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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 7    Issue 22   01-15 April 2013

Ten Years after the Iraq Invasion
A Legacy of Deception and Devastation

Ten Years After

Ten years after it began, the Iraq war still haunts the United States in the nearly 4,500 troops who died there; the more than 30,000 American wounded who have come home; the more than $2 trillion spent on combat operations and reconstruction, which inflated the deficit; and in the lessons learned about the limits of American leadership and power.

It haunts Iraq too, where the total number of casualties is believed to have surpassed 100,000 but has never been officially determined; and where one strongman was traded for another, albeit under a more pluralistic system with a democratic veneer. The country is increasingly influenced by Iran and buffeted by the regional turmoil caused by the Arab Spring.

In 2003, President George W. Bush and Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, used the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, to wage pre-emptive war against Saddam Hussein and a nuclear arsenal that did not exist. They promised a “free and peaceful Iraq” that would be a model of democracy and stability in the Arab world. While no one laments Saddam’s passing and violence is down from peak war levels, the country is fragile, with grave tensions between Sunnis and Shiites and Arabs and Kurds that could yet erupt into civil war or tear the state apart.

A State Department travel warning last month described Iraq as dangerous, with numerous insurgents, including Al Qaeda in Iraq, still active, and said Americans were “at risk for kidnapping and terrorist violence.” On Tuesday, a wave of car bombings and other attacks in Baghdad killed more than 50 people and wounded nearly 200.

Yet none of the Bush administration’s war architects have been called to account for their mistakes, and even now, many are invited to speak on policy issues as if they were not responsible for one of the worst strategic blunders in American foreign policy. In a video posted recently by the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Mr. Wolfowitz said he still believed the war was the right thing to do. Will he and his partners ever have the humility to admit that it was wrong to prosecute this war?

President Obama opposed the Iraq war from the start and has been single-minded about ending it, withdrawing the last combat troops in 2011. American influence in Iraq has greatly declined since then and Mr. Obama’s attention, like that of most Americans, has shifted to other priorities. Iraqis are responsible for their own future. But the country is a front line in the conflict between moderate Islam and Al Qaeda, not to mention its role as an oil producer. It requires more sustained American involvement than we have recently seen.

Iraq is a reminder of the need for political leaders to ask the right questions before allowing military action and to listen honestly rather than acting on ideological or political impulses. Mr. Bush led the war, but Democrats as well as Republicans in Congress endorsed it. Iraq also shows the limits of America’s influence in regions where sectarian enmity remains strong and where democracy has no real history.

That experience is informing American policy judgments more generally. It has affected decisions about Syria, where President Obama has been right to move cautiously. For a long time the Syrian opposition was divided, and it was hard to know which group, if any, deserved help. It also made sense not to rush into another costly war in another Arab country that could fuel new anti-American animosities and embroil the United States for another decade.

But with the Syrian conflict in its third year, the fighting has already spilled over the borders, destabilizing its neighbors, even as Al Qaeda-affiliated rebels play a bigger role. The reasons for opposing direct American involvement in Syria remain strong, but the United States needs to calibrate its policies continually and should not allow the Iraq experience to paralyze its response to different circumstances.

The lessons of Iraq, however, seem to fade when it comes to Iran. Many of the conservatives who strongly supported the charge into Iraq are fanning calls for United States military action to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. President Obama has also been threatening “all options” if negotiations to curb Iran’s ambitions are not successful, and many lawmakers seem ready to take action against Iran soon.

The Iraq war was unnecessary, costly and damaging on every level. It was based on faulty intelligence manipulated for ideological reasons. The terrible human and economic costs over the past 10 years show why that must never happen again.

(Source” The New York Times, March 19, 2013)

The Iraq war’s most damaging legacy

By David Rohde

American households will be blanketed this week by a torrent of coverage, commentary and regret about the 10th anniversary of the Iraq war. Liberals claim that Twitter – if it had existed – could have stopped the invasion. Conservatives argue that the links between Saddam Hussein and terrorism have, in fact, been underplayed.

The glaring lesson of the war is that American ground invasions destabilize the Middle East, instead of stabilizing it. The 100,000 Iraqis who perished, the 4,500 American soldiers killed and the $1 trillion spent should have halted what Tufts University professor Daniel W. Drezner has called the “creeping militarization of American foreign policy.” Instead, the civilian American institutions that failed us before Iraq have grown even weaker.

The State Department is the first example. Drezner correctly argues that as the Pentagon’s budget has ballooned in the post-9/11 decade, so has its influence over American foreign policy. Too many former generals, he contends, have occupied foreign policy important positions.

