Nafeez Ahmed was the original Muslim 9/11 truth scholar. His book The War on Freedom – the earliest work of its kind – made a 9/11 truther of Gore Vidal. He is also a star contributor to the book I edited, 9/11 and American Empire v.2.
Nafeez’s controlled demolition of the war-criminal BBC, reproduced below, nicely complements Tony Rooke’s moral victory over the BBC in Monday’s court case.
Seven Myths About the Iraq War: How BBC Newsnight failed journalism on the 10 year anniversary of the invasion
by Nafeez Ahmed
As a participant in BBC Newsnight special, “Iraq – 10 Years On“, I found myself feeling slightly miffed at the lack of real debate on the crucial issues.
On the one hand, Newsnight presented a number of narratives of the war and its aftermath as ‘fact’, which are deeply questionable. On the other, there were no serious, factually-grounded criticisms of the war, despite a diverse panel which included people who did not support it.
As author of a major book on the war and its historical context, Behind the War on Terror: Western Secret Strategy and the Struggle for Iraq, as well as co-author of a new report, Executive Decisions: How British Intelligence was Hijacked for the Iraq War, I consider myself to be reasonably informed. Yet BBC Newsnight failed almost entirely to bring any of these issues to light.
What follows is my Newsnight-inspired Iraq War Myth-Busting exercise, based on what was, and wasn’t, discussed on the show.
MYTH 1. Sectarian violence has increased in postwar Iraq because sectarianism has always existed in Iraq, and the removal of Saddam allowed it to erupt
One of the first Newsnight bloopers started with a short introductory clip from John Simpson, the BBC’s World Affairs Editor. Amongst other things, Simpson talked about the rise of sectarian Sunni-Shi’a violence in postwar Iraq, and argued that while Saddam’s regime had clamped down on sectarian divisions, regime change effectively unleashed those previously suppressed divisions and allowed them to worsen.
This was the first of many oversimplifications about the escalation of sectarian violence in Iraq. The reality, as pointed out on the show by my colleague in the audience, anthropologist Professor Nadje al-Ali, is that prior to the war, generic sectarian antagonism was unheard of in Iraqi society. Although Saddam’s regime was unequivocally sectarian in its own violence against Shi’as and Kurds, as a mechanism of shoring up the Ba’athist regime, Iraqis did not largely identify in sectarian terms. As one Iraqi blogger living in Baghdad noted:
“I always hear the Iraqi pro-war crowd interviewed on television from foreign capitals (they can only appear on television from the safety of foreign capitals because I defy anyone to be publicly pro-war in Iraq)… They go on and on about Iraq’s history and how Sunnis and Shia were always in conflict and I hate that. I hate that a handful of expats who haven’t been to the country in decades pretend to know more about it than people actually living there. I remember Baghdad before the war- one could live anywhere. We didn’t know what our neighbors were- we didn’t care. No one asked about religion or sect. No one bothered with what was considered a trivial topic: are you Sunni or Shia? You only asked something like that if you were uncouth and backward. Our lives revolve around it now. Our existence depends on hiding it or highlighting it- depending on the group of masked men who stop you or raid your home in the middle of the night.”
Missing from the BBC Newsnight discussion was the fact that the Bush administration planned from the outset to dominate Iraq by pursuing the de facto ethnic partition of the country into three autonomous cantons. The private US intelligence firm, Stratfor, reported that the US was “working on a plan to merge Iraq and Jordan into a unitary kingdom to be ruled by the Hashemite dynasty headed by King Abdullah of Jordan.” The plan was “authored by US Vice President Dick Cheney” as well as “Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz”, and was first discussed at “an unusual meeting between Crown Prince Hassan of Jordan and pro-US Iraqi Sunni opposition members in London in July” 2002.
Under this plan, the central and largest part of Iraq populated largely by Sunnis would be joined with Jordan, and would include Baghdad, which would no longer be the capital. The Kurdish region of northern and northwestern Iraq, including Mosul and the vast Kirkuk oilfields, would become its own autonomous state. The Shi’a region in southwestern Iraq, including Basra, would make up the third canton, or more likely it would be joined with Kuwait.
Ultimately, of course, the specific detail of this plan did not come to fruition – but the ‘divide-and-rule’ imperial thinking behind the plan was implemented. As one US Joint Special Operations University report documented, “US elite forces in Iraq turned to fostering infighting among their Iraqi adversaries on the tactical and operational level.” This included disseminating and propagating al-Qaeda jihadi activities by “US psychological warfare (PSYOP) specialists” to fuel “factional fighting” and “to set insurgents battling insurgents.”
