Chilcot’s forgotten witnesses – Britain’s Iraqi diaspora (VIDEO)

The 2003 Iraq invasion and occupation left at least 500,000 dead, scattered refugees to the wind and threw the region into chaos. Yet as Sir John Chilcot delivers his long-delayed Iraq Inquiry report, the silence of Iraqis themselves is deafening.

“If the United Nations said themselves Iraq can’t import enriched baby powder milk, ambulances and tampons, how was Iraq going to pose a threat to the sovereignty of the United Kingdom?” asks Hussein Al-alak, the Manchester-based editor of Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra).

Hussein isn’t alone in doubting Tony Blair’s case for war, based as it was on claims of an imminent threat to the realm posed by Iraq’s elusive weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

Launched in 2009 to examine the road to war, the invasion and its aftermath, the 2.6 million-word Chilcot report has cost the UK taxpayer roughly £10 million (US$13 million).

Shedding light on how British foreign policy blundered into the war, and with the intention of stopping similar misadventures being repeated (Libya excluded), Sir John’s report may also issue some kind of verdict on the invasion’s legality.

If the families of the 179 servicemen and women killed in Iraq appear skeptical about finding closure in Chilcot’s tome, Britain’s tens of thousands of Iraqi exiles must be utterly incredulous at their own apparent exclusion in this official history of their nation’s tragedy.

Ahead of the July 6 publication, RT reached out to Britain’s Iraqi diaspora to hear their views on the war and expectations of the report.

“Saddam [Hussein], in my opinion, is a system that will never be repeated in history. It’s a state of fear,” says Emad Al-Ebadi, Director of the Iraqi Welfare Association (IWA), based in Wembley, north London. Emad says he came to the UK in the late 1970s as a student. His family urged him not to return to Iraq, however, as the vicious and protracted war with Iran took hold.

He is among a generation of Iraqis who were unable to return to Saddam’s Iraq, fleeing war, sanctions and persecution. As a Shia Muslim, Emad’s community faced particular cruelty under the regime.

Asked whether it was therefore right for Britain and America to topple Saddam in 2003, Emad laments the price Iraqis have paid for their so-called liberation.

“This is a question I’ve been asked many times. It’s very difficult a question, because yes the intervention was needed, because there was no other way of getting rid of that man. [But] the way it was done, we don’t agree with it. We paid a high price, and we’re still paying a high price. For several reasons.

“I think the first thing, the West is not genuine. It is not about human rights and Iraqis and things like that. They didn’t do it for that reason. America did it because they are a cowboy state.

“The British, Tony Blair and that lot, they’re a puppet to the Americans. Whatever they order them to do they agree to it and they do it.”

Shia Iraqis like Emad are not the only ethnic group to suffer under Saddam.

Miran Hassan, Director of the Kurdish Culture Centre (KCC) based in Kennington, south London, came to the UK in 1999 as a child refugee with his mother. His father was a conscript in the Iraqi Army who fled to Italy. Any Kurd who dodged conscription under the Saddam regime risked execution and their families were made to suffer. Sanctuary therefore was sought in Britain.

Measuring Saddam’s ruthlessness on body count alone, Miran compares the crimes of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) to the Baathist slaughter of Kurds.

“If my numbers are correct, ISIS, during 2015, killed just over 2,000 people in Syria. Saddam in a matter of minutes killed 6,000 Kurds from the largest chemical attack in history, in Halabja. 

“Over the period of the Anfal campaign he killed nearly 200,000 Kurds … We’re still digging up mass graves to this day because of Saddam.”

Miran takes a harder line in support of the West’s removal of Saddam, but his tone betrays a deep sense of bitterness at the perceived abandonment of Kurdish and Shia rebels fighting the Baathists in 1991 at Washington’s behest.

“I think it was definitely right to topple Saddam and intervene. However, I think it was done too late. It should have been done in ‘91. The First Gulf War. That was when the people were rising up all over Iraq, because of what George Bush Sr. said – rise up against the regime. We did that. The Shias did that. The Kurds did that. Every oppressed people in Iraq did that. However, the betrayal we received led to the regime solidifying their grip over Iraq.”

Hussein Al-alak is less forgiving of the British-American intervention. The Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra) editor, whose mother is British and father Iraqi, believes the invasion opened a Pandora’s Box of sectarianism and ripened the conditions for the rise of Islamic State.

