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World Tribunal On Iraq -  Culminating Session - Istanbul 23.-27. Juni 2005


The Role of the "Coalition of the Willing" in the Violation of International Law and Universal Human Rights

By Walden Bello *)

Thursday, June 23
(Speech delivered at the World Tribunal on Iraq, Final Session, Istanbul, June 24, 2005)

Honorable members of the Jury of Conscience and members of the Panel of Advocates:

My brief here today is to outline and detail the specific charges against the ‘Coalition of the Willing" assembled by the United States government to support its aggression in Iraq.  The case against the prime aggressor, the United States, has been laid out by other advocates.  I will limit my statements to other members of the Coalition, including the US"s main partner, the government of the United Kingdom.

The responsibility of the Coalition of the Willing for the invasion, occupation, and destruction of Iraq is that of a willing accomplice.  The degree of guilt of course varies, but all the 50 countries that make up this front stand collectively condemned for providing legitimacy to a fundamental violation of international law: the invasion of a sovereign country.  Thus all governments participating in this formation must be held accountable and arraigned before the appropriate international legal bodies for prosecution, conviction, sentencing, and assessment of reparations to the Iraqi people. 

Coalition of the Willing - What, Who, Why?

The "Coalition of the Willing" was announced by US Secretary of State Colin Powell shortly before the March 20, 2003 invasion, after the US decided not to push through the famous Second Resolution authorizing war in the United Nations Security Council.  At its height in March 2004, the Coalition had about 50 members, including the United States.  Thirty four of these had troops deployed in Iraq.  Various factors--most prominently, armed attacks at home, the activities of the Iraqi resistance, political pressure from citizens, and international embarrassment--caused 15 countries to withdraw troops as of March 2005.   Currently, there are about 23,900 non-US Coalition forces in Iraq, compared to the US contingent of about 130,000 troops.[1]

What reasons did governments have for joining the Coalition?  These varied.  Despite his coming from an ideological and political background different from US President George Bush's, Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair truly appeared to believe in externally imposed "regime change" in Iraq.  Much more understandable was the support of Bush's ideological fellow travelers Jose Maria Aznar of Spain and Silvio Berlusconi of Italy, the latter of whom was notorious for having declared that "[T]he West will continue to conquer peoples, even if it means a confrontation with another civilization, Islam, firmly entrenched where it was 1,400 years ago."[2] 

For Japan and Korean governments, the rationale obviously was obviously a quid pro quo for the US military umbrella in their countries.  Most of the other governments were, as one commentator described it, a veritable "opera bouffe of tiny states" that were either strong-armed or bribed with promises of fat post-war contracts or economic aid by Washington.[3]
 

The Coalition's Basic Function: Deodorizing an Illegitimate Act

Whatever were their intentions, the members of the Coalition of theWilling were used by the United States to provide legitimacy for the invasion and occupation of an independent country, thus making them accomplices in a massive violation of international law.  Statements from members of the Coalition backing the US invasion were widely propagated by Washington to defuse the criticism of its patently illegal action.  A sample of the official statements of these governments circulated by Washington prior to and following the invasion reveal the extent to which they allowed the United States government to manipulate them to justify an illegal and unprovoked war.  The statements came word-for-word from Washington's published rationale for the war: [4]

"Saddam Hussein is a danger to law and peace. Hence the Netherlands gives political support to the action against Saddam Hussein which has been started." (Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, March 20, 2003)

"The Philippines is part of the coalition of the willing." We are giving political and moral support for actions to rid Iraq of the weapons of mass destruction.  We are part of a long-standing security alliance.  We are part of the global coalition against terrorism." (President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, March 19, 2003)

"At a time when diplomatic efforts have failed to resolve the Iraqi problem peacefully, I believe that action is inevitable to quickly remove weapons of mass destruction.  Koreans tend to join forces when things get tough." (President Roh, March 20, 2003)

