fund schools, hospitals, and provide shelter to all refugees, without distinguishing between Muslims, Yazidis or Christians, he said. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: Capt. Humayun Khan didn’t need to be out there that day.
Not all officers at Forward Operating Base Warhorse would choose to spend that kind of time outside the gates of their fortified compound, checking on lower-ranking soldiers pulling security detail, said Marie Legros, a staff sergeant posted at the facility in eastern Iraq in 2004.
But Khan, a Army reserve officer and naturalized American on his first deployment to Iraq, was a hands-on supervisor who wanted to know what was going on with the men and women under his command. It was early summer 2004, and conditions in Iraq — including in the restive eastern province of Diyala — were growing more dangerous by the day.
“That’s the thing,” Legros said. “He went just to check on his troops.”
What’s more, June 8 was Khan’s day off, said Crystal Selby, a sergeant at the time, who like Khan worked the midnight-to-noon force protection shift. Selby said she had tried to convince the 27-year-old captain that he needed his rest, but he was adamant that she drive him to the base’s gate so he could see how the guard personnel were doing.
“I dropped him off there, and it wasn’t five minutes after that it happened,” Selby said in a phone interview, her voice choked with emotion.
Khan was standing with other troops outside Warhorse that morning when an orange taxi came speeding toward them. Instructing his soldiers to get down, Khan moved toward the vehicle, motioning for it to stop. Before he could reach the car, an improvised bomb went off, killing Khan and two Iraqi civilians in addition to the two suicide bombers. A dozen more people were wounded.
For fellow members of the 1st Infantry Division’s 201st Forward Support Battalion, the loss of an officer who, according to his comrades, was universally liked and respected was a devastating moment relatively early in their deployment in Iraq.
“He was just that type of person, wanting to make sure his soldiers were okay,” Legros said. He was a “soldier’s officer,” she said, personally invested in those serving under him. [Continue reading…]
On March 22, 2005, the Washington Post reported: Khizr Khan is a lawyer by training and demeanor, an articulate man, a careful and methodical thinker who is trying at 2 p.m. on a Wednesday to make sense of the fact that his 27-year-old son is gone forever.
It’s a workday, so he finds someplace quiet, an empty conference room on the 13th floor of the office building where he works near the White House. He shuts the door, sits at a big empty table, picks up a pen.
He and his wife would talk often to their three boys about why they decided to come to the United States, he began. It was the 1970s, and Pakistan was under military rule. They came to Silver Spring to have more freedom and opportunity.
“It sounds cliche,” said Khan, 54, “but that is the story.”
His son was always reading books about Thomas Jefferson; that part of his passion was certainly his father’s doing. When the boys were small, Khan would take them to the Jefferson Memorial. He’d have them stand there and read the chiseled, curving words about swearing hostility against tyrannies over the minds of men.
But Humayun had a serious-minded disposition all his own, even as a little boy. He was the middle one, the comforter, the one the cousins would run to when they were being picked on. He gave swimming lessons to disabled children in high school. He had a sense of responsibility that his father cannot quite account for, other than to say that’s just the way he was.
“We always depended on his balanced approach to things,” Khan said, fidgeting with the pen.
It was not exactly surprising, he continued, that Humayun quoted Jefferson in his admissions essay for the University of Virginia, a line about freedom requiring vigilance. It was a bit surprising, though, when he signed up for ROTC and told his dad that after graduation in 2000, he wanted to join the Army. [Continue reading…]
Andrew Rawnsley writes: The domestic consequences of Iraq were beyond Chilcot’s remit, but they should be in our scope when we try to explain how Britain ended up in the dark place where it stands today.
The Iraq war is a crucial element of the context that put the Labour party in the hands of Jeremy Corbyn. Anger about the war on the left has played a huge role in obscuring the achievements of New Labour’s time in office. The minimum wage. The peace settlement in Northern Ireland. The record sums invested in public services. The resources redistributed to the less privileged. Continuous economic growth for every quarter of the Blair premiership.
In many minds, the shadow of Iraq loomed so large and so black that it eclipsed many other things that progressives ought to have been proud of. In the leadership contest that followed the 2010 election defeat, the most damaging charge against David Miliband was that he had voted for the war. His brother, Ed, who was conveniently not in parliament at the time, exploited that and won the contest. Eddism then begat Corbynism.
