Iraq


Campbell BlairOne has to admire Alastair Campbell. No, really. While his former employer’s appearances in the press are met with howls of righteous anger, he is omnipresent and commands a new respect. One week you might find him editing The New Statesman; the next you might find it him chuckling away on panel shows. Now, amid all of the huffing over an old Marxist who may have been amused or annoyed to find himself, after a lifetime of academic obscurity, somehow thrust into the headlines, he is marching at the head of the campaign against the paper that has vilified him.

The Guardian’s commentator grants that he is no big fan of the spin doctor but proceeds to gush over how “overwhelming and irresistible” he is, and what a “bravura performance” his rant against The Daily Mail was. Yet the piece fails to say what else Mr Campbell is, and why his angry moralising was so hypocritical. I mean, you have to laugh at the idea of this venomous firebrand, who made amorality an ethos as he blustered, bullied and lied his way through Westminster, posing as a champion of decency.

Perhaps I could have a measure of sympathy for him. Perhaps it could be said that the media is so full of swines that one has no option but to dirty oneself in messing with them. We could have that argument if it were not for the events that took place a decade ago; a events that, according to commenters below the Guardian article, it has become unfashionable to mention…

How depressing that this comment is so recommended, given its complete irrelevance to the topic in hand – which is the moral corruption of the press, and the Daily Mail in particular. What on Earth has that got to do with the dodgy dossier?

I am not, I think, an especially vindictive man. I’d have a drink with somebody regardless of their opinions, or their deeds so long as, in some cases, they had owned up to them. Campbell, though, is a special case: a man whose actions were of grave consequence, and who has never been apologetic. His numerous changes to the September Dossier, which was offered to Parliament to justify war, stripped it of doubts and added hyperbole and fabrications. He proceeded to obscure his own role in the affair, and has dealt with his critics since then by implying that they have a sexual attraction to him.

This schoolboy humour has been replaced by sententiousness, perhaps because it would offend his new progressive admirers. They are welcome to embrace him if it suits them. His relentless tribalism could make him a useful ally. Yet it amuses me that in an age where people can face dire consequences for impolitic opinions, others enjoy success despite shameless deeds. It also impossible to escape the feeling that, for all that The Mail is, in large part, an obnoxious rag, the campaign against it is at least somewhat opportunistic – an ideological cause as well as an ethical one. I feel ever so slightly akin to Henry Kissinger.

Condom WalnutI have written a lot about liberal interventionists, and in discussions with these people I think they have felt that I am trying to rub the failure of their ideas in their faces; to demand that they flagellate themselves over the harm that policies they have endorsed have caused. I really don’t. For one thing, there is almost no opinion that I hold that I have not come to after aggressively promoting antithetic arguments. Human minds are flawed enough that errors are forgivable. For another, it would be as pointless as sunbathing in an English spring.

No, I do not want people to wallow in mortification over their bad arguments. I just want them to stop making bad arguments. Here, for example, Clive James answers the question of whether he regrets supporting the Iraq war…

Not at all. I thought invading Iraq, when Saddam Hussein was running it, was the thing to do. It didn’t turn out very well. It could have been handled better. It sure could. Hussein was running a regime beyond evil. It was awful. What have you got to do with places like that? We’re facing exactly the same dilemma now with Syria.

James makes three points, none of which seem to justify his response. What does it matter if he thought it was the right thing to do? If I chopped down a tree and it fell back and crushed my neighbour’s house, the fact that I had thought it would topple harmlessly into my garden would be irrelevant. It could have been handled better, though I am not sure it could have been anything than disastrous, yet believing that a gang of ideologues at the helm of an army known for its catastrophic interventions could be generous and efficient is precisely what one might regret.

The last point is the most interesting to me. I watched The Iraq War on BBC2, and one thing that intrigued me was its implication that the architects of the Iraq war spent a great deal of 2002 attempting to justify the invasion and very little on thinking about what it might entail. From their more idealistic perspective, this tended to be true of liberal interventionists. Saddam and his Baathist regime were evil. Very evil. This was true, and a relevant consideration, but it was not evidence to justify the belief that a preferable alternative could be established.

