Monday, 25 October 2010

The Failure to Look at the Facts of the Iraq Conflict.

With the Wikileaks it has become even clearer now the US colluded with death squads such as the 2nd battalion of the interior ministry-the Wolf Brigades-as the price of defeating the Sunni based militias opposed to the new Iraqi government and involving leaders of Shia Badr militias.

Many such as Christopher Hitchens, Nick Cohen and others who backed the Iraq War have remained silent on this or simply "moved on", despite having attempted to use the invasion of Iraq as a great cause with which to upgrade their reputations as stalwart defenders of the West's essential liberal values in the war against global Islamofascism and totalitarianism.

Some such as Peter Bracken still think they are fighting the good cause, almost parodying the language of Hitchens and Paul Bermann about the need for democratic or "decent leftists" to stand up for the West against barbarians who seek to destroy it. Bracken seems to have transposed the fight in Iraq against barbarians to anti-war opponents in Britain too,

,....the authentic left renounces everything the deluded left has embraced. And in embracing an illiberal perspective on world politics it has – I believe – forfeited its right to membership of the left.....this section of the left denies the mainstay of the authentic left's agenda: liberalism.
Yet few supporters of the Iraq war to defend liberalism not their opponents bothered to look at the facts of Iraq on their own terms, waging polemical battles as part of their ideological creed wars and fitting the facts to them accordingly. Compared to what was really at stake-energy security and geopolitical hegemony-these disputes will remain a footnote in history.

Even so, what is curious about Bracken's sententious waffle about the USA's "moral authority" in invading Iraq is precisely the moral relativism of the practice of the US strategy for "pacification". It was prepared to co-opt fanatical Islamists and former Baathists to crush other insurgents. As the Guardian reported,

In Samarra, the series of log entries in 2004 and 2005 describe repeated raids by US infantry, who then handed their captives over to the Wolf Brigade for "further questioning". Typical entries read: "All 5 detainees were turned over to Ministry of Interior for further questioning" (from 29 November 2004) and "The detainee was then turned over to the 2nd Ministry of Interior Commando Battalion for further questioning" (30 November 2004).

The field reports chime with allegations made by New York Times writer Peter Maass, who was in Samarra at the time. He told Guardian Films : "US soldiers, US advisers, were standing aside and doing nothing," while members of the Wolf Brigade beat and tortured prisoners. The interior ministry commandos took over the public library in Samarra, and turned it into a detention centre, he said.

An interview conducted by Maass in 2005 at the improvised prison, accompanied by the Wolf Brigade's US military adviser, Col James Steele, had been interrupted by the terrified screams of a prisoner outside, he said. Steele was reportedly previously employed as an adviser to help crush an insurgency in El Salvador.

The Wolf Brigade was created and supported by the US in an attempt to re-employ elements of Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard, this time to terrorise insurgents. Members typically wore red berets, sunglasses and balaclavas, and drove out on raids in convoys of Toyota Landcruisers. They were accused by Iraqis of beating prisoners, torturing them with electric drills and sometimes executing suspects.

In the light of the hundreds of thousands killed and displaced by the invasion of Iraq back in 2003 and the cost in lives and morality amount of evidence will convince those Bracken of the sheer scale of the criminality involved in getting control of Iraq.

The stupidity of some self styled "liberal imperialists" or "humanitarian interventionists" from Hitchens to Cohen et al is that they shared the same mental vices that they accused the anti-war protesters of having: a lack of interest in the real situation in Iraq and scoring polemical points.

Obviously, those like Tariq Ali and Seumas Milne who referred to some "the Iraqi resistance" were using the term to glorify and dignify the Sunni militias and trying to impose a left wing Third World anti-colonial narrative on to a brutal sectarian and ethnic conflict where the Vietnam model failed to fit.

Yet that does not absolve those who argued the case for invading Iraq of responsibility for the that it was a catastrophically bad move, of very dubious legality and which from the outset had control of Iraqi oil as its purpose, as most of the military effort went into securing the oil infrastructure and not on nation building.


An Exchange with Peter Bracken.

Peter Bracken responded today,

You misunderstand the term moral relativism. In a sentence, moral relativism disables discrimination between the moral behaviour of states or cultures or individuals.

On your own terms by colluding with precisely the forces that the US set out to overthrow the US mission in Iraq was very much defined by moral relativism, that morality can be defined according to the principle wholly of the means justifying the ends.

That necessarily means overlooking the behaviour of those 'on our side' simply in order to advance a political objective thought of more overriding importance than preserving precisely those universal moral injunctions enshrined in prohibitions of torture.

The irony is that even if those such as Seumas Milne only cared about Iraq is so far as to discredit the USA whilst simultaneously extolling Sunni Militias as "the resistance", the advocates of war in Iraq also overlooked atrocities committed in the name of a higher cause.

Clearly, moral relativism disabled any critical capacity from many in the left, not only some "anti-war" activists ( who at the same time rationalised ideological violence from "the resistance" ) but those who supported Iraq.There is one more flaw in this definition.

By the terms of reference set out by those who supported the invasion of Iraq to get rid of torture, the whole point is that moral relativism is not an absolute category that applies only to enemies of the USA and UK as defined for purposes of political expediency and realpolitik.

If that is the case, then logically it is essential that the moral behaviour of the USA and UK is judged according to the standards that are set up for others to follow ( e.g the universal prohibition on torture ) but which have not been followed by both powers in the light of the evidence coming from Iraq.

So instead of looking at the truth of the Wikileaks, the collusion of the US with murderous Baathists people such as yourself assured people the invasion was about removing for moral reasons, you prefer to take pot shots at the apparent self-interest of lawyers to deflect attention from the substance of the accusations of collusions in torture.

And that is known as taking the moral position.

