Look, who cries foul now?

NINETEEN years ago, Iraq was invaded by the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Poland on March 19, 2003, after the Bush administration announced that ‘diplomacy has failed’ and that it would proceed with a ‘coalition of the willing’ to ‘disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people’.

Before this decision, Colin Powell, the US secretary of state, lied before the United Nations on February 5, 2003, delivering his infamous speech that was reportedly prepared by vice president Dick Cheney’s office. Powell falsely claimed that Iraq harboured a terrorist network headed by al-Qaeda operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (in a small region controlled by Ansar al-Islam). He also claimed that Iraqis visited Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and provided training to al-Qaeda members although thousands of Arabs from many countries did the same.’ Interestingly, the US intelligence agencies had found no evidence of any substantive collaboration between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.

On February 14, 2003, UN chief inspector Hans Blix presented a report to the United Nations Security Council in which he rebutted some of the arguments made by Powell. Blix questioned the interpretations of the satellite images put forward by Powell, and stated that alternate interpretations of the satellite images were credible. International Atomic Energy Agency director general Dr Mohammed ElBaradei also said that he did not believe the Iraqis have a nuclear weapons programme, unlike what Powell had claimed.

Early in March 2003, the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva expressed its ‘deep dismay that a small number of states are poised to launch an outright illegal invasion of Iraq, which amounts to a war of aggression.’ According to the commission, such ‘a war waged without a clear mandate from the United Nations Security Council would constitute a flagrant violation of the prohibition of the use of force’. The commission emphasised that Security Council Resolution 1441 did not authorise the use of force, thereby contradicting Bush’s claims who had continually sought to use this resolution as the basis for war. The evidence presented by the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom and Spain is ‘less than convincing,’ the commission declared.

Apprehensive of Bush-Blair’s hideous plan to invade Iraq with or without the support from the UN Security Council, millions of people rallied against the war in all the major cities around the world.

None of these, however, mattered to the war criminals. As George W Bush gave Saddam Hussein an ultimatum to leave power, the Untied Nations pulled out all the inspectors from Iraq. Days later the invasion began.

On March 20, the International Commission of Jurists once again issued a statement and condemned the attack on Iraq as ‘a great leap backward in the international rule of law.’

The United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, declared explicitly that the US-led war on Iraq was illegal. In an interview with the BBC World Service broadcast when he was asked outright if the war was illegal, he replied: ‘Yes, if you wish.’ He then added unequivocally: ‘I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN charter. From our point of view and from the charter point of view it was illegal.’

The invasion of Iraq was neither in self-defence against armed attack nor sanctioned by UN Security Council resolution authorising the use of force by member states and thus constituted the crime of war of aggression, according to the International Commission of Jurists.

Equally disturbing were all the media hypes in the west. Thanks to the yellow journalists embedded with the invading forces, in a March 2003 Gallup poll, the day after the invasion, 76 per cent of Americans supported the military action against Iraq. Similarly, in a March 2003 YouGov poll, 54 per cent of Britons had approved of military action against Iraq.

What a joke ‘free media’ has become — serving the interests of the war party! As provocateurs and handmaidens of war, they share equal responsibility for the war crimes in Iraq that has given new meanings to the words like ‘abuses’, ‘torture’, ‘detention’ and ‘freedom’, flouting the Geneva Convention. And as to the horrendous prison crimes, rapes and murders, perpetrated by the occupation forces in places like Abu Ghraib, the least said the better. Through their acts of savagery, approved by defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s office, they shamed us all by dehumanising the victims.

How about the casualties of the Iraq war? Estimates vary since the invaders did not care about the Iraqi death tolls but only of their own kind. Population-based studies produce estimates of the number of Iraq war casualties ranging from 151,000 violent deaths as of June 2006 (per the Iraq Family Health Survey) to 1,033,000 excess deaths (per the 2007 Opinion Research Business survey). Other survey-based studies covering different time-spans find 461,000 total deaths (over 60 per cent of them violent) as of June 2011 (per PLOS Medicine 2013), and 655,000 total deaths (over 90 per cent of them violent) as of June 2006 (per the 2006 Lancet study).

Anyone who appeared to be an Arab was a fair target for the trigger-happy occupation forces. Al Jazeera TV station in Baghdad was hit by two American air-to-surface missiles, killing a journalist and wounding a cameraman. Office of the United Arab Emirates satellite channel Abu Dhabi was hit by air strikes. A US army tank fired into the 15th floor of the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, where almost all foreign journalists were based. All these were deliberate and unprovoked war crimes.

How conveniently all those war crimes perpetrated by the US and its allies are now forgotten? Here, I do not want to dwell on the war crimes against the Afghan people who had nothing to do with 9/11. It is sufficient to remind ourselves with what Donald Rumsfeld had replied on October 9, 2001 when asked if the US military was running out of targets to strike: ‘Well, for one thing, we’re finding that some of the targets we hit need to be re-hit. Second, we’re not running out of targets. Afghanistan is.’

Last Wednesday, US president Joe Biden called Russian president Vladimir Putin a ‘war criminal’.

That’s like the pot calling the kettle black.

