Tuesday 25 October 2016

Iraqis have little time for the Chilcot report - they live with fallout of 2003 war every day

Mary Fitzgerald

Published 11/07/2016 | 02:30

'Iraqis often remark that while there used to be just one Saddam, now there are a thousand.' Photo: AP
'Iraqis often remark that while there used to be just one Saddam, now there are a thousand.' Photo: AP

Baghdad was still burying its dead when the long-awaited findings of the inquiry into why Britain chose to go to war in Iraq were released on Wednesday. Three days before the Chilcot report was published, a massive truck bomb had ripped through a bustling predominantly Shia district of the Iraqi capital.

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Claimed by Isil, the bombing has turned out to be one of the deadliest attacks in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion. The latest figures put the death toll from Sunday's blast at almost 300 people, with more expected to die as a result of horrific injuries.

So while the British media was picking through the damning 2.6 million-word Chilcot report - seven years in the making - and former prime minister Tony Blair was showing no contrition for supporting the war, Iraqis were yet again reminded of the bloody chaos that followed and remains today.

The Chilcot inquiry found that the war was based on flawed intelligence and had been rushed into before all diplomatic avenues were exhausted. It said Iraq's leader, Saddam Hussein, posed "no imminent threat" at the time of the invasion, and that while military action against him "might have been necessary at some point," the "strategy of containment" could have been maintained for some time.

Blair, it noted, had been warned of the risks of unintended consequences - including wider regional instability and the emergence of terrorist groups - but had ignored them.

"The risks of internal strife in Iraq, active Iranian pursuit of its interests, regional instability, and al-Qa'ida activity in Iraq, were each explicitly identified before the invasion," it stated.

Not only had the British government failed to appreciate the complex challenges of governing Iraq, the report noted, it did not do enough to help secure the country in the aftermath of toppling Saddam.

"The people of Iraq have suffered greatly," Chilcot said.

The invasion of 13 years ago continues to cast a long shadow over Iraq and the surrounding region. So many of the ills that bedevil the Middle East today - including the spread of sectarianism and the growth of al-Qa'ida and, later, the emergence of Isil - can be traced back to what the war in Iraq unleashed.

As for the multiple violent power struggles that wrack the country itself, Iraqis often remark that while there used to be just one Saddam, now there are a thousand.

Reading the Chilcot report this week, I was reminded of a conversation with one Iraqi whose life's work documenting the abuses of the Saddam Hussein regime was closely linked with the case made for the 2003 war, particularly in the US.

In the pre-invasion days of 2003, Kanan Makiya, a long-exiled academic, was regarded as one of the most enthusiastic cheerleaders of the rush to overthrow Saddam, arguing that supporting the war was a "moral" obligation.

He told eager audiences in Washington that removing Saddam would present the US with a historic opportunity "as large as anything that has happened in the Middle East since the fall of the Ottoman Empire".

How ironic those words sound today.

When I met him five years later, Makiya looked pained as he explained how difficult it had been to come to terms with the disastrous series of events the invasion had set in motion, and how troubling it had been to watch as Iraq tipped into vicious sectarian violence and the death toll mounted. But he insisted there would be no mea culpa from him.

"The Bush administration wanted to overthrow the Saddam Hussein regime and so did I. I wanted to get rid of the dictatorship and I thought it might be possible for a new model of Arab politics to arise in the region. I still am not ashamed for thinking that … I can't go back and say, as many people say I should, that it was wrong to seek the overthrow of Saddam Hussein since it all went so bad."

He argued that while the Americans made many errors- one of the worst, he believed, was the disbanding of the Iraqi army - the most destructive mistakes were those made by Iraq's new leaders.

"The Iraqi political elite chose to go for the lowest common denominator of politics - appealing to the basest instincts of people; sectarianism and their sense of competition over suffering," he says.

"What you ended up with was a kind of competition over victimhood and who was going to get the biggest share of the pie."

The Chilcot report tellingly got little attention in the Iraqi media this week.

"It already feels like ancient history. What's done is done," lamented one Iraqi friend.

"Our country was broken in 2003, it is still broken and it will remain broken for a very long time, my lifetime at least."

Irish Independent

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