“Was it right for Britain and America to remove Saddam Hussein? No, it was not. And that is from a kind of policy perspective, because what we now have seen is an Iranian controlled regime, what we have seen is sectarianism on a scale that’s never existed inside of Iraq … and what we’ve also seen now is the destruction of the Iraqi state as a 21st century state apparatus.

“I would go so far as to say there was no post-war planning inside of Iraq from either Britain or America … When you invade a country, the first thing you don’t do is disband the state, you do not tell the army and you do not tell the police force that you’re all out of jobs. You don’t go and tell 24 million people that because you’ve lived under a one party state for 35 years that you’re all being made redundant, you don’t have jobs to go to and that we are the ones now in charge.

“When you go into a country and you impose that type of regime, which Britain and America did after 2003, you galvanize an entire country against you and it ends up in violence and chaos.”

Does bad planning constitute a war crime? Emad believes Britain and America’s culpability runs deeper than the mere failure to plan effectively for a post-Baathist era. For him, ‘shock and awe’ and ‘mission accomplished’ are bywords for state terrorism, perpetrated against the Iraqi people. Asked whether Chilcot is likely to draw the same conclusions, Emad holds out little hope for justice.

“I do not expect any benefit to Iraq, that’s certain,” Emad shrugs. “I don’t expect anyone will be prosecuted. I don’t think there will be any confirmation of war crimes. I mean, it is a war crime when you go and bomb a country, whatever it is, wherever it is. It’s a war crime. It’s state terrorism.

“When you send airplanes, and we all watch it live on TV, it’s like Star Wars films. We’ve seen it live, this is our people we talk about. We’re not talking about films in Hollywood. I was watching all night this bombing of innocent people … They come back very happy [saying] they accomplished their mission. What’s the mission? Killing innocent people … But there is no justice in the world. Who’s going to punish them? The United Nations?”

Hussein is less emotive in his appraisal, but no less scathing. In his view, unless convincing evidence of weapons of mass destruction is presented, and the 45-minute threat touted by Blair substantiated, Britain’s war on Iraq can be reasonably considered a war of aggression.

“The first question one needs to ask if the situation in Iraq was carried out either legally or illegally is did it have a UN mandate? No, it did not. Secondly … was it a war of aggression or a war of defense? If it’s a war of aggression, that means Britain acted as the aggressor, therefore the actions were unprovoked. If it was a war of defense, it means Britain felt threatened and Iraq posed an immediate threat to the sovereignty and the integrity of the United Kingdom.

“We were told there were weapons of mass destruction that could be set off in 45 minutes. Iraq under the sanctions was not allowed to import bleach, it wasn’t allowed to import pencils because pencils contained graphite. It wasn’t allowed to import pipelines to facilitate the flow of water. So if Iraq wasn’t able to import three items like that … how was Iraq going to pose a threat to the sovereignty of the United Kingdom?”

Even if Chilcot fails to identify anything legally constituting a war crime, in which case it will be widely considered a whitewash, will Britain at the very least draw lessons from the Iraq debacle? Miran says history has a nasty habit of repeating itself.

“Are we really going to get closure out of a report, over a decade later? When we’re still making the same mistakes in the region? We’re treating every problem the same. There’s a saying: if all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. And that is exactly what we’re seeing right now. So I do hope we learn from the report. But do I think we will? I don’t think so.”

Decades of war have built a level of emotional resilience among Iraqis that is hard for British observers to fathom. Emad is hopeful that a new generation of Iraqi millennials is emerging with a renewed commitment to a united national identity. He therefore saves his final thoughts for the architects of British and American foreign policy.

“I would say, the Western powers should not interfere in ‘Third World’ countries’ politics … If that is stopped, we, everyone, will live on a better, peaceful planet.”

EXCLUSIVE: Trident whistleblower William McNeilly breaks silence ahead of London demo (VIDEO)

MPs will soon vote on whether to renew Britain’s aging Trident nuclear weapons system. Ahead of Saturday’s anti-nukes protest in London, Royal Navy submariner-turned-whistleblower William McNeilly broke his silence and spoke exclusively to RT.

In May 2015, McNeilly, 26, leaked a report exposing 30 safety and security failures documented over his three-month tour on board one of Britain’s Vanguard submarines.

Narrowly escaping jail, McNeilly was dishonorably discharged, returning home to his native Belfast. Today he hopes to influence the Trident debate and halt the government’s drive for renewal.
I didn’t release my report to discredit the Crown,” McNeilly told RT’s Rob Edwards.