That trend has slowed in the second Obama administration, but the budget, planning capabilities and training programs of the State Department are still laughably small compared with those of the U.S. military. Money equals power, influence and a seat at the table in Washington. As one former national security reporter put it to me, weak civilian institutions leads to fewer potential civilian responses to crises.

In his first major speech as secretary of state, John Kerry tried to put the size of the American civilian effort in perspective. He cited a recent poll that found most Americans believe the State Department and U.S. foreign aid programs consume 25 percent of federal spending. In fact, they receive 1 percent. (The military gets roughly 20 percent.)

Kerry’s speech got virtually no press coverage. Just as it did a decade ago, the news media – a second vital American civilian institution – is failing us. This week the media is being correctly excoriated for its failure to be more skeptical of the Bush administration’s central justification for the Iraq war: weapons of mass destruction that turned out not to exist.

In the months before the invasion, the New York Times published a series of exaggerated WMD stories by reporter Judith Miller on its front page. At the same time, editors at the Times and other mainstream outlets largely ignored intrepid reports by Knight-Ridder newspapers that questioned the administration’s WMD claims.

Ten years later, Miller is a Fox News contributor, and the Knight-Ridder chain no longer exists. A harrowing report released by the Pew Research Center on Monday found that the full-time professional editorial staff at newspapers has declined by 24 percent since 1989. A separate analysis found that the ratio of public-relations workers to reporters grew from 1.2 to 1 in 1980 to 3.6 to 1 in 2008.

The rise of social media and citizen journalism arguably fill the void created by dwindling newspaper resources. Eric Boehlert of Media Matters argued this week that Twitter could have forced mainstream reporters to do a better job before the Iraq invasion. He cited recent cases of mainstream newspapers columnists being forced to respond to a torrent of criticism on Twitter about pieces they wrote.

Jonathan Landay, one of the Knight-Ridder reporters whose pre-invasion work questioning the WMD evidence received little attention, said social media might have made a difference. But he hesitated to say Twitter would have silenced the White House.

“Had the New York Times, Washington Post and the networks done the kind of reporting that we had, could the administration have been able to take the country to war? I don’t know,” Landay said in an email message. “But social media would have brought far more attention to our work, and perhaps more journalists would have followed our lead.”

Looking back, Landay, a former colleague and longtime friend who now reports for McClatchy, blamed the news media and American intelligence agencies. “The mainstream news media was as egregious in its failure to do its job,” he said, “as the U.S. intelligence community was in its failure to produce accurate intelligence on Iraq’s non-existent WMD.”

Today, fears of “another Iraq” dominate America’s foreign policy debate. The choice is binary. The United States can respond to a foreign policy threat by carrying out a risky ground invasion. Or it can do nothing at all. Diplomatic, economic and other non-military attempts to influence events overseas are given short shrift. Any American involvement will make the situation worse, the argument goes, and create another quagmire.

The United States, of course, should not launch another ground invasion in the Middle East. But that does not mean it should not interact in the region at all. The Arab Spring showed that people in the Middle East, in fact, desire democracy. Young Arabs, in particular, want self-determination, jobs and modernity. Washington has an interest in helping them but no inclination – and few non-military tools — to do so.

A decade after Iraq, the State Department remains the Pentagon’s Mini Me. The news media is one-third the size of the public-relations industry. And we continue to view military force as our principal means of addressing foreign policy challenges. In post-Iraq America, our foreign policy debate has devolved into an “invade or not invade” dichotomy. Far more options are available. Every country is not Iraq.

(Source: Reuters, March 19, 2013)

Iraq war was a mistake from the beginning

One never would have thought, when this country was raining "shock and awe" on Baghdad, that politicians would have little to say about the 10th anniversary of the war, which today seems more in remission than over.

In fact, Agence France-Presse reports that more than 200 people have been killed in Iraq this month as sectarian violence continues. A rash of car bombings, likely linked to last week's anniversary of the invasion, left at least 40 Iraqis dead and dozens wounded. The peace that the war was supposed to bring remains missing in action.

Most Americans no longer care, polls show. They believe this nation paid too high a price - 4,500 soldiers killed, 30,000 wounded, more than $2 trillion in expenditures - to fight a war whose goal kept changing, and that it received little in return, certainly not the Middle East stability that in many respects seems more remote than in 2003.

Some foreign policy analysts point out that while toppling the murderous regime of Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do, the weakening of Iraq has allowed its bitter enemy Iran to pursue its ambition to become a regional power.

