Kurds write Iraq’s last chapter
As the Shia-Sunni standoff escalates in Iraq, the country’s Kurds are celebrating their divorce from Iraq, writes Salah Nasrawi

When former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein sent his troops to invade neighbouring Kuwait on 2 August 1990, many Iraqis feared that their eccentric leader had plunged into a new adventure that would put their country in danger. However, for the country’s autonomy seeking Kurds, the onslaught was a heaven-sent gift as it opened a window of opportunity for their long-awaited independence from Iraq.

The first reaction from Jalal Talabani, an exiled Kurdish leader at the time who returned to Iraq following the US-led invasion in 2003, was that the Iraqi dictator was riding the back of the tiger, meaning that he had got himself into trouble that would be difficult to get out of without lasting damage to the country.
Hoshyar Zebari, then an exiled Kurdish spokesman and later Iraq’s post-Saddam foreign minister, recalled in an interview that the invasion of Kuwait was the moment when the Iraqi Kurds felt that the time for their liberation had finally come.
From that time on, Iraqi Kurdish leaders, who had always said they would “partner with the devil” for the sake of Kurdistan as they waged a relentless guerrilla war against successive Iraqi governments, learned a new lesson: how to achieve their historic ambitions by taking advantage of the Iraqi leaders’ gruesome strategic blunders and the regional and international reactions these have provoked.
Only six months later and after Iraq’s defeat in the Gulf War, much of the Kurdish leaders’ opportunistic enthusiasm bore fruit when the Kurds succeeded in setting up their first autonomous government after US and British forces had created a “safe haven” in northern Iraq to protect them against Saddam.
Without Saddam’s folly in playing hard ball with world powers and threatening their interests, the Iraqi Kurds could never have enjoyed such good fortune. 
In 2003, the Kurds again had a rendezvous with luck when the US-led invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam made them realise that their dream of seceding from Iraq was now inching forward.
The post-Saddam Iraqi constitution recognised the Kurdish northern enclave as the federal Kurdistan Region that enjoyed full autonomy. Soon afterwards, ths Kurds moved to turn the autonomous region into a semi-independent entity with its own flag, president, prime minister and parliament. They also created their own army, security forces, and intelligence services, and operated their own airports and border points.
Since the US-led invasion, the Kurdish leaders have done everything they can to fulfill their ambitions. Kurdistan president Masoud Barzani has warned that the Kurds will seek independence if the new relationship with Baghdad does not stand the test of time.  Behind the scenes, he has been working hard to make the date of Kurdish independence grow nearer.
In February this year, the Kurdish media quoted an advisor to Barzani as saying that the Kurdish leader was preparing to declare Kurdistan an independent state “in the near future.”
The Kurds have had to wait 11 years for Saddam’s successors as the rulers of Iraq to make terrible miscalculations that they can exploit to push their independence scheme further.
The country’s Shia and Sunni leaders have made enormous mistakes in their struggle for power and wealth, and earlier this month as Sunni rebels overran government security forces and took control of several cities, the Iraqi Kurds finally acted on their plans and seized the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and a large chunk of territory bordering their enclave, vowing that they would never give it back to Iraq.  
It has long been assumed that the failure of the Shia and Sunnis to resolve their disputes would push Iraq into “soft-partitioning” as the only means of avoiding a fully-fledged civil war and the growing threat of a regional flare-up.
But the swift Kurdish use of the standoff and the move to expand their control over huge swaths of land has raised eyebrows, making it seem that the Kurds have been ahead of the curve and may have gone too far in exploiting Iraq’s chaos.
According to the Kurdish narrative, Iraqi soldiers abandoned their posts in Kirkuk and other areas after the Sunni group the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants advanced, allowing Kurdish Peshmergas quickly to fill the security vacuum. The Kurds claimed that Kirkuk and its nearby oilfields needed protection from ISIL, which had just captured several predominantly Sunni cities and was sweeping toward Baghdad.
The international media, however, has reported that the Peshmergas tricked the Iraqi army troops in these areas, claiming to offer them help only to overrun their camps and expel them towards Baghdad. The Peshmergas later seized Iraqi army bases and confiscated their weapons and equipment in scenes reminiscent of Kurdish pillaging of Iraqi army camps and other government installations following the fall of Saddam in 2003.
Moreover, some Iraqis have accused the Kurds of being behind the recent fall of cities into the hands of Sunni rebels allied with ISIL. The country’s Shia media and politicians have been pointing the finger at the Kurdish leaders for what they claim has been their complicity in a regional conspiracy to topple the Shia-led government and divide Iraq.
They point to the anti-government Sunni leaders of armed groups who were given sanctuary in Kurdistan where they have been directing their political and propaganda campaign against the Baghdad government.
Whatever the truth may be, by exploiting Iraq’s turmoil the Kurds have created further facts on the ground in order to establish their long-desired independent state. One of Kurdistan’s major steps toward independence was beginning to sell its oil unilaterally last month. As a result, Kurdistan is currently exporting 125,000 barrels of oil a day, a figure that is expected to more than triple to 400,000 barrels by year’s end. This lucrative sale, which would make Kurdistan financially independent from Iraq, was widely seen as a last straw in relations between Iraq’s Arab majority and the minority Kurds.