In the leadership contest after the 2015 defeat, Jeremy Corbyn made a large feature of his opposition to the war, successfully tapping the fury that still burns so intensely among many on the left. As I write, Mr Corbyn is continuing to insist that he can carry on as leader even when four out of five of his parliamentary colleagues have publicly declared him unfit for the job. Tom Watson, the fixer of fixers, has just declared that even he cannot broker a way out of the deadlock. It is quite possible that the outcome of the struggle to unseat Mr Corbyn will also be decided by positions taken on Iraq.
It is said by those who think Angela Eagle should not be the leadership challenger that she is disqualified from the role because she voted for the invasion. A war begun more than a decade ago still has that much reverberation in Labour politics.
The long after-tremors of the Iraq war were also felt in the vote to leave the European Union. One seismic event was a trigger for another earthquake 13 years later. We know that a fierce element of the motivation of many Out voters was anger with political “elites”. That building of rage has had many drivers over recent years from the parliamentary expenses scandal to the pain of austerity. One of those sources was surely Iraq, an episode notably corroding of public faith in government because the war was sold on the basis that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist.
I have never bought the simplistic explanation that Tony Blair simply made it all up. Sir John Chilcot directs most of the blame towards MI6 for supplying intelligence that turned out to be wrong or sheer fabrication by duplicitous sources. Mr Blair’s culpability was representing that intelligence as sound when it was the opposite. Had the mistakes just been down to one over-messianic leader, as many of the other players have sought to suggest to displace culpability from themselves, it would not have been such a damaging episode in our public life. It wasn’t just the infamous dossier and it wasn’t just his personal miscalculations. Iraq was a collective failure of the political, diplomatic, intelligence and military establishments.
I don’t agree with the nihilistic ridiculing of expertise that powered the Out campaign to victory, but I sure can see why “trust no one” had such appeal to such a large audience. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: Tony Blair could face a motion of contempt in the House of Commons over the 2003 invasion of Iraq – a motion that Jeremy Corbyn has said he would probably support.
The Conservative MP David Davis, backed by the SNP’s Alex Salmond, has said he will present on Thursday the motion accusing the former prime minister of misleading parliament. MPs could debate the issue before the summer if it is accepted by the Commons Speaker, John Bercow.
Sir John Chilcot said in his long-awaited report on the Iraq invasion that the legal basis for the war was reached in a way that was “far from satisfactory”, but he did not explicitly say the war was illegal.
Davis told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that the motion would say Blair held the house in contempt over the 2003 invasion. He said that if his motion was accepted by Bercow it could be debated before parliament’s summer recess.
Davis said: “It’s a bit like contempt of court, essentially by deceit. If you look just at the debate alone, on five different grounds the house was misled – three in terms of the weapons of mass destruction, one in terms of the UN votes were going, and one in terms of the threat, the risks. He might have done one of those accidentally, but five?”
Salmond said he believed Corbyn’s support would mean the motion had enough cross-party support. “No parliament worth its salt tolerates being misled,” Scotland’s former first minister told ITV’s Peston on Sunday.
He said Blair’s promise to George Bush that he would be “with you, whatever” meant Blair had been “saying one thing to George W Bush in private, and a totally different thing to parliament and people in public”. He said Blair’s actions were “a parliamentary crime, and it’s time for parliament to deliver the verdict”. [Continue reading…]
Katharine Gun writes: Following the damning Chilcot report, much will be said about the decision to go to war in Iraq. But one thing will be missing: the information I leaked in the runup to the war. It won’t get an airing because I was never questioned or asked to participate in the Chilcot inquiry.
Back in early 2003, Tony Blair was keen to secure UN backing for a resolution that would authorise the use of force against Iraq. I was a linguist and analyst at GCHQ when, on 31 Jan 2003, I, along with dozens of others in GCHQ, received an email from a senior official at the National Security Agency. It said the agency was “mounting a surge particularly directed at the UN security council (UNSC) members”, and that it wanted “the whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favourable to US goals or to head off surprises”.
In other words, the US planned to use intercepted communications of the security council delegates. The focus of the “surge” was principally directed at the six swing nations then on the UNSC: Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Bulgaria, Guinea and Pakistan. The Chilcot report has eliminated any doubt that the goal of the war was regime change by military means. But that is what many people already suspected in 2003.
I was furious when I read that email and leaked it. Soon afterwards, when the Observer ran a front-page story: “US dirty tricks to win vote on Iraq war”, I confessed to the leak and was arrested on suspicion of the breach of section 1 of the Official Secrets Act. I pleaded not guilty and, assisted by Liberty and Ben Emmerson QC, offered a defence of necessity – in other words, a breach of the law in order to prevent imminent loss of human life. This defence had not and, to my knowledge, has still not, been tested in a court of law.
