Chilcot Report ignores secret US/UK Operation Southern Force air war against Iraq

Global Research, July 26, 2016
Antiwar.com 26 July 2016

The Chilcot Inquiry, set up to look into the British role in the war in Iraq, reported on July 6, and although it was overshadowed by the political fallout from the Brexit vote to leave the European Union, received a largely favorable reception from the media and commentators. It is unclear why those commentators judged it to be “hard-hitting” because in terms of its conclusions all it did was tell us what we already knew.

Then British Prime Minister Tony Blair pursued a war that was arguably illegal has had disastrous consequences, not least for the 179 British servicemen and women killed and their loved ones, but also for Iraq, its people and the fight against terrorism.

I was staggered by the rush to say the report was hard hitting. It wasn’t. It simply laid out the facts in a narrative format and let the reader decide. Those facts were of course damning but I struggle to find anything in the report that a well informed reader of British newspapers wouldn’t already know.

It was a very workmanlike narrative of what happened taken from secret documents and witness testimony and therefore providing far more detail than had been previously available but it was not anything like a proper inquiry in the real sense. It was more like a neutral court report than the solid analysis which was required, and what we actually got from the curiously much derided Butler report.

As a result of the Chilcot’s failure to carry out any detailed analysis of the evidence presented to his inquiry, it completely missed the extensive and conclusive evidence of a ten-month illegal air war by Britain and the U.S. designed to provoke Saddam Hussein into giving the allies an excuse to go to war in Iraq.

All modern wars begin with an air war in which the enemy positions on the ground are “softened up” to make them easier to overcome. The Iraq War was no different in many ways. Except there was a difference. George W. Bush and Tony Blair didn’t tell us it was happening.

So why does this matter now?

It matters because the Iraq War didn’t begin on March 20, 2003 as everybody thought, it began ten months earlier on May 20, 2002 when the allies started the secret air war. It was definitely illegal because it started six months before the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1441 which Tony Blair’s government later used to claim the war was legal.

(U.S. readers might also care to note that it started five months before Congress passed the so-called Iraq Resolution which authorized military action against Iraq.)

The secret air war, codenamed Operation Southern Force, was carried out under cover of the UN-authorized operation under which U.S. and RAF aircraft patrolled a so-called no-fly zone over southern Iraq to protect the Shia majority from Saddam’s forces.

Lt.-Gen. Michael Moseley, the U.S. Air Force commander of allied air operations over Iraq, told a conference at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada in July 2003 that during Operation Southern Force allied aircraft dropped more than 600 bombs on “391 carefully selected targets.”

British and U.S. officials claimed at the time that the reason behind the increased air strikes carried out in the southern no-fly zone, was an increase in Iraqi attacks on allied aircraft. But Lt.-Gen. Moseley said the bombing of Iraqi positions in southern Iraq paved the way for the invasion and was the reason the allies were able to begin the ground campaign without first waging an extensive air war as they had done during the 1991 Gulf War.

Planning for the illegal air war began shortly after Tony Blair attended a summit with George Bush at the U.S. President’s ranch in Crawford, Texas on April 6 and 7, 2002. Chilcot confirmed evidence from a Cabinet Office Briefing Paper leaked to me as part of the “Downing Street Memos” back in the spring of 2005 that Mr. Blair agreed at Crawford “to support military action to bring about regime change” in Iraq.

The British Prime Minister didn’t waste any time sorting out what would happen next. Chilcot records that the very next day, April 8, 2002, Geoff Hoon, the U.K. Defense Secretary, called in Chief of Defense Staff Admiral Sir Michael Boyce (now Lord Boyce) and the Permanent Undersecretary at the Ministry of Defense (MoD) Sir Kevin Tebbit to discuss “military options” in Iraq.

Ten days later, Air Marshal Brian Burridge, Deputy Commander of RAF Strike Command, was sent to the U.S. to act as liaison with General Tommy Franks, commander of the U.S. Central Command, who would lead the invasion force. Now Sir Brian, he told the Chilcot Inquiry that he had a meeting with Gen. Franks shortly after arriving at Central Command’s headquarters in Tampa, Florida, discussing the no-fly zones over Iraq “at some length.”

Nine days later, on April 26, Franks flew to London with Burridge for discussions with the U.K. defense chiefs. The Chilcot Report says they talked about the patrols of the no-fly zones with details of the discussions “circulated on very limited distribution.”

