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The Iraq inquiry should be conducted in secret


12:00 pm - June 17th 2009

by Dave Cole    


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“The Iraq war was a disaster” is a familiar refrain. Unfortunately, that doesn’t tell us very much. Do we mean the concept, the planning, the implementation, the strategy, the tactics, what? Or do we want an official stick with which to beat the government?

Were the problems with the Iraq war just the basis on which we went to war, or inappropriate equipment necessitating lots of UORs ?

Do we just want to know that the whole enterprise was a bad idea, or do we want to see where and why things were done badly or well?

If we put aside the hysterical, the more reasoned problems come under three heads; timing, secrecy and outputs.

Timing

The ‘why now’ question is easily answered; British troops there have largely withdrawn. Conducting an honest inquiry would have been impossible if witnesses thought they were kicking the stool from underneath troops in the field.

The ‘how long’ question can only be answered in reference to other inquiries. If the Hutton Inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly took six months to report and the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday has yet to report, why would we expect the Chilcot Inquiry to report in under a year?

This will of necessity be a painstaking process. Setting an artificial limit of twelve months will not help anyone. I would reply to anyone who says it is being put back till after the election for political reasons that desiring it to report early, half-cock, so that it can be used to hit the Labour party is also a political reason.

Secrecy

Much of the criticism has been on the issue of secrecy.

For one thing, I understand and agree with the logic of certain things being secret. Beyond the obvious issues of national security, I would make two points.

Firstly, we did not cover ourselves in glory. I’m guessing that there are plenty of people who will want to tell their part of the story but will not, for various reasons, want to do it in public. Their own conduct or that of ‘brother officers’ might have been wanting, or they might be concerned about leaving interpreters and other locally employed civilians in the lurch again.

Equally, an honest investigation will have to take information from people who we cannot compel to appear – from the USA, for instance – and who are unlikely to appear if they feel they would compromise confidences. Similarly, would (say) a representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government be likely to appear to discuss oil if their words were ferried direct to Washington and Baghdad?

Outputs

The inquiry has many issues to consider. Off the top of my head, they could include the lead up to the war, WMD, intelligence qua intelligence, use of intelligence, lack of embassy, use of intelligence from allies, the march on Baghdad, de-baathification, troop numbers, mission objectives in Basra, relations with civilians, the Awakening, civil-military co-operation, troop equipment and so on and so forth.

Quite beyond the simple questions of ‘were there WMD’ and ‘was the dodgy dossier sexed up’, there are questions about everything that happened in Iraq. There is a general understanding that we didn’t cover ourselves with glory, but after any operation of the size of Iraq, there is a need for a ‘lessons learned’ exercise. There are going to be two outputs, one public, one secret. As with the Dunblane inquiry, parts of the secret version may be declassified before the time limit to aid that process.

The ouput is not ‘Tony Blair was wrong’ but a whole range of comments, recommendations and criticisms. Those looking for an answer along the lines of ‘Tony Blair was wrong’ are missing the point and, ultimately, will make it harder for us to see where we went wrong, what lessons we can learn and how that affects and constrains future military conduct.

Ultimately, going to war in Iraq was a political decision. While an inquiry may do much, it cannot decide whether a policy was right or wrong. That is reserved for the electorate.

For the record, I opposed the Iraq war.

A longer version of this appears at davecole.org/blog

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About the author
This is a guest post. Dave Cole blogs on davecole.org.
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Story Filed Under: Foreign affairs ,Labour party ,Middle East

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Reader comments


Agree completely with this. I opposed the war too, but we can’t reverse the decision now. Much better for the inquiry to be of as high a quality as possible, even if that means we take a hit for not appearing to be transparent.

For the record – I supported the war. And I did so primarilly because although I thought it would be awful, I thought it would be somewhat less awful for Iraq if the British were involved rather than leaving it to the Americans alone.

To an extent that may have proved true with the British doing things like employing Iraqis in the ports and oil fields we controlled, stopping the Americans flying in american workers to do those jobs instead.

However – I do want an inquiry to be as open as possible on the areas that are of key public interest. And we should be honest about what that means.

An inquiry is a nice stick to beat a government with when that government can’t provide one as soldiers remain at war. It is a handy way for lib dems to remind people of their opposition. And it is a nice tool for tories to send out a disaproving tone despite their whole-hearted support for war.