This matters because the error still informs foreign policy thinking. Even from the perspective of an interventionist, the situations in Iraq and Syria are different. Westerners would be supporting groups involved in a conflict rather than removing a stable dictatorship; would strengthen Sunni and not Shiite forces; would involve Lebanon, Turkey and Palestine. I suspect that what James means is that just as Saddam was evil, Bashar al-Assad is evil. Yes, he is. The badness of a situation, though, cannot be the sole determinant of a reaction to it. I wish that James would be more introspective regarding the Iraq war; not for my benefit but as it remains a source of worthwhile lessons. Education is, indeed, more important than regret.

CafeBombings in Iraq are so frequent that one can almost forget that they are not a fact of nature but the result of particular groups and conflicts. In recent weeks, though, as the media has reported more and bigger sectarian attacks one has been forced to recognised the fact that the pattern is becoming suggestive of sectarian war.

86 people died today after a string of bombings of Shia neighbourhoods, which brought the death toll of the last week soaring over 200. Sunni jihadists have been perpetrating bigoted attacks all year, with a particular brutal focus on pilgrims and places of worship. This is not a one-sided conflict, though, and Sunni areas of Baghdad were the targets of bombings that killed 76 people last Friday. I was moved by the bewildered sadness of a taxi driver reflecting on the devastation of a roadside cafe. “We used to meet every Friday to smoke shisha,” he said, “And we thought we would have a good time today, but things turned into explosions and victims.”

Tensions have been more stoked than soothed by the Prime Minister and his government. Its failure to work with the Awakenings Councils, which were groups of tribal Sheikhs who played a major role in opposing jihadists and restoring a measure of peace to the country in 2007, prompted many of them to renew the oppositional stance that they had held previously. Economic underdevelopment and the brutal anti-terrorism policies of the state have ensured that there are many aggrieved young men receptive to insurgent and sectarian propaganda.

The potential for war has been grimly illustrated by the involvement of both Sunni and Shia fighters in the Syrian conflict. Al Qaeda in Iraq has been storming over the border to support the grimly disjointed revolution. The BBC reports, meanwhile, on claims that Shia militiamen have rushed to the defence of Bashar al-Assad. As the Awakenings Councils and their Sunni allies maintain their uneasy standoff with Prime Minister Maliki, this storm of sectarian violence could hardly be positioned at a worse time and place for Iraq. If agreements are not forged, the country risks descending back into bloodshed.

Imagine growing up with no memories of a time when you did not have to accept that any moment could bring chaos, agony and death. Adults have only life under Saddam’s heel to think of before that. It might be enough to drive a man to drink, except that in Iraq the sale of alcohol is liable to bring gunmen charging through one’s door.

Photograph: Azhar Shallal/AFP/Getty Images

Wolf BrigadeSpeak of human rights abuses in Iraq and people are liable to think of two things: the country as it existed under Saddam Hussein and Abu Ghraib. The atrocities of Charles Graner and his depraved colleagues should be remembered, of course – as should the crimes of Baathists – but it would be regrettable if the abuses of the occupiers were reduced to this black spot. They were far broader than has been widely acknowledged.

Each new war attracts comparisons with others. For supporters of invasion in Iraq, theirs was a Churchillian endeavour. For opponents, the guerilla violence that the country was sunk into evoked thoughts of Vietnam. One comparison that was generally overlooked was made in 2005, most notably in Peter Maass’s New York Times Magazine essay “The Salvadorization of Iraq?

In El Salvador, as Maass detailed, U.S. troops backed the junta against a leftist insurrection. Tens of thousands died, often at the hands of brutal small-unit operations and paramilitaries. These were aided by millions of dollars from the U.S. and trained by American Special Forces advisers, even as they carried out grotesque human rights abuses. This was never accounted for, of course. Elliot Abrams, who was influential in covering up these atrocities, went on to sign the manifesto of the Project for the New American Century – the neoconservative organisation that was first to beat the drum for regime change in Iraq. (The only crimes grave enough to earn one dismissal from the U.S. foreign policy establishment, it seems, are solicing minors for sex and opposing the Israeli state.)

Two of the American advisers in El Salvador were Colonel James Steele and Steve Casteel. During the Iraq war, as Maass reported and the Guardian is now publicising, these men were brought in and tasked with overseeing the Shia militias that had joined the Ministry of Interior’s Special Police Commandos. The means by which the commandos fought back against the insurgents were brutal. Even as Maass was among them, he heard “a man…screaming”. His photographer, the Guardian reports, was in a room aiding an interview with Steele when he looked about and “s[aw] blood everywhere”.