Pakistani defence sources thus reported in early 2005 that the Pentagon had ”resolved to arm small militias backed by US troops and entrenched in the population,” consisting of “former members of the Ba’ath Party” – linked up with al-Qaeda insurgents – to “head off” the threat of a “Shi’ite clergy-driven religious movement.” Almost simultaneously, the Pentagon began preparing its ‘Salvador option’ to sponsor Shi’ite death squads to “target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers” – a policy developed under the interim government of former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.
Ironically, the same Allawi also made an appearance on Newsnight via Baghdad, rightly criticising the current government for failing to incorporate an inclusive, non-sectarian political process. But Newsnight didn’t bother to ask him about his role in engendering the very sectarian violence he now criticises by sponsoring death squads.
MYTH 2. We went to war in Iraq based on a legitimate parliamentary process, even if lots of people demonstrated against it – most Brits approved the war according to polls
When an audience member asked why the British government still went to war despite the millions of people who protested against it, Independent columnist John Rentoul argued that the war was in fact an example of proper democratic process – because ultimately the MPs voted for it. He pointed out that we don’t run democracies based on “mob rule” – i.e. just because people protesting in the street don’t want something – but on the basis of consensual parliamentary procedures. To this, host Kirsty Wark added that 54% supported the war according to opinion polls at the time.
In mid-March, before the war, “just 26% of the public was saying in mid-March that they approved of British involvement without a ‘smoking gun’ and a second UN vote, while 63% disapproved.” It was only once the bombs began to drop that public opinion drifted slightly in favour of the war. Where did Kirsty Wark’s 54% figure come from?
Disingenuously, it comes from an ICM poll which “found a persistent majority against the war, reaching a low point of 29% support (and 52% oppose) in February. Support then rose to 38% in the final pre-invasion poll (14-16 March, the same weekend as MORI’s) and jumped to 54% just a week later, with the war only a few days old.
Kirsty’s 54% claim applies after the war – before the war, the majority of the British public was overwhelmingly opposed to the invasion, a fact which was not reflected in the parliamentary process.
And of course, since then, opposition to the war continued to grow dramatically.
MYTH 3: The Iraq War was, at worst, a colossal cock-up, simply because we didn’t have good intel on the ground about WMDs etc. So we didn’t really go to war on the basis of a lie, we went to war because our intel was wrong.
As I tried to point out in my brief intervention on the show, this whole debate about whether the public approved the war or not to some extent misses the point – which is that the Iraq War was ignited on the basis of false claims about Saddam’s WMD. Those false claims were promulgated by senior American and British officials precisely to manipulate public opinion, and pressurise the political system into a pre-made decision to go to war, irrespective of the UN, irrespective of international law, and irrespective of whether WMD really existed.
It’s this fact which ultimately brings to light the extent to which our political system, certainly when it comes to foreign policy decisions, is broken, and has yet to be repaired. The historical record confirms that all the intelligence available to British and American security services, including information passed on through the UN weapons inspections process throughout the 1990s, confirmed unequivocally that Saddam had no functioning WMDs of any kind.
Amongst the intelligence available to the allies was the testimony of defector General Hussein Kamel, Saddam’s son-in-law and head of Iraq’s WMD programmes. He provided crates of documents to UN weapons inspectors, as well as authoritative testimony on the precise nature of the WMD programmes that Saddam had embarked on in preceding years. He was even cited by senior officials as the key witness on the threat posed by Saddam’s WMD’s. What these same officials conveniently omitted to mention is that Gen. Kamel had also confirmed to UN inspectors in 1995 that Iraq had destroyed its entire stockpile of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and banned missiles, in 1991, shortly before the Gulf War – exactly as Saddam had claimed. Yet such intelligence was ignored and suppressed.
MYTH 4: The decision to go to war was based on a legitimate parliamentary process, legal advice from the Attorney General, as well as consultations with the UN.
In reality, the decision to go to war was made jointly by senior American and British officials prior to any democratic process, behind closed doors, and irrespective of evidence or international law. This is confirmed by a range of declassified official documents.
A leaked policy options paper drafted by officials in the Cabinet Office’s Overseas and Defence Secretariat (8th March 2002), records that:
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