Before you read this article you should probably know a few things about me. First, I openly and unashamedly support the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Second, I am an active member of the Labour Party. Third, I identify as a ‘moderate’ or a ‘progressive’. I’ve been told to use these terms to describe my political ideology. However, the publishing of the Chilcot’s recent report, surrounded by the calls of war crimes, murder and deceit, have made me question these labels that have been attached to me. Therefore, at the very beginning of this article I wish to make clear that even after the publication of the Chilcot report, despite the inner turmoil that my party faces, and in light of the apology that my apparently electable leader made before the commons, I can openly say, that I am a Blairite.
With that out of the way, we must first recognise that questions surrounding the Iraq War typically fall into two categories: legality and legitimacy. The legal argument is indeed a difficult one to accurately answer, with leading experts on international law offering a plethora of opinions. However, the crux of the debate centres around the relevance of United Nations Security Council resolutions from the First Gulf War in 1990, and whether the call for member states to preserve ‘international peace and security’ still stood throughout the 1990s and past the turn of the millennium. In my opinion, the passing of resolution 1441 in 2002, which reiterated the need for member states to preserve security in the region, stressing Saddam’s failure to comply with UN officials from UNSCOM, UNMOVIC and the IAEA, the continued oppression of large sections of Iraqi society and therefore the continual failure to comply with resolution 678, justified and allowed for intervention in Iraq, after offering Saddam a final opportunity to comply with the UN.
Despite this chain of UN resolutions, the key debate in the years after the war were the reasons behind the invasion, notably surrounding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programme, and whether there was deceit at the heart of the British and American governments in the selling of intervention to Parliament, Congress and the people. It is now apparent that the intelligence offered on the WMD programme was false, and although the Iraq Survey Group and the Butler report released in the aftermath emphasised Saddam’s long term ambition to control nuclear weapons alongside the presence of the infrastructure needed to relaunch the once horrific chemical and biological weapons programme, the 45 minute claim made by Blair was false.
Despite this, I argue that the prevention of the use and development of WMD is a side issue. There were more important causes behind the invasion of Iraq and the desperate need to remove Saddam Hussein from power. The humanitarian crisis that unfolded under the regime should be the primary focus when debating the conflict. For 20 years, Saddam’s regime killed, tortured, raped, and terrorised the Iraqi people through a policy of ‘Arabisation’. This involved the removal of the Kurdish people from oil rich fields in the north, denouncing their identity, and resettling in the south. The Al-Anfal campaigns were a bi-product of the policy, as Saddam sought the removal and destruction of a race. The campaign involved: ground offensives; aerial bombing; destruction of settlements; deportation; firing squads; chemical warfare on civilians. On March 16 1988, 5000 were killed in a gas attack on Halabja, a Kurdish town. The majority of the dead were women and children, with the attack timed so the majority of men were at work. Saddam used a variety of mustard gas, sarin, anthrax and smallpox to kill civilians. On September 1 2004, US troops found a mass grave of around 500 women and children, thought to have died between 1987 and 1988, near al-Hatra.
This is only half the story. Human Rights Watch documented the extent of Saddam’s concentration camps. In its book, ‘Iraq’s Crime of Genocide’ the organisation describe the division of families, regular beatings and executions. While the majority of men are thought to have been shot, women died from gassing, starving, hypothermia and wilful neglect, through horrific conditions in the camps. Saddam Hussein had to be stopped. Intervention helped liberate a people once bound by the shackles of their own society. The UN was born for this purpose – a purpose we have committed to.
Since 2003, some have tried to throw the label of ‘war criminal’ at Tony Blair in the blind hope that something sticks. Yet where is the blame at the feet of the previous governments who chose to stand by when Saddam terrorised his people? Where is the blame for the Thatcher and Reagan administrations for allying with Saddam during the Iran-Iraq war; a conflict where he gassed his opponents en mass? What is undebatable, what is undeniable, is that Saddam Hussein was a war criminal. What is clear, is that the middle-East is a better place without him. Yes, there should have been a more definitive plan in the years following 2003, there should have been a more effective effort to promote democracy and instil peace to a troubled region. Yes, insurgency and terror grew from the ashes of that conflict. Yet picture an Arab spring, a Syrian conflict and a growing terror threat if Saddam was still in power and he had developed his regime in the way that he wanted. That reality is a reality I do not wish to think about. That reality is one we do not have to face.
If the United Kingdom and the United States do not have the courage, ability or resolve to stand resolute in the face of tyranny, inhumanity and oppression, then who does? If the United Kingdom and the United States will not enforce the resolutions of the United Nations to preserve and protect the security of those threatened by despots, then who will? If we will not stand up for the principles of freedom and liberty, or the right to an education and the ability to hold government to account, then are these not just words on a page or phrases to be reeled off emptily in a rhetorical flourish? If these words are to mean anything at all, leaders must be prepared to act as they see the facts in front of them, without fear of public incrimination with the benefit of hindsight.
Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I have been sold a lie. But until someone shows me otherwise, I will continue to believe that the states that joined the coalition to remove Saddam did so to create a more stable world, with more equal opportunities and less fear of tyranny. Until someone shows me otherwise, I will believe “t’is not to late to seek a newer world”.