As Wikileaks exposed in 2011, Americans knew that the Iraqi forces, funded from the billions that the U.S. government had pumped into their were known to be inflicting “bruising, broken bones, and lash-marks” upon detainees, who also alleged “acts of anal rape”. They reported the discovery of such grotesque contraptions as “a hook…on the ceiling of an empty room”, “attached [to] a chain-and-pulley system” with “apparent bloodspots [on] the floor underneath”. “I remember a 14-year-old who was tied to one of the library’s columns,” claims General Munthader al-Samari, who worked at the interior ministry. “His whole body was blue because of the impact of the cables with which he had been beaten.

Both General Samari and Adnan Thabit, the tough, hard-nosed leader of the Special Police Commandos, allege that the Americans knew of their practices and cheerfully abetted them. “They knew what was going on in the interrogations,” drawls Thabit. “Even some of the intelligence about the detainees came to us from them.” Steele, Samari claims, opened a door to see a man being hung upside down by his legs. He didn’t react at all, the General states. “It was just normal.”

The world outside the doors of the torture chambers might not have had such detailed knowledge but the fact that awful deeds were being enacted was obvious from a grim TV show titled Terrorism in the Grip of Justice. This portrayed confessions of guilt from detainees whose abasement was enjoyed by Iraqis who were thirsty for revenge after years of violence. The captured men often featured bruises and black eyes, and did not merely confess to hostage-taking or terrorism but sodomy. This spectacle, evoking the worst memories of the Stalinist show trials, provoked discomfort in the West but doubts were assuaged by belligerents of the commentariat. Christopher Hitchens admitted that some of the confessions “[were] a little too convenient” yet blustered that “the elected Iraqi authorities [were] well within their rights in using this means of propaganda”. Are torture and forced confessions less of a problem if their perpetrators were elected? The things one learns from defenders of Enlightenment values

Torture by American and British troops was not extraordinary, though debates continue to rage over the question of whether it was systematic. A British court hearing is considering that very question as I write. What is inarguable is that Iraqis were detained without even a semblance of due process, and that innocents as well as actual insurgents were forced to stew in their own fear, loneliness and outrage. Ibrahim Jassam, a Reuters cameraman, was arrested and held for seventeen months, without charges and despite the fact that the Iraqis had repeatedly demanded his release. In jail, his brother said, he looked “pale and…tired”, “would start crying” and “begg[ed] [him]: ‘Please do something to get me out of here. I don’t know what is the charge against me.’” Such human tragedies reflected a great imperial arrogance.

I am sure the standards of the years that followed the invasion influenced the practices of the state under Maliki. His government and its ministries often detain their opponents and hold their prisoners incommunicado, and they have been charged with torture by authorities and institutions in and outside of Iraq. Grave injustices, it seems, are enduring features of its political landscape, however many times the perpetrators are changed.

One could ask the question of how an army is supposed to prosecute guerrilla conflict against such terrifyingly unscrupulous foes while maintaining high standards of justice and decency. I believe it could have been more just and decent but, still, I would be forced to answer that it probably cannot be done. Such wars are so violent that nobody can emerge from them without being blood-splattered. The conclusion, though, is not that we should accept brutal wars. It is that nobody should launch them when there is no need to.

Blair IraqA theme of essays marking the 10th anniversary of the gigantic anti-war march in London has been that the government’s indifference to it proved that British democracy is fraudulent. This is not a great argument as politicians are not obliged to respect the wishes of the loudest contingent of the populace. Much of the British public, and, more relevantly, most MPs were in favour of the war. People who have made this observation, though, have wrongly jumped to the conclusion that this absolves the system. Norman Geras writes that the war “wasn’t a blow against the state of…democracy…in this country”; Alex Massie claims that it had “all the legitimacy it needed”; Rob Marchant insists that “democracy is fully intact”.

Now, I am no democracy fetishist. Wars are not made virtuous or wicked on the basis of their popular support in the aggressive nations. If the French decided tomorrow that invading Britain was a sensible idea it would not justify attack. Still, it seems to me that an intriguing question might be why the public and, indeed, parliamentarians decided that war in Iraq was necessary.