That shouldn't have been hard to envision 10 years ago, but U.S. leaders didn't let that possibility change their mind about attacking Iraq. In fact, former Vice President Dick Cheney still insists that the Bush administration made the right decision. "If I had to do it all over again, I'd do it in a minute," he recently told the producers of a documentary being made about him, titled The World According to Dick Cheney.

The war became unpopular, but "it was more important to be successful than it was to be loved," Cheney said. "If you want to be loved, go and be a movie star." He also still insists that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger to make weapons of mass destruction, even though the allegation has been proved false. "The only thing [Niger] had to import was uranium and goats," Cheney said. "Iraq had plenty of goats."

Cheney's former boss had the good sense not to attempt such a vociferous defense of the indefensible. George W. Bush has remained silent about the anniversary. Had he granted an interview, he no doubt would have been asked not only about his wrong assumption on WMD, but also why he shifted the military focus to Iraq even though al-Qaeda was based in Afghanistan. Of course, the terrorists did eventually go to Iraq to take advantage of the instability the war created.

Ten years after the Iraq war began, and 15 months after it was declared over for this country, no one can call it a success. Daily life in Iraq remains a battle. The Sunni minority that dominated during Saddam's reign now struggles under the Shiite government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who not only has ties to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but is also said to be providing aid to embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Does it sound like Maliki is grateful to the United States for its fight to free Iraq from a despot?

Despite what Cheney says, if this country had to do it over again, it certainly should not travel the same course that led to the bombing of Baghdad. If nothing else, the Iraq war should have taught this nation that you don't jump into mortal combat before you know for certain what and whom you're fighting for.

(Source: philly.com, March 26, 2013)

Iraq: Ten Years after the Invasion

Car bombs and suicide attacks have shattered Iraq's capital on the tenth anniversary of the invasion that removed Saddam Hussein.

It is a stark reminder of the fragile state of security in a country still struggling with insurgency, sectarian division, political instability and stuttering along the road to recovery. Recovery from an invasion based on the premise that Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction, which have ever been found. Many Iraqis complain that after 10 years of rebuilding, they still lack basic public services. The United Nations says almost seven million Iraqis, almost a quarter of the population, are living in poverty. Electricity supplies remain unreliable. On average an Iraqi household receives just eight hours of power a day. Four out of every 10 people in Iraq do not have access to clean water. And despite improvements, most Iraqis only have limited primary healthcare. It is estimated that up to half of all doctors have left the country.

Estimates vary widely about the cost of the war. The non-partisan Congressional Research Service puts the financial cost at just over $800bn but other estimates suggest it could rise to anything between $1.7tn and $3tn. A total of $60bn has been spent on reconstruction and development by the US government. But a report by the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction says that $8bn dollars of that was wasted.

"The infrastructure has been totally neglected under the previous regimes and the damage is enormous. There's a need of rebuilding everything and that requires tens of billions of dollars - in total, perhaps about more than 200 billion," says Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister Hussein al-Shahrastani. So was the war a success? Or are Iraq and the countries involved in the conflict still suffering the consequences? Joining presenter Jane Dutton on Inside Story to discuss the reality of life in Iraq and the cost of war are guests: Noof Assi, a blogger and radio host, who was 13 at the time of the US-led invasion; Ghassan al-Attiyah, the founder of the Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy; and Matthew Duss, a foreign policy analyst and director of Middle East Progress at the Centre for American Progress.

"It was a war conceived in Washington as a quick response to the so-called terror threat from Saddam Hussein. But ten years later, the costs of the war are still being felt in Iraq and beyond. Over 100,000 people killed, billions of dollars squandered, and a generation of Iraqis dealing with its legacy. The initial US and British-led invasion ended with tanks entering the centre of Baghdad three weeks later and Saddam Hussein's hold on the country quickly collapsed. But Iraq was far from stable and US President George Bush's now infamous declaration of victory was in contrast to the long and violent insurgency that was to follow, and with no weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq, the main pretext for the war had been discredited.

(Source: Al Jazeera, March 20, 2013)

Iraq war planning wholly irresponsible, say senior UK military figures

Richard Norton-Taylor

Though they direct their fire principally at the Bush administration, they make clear the Blair government must share a lot of the blame. "It was absolutely irresponsible to go in without thinking of the consequences", said Lord Guthrie, former chief of defence staff and head of the army. He added: "War is dangerous, difficult, and dirty, but usually cheaper and shorter and easier than what can happen after the fighting stops."