The Kurds have lived for centuries in the generally mountainous areas of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Armenia and Syria. They believe themselves to be the descendants of ancient tribes belonging to the Iranian branch of the large family of Indo-European races. The Kurds trace themselves back to the Medes who founded a kingdom that captured Nineveh, the capital of the ancient Assyrian empire, in 612 BCE, before being conquered in turn in 550 BCE by Cyrus the Great who established the Iranian dynasty of the Achaemenids.
But while the Kurds remain an ethnicity with a distinct culture and language, the term Kurdistan, which literally means the land of the Kurds, remains controversial. Historians agree that human settlements in the area go back to the era of the Akkadians who ruled Mesopotamia, or ancient Iraq. The area remained strongly unitary in nature during the rule of the ancient Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian and Islamic kingdoms and throughout the period of the Ottoman Empire, which also kept the country in one piece.
In recent history, the Iraqi Kurds have fought successive Iraqi governments since the birth of modern Iraq in 1920 and after they lost an opportunity to have an independent state following the break-up of the Ottoman Empire. Under Saddam, though the Kurds enjoyed minimum cultural rights they suffered oppression and military crackdowns, including chemical weapons attacks.
Since their seizure of vast areas following the recent crisis, Kurdish leaders have repeatedly vowed that their control over the new territory is irreversible. While no one would doubt that Kurdistan is now on an irrevocable track towards independence, the question remains of how much this will affect Iraq and the rest of the region.
It is doubtful that the Iraqi Shia and Sunnis will accept the new border with Kurdistan if it is defined unilaterally by the Kurds. Both Arab communities have resisted attempts by the Kurds to annex Kirkuk and other cities, which they consider to be Iraqi regardless of their populations’ ethnicities. Supreme Shia leader Ayatollah Ali Sistani has even decreed that the future of Kirkuk and the territories should not be “subject to negotiation.”
A further question is whether Kurdistan can be a truly sovereign state, or by splitting from Iraq the Kurds are only changing an old subordination to domination or influence by another powerful nation. Neighbouring Iran, which has a large independence-seeking Kurdish minority of its own, is expected to be wary of the Iraqi Kurds’ ambitions and will try to torpedo efforts to set up a feasible Kurdish state which it will see as a potential ally for Turkey and the United States.
Turkey is already embroiled in Iraq’s disputes and is also believed to be entertaining geostrategic ambitions in Iraq. Turkey had stakes in Iraq, and during the British occupation in the 1920s Ankara laid claims to the city of Mosul as a former Ottoman vellyat, or province, seeing it as including all the present-day Kurdish region. 
Ever since the US-led invasion, Ankara has been a key regional actor in Iraq, apparently trying to counterbalance Shia Iran’s enormous power in its southern neighbour. Relations between Ankara and Baghdad have been strained since Iraqi Shia prime minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government tried to arrest Sunni vice-president Tariq al-Hashimi in 2012, forcing him to flee to Turkey.
Ankara helped convince Iraqi Sunni leaders including al-Hashimi to join al-Maliki’s government that ended nine months of political deadlock after inconclusive national elections in March 2010. Ties further deteriorated as a result of Iraqi Kurdistan starting to export its oil through Turkish Mediterranean ports in May this year, with Turkey being the key collaborator in facilitating Kurdish oil sales.
Many Iraqis believe that Turkey had a role in the seizure of Mosul by Sunni rebels. There are also signs that Ankara supports moves by Kurdistan to seize Iraqi towns even though some of them are densely populated by Turkomen, an ethnic minority group of Turkish origin that for centuries has braved Arab and Kurdish attempts at domination.
Last week Kurdish news outlet Rudaw quoted Huseyin Celik, a spokesman for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), as saying that the Iraqi Kurds “have the right to decide the future of their land.” 
Attention has also focused on Ankara’s foreign policy in Iraq after reports circulated by pro-AKP Turkish media reported in 2012 that Iraq could be partitioned into two “sections”, with Sunni Arabs and Kurds being put in one and Shia Arabs in another.
The reports suggested that the Sunni Arab-Kurdish section could be under Turkish influence, while the Shia section could be placed under the influence of Iran. The revelations coincided with remarks made by Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who called for a dialogue with Iran “to avert sectarian conflicts” in the region.
At first glance, the Kurds’ achievement in taking the territory disputed with the Arabs by exploiting the chaos in Iraq could be a cause for national celebration, but the prospects for a viable, defendable and unitary Kurdish state remain uncertain.
In addition to challenges by powerful neighbours, the Kurds face huge domestic problems. They are sharply split on political, tribal, and linguistic lines, and they will be faced with daunting decisions concerning their future in a tumultuous region.
These decisions should be guided by a risk-benefit analysis of statehood. In a new Middle East, where nations are shaped by internal upheavals and regional and international politics, the risk-to-benefit ratio of Kurdish statehood in Iraq can only grow.
This story was first published in Ahram Weekly.  