  "The cabinet sitting under the chairmanship of HE Yoweri Museveni, the president of Uganda, on 21 March 2003, decided to support the US-led coalition to disarm Iraq by force.  The cabinet also decided that if need arises, Uganda will assist in any way possible." (Minister of Foreign Affairs James Wapakhabulo, March 24, 2003)

  "The responsibility falls exclusively on the Iraqi regime and its obstinacy in not complying with the resolutions of the United Nations for the last 12 years…On this difficult hour, Portugal reaffirms its support to his Allies, with whom it shares the values of Liberty and Democracy, and hopes that this operation will be as short as possible and that it will accomplish all its objectives." (Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, March 20, 2003)

Coalition Participation in the Occupation

The following 34 countries stand accused of active participation in the invasion and occupation of Iraq through the deployment of troops: Albania, Armenia, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Estonia, Georgia, Honduras, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Mongolia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Thailand, Tonga, United Kingdom, and Ukraine.  25 of these 34 countries continue to maintain security forces in the country.  Some of these countries, such as Spain and the Philippines, have now withdrawn their troops or police forces, and others, such as the Netherlands, Ukraine, Bulgaria, and Italy, have began or announced the phased withdrawal of their contingents.  All, however, should nevertheless be held accountable for having concretely assisted in the US occupation.

The following countries, while they did not deploy troops, are accused of complicity in the violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq by joining the Coalition of the Willing: Afghanistan, Angola, Colombia, Costa Rica, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iceland, Kuwait, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, Rwanda, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Uganda, and Uzbekistan.

Table 1: Troop Contingents in Iraq by Country of Origin, March 2004



Country Troops
  USA 130,000
  United Kingdom 9,000
  Italy 3,000
  Poland 2,460
  Ukraine 1,600
  Spain 1,300
  Netherlands 1,100
  Australia 800
  Romania 700
  Bulgaria 480
  Thailand 440
  Denmark 420
  Honduras 368
  El Salvador 361
  Dominican Republic 302
  Hungary 300
  Japan 240
  Norway 179
  Mongolia 160
  Azerbaijan 150
  Portugal 128
  Latvia 120
  Lithuania 118
  Slovakia 102
  Czech Republic 80
  Philippines 80
  Albania 70
  Georgia 70
  New Zealand 61
  Moldova 50
  Tonga 40
  Macedonia 37
  Estonia 31
  Canada 31
  Kazakhstan 25

Source: "Coalition of theWilling," Perspectives of World History and Current Events, June 19, 2005, http://pwhce.org/willing.html

Among the Coalition members, the role and responsibility of the following must be highlighted: United Kingdom, Italy, and Spain.   The United Kingdom played a major role in the invasion, and together with Italy and Spain, provided the leadership role in the Coalition in the first months of the occupation.  Since then this leadership has faltered: Spain broke ranks by withdrawing troops in February 2005, after the Madrid bombing, and the Berlusconi government in Italy has announced its plan to begin withdrawing troops beginning in September 2005, following the controversial killing of an Italian government agent by US soldiers at a checkpoint in March 2005.

Japan and South Korea's role and responsibility must also be singled out.  The two countries gave an "Asian" face to the occupation, and with its 3,600 troops, South Korea today maintains the third largest military presence in Iraq, after the United States and the United Kingdom.

The United Kingdom's Special Burden of Guilt

Aside from the United States, it is the government of the United Kingdom that clearly must bear the burden of guilt among the Coalition of the Willing.  Since others in the panel of advocates are focusing on the United States, I will confine my coments to the United Kingdom

Participating in the Planning of the War

The recently revealed Downing Street Memos show that as early as April 2002, the Labor leadership was aware that 1) the Bush administration was keen to invade Iraq; 2) that it was determined to do this on the issue of Saddam's possession of weapons of mass destruction; and 3) that the evidence of Saddam's ability to develop weapons of mass destruction was tenuous.  As one Foreign Office memo dated March 22, 2002, addressed  to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw put it, "The truth is that what has changed is not the pace of Saddam Hussein's WMD programs, but our tolerance of them post-11 September."  It continued:  "But even the best survey of WMD programs will not show much advance in recent years on the nuclear, missile, or CW/BW (chemical or biological weapons) fronts: the programs are extremely worrying but have not, as far as we know, been stepped up."[5]