Donald Rumsfeld, US defence secretary at the time, had a "lot to answer for", Guthrie added, referring to the way Rumsfeld, notorious for his "stuff happens" description of widespread looting in Baghdad, allowed Paul Bremer, the US chief administrator – in effect the US governor of Iraq after the invasion – to ban the Ba'ath party and dismantle the Iraqi army.

They should have got rid of the top people but "clasped the army to their bosom", and say to them: 'Help us rebuild Iraq'", Guthrie told the Guardian. "Why did Bremer squash any sense of the Iraqi people taking any role in their own destiny?" asked Air Chief Marshal Sir Brian Burridge, commander of British forces in Iraq at the time of the invasion. "That defies logic."

General Sir Mike Jackson, head of the army at the time, described Rumsfeld and Bremer as "intellectually bankrupt". With other British defence chiefs, he expected and wanted Iraqi military units, including Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard, to remain in place and help maintain law and order in Iraq after the invasion.

Lord Boyce, then chief of the defence staff, said he has decided to hold his fire until the Chilcot inquiry has reported (possibly by the end of the year). He questioned the legality of the war until he got an eve-of-invasion note from the attorney general's office telling him that Blair's "unequivocal" view was an attack on Iraq would be lawful. Boyce gave a taste of what he thought about Washington's approach in his evidence to Chilcot. "I could not get across to the US the fact that the coalition would not be seen as a liberation force and that flowers would be stuck at the end of rifles and that they would be welcomed and it would all be lovely," he said.

Boyce's relations with Geoff Hoon, the defence secretary, were poor. Tensions between Hoon and all his top military advisers were heightened by Blair's concern not to alert parliament and the public that he was preparing for war. This prevented frustrated and angry defence chiefs from getting UK forces ready for the invasion until very late in the day. Lord Dannatt, Jackson's successor as head of the army who held a senior staff post in the Ministry of Defence during the invasion, told the Guardian: "The real failure was the failure to plan properly for what happened. Whose fault was that? More, I suggest, the Americans' than ours." He added: "Into the power vacuum created, al-Qaida and others moved and sowed the seeds of the disastrous next few years." Bremer made things worse by "totally disbanding the Iraqi army and the Ba'ath party, the two instruments of the Iraqi state that could have exercised some control," said Dannatt.

Guthrie, Burridge, Jackson, and Dannatt, drive home the message. As Burridge put it: "One enormous vacuum developed. If you allow vacuums to develop, experience elsewhere taught us that organised crime takes over. In Iraq, it was sectarianism." Burridge, a former pilot, pointed not so much to the distorted picture presented by the Blair government's discredited Iraqi weapons dossier, but to the failure to gather any useful information, after more than a decade, ever since the first Gulf war in 1990-91, overflying Iraq at will. Burridge told the Guardian: "It was a national disgrace that, having flown over much of the country for 13 years, you could have not done better in building up a proper intelligence picture." Guthrie described the first Gulf war as unfinished business, saying that Saddam Hussein should not have been allowed to get away with what he did afterwards. The picture of Iraq 10 years ago painted by military chiefs at the time is of a dictator who needed to be, and would at some point have been toppled from power. In that sense, they say the question of "regime change" – an unlawful reason to go to war, Blair was told – was not the key issue.

The question posed by the most senior officials, including Lady Manningham-Buller, then head of MI5, as well as defence chiefs at the time, was: why now? Terrorism, not Saddam Hussein, was the big threat to Britain and British interests, they stressed. "While I was privy to more intelligence information than most, I found what I read pretty uncompelling," Dannatt told the Guardian. But, he added: "People had to trust the judgment and integrity of the then prime minister."

What drove Blair? Burridge had little doubt: "Solidarity with the US was deeply embedded in his psyche," he said. Blair appeared anyway to have had an appetite for military intervention, those who saw him most made clear. In his evidence to Chilcot, Lord Wilson, the former cabinet secretary, recalled saying about Blair in March 2002, a year before the invasion: "There is a gleam in his eye that worries me." Wilson joined other Whitehall officials and defence chiefs in saying that the cabinet was kept in the dark until it was too late to object.

(Source: The Guardian, March 17, 2013)

'Iraq is always with you': a veteran's memories of the war

James Jeffrey

All the commentary surrounding the Iraq invasion 10 years on encourages retrospection but I think most veterans, like me, would agree that talk of anniversaries makes scant difference. It doesn't matter whether it's five, nine or 10 years after the event. Iraq is always with you, the sounds from the minarets, desert winds carrying ghosts.