I believed that on receiving the email, UK parliamentary members might question the urgency and motives of the war hawks, and demand further deliberations and scrutiny. I thought it might delay or perhaps even halt the march towards a war that would devastate Iraqi lives and infrastructure already crushed by a decade of unrelenting sanctions. A war that would send UK and US service men and women into harm’s way, leaving hundreds of them dead, disfigured and traumatised. Unfortunately, that did not happen. It couldn’t, for now we know via Chilcot that Blair promised George W Bush he would be “with him, whatever”. [Continue reading…]
Seven years after it was commissioned and 13 years after the Iraq War began, the Iraq Inquiry’s report on Britain’s part in the invasion has been published – and the fallout has begun.
The headlines are already an excoriating verdict on Tony Blair’s actions before, during, and after the invasion: Crushing Verdict on Blair and the Iraq War, Iraq Invasion “Not Last Resort”. And yet, in a most British way, an upper limit has still been imposed on the criticism, first and foremost by Sir John Chilcot and his committee.
Faced with the politics as well as the evidence – dare anyone put Blair in a position to face war crimes charges, or even dare to accuse him of abusing his power? – Chilcot steered clear of the L-word.
In fact, the word “lie” does not appear once in the Executive Summary. The only time that “lying” is used refers not to Blair, but to Saddam Hussein: “When Iraq denied that it had retained any WMD capabilities, the UK Government accused it of lying.” Nowhere does the report invoke a more colourful, if politer, formulation of the conclusion: that the intelligence for the invasion was “sexed up” on the orders of the prime minister’s office.
As David Cameron said of the report after its release: “Deliberate deceit? I can’t find a reference to it.”
So how does Chilcot manage to pull off this balancing act, going just far enough in the criticism to chide Blair while not opening up the full extent of the former prime minister’s actions?
The Guardian reports: Across the Iraqi capital, there is little sense that the long-delayed Chilcot report into Britain’s decision to go to war will change anything. Thirteen years after the invasion, the country is still reeling from the upheaval unleashed by the war. What was envisaged by planners in London and Washington to be a seamless transition from dictatorship to democracy has proved to be anything but.
A tussle for control of post-Saddam Iraq has barely relented, and continues to ravage the country’s finances, communities and social fabric. Citizens say the relentless grind has become a “forever war” that could rumble on over decades, ensuring that communities torn apart by sectarianism remain at odds for generations.
“Nothing Britain could say or do can address this, or make up for it,” said Safa Gilbert, a Christian who returned to her home city on Monday from exile in Lebanon. “Even if they wanted to help, they did not. And all they needed to do is understand the society first.”
Up the road from the cemetery, Saleh Mehdi Saleh was engraving tombstones for Sunni Muslims. He plied his trade throughout the invasion, then the eight-year occupation and the five years of chaos that followed. In that time he lost three brothers, four nephews and a sister to violence. He also carved the epitaphs for thousands more and seemed numbed by his unique perspective on Iraq’s suffering.
“This was a deliberate mistake,” he said of the decision to invade.
Like many in Iraq, Saleh would not accept Tony Blair’s claim that the war was planned in order to liberate Iraq from the tyranny of despotism. “They intended this,” he countered. “Bush and Blair conspired to destroy the most ancient civilisation in the world. They targeted us because we are rich in prophets and holy men. The beginning of creation was in Iraq and the end of creation will be here as well.
“They did not take away Saddam Hussein for the benefit of Iraqis. Britain was seeking revenge because it was driven out in 1921. There is now absolute authority for Shias to kill Sunnis in the name of the state.” [Continue reading…]
The Associated Press reports: Letters published by the U.K.’s Iraq War Inquiry show that then-Prime Minister Tony Blair assured U.S. President George W. Bush of his support for regime change in Iraq eight months before the U.S.-led invasion began in March 2003.
The report by retired civil servant John Chilcot offered a sweeping condemnation of Britain’s preparations for the war and its aftermath. The newly published documents offer one side of the vital relationship between Bush and Blair — Blair’s letters to Bush are published, but Bush’s responses are not.
In a six-page “Secret Personal” memo to Bush written July 28, 2002, Blair says he would do “whatever” with regards to removing Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussain from power. Blair says toppling Saddam is “the right thing to do” adding that the important question is “not when, but how.”
At the time, Blair was telling the British public and Parliament that no decision to go to war against Iraq had been made.
“I will be with you whatever,” Blair wrote to his U.S. counterpart. [Continue reading…]