Despite the fragility of the evidence for the existence of weapons of mass destruction, however, Prime Minister Tony Blair beat the drums for war on the WMD argument.  At around the same time that the Downing Street memos were questioning the WMD evidence, Blair told the House of Commons on April 10, 2002: "Saddam Hussein's regime is despicable, he is developing weapons of mass destruction, and we cannot leave him doing so unchecked."[6]

On September 24, 2002, again contradicting the lack of evidence, he declared: "It [the intelligence service] concludes that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons, that Saddam has continued to produce them, that he has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated in 45 minutes, including his own Shia population; and that he is actively trying to acquire nuclear weapons capability."[7]

On February 25, 2003, in the lead-up to the invasion: "The intelligence is clear: (Saddam) continues to believe his WMD programme is essential both for internal repression and for external aggression."  In the same speech, he asserted:  "The biological agents we believe Iraq can produce include anthrax, botolium, toxin, aflatoxin, and ricin.  All eventually result in excruciatingly painful death."[8]

Then on the very day of invasion, March 20, 2003, Blair said: "If the only means of achieving the disarmament of Iraq of weapons of mass destruction is the removal of the regime, then the removal of the regime has to be our objective."[9]

 It now appears that concerted effort by the Blair government to produce evidence of Iraq's possession of WMD led to the doctoring or, as the British Broadcasting Corporation report put it, the "sexing up" of the British intelligence services' 50-page dossier on Saddam's alleged WMD program released in September 2002.  This dossier served as one of the key British government documents to make the case for war.  Caught in the crossfire between pressure from the government and the slimness of the evidence, senior government scientist Dr. David Kelley, a former WMD inspector in Iraq, revealed to the press his strong doubts about the dossier's allegations, particularly the claim that Iraq could activate WMDs within 45 minutes.  This apparently triggered government pressure on him that eventually led to his suicide in July 2003.

The Downing Street memos also indicate that even as the WMD evidence was thin or nonexistent, the Blair government was strongly for invading Iraq to institute "regime change," though that was not something it could trumpet publicly for that would come across as advocating a clear breach of international law.  Indeed, as early as March or April 2002, a time that the Blair government and the Bush administration say they were not engaged in war planning, they were already at an advance stage in the process.  While the British government was not convinced of the threat of WMD, the memos reveal that it shared the Bush administration's desire for regime change through military means.

One memo in mid-March 2002 details a letter from Christopher Meyer, then British Ambassador to the United Nations, on a lunch discussion he had with then US  Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.  "We backed regime change," he wrote, "but the plan had to be clever and failure was not an option.  It would be a tough sell for us domestically, and probably tougher elsewhere in Europe."[10]  

At the same time, British officials knew that regime change per se could not be invoked as an objective for invasion.  As a March 8, 2002 memo sketching out options for dealing with Iraq noted, "an invasion for the purpose of regime change "has no basis under international law."  The dilemma and the solution to it was stated over two weeks later by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw:  "Regime change per se is no justification for military action; it could form part of any strategy, but not a goal," he said. "Elimination of Iraq's WMD capacity has to be the goal."[11]  Not surprisingly, the Blair government embarked on a course of manufacturing a nonexistent threat, culminating in the infamous September 25, 2002 dossier that became the key document propagated by Washington and London to justify the impending invasion of Iraq.

