Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Iraq: The perils of playing ‘the western blame game’

The future of Iraq is in the balance, millions of people are fearful for their futures and yet the focus for too many here is how to blame Tony Blair as if the 2003 invasion is the primary cause of the current problems of Iraq.

It is very bad history and completely neglects the responsibilities of Iraqi leaders who have emerged in the democratic elections in Iraq since 2003. Many have failed but wise political leadership does not easily emerge from a society where it was repressed for decades.

For me, the worst aspect of the intervention was how it was implemented. The burden of this responsibility lies with the Pentagon who ignored the detailed state department plans for the day after and blundered like a bull in a china shop, although all the dilemmas they faced were deep. Reams will be written about this and rightly so. But it is only one part of the picture.

If we are to play the western blame game alone we could denounce the complicity with the Kurdish genocide in the 1980s or, even further back, the foundation of the Iraqi state by the British and its insistence that three separate peoples be forced to share a territory, pretty much against their will in the case of the Kurds.

The terrible solution to this was a dictatorship of the Sunni minority for years, supported for their own reasons by western countries, although it involved mass repression of the Shias and genocide against the Kurds.

The post-Saddam solution was federalism, which was enshrined in the Iraqi constitution of 2005, itself endorsed by the overwhelming majority of Iraqis. But like Stalin’s infamous Soviet constitution of 1936 it was a dead letter in reality.

Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki failed to provide inclusive and non-sectarian leadership in a fully-functioning federal administration. Once American troops withdrew in 2010-11, the Shia prime minister, more concerned with consolidating his Shia bloc and centralised rule from Baghdad, moved against Sunni politicians and has been sabotaging the Kurdish success story at every turn.

The Kurds have had the strength to resist and get on with massive transformations that have developed their economic independence and ability to sustain themselves by exporting oil to their new ally, Turkey.

Some Sunnis have gone down a different road which has resulted in what one must hope must be the temporary dominance of Isis and Baathist forces. Ordinary Sunnis in Mosul fled in case Maliki used barrel bombs on Mosul, as he has elsewhere, astonishingly.

Jihadist advances must now be rebuffed decisively. The entrenchment of their barbaric rule will challenge democrats all around them and fortify a force that will turn on us in due course, more experienced and capable than before.

The ground battle will be fought mainly by Iraqis. American air support is vital. Yet the British government has so far ruled out any form of military intervention.

You would have to have been living in a hole in Tikrit for some years not to realise that public opinion is inflamed by Iraq 2003. Some members of parliament make it very clear that there should be no repetition of military action, despite its absence having exacerbated the Syrian war, and even if they realise that Isis has western targets in mind if they retain parts of Iraq as a base of operations.

At an Oxford Union debate on war and peace, the main proposer argued that ‘the justification urged for the last war was that it was a war to end war. If that were untrue it was a dastardly lie; if it were true, what justification is there for opposition to this motion tonight?’

I refer to the famous ‘King and country’ debate at the Oxford Union in February 1933, which was seen as the understandable reaction to the slaughter of the Great War and reflected and fuelled the appeasement of Nazi Germany. I know it is seen as bad taste to make such comparisons and they are always imperfect. But echoes of that mood are everywhere.

To be very blunt, even if we were to agree that Blair and Bush were wrong in 2003, and their predecessors were wrong at any other time, that is no guide to whether military action is necessary now. I fear that we may look back at this period as a time when we could have done more to help destroy a force that could cause havoc in the Middle East and at home.


Gary Kent is director of Labour Friends of Iraq and of the APPG on the Kurdistan region. He writes in a personal capacity


Photo: Jayel Aheram

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Gary Kent

is director of the all-party parliamentary group on the Kurdistan region in Iraq and writes in a personal capacity. He tweets @GaryKent

1 comment

  • “Check the weather in Basra, Iraq before you book your June holidays” – Thompson Travel advert online. You said it, Buddy.

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