Iraq dismembered
The fall of the Sunni triangle to rebels in Iraq has raised fears of the remapping of the country, writes Salah Nasrawi

“This is a regional problem, and it is going to be a long-term problem,” said US President Barack Obama in his concluding remarks to a policy statement made last week on the crisis in Iraq. He vowed that the United States would not be “dragged back” into military action in Iraq. 

While much has been reported about the sudden collapse of the Iraqi forces and the stunning fall of key cities and communities across Iraq to Sunni rebels, fewer headlines have been written to put the dynamics of the geopolitical earthquake unleashed by the new developments in the perspective of Iraq’s overall catastrophe and its larger implications for the Middle East and the Arab Gulf region. 

Iraq is being torn apart, and by calling it a “regional problem” Obama is trying to distance himself, his administration and the United States from the ravages of the civil war that is underway and the tragic partitioning of Iraq, which is fast becoming a reality. 

To understand how all this came about, it is necessary to go back to the US-led invasion of the country in 2003 and the toppling of the Sunni-dominated regime of former President Saddam Hussein. 

Obama and his predecessor, George W Bush, bear special responsibility for the disaster befalling Iraq by invading the country, destroying the state apparatus and social fabric, and exiting it nine years later without securing it or leaving an effective and credible government in place. 

The list of the US mistakes in Iraq during the occupation is long and shameful, the most despicable of which was giving free reign to sectarianism by effectively creating a governing system based on confessional politics that did not help Iraq to hold together as a unitary state. 

When Obama decided to pull out US troops from Iraq, he left security in the hands of an incompetent Iraqi military that was unprepared to deal with domestic and foreign threats. 

