Archive for the 'Iraq' Category

The Benign Iron Lady

Tony Blair is often compared to Lady Thatcher for similarities on various policy matters, including (topically) Atlanticism. However, John Kampferner, writing in the New Statesman ['Blood on his hands'], makes an interesting contrast of the death tolls resulting from their wars.

Here’s a rather blunt extract:

A record of conflict: the death toll from wars Britain has fought under three prime ministers:

Tony Blair
71,617 deaths
9 years in power

John Major
22,316 deaths
7 years in power

Margaret Thatcher
1,013 deaths
11 years in power

There’s a breakdown of the various wars to which these figures have been attributed in the article itself.

I’m not sure how accurate or representative these figures are. For instance, I don’t know if the figures for Iraqi causalities in the Gulf War are all of the Iraqi casualties or just those who are the direct result of British participation (though just you would determine such a proportion would make for an interesting essay).

The figures also do not include ‘proxy wars’ where we may have been funding/supporting one side or another, either openly or in a clandestine manner. I suspect more of that will have gone on during the Cold War era (even the Thatcher period) than today.

Nevertheless, it is still telling that whilst Lady Thatcher led Britain to wars that resulted barely 90 deaths per year, Tony Blair has managed almost 8000 per year. Blair’s lethality is a staggering 90 times greater than that of the Iron Lady – and unlike Blair she did, at least, make us feel safer!

Why would anyone want a secret “honour”?

Craig Murray cites a story in the Observer about UK honours having been granted, in secret, to senior US military commanders and businessmen involved in the military campaign and follow-up reconstruction work in Iraq. Liberal Democrat MP, Norman Baker, apparently brought the matter to light after a series of parliamentary questions.

There has been some commentary raised in the media about the appropriateness of these awards whilst Iraq shows further signs of descending into civil war. There is a further issue with the businessmen awarded honours, particularly, Riley Bechtel, boss of Bechtel Corporation whose closeness to George W Bush’s administration, and multi-million dollar reconstruction contracts in Iraq remain controversial

Nevertheless, the big issue is, of course, the secrecy. Obviously, given the controversial nature of the individuals concerned, it does look bad and makes a mockery of the government’s claims of openness and transparency. Yet, what I find extraordinary is Margaret Beckett’s comment that “Honorary awards to citizens where Her Majesty the Queen is not head of state are not formally announced.” So according to the Foreign Office it is normal practice to make awards a secret.

I can’t understand this. Why would anyone want an “honour” that is secret? Surely the whole point of an honour is that you are honoured, i.e. publicly recognized for the contribution that you have made. What on earth is the benefit of getting a gong if it’s kept private?

Having written so far and about to rant about the value of secret “honours” I realize that the Foreign Office statement is complete rubbish. I remember a few years ago Terry Wogan’s name was published on the Queen’s Birthday or New Years’ Honours lists (I forget which). Either way, his honorary CBE was definitely published in that list (being a citizen of Eire, where HM is not head of state). I remember that because he made particularly reference to the ‘honorary-ness’ of his CBE (as well as his Irish-ness) during the obligatory 10-second interview clip on the BBC evening news that day. Come to think of it, I have, on occasion, looked through the names of honours recipients published in newspapers and ‘honorary’ awardees have been named. So this is all rubbish – which makes it stink even more.

Al-Zarqawi – Fugitive-at-large or bogus bogeyman?

Those of you keep abreast of current affairs will have heard of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Apparently the “head of Al-Qaeda in Iraq” he has made headlines recently due to a tape recording in which he is purported to have called for “all-out-war” on Iraq’s majority shia Muslim population. (Relevant reports on Al Jazeera, the Scotsman and Jihad Unspun.)

Back at Imperial College, one of my MEng course mates (who we shall call ‘P’) used to work for the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD). He had spent a gap year there as well as several placements. He was never at liberty to discuss much about where exactly, or on what, he worked because of the Official Secrets Act but it was clear that he was not doing ‘ordinary’ MoD work. I know plenty of (ex-)IC people who worked for the MoD and various military-esque government agencies (especially spooks – IC’s electrical engineering department is literally crawling with ‘Cheltenham’ kids…) ‘P’ was clearly different. He claimed to have worked in parts of the MoD that were “more sensitive than MI5 and MI6″. The section had no named designation as such and had something to do with smart weapons technology… Thankfully he now works, slightly more productively, in the City.

But I digress, I started talking about ‘P’ because he always had interesting views on the world due to his MoD insight. Sometimes he could support the ‘official’ view with conviction. At other times he could lend unique credence to what one might otherwise consider a ‘conspiracy theory’. One such comment he once made was that he thought “Bin Laden [does] exist, but … the Americans have him in custody”. He believed that the US government were using the image of Osama Bin Laden as a convenient vehicle to carry public opinion in support of a radical neo-con agenda. I was never quite sure I could accept this theory (I thought it impossible that the US could hold Bin Laden without the secret leaking out) but could understand the logic behind it. Bin Laden does allow the US to present the public with the image of an enemy threat that they can rally against.

P’s theory regarding Bin Laden is interesting the in the context of new reports that al-Zarqawi died at the start of the US-led invasion of Iraq in early 2003. This is not the first time there have been rumours regarding al-Zarqawi’s fate. However, if it were true, then it would raise difficult questions about who is perpetuating his image, who is producing these recorded messages and what the intended effect is. Certainly, the Iraq seems to be slipping into civil war – but who does that benefit? Unlike the image of Bin Laden, I’m not sure, that civil war in Iraq is in America’s interest. It undermines regional stability (which is currently in the US’s favour) as well as oil supplies (and revenues). It is also not good for the Bush administration’s repuation at a time when it has reached its lowest ever approvals ratings.

On the other hand, I’m not sure who else benefits from civil war. The resistance movement surely needs Iraqi unity, not disunity, to usurp the American-imposed provisional government. Perhaps the question we ought to be asking is “who thinks they benefit from an Iraqi civil war”? Though that becomes equally different to answer. Warped Iraq sectarians, foreign Al-Qaeda’ influences or neo-con hawks in Washington who want to destabilise the region in the run-up to an invasion of Syria and/or Iran? I’m not sure I can buy any of those but when dealing with twisted mindsets (of whatever affiliation) who knows.

[Aside: - I didn't intend, when I started writing this blog to quote a report Jihad Unspun. (It's just one of the top handful of results that came up in a Google search with the string al-Zarqawi "all-out-war" shia). The site has been the subject of speculation that it is actually a covert CIA operation. Which is further food for thought when considering the above.]