A week later, there was a top secret meeting in 10, Downing St. chaired by Blair and attended by Hoon, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Adm. Boyce. The Chilcot Report notes briefly that “Mr. Blair had a meeting on Iraq with Mr. Straw, Mr. Hoon and Adm. Boyce on 2 May but there is no record of the discussion.”

It’s worth pointing out that the Downing Street note which describes that key meeting in such brazenly bare detail was initially provided to the Butler Inquiry which first looked at the intelligence provided to back the war in Iraq in 2004. So the cover-up goes back at least to then and in reality far beyond.

Three days later after that secretive Downing Street meeting, Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. Defense Secretary, flew to London for talks with Mr. Hoon, following which British officials announced changes to the rules of engagement in the no-fly zones making it easier for allied aircraft to attack Iraqi military positions.

Simon Webb, then Mod policy director, told the Chilcot inquiry that the Americans had proposed “changing the nature of the no-fly zone, quite a lot of which we were persuaded about but which a part of we weren’t persuaded about … and stood aside from.”

As one of the Mod’s most senior civil servants, Webb was spouting the sort of doublespeak of which the writers of BBC Television’s Yes, Minister would have been very proud. The key words there are not “stood aside from” but “quite a lot of which we were persuaded about.”

On 20 May 2002, allied aircraft began ramping up the number of attacks on Iraqi positions. Throughout the first few months of 2002, they had dropped barely any bombs on Iraq. But answers to parliamentary questions asked by Liberal Democrat MP Sir Menzies Campbell (now Lord Campbell), reveal that during those last ten days of May alone, U.S. and U.K. aircraft patrolling the southern no-fly zone dropped 7.3 tons of bombs on Iraqi positions.

Far from standing aside, as Webb claimed in his testimony to the Chilcot Inquiry, RAF aircraft dropped more than two thirds of those bombs, a total of 4.9 tons.

Throughout the summer of 2002, both British and U.S. aircraft continued to bomb southern Iraq under cover of the no-fly zone while Blair and Hoon insisted that nothing was happening. The Defense Secretary told a cabinet meeting on 20 June 2002 that “except for continuing patrols in the no-fly zones, no decisions have been taken in relation to military operations in Iraq.”

During defense questions in the House of Commons on Monday 15 July 2002, Hoon told Labour MP Alice Mahon that: “Absolutely no decisions have been taken by the British Government in relation to operations in Iraq or anywhere near Iraq … I can assure the House that any such decision would be properly reported to the House.”

The next day, Blair appeared before the Parliamentary Liaison Committee. Asked if the U.K. was “preparing for possible military action against Iraq,” Blair replied: “No, there are no decisions which have been taken about military action.”

Tony Blair and his Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon were able to claim throughout 2002 that no decision had been taken on military action because the truth of what was taking place in southern Iraq under cover of the UN-authorized no-fly zones was kept on an extremely tight “need to know” basis. Even fairly senior British officials believed the increased air strikes were simply the result of the relaxation of the rules of engagement.

A week later, on Tuesday 23 July 2002, Blair was due to have a meeting with his war cabinet. In preparation for that meeting, the Cabinet Office produced a briefing paper which was one of the Downing St. Memos leaked to me when I was on the Sunday Times. It warned the participants that: “When the Prime Minister discussed Iraq with President Bush at Crawford in April he said that the U.K. would support military action to bring about regime change.”

This represented a problem for British policy-makers, the Cabinet Office briefing paper said.

“We need now to … encourage the U.S. Government to place its military planning within a political framework, partly to forestall the risk that military action is precipitated in an unplanned way by, for example, an incident in the no fly zones,” the briefing paper said. “This is particularly important for the U.K. because it is necessary to create the conditions in which we could legally support military action.”

This is all the evidence we need to show that the air war was illegal. Those conditions in which Britain could legally support military action did not yet exist. They had to be created. So although it was clearly not known to the officials who drafted the briefing paper, RAF aircraft and for that matter RAF servicemen were already involved in military action against Iraq which was not legal under the U.K. interpretation of international law.

The minutes of that war cabinet meeting on July 23 became best known for comments by Sir Richard Dearlove, the then head of MI6, who had just returned from a trip to Washington DC to see his CIA counterpart George Tenet. He told the meeting that the intelligence was being “fixed around the policy” in America.