Everyone involved had subjective experiences, some worse, some better but transcending that for most Iraq veterans, I'll hazard, is the mind-numbing sadness at how it all turned out, the unfathomable human and financial cost of the conflict.

That might explain why after resigning my commission in 2010 I deleted all military photos from my Facebook profile, and sold what clothing and equipment I could to an army-surplus store, making sure no related images or emblems remained as I tried to carve out a new life. But all the while I greedily and willingly conjured scenes of my time in Iraq, reliving, even relishing, my experiences.

The invasion on 20 March 2003 held little personal drama for me, for while tanks from two of my regiment's squadrons made a heady dash across the Mesopotamian sands I was in our barracks in Germany, packing paintings in the officers' mess for a forthcoming regimental move back to UK.

As TV news reported the stunning progress by coalition forces and the capitulation of Iraq's military, I was immersed in bubble wrap, sticky tape and endless wooden boxes. To emphasise my removal, surrounding me were images of my 19th-century antecedents charging Sikh infantry squares at the Battle of Aliwal, riding into immortal verse at Balaclava, outflanking the dervishes at Omdurman, and engaged in many other exotic expeditions.

After everyone returned from the invasion, tanned and lean, with tales of high drama, my deployment in April 2004 on Operation TELIC 4 for a six-month tour couldn't come soon enough. A photo of me standing with fellow troop leaders in front of a desert-coloured Russian T55 tank, brought back after the Gulf war, on the day of departure to RAF Brize Norton for our onward flight to Basra, shows us looking cheery and keen for adventure. We weren't to be disappointed by what we found in Iraq.

At that point we weren't part of something that would lead to an estimated 120,000 civilian deaths, and demolish a country, and there weren't as many wailing Iraqi mothers thumping their chests. Friends hadn't been killed in downed helicopters or decapitated by rolling vehicles; the gung-ho ignorance of soldiers hadn't been left unchecked, and the consequences of the military hierarchy's hubris hadn't caught up with it yet.

We were presented with a scene of opportunity: contractors were settling in, apparently useful and minus the greed and inefficiency that would emerge later; the UK's Department for International Development seemed set to play an important, constructive role. And as for the stale rhetoric and grandiose concepts of nation-building and bestowing democracy, I had neither the time nor the inclination to pay attention. I had a troop of tanks to run and, not being the greatest military mind to venture onto the battlefield, was busy enough.

So, unencumbered by what came to pass, I could appreciate, or so I thought, some of the finer points of expeditionary life. I defy anyone to ride in a Challenger 2 tank, looking back over the commander's cupola at 20 armoured vehicles kicking up curtains of sand, speeding across the smooth desert while enveloped in warm winds as the gunner traverses the turret to test fire the coaxially mounted machine gun, and then claim not to have enjoyed themselves.

Even when things went wrong you could come out grinning. On a night patrol I found myself huddled behind a truck making a farcical pirouette as bullets pinged off the metal all around me. Those rounds came from friendly troops engaging the enemy on the far side of the truck. I was terrified and ashamed of getting into that position but managed to extract myself. I returned to base with the rest of the patrol, enjoyed some back slaps all round, and couldn't wait for the next firefight.

"War offers endless exotic experiences, enough 'I couldn't fucking believe its' to last a lifetime," said the American writer William Broyles after serving as an infantry commander in Vietnam. Part of the lure, he pointed out, is the fundamental human passion to witness and see things: "What the Bible calls the lust of the eye and the marines in Vietnam called eye fucking."

There was plenty of that in Iraq: from Chinook helicopters slicing through the heat haze to mortar illumination rounds trickling down the face of the night like fiery teardrops throwing shifting shadows on to the desert floor. Or sitting in a Hercules transport plane as the interior lights turned off, replaced by a lone red hazard light as the pilot executed a steep descent to the runway to avoid enemy fire; tank turrets flickering with flames after rocket-propelled grenade warheads exploded; a market stall dangling off the end of a barrel as a tank motored through the empty streets of Amara. And smoking a shisha beneath the globes of the Kuwait Towers during two days of operational standdown – the eye-popping slide show never ended.

The aural experience could be just as rich: Warrior armoured vehicles letting loose six rounds of 30mm auto-fire, a beautiful sound when you needed it. Closed down in my turret on a night-time operation into Amara, I listened entranced to the voice on the radio of the American operator in a C-130 Spectre gunship aircraft – call-sign Basher-75 – discussing the acquisition of targets on the ground. "Keep your heads low; it's going to get hot down there," he drawled. I'd never heard anyone sound so utterly damn cool.