The blame for this fiasco also lies with Iraqi leaders who are lacking a collective vision to unite the Iraqi people. They are ineffective, power-greedy and driven by sectarian politics. The new political class installed by the Americans has resorted to violence to either maximise their gains or to stop the other side from doing so. 

Shia Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, in particular, takes special blame for behaving like a dictator, excluding other groups from power, and using the army, police forces and militias to terrorise his political rivals. His insistence on having a third term in office despite strong opposition by his opponents, including Shias, has further polarised Iraq’s already fragile political system. 

The humiliating collapse of Iraq’s security forces and the fall of a string of cities into the hands of Sunni radicals spearheaded by fighters of the terrorist group the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has marked a stark failure for Al-Maliki’s government forces, largely due to his leadership style based on sectarianism, nepotism and corruption. 

Nearly 100,000 government soldiers in four army divisions could not withstand a few hundred badly trained and ill-equipped rebels. Other units lost control of vast territories, including the oil-rich province of Kirkuk to Kurdish forces, who annexed them to the now de facto Kurdistan state in northern Iraq. 

One reason for the humiliating defeat is the army itself. Despite spending billions of dollars on Iraq’s security apparatus, the army and the security forces have displayed weakness and incompetence. The army’s rank and file is inefficient and badly trained. Soldiers lack morale, equipment, weapons and intelligence. Their commanders, mostly political appointees or people who have bought their posts sometimes with hundreds of thousands of dollars, are corrupt and fraudulent. 

Another major factor behind the crisis that has climaxed in the new round of the civil war has been the high expectations of Iraq’s three major communities, Shia, Sunnis and Kurds, who have failed to take the right path and make the necessary compromises to resolve post-invasion problems and challenges. 

The conflict has revealed what many Iraqis have been hiding for years behind the empty slogan of “a democratic and federal Iraq,” while maintaining a maximalist, uncompromising and secessionist agenda. 

Shia leaders have failed to reach out to Sunnis or to integrate them into a new decentralised political system that would create a true participatory democracy. This has eventually led to the alienation of the Sunni community and its loss to radicals. 

The list of Shia mistakes paints a bleak picture of how they have failed to build a functioning state, making Iraq into an even more miserable place. 

Many Sunni leaders have been wrong too, especially for boycotting or not participating fully in the post-Saddam political process and resorting to attempts to overthrow the new Shia-led regime. 

The Sunni areas’ submission to radicals and alliance with ISIL, which is hell-bent on killing Shias and aims to create an Islamic state, has fanned communal discord. The seizure of major cities, triggering a fully-fledged civil war, may turn to be their biggest strategic blunder. 

Gruesome pictures of bloodthirsty ISIL terrorists butchering hundreds of Shia soldiers during the current stand-off will do more harm to the Sunnis than standing up against Al-Maliki’s policies of exclusion and discrimination.

As recent events began to unfold, the Kurds showed political opportunism and exploited the tumult to seize control of vast areas of Iraq, including the strategic northern oil city of Kirkuk and other towns, some of them only 100 kilometres away from Baghdad. 

Agencies have reported how Kurdish forces, known as Peshmerga, have deceived Iraqi army troops in these areas, claiming to offer help only to overrun their camps and expel them to Baghdad. 

They later plundered their bases and made off with everything from weapons to air-conditioning units, armoured vehicles and mattresses, in scenes reminiscent of Peshmerga forces and Kurdish parties pillaging Iraqi army camps and other government installations following the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. 

With Kurdish oil already being sold independently from Baghdad, the seizure of Kirkuk and other parts of Iraq by Kurdish leaders may be part of a calculation that Kurdish independence will come out of the collapse of Iraq.

But as a result of their strategic weakness, being landlocked and squeezed between two giant neighbours of Iran and Turkey, the Iraqi Kurds may end up paying a higher price for their secessionist adventure. 

This writer has warned for years that Iraq has been moving steadily towards disintegration. The way the United States ran the invasion and occupation was indicative of its intention to drive Iraqis into a corner where partition was their only option. That hour has now come, and the long-feared nightmare of the dismemberment of Iraq has now materialised. 

