Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The war against Iraq and the peoples of Africa: Ten years and war implications still pertinent

Published March 28, 2013

On Tuesday 19, March 2013, there were commentaries all over the Western media about the impact of the war against the People of Iraq on the world. US commentators focused on the meaning of the war for their society while the mainstream media worked hard to divert attention from the impact of the war on current questions such as the global economic crisis and the continued militarization of the planet. Within the peace and social justice movement the occasion has been used as a means of mobilizing citizens about the tremendous cost of more than $2.2 trillion to the society. After accounting for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi killed or maimed, these peace groups have been seeking to learn lessons of the cost of the war.

There has been no clear accounting of the cost of the war against the people of Iraq for Africa. From the moment of the buildup to the war, Africans were integrated and implicated into this global imperial attack on Iraq. It was also from Africa where there has been the clearest opposition, with Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa calling for George Bush and Tony Blair to be tried as war criminals. The discussions of the impact of the war in Iraq is pertinent in Africa for another reason, many of the private military contractors that enjoyed lucrative contracts in Iraq are stoking the fires of instability in Africa to provide the employment opportunities for US private military contractors. The non-governmental organizations from the USA who now work in tandem with the US Africa Command have remained silent in the face of the reorganized military thrust in Africa under the banner of defense, development and diplomacy. It is from the network of those same forces that have been discredited in Iraq where the US counter-terror experts are planning for the expansion of US military activities in Africa. This week provides another opportunity to spell out the cost of this war on Africa and why increased mobilization must take place by the international peace forces to oppose the militarization of Africa under the guise of fighting a Global War on Terror.


March 19, the tenth anniversary of the war against the peoples of Iraq provided another opportunity for a thorough examination of the negative impact of this war on the entire human community. Most of the commentaries inside the United States have served to distort the full impact of this war on the world economy. Very few citizens of the United States remember the original justification for this war, that the leader of Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and had links to the terrorists who attacked the United States on September 11, 2001. These two justifications for the war were fabrications and ten years after the launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the peoples of Iraq are now less free than they were under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. As if to underline the levels of insecurity ten years after this freedom operation on March 19, 2013 there was a wave of bombings in Baghdad which killed more than 50 people.

A comprehensive analysis of the War has been compiled by the Cost of the War Project of Brown University. According to the first comprehensive analysis of direct and indirect human and economic costs of the war, this report outlined that the war has killed at least 190,000 people, including men and women in uniform, contractors and civilians and will cost the United States $2.2 trillion — a figure that far exceeds the initial 2002 estimates by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget of $50 to $60 billion.

Among the findings of this Report:

• More than 70 percent of those who died of direct war violence in Iraq have been civilians — an estimated 134,000. This number does not account for indirect deaths due to increased vulnerability to disease or injury as a result of war-degraded conditions. That number is estimated to be several times higher.

• The Iraq War will ultimately cost U.S. taxpayers at least $2.2 trillion. Because the Iraq war appropriations were funded by borrowing, cumulative interest through 2053 could amount to more than $3.9 trillion.

• The $2.2 trillion figure includes care for veterans who were injured in the war in Iraq, which will cost the United States almost $500 billion through 2053.

• The total of U.S. service members killed in Iraq is 4,488. At least 3,400 U.S. contractors have died as well, a number often under-reported.

• Terrorism in Iraq increased dramatically as a result of the invasion and tactics and fighters were exported to Syria and other neighboring countries.

• Iraq’s health care infrastructure remains devastated from sanctions and war. More than half of Iraq’s medical doctors left the country during the 2000s, and tens of thousands of Iraqi patients are forced to seek health care outside the country.

• The $60 billion spent on reconstruction for Iraq has not gone to rebuilding infrastructure such as roads, health care, and water treatment systems, but primarily to the military and police. The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction has found massive fraud, waste, and abuse of reconstruction funds.
These findings are of tremendous importance for Africa because there have been wars led by the US on Africa, especially in Somalia but there has been no similar study on the Costs of War in Africa.


