I supported the invasion to rid Iraq of an increasingly unstable fascist dictator, whose regime had been responsible for repression and genocide, the use of WMDs against its own people and in its war against Iran, invading that country and Kuwait, and was in breach of numerous UN resolutions. I expected a liberation like Vietnam’s invasion of Pol Pot’s Cambodia or Tanzania’s overthrow of Idi Amin in Uganda. More recent pertinent examples were the welcome interventions of UK forces in Sierra Leone and Kosovo, to which many thousands of people today owe their lives and their limbs.
Those of us who held these views were mistaken in two ways. The first was the relatively trivial issue of domestic politics. It could be expected that the usual wrongheaded suspects (Galloway, Benn, the SWP, conservative Muslims etc) would support Saddam Hussein. However, it was shocking that so many others let their distaste for George W. Bush and Tony Blair outweigh any responsibility as free people and democrats to oppose fascism.
Our second mistake was to believe too much about the reputation of Iraqi people. I for one sincerely believed that Iraq was one of the best-educated and most secular states in the Middle East, and did not expect Shiites and Sunnis to start murdering each other as soon as the dictatorship fell. Iraq Body Count tells us that 87% of the deaths have been the result of Arab on Arab violence. Indeed, the role of the occupying forces was in many cases to protect people from sectarian militias and Al-Qaeda death squads.
It is reported that Tony Blair and Jack Straw sought assurances on the USA’s commitment to invest resources in the occupation, but were resisted by the White House. They were even told “you guys are as bad as the State Department” – which had drawn up detailed plans that were ignored on the grounds that they were too expensive and unnecessary. If this was the case, it is the dysfunctional Bush administration which should bear the greater part of the blame for its negligence.
One of the abiding memories of the ghastly periods of civil war is a photograph of the murder of election officials shortly before the historic poll of 2005, when Iraqis became the second country in the Middle East where Arabs could vote freely (the first was Israel). At the time this underlined the main question of the war: are you for or against democracy in Iraq? Our support remains owed to those incredibly brave people in the Iraqi government, opposition and trade unions who continue to risk their lives struggling to create a working democracy out of the sectarian nightmare and botched occupation.
Since the war, it is worth comparing the position of Kurdish Iraq with the rest of the country. There is no doubt that the Iraqi Kurds have benefited enormously from their liberation from Baath fascism and it is to their great credit that they wish to contribute to the rebuilding of the Iraqi state. Their success is both a demonstration of what should have been, and an indication of what should be aspired to, for Iraq’s future.