Meanwhile, as the Iraqis are now plunged into a bloody and probably prolonged civil war, their country is falling apart and new national borders are being drawn in the Middle East. 

Videos posted on the Internet this week showed ISIL fighters removing frontier posts with neighbouring Syria and tearing up passports after their invasion of Mosul. The new Middle East border lines are being redrawn by terrorist groups, which are bent on carving out an Islamic caliphate or state across the region and maybe beyond. 

Worse still, as the new Sunni uprising in Iraq has shown, there is an alliance being carved out between Sunni radicals and Baathist pan-Arabists, which if it stands the test of time will serve as a force of example for the rest of the Arab countries and put into action the merging of Arab nationalism with religious extremism. 

This is how the break-up of Iraq will wake the genie from the bottle and unleash a geostrategic volcano that will remap the region and redefine its nation states. 

It is for this reason that Obama was wrong when he characterised the Iraq crisis as merely a “regional problem,” because what will rise from the ashes of the volcano will erupt across the whole Middle East and probably beyond. 

Massive flare-up in Iraq

Iraq’s Sunnis are moving towards a new phase in the anti-government insurgency, writes Salah Nasrawi
As efforts to form a new Iraqi government stumble, Sunni rebels in the country have expanded their campaign in several Sunni-dominated provinces in what seems to be an integrated guerrilla offensive to topple Baghdad’s Shia-led government.
Sunni armed groups battled government troops in Iraq’s Sunni triangle this week and launched a series of deadly bombings across Iraq. The rebels temporarily seized control over parts of the two key Sunni-populated cities of Samarra and Mosul. While they were dislodged from Samarra by the army and security forces using helicopter gunships and heavy artillery, fighting continued in many parts of Mosul throughout the week.
Insurgents also struck Baghdad this week with a series of daily bombings, including areas of busy commercial districts and some government offices and flouting the tight security around Baghdad’s Green Zone which hosts main government offices and diplomatic missions.
The escalation came as the standoff in the restive Anbar province between the Iraqi security forces and insurgents entered its sixth month and the authorities failed to follow through with their announced “anti-terrorist” operation to expel the rebels from the town of Fallujah.
The flare-up is a massive setback to Shia Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief of the Iraqi Armed Forces Nuri Al-Maliki, who is also embroiled in a government crisis after April’s elections that gave him a large number of seats in the country’s parliament but not enough to form a government.
The success of the Sunni rebels in wreaking havoc on the government’s security system on such a large scale is a psychological victory that could mean more problems for Al-Maliki who is facing criticisms because of the security forces’ continuing inefficiency in handling the insurgents. Many Iraqis have called for a national salvation authority to replace his government following the new upsurge.
On Tuesday, insurgents seized most of the northern city of Mosul, including the governor’s offices, police headquarters and other key government buildings. The city fell to the rebels after five days of fighting with the security forces who reportedly abandoned their posts en mass leaving rebels to overrun key installations in the sprawling city.
Dozens of civilians were also killed or injured, and thousands fled to safer parts of the city or to neighbouring districts. Clashes, bomb explosions and airstrikes continued for days as Iraqi security forces tried to expel the insurgents from the city. Thousands of prisoners, many of them convicted terrorists who were sentenced to death were freed from Mosul’s prison.
Before their assault on Mosul, insurgents controlled temporarily controlled Samarra, a Sunni-dominated city 95 kilometres from Baghdad before they were expelled by security forces and Shia tribes. The gunmen, travelling in dozens of vehicles and carrying heavy weapons, seized police stations, the municipality offices and university building.
The rebels were close to control a major dam on the Tigris and could have cut water supplies to Baghdad and southern Shia provinces or divert the stream to flood swaths of land in central and southern Iraq.
Also, the rebels came within a striking distance of one of the key Shia shrines in Samarra whose bombing by Al-Qaeda in 2006 triggered the worst bout of sectarian violence in which thousands died.
On Friday, the security forces thwarted an attempt by militants to seize the headquarters of the counter-terrorism police in the centre of Baquba, the capital of the Diyalah province. Several people were killed in the clashes.
A day before, insurgents launched an offensive on Samarra, a Sunni-dominated city 95 kilometres from Baghdad, attacking police checkpoints before they took control of several neighbourhoods. The gunmen, travelling in dozens of vehicles and carrying heavy weapons, seized police stations, municipal offices and university buildings.
The rebels were close to controlling a major dam on the Tigris River and could have cut off water supplies to Baghdad and the southern Shia provinces or diverted the River to flood swaths of land in central and southern Iraq.
The rebels also came within striking distance of one of the key Shia shrines in Samarra whose bombing by Al-Qaeda in 2006 triggered the worst bout of sectarian violence in the city in which thousands died.