When all is said and done, it is clear that it was mainly Tony Blair, against the wishes of the vast majority of the British people and a significant section of his party,  that brought the United Kingdom to the war.  Why?  Some commentators say that he really did believe in the morality of externally imposed regime change, which makes him, like Bush, a very dangerous man indeed.  Others would discount morality and say that Blair was in fact motivated by cold realpolitik.  My sense is that, along with a warped morality, this is a likely motivation: that is, the desire to put the British government at the center of global power alongside the United States.  As he once asserted, "It's my job to protect and project British power."[12]

Carrying out the War

In addition to its role in planning the war, the British government's conduct of the war in Iraq clearly reveals its disregard for international law and universally recognized  human rights.

The invasion of the country was preceded by a bombing campaign that began approximately 10 months before, in May 2002.  Jets of the Royal Air Force joined United States Air Force jets in what were called "spikes of activity" designed to goad the Saddam Hussein regime into retaliating and thus providing the pretext for war.  These actions, which were justified by US officials such as Allied Commander General Tommy Franks as necessary to "degrade" Iraq's air defenses were not authorized by any United Nations resolution.  Indeed, as the leaked Downing Street memos reveal, the British Foreign Office provided legal opinion in March 2002- two months before the intensification of the bombing--that asserted that allied aircraft were legally entitled to patrol the no-fly zones over the north and south of Iraq only to deter attacks by Saddam's forces on the Kurdish and Shia populations and had no authority to put pressure of any kind on the regime.  This illegal activity was further intensified at the end of August 2002, following a meeting of the US National Security Council where its purpose was revealed to be that of making Iraq's air defenses as weak as possible for a possible invasion.[13] 

Since the invasion took place, Britain has sent some 65,000 British troops, or almost a third of the armed forces, to participate in an illegal war unauthorized by the United Nations.  About 8,761 were stationed there as of March 2005.

The main assignment for the British troops was to secure the southern sector, notably the city of Basra.  That campaign was marked by the deaths of scores of Iraqi civilians.  Some of the deaths were caused by the use of cluster bombs, known to be deadly to civilian populations. Although officials at the British Ministry of Defense initially pledged not to use the weapons "in and around Basra," Human Rights Watch documented several strikes using cluster munitions in the neighborhoods of that city.  At the height of military operations in March and April 2003, British forces used 70 air-launched and 2100 ground launched cluster munitions, containing 113,190 submunitions.  Total US and British use came to 13,000 cluster munitions and 2 million submunitions in that period.[14]

Human Rights Watch also accused British military authorities of failing to secure large caches of abandoned Iraqi Army weapons, resulting in civilians being killed or wounded.  Basra's al-Jumhuriyya Hospital was receiving five victims of unsecured ordnance a day, leading Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth to declare: "Britain failed in its duty as an occupying power to provide security to local civilians. Its inability or unwillingness to secure abandoned weapons made a dangerous situation even more dangerous."[15]

 
Foreign occupation invites systematic abuses of human rights.  This has been the case of the US Occupation in central and northern Iraq.  Abu Ghraib prison has become a synonym for violations of the Geneva Convention, torture as a policy, and systematic sexual abuse, while the American retaking of Fallujah in November-December 2004 has become a contemporary version of the implementation of the harsh Roman order "Carthago delenda est" ("Carthage must be destroyed.")

The British occupation of the Basra and southern Iraq, while being less in the glare of publicity than the US occupation, has also been marked by violations of basic human rights.  one year of occupation yielded numerous cases of the killing and wounding of civilians by British troops.  Amnesty International reports that as of early March 2004, British authorities admitted that UK forces had been involved in the killing of 37 civilians.  They acknowledged, however, that the figure was not comprehensive.  In a number of cases investigated by Amnesty, "UK soldiers opened fire and killed Iraqi civilians in circumstances where was apparently no threat of death or serious injury to themselves or others."[16]  Amnesty found that the British Royal Military Police (RMP) was "highly secretive and…provided families with little or no information about the progress or conclusions of investigations."[17]  Moreover, the process of gaining reparations by families of victims was grossly inadequate, plagued by inconsistencies, over-bureaucratic, and practically inaccessible to poor Iraqis.[18]