But Hoon said something even more interesting. U.S. aircraft overflying southern Iraq had begun “spikes of activity to put pressure on the regime.” He did not mention that RAF aircraft were also taking part in the attacks. Presumably some of his colleagues in the war cabinet were unaware of that fact and the lack of an official record for the May 2 meeting suggests that both Blair and Hoon thought it sensible not to have the British participation on record.

The attacks continued through June, July and August with both U.S. and British aircraft carrying out increased bombing but nevertheless failing to provoke the Iraqis into a reaction which might give the allies an excuse for war.

The attacks needed to be ramped up still further.

On September 5 2002, more than 100 allied aircraft, both U.S. and British, attacked an Iraqi air defense facility in western Iraq on September 5, 2002, in what was believed to be a prelude to the infiltration of special forces into Iraq from Jordan. The RAF saw it as such a success that it was reported on the front page of the official publication RAF News.

During September, allied aircraft dropped 54.6 tons of munitions on southern Iraq of which 21.1 tons were dropped by RAF aircraft. In October, they dropped 17.7 tons of which 11.4 tons, roughly two-thirds, were British.

The Iraq Resolution authorizing U.S. military action against Iraq was not passed by Congress until the early hours of October 11, 2002, five months after the start of Operation Southern Force, the secret air war preparing the way for the invasion.

UN Security Council Resolution 1441, which the U.K. Government would later claim made the war legal, was not passed until November 8, 2002, six months after the secret air war began.

It was not until March 17, 2003 that British Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith formally confirmed that military action was legal on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 1441. A day later, the British parliament backed U.K. military action in Iraq.

Two days, later allied troops invaded Iraq. It was and remains widely regarded as the start of the Iraq War. Only a very few people knew that was not the truth. The war had begun ten months earlier on 20 May 2002 when British and American aircraft began bombing the 391 “carefully selected” targets assigned to Operation Southern Force, the illegal joint British and American bombing campaign that Chilcot completely missed.

Intelligence beast reporter Michael Smith broke the story of the secret “Downing Street Memos” in 2005. This article was originally published on Michael Smith’s blog.

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From Pol Pot to ISIS: The blood never dried

In 2013, the former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas revealed that “two years before the Arab spring”, he was told in London that a war on Syria was planned. “I am going to tell you something,” he said in an interview with the French TV channel LPC, “I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business. I met top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria… Britain was organising an invasion of rebels into Syria. They even asked me, although I was no longer Minister for Foreign Affairs, if I would like to participate… This operation goes way back. It was prepared, preconceived and planned.”

Global Research, November 17, 2015
JohnPilger.com 16 November 2015

In transmitting President Richard Nixon’s orders for a “massive” bombing of Cambodia in 1969, Henry Kissinger said, “Anything that flies on everything that moves”. As Barack Obama wages his seventh war against the Muslim world since he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and Francois Hollande promises a “merciless” attack on that ruined country, the orchestrated hysteria and lies make one almost nostalgic for Kissinger’s murderous honesty.

As a witness to the human consequences of aerial savagery – including the beheading of victims, their parts festooning trees and fields – I am not surprised by the disregard of memory and history, yet again. A telling example is the rise to power of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge, who had much in common with today’s Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). They, too, were ruthless medievalists who began as a small sect. They, too, were the product of an American-made apocalypse, this time in Asia.

According to Pol Pot, his movement had consisted of “fewer than 5,000 poorly armed guerrillas uncertain about their strategy, tactics, loyalty and leaders”. Once Nixon’s and Kissinger’s B-52 bombers had gone to work as part of “Operation Menu”, the west’s ultimate demon could not believe his luck. The Americans dropped the equivalent of five Hiroshimas on rural Cambodia during 1969-73. They leveled village after village, returning to bomb the rubble and corpses. The craters left giant necklaces of carnage, still visible from the air. The terror was unimaginable. A former Khmer Rouge official described how the survivors “froze up and they would wander around mute for three or four days.

Terrified and half-crazy, the people were ready to believe what they were told… That was what made it so easy for the Khmer Rouge to win the people over.” A Finnish Government Commission of Inquiry estimated that 600,000 Cambodians died in the ensuing civil war and described the bombing as the “first stage in a decade of genocide”. What Nixon and Kissinger began, Pol Pot, their beneficiary, completed. Under their bombs, the Khmer Rouge grew to a formidable army of 200,000.