It was sold to us largely as an attempt to obstruct Saddam Hussein’s production and deployment of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. The idea that he intended to and, indeed, was able to do this was reliant on the September Dossier – an assessment of the findings of the British intelligence services. This is infamous as being “dodgy” and that, if anything, is a generous description.

Alastair Campbell tried to claim that the dossier was the work of the Joint Intelligence Committee but this was misleading. The evidence that the spooks had come up with was limited and their opinions regarding it were often uncertain. A pack of spin doctors, though, had dressed the data up as being more substantive than it was and cloaked it in the rhetoric of certitude. As the admirable Chris Ames demonstrates, possible threats were presented as existing dangers, and indications of malice were adduced as actual proofs. Campbell himself was influential in this process: demanding that evidence be overblown, or, in his words, made “stronger”.

A notorious example is the claim that Iraq could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes. This was inserted into the dossier after the spin doctors had placed their hands on it, and described as something Iraq may be capable of. A spook objected to its prominence “since it [was] based on a single source” yet it was not merely included but presented as something that Hussein was able to do. It was over evidence such as this that Tony Blair claimed that the dossier had “established beyond doubt” that the Baathist state had continued to produce and seek to develop weapons of mass destruction. The empty hands of the inspectors were, of course, soon to prove that doubt was the least that one should have been experiencing.

The government, then, did not offer citizens the evidence on which to base their views but seem to have made them the target of a PR campaign. This suspicion was bolstered by Major General Michael Laurie, director general of the Defence Intelligence Staff, who told the Chilcot Inquiry that its “purpose…was precisely to make a case for war, rather than setting out the…sparse and inconclusive intelligence”.

45 Minutes from DoomIf this was dishonest, the presentation of the Dossier’s claims in the media was befitting of the most farcical of Communist states. The Sun, for example, roared atop one page that Britons were “45mins FROM DOOM”. Further down the page it bellowed that Hussein was “ONE YEAR away” from nuclear capability, while to the left a headline simply howled “GET HIM”.

The Daily Star, meanwhile, made its cousin appear to be a model of reserve with the front page headline: “Mad Saddam Ready to Attack: 45 Minutes from a Chemical War”. The Times and The Telegraph both had less deranged but nonetheless doom-mongering accouncements in their publications.

These events took place at the same time as an American campaign of warmongering that was even more bovine and feculent. Its fumes drifted into Britain. David Rose, who, before the invasion, was writing in The Evening Standard that “Iraq’s support for terror” made regime change “integral”, lamented five years later that a U.S. official had “told [him] time and again that Saddam really did have operational links with al-Qaeda”. ITN’s Washington correspondent, meanwhile, was to insist that, “As Dick Cheney…warned, Iraq may soon be armed with a nuclear weapon”. Well, if Dick Cheney said it…

This was also in an environment where people were extremely scared of terrorism. There was cause to be afraid of terrorism, naturally, but not on the scale that people were in that period. On the fifth day of 2003 police had raided a flat in Wood Green and arrested six men on suspicion of manufacturing ricin. I remember how scary it was to think of this toxin that could slay thousands in minute quantities. The papers, of course, affirmed these fears. The Sun wrote of a “factory of death”; The Mail warned of a “Poison Gang on the Loose” and The Mirror – which, it should be granted, was openly anti-war – showed a gigantic skull on its front page beneath the headline, “IT’S HERE!

Such was the fear among some Britons in those months that army surplus stores were doing a brisk trade in gas masks. That this was directed towards Iraq is not a matter of supposition. In the middle of his fantastically dishonest speech to the UN Colin Powell cited the case as evidence of a “sinister nexus” between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. The problem was that there was that there was no ricin and no plot but one thuggish fantasist with cack-handed ambitions of manufacturing poisons. Moreover, within two days of the arrests government scientists had known there was no ricin. Why this did not filter out to the rest of us is an unanswered question.

When people, whether in Parliament or in the streets, decided to endorse the invasion of Iraq, then, they did it not merely in the context of fears of widespread, devastating terrorist assaults but a concerted effort to direct these fears onto the personage of Saddam Hussein. This was a deceptive attempt to manipulate citizens at their most vulnerable. One can draw no conclusion other than that it was a blow to democracy, and a fairly injurious one, which makes what legitimacy the war ever had spurious.

