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The Independent reveals today that the Admiral at the head of the Royal Navy at the time of the Iraq invasion seriously doubted whether the war was legal.

This confirms what I already suspected about the chasm between the military and government in 2003. From what I understand – in the UK, at least – the military was not keen on invading Iraq. Nor are they keen on staying in Iraq. Yet they can’t say this publicly because they aren’t supposed to be political. It’s a shame, really, because it seems to me the people who are actually on the ground might have a little more to contribute to the debate than, say, a Prime Minister who is more concerned with creating a legacy for himself and cozying up to Bush than doing what’s right.

The Iraq war is the responsibility of Tony Blair and the Bush Administration, not the military. I can’t tell you how angered I was to hear that tool Lou Dobbs tell Bill Maher recently that the failures in Iraq were due to the poor planning of the U.S. military. No, the failures in Iraq are due to the shitty idea of going into Iraq in the first place – a decision that was taken by Bushy and his cronies. Hell, I was still in undergrad when the invasion happened and even I thought it was the stupidest idea ever – not only because the reasons for it were unclear and it was illegal, but also because there was no way they’d win. It was a bad strategic move – expensive, deadly, wasteful, pointless. Oh, and morally wrong – but that’s a different argument that the pro-war folks don’t really want to engage with.

Here’s an excerpt from the article on Admiral West:

What was noticeable was the difference in attitude among the men and women compared to the Afghan war. There was genuine unease and it was the duty of the chiefs of staff, as the head of the services, to get clarification about whether they would be in breach of international law. There was also a degree of worry about the independence or otherwise of the government legal advice.

Admiral West approached lawyers … on whether the impending action over Iraq was justified. It was a personal decision on his part and he felt this was necessary because of his duty of care towards people serving under him. He and the other service chiefs did not walk blindly into Iraq, they asked all the questions they could under the circumstances and with the ever-present caveat that they could not stray into the field of politics.

I have as many problems with the culture of the military as the next anti-war feminist – military culture is inherently misogynistic and pro-violence – but I’m also not one to blame the messenger. The responsibility in going to war lies with the politicians, while the responsibility for the conduct of war is shared both by the military and by the politicians that sent them there ill-equipped. And, remember, it is the politicians at the top who gave the military the OK to torture, and who continue to proclaim the virtues of torturing suspected terrorists. The recent Republican presidential candidates debate reveals that all the candidates, with the exception of good old Ron Paul, are clear supporters of torture – even going so far as to say that the US needs more folks like Jack Bauer. (Watch that clip – sickening!)

Here in the UK, blood is boiling about the war and I suspect there’s only a few little loyal Blairites who are still in support of Iraq. It should be interesting to see what Blair’s legacy really is a few years from now, and how long the British public – and the British military – put up with a bunch of tools making stupid decisions that are costing far too many lives.

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Salon.com has an excellent article on women soldiers in the U.S. Army who are sexually assaulted or threatened with sexual assault by their fellow soldiers.

Some excerpts:

I have talked to more than 20 female veterans of the Iraq war in the past few months, interviewing them for up to 10 hours each for a book I am writing on the topic, and every one of them said the danger of rape by other soldiers is so widely recognized in Iraq that their officers routinely told them not to go to the latrines or showers without another woman for protection.


“There are only three kinds of female the men let you be in the military: a bitch, a ho or a dyke,” said Montoya, the soldier who carried a knife for protection. “This guy out there, he told me he thinks the military sends women over to give the guys eye candy to keep them sane. He said in Vietnam they had prostitutes to keep them from going crazy, but they don’t have those in Iraq. So they have women soldiers instead.”


The real attitude is this: If you tell, you are going to get punished. The assailant, meanwhile, will go free.
Check out the article here.

Those of us studying feminist IR, gender and conflict, “new wars” in Africa, and grassroots politics are never surprised by stories like this. Rape is very common in conflict. It is a deliberate strategy often used by all parties to the conflict, whether rebel groups or national militaries, or security services such as the police. In patriarchal societies (ours included) women are conceptualized in terms of their bodies and as reproducers of the nation. Rape is about power and hate. In conflict, rape is a way to humiliate and shame the enemy. It is done to take power away not only from the woman but from her family and community. It is at once a personal and communal attack.

We all know that in the years since the United States invaded Iraq security for women has been severely curtailed. Many Iraqi women are afraid to leave their homes. Occurrences of rape have multiplied in the last few years and many women have disappeared. When a Sunni woman claimed on Monday that she had been raped by three officers in the Iraqi National Police, the reaction wasn’t pretty. Iraq divided along sectarian lines: Shiites condemned her while Sunnis supported her. In a ridiculous move, Iraq’s Prime Minister released some kind of medical reports that supposedly show the woman was not raped. (U.S. military officials cannot confirm the authenticity of the document, nor can they say how the Prime Minister’s office actually got these records in the first place.) Now the Prime Minister’s office is calling her a liar and a wanted criminal. This is bullshit.
Here is an excerpt from today’s New York Times:

“If we want something, we will take; and things we don’t want, we will kill,” the woman said she was told.

She said that the attack was videotaped and that she was told she would be killed if she told anyone about it.

A nurse who said she treated the woman after the attack said that she saw signs of sexual and physical assault. The woman, according to the nurse, could identify one of her attackers because he was not wearing a mask, as were the others, and could identify a second attacker by a mark on his genitals.

The nurse would speak only on the condition of anonymity because she feared that Shiite militiamen would kill her for speaking out. The nurse said she was also wanted by the authorities, who believed the clinic she works at was used by insurgents.

She said the clinic was simply for Sunnis in the Amil neighborhood who were too afraid to the visit the Shiite-run hospital.

It is not uncommon for rape victims to be further attacked and vilified when they speak out against their attackers. It is very rare for women in Muslim societies – or any highly patriarchal society – to actually speak out against this, because they are often blamed and, in some cases, killed for making it public. Why would any woman in Iraq make up a story like this? As the NYTimes says:

Sabah Salem, a professor at the Baghdad University College of Law, said that while men were occasionally charged with rape in Iraq and punished, many cases went unreported.

“Rape cases in Iraq are viewed as a shameful thing to any woman regardless of the fact that she is the victim,” he said in an interview.

I’m surprised that the Prime Minister of Iraq would be part of these attacks on this woman. Whether the sectarian issue is “delicate” or not, the reaction should be to condemn rape completely, not to accuse the woman of making the story up. It looks like the Americans haven’t gotten around to conducting gender mainstreaming training for their new friends in the Iraqi leadership – not that I’m surprised. Prime Minister or not, he’s still blaming the rape victim, and that is wrong. Then again, given the high-profile cases of American soldiers raping Iraq girls, why would we expect them to get it either? Proof that there is still a very, very long way to go.

I remember thinking when the U.S. invaded Iraq that this would be very dangerous for Iraqi women. I wasn’t wrong.