The first and most important implication for Africa is the clear recognition that the justification for war in Iraq was based on clear fabrication. At every step of the way, these fabrications enmeshed African societies and diverted resources away from reconstruction and transformation of Africa. From the fabrication of the facts that Iraq was planning to import yellow cake from Niger in order to enhance its capabilities for the production of nuclear weapons to the dossier compiled by CIA on the links between Saddam and Al Quaeda – all of this proved to be part of the disinformation and lies of war.

Because the lies about what happened in Iraq cannot be agreed on, there is dispute on the exact war crimes committed by the United States and its allies in Iraq. The medical journal Lancet has written extensively on the adverse health consequences of the Iraq War (2003—11) and stated that the effects were profound. The authors of the study for Lancet stated that ‘at least 116 903 Iraqi non-combatants and more than 4800 imperial military personnel died over the 8-year course. Many Iraqi civilians were injured or became ill because of damage to the health-supporting infrastructure of the country, and about 5 million were displaced. More than 31 000 US military personnel were injured and a substantial percentage of those deployed suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and other neuropsychological disorders and their concomitant psychosocial problems. Many family members of military personnel had psychological problems. Further review of the adverse health consequences of this war could help to minimize the adverse health consequences of, and help to prevent, future wars.’

This neutral language of Lancet could not, however, hide the truth of the full dimensions of the US-led attack on the peoples of Iraq. Prior to the war, this society was the most secular in the Middle East and the society with the most developed professional class. Western military intervention stoked sectarian religious violence and this sectarianism was compounded by the counter-insurgency strategies of the US war machine. Very few of the commentaries from mainstream organs such as the Brookings Institute or the New York Times dwelt on the clear torture and debasing actions of the US military such as the siege of Fallujah where the US military turned a city of 350,000 people into a free-fire zone. The war and violence in Fallujah remains one of the low points of human conduct of warfare since the experiences of World War II because the US military bombed the citizens of Fallujah with white phosphorus shells. This kind of weaponry had been banned under international law.

In addition to the images of the use of banned materials in Fallujah were the images that came out of the torture chambers at Abu Ghraib. Up to the present the question of the systematic use of torture by the US military has now created an image of US military personnel as torturers. That Hollywood has been willing to celebrate this aspect of the US military overseas has only expanded the knowledge of this use of torture by US military and intelligence services.


If torture and use of poisonous substances represented the second major lesson of the US campaign in Iraq, then the third major lesson was the use of private military contractors in war. By the time of the surge of General David Petraeus in 2007, the number of U.S.-paid private contractors in Iraq exceeded that of American combat troops. In 2007 the Los Angeles Times reported that more than 180,000 civilians -- including Americans, foreigners and Iraqis – were working in Iraq under U.S. contracts. This figure compared to the 160,000 soldiers and a few thousand civilian government employees are stationed in Iraq by the Department of Defense. If the war in Afghanistan had become the experimental base for this kind of integration between private contractors and the US military, then Iraq was where the model was perfected.

Jeremy Scahill in his study of Blackwater and other contractors, Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, drew attention to the reality that these contractors operated as a law unto themselves and that there was absolutely no effective system of oversight or accountability governing contractors and their operations. These contractors were not subjected to military justice and after the killings at Nisoor Square, the real powers of these contractors was demonstrated in so far as their contracts remained with the State Department. In this industry of hundreds of billions of dollars key African societies were drawn into the war in Iraq in so far as the private contractors recruited lower level imperial servants from societies such as Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia. One estimate from the Christian Science Monitor revealed that in 2009 there were more than 10, 000 Ugandans serving as low level mercenaries in Iraq. This revelation brought out clearly the alliance between the Museveni government in Uganda and the military wars in the Middle East.