I don't know exactly where the attraction lay. Perhaps the synthesis of man and machine up above, all-powerful with a bristling array of weaponry trained on insurgents, omniscient with night vision and radar systems, or knowing it had my back and could be called on no matter what, but there was something seductive about such moments.

And yet, at the same time, I know how wrong these experiences were – especially Basher-75 circling malevolently in the night sky; how, while I was bouncing off the inside of my turret with glee, Iraqi children huddled and wept in their beds, scared out of their minds by fire fights raging around their homes and the ominous rumble of armoured vehicle columns; how the market stall dangling off that barrel – which we all had a good laugh over – represented some faceless Iraqi's livelihood.

But that didn't click at the time. You were carried away with the momentum, the zany mix of action, humour flicking from dark to slapstick, the stress, close shaves and adrenaline. It all made for an intoxicating experience and was possibly, sad to say, the best thing I, and I imagine others, had ever done. Ever since it has been like something has gone out of my life forever.

For it wasn't just the unparalleled sensory spectrum, there was a communal satisfaction, tapping into a primordial core, which came from taking part. That blissful sense of community started with the soldiers, wonderfully skilled and maddeningly headstrong, insubordinate at times but ultimately doggedly looking out for each other.

Obviously it wasn't a total love-in. Some soldiers still disliked you, or you resented other officers, but such incidences tended to be exceptions to the norm that was a sense of comradeship the civilian world just can't seem to replicate. In Iraq you had the most tangible relationships you've ever had: people didn't look through you every day. It was the most utopian experience we'll ever know – possessions, backgrounds and ranks counted for very little, the group was everything; forged by what amounted to a love that transcended class, personality and education. But now it's wrenching to meet up with those friends and comrades as each of us know how the special realm that sustained our intense comradeship is gone. We're marooned among the mundane demands and petty recriminations of everyday life.

But no collective amount of such reminiscences is enough to outweigh our immense failure in delivering to the Iraqi people what we promised, compounded by what may be the UK's greatest crime: having little if nothing to do with rebuilding the country it helped dismember. Reports of explosions killing dozens of Iraqis seem unending as the country continues to be cleaved by sectarian strife, while the UK watches on, if that. The British consulate in Basra, scene of my second Iraq tour in 2006, was closed down at the end of 2012. It doesn't appear that making amends for what's happened to Iraq is a priority for our nation.

I'm not, and never have been, a violent person; a halfhearted attempt at a schoolboy fight in which I got thoroughly licked persuaded me never to try that again. I don't actually know if I killed anyone in Iraq despite doing my best to engage targets, or, should I say, people. There was, for example, a man – he might have been a teenager, who knows? – holding an RPG launcher at a building corner in my tank sight whom my gunner engaged after I gave the order. Next there was a small column of dust in my sight; once it dissipated, he'd gone.

Had he collapsed to be hauled away? I hope he got himself safely behind the corner in time. I never want to fire again at another person, not even an animal, and, if I ever have children, I sincerely hope they never want to or have to fight. And yet, at the oddest, most random times, I find my thoughts turning back eagerly to a war I don't believe in and the consequences of which I'm ashamed.

What can I say? I miss it. I miss traversing turrets, Basher-75, those feisty, irrepressible soldiers, lines of green tracer fire arching lazily in the night sky, gas flares burning on the horizon, the operator on the other side of the turret screaming: "Loaded!" and a whole lot more.

A month before leaving the army I stayed at the London flat of an army friend. An electrician called by one morning and asked about a photograph of my friend in uniform, which prompted me to ask about his accent. He was from Kosovo. After telling him I'd been there for two months at the beginning of my military career, he put down his tool box and shook my hand energetically, thanking me. I felt a fraud, Iraq a silent, condemning attendant, and had to turn so he didn't see tears welling in my eyes.

What can I, or any veteran, say to an Iraqi? Whatever desperate words are chosen, they're not likely to result in a handshake, nor should they, which breaks my heart and always will. Damn you, Basher-75; damn all of us for what we did or failed to do in a time and place I'll always long for.

(Source: Guardian, March 18, 2013)

Iraq: The spies who fooled the world

By Peter Taylor

Six months before the invasion, the then Prime Minister Tony Blair warned the country about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction (WMD). "The programme is not shut down," he said. "It is up and running now." Mr Blair used the intelligence on WMD to justify the war. That same day, 24 September 2002, the government published its controversial dossier on the former Iraqi leader's WMD. Designed for public consumption, it had a personal foreword by Mr Blair, who assured readers Saddam Hussein had continued to produce WMD "beyond doubt".