ISIS has a similar past and present. By most scholarly measure, Bush and Blair’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 led to the deaths of at least 700,000 people – in a country that had no history of jihadism. The Kurds had done territorial and political deals; Sunni and Shia had class and sectarian differences, but they were at peace; intermarriage was common. Three years before the invasion, I drove the length of Iraq without fear. On the way I met people proud, above all, to be Iraqis, the heirs of a civilization that seemed, for them, a presence.

Bush and Blair blew all this to bits. Iraq is now a nest of jihadism. Al-Qaeda – like Pol Pot’s “jihadists” – seized the opportunity provided by the onslaught of ‘Shock and Awe’ and the civil war that followed. “Rebel” Syria offered even greater rewards, with CIA and Gulf state ratlines of weapons, logistics and money running through Turkey. The arrival of foreign recruits was inevitable. A former British ambassador, Oliver Miles, wrote, “The [Cameron] government seems to be following the example of Tony Blair, who ignored consistent advice from the Foreign Office, MI5 and MI6 that our Middle East policy – and in particular our Middle East wars – had been a principal driver in the recruitment of Muslims in Britain for terrorism here.”

ISIS is the progeny of those in Washington, London and Paris who, in conspiring to destroy Iraq, Syria and Libya, committed an epic crime against humanity. Like Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, ISIS are the mutations of a western state terror dispensed by a venal imperial elite undeterred by the consequences of actions taken at great remove in distance and culture. Their culpability is unmentionable in “our” societies, making accomplices of those who suppress this critical truth.

It is 23 years since a holocaust enveloped Iraq, immediately after the first Gulf War, when the US and Britain hijacked the United Nations Security Council and imposed punitive “sanctions” on the Iraqi population – ironically, reinforcing the domestic authority of Saddam Hussein. It was like a medieval siege. Almost everything that sustained a modern state was, in the jargon, “blocked” – from chlorine for making the water supply safe to school pencils, parts for X-ray machines, common painkillers and drugs to combat previously unknown cancers carried in the dust from the southern battlefields contaminated with Depleted Uranium. Just before Christmas 1999, the Department of Trade and Industry in London restricted the export of vaccines meant to protect Iraqi children against diphtheria and yellow fever. Kim Howells, parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Blair government, explained why. “The children’s vaccines”, he said, “were capable of being used in weapons of mass destruction”. The British Government could get away with such an outrage because media reporting of Iraq – much of it manipulated by the Foreign Office – blamed Saddam Hussein for everything.

Under a bogus “humanitarian” Oil for Food Programme, $100 was allotted for each Iraqi to live on for a year. This figure had to pay for the entire society’s infrastructure and essential services, such as power and water. “Imagine,” the UN Assistant Secretary General, Hans Von Sponeck, told me, “setting that pittance against the lack of clean water, and the fact that the majority of sick people cannot afford treatment, and the sheer trauma of getting from day to day, and you have a glimpse of the nightmare. And make no mistake, this is deliberate. I have not in the past wanted to use the word genocide, but now it is unavoidable.” Disgusted, Von Sponeck resigned as UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Iraq. His predecessor, Denis Halliday, an equally distinguished senior UN official, had also resigned. “I was instructed,” Halliday said, “to implement a policy that satisfies the definition of genocide: a deliberate policy that has effectively killed well over a million individuals, children and adults.”

A study by the United Nations Children’s Fund, Unicef, found that between 1991 and 1998, the height of the blockade, there were 500,000 “excess” deaths of Iraqi infants under the age of five. An American TV reporter put this to Madeleine Albright, US Ambassador to the United Nations, asking her, “Is the price worth it?” Albright replied, “We think the price is worth it.”