Torture and sexual abuse of prisoners have been another black mark on the British Occupation.  In January 2005, photos were released in the national press depicting torture and systematic abuse of Iraqis by soldiers belonging to the lst battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.  As described in one report, "One of the photographs showed a grimacing Iraqi civilian bound tightly in an army cargo net being suspended from a forklift truck driven by a British soldier.  A second depicted a soldier dressed in shorts and a T-shirt standing on the bound and tied body of an Iraqi civilian.  Other pictures showed two naked Iraqi men being forced to simulate anal sex and two Iraqis forced to simulate oral sex."[19] 

 

The soldiers were court-martialed, leading to a jail sentence and expulsion from the army of some of them.  There was a grave miscarriage of justice at the trial, however, since evidence from the victims was not allowed in court, which could have led to harsher sentences or the implication of many more soldiers, including higher-ups.  The evidence included that of the Iraqi in the forklift incident, Hassan Abdul-Hussein, who said that he was tied and strung up when he refused to sever another Iraqi's finger with a knife.[20]  Why was the evidence inadmissible?  The honorable Phil Shiner, who is also part of this panel of advocates, has claimed that the purpose was, as in the case of the abuses at Abu Ghraib, damage limitation: "Here there is the clearest evidence that the military are incapable of prosecuting and investigating themselves.  If they are allowed to, all we get is a whitewash and a few bad apples thrown to the dogs.  Clearly, here something as gone badly wrong, officers were involved and a whole lot of people were abused."[21]

With British soldiers themselves participating in the abuse of civilians, it is not surprising that they failed to provide security, as they were required to by international law.  Like other parts of the country, Basra and other sites in southern Iraq have witnessed "scores, possibly hundreds, of people…deliberately killed by individuals or armed groups for political reasons, including for perceived moral infractions such as selling or buying alcohol."[22]  However, virtually no investigation or prosecution of these killing had occurred as of early 2004.  Thus Amnesty considered the UK military authorities as in breach of its international obligations under Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which mandates the UK as an occupying power to provide protection for Iraqis, especially from threats and acts of violence.[23]

With the occupation provoking the rise of an armed resistance in 2003 and 2004, British troops were dragged in to support US military operations  in central Iraq.  The most notorious instance of indirect British support for US efforts to crush the Iraqi people's resistance took place in November 2004, when the 850-strong Black Watch Regiment was moved from southern Iraq to the Babil Province, south of Baghdad.  The redeployment followed a request from US military authorities who wanted to use the US military units freed up for the assault on the city of Fallujah that was to be launched after the US elections.  The move provoked former British Foreign Minister Robin Cook to speak about "the suspicion that we sent a third of the British army to Iraq not in pursuit of our own national interest but in support of the White House's political agenda.  This latest twist to the tale confirms the perception that it is Washington that calls the shots and Britain that jumps to attention.  It is equally obvious that the request was the product of US politics."[24]  The ensuing US assault on Fallujah was marked by hundreds of civilian deaths, thousands of people injured, routine violations of human rights by American soldiers such as the killing of wounded prisoners, and massive destruction of property.  By redeploying British troops to release American soldiers for the savage attack, Mr. Blair's government must take some responsibility for the ensuing war crimes.

The record of the Coalition of the Willing in Iraq is a sordid and sorry one.  The Coalition tried to do the impossible: provide legitimacy to a glaring and unjustifiable violation of international law: the invasion of Iraq, an act that must rank as low in terms of ignominy and infamy as the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939.  The 50 members of the Coalition of the Willing have performed for the US today what the Romanian, Hungarian, and Italian fascist states did for Nazi Germany in the latter's aggressive and brutal conquest of Eastern Europe during the Second World War.  Thus the Coalition must be seen as complicit not only in the violation of Iraqi sovereignty but also in the systematic violation of human rights, political rights, and economic rights that is the main feature of the US and British Occupation of that country today.