But, while it was never mentioned in the dossier, there was doubt. The original intelligence from MI6 and other agencies, on which the dossier was based, was clearly qualified. The intelligence was, as the Joint Intelligence Committee noted in its original assessments, "sporadic and patchy" and "remains limited". The exclusion of these qualifications gave the dossier a certainty that was never warranted.

Intelligence failure

Much of the key intelligence used by Downing Street and the White House was based on fabrication, wishful thinking and lies. As Gen Sir Mike Jackson, then head of the British Army, says, "what appeared to be gold in terms of intelligence turned out to be fool's gold, because it looked like gold, but it wasn't". There was other intelligence, but it was less alarming. Lord Butler, who after the war, conducted the first government inquiry into WMD intelligence, says Mr Blair and the intelligence community "misled themselves".

Lord Butler and Sir Mike agree Mr Blair did not lie, because they say he genuinely believed Saddam Hussein had WMD. The most notorious spy who fooled the world was the Iraqi defector, Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi. His fabrications and lies were a crucial part of the intelligence used to justify one of the most divisive wars in recent history. And they contributed to one of the biggest intelligence failures in living memory. He became known as Curveball, the codename given to him by US intelligence that turned out to be all too appropriate.

I thought we'd produced probably the best intelligence that anybody produced in the pre-war period.” Mr Janabi arrived as an Iraqi asylum seeker at a German refugee centre in 1999 and said he was a chemical engineer, thus attracting the attention of the German intelligence service, the BND. He told them he had seen mobile biological laboratories mounted on trucks to evade detection. The Germans had doubts about Mr Janabi which they shared with the Americans and the British. MI6 had doubts too, which they expressed in a secret cable to the CIA: "Elements of [his] behaviour strike us as typical of individuals we would normally assess as fabricators [but we are] inclined to believe that a significant part of [Curveball's] reporting is true."

The British decided to stick with Curveball, as did the Americans. He later admitted being a fabricator and liar. There appeared to be corroborative intelligence from another spy who fooled the world. e was an Iraqi former intelligence officer, called Maj Muhammad Harith, who said it had been his idea to develop mobile biological laboratories and claimed he had ordered seven Renault trucks to put them on. He made his way to Jordan and then talked to the Americans. Muhammad Harith apparently made up his story because he wanted a new home. His intelligence was dismissed as fabrication 10 months before the war.

MI6 also thought they had further corroboration of Curveball's story, when a trusted source - codenamed Red River - revealed he had been in touch with a secondary source who said he had seen fermenters on trucks. But he never claimed the fermenters had anything to do with biological agents. After the war, MI6 decided that Red River was unreliable as a source.

Handmade suit

But not all the intelligence was wrong. Information from two highly-placed sources close to Saddam Hussein was correct. Both said Iraq did not have any active WMD. The CIA's source was Iraq's foreign minister, Naji Sabri. Former CIA man Bill Murray - then head of the agency's station in Paris - dealt with him via an intermediary, an Arab journalist, to whom he gave $200,000 (£132,000) in cash as a down payment. He said Naji Sabri "looked like a person of real interest - someone who we really should be talking to". Murray put together a list of questions to put to the minister, with WMD at the top.

The intermediary met Naji Sabri in New York in September 2002 when he was about to address the UN - six months before the start of the war and just a week before the British dossier was published. The intermediary bought the minister a handmade suit which the minister wore at the UN, a sign Mr Murray took to mean that Naji Sabri was on board. Mr Murray says the upshot was intelligence that Saddam Hussein "had some chemical weapons left over from the early 90s, [and] had taken the stocks and given them to various tribes that were loyal to him. [He] had intentions to have weapons of mass destruction - chemical, biological and nuclear - but at that point in time he virtually had nothing".

The CIA insists the intelligence report from the "source" indicated the former Iraqi president did have WMD programmes because, the agency says, it mentioned that, "Iraq was currently producing and stockpiling chemical weapons" and "as a last resort had mobile launchers armed with chemical weapons". Mr Murray disputes this account. The second highly-placed source was Iraq's head of intelligence, Tahir Jalil Habbush Al-Tikriti - the jack of diamonds in America's "most wanted" deck of cards which rated members of Saddam Hussein's government.

