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Chilcot Inquiry Accused of Fixating on West and Ignoring Real Victims
Iraq Body Count group claims attention paid to Iraqi casualties has been derisory
The Chilcot inquiry has "fixated" on decision-making in Whitehall and Washington, obsessed over the ''war at home" and given "derisory" attention to the plight of the main victims, the Iraq Body Count (IBC) claims today.
Releasing correspondence with Sir John Chilcot, the IBC, which is widely considered as the most reliable database of Iraqi civilian deaths, says a proper "Iraq War Inquest" may be the only way to fill the gap his inquiry has left.
The inquiry closed its public hearings last month after seeing 140 witnesses but none dealt specifically with civilian casualties, which the IBC calculates as between 97,000 and 106,000.
Other groups have produced much higher estimates but the IBC, a UK-based organisation set up by volunteers to track deaths in Iraq, prides itself on working carefully with data drawn from cross-checked media reports, hospital, morgue, NGOs and official figures.
The five-person Chilcot inquiry team plans to visit Iraq briefly in the next few weeks but the IBC says this appears to be "an afterthought". Looking at the inquiry's focus so far, "one would almost think that the Iraq war largely took place in Britain", it says.
"There are certainly a few instances of 'home-grown terrorism' on British soil which may well be inextricably linked to events in Iraq. But in the main, this war's largest and most irrevocable effects are on Iraqis, not on British (or American) citizens."
In a letter to Chilcot a year ago, which it publishes today, the UK-based IBC welcomed the inquiry and its broad terms of reference, unlike those of earlier ones.
It quoted a group of 52 retired British diplomats who attacked Tony Blair's decision to take the UK to war and described the coalition forces' failure to track Iraqi deaths a a disgrace.
Urging Chilcot to fill the gap, the letter said: "It is impossible to establish the wisdom of actions taken … if the full consequences in human welfare are not taken into account. Casualty data are perhaps the most glaring indication of the full costs of war". It is signed by Hamit Dardagan and John Sloboda, IBC's main researchers.
Three months later Chilcot replied, saying: "The inquiry team were already aware of the work of the Iraq Body Count … The information you have collated will be very useful to help us in this task." Today's IBC statement says that the attention paid by the inquiry to Iraqi casualties, whether killed or injured, civilian or combatant, has been derisory.
The IBC was not invited to give evidence, although the US special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction used its work in a report to Congress.
It cites the only two cases where the issue came up briefly at the inquiry, once during the six-hour questioning of Tony Blair and again in a brief exchange with armed forces minister Adam Ingram.
Posing a rhetorical question on whether the British government had a duty to count casualties since the invasion, Ingram told the inquiry: "Are you prepared to put units in every one of the hospitals to count the bodies in and the bodies out?" 'No', would have been my answer".
The IBC accuses the inquiry of "sharing this reluctance to inquire too deeply into the human consequences of the war (when these humans happen not to be British officials, bureaucrats and politicians, but ordinary Iraqis)" and says the inquiry is taking its cue from the government that appointed it.
The IBC proposes a full judicial investigation into all casualties in Iraq, whether dead or injured. As a matter of international and domestic law, it says, the UK bears equal responsibility if it aided and assisted any of its allies in causing disproportionate civilian casualties or other breaches of law.
A spokesperson for the inquiry said in a statement last night: "Throughout its work, the inquiry has been acutely aware of the violence in Iraq which has resulted in the deaths and injuries of so many.
"The drivers for that violence and the British response to it has been a theme throughout the inquiry's investigations. From the outset of the Iraq inquiry, Sir John Chilcot has said that the committee hopes to visit Iraq and hear from Iraqis. He repeated this at the close of the last round of public hearings.
"The committee hope that such a visit will be possible as it would give the inquiry an opportunity to hear and see at first hand the situation in Iraq and the continuing impact of the violence.
"The insights and understanding gained would inform the inquiry's report, which it aims to publish around the turn of the year."