The papal nuncio who served in Iraq at the time of the U.S. invasion 20 years ago told Vatican News that Christians in Iraq were worse off after Saddam Hussein was removed from power.
Cardinal Fernando Filoni was appointed by Pope John Paul II in 2001 as the Vatican’s ambassador to Iraq and Jordan. He told Vatican News that when war broke out on March 20, 2003, he remained at his post at the papal nunciature in Baghdad.
“I remember this period as one of the most tough periods of my life,” Filoni said. “This was the moment in which not only myself but also the bishops, the priests, the faithful, and the people in Iraq, we had the perception of our incapacity to give a different perspective than that of war.”
In the weeks before the U.S. invasion Pope John Paul II had pressed for peace. Addressing the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See on Jan. 13, 2003, the pope said: “No to war! War is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity.” He announced a day of prayer and fasting for peace in the Middle East to take place on March 5, 2003.
The 2003 invasion of Iraq by the US-led Coalition of the Willing was a model exercise of maligning the very international system of rules Washington, London and Canberra speak of when condemning their latest assortment of international villains. It recalled those sombre words of the International Military Tribunal, delivered at the Nuremberg war crimes trials in 1946: “War is essentially an evil thing. Its consequences are not confined to the belligerent states alone but affect the whole world. To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”
The invasion of Iraq defied the UN Security Council as the sole arbiter on whether the use of force would be necessary to combat a genuine threat to international peace and security. It breached the UN Charter. It encouraged instances of horrendous mendacity (those stubbornly spectral weapons of mass destruction) and the inflation of threats supposedly posed by the regime of Saddam Hussein.
This included the unforgettable British contribution about Saddam’s alleged ability to launch chemical and biological weapons in 45 minutes. As Blair declared to MPs in September 2002: “It [the intelligence service] concludes that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons, that Saddam has continued to produce them, that he has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes.”
Putin, not one to suffer amnesia on this point, also noted this fact in his speech made announcing Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Iraq, he noted, had been invaded “without any legal grounds.” Lies, he said, were witnessed “at the highest state level and voiced from the high UN rostrum. As a result, we see a tremendous loss of human life, damage, destruction, and a colossal upsurge of terrorism.”
In the immediate aftermath of the invasion, the infrastructure of the country was ruined, its army and public service disbanded, leaving rich pools of disaffected recruits for the insurgency that followed. The country, torn between Shia, Sunni and Kurd and governed by an occupation force of colossal ineptitude, suffered an effective collapse, leaving a vacuum exploited by jihadis and, in time, Islamic State.
The transcript of the drone operators’ remarks is brief and blunt, but it captures with grim clarity the moment they realised their deadly mistake.
“Two children” someone called out in the control room, as hundreds of miles away in Mosul, under a warm late autumn sun, the missile they had fired detonated beside a woman and her young family.
Enam Younis, 31 at the time, was thrown to the ground by the blast and has never walked again. Her older daughter, Taiba, six, inquisitive and desperate to start school, was killed instantly. Zahra, just three, was hurled over a fence. She survived but was peppered with shrapnel that tore into her stomach and is still lodged deep in her skull. Doctors have said that if it moves, it could cause devastating brain injury.
There was a third child, Ali, a toddler too young to walk, who was shielded from the drone cameras – and the worst of the blast – by his mother’s arms, but who still lost part of a foot and hand.
Younis was taken out of Mosul for treatment and even six years later, her memories are too painful for her to return to the city she called home. “It is still impossible for me to think about going to Mosul now,” she said weeping. “I didn’t even visit my daughter’s grave. I can’t do it.”
ritain’s planes and drones operated over Mosul throughout the two-year battle to reclaim it from Islamic State (IS), which began in 2016. The Ministry of Defence has detailed how many militants were killed by Paveway bombs and Brimstone and Hellfire missiles it used.
The UK military claim to have fought a “perfect” war in Iraq, one in which British weapons did not harm a single civilian, even as missiles from their allies in the US-led coalition killed and maimed hundreds.
An investigation into this implausible claim, by the Guardian and Airwars, the not-for-profit watchdog that investigates harm to civilians in conflict zones, led reporters to Younis’s current home, in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, as well as to the site where her daughter had been killed.
Britain says one Hellfire missile killed three militants in Mosul on 29 November 2016. Official data released by the US, the coalition and its allies, and eyewitness interviews on the ground, show that strike also probably killed Taiba and badly injured her family.
The coalition concluded the civilian casualty report was “credible”, but would not say which country had launched the missile. The alliance was structured to make investigations – and responsibility – for civilian deaths collective.
Washington has acknowledged that coalition weapons killed 455 civilians in Mosul, although Airwars estimates the real toll to be almost three times higher.
Julian remains imprisoned and remains persecuted by US President Joe Biden who, as vice president, once called him "a high tech terrorist." Julian's 'crime' was revealing the realities of Iraq -- Chelsea Manning was a whistle-blower who leaked the information to Julian. WIKILEAKS then published the Iraq War Logs. And many outlets used the publication to publish reports of their own. For example, THE GUARDIAN published many articles based on The Iraq War Logs. Jonathan Steele, David Leigh and Nick Davies offered, on October 22, 2012:
A grim picture of the US and Britain's legacy in Iraq has been revealed in a massive leak of American military documents that detail torture, summary executions and war crimes.
