Like Putin, Bush & Blair are overdue for ICC arrest warrants

George W Bush and Tony Blair are overdue for ICC arrest warrants for Iraq war crimes
6 min read

Hannah al-Khafaji

22 March, 2023
After flexing its jurisdiction by issuing an arrest warrant for Putin, Hannah al-Khafaji argues that the ICC must do the same for the architects of the Iraq invasion, who have evaded accountability for 20 years despite a long list of war crimes.
Demonstrators wearing masks depicting former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former US President George W. Bush protest in London on 6 July 2016 as they wait to hear the outcome of the Iraq Inquiry. [Getty]

Last week, the ICC decided to issue an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin for the alleged war crime of “unlawful deportation of Ukrainian children”, due to his supposed “failure to exercise control properly over civilian and military subordinates who committed the acts, or allowed for their commission.”

This ruling demonstrates that the ICC has legal jurisdiction over the political leaders of countries who are not members of the ICC – like Russia and the United States – and that political figures can be held directly responsible for the actions of their subordinates.

With this in mind, I have two suggestions for the ICC’s next arrest warrants.

If the ICC wants their arrest warrant for Putin to seem less tokenistic and biased towards the West, they should also issue arrest warrants for George W Bush and Tony Blair for leading the brutal and illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Despite national inquiries over British and American actions in Iraq, both reports were deliberately limited from investigating political leaders and blocked from having any real impact. Issuing Bush and Blair’s arrest warrants would also be an excellent way to commemorate the anniversary of the invasion.

Here are just some of ‘alleged’ US-led coalition war crimes committed during the invasion of Iraq that the ICC has to choose from:

"Wilfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health"

Coalition forces murdered and injured Iraqi civilians in so many ways that it is impossible to do justice to all their suffering here. Some of the most devastating acts were airstrikes – that were supposed to only target Saddam Hussein and his innermost circle – which killed at least 9,270 Iraqi civilians. Despite data showing the inaccuracy of these essentially “indiscriminate” airstrikes, Coalition forces did not stop their bombing campaign.

Similarly, the murderous use of white phosphorus and depleted uranium by Coalition forces burned Iraqis’ bodies to the bone and caused cancerous radiation poisoning. The severity of the suffering caused by white phosphorus and depleted uranium was well-known, yet still intentionally used against Iraqi civilians. Bush and Blair had the ability to prevent the use of such horrific methods by their militaries, but they failed to do so.

Civilian testimonies also reveal the widespread murder and ill treatment by Coalition forces. One Iraqi man interviewed said, “I was 100 percent sure [U.S. soldiers] would not shoot at a civilian” before meeting Coalition forces. “Now I’m 100 percent sure they will”.

Likewise, in surveys conducted by the Independent Institute for Administration and Civil Society Studies in April 2004, over half of Iraqi respondents said that “all Americans” act like the torturers at Abu Ghraib. Clearly, Iraqis’ daily interactions with Coalition soldiers were also extremely violent.

"Torture or inhumane treatment"

The Abu Ghraib torture photos speak for themselves, but these were not isolated incidents by rogue soldiers, as government media statements would have us believe. In February 2004, an ICRC report found that during arrests, Iraqis frequently suffered from “punching and kicking and striking with rifles”, part of a “consistent pattern” of brutality towards “all adult males present”, “including elderly, handicapped or sick people”.

During their detention, dogs were used to terrify prisoners, often until the dogs bit prisoners or the prisoners urinated from fear, and stripping detainees was another common interrogation procedure. Reports of forced sodomisation as a torture technique were also numerous, and many prisoners died during detention from heart attacks – which were recorded as “natural” causes of death in prison reports.

Far from being accidental incidents of officers breaking with their orders, Working Group reports in March 2003, US forces were already discussing legal loopholes that could be used if detainees sought future compensation for their torture by US military personnel.


Evidently, US policymakers saw human rights law as the problem – not their use of torture. This sentiment was reaffirmed in a disgusting email between military officials: “[Prisoners’] health vs. Geneva Convention vs. Our Mission. Mission first always”.

Currently, no arrest warrants have attempted to hold political figures to account for these alleged war crimes, despite deliberate inaction from political leaders to investigate reports of torture. The ICRC reported to the US military about torture in their detention centres two months before the public scandal broke out when “war trophy” photographs were published in CBS.

The lack of investigation of these allegations prior to the media scandal certainly seems like a “failure to exercise control properly over civilian and military subordinates” to me.

"Extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity"

The ICC should also issue arrest warrants for the decision by the US military to use cluster munitions and depleted uranium in its aerial bombing of Iraq. Both cluster munitions and depleted uranium were infamously extensive in their harm to civilians.

Even after the initial bombing, property remains unusable because of the continued threat of unexploded bomblets and radiation poisoning which remains in the soil for years – requiring specialist mine removal and environmental restoration teams.

Data about the devastating effects of cluster munitions has been publicly known since the Vietnam War, so political leaders cannot pretend to be ignorant of their devastating effect.

The sheer scale of their use was also unjustifiably extensive: Coalition forces fired over 1,000 metric tonnes of depleted uranium, and dropped over 10,000 cluster munitions – which released a total of 1.8 million deadly submunitions.

Considering how quickly the Coalition forces toppled Saddam Hussein, and their far superior military strength, the use of cluster munitions and depleted uranium cannot be justified by ‘military necessity’.

Again, Bush and Blair should be investigated for failing to exercise control over their subordinates who deliberately decided to use cluster munitions and depleted uranium as part of their military tactics.

So, it seems that Bush and Blair have a full bingo card of alleged war crimes available for trial – I invite our esteemed friends at the ICC to take their pick.

Hannah al-Khafaji is an MA student in Middle East Politics & Arabic at the University of Exeter. She writes predominately on decoloniality, gender, and post-2003 violence in Iraq.

Follow her on Twitter: @hannaalkhafaji

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.