Monday, February 27, 2006

The war in Iraq: 1920 and 2006

Even the BBC is now looking at the current potentially catastrophic situation in Iraq with some sense of perspective and mature analysis.

"What happened was that US and British forces invaded Iraq in 2003 and smashed the state, causing an anger and bitterness which the Bush administration and the Blair government have never acknowledged."

"Looking back on the events of the past year, it is clear that the three different popular votes which were held in Iraq, two elections and one referendum, played a big part in whipping up the violence."

However, the mainstream press is still largely avoiding discussion of the role of deliberate, as opposed to simply incompetent, policy making in the creation of the current situation. This is an excerpt from a post I made in July 2005:

"In 1920 it was all so different of course. Then Britain was occupying Iraq and faced with a resistance movement. Our strategy that time round was an interesting mirror image of that adopted in the current war. Eighty years ago we chose to back the Sunnis, disempowering the Shia majority, and setting in train the resentment that exists today. In 2003/4 we decided to go with the Shia, promoting a wholesale discrimination against the Sunnis in the allocation of power and position. Al Sistani said thanks very much and in return for the power handover promised by early elections halted the Shia uprisings and ended the siege of Najaf in 2004. Fragmentation of the country has of course resulted and the near civil-war state that exist was officially stamped with democratic approval by the holding of elections when the Sunnis were guaranteed not to vote.

Why would the UK and US want this disfunctional and conflict ridden state to be created? By mid 2004 it was clear they could not win the war against a resistance movement of a united Iraq, and with public opinion progressively hardening against the occupation forces (see surveys published by Oxford Research International) they were forced to revisit the history books. Faced with inevitable defeat they adopted the tried and tested formula of colonial powers throughout the ages. Divide and Rule! They are still losing of course, as any brief visit to the Brookings Institute or the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count will indicate. The elections and the construction of the government were, of course, counter-productive to peace and security and there was a linear increase in average US fatalities between March and June 2005 peaking at about 23 deaths and 150 total casualties per week (higher than the same time last year). The dips before and after this period seem to correlate most closely with rumours of negociation between the US/Iraqi government and elements of the nationalist resistance movement. The Americans will learn - you just have to give them time, a lot of it...."

But maybe that Churchillian paraphrase was just too optimistic.

Friday, February 24, 2006

MOD letter reveals John Reid issued misleading figures on British casualties in Iraq

A new letter from the Ministry of Defence, written in reply to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) enquiry, has revealed that statements on British casualties in Iraq have been seriously misleading. These statements have been attributed to John Reid, the Minister for Defence.

On the 20th January the BBC reported:-

"About 230 British troops have been injured in enemy action since the invasion of Iraq, Defence Secretary John Reid has revealed."

The response just received from the MOD confirms that this was only a partial count and that the true figure may be significantly greater. The letter contains a footnote relating to the 230 figure:-

"Before Oct 2004, we only have centrally held records for the Shaibah UK Field Hospital. The figure does not include, for example, UK casualties of hostile action who were treated either by other UK Field Hospitals (early stages of operation only - for which unit records are not held centrally) or by coalition partners, or those with more minor injuries who did not receive Field Hospital treatment. "
The letter also states that the 230 figure only includes casualties treated in theatre and that:-

"Separate records show that between February 2003 and December 2005 some 4,000 military and civilian personnel (including a few Iraqis) have been medically evacuated from theatre."

In a subsequent letter on the 23rd of February they effectively confirm that the information released by Reid in January was inaccurate by stating that:-

"Premature release [of information on casualties] could result in inaccurate information being put in the public domain."

In the BBC report on the 20th Reid attempts to play down the importance of knowing the true extent of casualties:-

"The important thing, actually, is not the 40 or the 230, the important thing is that every single one of them gets to be given the care they need," Mr Reid said.

No one could argue with his second sentiment but regarding the numbers, these are undoubtedly important, and need be respected rather than spun. By his obfuscation the Minister appears to have attempted to mislead the British public on a critical issue of foreign and defence policy conduct.

My own attempts to get at the facts by using the Freedom of Information Act have been thwarted by the MOD's use of the Public Interest Exemption. They state that the requested information is about to be published on their www site but as yet no date has been set for this disclosure.

The MOD letters (minus email) can be read here: -

17.02.06 The first reply to my enquiry

21.02.06 An explanation of the Public Interest Test they intend to employ

23.02.06 Confirmation that they will use this exemption to delay release of information

Update 27.02.06: Apologies for the previous problem with broken links - now fixed

Links to follow-up posts:

06/03/2006 - Under-reporting of British casualties in Iraq: Analysis published in The Lancet

31/03/2006 - "Britain's casualties of Iraq war total 6,700"

01/05/2006 - UK Casualties in Iraq: The debate continues in The Lancet

16/06/2006 - Ministry of Defence make partial improvements in their Iraq war casualty reporting

20/09/2006 - MOD admits failures in casualty reporting system

24/10/2006 - MoD moves to censor reporting of UK casualties

Monday, February 20, 2006

John Reid poses as an apologist yet again

Reid on the application of International Law in British military operations:

"Yet our troops are increasingly constrained not just by international law and conventions, the standards we want to keep, but by media scrutiny, by videophones, by mobile phones, by satellite dishes."

