Seven years in the making and £10 million later, the Chilcot Inquiry, a 2.6 million word report into the nation’s role in the Iraq war spearheaded by senior civil servant Sir John Chilcot, was published this week. The report, ever since it was commissioned in 2009, has been greatly anticipated, with some hoping that Blair would be put on trial for war crimes for sending British troops into an 8 year long war in Iraq on the false pretence of disarming Iraq of WMDs and implementing a ‘democracy’. The Iraq war has been described by a plethora of notable characters including war veteran Tomas Young who describes the war as “the largest strategic blunder in U.S. history” as the Iraq was invaded before the UN weapons inspectors had sufficient time to complete their task. It’s not only across the pond that these convictions are held, from the war’s manifestation in 2003 the UK witnessed the largest public demonstration in British history of more than 1.5 million people. Today demonstrations, albeit much smaller, continue as members of the public show their outrage against Blair.
When Britain declared war on Iraq I would have been 3 years old, blissfully ignorant about the world around me, now as a 17 year old the Iraq war is a topic that is just as hot. Now that the report has been released the question is, why should the young population such as myself care?
The Iraq war was 20 years in the making, stemming back to the 1980 Iran-Iraq war in which America and Britain were on the side of Saddam Hussein supplying several billion dollars’ worth of economic aid, weaponry, military intelligence, Special Operations training and military technology including gases which were later used against the Kurds to fight Iran after the pro-American shah had been replaced during the 1979 revolution by Ruhollah Khomeini, who has become known outside of Iran for his “Death to America” chant. This would later backfire on American and the UK as we have seen with the subsequent wars that followed, the Kuwait invasion, the Gulf war and indeed the 2003 Iraq war. The Chilcot Inquiry unmasked much of the ambiguity surrounding the conflict, the report’s main focus is how the impacts of blustering foreign policy and poor conduct of war can have cataclysmic consequences, there are lessons to be learnt here, and many of these lessons are ones that Britain and indeed America will find hard to swallow. The effects on Iraq have been catastrophic, a poll suggested that 93% of Iraqis viewed the U.S. as their enemy, when our goal is to create peace and stability in the Middle East this just isn’t possible if the regions’ population despises the West. Instead of democracy Iraq got civil war. Instead of unity the “de‑Ba’athification” caused sectarian discord. Instead of strong progressive leadership a power vacuum was created as Hussein, who was maintaining stability in the region was ejected along with the dissolution of the 300,000 strong Iraqi army. Parallels can be drawn here with Germany’s ex-soldiers after WW1 who joined the extremist Freikorps, in Iraq’s case this was an array of terror groups, the most infamous being ISIL. ISIL has pillaged the region, carried out brutal executions, displaced huge proportions of the population contributing to the Refugee crisis, destruction of ancient artefacts, and although the report doesn’t explicitly say this, the U.S. and the UK were the main ingredient that boiled over into hatred, leading to the situation in which people in the region viewed groups such as ISIL as the only means to fight back.
Another key aspect that the Inquiry highlights is the constitutional powers of the Prime Minister, the Queen is unaccountable and thus under a democratic system cannot exercise power and so delegates her prerogative powers to the Prime Minister who is accountable to the public, these are powers that are derived from the crown rather than conferred on them by Parliament. Due to the nature of our constitution being uncodified, this means that there is no parliamentary procedure that necessitates the PM to seek approval before taking military action. However, it has been convention in modern times that going to war should have multilateral consensus, this wasn’t the case with Blair who acted unilaterally and was able to exercise his prerogative powers, against the wishes of many members of his own cabinet but also didn’t raise the decision in a plenary session which would arguably have given the war more legitimacy. Moreover there was vocal opposition to the war, the invasion of Iraq drew the largest amount of public protest of any previous wars, as previously mentioned was the 2003 demonstration led by Stop the War Coalition saw multiple communities and beliefs come together in unison to oppose the war, including a plethora of prominent politicians and individuals, Tony Benn one of my heroes who opposed the war knowing first hand the impacts of war, his speech in 1998 was truly inspiring, George Galloway who formed the Respect party as result, Ken Clarke, a former minister under Thatcher as well Robin Cook who resigned as Leader of the Commons in protest, the main party who opposed the war were the Liberal Democrats. So the opposition was definitely prominent, just that Blair chose not to listen to it . Surely in a modern democracy for the PM to have so much power and the ability to disregard the opinions of representatives is unacceptable. This issue raises the question as to whether there should be codified parliamentary procedures by which military action can be taken, I believe that this should be the case in order to confer legitimacy which would have avoided the poor execution and outcome of the war. This is still topical even today, in August 2015 Cameron went against a the outcome of a division in 2013 which prohibited airstrikes in Syria, which shows that even after Blair prerogative powers are still used to sideline Parliament which is unacceptable.
An Iraq in turmoil is what the current political class has left us with, and it’s our job to fix it. The war alienated a significant proportion of the population with its damaging legacy, a quote by Simon Leys which resonates strongly with the current situation, “when voters distrust and despise their representatives, democracy itself is imperilled”. If trust is to be restored in politicians the young generation who in the future will take up the political torch must use this report as a wakeup call. The most important lessons to be learnt are working to improve our diplomatic relations with these countries, to make sure that we do not find ourselves in an uncontrollable quagmire. In all cases war must only be used as a final resort and not, as the report concludes, in which diplomacy hasn’t been fully exhausted. When contemplating war there must be full fat evidence behind it without the nebulous justification Blair and Straw used, but also the fact that if war is the route we have taken then we must take responsibility in rebuilding the country with a realistic plan for a better outcome, implementing democratic systems instead of creating a power vacuum which has proven to be worse that the original system, causing hatred to manifest amongst the population through civilians killed as collateral. Crucially, bridges must be built with the people of Iraq, for us to progress we can no longer be viewed as the calamitous force that leaves destroyed families, cities and lives. Attitudes must also be changed at home, towards those in the Middle East, with xenophobia having a strong hold over foreign opinion in the UK, we must break out of this rhetoric of perceiving people of the Middle East as our antonym, for peace to become a reality bridges need to be built, these bridges are built with understanding and tolerance, and that is something that the political establishment has not attempted to undertake, UKIP being one of the key perpetrators. We, as the politicians of the future cannot fall into the same trap that those of today have.