Among Coalition members, the role of the government of the United Kingdom must be especially condemned.  The Blair government's role cannot be reduced to that of being a reluctant partner of the Bush administration.  It cannot be reduced to that of a supporter that merely provides convenient cover for the aggressor.  The Blair government actively participated in the preparations and conduct of the war.  It committed a third of the British army to the invasion and occupation, and went to war willingly- gleefully some would say in the case of Prime Minister Blair.  Mr. Blair's behavior went beyond that of a cheerleader to that of being one of the main apologists for the war, trying to convince the world that an immoral and illegal act was a moral one.  Like Bush and like Hitler, he is, as we said earlier, a dangerous man.

Harsh censure by this body must be meted to all members of the Coalition, including those which did not deploy troops to Iraq.  For those that deployed troops to Iraq in support of the US war, the appropriate punishment is to be arraigned before international legal bodies for prosecution for complicity in the breach of international law and internationally recognized human rights.  Officials of the British government, in particular Prime Minister Anthony Blair, must be given top priority for prosecution, alongside President George Bush and other civilian and military leaders of the US government in the appropriate legal institutions, in particular the International Criminal Court. 

The war criminals, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, must be brought to trial, and soon.

I thank you.

*Walden Bello is professor of sociology at the University of the Philippines (Diliman) and executive director of the Bangkok-based Focus on the Global South.  He is the author of the recently published Dilemmas of Domination: the Unmaking of the American Empire (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2005).


[1] Data drawn from Global Security website: http://www.global security.org/military/ops/iraq_orbat_coalition.htm; also  Perspectives on World History and Current Events, "Coalition of the Willing," http://pwhce.org/willing.html [2] Newsweek, Oct. 8, 2001.
[3] Eric Margolis, "Coalition of the Coerced"; http://iraqwar.mirror-world.ru/tiki-read_article.php?articleld=20863.
[4] Quotes from White House, Operation Iraqi Freedom: http://www.whitehousse.gov/news/releases/2003/03/print/20030326-7.html
[5] Thomas Wagner, "Memos Show British Fretting over Iraq War," Associated Press, June 18, 2005; reproduced in Truthout, June 19, 2005: http://www.truthout.org/docs_2005061905Z.Shtml
[6] BBC News: http://newsvote.bbc.co.uk/mpapps/pagetools/print/news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/3054991
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Operation Iraqi Freedom: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/03/print/20030326-7.html
[10] John Daniszeski, "New Memos Detail Early Plans for Invading Iraq," Los Angeles Times, June 15, 2005.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Quoted in John Newhouse, Imperial America: the Bush Assault on the World Order (New York: Alfred Knopf, 2003), p. 147.
[13] Michael Smith, "British Bombing Raids were Illegal, Says Foreign Office" Peace UK.Net, June 19, 2005: http://peaceuk.co.uk.mdl-net.co-ul/archive/modules.php?name=News&fike=print&sid=1487
[14] "UK Military Practices Linked to Iraqi Civilian Casualties," Human Rights Watch: http://www.hrw.org/press/2003/12/uk-iraq-press.htm
[15] Ibid.
[16] Amnesty International, Iraq: Killings of Civilians in Basra and a'Amara (London: Amnesty International, 2004): http://web.amnesty.org/library/print/ENGMDE140072004
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Tony Paterson, "Simulated Sex and a Forklift Hanging," Independent, January 19, 2005.
[20] Liz Smith, "Further Details Released of British Army Abuses in Iraq": http://www.wsws.org/articles/2005/jun2005/iraq-j03_prn.shtml
[21] Quoted in ibid.
[22] Amnesty International, ibid.
[23] Ibid.
[24] Quoted in Nile Gardiner, "the British Iraq Troop Redeployment: Why it is Necessary," Heritage Foundation, Oct. 26, 2004: http://www.heritage.org/Research/Europe/wm595.cfm

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