Almost 400,000 secret US army field reports have been passed to the Guardian and a number of other international media organisations via the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.
The electronic archive is believed to emanate from the same dissident US army intelligence analyst who earlier this year is alleged to have leaked a smaller tranche of 90,000 logs chronicling bloody encounters and civilian killings in the Afghan war.
The new logs detail how:
• US authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers whose conduct appears to be systematic and normally unpunished.
• A US helicopter gunship involved in a notorious Baghdad incident had previously killed Iraqi insurgents after they tried to surrender.
• More than 15,000 civilians died in previously unknown incidents. US and UK officials have insisted that no official record of civilian casualties exists but the logs record 66,081 non-combatant deaths out of a total of 109,000 fatalities.
The numerous reports of detainee abuse, often supported by medical evidence, describe prisoners shackled, blindfolded and hung by wrists or ankles, and subjected to whipping, punching, kicking or electric shocks. Six reports end with a detainee's apparent deat
The Biden administration has been saying all the right things lately about respecting a free and vigorous press, after four years of relentless media-bashing and legal assaults under Donald Trump.
The attorney general, Merrick Garland, has even put in place expanded protections for journalists this fall, saying that “a free and independent press is vital to the functioning of our democracy”.
But the biggest test of Biden’s commitment remains imprisoned in a jail cell in London, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been held since 2019 while facing prosecution in the United States under the Espionage Act, a century-old statute that has never been used before for publishing classified information.
Whether the US justice department continues to pursue the Trump-era charges against the notorious leaker, whose group put out secret information on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, American diplomacy and internal Democratic politics before the 2016 election, will go a long way toward determining whether the current administration intends to make good on its pledges to protect the press.
Now Biden is facing a re-energized push, both inside the United States and overseas, to drop Assange’s protracted prosecution.
Julian remains persecuted. Julian told the uncomfortable truth.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue our coverage of the 20th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq by looking at the imprisonment of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who’s been jailed for exposing U.S. war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond. Julian has spent nearly four years locked up in the U.K.'s notorious Belmarsh prison, often called “Britain's Guantánamo.” He’s been held there as the U.S. government seeks his extradition to face espionage and other charges. If extradited and convicted in the U.S., Julian faces 175 years in a maximum-security prison.
In 2010, WikiLeaks gained international attention after publishing a trove of classified documents leaked by former U.S. Army soldier Chelsea Manning. Included were numerous accounts of war crimes in Iraq. One video released by WikiLeaks showed a U.S. helicopter gunship in Baghdad slaughtering a dozen civilians, including two Reuters staff — Reuters journalist, the up-and-coming photographer, videographer, 22-year-old Namir Noor-Eldeen, and his driver, Saeed Chmagh, father of four. WikiLeaks titled the video “Collateral Murder.” This is an excerpt.
U.S. SOLDIER 1: Let me know when you’ve got them.
U.S. SOLDIER 2: Let’s shoot. Light ’em all up.
U.S. SOLDIER 3: Come on, fire!
U.S. SOLDIER 2: Keep shootin’. Keep shootin’. Keep shootin’. Keep shootin’.
U.S. SOLDIER 4: Hotel, Bushmaster two-six, Bushmaster two-six, we need to move, time now!
U.S. SOLDIER 2: All right, we just engaged all eight individuals.
AMY GOODMAN: Julian Assange appeared on Democracy Now! in April 2010, a day after WikiLeaks published the “Collateral Murder” video.
JULIAN ASSANGE: When we first got it, we were told that it was important and that it showed the killing of journalists, but we didn’t have any other context, and we spent quite some months, after breaking the decryption, looking closely into this. And the more we looked, the more disturbing it became. This is a sequence which has a lot of detail and, I think, in some ways, covers most of the bad aspects of the aerial war in Iraq and what we must be able to infer is going on in Afghanistan. …
These are not bad apples. This is standard practice. You can hear it from the tones of the voices of the pilots that this is in fact another day at the office. These pilots have evidently and gunners have evidently become so corrupted, morally corrupted, by the war that they are looking for excuses to kill.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Julian Assange sitting in a Washington, D.C., studio right after he released the, what they call, “Collateral Murder” video. I later interviewed Julian in 2014 about WikiLeaks releasing the Iraq War Logs. At the time, he was living inside the Ecuadorian Embassy, where he had sought political asylum. We sat together there.
JULIAN ASSANGE: With the Iraq War Logs, which were published in October 2010, which in some ways has been one of our best analytical works, we worked together with not just other media organizations, but a number of statistical organizations to work out what the kill count was for Iraq, and combining with other figures, and we ended up with more than 100,000 civilian casualties — in fact, 15,000 new, completely undocumented civilian kills — and documenting U.S. involvement and approval of Iraqi torture centers within the police and many killings of civilians at checkpoints and some political issues and so on. And that produced a number of inquiries and has fed into cases that have been taken by Iraqis, and that has now ended up with an ICC filing, International Criminal Court filing, against the British military.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that was one of several interviews I did with Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London when we traveled to interview him there. That was in 2014.
Well, in a moment, we’ll be joined by Julian’s father, John Shipton, and his brother, Gabriel Shipton. They’re here in the U.S. for the opening of a new documentary about John Shipton’s struggle to free his son. It’s titled Ithaka. This is the film’s trailer.