No apologies over Iraq war, more intervention in Syria

No apologies over Iraq war, more intervention in Syria
Comment: Refugees, the spectre of the Chilcot Report and the rise to prominence of Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn mean that Iraq is back at the centre of UK politics.
6 min read
11 Sep, 2015
The UK government is yet to be transparent about Iraq war files [AFP]

Twelve years after the invasion of Iraq, the UK political establishment is finding that it is beyond their capacity to control the fallout.

The great influx of refugees to Europe has been dominating the headlines in the UK and the Conservative government has been forced to backtrack somewhat - from an extreme rejectionist response to calls for supporting the refugees.

After the publication of the photographs of the deceased three-year-old Syrian refugee, Aylan Kurdi, the UK government stated it did not want to take significant numbers of refugees - as it would "encourage them on to those dangerous boats" - and opted out of taking part in the European Commission's quota scheme.

Prime Minister David Cameron had previously chosen to label the refugees as "swarms", and Home Secretary Teresa May even managed to avoid using the word "refugee", instead referring to the crisis only as "the events of this summer".

The Conservatives' swerving proved highly offensive to UK public opinion and there have followed widespread public expressions of humanity at the photographs of Aylan Kurdi.

Realising his government was behind the curve, Cameron announced to parliament that 20,000 Syrian refugees would be taken, under pressure from shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper and Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon.

     It was the invasion of Iraq and arming of radical, fascist opponents of Assad that created the Islamic State group

But, Cameron's announcement came with caveats which call in to question the government's commitment to the issue beyond avoiding a public relations defeat.

The 20,000 Syrians will be allowed in to the UK over a period of five years; only refugees from the camps on Syria's borders will be taken - and they will be allowed to apply for asylum only after five years in the UK.

Cameron was challenged by father of the house, Sir Gerald Kaufman MP, to follow the lead of Germany, which will take 800,000 refugees this year and then half a million each year thereafter.

UK government analysis of the situation has been shallow, despite Chancellor George Osborne's claim that the government would provide "a comprehensive plan for a more stable, peaceful Syria" and tackle the root causes of the crisis "at source".

Osborne labelled the Assad regime "evil", while Cameron stated that "the people most responsible are President Assad… and the butchers of ISIL".

Nowhere in the government's tired analysis is there a recognition of what is already widely understood in the UK: that it was the invasion of Iraq and arming of radical, fascist opponents of Assad that created the Islamic State group and made it so powerful.

Such is the UK's autopilot towards violence that the lessons of the occupation of Iraq are absent from government discourse. Indeed, Cameron also announced details of the extra-judicial killing of two UK nationals in Syria, the legality of which is highly questionable.

The RAF has also been taking part in bombing raids in Syria. All this without parliament's approval - a sign that Cameron is prepared to use mission creep to take the UK in to yet another war.

In such circumstances, as they try to re-establish a business-as-usual foreign policy, the last thing the UK's political and military establishments need is the publication of a report expected to pinpoint the faults in their decision-making processes and actions in going to war in Iraq.

The Chilcot report, delayed until after the general election, is expected to provide a damning verdict, and former Prime Minister Tony Blair could find himself among those accused of war crimes.

The Labour party establishment also remains in a rut of denial over Iraq. During the final hustings debate in Labour's leadership election, only one candidate supported the idea of Blair being tried for war crimes at the international criminal court, should he be accused by Chilcot.

     Only one candidate supported the idea of Blair being tried for war crimes at the international criminal court

Andy Burnham, who voted for the invasion of Iraq, pleaded Blair's innocence on the grounds that "there was a widespread view that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction". Because of this, he wouldn't support Blair's prosecution.

Yvette Cooper was tight-lipped, but voted for the war. Liz Kendall was unequivocal in her defence of Blair, stating that she would not support the prosecution of a politician who had led Labour to three election victories.

Only Jeremy Corbyn, who voted and campaigned against the war, was critical of Blair: "His history will always be the question of Iraq and the dishonesty that went with the Iraq decision."

And Corbyn is proving to be a real thorn in the side of the British establishment, having pledged to make a public apology to the UK and Iraqi people on behalf of the Labour party for the "deception" and the invasion, should he become party leader - which is looking increasingly likely.

Corbyn came in for intense criticism for supposedly equating the atrocities of IS and those of American soldiers in Fallujah.

In this vilifying of Corbyn over Iraq, the UK political establishment's chronic denial over Iraq is exposed.

The acclaimed US investigative journalist Dahr Jamail, who reported from Iraq unembedded, produced extensive eyewitness accounts of events in Fallujah in his book Beyond the Green Zone.

Jamail describes the US siege of Fallujah as "more like a Mongol invasion of barbaric proportions, complete with pregnant women being sliced open by US Marines, deliberate targeting of children and the elderly, and bombings of ambulances" (p125). Eye witnesses tell him:

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"The Americans are dropping some of the bodies into the Euphrates river… they are pulling some bodies with tanks and leaving them at the soccer stadium." (p237)

"They bombed my neighbourhood and we used car jacks to raise the blocks of concrete to get dead children out from under them." (p237)

"They have shot and killed at least four people while they were praying."

In the book, a farmer opens up to Jamail about his 10 months in arbitrary military detention, during which he experienced mock executions, was bound, his head covered for days on end. The farmer witnessed sexual humiliation and beatings of men - and heard US soldiers raping Iraqi women. The soldiers hung up a sign with the words "The Zoo" outside the detention centre.

Since the siege, the citizens of Fallujah have suffered years of extraordinarily high cancer rates and babies have been born with appalling birth defects, likely caused by the Americans' heavy use of white phosphorous and depleted uranium to pummel the city.

Fallujah fell to IS in 2014.

These are the "appalling" actions to which Corbyn referred, and it is generally accepted that the UK acted immorally over Iraq. But, instead of accepting this as their starting point, the UK establishment is firefighting to try to manage the blowback.

The refugee crisis, the Chilcot report and the Corbyn surge aren't going to conveniently disappear - and the UK state would do well to get ahead of the curve and start accepting some ugly truths about its own destructive role in the world.

Tom Charles is a London-based writer, editor and literary agent. He previously worked in the UK parliament, including as a lobbyist for Palestinian rights. He has contributed to Jadaliyya and the Journal of Palestinian Refugee Studies.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.