He whose advisers present only that information which is convenient to their aims – or, indeed, simply make it up – is not much of a ruler. And, more particularly, they who promote an invasion on dishonest premises; carry it out with brutal recklessness and observe the ensuing carnage from a distance would shame any people and political system.

IraqAs the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq approaches, commentators who supported military action have been insisting that it be recognised that they had good reasons to want Saddam to fall. Indeed they did! It is hard to express what an appalling man the late dictator was: a man who was cruel that he would not merely invade a nation but torch its resources as he fled; a man who was so spiteful that when militants shot at his car near a little town he threw hundreds of its residents into jails and torture chambers; a man who was so arrogant that he claimed to have had an 100% approval rating in the polls. The great tragedy of the Iraq war is that it began in a country run by this specimen and made things worse.

I have neither the expertise nor the desire to judge between claims as to how vast the graveyard of the conflict is but it is sobering to think that 180,000 is the conservative estimate of civilian deaths. Each one of them represents a tragedy, not just in the life that was lost but in its effects on the lives that were attached to it.

Over two million Iraqis have fled into Jordan, Syria and Egypt. These include a large proportion of the middle classes: the teachers, doctors and businessmen nations depend upon to stabilise their institutions. These people find it hard to create new lives in unfamiliar, unwelcoming societies. Tens of thousands of girls are thought to have been forced into the sex trade.

Even Saddam, brutal as he was, never succeeded in devastating Iraq. The conflict has been effective in this regard. Iraq’s Christian minority has undergone its worst crisis in its centuries of existence. Sectarian violence is thought to have driven over half the nation’s Christians out, and those who stay are regularly attacked and harrassed. The country’s intellectual culture has been shattered. Libraries and archives were burned in the first weeks of the war and hundreds of academics were slaughtered or forced to leave. Iraq’s major universities were said to need 1.2 billion dollars to be rebuilt. The U.S. offered less than one percent of this.

Iraq has lost much of its heritage and also seen the makings of its future devastated. Never mind that the professionals of today have been killed or driven out – think of what the country’s children have been through. Hundreds of thousands of them have been left without a mother, father or both. All of them, meanwhile, have been forced to come of age in villages, towns and cities where bombs could explode at any time and leave horrific scenes of death and destruction. If, as is claimed, the children of Sderot are traumatised imagine the damage done to the children of Baghdad. And these kids, with all the stress that they have undergone, live in a country less than 200 psychiatrists and social workers to help them.

IraqThe nation’s institutions show signs of recovery. As the violence has decreased investments have risen, and oil production is helping its economy to grow. Its state remains frighteningly dysfunctional, though. This is a country whose Vice President was forced to run after facing murder charges. The infrastructure is inadequate and poorly managed: more schools, for example, are being torn down than built; the health system is so crooked that tons of counterfeit drugs are served out to Iraqis and the nation is, according to Transparency International, the most corrupt in the Middle East. In a frightening echo of Saddam’s regime, meanwhile, President Maliki has harassed journalists, attacked peaceful protesters and, it is alleged, detained and tortured suspected criminals and political opponents.

The violence, meanwhile, has decreased but continues at levels that would seem horrific in most countries. Hundreds of Shia Muslims have been killed in sectarian attacks this year alone. Then there is the threat of the murderous vigilantes who have been enforcing puritanical standards on the nation’s streets. In Basra, where British troops were stationed, hitmen have been known to kill women and pin censorious notes to their bodies. Gay men are targeted and killed. There were even a series of young men who were stoned to death in what appeared to be a state-enabled war against “emos” by Shiite militants. The freedom Iraqis were promised may arrive but for now, a decade on, it remains a dream.

The war was, of course, not merely foolish but baleful. Ever since John McCain strode onto the Letterman show a month after 9/11 and baselessly linked Iraq to the anthrax letters lie after lie poured from the lips and pens of Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, George Bush and Tony Blair. Who remembers Hussein’s “long-standing relationship” with Al Qaeda? Few people now but millions of them thought they knew about it ten years ago. Who remembers Iraq’s fearsome aluminium tubes? Next to no one now but millions of Westerners shuddered to think of them a decade ago.