A senior MI6 officer met him in Jordan in January 2003 - two months before the war. It was thought Habbush wanted to negotiate a deal that would stop the imminent invasion. He also said Saddam Hussein had no active WMD. Surprisingly, Lord Butler - who says Britons have "every right" to feel misled by their prime minister - only became aware of the information from Habbush after his report was published. "I can't explain that," says Lord Butler.

"This was something which I think our review did miss. But when we asked about it, we were told that it wasn't a very significant fact, because SIS [MI6] discounted it as something designed by Saddam to mislead." Lord Butler says he also knew nothing about the intelligence from Naji Sabri. Ex-CIA man Bill Murray was not happy with the way the intelligence from these two highly-placed sources had been used. "I thought we'd produced probably the best intelligence that anybody produced in the pre-war period, all of which came out - in the long run - to be accurate. The information was discarded and not used."

(Source: BBC News, March 18, 2013)

Tomas Young: Dying veteran takes parting shot at Bush

By Martin Vennard

When President Bush stood on the rubble of Ground Zero just after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and pledged to go after those responsible, Tomas Young, 22, took up the call and joined the US Army. But instead of being deployed to Afghanistan to fight al-Qaeda and its allies, he ended up in Iraq in 2004 following Saddam Hussein's capture by coalition forces. On the fifth day into his deployment, Mr Young's unit came under fire from insurgents in Baghdad. He was hit and his spine was severed. After his return to the US he campaigned from his wheelchair against the conflict and in 2007 was the subject of a documentary, Body of War.

But now his condition has deteriorated to such an extent that he wants to put an end to his suffering. "He felt he's gone as far as his physical shell will take him and he is ready to rest," his wife, Claudia Cuellar, tells BBC World Service, speaking on his behalf because he has difficulty talking and tires easily. "We accepted a certain level of suffering," she says. But last year his pain and discomfort increased dramatically and he grew weary of repeated hospital visits to treat infections and other ailments. "He didn't want to do any more procedures or surgeries," Ms Cuellar says. "I felt like I was losing him emotionally and psychologically. I felt that it was just too hard to get through the course of a single day and we had to have the conversation that people have when..." she said, not finishing her sentence. "I could sense that he was suffering to a level that just wasn't right for us as a couple. I can keep him around for me, but that isn't fair to his journey.

"It's not that he wants to die - he simply doesn't want to suffer any more," Ms Cuellar says. But she adds: "He's the person I love the most in the whole world. I will miss this person." In 2008 Mr Young suffered a pulmonary embolism and an anoxic brain injury due to a reduced oxygen supply that impaired his speech and arm movement. A colostomy operation last year provided only temporary relief. Unable now to eat solid food, he is fed through a tube in his stomach. The skin on his hips is breaking down, exposing raw flesh and bone. "That's probably the toughest one for me, to see that deterioration," she says. Medical marijuana eases his discomfort and gives him peace of mind without the side effects of pharmaceutical drugs, Ms Cuellar says.

Tomas Young's letter

"I joined the Army two days after the 9/11 attacks. I joined the Army because our country had been attacked. I wanted to strike back at those who had killed some 3,000 of my fellow citizens. I did not join the Army to go to Iraq, a country that had no part in the September 2001 attacks and did not pose a threat to its neighbours, much less to the United States... The Iraq War is the largest strategic blunder in US history." Mr Young says he wrote to Mr Bush and Mr Cheney on behalf of the wounded veterans and relatives of those killed and injured in Iraq. "On every level - moral, strategic, military and economic - Iraq was a failure. And it was you, Mr Bush and Mr Cheney, who started this war. It is you who should pay the consequences.

"My day of reckoning is upon me. Yours will come. I hope you will be put on trial. But mostly I hope, for your sakes, that you find the moral courage to face what you have done to me and to many, many others who deserved to live. I hope that before your time on earth ends, as mine is now ending, you will find the strength of character to stand before the American public and the world, and in particular the Iraqi people, and beg for forgiveness." Cuellar says of the letter: "We just want to share the story of our struggle, which is the story of the struggle and suffering of so many, so that we can begin to look at the realities of the consequences of war." Ms Cuellar moved to Kansas City to be with Mr Young after they met while he was in hospital in her hometown, Chicago, in 2008.

She says Mr Young, who is virtually bedridden and in hospice care, cannot legally be helped to commit suicide in Missouri and so will have to starve himself to death. He will continue to take food and liquids until their first wedding anniversary on 20 April. After that they will stop talking publicly about his case and spend time together until they feel the time is right for him to end his life.

(Source: BBC News, March 30, 2013)

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