And it is a valuable rant for a public who’s “bring them home” chant about our soldiers was quickly undermined as horribly selfish as it meant abandoning the Iraqis to a fate we’d inflicted on them.

So while we can pretend (as people have done) that the inquiry is about learning lessons for the future. For example, which tactics worked and which didn’t? How was local support won and lost at various stages? Could reconstruction be less costly? It isn’t about that.

It is a political rant – a chance for the nation to say “I told you so” and feel vindicated for hating politicians and thus feel less bad about their impotence in affecting any change at all. (We even re-elected Labour after the war was launched).

So it should be public. We’d then learn less and plan less well next time. But that has never been the purpose for those seeking inquiry.

You make some good points about why the inquiry should only hear evidence in secret, but that does not get around the problem that it will be impossible for anyone to independently assess the validity of the inquiry’s conclusions. This will surely undermine the credibility of anything it suggests.

http://petespolitics.wordpress.com

There are two entirely different areas that need investigation:

Firstly, the operational aspects covering troop deployment, equipment, rules of engagement, etc. There is a good, though not necessarily overwhelming, case for this area of investigation being behind closed doors.

Secondly, the decision to go into the war:

What was the advice of the attorney general? Did that advice change and if so why? Did parliament support the war on the basis of lies made to the house or were they given sufficient, accurate information? etc.

This second area should be subject to a public investigation because it is clearly in the public interest to establish this and an investigation behind closed doors has, by its very nature, no chance of providing this information to the people.

>>”Those looking for an answer along the lines of ‘Tony Blair was wrong’ are missing the point ”

No, they’re not.

Tony Blair had to make a choice involving many things, but mostly these three:
1) Ethics and legality – follow the US into a war for oil.

2) Do we have the equipment, planning and money to do this properly if we go in next week? – The answer was no. The plans weren’t in place, the “over by christmas” was neocon insanity and every expert said “quagmire” before the war even started. That makes Tony Blair responsible.

3) Can we even win, and when? – It was never going to work. Everyone knew it. The Americans were planning permanent military bases which would be a centre for extremist attacks for the rest of time. Iran was never going to allow Saudi to have a majority government there, it was always going to descend into Sunni/Shia death squads.

And that was a foregone conclusion because anyone with a brain knew Bush was there for the oil. When Jay Garner announced elections within 90 days, he was fired – that wasn’t long enough to secure the oil. The elections in the city of Najaf were cancelled and the Mahdi army formed as a direct result. They were labelled “insurgents”. Every demand from the Iraqis included “and we keep our oil”, the report from the Neocons said privatisation was compulsory “especially the oil”.

Now sure, no-one could have forseen the amount that the Neo-cons and the US State department would be fighting each other and making the whole thing worse, but the *general* picture was absolutely obvious from the outset. When Tony Blair made the political choice to go in, he did so with all of that on the table – insufficient equipment, no plans, unrealistic optimism of success, rejection of every expert in favour of the neocons’ complete dreaming 101-page report which said everything would be fine.

That makes him not only criminally negligent, but responsible. It IS his fault. Unless departments were lying to him about their capabilities and chance of success with that little preparation and planning, he had enough info to know. The dossier and everything else is secondary, HOW did we mess up once in is secondary. This was an oil grab, and he chose to do that to Britain.

Despite people, on the whole, seeming to be happy that a inquiry into the war will take place I’m afraid that it will be a pointless endeavour; it’s hardly likely that the inquiry will deal with any of the real issues concerning the war, for example, the real reasons why we went to war in the first place. No inquiry, open or closed, will admit or expose that the war’s real aims were to maintain the dollar as the world’s reserve currency, ensure continued access to cheap energy amongst other things.

7. Shatterface

We’ve got a choice between a public enquiry in which those who made the decision to go to war will have no reason to tell the truth, or secret inquiry with a better chance at getting at the truth but which we will keep it to themselves.

I don’t think either option will prevent this happening again.

Agree with Falco on issue of legality and Attorney General advice.