Lest we forget, it’s the same Biden who in October 2002 was one of 77 US senators who gave president George W Bush the carte blanche authority to use force in Iraq war to take down Saddam Hussein. (Senator Bernie Sanders voted against authorising use of military force against Iraq.)

Let us also not forget that Biden served as the vice president under the ‘drone president’ Obama who authorised strikes in undeclared theatres of operations at 10 times the rate of Bush, reflecting a belief that drones were a ‘cure-all for terrorism.’ Micah Zenko, blogging for the Council for Foreign Relations, writes, ‘On January 23, 2009, just three days into his presidency, president Obama authorised his first kinetic military action: two drone strikes, three hours apart, in Waziristan, Pakistan, that killed as many as twenty civilians.’ Two presidential terms and 540 strikes later, Barack Obama left the White House after having vastly expanding and normalising the use of armed drones for counterterrorism and close air support operations in non-battlefield settings — namely Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia — traumatising and terrorising tens of millions of civilians.

According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, US strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen from 2002 to 2020 killed between 10,000 and 17,000 people. A vast majority of these casualties happened during the Obama administration. A Pew Research Centre poll showed that 94 per cent of Pakistanis thought that US strikes in Pakistan were killing ‘too many’ civilians.

Is Putin any worse than Biden? Surely, Vladimir Putin is a mass murderer whose forces killed nearly a quarter million Chechens during the decade-long Second Chechen War (1999–2009); he razed Grozny (and then rebuilt it!). And he continues to support the Syrian dictator who is another mass murderer. None of these crimes is either small or excusable.

Even so, we have to ask: is Biden any better than Putin who invaded Ukraine? Since his first days as a senator from the state of Delaware, Joe Biden has been an unabashed supporter of Israel’s apartheid policy that has sanctified war crimes under the garb of Zionism. What moral authority does Biden have when he supports an apartheid regime that parallels Desmond Tutu’s old-South Africa? While millions of Afghans are facing starvation today and are forced to sell their children, Biden has refused to return ‘confiscated Afghan reserves’ held in the USA. Unlike Putin, he is not rebuilding war-torn Afghanistan either. His attitude exhibits moral bankruptcy.

While I am against war and am deeply saddened by the loss of human lives and destruction due to Russian invasion of Ukraine, it is difficult to brush off the criminal indifference that Volodymyr Zelensky had shown last year about the Palestinian victims of Israel’s bombing campaign on Gaza. Now he is crying foul! One can only pity such a two-faced little devil.

In his unconscionable support for the pariah state of Israel, Zelensky ignored the lopsided death toll from the 11-day (May 10–21, 2021) war — which should more properly be called a murderous Israeli campaign of extermination — in which 260 Palestinians, including 66 children and 40 women, were killed. By May 16, some 950 targeted attacks had demolished, completely or partially: 18 buildings including four high-rise towers, 40 schools and four hospitals, and also struck the al-Shati refugee camp. In addition, at least 19 medical facilities were damaged or destroyed by Israeli bombardment. By May 17, the United Nations estimated that Israeli airstrikes destroyed 94 buildings in Gaza, comprising 461 housing and commercial units, including the al-Jalaa Highrise, housing offices of the Associated Press, the Al Jazeera Media Network as well as other news outlets and 60 condominiums. On the Israeli side, 13 civilians and a soldier died.

Yet, Zelensky’s sympathy was all for the Jewish victims in Israel. No tears were shed and no words of sympathy were ever uttered for the actual victims of brutal aggression of one of the worst terrorist states of our time.

What does it tell about Zelensky? Were the Israeli aerial bombing campaigns against the unarmed civilians in Gaza any gentler than those faced today by the Ukrainians?

As Andrew Bacevich of the Quincy Institute has said, without belittling the suffering of the Ukrainians, the war crimes committed there by Russia are a miniscule compared to those committed by the US and its allies in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, and the crimes committed by Israel against the unarmed Palestinians.

Tutu warned that it was not possible to be a neutral bystander. ‘Those who turn a blind eye to injustice actually perpetuate injustice. If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor,’ he said.

I wish Zelensky learns to be on the side of the oppressed, demanding justice for all. Until then, he has no higher moral ground than those he accuses now. If he was wise, he would have avoided the escalation of the war and learned to live peacefully with a powerful neighbour that felt surrounded by the NATO and its ever increasing borders.

Nineteen years after the unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Iraq, George W Bush condemned Putin on February 24 for his ‘unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine.’ He urged ‘solidarity with the Ukrainian people as they seek freedom and the right to choose their own future. We cannot tolerate the authoritarian bullying and the danger that poses.’ Let’s support ‘our friend and democratic ally,’ he said.

Support for what — making Ukraine another Afghanistan or Iraq a la Bush-style?

What a joke or brazen call from a living and thriving war criminal! The world would be a much better place for all, away from wars and global conflicts, if all the war criminals could have been tried in the Hague for their horrendous crimes. Until then, it seems we have to at least learn to live under the tyranny of their hideous and disingenuous provocations.

Dr Habib Siddiqui is a peace and rights activist.

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