Surely the increased visibility of the modern battlefield is exactly what can help to ensure adherence to International Law. If British troops adhere to what we should expect of them then they should have little to fear from greater transparency.

John Reid is straying closer and closer to the US line that the laws of war don't apply on an asymmetric battlefield. His position on this issue should be challenged at every opportunity. Failure to do so will hand Al Qaida yet another fat PR trophy. Home goals continue to be the common modus operandi in Washington and London. It has to stop.

British casualties in Iraq: MOD stalls the release of figures under the freedom of information act

Recent claims by John Reid, the UK defense secretary, that only 'about' 230 British troops had been injured in enemy action since the invasion of Iraq have been met with a certain level of incredulity. This lack of belief also extended into the mainstream.

Information on the actual number of casualties has been withheld by the UK government since the start of the war in 2003 and it has only been due to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that any information at all on the true situation has emerged. We first attempted to obtain information from the MOD when the FOIA first came into force in the UK at the beginning of 2005, and subsequently posted our findings in September. The analysis we presented suggested that by September 2005 total British casualties approximated 1000. The latest, frankly unbelievable, statements from John Reid prompted another letter to the MOD and a fresh request for information disclosure under the FOIA.

Well, the reply has now arrived and it seems that the MOD has decided to stall on releasing full information on British casualties. Interesting indeed, given the latest position adopted by the minister...

Request for Information
17 February 2006

Thank you for your correspondence dated 21 January 2006 which requested information on British and Iraqi casualties. I am responding on behalf of the information holders and have dealt with your specific inquiries in turn.

What is the total number of British casualties that have been suffered in Iraq and adjacent countries and medical referral facilities, in all services, since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The figure of interest includes both fatalities (available from your www site) and the number of wounded. The data requested would ideally contain a breakdown of wounded according to the severity of injury and, importantly, whether the injury occurred as a result of hostile action.

As you rightly point out, our website
/FactSheets/OperationsInIraqBritishFatalities.htm contains details pertaining to all 101 British Fatalities. In regard to personnel wounded, this letter is to inform you that we believe any information the Ministry of Defence may hold on this subject may fall within the scope of exemption s22 Information intended for future publication. This is a qualified exemption, so it is necessary for the Ministry of Defence to consider whether there are overriding reasons why disclosure would not be in the public interest.
We estimate that we will make a decision on our ability to comply with this part of your request within a further 15 working days, by 10 March 2006, and will inform you immediately.

The full letter (minus email) can be read here

I have written back to ask for clarification on the application of 'exemption s22'. Will keep you posted...

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Glorification, Abuse and Bad Grammar

"It has to be very well and clearly defined. Now, what on earth does glorification mean and what is the impact of the use of such a word upon the legislation?," Lord Thomas of Gresford, Lib Dem home and legal affairs spokesman

Blairwatch provides some useful commentary on the passage of the ludicrous glorification of terror bill in the house of commons today. What the bill will actually mean in practice is hard to judge but it is just sooo tempting to push the limits to find out... Of course, if there was a coherent definition of terrorism in British law that would really help clarify what is going on and what the intentions of the government actually are. Given the lack of that, we are left with a moving 20 year window of ill defined criminality, during which it may be impossible to speak about about events without risking glorification by intent or otherwise.

For the record the definition of terrorism under British law is as follows:
Terrorism Act 2000

1. - (1) In this Act "terrorism" means the use or threat of action where-

(a) the action falls within subsection (2),
(b) the use or threat is designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public, and
(c) the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause.

(2) Action falls within this subsection if it-

(a) involves serious violence against a person,
(b) involves serious damage to property,
(c) endangers a person's life, other than that of the person committing the action,
(d) creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public, or
(e) is designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system.

This is now being amended by the addition of international governmental organization aswell as government to the terrorists target category.

Sounds ok? Well not really! The definition is clearly at odds with that proposed by the UN and is extremely wide and could include any sort of military action undertaken against British forces or the government forces of any other country in whatever context. That's ok isn't it? Well maybe not if you are living in a country that the UK/US or some other power has decided to occupy and you are decide to exert your rights under international law to forcefully resist. Under these conditions the status of any prisoners should usually be protected under the Geneva conventions and not classifed as terrorists, unless the attacks were against civillian targets. British law currently appears to fail to allow for these increasingly common events.

