by Chris Ames
Iraq Body Count has published a press release pointing out that it is six years since it wrote to the Inquiry about its failure to engage in any detail over the number of Iraqi casualties of the invasion and five years since it publicised that letter.
With the current debate focusing very much on the much smaller number of UK service people killed in Iraq, it’s a timely reminder, although it’s invidious to put them in opposition. As Iraq Body Count pointed out “there is only a single death toll of the war in Iraq: the complete one that includes all nationalities and all demographics.” I’m publishing the press release here in full:
For Chilcot and the Iraq War Inquiry, Iraq remains one giant unmarked grave of unknown size
When will the UK take a real interest in Iraqi casualties?
Exactly six years ago Iraq Body Count (IBC) wrote to Sir John Chilcot expressing alarm at how his Iraq War Inquiry showed no sign of pursuing any detailed investigation of the war’s principal casualties. If lessons were to be learned from an inquiry into the UK’s close involvement in the war, then its casualties (Iraqi civilian and combatant, British, coalition and all others) would need to be taken unflinchingly into account. Acknowledging his “entirely appropriate” concern to hear from and respect the wishes of bereaved British families, we argued that this thoughtful logic applied with even more force to Iraq, where the war’s impact was far more pervasive and, for many, “as close as their doorstep” (as it still is in 2015). Notwithstanding any such contrasts, we added that:
“Even with the undeniable disparity between the deadly imprint of the war on this country and on Iraq, there is a broader view in which its death toll is simply one that has been exacted on humanity. From that perspective, there is only a single death toll of the war in Iraq: the complete one that includes all nationalities and all demographics. Only by carefully attending to this larger death toll will we understand the war’s full consequences, and place ourselves in a position where the broadest and deepest lessons can be learned.”
Sir John responded to our letter by emphasising that his Inquiry’s terms of reference were broad and acknowledging IBC’s “useful” contribution to the store of knowledge on which the Inquiry could draw. But it appears that the latter was merely another way of stating that his Inquiry would itself do no new work on the question of Iraqi casualties.
Five years ago, and exactly a year after first writing Sir John, we made our letter public, adding the comments we republish below. All our criticisms of the Inquiry’s narrow focus still stand. We were, of course, mistaken to describe it as nearing completion. The delay to the Inquiry’s publication has become something of a national scandal, rightly so. But what remains unexamined is that despite the freedom that should have been afforded it by a broad remit, Chilcot’s Inquiry cleaves to the tradition of “a history of kings and queens,” taking scant interest in the ordinary people the war affected the most. Is such narrow focus really necessary in the 21st century?
Its inordinate delay might have been understandable had the Inquiry indeed resolved to take pains to understand the war’s full human consequences, including the suffering of the Iraqi people. This certainly would have required formidable effort, even if it did not attempt (as IBC now is in its Iraq Digital Memorial initiative) to pursue this goal at the appropriate level of individual lives lost. But there is nothing to indicate that the Inquiry has made an attempt of any kind in this direction, whether with regard to the killed or injured. So despite the name, the Iraq War Inquiry is unlikely to reveal anything new about casualties suffered by the country in which it took – is taking – place, no matter when its report is finally published.
We may still hope that the UK and others will learn lessons – real lessons, such as can be acted upon – from Chilcot’s Inquiry. But based on the vanishingly small attention the Inquiry afforded them, we should not expect Iraqi deaths to figure significantly in its findings, nor the views of Iraqi families, nor their needs, nor how their suffering may be alleviated.