A shameful anniversary

Ten years ago bombs exploded in Baghdad and killed the innocent.

“Coalition of the willing”, as they wanted to be known, broke international law and invaded Iraq.

They justified their crimes with lies about the existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) in Iraq.

On March 20th 2003 huge amounts of ordnance fell on Iraq and killed countless thousands of civilians.

The impending conflict had been marketing as an entirely new kind of warfare and that the enemy would be dumbstruck by “shock and awe”.

Despite the use of “smart bombs” this was a seriously dumb war.

The initial attacks were the culmination of a year of frantic not so diplomatic activity in London, New York and Washington to bully and cajole the international community into a war crime.

In the end the UN held firm, but the USA and the UK went ahead without legal authority to act.

The invaders broke a country and triggered a vicious sectarian war between Shias and Sunnis.

Quite simply the war was launched on a false prospectus.

It was sold to people in Britain that Saddam’s regime had an arsenal of apocalyptic weapons ready to deploy within 45 minutes.

It was nonsense.

The USA and Britain tried to get the United Nations to buy their lies and even sent Secretary of State Colin Powell to convince the international community that Saddam had WMD and, ipso facto, posed an existential risk in the region.

Despite a decent man laying his reputation on the UN wasn’t buying.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair was given legal advice that there would need to be a UN Security Council resolution to authorise the invasion.

The UK and the USA both tried  to spin that the existing  resolution 1441 authorised war, but it was another lie and didn’t square with their hectoring grandstanding at the UN to try for a second resolution.

In this war truth was a casualty even before the hostilities had started.

Lies are often told in a run up to a war, but ten years ago what Blair and Bush indulged in was off the Orwellian scale of malevolent fabrications.

Many people were Neo-Conned into believing that Saddam’s ramshackle regime was in fact an Arab Third Reich controlled by a Mesopotamian Bond villain.

The British tabloids screamed that British targets in the eastern Mediterranean were only “45 minutes from doom!”

It was nonsense and the key players knew it was nonsense.

Anyone who knew anything about the subject could state with quiet authority that Saddam’s WMD arsenal had been, in the main, destroyed in the first Gulf war in 1991 when US planes and hammered his military infrastructure to the point where they were bouncing rubble from one point to another with million dollar missiles.

What stockpiles that remained were disposed of under the gaze of UN weapons inspectors in 1998.

UN sanctions had ensured that this infrastructure could not be re-built.

By 2002 there wasn’t any WMD in Iraq to threaten anyone with.

Yet Tony Blair presented “evidence” to the House of Commons  stating that their knowledge of Saddam’s weapons was “detailed, exhaustive and authoritative” when his spies had used the words “sporadic,patchy and thin” to  characterize what they knew about Iraqi WMD.

There was no doubt that Saddam was a dictator and a mass murderer.

He had been a threat in the region, mainly towards Iran and he had invaded his Persian neighbours in 1980 with the blessing and support of the USA.

Donald Rumsfeld, Bush’s Defence Secretary, met him and embraced him during that war when he was part of the Reagan administration.

The poison gas he used against the Kurds in Halabja in 1988 was acquired from friendly western sources during that war.

Across the region the USA and the UK propped up regimes that were anti-democratic and brutal.

However those tyrants did business with the West, that was the crucial difference.

Saddam had forgotten his place and had to be removed.

In the immediate aftermath of 911 the administration’s anti-terrorist expert Richard Clarke was asked, effectively, to pin the blame for the attacks on Saddam.

He told the guys in the West Wing that what they were asking was nonsensical.

The idea that the Baghdad regime was in any way connected to Al Qaeda was locked ward material.

Bin Laden hated the secular regime of Saddam and the enmity was mutual.

There was no Jihadi presence in Iraq anywhere that Baghdad’s writ ran inside the country.

Only in the far north east of Iraqi Kurdistan was there as small Al Qaeda affiliated group.