I didn’t release my report to discredit the Royal Navy. I released my report because safety and security [at the Trident base] is not being taken seriously. Because it’s a risk to the people and a risk to the land.

Among the safety and security failures exposed in McNeilly’s report are a fire in a missile compartment resulting from toilet rolls catching light, instances of missile safety alarms being muted and missile control center fault alarms being ignored.

The report also documents routine failures to follow safety procedures when working with missiles, missile compartments being used as a gym, seawater leaking into a hydraulic plant and sprinklers flooding a torpedo compartment.

Fire risks from a build-up of rubbish, water dripping onto electrical equipment and overcrowding on board were also featured as safety hazards.

At a time when the British government is concerned with potential terror threats against both civilian and military infrastructure, McNeilly’s description of elementary security failures makes for difficult reading.

His report describes top secret information left unguarded, routine failures to check ID cards and search bags brought aboard – and even nuclear safety exams being rigged.

You don’t even need to be part of the Navy – any logical thinking person, anyone with half a functioning brain cell can understand the risks,” said McNeilly.

At the airport you have your bags checked. They don’t check your bags [at Faslane]. Any bags, any boxes you’re bringing on board, they don’t check. Their attitude is it will take too long.

All you need to get on board is a couple of fake IDs. Terrorist groups like ISIS [Islamic State/IS, also known as ISIL] have already shown they can produce legitimate documents. Thousands of Royal Navy IDs go missing every year as well, so they could come across one. Increasing numbers within the UK have radicalized people, which increases the risk of one of them coming across an ID.
“Going on that patrol, I think there was 180 people on board. They’re all bringing on big bags unchecked. All it would take would be for one of them to have a bomb,” he added.

RT approached the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for comment on McNeilly’s claims. A spokesperson said: “Rigorous security measures are in place at HM Naval Base Clyde and it is nonsense to suggest otherwise.”

At the time of McNeilly’s arrest, a Royal Navy spokesperson said: “The Royal Navy disagrees with McNeilly’s subjective and unsubstantiated personal views but we take the operation of our submarines and the safety of our personnel extremely seriously and so continue to fully investigate the circumstances of this issue.”

Shocked by the apparent dysfunctional handling of Britain’s nuclear submarines and weapons, McNeilly’s experience turned him against Trident. He is now convinced the weapons fail to provide any kind of deterrent – instead presenting a dangerously exposed target for terrorists.

If you get a list of all the disadvantages, it would be huge. You could write books and books on it. Then they have one vague reason for keeping the Trident system. And that one vague reason is they say it’s a deterrent.

Was it a deterrent for the wars we fought recently? Afghanistan? Does it deter the people who were radicalized in Afghanistan? No. All it does is create a target for those people who are radicalized in Afghanistan, so it’s not a deterrent for those people, it’s an attraction.

It is an attraction to the people who were radicalized to carry out an attack on our homeland that could bring the UK to its knees.

It didn’t seem like [these issues] were going to be dealt with from within the system, and the only way I felt I could deal with it was by releasing a report. Then I’d know at least I tried. Because, what if I didn’t? What if I just juddered on? Just stuck it out? Then what happens? I’d be part of the blame because I didn’t do anything about it. It’d be on my conscience.”

McNeilly says he is different to other whistleblowers. Unlike former-NSA contractor Edward Snowden, for instance, McNeilly claims he is concerned with the apparent lack of security, not its excessive use.

Another thing people do is they throw whistleblowers all into one pile, like Snowden, Chelsea Manning and all that. But if you actually look at what I did and what they have done, you’d start to see that we’re polar opposites, in the sense that they released information because of their concern for too much security, which I believe would put people at risk, whereas I released information for a concern for security. I wanted security increased. I wanted the defense of the country increased … Maybe that is why we were treated different.

McNeilly was nevertheless smeared by the Navy and sections of the mainstream media, which sought to portray him as traitor, a spy and a threat to national security.

Some newspapers said I had top secret files on my phone, that I was on the run and that I was learning to speak Russian … Trying to make me look like a traitor, basically. Not someone who has released a safe document that doesn’t contain any top secret information. All it contains is safety and security concerns. It even shows my concern for top secret information left unguarded.

This idea that I’m a traitor who’s learning Russian. I’ve never learned Russian in my life. They made that up. No offence to the Russians, but I’ve never tried to learn their language.