In 2007, the senior British official responsible for the sanctions, Carne Ross, known as “Mr. Iraq”, told a parliamentary selection committee, “[The US and UK governments] effectively denied the entire population a means to live.” When I interviewed Carne Ross three years later, he was consumed by regret and contrition. “I feel ashamed,” he said. He is today a rare truth-teller of how governments deceive and how a compliant media plays a critical role in disseminating and maintaining the deception. “We would feed [journalists] factoids of sanitised intelligence,” he said, “or we’d freeze them out.” Last year, a not untypical headline in the Guardian read: “Faced with the horror of Isis we must act.” The “we must act” is a ghost risen, a warning of the suppression of informed memory, facts, lessons learned and regrets or shame. The author of the article was Peter Hain, the former Foreign Office minister responsible for Iraq under Blair. In 1998, when Denis Halliday revealed the extent of the suffering in Iraq for which the Blair Government shared primary responsibility, Hain abused him on the BBC’s Newsnight as an “apologist for Saddam”. In 2003, Hain backed Blair’s invasion of stricken Iraq on the basis of transparent lies. At a subsequent Labour Party conference, he dismissed the invasion as a “fringe issue”.

Here was Hain demanding “air strikes, drones, military equipment and other support” for those “facing genocide” in Iraq and Syria. This will further “the imperative of a political solution”. The day Hain’s article appeared, Denis Halliday and Hans Von Sponeck happened to be in London and came to visit me. They were not shocked by the lethal hypocrisy of a politician, but lamented the enduring, almost inexplicable absence of intelligent diplomacy in negotiating a semblance of truce. Across the world, from Northern Ireland to Nepal, those regarding each other as terrorists and heretics have faced each other across a table. Why not now in Iraq and Syria? Instead, there is a vapid, almost sociopathic verboseness from Cameron, Hollande, Obama and their “coalition of the willing” as they prescribe more violence delivered from 30,000 feet on places where the blood of previous adventures never dried. They seem to relish their own violence and stupidityso much they want it to overthrow their one potentially valuable ally, the government in Syria.

This is nothing new, as the following leaked UK-US intelligence file illustrates:

“In order to facilitate the action of liberative [sic] forces… a special effort should be made to eliminate certain key individuals [and] to proceed with internal disturbances in Syria. CIA is prepared, and SIS (MI6) will attempt to mount minor sabotage and coup de main [sic] incidents within Syria, working through contacts with individuals… a necessary degree of fear… frontier and [staged] border clashes [will] provide a pretext for intervention… the CIA and SIS should use… capabilities in both psychological and action fields to augment tension.”

That was written in 1957, although it could have been written yesterday. In the imperial world, nothing essentially changes. In 2013, the former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas revealed that “two years before the Arab spring”, he was told in London that a war on Syria was planned. “I am going to tell you something,” he said in an interview with the French TV channel LPC, “I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business. I met top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria… Britain was organising an invasion of rebels into Syria. They even asked me, although I was no longer Minister for Foreign Affairs, if I would like to participate… This operation goes way back. It was prepared, preconceived and planned.”

The only effective opponents of ISIS are accredited demons of the west – Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and now Russia. The obstacle is Turkey, an “ally” and a member of Nato, which has conspired with the CIA, MI6 and the Gulf medievalists to channel support to the Syrian “rebels”, including those now calling themselves ISIS. Supporting Turkey in its long-held ambition for regional dominance by overthrowing the Assad government beckons a major conventional war and the horrific dismemberment of the most ethnically diverse state in the Middle East.

A truce – however difficult to negotiate and achieve – is the only way out of this maze; otherwise, the atrocities in Paris and Beirut will be repeated. Together with a truce, the leading perpetrators and overseers of violence in the Middle East – the Americans and Europeans – must themselves “de-radicalise” and demonstrate a good faith to alienated Muslim communities everywhere, including those at home. There should be an immediate cessation of all shipments of war materials to Israel and recognition of the State of Palestine. The issue of Palestine is the region’s most festering open wound, and the oft-stated justification for the rise of Islamic extremism. Osama bin Laden made that clear. Palestine also offers hope. Give justice to the Palestinians and you begin to change the world around them.

More than 40 years ago, the Nixon-Kissinger bombing of Cambodia unleashed a torrent of suffering from which that country has never recovered. The same is true of the Blair-Bush crime in Iraq, and the Nato and “coalition” crimes in Libya and Syria.

With impeccable timing, Henry Kissinger’s latest self-serving tome has been released with its satirical title, “World Order”. In one fawning review, Kissinger is described as a “key shaper of a world order that remained stable for a quarter of a century”. Tell that to the people of Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Chile, East Timor and all the other victims of his “statecraft”. Only when “we” recognise the war criminals in our midst and stop denying ourselves the truth will the blood begin to dry.