Iraq – bloody legacy of the occupation

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One year on from the withdrawal of imperialist troops, the Iraq they occupied for over eight years remains divided and torn apart by violence. Iraq Body Count recorded over 5,000 Iraqis killed in 2012 and concluded, ‘The country remains in a state of low-level war. Little has changed since 2009.’

In late October and November, at least 110 people, mainly Shia, were killed in a series of bombings in Baghdad. In December, thousands of Sunnis took to the streets in Ramadhi to protest against the Shia-dominated government. The protests followed the arrest of 10 bodyguards of the Sunni finance minister Rafia Al Issawi during a raid on his office. The Sunni deputy prime minister, Tariq Al Hashemi, is still in exile in Turkey after fleeing for his life last year. At a rally, Al Issawi claimed, ‘Injustice, marginalisation, discrimination and double standards, as well as the politicisation of the judicial system and a lack of respect for partnership, law and constitution...have all turned our neighbourhoods in Baghdad into huge prisons surrounded by concrete blocks.’ Shia Prime Minister Nouri Al Malaki threatened to use force against the demonstrators. Days later a car bomb in Musayyib killed at least 27 Shia pilgrims. Maria Fantappie, an Iraq expert with the International Crisis Group, said, ‘December has completely shaken the political scene. We are at this moment in a kind of tornado.’ Abdulazziz Sager, head of the Gulf Research Centre said, ‘If the demonstrators decide to defend themselves with guns this could easily lead to a civil war.’

In the north, the Kurdish regional government (KRG) is pushing ahead with independent oil production in defiance of the national government in Baghdad. The Kurds have signed nearly 50 contracts with foreign oil companies, including Chevron, Total, Exxon and the Russian Gazprom. The Exxon contract was particularly contentious because the oil field lies in a disputed area. The Iraqi national government retaliated by withholding payment for Kurdish oil sold through them and by massing troops on the Kurdish border. When Iraqi troops arrested a Kurdish merchant for ‘illegally’ selling oil in November, fighting broke out between the government forces and the Kurdish peshmerga militia in Tuz Khormatu.

The following month, explosions in the Shia district of the town killed five people, while a truck bomb near Mosul killed seven. Sami Al Ashari, an Iraqi MP said, ‘We don’t want war but we will go to war for oil and Iraqi sovereignty. The Prime Minister has been clear, if Exxon lays a finger on this territory, they will face the Iraqi army.’ An Iraqi army officer confirmed that if oil companies begin work in disputed areas ‘it’s a declaration of war’. The US government has taken no action to curtail Exxon’s activities. It is inconceivable that the US would allow one of its most important multinationals to be attacked. Retaliatory action, perhaps in the form of support for the KRG, would give the US an opportunity to reassert its power in the region. The Kurds are not backing off. In January, they began trucking oil directly to Turkey and have plans to build their own pipeline to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.

More revelations of torture

More details of torture by British forces are coming to light as their Iraqi victims pursue prosecution and compensation claims. In December, Dr Derek Keilloh, former medical officer in the 1st Queen’s Lancashire Regiment, was struck off the register for failing to protect Baha Mousa and others being tortured. One soldier has already been prosecuted for Baha Mousa’s murder. 19 other soldiers, including officers and the regimental padre, are being investigated. Over 130 other Iraqis, who claim they were tortured, say they were examined by doctors who failed to take action against their torturers. Paul Shiner, lawyer for Baha Mousa’s family, said these doctors ‘had best start to instruct their lawyers’. The Al Sweady inquiry into allegations of torture and murder following the so-called Battle of Danny Boy in 2004 is to question more than 500 troops.

The Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) has identified more than 100 former and serving members of the armed forces to be interviewed concerning the torture and abuse of Iraqi civilians. That number is expected to rise significantly. However, Louise Thomas, a former WREN and police officer, has resigned from IHAT, saying the investigations are ‘little more than whitewash’. She recalls IHAT members making comments such as ‘who cares, they’re terrorists’ and ‘they’re only bombers’. Lawyers for Iraqi complainants agree, saying IHAT includes members of the military police and answers to officials at the Ministry of Defence. After two years of investigations, no charges have been made. Louise Thomas said she had seen around 1,600 videos showing Iraqis being tortured at three secret interrogation centres near Basra. Prisoners were threatened with rape, hanging and starvation; were beaten, left naked and dragged around assault courses by their thumbs. When a prisoner cried out in pain, Thomas recalls, his torturer responded with, ‘Good, I’m fucking glad. I hope you die. I hope your kids die.’

Jim Craven

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 231 February-March 2013