Maybe you aren't happy with that example... Try this one. Will the definition described above now be used in conjunction with the glorification clause to criminalise anyone who praises the action of an armed resistancece movement in any country? We can all think of examples where we would back the aspirations of anti-government forces, be that in the old South Africa, the modern Zimbabwe, Myanmar, maybe Uzbekistan - everyone of a political mindset has their own particular cause, whatever it may be. Anyone may now be at risk of the glorification of terrorism as defined under British law. And yes, the geographical sweep of the legislation really is that wide:

(4) In this section-

(a) "action" includes action outside the United Kingdom,
(b) a reference to any person or to property is a reference to any person, or to property, wherever situated,
(c) a reference to the public includes a reference to the public of a country other than the United Kingdom, and
(d) "the government" means the government of the United Kingdom, of a Part of the United Kingdom or of a country other than the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, pictures of real terror play around the world as the next batch of Abu Ghraib abuse media surfaces. Unlikely that the worst material will ever see the light of day. Maybe that really is for the best.

In any event, the actions of our governments have given Osama bin Laden a very good week indeed.

Monday, February 13, 2006

No Way to Win the War on Terror

This is from err... The Daily Mail

Four terrified Iraqi teenagers sob for mercy as their captors drag them into an Army compound. Nobody listens. A squad of British soldiers wades into the weedy young men, head-butting, punching, kicking and lashing them with batons until they are bloodied and unconscious. These are the sickening images - filmed for fun by rogue troops - now being televised across the Middle East.

This is the latest blow to Britain's reputation in a war supposedly fought for freedom, democracy and human rights. And it comes when the Muslim world is already inflamed by cartoons in European newspapers of the prophet Mohammed.

What price now, the battle for hearts and minds?

The hell-hole at Guantanamo Bay...the abuse of prisoners by American guards at Abu Ghraib . . . the destruction of Fallujah...the 'extraordinary rendition' of suspects flown by the US to be tortured this...don't they all make an utter mockery of Western values?

Yes, of course we can still be proud of the vast majority of brave, highly professional British troops, whose conduct in Iraq has been exemplary. And of course the Army is determined to find the rotten apples who disgrace their uniform.

But perception is everything. And with every allied retreat from the moral high ground, the increasing perception in the Middle East is of Western hypocrisy. This is no way to win the war on terror.

FCO lays down the gauntlet as Murder in Samarkand moves to the presses

The publishers of Craig Murray's book 'Murder in Samarkand' have bravely decided to proceed and not bow to the pressure of Jack Straw and the UK Government. Credit is seriously due to Mainstream Books as they take forward this project.

An interesting exchange of correspondence is detailed on the main Murray site as the FCO postures and positions in a vain attempt to prevent the severe political embarrassment that awaits them.

So that's what John Reid was on about!

The sequence of events now seems to indicate that John Reid had prior warning of the video of British troops beating Iraqis. This helps to explain his weird devience off topic in the recent interview on BBC radio. Chicken Yoghurt takes up the case...

Friday, February 10, 2006

Insurgent Attacks Against Occupation Troops in Iraq Increase Markedly in 2005

From BBC Online

Total attacks: 26496
Improvised bombs: 5607
Car bombings: 420
Suicide car bombings: 133
Suicide bombers wearing explosive vests: 7

Total attacks: 34131
Improvised bombs: 10593
Car bombings: 873
Suicide car bombings: 411
Suicide bombers wearing explosive vests: 67

Average number of reported attacks per day in 2004: 73
Average number in 2005: 94

Whose winning?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

John Reid calls for the use of implacable force, and toleration of British war crimes?

The UK Minister of Defense appears to be warning the public of bad news headlines to come as British troops become further involved in the Afghan conflict and remain bogged down in Iraq.

Is toleration of war crimes what he meant to imply? Listen and judge for yourselves as he slips in these points at the end of the interview... (Real Player required)

It was an ominous broadcast this morning as John Reid called for the use of "implacable force" and toleration of British troop misdemeanors in an asymmetric battlefield. He citied the lack of adherence to international law by the enemy as a justification for this any means necessary approach, and called on the British people to be slow to criticize.

Mr Reid clearly does not understand the basics of the laws of war!

At the same time as this incitement to criminality he coated the rest of his message in soft language - calling for the Iraqi government to reach out to parts of the Iraqi insurgency and asking people to show respect to others sensitivities when exercising their right to free speech.

Admirable words but just remember John Reid, that you hold legal and political responsibility for the the new surge in blood spilling that seems to looming in the battlefields you have created in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Murder in Samarkand: The Craig Murray book to be released at last

Craig Murray's book 'Murder in Samarkand', describes some of the dirty truth of the so-called War on Terror. He has been trying to get it passed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) for sometime but has now decided to publish anyway, noting that they will have to go to court if they want to try to enforce a ban.

For details see this entry on his site