The fourth major impact of the invasion of Iraq was the way in which repressive governments in Africa used the cover of terrorism to repress local opposition and to curry favour with the US military. It was in North Africa and in the Sahel region where this practice was most developed. The use of torture by these governments was only exceeded by the readiness of these governments to participate in programs of rendition by the US government. Earlier this year the Open Society brought out a Study on the GLOBALIZING TORTURE: CIA SECRET DETENTION AND EXTRAORDINARY RENDITION.

This document listed 54 countries that were integrated into this web of illegal detentions and transportation. Of the 54 countries mentioned in the study there were 13 countries that were named as participating in the rendition program. These were in alphabetical order: Algeria, Djibouti, and Egypt. Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, Libya, Malawi, Mauritania, Morocco, Somalia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Open Society presented this report as part of its participation in the debate in the United States on Torture but this same Open Society has not been as forthcoming to support the exposure of the US military crimes in Africa. In fact, it is urgent, for Open Society to maintain its credibility, that it uses its influence to document the activities of entities such as Bancroft Development that are presently disguised as non-governmental organization in Somalia.


From the outset of the military campaign, opinion in Africa was dominated by the opposition to the war. This opposition was most clearly articulated by the African Union in 2003 before the beginning of the campaign that was hyped as Shock and Awe. The AU issued a statement to the effect that , ‘A military confrontation in Iraq would be a destabilizing factor for the whole region and would have far reaching economic and security consequences for all the countries of the world and, particularly, for those of Africa.’

This recognition of the implications for Africa has persisted with luminaries such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu rightly calling what was done to the people of Iraq a war crime. In 2012, Tutu called on the international Criminal Court to arrest both George Bush Jr and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair on charges of war crimes. The retired Anglican Church’s archbishop of South Africa wrote in an op-ed piece for The Observer newspaper that the ex-leaders of Britain and the United States should be made to ‘answer for their actions,’ claiming the Iraq war has destabilized and polarized the world ‘to a greater extent than any other conflict in history.’

‘Those responsible for this suffering and loss of life should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in The Hague …The then-leaders of the U.S. and U.K. fabricated the grounds to behave like playground bullies and drive us further apart. They have driven us to the edge of a precipice where we now stand — with the specter of Syria and Iran before us … The question is not whether Saddam Hussein was good or bad or how many of his people he massacred. The point is that Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair should not have allowed themselves to stoop to his immoral level.’


Desmond Tutu rightly grasped the reality that the Iraq war represented a turning point in history. It was the war that finally exposed the diminution of the military power of the United States and ushered in the period of economic crisis from which the world has not recovered. Most people now understand that the war against the people of Iraq was an imperialist war and that the criminal activities of the United States cannot be covered up. These revelations are important at a moment when the same fabrication of terrorism is being propagated in order to justify the expansion of the US war and military campaign in Africa. In the face of the impending cuts in the budgets of the United States, the most conservative sections of the US policy establishment are joining forces with France to militarize the Sahara.

Twenty years after the war in Somalia, there has been no corresponding Cost of the War study to expose the monetary and social costs as well as the costs in lives for the entire region of eastern Africa. People in the Horn of Africa continue to die from the continued destabilization unleashed by foreign military elements just as the people of Iraq are suffering. In Eastern Africa there is an increase in the activities of fundamentalist religious forces that draw their sustenance from the United States and their allies. In 2001 the United States shut down the Somalia money transfer scheme called Al Barakat but has turned a blind eye to the extremists in the Emirates and Saudi Arabia who finance extremism in Africa and the Middle Ears.

Just as in Iraq the peoples of many parts of Africa continue to die from the intensified violence unleashed by the war on terror. Important transformations of the economic conditions in the face of the global crisis have been postponed because of the attempts by the USA to militarily manage the capitalist crisis. The weakening of the United States and Western Europe has been supplanted by the rise of the BRICS states. Up to the present these states have not mobilized sufficiently within the corridors of international institutions to join forces with Africans to oppose the militarization of Africa.