Another thing they said was, oh, he’s crazy. Don’t listen to him.

If I’m crazy, then they’ve let a crazy, Russian, Scottish nationalist spy on board, given him access to all this top secret information, let me climb inside the equipment section of a nuclear warhead.

Addressing the upcoming parliamentary vote on Trident’s renewal, McNeilly pointed out the economic case for nuclear disarmament. He also argued that the weapons are obsolete in a post-Cold War world, while their costly disposal is environmentally unsustainable.

Think about the cost. What else wins votes? Making cuts doesn’t win votes. They don’t have to make as many cuts if they cut out Trident. We’re talking about £100 billion [US$140 billion], £167 billion, whatever it is, it’s not good for the UK in any way. You’ve got floods, police, fire brigade, NHS, our real defenses that we use every single day that people need. People don’t want the boats and we don’t need them.

We’ve not needed them in the wars we’ve been fighting. Maybe we needed them in the Cold War. They have served their time, they should be given respect for what they’ve done for our country during the Cold War, but not now. Times have changed. It’s a new world and they need to wake up, create real change, create a sustainable system.”

‘Treated like animals’: Children brutalized in Calais ‘Jungle’ (VIDEO)

RT UK journalist Rob Edwards, who was attacked by a knife-wielding gang while reporting from the Calais ‘Jungle’ camp, says refugee children resort to violence because European governments have dehumanized them.

The so-called ‘Jungle’ camp, near the French port town of Calais, is home to around 5,000 migrants and refugees, many fleeing war, poverty and persecution, others drawn by the promise of civil liberties and the dream of building a better life in Britain.

While European leaders fret over border security, welfare payments and an apparent upswing in xenophobia, unaccompanied children are trapped in a legal limbo, unable to safely claim asylum in Britain, where many of them have family and share a common language.

Hundreds in the camp are under the age of 18; children traveling unaccompanied across a continent with increasingly strained sympathies. Infants, too, in the care of parents or guardians, eke out an existence on Europe’s cold shoulder amid squalor and subzero temperatures.

RT’s Edwards spent a week in Calais to tell their story. But, on his final day reporting from the Jungle, he was attacked by a knife-carrying gang in an attempted robbery.

Much like the assault on a Dutch filmmaker earlier that same week, news of his attack polarized opinion on social media. “Parasites,” “animals,” “lawless scum,” “an invasion of fighting age men” – just some of the inflammatory rhetoric that followed.

Others shared a more nuanced view. While not excusing criminality, Edwards says children driven to the point of desperation, brutalized, dehumanized and denied their rights, can be expected to resort to violence. In reality, he says, these children are victims of Europe’s neglect and the product of their brutalizing experience.

Mohammed, an unaccompanied 15-year-old from Afghanistan, was among a group of migrants who claim they were attacked by plain-clothes police officers using police issue weapons. One victim allegedly lost an eye in the attack when his cheekbone was shattered.

Doctors in Lille stitched up gashes in Mohammed’s head and lip and discharged him back to the Jungle. His hands bruised and swollen, and unable to walk after assailants beat his knees with metal bars, Mohammed is slowly recovering in the care of other migrants and volunteers.

Aziz Khan, another Afghan migrant who brought Edwards to see Mohammed, describes life in the camp.

“We are being treated in here like animals. This is no life,” he says.

“We came here, from Taliban, Daesh [Arabic term for IS/ISIS]. We escape to survive.”

“But even here, they are worse than Taliban, [in particular] what they’re doing with the kids.”

Mohammed’s cousin, 16 years old and also unaccompanied in the camp, regularly suffers from seizures, Khan tells RT. Without specialist medical care, his debilitating condition goes undiagnosed.

With an older brother already in the UK, Mohammed’s case is being investigated by volunteer legal advisors hoping to use British courts to reunite unaccompanied youths with their families. Edwards says it took a traumatizing attack for Mohammed to be noticed.

As the French government seeks to rehouse the most vulnerable in shipping containers, on condition their occupants hand over their biometric data, migrants young and old continue to risk life and limb to board trucks and trains bound for the UK. As Edwards finds, a lack of legal opportunities to work and a fear of anti-Muslim racism drives many to spurn offers of asylum in France.

With European talks in deadlock and no viable solution in sight, Edwards says the rights of migrant and refugee children to health care, education and a family life, as enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, risk being trampled through sheer neglect.