If UK does consider itself bound by international law then the lack of a separation of powers is clearly a major consitutional problem. The invasion was illegal. Without compelling evidence that Iraq had failed to comply with previous UN resolutions it was a crime of aggression. The fact that crime was essentially unpunishable has since massively shaken the entire framework of the debate about international justice mechanisms, humanitarian interventions and the International Criminal Court. An inquiry that fails to take in that issue – because it is too focussed on operational questions – will be a waste of time.

I agree with Simon Jenkins on this. If you want an inquiry into operational issues look at Afghanistan instead

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jun/16/iraq-inquiry-chilcot-afghanistan

I agree with Falco’s comment above. I don’t see why a compromise can’t be found, with part public-part private. As * Senior military and intelligence officers have said they would have no problem giving evidence in public, they think it’s important and it is.

After how divisive the decision to invade Iraq was, you can’t just turn the page without reading it first. Having it in secret will feed the conspiracies and anger. The inquiry needs to help heal that rift to.

* http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/generals-go-to-war-over-iraq-inquiry-1706908.html

The reason it is being kept secret is so Blair can become the prez of Europe, end of.

Look at the the members of the inquiry team; they would never write anything which could tarnish the reputation of a PM . The Franks Report conclusions exonerated Thatcher even though there was plenty of evidence that the Argentinians had plans to invade the Falklands. No former senior civil servant is ever going to criticise another former senior civil servant.

Blair prevented adequate planning to occur prior to invasion in order to pretend a UN route was going to happen. This lack of planning caused the deaths of Britons and Iraqis. Britain started the planning for life after the Nazis in 1941. I consider the lack of planning by Blair his greatest mistake because this negligence caused the death of Britons.

I agree with Conor. There is a question that has to be debated in public: does the UK support international law? At present the official position on this, in the context of Iraq, would appear to be that
– the invasion was legal for some reason to do with WMD
– but really the invasion was not about WMD, it was to change the regime (which is illegal).

For the reasons that Conor outlines, this has to be brought out into the open. It will be very awkward for most politicians, who have spent the last 7 years avoiding the question of international law, but it is very unhealthy to maintain the pretence that there isn’t a big issue here.

Obrigado Guano

For a while British Foreign policy seemed to be based on this ambiguity. I think the following speech was when David Miliband ruled himself out as a serious contender for the Labour party leadership

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/feb/12/waronfacts

In the last couple of days there was a leader in the Times saying, re Iraq, that there was a democratic decision to overthrow a dictator and so there’s nothing to discuss. Two points (as the Swedish Chef would say):-

– there was decision in Parliament in March 2003 to invade Iraq because it had failed to disarm; Parliament accepted Tony Blair’s assurance that he knew the WMD existed; the “overthrow a dictator” reason only emerged when the WMD were shown to have been dismantled in the 1990s
– invading a country to change its regime is illegal under international law and this is very clear.

There’s plenty to discuss. It’s a very funny form of democracy where war aims are changed post-hoc and parliament is in favour of breaking international law, without ever even acknowlidging that this is an issue. I would hazzard a guess that the Times’ leader was written by Oliver Kamm, who has his own views on these issues. The risk is that extreme views, such as those of Kamm, become accepted as UK policy by default, or that we continue with the current ambiguity in which no-one seems to be able to say openly why the UK got involved in the invasion of Iraq.

There seems to be some re-writing of history going on here.

Conor

the link you post to states as fact that genocide in Kosovo was exagerated and so the Nato assault killed more people than would have otherwise died. Ignoring that even were they not slaughtered, the making of hundreds of thousands of kosovan refugees was bad enough, I have to wonder about the slightly myopic nature of that assumption. Serbia had by then a pretty well documented practice of ethnic cleansing through mass murder. (read Behind the Curtain – Travels in East European Football for a surprisingly unnerving account of that) Assuming that just because they hadn’t got that far yet they thus were not going to is, frankly, a little like hoping Hitler might stand by his promise to leave Poland alone.

Guano

This notion that removing Saddam and instilling democracy was an argument tact on later is just not true. In fact it was clear in his speech to the TUC in autumn 2002 that removing Saddam was a big part of his moral justification. Just not part of the legal case.

Just as trying Al Capone for tax evasion was only a legal tool to stop a killer, so WMD was always the legal tool to start a war. It was not itself the reason for war, or the only justification used to win people round. (hardly uncommon for a developed society that well knows that what is legal and what is moral are not always the same).

