We call on those states responsible for the invasion and occupation of Iraq to terminate their illegal and immoral war, and express our solidarity with the Iraqi people in their struggle for peace, justice and self-determination.

In particular, we demand:

  1. An immediate end to the US and UK-led occupation of Iraq;
  2. Urgent action to fully address the current humanitarian crises facing Iraq’s people, including help for the more than three million refugees and displaced persons;
  3. An end to all foreign interference in Iraq's affairs, including its oil industry, so that Iraqis can exercise their right to self-determination;
  4. Compensation and reparations from those countries responsible for war and sanctions on Iraq;
  5. Prosecution of all those responsible for war crimes, human rights abuses, and the theft of Iraq's resources.

We demand justice for Iraq.

This statement was adopted by the Justice for Iraq conference in London on 19th July 2008. We plan to publish this more widely in future. If you would like to add your name to the list of supporters please contact us.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

The battle for Mosul

Last week, I received the following email:

“Dear Friends,
As you might have heard, the American Coalition have been bombing civilian areas in Mosul. Over the past few days the coalition targeted 3 houses of well known professors and researchers in Mosul University. One of them was my college professor and mentor Prof. Dr Mohamad Tybee Al-Layla.
Dr Al-Layla got his PhD in Geotechnical Engineering from the University of Texas, USA. Worked as a faculty member in the Department of Civil Engineering in the Engineering College of University of Mosul since the early seventies of the last century. He was assigned as a Chairman of the Civil Engineering Department and the dean of the college twice. Supervised more than 30 PhD and Master degree thesis in Geotechnical Engineering and Civil Engineering. He published 48 research and technical papers in Iraq and abroad, and became an editing member of 3 scientific journals and magazines.
He received the prestigious award of the Iraqi Science Day on June 2nd, 2014.
He worked sincerely and hard for about 40 years to educate and help thousands of highly efficient and intelligent engineers graduate, many of whom became ministers, deputy ministers, academics and high ranking executive directors in Geotechnical, Irrigation Engineering and other civil and political posts inside Iraq and abroad.
Being one his students, it breaks our hearts that even though Dr Al-Layla was such a great scientific Iraqi figure who never let down or disappointed the University of Mosul community or even the city of Mosul in its hardest times, the crime of targeting his house by the American Coalition and his painful death along with his innocent family under the rubbles of his house, will remain an unforgettable disaster to us, one that all parties hold responsibility for, that reminds all of us that we are still sinking into the abyss the criminal US occupation of Iraq has led to.
May his soul rest in piece, and the souls of the many innocent thousands dying every month in Mosul by ISIS and the Coalition without accountability nor remorse.”

The battle for Mosul, an Isis stronghold in northern Iraq, has raged on for months. In the last four months alone, an estimated 145,000 people have been displaced and the vast majority of them are in need of major humanitarian assistance, according to the UN.

Civilians have been caught in the crossfire between Iraqi ground troops and Isis militants. The later also shoot at anyone leaving the city without their authorisation. Militias allied to Iraqi regular forces have been accused of sectarian atrocities. But by far the biggest cause of civilian fatalities is Coalition air strikes, which UK forces are also involved in. Some of these, it is alleged, have deliberately targeted hospital and educational establishments.

What’s not in doubt is the huge increase in bombardments killing civilians since the start of 2017. The website Airwars attempts to record all reported instances of these strikes. It also comments on the degree to which each has been independently corroborated. Just to give a flavour of the level of bombardment, I will quote from their reports for the first twelve days of this year:

January 2nd: Mosul: Four women were killed and 8 injured by Coalition strikes, according to local reports. January 3rd: As many as 22 civilians were reported killed, and 29 injured, in air strikes by an unspecified party in eastern Mosul according to local media. Yaqein reported that one civilian was killed and 11 injured in the Noor neighbourhood of eastern Mosul. January 4th: Press and local sources said that 16 displaced civilians were killed or injured, mostly children and women, after Coalition warplanes targeted their houses in 17 July neighbourhood, at the right side of Mosul. A local sources said that a named civilian, Imad Ahmed, was killed in raids on Farms district, north of Mosul. January 5th: Five members of the same family were killed when a Coalition air strike hit a house, according to local sources. Multiple reports referenced dead and wounded Iraqi troops killed in a friendly fire incident by Coalition strikes. Local sources told Mosul Ateka that 26 civilians from 4 families were killed when their home was bombed by Coalition strikes. Fourteen people including women and children were killed, and 15 wounded by Coalition strikes in the Garage and Fatih areas, according to local reports. Local sources said two named civilians (a father and son) were killed after a missile targeted their house in the left side of Mosul. January 6th: Local sources and relatives of victims said that more than 20 civilians from three families were killed, including children and women, after Coalition air strikes targeted their houses in front of Saddam mosque at the entrance of Farms district, north of Mosul. Local sources said that a family of three children and their grandmother were killed after their house was hit by a missile during raids in the Agricultural residential neighbourhood in central Mosul area, which is still under ISIL control. Local sources said civilians were killed and injured after Coalition Apache helicopters targeted a market in Sumer neighbourhood, southeast of Mosul, with machine guns. January 7th: Five civilians were reported killed, including 3 children and 2 women in raids in West Mosul. Local and medical sources said that 15-27 civilians were killed and many others injured and children displaced, in an alleged Coalition air strike. Local and medical sources said that 12 civilians were killed and many others injured, mostly displaced women and children, in the locality of Ibn al-Haytham area of Mosul due to Coalition air strikes southeast of Mosul. January 8th: One civilian was reported killed in alleged Coalition air strikes that targeted an ISIL member in a civilian vehicle, in Hadbah neighbourhood in the northeast of Mosul. Local reports say that the streets in eastern Mosul were covered by the bodies of dozens of civilians – their deaths caused by Coalition airstrikes and heavy artillery. Local reports indicated that shelling struck civilian homes in Sukkar, Talla and Mufthana neighbourhoods in eastern Mosul, “resulting in the burying of dozens of civilians under the rubble,” according to an account in a report by Iraqi Spring Media Centre. Local sources and relatives of victims said that Coalition air strikes targeted a family house in Muthanna neighborhood northeast of Mosul. January 10th: Local sources reported that the Coalition targeted Hadbah neighbourhood, northeast of Mosul, with three raids. January 11th: Local sources said Coalition air strikes and artillery shelling targeted Hadbah neighbourhood northeast of Mosul , killing dozens of civilians. Local sources reported that Coalition air strikes bombed a house with three missiles in Second Ka’afat neighborhood, northeast of Mosul. Local sources reported that Coalition air strikes bombed a house in Maliah neighbourhood, at the left side of Mosul during an operation to retake it. Up to 17 civilians were killed and five others injured, mostly women and children from the same family who were inside the house at the time of the strike. January 12th: Local sources reported that the international Coalition and/or US aircraft had carried out air strikes in New Mosul neighbourhood, at the right side of Mosul, leaving up to 30 civilians dead and 14 others wounded. https://airwars.org/coalitioncivcas2017jan-mar/

To emphasise, these are the strikes reported in a period of just twelve days. Yet, sources in Iraq suggest this may be a severe underestimate of the true numbers of civilian fatalities which could be around 10,000.

Yet, with very few exceptions, none of this has been repeated in western media, a failure of historic proportions, which helps conceal this humanitarian tragedy. At the end of 2016, Parliament voted that UK forces should take part in these bombardments - how many civilian casualties have our troops been responsible for? Why is there no outrage at this killing from the skies that western powers are inflicting on the same country they invaded 14 years ago, before Isis - the creation of their own interference - existed? Activists should lobby their MPs and demand some answers from the Government about its involvement in this carnage, which can only increase the likelihood of more terrorist attacks on British soil.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Sabah Jawad



We are very sorry to announce the death of Sabah Jawad on 9th January in London. Sabah was an Iraqi exile who opposed both Saddam Hussein and any attempt to intervene in Iraq by western powers. He was centrally involved in the campaigns against the first Gulf War in 1990/91 and in the Stop the War Coalition against the invasion of Iraq in 2003. He continued to campaign against the occupation and the impact of that intervention on his own country and the rest of the Middle East, and was for many years a member of the STW steering committee. He will be known to many supporters for his speeches at meetings and demonstrations. We are very grateful for all of the work that he did. We send our condolences to his family, friends and comrades, and below we print an appreciation of him from his fellow Iraqi comrades. We will let people know of memorial arrangements.