If you’re into irony then it was the US enforced UN no-fly zone that presented Saddam’s boys from wiping out those holy warriors.

Iraq was manufactured by the British in the aftermath of the Great War to prevent an independent oil rich Kurdistan from existing.

Western statecraft in the last twenty years has, in effect, created a semi-autonomous Kurdistan in northern Iraq.

Bin Laden must has truly thought he had god’s blessing when, having just escaped through he mountain passes of Tora Bora into Pakistan, that the USA decided to launch a war on Iraq.

Britain’s Tony Blair prayed with George W Bush at the President’s ranch in Crawford Texas in early 2002.

These two Christian fellows decided that they were in it together.

“Dubya” had an easier ride in the USA.

The narrative there was simple enough for Fox News to get their heads around.

Saddam was evil and he had to go.

There was a daily diet in the Western media reminding us of the distinguishing characteristics of living in a police state.

His regime didn’t recognise habeas corpus and had they had the death penalty.

In Saddam’s Iraq people could be abducted by the state and detained for years without a trial.

This was starting to sound rather like was that the US was becoming under the Patriot Act.

But, but we were told in Saddam’s Iraq people were horribly tortured as well.


Ah well at least the nice new cosy Coalition of the Willing chaps wouldn’t do anything like that.

Then the images of Abu Ghraib went around the world.

Private Lynndie England posing with terrified and humiliated naked Iraqi men in that prison destroyed any moral authority that the Americans may have had as an occupying power.

At this point Bin Laden could afford to take a propaganda vacation.

His enemies were doing far too good a job for him to interrupt them.

The behaviour of coalition troops in Iraq authorised all of his lurid ranting about “crusaders”.

Almost anything that was correctly laid at the door Saddam’s regime apropos human rights abuses could also be said of places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

As the news from Iraq got worse by the news bulleting in 2006 the Bush Administration continued to parrot nonsense about why the war had been necessary

The accredited originator of military strategy Sun Tzu declared famously that “all warfare is based on deception.”

In this case the deceit started before a shot was forced or an aircraft took off on a mission, but it was not the enemy who were being misled, but the people in the West who were asked to support this illegal war.

My own recollections of those days ten years ago is of  being  anguished and infuriated  with colleagues who had bought the lies of Blair and Bush.

Grounded, intelligent people swallowed the entire scam.

When I saw the protest march in London, the massive size of it, and knew in my heart that it would make no difference then my anger turned cold.

I hoped that at some point the fabricators of the lies would one day stand before a court.

Blair misled the British parliament and the British people about the immediate existential threat that Saddam’s WMD posed.

It was a convenient fantasy.

There were no weapons of mass destruction in the inventory of the Iraqi military.

Once the war started ten years ago today then Saddam’s military collapsed almost immediately.

His Stalinesque statue was toppled in Baghdad and everyone seemed happy.

The pro war lobby had breathlessly stated that the coalition troops would be “welcomed as liberators” and “garlanded with flowers”.

It was not long before the real war in Iraq began.

In the “Sunni triangle” between Baghdad and Saddam’s home town of Tikrit a deadly efficient insurgency got under way.

The Sunnis in central Iraq did not take kindly to being invaded and occupied.

They started to fight the US forces using guerrilla methods and soon they became very good at it.

Roadside bombs killed US troops with awful regularity.

The technological superiority of the world’s only superpower was neutralised in the killing zone of Haifa Street.

Helpful foreigners arrived in Iraq who also wanted to kill Americans. The Al Qaeda chaps that were not in situ in Iraq when Saddam was in power suddenly had a new home and lots of willing recruits.

These were, above all, holy warriors.

It was not long before they turned on the, at least in their Wahabist eyes, heretical Shias.

By 2006 there was all out sectarian civil war with thousands dying every week in Baghdad alone.

Academics squabbled on how to quantify the death toll.

Even the deliberately low ball Iraq Body Count organisation says that the lowest figure is over 100,000 innocent civilians.

