Saturday, July 09, 2016

Chilcot, Tony Blair and Iraq

The publication of the long delayed (7 years!) Chilcot report on the involvement of the UK under the then Prime Minister Tony Blair, in the first Iraq war, has already after only a few days been the source of much comment.

I have not read the report and with it comprising some 2.6 million words I doubt that many others will have had  the opportunity of or time for  reading through the whole report let alone reflecting upon its contents.

Tony Blair's Labour Party was not one that I voted for at the  general election following which he became Prime Minister in 1997. Nonetheless  the   elation that swept the country at the time was palpable. He was a young man on the left in politics but not of the far left. His party won the general election  after some years of  government which had involved some  irritatingly sleazy Tory politicians. Even in my own constituency of Wimbledon where the Tories usually return the MP in elections, the Labour candidate was successful. I avoided both Labour and Tories at the time by voting for a young independent Catholic candidate.

One needs to recall that the first Iraq War which lasted under two years, took place  in 1990/2 and arose because of the dreadful invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

I well recollect  fellow HCPT pilgrim Bernadette from Baghdad  being hugely concerned because her nephew and niece  (both then aged under 12) had come to stay with her for a holiday but their father, her brother who had been due to join them in London the next day was stranded by the war. The two children who could not speak a word of English were declared enemy aliens and had to register with Central London police on a weekly basis. Upon learning that they had also been declared enemy aliens in France, Bernie decided that she would not be able to attend our HCPT group on the annual pilgrimage to Lourdes that Easter. In the event both   they she and we did travel and had a most fulfilling pilgrimage - but that is another story.

The second Iraq war needs to be looked at in the context of the  history of the first  Gulf War.

Issues about weapons of mass destruction proved to be untrue and  in my view were in any event a distraction. One issue surely was and sadly still is in that region, the oppression of people who do not follow the state's religion,  including not only Catholics such as  Bernie's relatives but also Muslims Kurds and others who did not adhere to the dictator's  own religion.

Nonetheless oppression of religious minorities is not in my view sufficient  alone to justify a foreign invasion but that coupled with the horrendous crimes of the first Gulf War and the wholesale persecution of minority groups, did at least give the authorities in the West including Tony Blair,  considerable food for thought and reflection.

I surmise that the Americans were rather more bullish than Blair about endeavouring to capture Saddam Hussein to rid the region of his tyranny. Nonetheless the UK prime minister would have been bound to consider the special relationship that has since WWII  marked the UK's association with the US. Though probably one can say with the benefit of hindsight and of a 2.6m word report that the invasion should have been avoided by the UK under Tony Blair's Labour government, one could not so easily at the time.

Furthermore my  Iraqi friends (the then little girl now young woman  working for the UN, married in Wimbledon a couple of years back) were initially very pleased and relieved that the West had deposed Saddam Hussein even though this was done by force of  arms, although subsequently I believe that they too came to the view that the invasion of their  country by the West was wrong.

Yes I agree that Tony Blair's decision was the wrong one but sadly that is what elected leaders  do from time to time.

The Telegraph today  for example asks what would history have made of Mrs Thatcher's decision to retake the Falkland Islands from their forceful occupation by the Argentinians, had the Falklands war been lost rather than won?





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