Lindsey German, StWC Convenor

---
Sabah Jawad, founding member of the Stop the War Coalition, Iraqi Democrats Against Occupation and decades long activist for democratic socialism in Iraq passed away peacefully, 09 January 2017, at a London hospital, following a sudden deterioration in his condition.

Sabah was born in Iraq and lived in exile in Britain due to his strong opposition to repressive regimes in his beloved Iraq. He was a committed socialist and held firmly to the idea that only democratic socialism could bring dignity, justice and prosperity to the Iraqi people. He campaigned vigorously against Saddam's repressive policies, but never for a moment entertained the idea that imperialism could become a friend of the Iraqi people. On the contrary, he always upheld the principle that true democracy could only come about through the protracted struggle of the Iraqi people themselves for a better future and ridding Iraq of imperialist presence and interventions.

Along with his Iraqi comrades and friends, in 1991 Sabah became very active against the murderous US-led war and sanctions on Iraq and was a founding member of the Iraqi Democrats Against Occupation and of the Stop the War Coalition. He served as an Officer of STWC for many years. He redoubled his efforts when the US and British governments started beating the drums of war in preparation for the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq.

During his student days, Sabah was active in the Iraqi Student Society and later became an active member of Britain's National Union of Journalists during a strike that he led at a news agency. He was a committed internationalist who fought for the rights of British workers and opposed racism in all its forms, including Islamophobia.

His support for trade unionism and his close links to the struggles of the Iraqi people alerted him to the re-emerging independent trade union activity among oil workers in Basra. In 2004 he established close links with leaders of the workers campaigning against the occupation and for workers rights, particularly the president of the Basra Oil Workers Union, Hassan Juma'a. Within hours of his passing away yesterday, the Executive Bureau of the Iraqi Oil Workers Union issued a statement mourning the loss of Sabah as an honorary "member of the union" who fought against the US-led occupation, upheld the rights of Iraqi workers and staunchly defended their union.

In the past few years, Sabah became acutely concerned about the counter-revolution that has been sweeping the Middle East following the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain.

Consequently, he stood firmly against the NATO war on Libya, the US-Saudi-Qatar-Turkey proxy war on Syria, the Saudi invasion of Bahrain and the Saudi-led war on Yemen. He identified SaudiQatari backed Wahhabi and al-Qaeda-type sectarian terrorism in Iraq and Syria as posing a grave danger to both societies as well as to the unity of the peoples of the entire region. He also opposed the sectarian and racist campaigns in the Arab world, by Saudi and Qatari regimes and propaganda tools such alJazeera TV, against the Iranian people.

The struggle of the Palestinian people against Zionism and for a free Palestine was always a source of inspiration for Sabah and he regarded this struggle as vital to establishing a just and peaceful Middle East.

The anti-war movement, the Iraqi people and his comrades and friends have lost a loyal and principled campaigner. We shall miss you Sabah.

Sami Ramadani
Kamil Mahdi
and Iraqi Democrats Against Occupation
10 January 2017
http://www.stopwar.org.uk/index.php/news-comment/2355-remembering-sabah-jawad

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

SOS from Mosul

Dear Friends
We continuously receive messages from friends and relatives in Mosul updating us. The humanitarian situation is catastrophic. Nearly one million civilians are trapped in between areas being targeted by either the American led coalition, the Iraqi army and Hashed Al Shabby militias, and ISIS. The media is only showing the suffering of the displaced people and exaggerating the advances of the army. The suffering of residents stuck inside of Mosul is being ignored almost completely. The situation can be summarized as below:

· There is little to no clean water because the water supply network and stations have been bombed. River water is being used where available. Areas that are not close to the river are trying to access groundwater from nearby farms. Some households have neither option as family members cannot leave their houses due to heavy shelling.
  · In liberated areas there is no electricity. These areas comprise less than 15% of Mosul City. Other areas are getting around two hours in the morning and two in the evening from private generators due to lack of fuel.
· Household food stocks are running low. Some families have no food due to a lack of money or a lack of access. Deaths from starvation are expected soon. Families who stored food left it behind during forced evacuations by ISIS or the army in areas of engagement. Those families could take nothing with them and have nowhere to go with their children and their elderly. Their cars are also being confiscated for use in car bombings.
 · In the Qadisiyah area of Eastern Mosul (where heavy fighting has been taking place the last few days), people have started burying their deceased in the gardens of their homes as they have no route to leave the house with the corpse or arrange for burial. They are living with the constant fear of a missile destroying their home any minute.
· Airstrikes by the American coalition have targeted complete residential buildings just to take out a single sniper with access to their rooftop. Similarly, the army is destroying houses with the use of ground missiles, regardless of whether they are occupied by families who could not leave under the heavy shooting and shelling.
· There are no hospitals currently under the control of the army. Injured or sick people need to be taken to Erbil which is a two hour ride away in clear weather. Most hospitals in Erbil do not have the capacity to handle the thousands of cases coming in from Mosul. With no money or resources, people from Mosul are not admitted for treatment. There is a serious need for mobile emergency hospitals in liberated areas.
  · Hospitals inside Mosul also lack medicine for the most basic of diseases, as well as blood for transfusions or operations and other vital supplies.
As many of you know, American military experts estimated that this operation might take months to complete. With these dire conditions, a humanitarian crisis looms for the residents of Mosul.
The Iraqi government and the sectarian militias involved in the fighting do not have the training or equipment to divert the catastrophes resulting from the fighting. They do not have the capacity to worry about an alarming rise in the civilian death rate. In fact, the increasing casualty rate in certain areas serves the sectarian demographic changes being pursued by the current government.
The same could be said for the American Coalition which is fighting to push their own agenda and working out which areas to liberate and hand over to their allies the Kurdish Peshmerga, in order to secure Mosul oil reservoirs under their control.  
In summary, the situation started out quite bad with multiple parties fighting with shocking disregard for civilians.
Dr Souad Al-Azzawi 

Saturday, 6 August 2016

After Chilcot

Mike Phipps, co-editor of the fortnightly Iraq Occupation Focus e-newsletter, looks at the establishment’s attempt to wash its hands of a still ongoing war.

Seven years in the writing, two million words and at a cost of £10 million, the Chilcot Report was finally published in July. A pretty comprehensive piece of work, you might think, but as an Iraqi friend pointed out, there’s just one thing missing from the report: Iraq.

This is a report about British governance and while it was more critical of Tony Blair than many expected, its primary purpose was to allow the political establishment to wash its hands of a war in which British troops are still engaged.

Moreover, UK forces are still being investigated for abuses they committed during the conflict. The International Criminal Court has received 1,268 allegations of ill treatment and unlawful killings committed by British forces. Of 259 alleged killings, 47 were said to have occurred when Iraqis were in U.K. custody.

Tucked away in the Chilcot Report is a reference to one of the key motives for the 2003 invasion. Sir David Manning, foreign policy adviser to Tony Blair, told the US national security adviser, in December 2002 that Britain wanted its fair share of the spoils. “It would be inappropriate for HMG [Her Majesty’s government] to enter into discussions about any future carve-up of the Iraqi oil industry,” he said. “Nonetheless it is essential that our companies are given access to a level playing field in this and other sectors.”

The consequences of a war that western elites would prefer to put behind them are still being felt in Iraq. Coalition forces involved in the aerial bombardment of Islamic State strongholds kill scores of civilians on a weekly basis, although this is rarely reported. British air strikes on Iraq and Syria increased 85% in the first half of this year. On the ground, western forces have mobilised sectarian militias to fight IS. They now stand accused of summary executions, kidnappings and other human rights abuses. The UN, not known for intemperate language, warns this could lead to a “renewed cycle of full-throttle sectarian violence”.

And these are only the immediate consequences of the US-led invasion of Iraq. To this we cold add the 5 million refugees, the million killed, the million disabled, the destruction of infrastructure, the institutionalisation of sectarian corruption and “religious cleansing”. The long-term health consequences are especially worrying, particularly the high rates of cancer in areas where western forces deployed depleted uranium munitions. A recent study links high levels of heavy metals in children’s baby teeth to the bombardments of the last decade. As in Vietnam, Iraqis could be paying a terrible price for generations to come.