IraqOnce inside Iraq the U.S. took sweeping measures to remove from Baathists from power. As they constituted the vast bulk of the officials within its institutions everything from hospitals to universities were emptied and chaos was inevitable. As U.S. troops stood back and allowed what Donald Rumsfeld called the “untidiness” that was the ransacking of Iraq’s state infrastructure and culture heritage they witnessed merely the first rumblings of the turbulence they had enabled.

Their military operations across the country, meanwhile, could be brutal. In Fallujah, the name of which has gone down in infamy, chemicals were fired among buildings where civilians still crouched and soldiers shot so wildly that even ambulances were said to have come under attack. “Usually we keep the gloves on,” said one army captain, “For this operation, we took the gloves off”. The torture of Baha Mousa or that in Abu Ghraib are rightly infamous but the tacit acceptance of the practices of Iraqi interrogators escaped attention. The irony of going into a nation to remove a brutal dictator and then failing to object when supposed comrades whipped victims with cables; hung them up by their wrists; raped them and tortured them with acid is gruesome.

Many soldiers, of course, believed that they were doing good. The thousands of Americans and British troops who were sent into the country under a banner of lies and emerged in body bags and flying hospitals should not be forgotten. They have lost their lives and health, and in a cause that will be forgotten by most of their countrymen and looked on with shame by others.

The elites of British and American society have snatched up everything that they can take from Iraq’s ruins and fled lest anybody tries to hold them to account. Corporations, some of which the architects of the war actually profit from, have reaped billions in contracts. The defence company General Dynamics, for example, saw their profits triple in the years after 9/11. (They, along with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Kathryn Bigelow, are among the few people who have benefited from the War on Terror.)

Bill KristolThe men and women who engineered the conflict have evaded responsibility. Robert Kagan, Bill Kristol and the ideologues who began to call for the invasion in the 1990s still counsel presidents when any sane society would not allow them to offer advice to plumbers. Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz and the other scoundrels who were in positions of power have retreated to luxurious retirements. Tony Blair is paid millions to spout cliches to plutocrats. Alastair Campbell is a guest of honour on satire programmes.

Western intellectuals have enabled this avoidance of accountability by desperately trying to rationalise the disaster. Some try to convince themselves that it was for the good. John McTernan, one-time Political Secretary to Blair, claimed that the war was “by and large, a success” while this was too restrained for Michael Gove, for whom it was simplya success”. I am tempted to ask what would constitute a failure to these men but the prospect of it is too fearsome to imagine. David Frum, a one-time speechwriter for George Bush, outdid them for obscenity by granting that the war had dreadful consequences but asserting that “for an Iraqi, there was no price too high to pay to rid the country of Saddam”. How a rich American thinks he can know the minds of the Iraqis is beyond me but I think he should be forced to ask a prostitute in Syria or orphan in Baghdad how they feel about the “price”.

For some commentators this was insufficiently depraved. They have blamed the Iraqis for their own devastation. They are “ingrates”, proposed Andrew McCarthy. “If Iraqis couldn’t build a secure democracy without years of bloodshed,” sniffed Robin Shepherd of the Henry Jackson Society, “That was their fault”. Dana Rohrabacher, a U.S. Congressman, even proposed that the Iraqis should be compensating the U.S. for what it spent on the invasion. As I have asked before, if I save a woman from her abusive husband by crashing into the house; breaking all the furniture; killing the pets and leaving the door open for thieves and rapists, is she an ungrateful slag if she fails to thank me?

The myopia, pomposity and callousness of these men is truly awesome: evidence of an ability to ignore the most blatant facts and simplest of moral laws when they are  inconvenient to their perceptions of the world. How much better, though, is it to gripe about the origin and outcomes of invasion but fail to clearly acknowledge its true implications: that deeds of our governments caused and enabled the damaging and destruction of a country’s past, present and future and that the amoral cynicism and blinkered idealism that underpinned it must be opposed lest it become tomorrow’s Vietnam to a future Iraq war.

Prime among the people obscuring clear thought are, I’m afraid, the liberal interventionists, who may have been inspired by compassion for the oppressed and enthusiasm for freedom when they backed the war but whose griping about perceived slights and trivialities seems downright callous when there is such suffering to be considered. John Rentoul, for example, alleges that opponents of the war should be “alarmed” because some of the people who share this opinion can express unrational views. Alarmed? Really? Alarmed? It is alarming – rather than, say, tiresome – that a few anorak-smothered miscreants chant peculiar slogans? Why? What harm are they? What are they in a position to do?