The Neo-Con imperialists in Washington achieved all of revolutionary Iran’s s regional aims and handed their strategic objectives to them on a plate.

The US military was staring defeat in the face in the Sunni triangle by late 2006 when General David Petraeus did an amazing deal in Al Anbar province.

Quite simply he put the insurgents on the US payroll and backed off if they chased Al Qaeda out of their neighbourhoods.

It was a Danegeld for a struggling empire, but it allowed the USA an exit strategy.

All this time the Taliban in Afghanistan were allowed off the ropes.

Deposed in 2001 by forces operating under a lawful UN mandate the forces of Mullah Omar

Survived, just, and then were given time and space to regroup and rearm.

By the time the tiny British garrison force went to Helmand Province in 2006 the Taliban were ready for round two.

One of the main casualties of these two connected wars was the international reputation of the UK armed forces.

Britain was given the task of governing the south of Iraq. Operating out of Basra Palace and the adjacent airfield in the immediate aftermath of the relatively casualty free invasion the British press was full of smug nonsense about the superiority of the Brits over the Americans.

The chap reading the daily Mail was told that the British were good at counter insurgency, much better at hearts and kinds than the clumsy brutal yanks.

It was all rubbish.

A viscous Shia militia, the   Mahdi Army, under   Muqtada al-Sadr, told the Brits to get the hell out of Basra.

The deal that was offered to the UK forces was that if they left the city and remained in Basra airbase they would not be attacked in there nor would be shot at as they evacuated.

The British caved.

It was a shameful capitulation.

On September 3rd 2007, under cover of darkness, the British skulked out of Basra palace and left the city effectively in control of Al-Sadr’s men.

During the year that the Mahdi Army’s holy warriors controlled the city at least forty women were murdered for being “insufficiently Islamic”.

It was a humiliating end to a shameful war for Britain.

The Americans were aghast at this surrender.

As the second city of Iraq became a liberated zone for a pro-Iranian militia the United States decided to act and sent in the US Marine Corps.

It would be the US Marine Corps that would also prevent British defeat in Helmand province in April 2008 when the woefully under-resourced UK force faced   a determined enemy fighting on their own turf.

In the decade since those bombs first fell on the cradle of civilisation I have not changed my view because I have seen no convincing evidence.

I believe now what I believed ten years ago that the Iraq war was not necessary.

Moreover, it was illegal under international law and was sold to the world and especially to the British people on a false prospectus

The invasion of Iraq destabilised the entire region and kicked off another chapter in a sectarian feud war that has been on the go since the 7th century.

Britain created the country of Iraq at the end of the First World War from the body parts of the Ottoman Empire.

Now another declining empire tried to exert control for the same region that    Churchill and Lloyd George decided that the Kurd could not have independent homeland and that it was better that the entire confection was almost entirely landlocked, oil.

The regime in Washington seemed like a collection of caricatures   the most awful being Vice President Dick Cheney.

He was a Doctor Strangelove character from central casting, but his personal back story was even more shameful.

Cheney as a young man got five college deferments during the Vietnam War.

This was a someone who didn’t fancy combat up close and personal, but seemed very keen on war for others.

The Neo-Con world view was imperialist and bizarre.

Incubated in think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the Project for a new American century they convinced themselves that the war in Iraq would be easy.

The people would welcome the invasion and Iraqi oil would pay for the cost of the war.

Instead thousands of US troops died and   an unquantifiable mountain of Iraqi bodies was piled high.

The American taxpayer footed the bill and the USA spiralled into a Chinese fuelled debt spiral.

This illegal war, launched on lies   drowned   entire communities in blood and bitterness.

Britain’s Tony Blair is currently a “peace envoy” in the Middle East for the major powers.

Someone somewhere thought this made sense.

In Iraq today human rights are still a fanciful idea that is yet to be implemented.

Yesterday bombs exploded in Baghdad and killed the innocent.

Leave a Reply