One positive from the Chilcot Report is that the issue of justice is back on the agenda. Compensation and reparations may be as distant as ever, but the call to prosecute those responsible has been raised afresh by the families of British soldiers who lost their lives in Iraq. Within two weeks, members of the public helped raise £150,000 to enable the Families Campaign to engage expert lawyers to examine whether a prosecution of Tony Blair can be mounted. Watch this space!

Baby Teeth of Iraqi Children Tell Troubling Tale of War's Toxic Impacts

In an effort to learn more about the impacts of long-term exposure to heavy metals and other toxins associated with warzone bombardments and military installations, a new study released Friday examined a sample of donated teeth and discovered that the children of Iraq are suffering from alarming levels of such substances, specfically lead.
The study—entitled Prenatal Metal Exposure in the Middle East: Imprint of War in Deciduous Teeth of Children—focused on Iraq, invaded by the U.S. and coalition forces over thirteen years ago, due to the amount of bombing its population has witnessed over the last thirteen years and the troubling level of cancers and birth defects now evidenced in the population that could be related to that relentless violence. The Iraqi teeth were compared to donated samples from both Lebanon, which has seen a more moderate level of bombing and warfare during the same time period, and Iran, which has experienced relative peace since the end of the Iraq/Iran War in 1988.
"In war zones," the abstract of the study explains, "the explosion of bombs, bullets, and other ammunition releases multiple neurotoxicants into the environment. The Middle East is currently the site of heavy environmental disruption by massive bombardments. A very large number of US military bases, which release highly toxic environmental contaminants, have also been erected since 2003. Current knowledge supports the hypothesis that war-created pollution is a major cause of rising birth defects and cancers in Iraq."
Scientifically known as a person's "deciduous teeth," what are also called "baby teeth" are useful to study, the researchers explain, because they "originate in fetal life and may prove useful in measuring prenatal metal exposures." The researchers say their findings confirm the hypothesis that in war-torn Iraq the levels of contaminants found were much higher than in those countries that have seen markedly less violence.
"Our hypothesis that increased war activity coincides with increased metal levels in deciduous teeth is confirmed by this research," reads the study. "Lead levels were similar in Lebanese and Iranian deciduous teeth. Deciduous teeth from Iraqi children with birth defects had remarkably higher levels of Pb [lead]. Two Iraqi teeth had four times more Pb, and one tooth had as much as 50 times more Pb than samples from Lebanon and Iran."
To further explain the context and implications of the newly-published researchers, it is worth quoting the study at length:
In war zones, the explosion of bombs, bullets, and other ammunition releases multiple neurotoxicants into the environment, adding to the burden of childhood exposures. Recent studies in Iraq indicate widespread public exposure to neurotoxic metals (Pb and mercury) accompanied by unprecedented increases in birth defects and cancers in a number of cities (Savabieasfahani 2013). Current knowledge supports the hypothesis that war-created pollution is a major factor in the rising numbers of birth defects and cancers in Iraq.
The Middle East has been the site of a massive environmental disruption by bombardments. In 2015 alone, the USA dropped over 23,000 bombs in the Middle East. Twenty-two thousand bombs were dropped on Iraq/Syria (Zenko 2016). US military bases also produce and release highly toxic environmental pollutants in the Middle East. Though our knowledge is limited, a recent report by Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) offers a conservative estimate of two million killed in the Middle East since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. Around one million people have been killed in Iraq, 220,000 in Afghanistan, and 80,000 in Pakistan. A total of around 1.3 million, not included in this figure, have been killed in other recently created war zones such as Yemen and Syria (Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR)).
It may seem callous to focus on the “long-term” effects of war while these horrific consequences of war are here and now. Nevertheless, long-term public health consequences of war need to be better examined if we are to prevent similar wars in the future (Weir 2015). To that end, here we report the results of our last samples from a growing war-zone.
Deciduous teeth of children from Iraq, Lebanon, and Iran can show a continuum of high to low war-related-exposures in children. Measurements of environmental samples in the areas of our interest are rare in the literature. Therefore, we deduce that a continuum of high to low war-related exposures can be detected in children of the selected areas based upon the knowledge of the number and length of wars fought in each country in modern times. We do know that Iraq continues to be the target of repeated bombings and military activity, that Lebanon has been the site for multiple wars, and that military activities have occurred in Lebanon intermittently up to 2016 (Haugbolle 2010). In contrast, Iran has been the site of only one war in modern times, which ended in 1988 (Hersh 1992). Our aim is to evaluate deciduous teeth for their suitability to serve as markers of prenatal exposures to neurotoxic heavy metals.
Metals are one of the main components of bombs, bullets, and other weaponry. Buncombe (2011) offers a historic account of the very large number of bombs and bullets that were dropped in the Middle East post-2003. Additionally, 1500 US military bases and facilities—with their associated toxic pollutants—have been erected in the Middle East since 2003 (Nazaryan 2014; Vine 2014). It has been suggested that US military bases are among the most polluting operations on earth (Nazaryan 2014; Broder 1990; Milmo 2014).
In Iraq, there are currently over 500 US military bases (Kennedy 2008; Vine2014). Pollutants released from these bases have reportedly harmed human health (Institute of Medicine, IOM 2011). Metals are released in the environment in large quantities during and following wars, either by direct bombing or as a result of waste generated and released by military installations (IOM). Metals are persistent in the environment (Li et al. 2014), and their adverse effects on health—especially the health of sensitive populations (i.e., pregnant mothers, fetuses, growing children)—have been established (Parajuli et al. 2013; Grandjean and Landrigan 2014). Public exposure to war-related pollutants intensifies as wars become frequent and as the environmental release of waste associated with military bases increases. Metal exposures and toxicity are frequently reported in children, particularly those living in areas of protracted military attacks in the Middle East (Alsabbak et al. 2012; Jergovic et al. 2010; Savabieasfahani et al. 2015).
"As prenatal exposures become more severe and common in war zones," the authors write, "the accurate measurement of those prenatal exposures becomes more urgent. The use of deciduous teeth, which originate in fetal life, as a biomarker of prenatal exposure, is worthwhile if we are to protect children from such exposures in the future."

