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Should the US government apologise to the people of Iraq?

Updated Tuesday 18th March 2014

The civilian death rate in Iraq is at its highest since 2008. A US apology will not bring back the thousands of dead Iraqis, but it would indicate an acceptance of moral responsibility, believes Burhan Al-Chalabi.

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A soldier claims 'mission accomplished' against a burning background in this cartoon Creative commons image Icon Gary Edwards under Creative-Commons license After the invasion of Iraq, the US electorate sent a clear and unequivocal message to the world. By voting for President Obama who opposed the war, the American people signalled their rejection of President George W. Bush's foreign and domestic policies, and his destruction of Iraq.

Today, Iraq's sovereignty has been destroyed. Its wealth of cultural heritage has been looted or vandalised. Iraq's natural resources have been squandered, and its once-elaborate and sophisticated infrastructure has been laid to waste. Safety, security, and the rule of law are virtually non-existent. Terrorism is on the increase. The whole Middle East has either been destabilised or is, as a result of the chaos in Iraq, at high risk of instability, or even meltdown. Southern Iraq is largely under the control of the Tehran Government. And yet the Bush administration somehow failed to anticipate this outcome

Hundreds of people were assassinated or kidnapped, or simply disappeared every day. According to Iraq Body Count, over 180,000 have been killed as a result of the war, including up to 135,000 civilians.

The dismantling of the Iraqi state was at the heart of the US invasion. The war was never intended to be one of liberation. There was never an exit strategy. Instead, the focus was on diverting attention from the real strategic aims of the war, and its human and financial costs. The ultimate goal was to control Iraq's vast oil and gas resources and to remove Iraq as a military and political threat to Israel.

The problem isn't just the catastrophic failure of the war, or the suffering it has caused: it's the Bush Administration's unforgivable dishonesty towards the American, British and Iraqi public. American and British citizens were inveigled into this disaster. The true aims of the war were never shared with the American or Iraqi people by its architect, for fear of being rejected.

President Obama's message to the American public was one of change. The fundamental change needed is honesty, transparency and accountability with respect to the war against Iraq. Iraqis also want honest explanations for the destruction of their country.

In 2005, the Sunday Times revealed that the then-head of M16, Sir Richard Dearlove, told Tony Blair and his leading advisers following a visit to Washington in 2002 that the "intelligence and facts were being fixed round the policy" by the Bush administration.

Real not politicised justice must be seen to be done, to right the wrongs committed by the Bush's government against the Iraqi people.

In November 2011 and May 2012 the Kuala Lumpar War Crimes Tribunal allowed the courts after reviewing an impressive body of legal documentary evidence and victim testimonies to pronounce that culpability exists at the highest levels of Governments in the United State and the United Kingdom for war crimes and the crimes of torture. This can't possibly come as a surprise for George W. Bush and Tony Blair.

An unequivocal US apology must be given to the Iraqi people, for the pain and suffering inflicted upon them. There must also be an offer of compensation, in accordance with international law, for the collateral damage to both people and infrastructure. The war was illegal.

A US apology will not bring back the thousands of dead Iraqis, or ease the suffering of those who have lost their love ones, it cannot heal the injured, or shelter the displaced. But at least a US apology will amount to an acceptance of moral responsibility, and an admission that it has deceived the Iraqi people.

The hope is that a tragedy of this kind will never take place again, that the public will never again be deceived in this way, or international law so flagrantly violated.

Unless and until someone is held accountable, those who committed atrocities against Iraqi civilians will continue to walk the streets of London and Washington, safe in the knowledge they have literally got away with murder. Not only of Iraqi civilians but also of the members of the British and American Armed forces who were morally betrayed by their trusted executives.

This blog post is part of Society Matters. The blog seeks to inform, stimulate and challenge our understanding of this changing world and of our humbling role within it. Find out more about the blog and the team.
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