None of which made Blair right, or justifies the war or negates the need for a public inquest.

It just grates at me that people end up glossing over details and misreporting what happened in order to exagerate a case that just doesn’t need exagerating.

Margin: Al Capone did evade taxes, Iraq didn’t have WMD.

Very true. As is that Elephants have larger ears than mice. Completely irrelevant to my point, but no less true for it.

Margin: thanks for the reading advice. I prefer to base my opinions on first hand experience though. Kosovo and Bosnia were two different places – although I have worked in both of them.

Conor

I tend not to trust my first hand experience alone. Often it is too subjective, biased and emotional. Hence a strong grasp of historical and political context aligned with the humility to consider other people’s experience equally valid can prove valuable.

And Bosnia and Kosovo are an awful lot more similar places and faced an awful lot more similar circumstances than Rwanda under the Hutus in 1994 and England under Ethelred in 1002.

OK, well based on my experience of living in Kosovo for a year and visiting and working in both Kosovo and BiH over a three or four year period, reading up extensively on the history of both countries and researching a chapter for a book about Kosovo can I say again:

There was no genocide in Kosovo – nor an attempted one. Prior to NATO’s intervention the Serbs counter-insurgency policy against KLA terrorists had killed several hundred people (the absolute top estimate is 1,500), but the big spike in killings came after NATO started bombing the place. That is also when the Serbs launched their policy of driving large numbers of people from their homes in the hope of creating a refugee crisis that would swamp neighbouring states and pressurise NATO to call off its actions. Of course such actions were reprehensible, but you cannot cite them as justifications for NATO’s intervention given that they happened after it.

I didn’t cite them as justifications of anything. I said your article was myopic for making assumptions about the future actions of a national military that behaved entirely differently to those assumptions in the very recent past and went on to behave dispicably soon after.

Also – I should stress that I didn’t live through the St. Brice’s Day Massacre in 1002. Nor have I experienced Danish agression against England or lived among a large and previously agressive though by then largely agrarian foreign peoples.

Yet many who did seemed to think the massacre might deter further Danish agression. They were wrong. That suggests I’d suggest that personal experience is a long way from insight, and is a rather weak justification for predicting the future.

Margin: But my ‘myopic’ view is based on an extremely close knowledge of exactly what happened in Kosovo during the time period that we are talking about.

I was responsible for Amnesty UK’s crisis response campaign on Kosovo during the summer and autumn of 1998 – when the first wave of of people fled their homes. Several friends of mine were part of the OSCE’s Kosovo Verification Team that was deployed to the region that September – and whose evacuation after the Racak killings made the slight to war virtually inevitable. I first went to the region to train people on international law in the refugee camps while the war was still happening. I was also in the first wave of international civilian staff to get to Pristina in August of 1999. I then spent a year deployed there for a UN agency.

I agree that none of us could have predicted the future, but many of us did have very strong reservations about whether a bombing campaign was the best response to the crisis. On balance, by the time the action actually occurred, I supported it, but its consequences were catastrophic and the atttempts to re-write history and claim it as a success are extremely dubious. The international community is rightly castigated for the mistakes it made that led up to the killing of 8,000 civilians in Srebrenica. A similar number probably died in Kosovo and yet this was portrayed as a model for future interventions. Had the real lessons of Kosovo been learned by policy-makers maybe some of the disasters of Afghanistan and Iraq could have been avoided.

Conor

Thinking about this seriously, I’m open to being convinced on the Kosovo issue. I’ve never given it much thought beyond what I’ve read and what I consider to be a common sense analysis of the situation.

So – if you know a great deal about the war, please provide me with evidence. In particular try to help me see how Racak’s experience was not likely to be repeated had Nato not bombed.

I should stress of course I’m not too interested in whether Rasak was the opening act of genocide or not – but more in that by the time of the “incident” the town had lost 80 percent of its people already. That suggested some level of ethnic cleansing. And that incident was itself months before Nato bombed.

So what was exceptional about Racak that the crime of ethnic cleansing there would not be repeated elsewhere?

I should add of course, that while I’m better informed about failures in previous Balkan conflicts, I would think that people accept Nato’s efforts in Kosovo, flawed as they might have been, for the same reason they accept Hiroshima.

The notion that the greater good was served by ensuring, ultimately, far fewer deaths and suffering – is a powerful one.