http://commondreams.org/news/2016/08/05/baby-teeth-iraqi-children-tell-troubling-tale-wars-toxic-impacts

Monday, 11 July 2016

Sign the petition!

https://www.change.org/p/united-nations-demand-an-international-and-independent-investigation-of-human-rights-violations-in-iraq

Friday, 27 May 2016

Humanitarian aid under political pressure

Text of Mike Phipps's speech at a recent Tadhamun event in London commemorating the 13th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq

 There is a new spectre haunting the world: humanitarian intervention. It was used to justify the British Government going to war in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. Pressure is mounting on humanitarian aid agencies to skew their work to fit this new agenda, or face unpleasant consequences.

Humanitarian aid is now a multi-billion dollar industry. Humanitarian expenditure increased sixfold during the 1980s and 1990s. Most British and US agencies have developed sizeable media and advocacy departments. While many organisations prefer to duck the issue of how far lethal military force can be used to protect human rights, some agencies do call for economic and military sanctions against regimes. Western governments have been quick to utilise agency reports about human rights abuses as a justification for military intervention.

In a book some years ago, Conor Foley captured the dilemma for these groups in a simple anecdote about Iraq. “In April 2003, I attended a meeting in London involving most of the major international NGOs with British offices… A high-ranking official from the Dept of International Development (DFID)… announced that the British government had earmarked £210 million for the reconstruction of the country and that it would be encouraging bids from humanitarian agencies. A shocked silence ensued as it dawned on everyone that this amount was double DFID’s entire humanitarian relief budget of two years previously. The world’s second largest potential producer of oil is not a natural candidate for humanitarian assistance and everyone knew there were far greater areas of need elsewhere. We also knew that this assistance was being given for political reasons: to shore up support for a controversial invasion. Nevertheless, virtually no agency wished to rule itself out of receiving project funding, as they began to make clear in their presentations.”

As western powers increasingly describe their bombing missions in the Middle East as humanitarian, many charities and NGOs are getting unhealthily close to governments. UN aid agencies are regularly integrated into UN military missions, making them a target for attack. In 2013 alone, 155 aid workers were killed around the world. If fatalities have declined since then, it’s largely because the bigger international agencies are staying away from trouble, sub-contracting aid delivery to smaller local agencies.

A new book by Peter Gill, published by Zed, argues that the targeting of aid workers stemmed from western policy in Afghanistan, where, as part of a “winning hears and minds” strategy, the US and UK military had large aid budgets. US Commander David Petraeus declared money “my most important ammunition in this war.”