Peter Bracken

..what's interesting about the Wikileaks is how few atrocities have been committed.

Collusion with that there is a just measure of atrocity that is acceptable. How that calculus can be arrived at is curious. What's interesting is that the US worked with the Baathists who were depicted as the enemy even after 2003.

Moreover, the Frago 242 order to the US miltary to ignore detainee abuse by Iraqi authorities is illegal in international law.

Supporters of the Iraq War cannot have it both ways. To maintain that the war was fought to prevent humanitarian abuses but that the success can only be achieved by systemic collusion with torture is exactly what the hero of the supposedly "decent left", George Orwell, called doublethink.

..all you ever do is highlight the self-interest of states - it's all about oil.

Well, its necessary to do so, though it becomes claustrophobic to have to re-iterate the damned obvious. But contrary to this, I emphasise oil and its role in geopolitics and the balance of power and not the standard obsession with the USA as though it were a vampiric power drinking oil like blood.

Nor that wars for energy security are about sinister waxen faxed silver haired plutocrats loving the thrill of war for profit, the sort of tripe that comes from anti-war activists of the kind who seem intent on emulating the cliched radicals of something from the 1980s anti-terrorist film Who Dares Wins.

Clearly losing the argument Peter Bracken snarls,

You are hamstrung by your contortions. One doesn't have to be a saint to apply moral judgements. That's the point of the anti-relativist stance
No, but clearly you think there is a God given right somehow for the USA and UK not to be held accountable for colluding with torture when the ostensible point of the invasion was supposed to be to remove Saddam and hence torture.

So no contortions but simply the plain obvious truth. It's clear to any sane person that the actual conduct of the war as well as the bogus pretexts used to justify it in the first place failed to be in any sense ethical or moral at all.

Unless morality is subordinated to the ultimate victory of the politically correct creed. In which case, those justifying Iraq ( as you still are ) are paradoxically coming very close to the rationalisations people made for Stalin's USSR in the 1930s.

Bracken on collusion with torture through Frago 242 retorted then,

Nonsense, and you know it to be. By your reckoning one case of abuse would be enough to condemn the military and its government.
The point is that the collusion with torture was systemic, a consequence of the Frago 242 which provided a licence to torture. That decision meant that "abuses" such as torture were not a series of unfortunate one off but implicit in the very way in which the US decided to conduct the war.

As Nick Davies wrote in the Guardian,
A frago is a "fragmentary order" which summarises a complex requirement. This one, issued in June 2004, about a year after the invasion of Iraq, orders coalition troops not to investigate any breach of the laws of armed conflict, such as the abuse of detainees, unless it directly involves members of the coalition. Where the alleged abuse is committed by Iraqi on Iraqi, "only an initial report will be made … No further investigation will be required unless directed by HQ".

Frago 242 appears to have been issued as part of the wider political effort to pass the management of security from the coalition to Iraqi hands. In effect, it means that the regime has been forced to change its political constitution but allowed to retain its use of torture.

The systematic viciousness of the old dictatorship when Saddam Hussein's security agencies enforced order without any regard for law continues, reinforced by the chaotic savagery of the new criminal, political and sectarian groups which have emerged since the invasion in 2003 and which have infiltrated some police and army units, using Iraq's detention cells for their private vendettas.
This should not be so difficult to grasp. The continuities with the old Baathist regime are clear here. It could be maintained, ruthlessly of course, that such collusion in barbarism was necessary to defeat barbarians but that reduces the moral case for the Iraq War to dust.

Today Peter Beaumont writes on Iraq,
...when things sometimes became too embarrassing – too obvious – a local police chief implicated in killings might be removed or officials at the ministry re-organised. But the murder continued.There was a new excuse: the police had been infiltrated by Shia extremists. Which was true, up to a point. Except it wasn't really infiltration, more of an alliance in many places: a coincidence of sectarian interest.
So the "liberal interventionist" case for Iraq has been disproved by the facts: the systemic collusion in torture represented by Frago 242 by which US troops were to allow Iraqi militias such as the Wolf Brigades to torture their enemies and ethnic cleansing tacitly permitted as the price of controlling Iraqi oil for which the war was fought.

Peter Bracken responded robotically,

Iraq is no longer under the brutal dictatorship of Saddam. The innocent life that has been lost since the occupation is due almost entirely to the campaign waged by Iraqi insurgents.

It is your suggestion (read the quote) that coalition forces are equivalent to Saddam's murderous regime that is the sad, despicable feature of this Wikileaks episode.

There are no "Iraqi insurgents" as such. They were Sunni or Shia insurgents as Iraq from the start of its creation was never more than an artificial state held together by the Baathists.

With the evidence that the US colluded with Shia militias infilitrating the police and partaking in Wolf Brigade practices of torture alongside Baathists, that means that relevant comparisons between before and after the invasion can me made.

The fragmentation of the Iraqi state and sectarian war as a consequence of the invasion was predictable before the invasion of 2003. Therefore the responsibility for the deaths is attributable to that invasion.

No invasion, then not hundreds of thousands of deaths. No collusion in torture by the US. And no collusion with the very Baathist operatives that sustained Saddam's brutal dictatorship.

Moreover, the loss of innocent life created by the Shia militias as well as the Baathists both before and after the "liberation" , including the murder of civilians, was rewarded by the US by co-opting them to serve the new regime.


All of the evidence coming from US war records now has failed to dissuade Peter Bracken, Nick Cohen or Christopher Hitchens who still bang on about Iraq as though it was a struggle for civilisation. Or as Hitchens put it in an interview rather feebly in an interview in May 2010

"Do I ask myself do I think our civilisation is superior to theirs? Yes, I do. Do I think it's worth fighting for? Most certainly."

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