On Saturday, rebels stormed Anbar University, briefly taking dozens of students hostage before withdrawing from the campus after heavy gunfights with the army.
Bombings also hit Kurdish party offices in Jalawla and Tuz this week, killing or injuring hundreds and damaging houses and cars in the attacks. Both Jalawla and Tuz are in disputed areas and the bombings carry a significant message to Kurds wanting to annex the cities to their autonomous region in the north of the country.
Elsewhere, rebels blew up several strategic bridges, apparently trying to block reinforcements sent by Baghdad in an attempt to repel the attackers. A curfew has been imposed on most of these cities to give army and police the chance to tackle the rebel’s seizure of various neighbourhoods.
The brazen attacks came as violence continues to surge in Iraq, with the rebels taking advantage of a lingering political crisis in the country. Nearly 1,000 people were killed in bombings across Iraq in May, while hundreds of others were killed in the fighting in Fallujah, making it the bloodiest month in the country so far this year.
The crisis in the Anbar province, triggered by last year’s government crackdown on Sunni anti-government protesters, has increased the polarisation in the country and given violent Sunni extremists the leverage to expand the rebellion.
The government has blamed the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group for the latest offensive. While ISIS has admitted responsibility for the coordinated series of bombings, the new fronts in the insurgency seem to be the work of several radical Sunni groups working together to demoralise the security forces and destroy the government’s authority.
A closer look at the operations indicates that their military aim on the tactical level is to wear out the government forces and force them to scale back their offensive on Fallujah and other flash-points.
The political objective of the June offensive, however, seems to be more complicated. It aims to foment rebellion among the Sunni population at large and prevent the Sunni politicians who won seats in the newly elected parliament from cutting deals with the government at the expense of the community’s interests and goals.   
It is not clear whether the insurgents will be able to achieve their objectives, but the latest rash of violence will certainly drive Iraq deeper into the sectarian abyss and further complicate the country’s national crisis.
One of the most feared consequences of the flare-up is that Al-Maliki may be able to use the standoff to whip up the Shias against the Sunnis in order to garner more support among his community in his drive to win another term in office.
Rival Shia political blocs, Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani and key Sunni political leaders have reiterated their strong opposition to his bid for a third term in office.
In a speech last week, Al-Maliki said rebels in Samarra were planning to attack the Shia holy shrine in order to provoke sectarian sedition. He thanked Shia tribes from nearby towns for coming to the support of the security forces in the counter-offensive in Samarra. Earlier, he had called the campaign to take back Fallujah from the Sunni rebels a “jihad,” or holy war.
Though Baghdad forces managed to hold off the large-scale Sunni assault, news coverage of the atrocities carried out by the security forces and the arbitrary shelling of residential areas during the counter-offensive have shocked the larger Sunni public, eroding  support for their political and tribal leaders who have showed willingness to cooperate with Al-Maliki.
Before the latest escalation, Al-Maliki was reportedly receiving support from many newly elected Sunni members of parliament whom he hoped would join a broad political coalition he has been building to form a new government.
The Iraqi media have reported that Al-Maliki has paid up to $US1 million to each aspiring member and made other gifts to secure their backing.
In another political blunder, Al-Maliki has called for a “national dialogue” meeting to be held next week in a bid to find a peaceful solution to the Anbar crisis. He has promised to spend US$1 billion on reconstruction and compensation efforts in Anbar and promised an amnesty to “those who have committed violations.”
The offer was immediately rejected by tribal and political leaders in Anbar and Fallujah, who insisted that the government army should be withdrawn from the province and the local police force be restructured. 
Al-Maliki’s attempts to buy the loyalty of the Sunnis or to divide the community seem to have little chance of ending his troubles. As the unprecedented assaults in major urban centres have shown, he will not be able to achieve a lasting victory without a negotiated end to the deep-rooted causes behind the insurgency.
Al-Maliki’s bid was largely seen as a manoeuvre to buy loyalty among Sunnis and to try to divide the community.
In a desperate bid to mobilise support Al-Maliki on Tuesday called on the outgoing parliament to impose emergency measures nationwide and urged tribes to join the armed forces to fight what called “terrorists.”
He also called for Arab and international help to fight “terrorism.”
What the unprecedented assaults on major urban centres have shown is that Al-Maliki can achieve no easy and lasting victory over the arduous Sunni insurgency. It remains to be seen if Al-Maliki is finally ready to step down and let a national salvation government takes over as many Iraqis have demanded or he will stay to watch the rest of Iraq burning.