>>The notion that the greater good was served by ensuring, ultimately, far fewer deaths and suffering – is a powerful one.

But an illegal one. Regime change on moral grounds due to the dictator being a complete psycho is still not within international law (even if we previous sold him weapons, trained his troops and voted to not even raise the gassing of the Kurds as an item in Parliament at the time).

It would be nice if we could depose a cruel and violent leader so as to bring a better life to the majority of his people (Mugabe for a start) but we always seemed to follow up by moving in and taking resources. So it’s illegal with good reason.

Even if that argument applied to Iraq, a baby could have forseen the result we have today. I did, and I knew nothing about it in 2003 beyond what the experts were saying. Because he ignored them, because he went in with no planning when there should have been years of it, and because it was a cynical oil grab which has harmed this country and world security more than any other in decades, Blair should pay for it. Preferably in a war crimes court.

Sorry Steve – we were talking about Kosovo. I know its a weird tangent.

But I quite agree that simply removing an unsavoury dictator is not a legal justification for war.

The legal justification was the WMD claim – which was of course the part of the case made for war that was by far and away most controversial.

Margin: Racak has been the subject of so many claims and counter-claims that it is difficult to say definitively what happened. The concern, which I have heard expressed repeatedly by people who were there, is that William Walker – the head of the KVM – had decided to use it to tip the argument in favour of military intervention. Here is one account that I got from a random google

http://www.wsws.org/articles/2002/jul2002/walk-j20.shtml

It is a fairly partisan account, of course, but some of the concerns it raises are valid.

The best journalistic account I have read is Tim Judah’s book on Kosovo, which seems reasonably balanced.

I would agree with you that ‘The notion that the greater good was served by ensuring, ultimately, far fewer deaths and suffering – is a powerful one’, but I just don’t think that applied to Kosovo. Even now, 10 years on over 100,000 people are unable to return to their homes, when you add together the direct and indirect victims of the intervention, I think it did more harm than good.

Looking at the Balkans as a whole, I would say that there were two broad trends that happened. From 1989 up until 1995, Milosovic supported an aggressive Serbian nationalist policy, which fed on real and imagined grievances and tore apart the former Yugoslavia.

However, from 1995 up to 2000 the trend was the opposite, Serbs were driven out of Croatia, and large parts of Bosnia and faced a campaign of terrorism in Kosovo (a reaction to the discriminatory and brutal policies that they had been pursuing there). By 1998 the Serbs were adopting an extremely reactive and defensive posture in response to the series of defeats that they had suffered. Milosovic was isolated and vulnerable and only just clinging to office. I think that he would have accepted a deal to restore Kosovo’s autonomy at that point (although not the deal that was on offer at Rambouillet) and so negotiations could have succeeded. I think a large reason why Clinton and Blair prefered the military option was in response to the west’s failure to have prevented Srebrenica.

When people think about the history now they go straight from Srebrenica to the images of the mass expulsions that occured after the start of NATO’s bombing campaign without really understanding what happened in between.

Regarding the Iraq inquiry. What a lot of people would ideally want – myself included – is a criminal investigation which would result in those ultimately responsible going to jail and never coming out again. This is not hysteria, this is a desire for justice. I look at any inquiry in the light of this absence. I don’t think it is legitimate to see the inquiry in its own terms, or that a sufficient remedy for the acts committed (“disaster” is the wrong word, since it smacks of a natural occurrence or something that just happened, not something that was done by its perpetrators) is available to an electorate, whose only power is to dethrone, not to pass judgement or to incarcerate.

Conor

Serbia had taken a largely defencive position by then – although we should keep in mind that Kosovo was part of Serbia, which made their reaction to is autonomy and cessation somewhat less predictable. This was after all, no less nationalist a nation for its defeats. And the man in charge was not one for compromise at any stage in his leadership.

But my query about Racak is not really about the incident. Before that Racak was just the name of a small town of 2,000 people, which had actually lost most of those 2,000 people already.

Which is why I tend to think that some level of ethnic cleansing was underway before Nato intervened, and that would have continued and escalated further had Nato not acted.

The suffering was hastened when Nato attacked, but then we would hardly blame the Allies in WW2 when their impending victory triggered a hastening of the holocaust effort. Nor would we assume that its hastening increased the total suffering in the long run.

