Iraqi mps debate whether us troops committed genocide

April 14, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Posted in Turkmens | Leave a comment
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Iraqi mps debate whether US troops committed genocide

niqash | Hayder Najm | tue 12 apr 11

niqash weekly

Last week Iraqi MPs debated whether US-led battles in 2004 could be prosecuted as genocide. Former prime minister Iyad Allawi, who assented to the missions, may also be implicated.

The controversial topic was added to the agenda just hours before the Iraqi parliament’s session for April 4. The request – made by two members of the popular Iraqiya list, one of the most powerful coalitions currently in Iraqi government – came as something of a surprise. To take this issue seriously, in an official capacity, would be sending the whole nation into “a dark tunnel”, other members of the Iraqi Parliament commented.

The topic in question: whether brutal US-led battles that took place in Fallujah in 2004 could be considered genocide. Fallujah, 65 kilometres west of Baghdad in the Sunni-dominated Anbar province, was once considered a capital for Iraq’s insurgent forces and after four US contractors were killed there in 2004, two major battles took place in the city in April and November 2004. The fierce fighting, authorised by the interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and including some Iraqi troops alongside Americans, displaced most of the city’s 300,000 population and resulted in thousands of deaths and injuries as well as leaving many of Fallujah’s buildings and businesses destroyed. The two MPs who proposed the discussion topic also demanded the passing of a law that would compensate victims of the Fallujah battles and their families.

The battles of Fallujah, in April and November of 2004, have continued to draw controversy both in Iraq and abroad. Firstly, because of the number of deaths – with some estimates at over 5,000 after the second battle – and the amount of property destroyed as well as locals made homeless. And secondly, because of the types of armaments used in the city, which was considered an insurgency stronghold. After first denying it, in 2005 the US military admitted to using white phosphorus in Fallujah – some activists have described this as a near relative to napalm and a chemical weapon even though, by strict legal definition, it is not considered as such. At the end of last year, researchers investigated a spike in birth defects in Fallujah and, as the UK’s Guardian newspaper wrote at the time, “for the first time concluded that genetic damage could have been caused by weaponry used in US assaults that took place six years ago. The authors found that malformations are close to 11 times higher than normal rates.”

The names of the proposing MPs were not made public but parliamentary sources told NIQASH that the men were Salman al-Jumaili, a senior figure in the Iraqiya block and Ahmad al-Alawi; both the MPs are from Anbar province and Fallujah is one of the largest cities in the province.

The addition to the agenda caused political turmoil. When other members of the Iraqiya list saw the agenda they refused to enter the hall. Members of the Iraqiya list, which holds 91 seats out of the parliament’s total 325, were well aware that the leader of their coalition, Iyad Allawi, was in power at the time and actually authorised the assaults on Fallujah. Which meant that any legal moves of this kind could potentially also lead to his prosecution.

According to internal sources, the two proposing MPs had apparently been motivated by provincial considerations but had not fully considered the national, legal repercussions of the proposal, nor consulted with list colleagues. The Iraqiya list MPs eventually agreed to enter the hall and assented to the proposal being submitted to the parliamentary legal committee. But even as they did so, the head of the legal committee, Khalid Shwani, reported that the proposition had been withdrawn by the two MPs who had originally sponsored it.

The political alliance headed by Allawi has since discussed the issue further and they may well present the proposal to parliament again, although next time it will be in a state that gives Allawi immunity from prosecution.

Meanwhile other MPs gave the idea a far warmer reception. Khalid al-Alwani, the speaker for the parliament’s integrity commission, vowed to press on with bringing those responsible for events in Fallujah to account.

“There is a group of MPs who will follow-up on the demands of the people of Fallujah and prosecute all those who were involved in acts of genocide,” al-Alwani told NIQASH. “Discussions during the parliamentary session have shown that political and personal interests are taking precedence over humanitarian elements and the needs of the families of the victims.”

Seven years after the battles of Fallujah, members of the provincial government in Anbar province in particular expressed satisfaction at the political debate and also wanted to see the establishment of a special criminal court that could look into the crime as well as the enactment of a law that would potentially define events in Fallujah as genocidal acts.

Al-Alwani said that local councillors were willing to provide “evidence and documents that proved genocide as well as testimonies of British and European experts which support the argument that unconventional and internationally prohibited weapons were used in that battles.”

The MP went on to compare the battles of Fallujah to oppressive military acts committed by the former Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein in the late 1980s and early 1990s that had already been defined as genocide by a special criminal court.

However, as one Iraqiya list MP, who preferred to remain anonymous, pointed out the incidents condemned by the special court all took place before the American invasion and change of government in 2003.

“Putting the proposal on the agenda leaves the door wide open and could end the political careers of a number of political leaders, especially those suspected of committing human rights violations during their period in power,” the same MP noted.

Two military operations that were launched by the government of current Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, in its first term might also fall under any special court’s jurisdiction. One in the Najaf province in 2007 and another in the Basra province in 2008 led to the deaths of, and injuries to, dozens of people.

According to Iraqi legal expert, Tariq Harb, more proof is needed before the battles in Fallujah can be defined as genocide. Article II of the United Nations’ Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as any act “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” And as Harb said, the events in Fallujah “cannot be described as genocide because they were not committed against a certain, set class of the society or a certain ethnicity – a precondition set in the international law on such crimes.”

Harb said that what took place in Fallujah in 2004 would more likely be considered a war crime. Should this be the case, US troops would not be liable to be prosecuted anyway. Under a 2008 pact, the US-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement, that also detailed the pull-out of American troops by 2011, the Iraqi justice system was given the right to prosecute American troops for serious crimes under some circumstances. However as Harb pointed out, the pact could not be used retrospectively, meaning that US troops could only be prosecuted for acts committed after 2008, when the pact came into force.

In order for the battles of Fallujah to be considered an act of genocide, the High Iraqi Tribunal (HIT) would need to make a special ruling. If the court issued such an order, the Iraqi Parliament could then also enact special legislation concerning “material and moral damages” in Fallujah.

However any decision by HIT, which was originally created after the 2003 invasion by the US-led provisional government to prosecute cases against Saddam and his top aides, “will not have an international dimension because the court is an Iraqi one and was created to look into cases against Saddam’s regime.”

The withdrawal of the case from the parliament files last week won’t end the controversy though. “There will be another round to broach the subject,” al-Alwani confirmed. The speaker of the house, Osama al-Nujaifi, also a member of the coalition that Allawi leads, had al-Alwani personally that this was not the end of discussions on the matter in parliament, he said.

“We will continue to work to bring justice to the people of Fallujah and to compensate the bereaved families and help them find their children,” al-Alwani told NIQASH. “History will always remember those who defended innocent people.”

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