The Iraq Inquiry fiasco

Blocking full disclosure of information submitted to the UK Chilcot Inquiry will close a window onto the war crimes caused by the US-led invasion of Iraq, writes Salah Nasrawi

A deal announced last week to block essential documents in a British inquiry into the invasion of Iraq in 2003 has come as a great disappointment to Iraqis who had hoped that the inquiry would unveil some of the truth about the war.
Many Iraqis had also expected that the Iraq Inquiry, called the Chilcot Inquiry, would provide enough evidence about the disinformation and lies used by the then British prime minister Tony Blair and US president George W Bush to launch the war for this to be used to take the US and British governments before an international tribunal.
The Iraq Inquiry was commissioned by Blair’s successor as prime minister, Gordon Brown, in 2009 to “identify lessons that can be learned from the Iraq conflict.” One key issue was for the inquiry to settle whether Blair had assured Bush of British support in the war even though he knew that information about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction was either false or misleading.
The controversy goes back to Blair’s backing for Bush in the conflict and its aftermath. Blair, who was called “Bush’s poodle” by the British tabloid newspapers, stated in September 2002 that it had been established “beyond doubt” that Iraq was producing weapons of mass destruction.
Although both Blair and Bush claimed the war on Iraq was necessary to protect the world from former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, none of these weapons has ever been found. It is now well established that the invasion had less to do with self-defence than with dominating the oil-rich nation and playing havoc with the Middle East.
The inquiry was initiated in response to criticisms of the British role in the war in which 179 British soldiers were killed and 6,000 wounded. British commentators have billed the Iraq conflict as the worst error in British foreign policy since the disastrous failure of the Suez War on Egypt in 1956.
The decision to withhold details of correspondence, however, has raised concerns that the Chilcot Inquiry has capitulated to the demands of the British and the US governments and confirmed suspicions of a whitewash that will undermine the credibility of the long-anticipated final report.
While the failure to publish the entire correspondence will anger families of the British victims and many in Britain who want to know if they were misled by their prime minister and his administration, many Iraqis will feel they have been denied an opportunity to expose the heinous crimes that have been perpetrated against their country with the knowledge and encouragement of some in the international community.
The disclosure of the roles and responsibilities of those who orchestrated and executed the war could have opened a window of opportunity for Iraqi victims of abuses committed during the war and subsequent occupation to take such crimes to courts in European countries that extend their jurisdiction beyond their territorial limits.
Nine years of US occupation have left Iraq in ruins and resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and mass human rights violations. Many international legal experts have argued that abuses by US troops in Iraq and military contractors have been systematic and widespread enough to be taken to the International Criminal Court.
Following the US troop withdrawal in 2011, Iraq has remained a fragile state deeply riven by civil strife. Acts of abuse perpetrated by the Iraqi security forces, rebels and sectarian militias as part of the political conflict are also widely considered to be worthy of prosecution by an international war crimes tribunal.
However, most of the Iraqi victims of the war and occupation have been forgotten, and the post-invasion Iraqi authorities have failed to unearth most of the crimes of the past and bring their perpetrators to justice. The failure to find closure to this issue has triggered a debate on whether the war-wracked nation will now be able to restore peace without meeting demands for justice from the victims and their families.