So I think it is still fair to believe that ethnic cleansing, and perhaps genocide, were at least highly plausible outcomes had Nato not bombed. And that would have meant a lot more suffering than Nato’s involvement caused.

Joshua

Remember that the electorate voted Blair back in after he took the nation to war. So our collective view was either agreement with, or indifference to the war.

I think trying Blair for war crimes would be a big waste of time though. The legality is disputable, and retrospectively the UN largely sanctioned occupation.

Hence we need a public and open inquiry into the process of going to war – not to learn lessons (that can be done behind closed doors, and god knows the public don’t really care about that stuff to the extent that they would read about tactical details) – but to give release to the public’s sense of impotence at their own failure to make any difference – and to offer some vindication to their hatred of those who started the war.

To go back to post 15:-

I see nothing in Blair’s speech to the TUC in 2002 that makes a case for ignoring international law and invading a country to change its leader or political system. The speech is the kind of speech that Blair was making at the time, in which he tries to build up a picture of Iraq as a threat. There are the usual talking points:-

– mention of 9/11 (tick)
– Iraq has already invaded two countries (tick)
– weapons of mass destruction (double tick)
– go through the UN but the UN had better do its duty (tick).

There is nothing there about invading Iraq because it is a dictatorship. The issue of international law is not addressed. It may have worked as a speech delivered by Blair (a good orator) without any opportunity for debate or discussion and with an army of spin-doctors fanning out afterwards to tell journalists what a fabulous speech it was. When the foot-soldiers were sent out to public meetings and debates, the questions were always the same: What has Iraq got to do with 9/11? Isn’t invading Iraq a dangerous distraction from improving secuirty against international terrorists? Why invade Iraq in 2002 because it started a war with Iran in 1981? The same happened when diplomats and special envoys went out to members of the Security Council, and there were no good answers to those questions.

Fast forward 6 months to March 2003. There is no evidence that Iraq has anything to do with 9/11 or that invading Iraq will improve security against terrorism or that Iraq has offered weapons and training to Al-Qaida,. There is no evidence that Iraq is about to invade any other country, or is even able to. Intrusive weapons’ inspection are happening and there is no evidence that Iraq has WMD programmes. And no UN resolution. But the UK joins in the invasion because “Iraq has failed to disarm” which turns out not to be true.

So, as I said previously, there are a host of unanswered questions. Going to war because a country has WMD and because it is run by a dictator are completely different things, legally and in practice. Time to get this out in the open, I think.

There’s nothing to get out in the open.

Saddam was messing with the Oil Price because he could, and threatening to deal in Euros not dollars. He had to go. Everything else is lies added on afterwards by the US or UK to justify something which had already been decided.

Unprecedented number of protesters, dubious legality, utter absence of WMDs… nothing was going to stop it. Link it to 9/11 and call anyone who doesn’t vote for it unpatriotic, there you go.

Nothing short of criminal charges will satisfy the public who have suffered – the billions of pounds spent, the erosion of civil liberties at home, the increase in global terrorism. An investigation into how the Army could have been more effective once in there is irrelevant, and doesn’t answer the important question of legality.

Guano

It is time to get it out in the open. And legally there is no basis for removing even the worst of dictators (which Saddam undoubedtedly was among). Hence the big focus on WMD.

But the TUC speech ran as close to emphasising that this was a brutal dictatorship to be replaced as was possible without actually stating it (which would of course have been illegal and rather foolish as he was still trying in vain to win the security council round)

But we are now debating the rather small historical point of whether or not the moral justifications for war were emphasised early on or not. Which is a whole different matter to the legal case which turned out to have been just plain untrue.

Steve B

Ae you American?

I ask because while I know it was fashionable to bang on about it being oil focused back when Bush was in the White House – And to an extent it is hard to ignore how the USA and France took exactly the stance that suited their oil industries. – the “call anyone who doesn’t vote for it unpatriotic” is rather American.

In the UK that was generally not the tone. In the UK the war scarcely ever supported by a majority of the population (briefly at the very start of war but only for a week or two, and only based on rather poor poling). It was fairly widely opposed by the state owned media. And Blair himself was always clear that he “respected” that people had genuine reasons for seeing it differently to him.

