Iraq War: Report Calls on UN to End "Complicity of Silence"

UNITED NATIONS - The U.S. Coalition is the principal cause of Iraq's current woes, charges a report released Wednesday by the Global Policy Forum (GPF), a New York-based watchdog group.

Since the March 2003 invasion, the U.S.-British occupation of Iraq has "utterly failed to bring peace, prosperity and democracy, as originally advertised," says the report, entitled "War and Occupation in Iraq".

"The United Nations and the international community must end the complicity of silence and they must vigorously address the Iraq crisis," it says.

Produced by GPF and 29 international non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the report was released to coincide with U.N. Security Council consultations on the Iraq problem. The 117-page report assesses conditions in the country, especially the responsibility of the U.S.-led Coalition, for violations of international law and concludes with recommendations for action, including a speedy withdrawal of Coalition forces.

It covers areas such as destruction of cultural heritage, unlawful detention, killing and torture of civilians, displacement, corruption and fraud, attacks on cities and long-term military bases.

"This is ongoing, is not under control, and is something the Coalition is saying it is doing under mandate of the U.N. Security Council," James Paul, GPF's executive director, told reporters Wednesday.

"It's time for a new approach," Paul stressed. "The Security Council has done virtually nothing on this subject; [it] has to take its head out of the sand."

GPF has shared the report with all the members of the Council.

"Many members took interest in the report," Celine Nahory, GPF's Security Council programme coordinator, told IPS.

Several delegations have complained that data on Iraq must be compiled from numerous sources to get a clear picture of the situation on the ground, Nahory explained, and the report condenses much of that information in one place.

Asked if GPF had received any feedback from Security Council members, Nahory said that several former ambassadors had spoken privately about the difficulty of raising the issue of Iraq in the Council.

"One ambassador was told quite bluntly that the U.S. has the lead on this issue," Nahory said.

U.S. President George W. Bush delivered his "mission accomplished" speech on May 2, 2003, yet the conflict has continued for more than four years.

Thousands of innocent people are now dead and wounded, millions are displaced, several of Iraq's cities lie in ruins, and enormous resources have been squandered, according to the report.

The increasing bloodshed and sectarian division among Iraqis is abhorrent, the report emphasises, but whatever responsibility Iraqis themselves bear for the present impasse within the country, the primary responsibility lies with the U.S. and its Coalition, whose military occupation gave rise to these groups and whose policies have failed to protect the Iraqi people.

The U.S. and its allies ignored the warnings of NGOs and scholars concerning the protection of Iraq's cultural heritage, including museums, libraries, archaeological sites and other repositories, and as a result arsonists badly burned the National Library and looters pillaged the National Museum, according to the report's chapter on destruction of cultural heritage.

The chapter on detention details the U.S. Coalition and its Iraqi government partners' practice of holding large numbers of Iraqi citizens in "security detention" without charge or trial, in direct violation of international law.

"More than 40,000 Iraqis are being held," Paul stressed.

Detainees lack fundamental rights and they are kept in deplorable physical conditions, many for long periods, according to the GPF report, which tallies with recent reports published by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Torture and secret interrogations increasingly take place in Iraqi prisons, apparently with U.S. awareness and complicity, according to the report.

It also addresses U.S. Coalition forces' attacks on Iraqi cities on the grounds that they were "insurgent strongholds". Besides the well-publicised case of Falluja, there have been assaults on a dozen other cities, including al-Qaim, Tal Afar, Samarra, Haditha, and Ramadi. The attacks include intensive air and ground bombardment and cutting off electricity, water, food and medicines, according to the report.

The attacks have left hundreds of thousands of people homeless and in displacement camps, according to U.N. figures.

A 2006 Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study conducted together with the Al Mustansiriya University in Baghdad estimates that there have been 654,965 "excess" deaths in Iraq since 2003. Deaths from all causes -- violent and non-violent -- are far greater than the estimated 143,000 deaths per year that occurred from all causes prior to the March 2003 invasion.

"If these numbers are projected forward, there have now been close to one million Iraqi deaths as a result of the general environment," Paul said.

"Four million Iraqis are displaced, 50,000 leave their homes every month and more than half the population lives on less than one dollar a day, yet the Security Council has never addressed the humanitarian crisis in Iraq," Nahory said, stressing that the "numbers in Iraq are more than double those in [Darfur] Sudan."

The report also recounts how under the control or influence of U.S. authorities, public funds in Iraq have been drained by massive corruption and stolen oil, leaving the country unable to provide basic services and incapable of rebuilding.

Billions of dollars have disappeared, the report stresses.

To avoid accountability, the U.S. and Britain undercut the U.N.-mandated International Advisory and Monitoring Board (IAMB), according to GPF.

"The IAMB hasn't discovered a single instance of fraud or malfeasance," Paul said, emphasising that the Security Council "hasn't taken a single step to strengthen the IAMB."

Iraq has suffered from stolen cash, padded contracts, cronyism, bribes and kickbacks, waste and incompetence, as well as shoddy and inadequate contract performance, the report alleges. Major contractors, mostly politically-connected U.S. firms, have made billions in profits.

An analysis of contracts was conducted by Iraq Revenue Watch, a project of the New York-based Open Society Institute (OSI), in recognition that lack of proper stewardship over oil resources has resulted in corruption, the continued impoverishment of populations, and abuses of political power

The OSI study shows that 74 percent of the total contracts worth 1.5 billion dollars -- paid with Iraqi funds -- were awarded to U.S. firms.

British and U.S. companies received 85 percent of the value of all such contracts. Iraqi firms, by contrast, received just 2 percent of the value of contracts. Sixty percent of the value of all contracts paid with Iraqi funds went to Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR). These contracts were not put out for bid.

The responsibility of the U.S. Coalition is especially grave because the U.N. Security Council gave it a mandate, according to GPF.

Though the Council had refused to authorise the war, just a few months later it mandated the Coalition as a "multinational force."

Council members at the time hoped that the U.N. would assume a "vital role" in Iraq, leading the way back to peace and international legality. But this did not happen.

GPF urges the Security Council to assume its responsibilities and examine alternatives for the future.

"The Security Council could reconsider the mandate right away," Nahory noted.

The U.S. Mission to the U.N. did not respond to an IPS request for comment on the findings and recommendations of the GPF report.

Copyright (c) 2007 IPS-Inter Press Service.

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