Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The Near Abroad

The former ambassador to Jordan turned up today as a witness, flanked by an old trouper from the Foreign Office. Despite a few remarks about the Ottoman empire and the British Mandate, the Inquiry was moving on through modern time and we arrived in the immediate pre-attack phase, skipped the war itself, and considered the aftermath in some detail.

International law does not regard the act of war as sufficient unto itself, it has an integral before and after; legality and illegality rest upon intention, exhaustion of all other measures than war, an envisaged outcome better than the prewar condition, conduct of the war and behaviour towards non-combatants, and proper provision for post war civil administration and maintenance of civil order and human rights. All of that or war-makers are illegal at best or criminal by definition.

Surrounding states take a view as well. Jordan was unconcerned about Saddam's supposed WMD, or even about his conventional bellicosity; Jordan was worried about its oil supplies from Iraq and the reaction of Israel to the Intifada. We can see Jordan's point as could the former ambassador, and he properly communicated it to London. Saudi Arabia had no fear of WMD but a well-founded concern over the disruption of the entire Middle East and disturbances in its backyard if the United States and the United Kingdom made war on a large advanced capitalist country next door. Iran, not unnaturally, did feel concern about gas attacks and chemical WMD having suffered them only a decade earlier, but was more concerned along Saudi lines, weapons inspections having determined that all chemical WMD had been dismantled. Turkey wasn't letting the United States attack through Turkey unless it got the top third of Iraq (those Kurds) handed over, in which case it would be discourteous (and so self-denying) to refuse. Unfortunately attacking a sovereign state in order to dismember it is an international law no-no as well.

Iraq's post war status had to guarantee Iraqi borders, sovereignty, civil administration including law and order, all civil services (effective government, energy, water, sewage, health, education...) or international laws and standards back to 1907 would be violated. It was desperate for the United Kingdom to obtain United Nations resolutions governing any threat of, or actual attack upon, Iraq because otherwise rules going back a century would apply to UK acts. Blair might have been pressing for United Nations sanction as a Potemkin front while war preparations were completed but the rest of the UK administration wanted UN resolutions (in the plural) covering the exhaustion of all remedies other than war and covering post war administration or there was nothing between them and international regulation coverage that had responded to the Armenian massacre, the Holocaust, and even earlier acts of barbarity.

Meanwhile the US State Department was stripped of its leading role in post-war administration for which it had been conscientiously preparing should other factions of the US administration prevail and war be launched. The Foreign Office sent representatives to represent, to stand alongside the minimal, wholly US, Pentagon provision for post war coping. Rumsfeld and the visceral loathers of the United Nations were going to set up what was referred to as the Authority. The Pentagon had "taken few steps to involve their own colleagues" we were informed, never mind consult Blair's out of their loop government As the witness turned up in Washington armed with advice and plans for post conflict administration (essential remember to the legality of waging war at all), the only response he got, apart from low-level meetings, was "We hear you" (and ignore you). The UK had no voice in the US transfer of post war planning to Rumsfeld's Pentagon from the State Department, but still the UK planning to invade went on. By now the waging of war was clearly illegal in its lack of provision for all parts of any war undertaking. The UN finally passed resolution 1483 in May 2003 setting out post war necessary provisions, but after eight weeks of death and destruction (or should that be shock and awe?), had all ready killed hundred of thousands in Iraq. For the manner in which the duty of care for civilians and combatants in a post war scenario was met, recall the if you can bear to, the photographs of the tortured and the dying in US and British prison camps, and in looted Iraqi hospitals.

Years of support and help were needed if the models offered by the Australians from their administration of East Timor, or our own experiences in the Balkans were correct. The US was told that half a million troops were needed to ensure civil society after the assault phase was completed; officials from our FO who had been advised by a committee of Iraq and of war specialists that had been set up by Lawrence Freedman, (a member of the Inquiry) so intense was his anxiety about the immediate post fighting phase, returned to Washington repeatedly to press the point.

And through all this there was no collective cabinet discussion, just bi-laterals with Straw or Blair and briefing papers made available to ministers. Under a propaganda shield provided by suspect Iraqi exiles that all would be well the moment Saddam was deposed, the US refused to entertain any intervention or responsibility by the UN for coping with the devastation in post war Iraq. The prize of Iraq was theirs and theirs alone, not to be ceded to the UN.

As for the UK's near abroad - Europe - they had stated that any resolution sanctioning an attack upon Iraq would be vetoed. All that was left for the ordinary government of the UK , the government outside 'the circle of silence', was the certainty that UK commanders needed assurances from the law officers that an order to attack was lawful.


lilith said...

Thank you HG, for this reportage. Invaluable.

hatfield girl said...

So much must be set aside to tell the worst, L. But the transcripts can be looked at.

The FO and the ordinary government and the UK forces expected the UK to play 'an exemplary role' if the war began. The witnesses emphasized that the worst of the worst was going on in the north, in the capital, in the US zones. The UK invasion and and war of occupation was in the South.

Did we have enough resources to play 'an exemplary role?'

'No, the budget was insufficient - not enough people...The resources were never provided for us to play an exemplary role in the south'.

Brown. Denying the means for legality, let alone the failure to oppose the immorality of it all.