So there was no “label them unpatriotic” tone at all, aside from some rather patchy sillyness from papers like the Mail, which had next to no influence on the mentality of the nation.

Thinking back, only the Mail, the Express, the Sun, and perhaps somewhat ambiguously the Times really “supported” the war.

The news channels didn’t, and nor did the other papers. (Even the Telegraph, generally right wing, carried some pretty strong reservations)

That said – I agree that the inquiry is nothing to do with learning mistakes. It is about revenge by a public that was impotent and even re-elected the same government after the war.

Hi Margin,

No, I’m not American. I agree the UK public wanted nothing to do with it in general, but the MPs seemed to be terrified of voting no. Far more lined up to vote for it than were reflected in the views of their constituents, and while it may have been due to heavy use of the party whip and sexing-up of evidence and rhetoric, the whole thing smelt of fear too.

In the US it absolutely was about 9/11 and patriotism, of course. But I think the US reasons are relevant, as Blair went in solely *because* the US did. That may have been all about Saddam messing with supply rates and the Neocons’ insane idea of taking on OPEC, but it determined the course the UK would take.

The fact it was based on lies isn’t what makes me angry. Even if it was merely on bad information and bad judgements (such as not taking more time to plan) the responsibility rests with the PM. Anyone making that huge and costly a mistake in any other job would be fired – when it involves the lives of so many military personnel and the money and security of the public, I want a criminal charge. Even if it’s criminal negligence or similar.

I may not get my wish, but justice demands that it at least be investigated.

I’m not so sure about the fear analysis.

I remember reporting on it at the time, and although I was very junior at my firm and not exactly experienced at political analysis back then, I remember being struck by how compelling the evidence was.

Now as it goes I didn’t believe the evidence. But I think we forget that within the Commons there are a great many wider factors at play. There was strong and understandable deference to MI5 and 6. And there was also a strong sense of competing priorities. (Should a socialist oppose and maybe bring down a government on war, that was ramping up public spending and reducing poverty?)

So compelling sounding evidence was more than enough to win round MPs who did not consider that vote to be the most important they would face that year.

And the public took much the same view – re-electing the same government a couple of years later. (Maybe politicians are sometimes in touch with true public sentiment?)

Of course I agree that we went in because America did. That was the absolute reason. And as such I backed thw war.

I still wonder what Iraq might be like now had part of their nation not been occupied by Britain, with its reasonably sensible policies on civic reconstruction in urban conditions. Becayse the US started out training their troops with Israeli experts in that field – before doing an about-face and asking the british to explain their methods. (Seriously – a frightening prospect)

As for the re-election, it was on 22% of a very low vote, with many Labour MPs deliberately not using Blair’s name or image on their materials… I didn’t see it as a vote of confidence in the decision to go to war.

The reports I’ve heard from UK troops have them doing incredible work in absurd and insane conditions. They definitely made a huge difference for the better, and your comments about the US erm… ‘liasing’ on details doesn’t surprise me at all. But honestly, we didn’t even control the Green Zone let alone anywhere else. It was a no-win from the start, as soon they did anything but hold immediate elections and hand the oil to the Iraqi people. Suicide bombers, IEDs, it was all horribly predictable. (And, indeed, widely predicted.)

The only question now is how it will end. Will they need to partition Sunni and Shia areas? Are the Kurds just completely screwed? There doesn’t seem to be a good answer, but pulling the US and UK out was the only step that would reduce the easiest *excuse* for violence. Now we just have to hope that the people have had enough of extremists, and Iran / Saudi can find a Sunni / Shia ratio of government which they can live with.

Steve B

It wasn’t a vote for war – but it definately stated that despite the vigourous campaigning of those opposed to war, they failed miserably to make any difference to the result. The public simply didn’t much care.

British troops are largely out of Iraq having long ago given up active engagement in all but the most unusual of circumstances, and the American “surge” dramtically reduced violence in their regions. So it is not all bad now and it seemed the people there were fed up of extremism quite some time ago. However, the how it ends question is a good one. No one knows. But as things stand the “end” is a rather fractious and poor country with reasonably democratic practice and institutions despite ongoing though somewhat reduced violence.

Not an ideal state, but one that could be the basis for a good future for the country, or might yet be the basis for civil war.


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