Some rulings have brought hope for the Iraqi victims of abuses. In July 2011, the European Court of Human Rights issued a landmark judgement in the universal application of human rights in a case involving the killings of Iraqi civilians by UK soldiers. The court held that Britain had violated the European Convention on Human Rights in its failure to adequately investigate its soldiers’ abuses in Iraq during the occupation.
Moreover, the British Court of Appeal has agreed to start hearing demands for a public inquiry about grave allegations of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment by British soldiers and interrogators in Iraq. The ruling is important, as the British government will be obliged to accept that human rights law applies to its acts anywhere in the world and that its soldiers are duty-bound to protect civilians.
Also in 2011, a judge in Spain announced plans to question Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki and three Iraqi military officers in a probe into the deaths of 34 people at an Iranian exile camp in Iraq. Spain launched an independent probe into the 2009 deaths of the Iranian exiles under the universal justice doctrine which it says allows it to prosecute grave crimes committed in other countries.
Under the Spanish ruling, Al-Maliki will be “automatically summoned” to appear before the court when his term as prime minister ends and his judicial immunity expires. The ruling by the Spanish court is supremely important, and its significance lies in making it clear that Spanish national human rights obligations do not end at the country’s borders.
As expected, the United States, which is not a party to the International Criminal Court or to the Geneva Conventions that provide protection to the civilians under occupation or during military operations, has routinely claimed immunity for its soldiers and sometimes for foreign security guards working in Iraq as well.
Only a few low-ranking American soldiers have faced trials for various crimes in Iraq, and the US judiciary has repeatedly refused to back attempts to have the courts open investigations into potential American war crimes in the country.
In 2011, the US Supreme Court ruled that a group of former detainees at the infamous Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq would not be able to sue military contractors who had participated in torture and other illegal acts of abuse at the US-run detention facility in 2003 and 2004.
The case of 250 former Abu Ghraib detainees raised the issue of whether private contractors hired by the US military to perform services in a conflict zone may be held accountable for participating in acts of torture and other war crimes.
Evidence from the Chilcot Inquiry had suggested that Blair and his entourage had deceived the British cabinet and public opinion on Iraq by producing “sexed-up” intelligence information to justify the war on Iraq.
However, by now withholding essential information, there is increasing doubt that the Chilcot Inquiry will be able to provide an account of the events that led to the war and identify lessons to guide future British foreign policy decision-making, as is required by its mandate. 
It goes without saying that such an outcome will not satisfy the Iraqi families that lost members to this conflict and the thousands of Iraqis who were subjected to vicious mass crimes during the US occupation and its aftermath. The invasion triggered so much horrific and untold calamities, and allowed the atrocities to grow to such a scale, that they have since plagued Iraq with apparently unstoppable abuses.
Even after the occupation ended, the Iraqi authorities failed to resolve a number of high-profile killings and bring the perpetrators to justice, raising fears that impunity is becoming the norm in Iraq. The Iraqi parliament and successive governments have demonstrated their insensitivity towards considering bringing justice to the victims of Saddam’s era and to those of the US-led invasion and sectarian bloodshed that followed.
There has been much talk over the last few years about how the Iraqi people need justice. But in order to have justice, they need first to establish the full account of the truth of the war in order to fight events in court. In this context, the UK Chilcot Inquiry seems to be just another pointless endeavour that is not expected to help those who seek either truth or justice.