Where Nobody Is Accountable

BAGHDAD — Killings, crime, lack of medical care, collapse of education, the list goes on. But with the occupation by U.S.-led forces now into a fifth year, and a supposedly democratic government in place, no one knows who to hold accountable for all that is going wrong.

It is the occupation forces, particularly the United States and Britain, that must be held accountable, many Iraqis say.

“It is good of these people to discuss accountability for theft, but the most important thing to account for is Iraqi blood,” Numan Ahmed, a human rights activist from the Adhamiya neighbourhood in Baghdad told IPS.

The British medical journal Lancet has reported that by July 2006, 655,000 people had died as “a consequence of the war.” It has reported that the risk of death among civilians is now 58 times higher than before the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

“By now a million Iraqis have been killed for no reason, and many millions disabled or badly injured just because of some thieves in Baghdad and Washington,” Ahmed said. “We are prepared to reveal the documents to condemn them even if takes us a lifetime.”

But Iraqis have no means to take action against occupiers.

The United States has not accepted jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, which has the power to investigate complaints of genocide. The United States took the view that the court could conduct “politically motivated investigations and prosecutions of U.S. military and political officials and personnel.”

U.S. opposition to the ICC is in stark contrast to the strong support for the Court by most of its closest allies. But Iraqis have found no way to proceed against these either.

With no doors of justice open to them, many Iraqis are now taking to unlawful ways to hit back at occupation forces and government targets.

“The only way to do it is at gunpoint,” 32-year-old Ali Aziz from Ramadi, 100 km west of Baghdad, told IPS. “They invaded us at gunpoint and we find it ridiculous to talk about any other way of getting back what belongs to us.”

Aziz said he had lost several friends in attacks by U.S. soldiers. “The whole world is dealing with this in a hypocritical way, and there is only us to claim our rights the way we find proper.”

The human rights group al-Raya filed a case in a local court in Fallujah against U.S. forces in 2004, following a massive military crackdown. About three-quarters of all buildings in the city were destroyed or heavily damaged during the U.S. assault in November 2004.

But U.S.-backed Iraqi security forces have hit out at the human rights group. “The secretary-general for the organisation has now been arrested by Fallujah police for reasons that we are not aware of, and the organisation is not functioning any more,” a member of the board, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS in Baghdad.

“It is not the right time to talk about accountability when daily killings by U.S. and Iraqi soldiers are still ongoing. God knows if it will ever be possible.”

A case for accountability could well be made. A judge from the United States wrote at the time of the trial of Nazi war criminals in Nuremberg in Germany in 1946: “To initiate a war of aggressionàis not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was judged by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan Sep. 16, 2004 as “an illegal act that contravened the UN charter.”

The lack of accountability appears now to be leading to greater support for armed resistance against occupation forces.

“What accountability are you talking about, sir,” said Abu Jassim from Fallujah, who lost four members of his family when a U.S. bomb destroyed his home during the first U.S. offensive in the city in April 2004. “Americans are criminals, and the whole world is covering up for their crimes.” They will be held accountable, he said, by “Allah” and by “the heroes of the Iraqi resistance.”

Iraqis are also angry over destruction of their civilian infrastructure, for which no one has been held responsible.

“The U.S. crime of deliberately crushing Iraqi infrastructure must be looked at as a crime against humanity,” chief engineer Jalal Abdulla at Baghdad’s Ministry of Electricity told IPS. “They did not have to do this to support their military effort, but they did it just to cause hundreds of thousands of deaths for no reason but cruelty.”

Others vent their frustration against what they see as an impotent United Nations. “The UN should be the place for asking those Americans why they committed so many crimes in Iraq,” said Baghdad resident Malik Hammad.

(*Ali, our correspondent in Baghdad, works in close collaboration with Dahr Jamail, our U.S.-based specialist writer on Iraq who travels extensively in the region)