On the ground in Afghanistan, aid workers often arrived in new areas in military vehicles. Local recipients of western aid were strongly encouraged to inform on the enemy. One ‘reconstruction worker’ said, “The more they help us find the bad guys, the more good stuff they’ll get.” Attacks on aid workers soon followed.


So the humanitarian effort had become part of a wider counter-insurgency operation. As Bush announced: “As we strike military targets, we will also drop food.” On the ground, it became increasingly difficult to distinguish aid workers from soldiers. Meanwhile, a recent report noted that half of the $20 billion assistance promised to Afghanistan never arrived and 40% of the money delivered went on corporate profits and consultancy fees.

The conflation between western aid and the western military proved costly. Aid agency priorities were skewed and the commitment to sustainable aid programmes was sacrificed to military timetables. The US Secretary of State even described aid agencies as “an important part of our combat team.” In 2003, 85 aid agencies signed an appeal for NATO to extend its operations throughout the country.

Médecins Sans Frontières did not sign the appeal supporting the western military, but were still targeted by the Taliban. For several years they stopped work in Afghanistan. When they returned, it was the US which bombed their hospital in Kunduz, killing thirty.

In parts of Pakistan, polio vaccination teams were targeted by the Taliban, who claimed the vaccines were drugs to sterilise Muslim families. This was clearly nonsense, but gave the Taliban popular leverage to pressurise for an halt to western drone bombing of their strongholds. Their propaganda got a boost when it emerged that the CIA had recruited a local senior health official to run a fake vaccine campaign as a cover to track and kill Osama bin Laden. The damage this did to western humanitarian efforts was incalculable: all vaccinators were seen as spies.

Western policy contributes in other ways to hampering the delivery of much-needed aid. A quarter of a million people died in the 2011 famine in Somalia, but in the two years preceding, US aid there fell by 88%. The listing by the US of al-Shabaab as a terrorist organisation meant that any aid that fell into the wrong hands was a crime under US law - so many agencies self-interestedly scaled down operations. It looked as if aid was being withdrawn because those who desperately needed it were unlucky enough to be governed by the wrong people.

Other agencies filled the gaps, many from the Muslim world. But when the UK agency Islamic Relief was designated a “terrorist organisation” by Israel, the support it got from the British Foreign Office was “less than fulsome”.

So precarious is their work and so dependent are they on governmental goodwill, that many aid agencies are extremely reluctant to even discuss these problems. Muslim agencies especially are fearful of anti-terror laws and the real threat of criminal prosecution - one was even refused legal advice by a private law firm on the grounds that just offering a legal opinion might be unlawful.

Others argue that agencies are too compliant and lose sight of their core purpose. The US introduced “partner vetting”, requiring agencies to gather intelligence on their colleagues - full personal details of all locals involved in implementing projects. If the government finds a terrorist link, all funding for the project is promptly halted, without explanation or appeal. When Mercy Corps refused to collect the data, they were forced to close down a $40 million project in Afghanistan, making 300 Afghan staff redundant overnight.

Worse, NGO leaders face regular harassment by immigration and security officers when travelling through US and UK airports. One described the British Government’s response to a Muslim charity’s work in Syria as “an attempt to scare the bejesus out of us.” Increasingly, the Charity Commission, whose board members include a former head of the Metropolitan Police Anti-Terrorism Branch, is used to crack down on some NGOs. But if humanitarian aid is to have any future, it can’t be simply an adjunct to foreign and security policy.

One of the greatest problems of humanitarian intervention is that of accountability. Aid intervention tends to weaken the contract between ruled and rulers and disempowers people. As Austen Davis, former head of MSF Belgium, put it: “Humanitarian action has been accused of prolonging wars, undermining governments’ accountability to their own people, destroying markets and creating dependency, failing to address the causes of crises and so acting as a substitute for ‘real’ action.”

The desire to do good is motivated by a noble sensibility. But it may be fatally compromised when this ideal is exploited by the agendas of liberal imperialism and neoconservatve goals to wage wars of civilisation. For humanitarian foreign aid to be meaningful, political and organisational independence from state organisations is now a moral imperative.