I am more alarmed by the thought of Hiba, who was forced, at the age of 16, to dance in a Syrian club with her “frail shoulders bathed in colored light”. I am more alarmed by the thought of Mustafa, who lost both his parents and lives in a run-down orphanage where he “feel[s] like a bird in a cage”. I am more alarmed by the thought of Omar Moussa Smith, who was twelve when he was gunned down by U.S. soldiers. I am alarmed by the chaos that is unleashed by war, and the fear, hatred and viciousness that is nurtured within it. This seems more important than a few nutjobs on “my side of the argument”. It seems more important, indeed, than any of our arguments. Perhaps we should stop arguing sometimes. Perhaps we should just look, and listen, and think, and feel.

This is not an original or incisive observation but Tony Blair is an utterly shameless liar. Speaking to a conference of the Iraq British Business Council he…

…said the political and human devastation caused by [Saddam] are too often “overlooked”…

“Hundreds of thousands died in his wars and in his campaigns against his own people,” he told the conference.

“Less well known is the economic impact of his rule. GDP per head in 1989 was $2304. In the next ten years it fell to less than $600. Whole industries, agriculture and of course tourism all declined dramatically…”

Now, I’m not going to defend the record of Saddam any more than I’m going to defend the movies of George Lucas. It has to be said, though – and I’m not claiming to be some fancy schmany economist – that the economic downturn after 1989 might have had something to do with the crippling sanctions that were imposed in the 1990s. Y’know: the ones that drastically limited the nation’s imports and exports and contributed to the deaths of tens of thousands of kids. You might have heard of it. It was kind of a big deal.

Saddam was not an innocent victim here. He was not a victim at all. But holding him entirely responsible for the Iraqis’ deprivation is like banning the neighbourhood thugs’ children from the school canteen and then tutting when they fall prey to malnutrition. It’s an abnegation of moral responsibility and it is also blatant historical obscurantism. This entirely befits the character of Mr. Blair and stands as evidence that his rehabilitation remains as or less desirable than that of The Black and White Minstrel Show, blue ketchup and diethylstilbestrol.

Desmond Tutu has spurned the opportunity to share a stage with Tony Blair. The news disappointed me. Not because I feel that Tutu was misguided, by the way, but because it’s sad that the rejection of Tony Blair’s company is news. Does this mean people are happy in the man’s presence? Weird.

Blair’s attempts to salvage his reputation are toxic for reasons besides the obvious. He was a verbal and material supporter of the Saudi regime, which as well as being a gang of doctrinaire tyrants remains a leading promoter of Islamic radicalism abroad and in Britain, and he favoured the Uzbek state even as the depraved Islam Karimov was boiling prisoners to death. (All this, let’s remind ourselves, under the guise of an “ethical foreign policy”.) And, yes, much as I know people who feel the devastation of a country is a matter of significance are liable to be accused of monomania or tediousness, he made Britain complicit in the assault of a nation on spurious premises that sent it plunging into years of violence that left innumerable thousands dead, crippled and made homeless; exacerbated sectarian conflict that endures today; smashed its intellectual culture; forced out its minorities and lumped it with an overbearing and blood-splattered government as well as unofficial rule from mad, murderous vigilantes.

To have played an influential role in this calamity would move a decent person to spend their life trying to aid the victims of events they had a role in precipitating. Not Mr Blair. As Iraqi Christians have been bombed out of their homes and churches he’s been flaunting his religion in the comfort of the first world. As the shattered infrastructure of the nation he invaded fails to provide the most essential human needs he’s been raking in millions from his pontifications. Has he even issued an apology? Nah. In fact, the only time that word has passed his lips was when he accused us of being too apologetic. And our media commentators are offended because Desmond Tutu wouldn’t share a stage with him at a leadership conference? I’d avoid sharing a queue at the supermarket.

It might be proposed that our condemnation is useless. Blair is not in power, and nothing’s going to change the harm he did. What are we trying to achieve? Are we trying to achieve something or are we just trying to flaunt our moralism? I don’t think so. It’s true that there was something personally objectionable about Blair: a clear sense that if given the choice between spending time on the Yorkshire Dales, in a London pub or at Davos he’d be on the plane to Switzerland before you could say “slimeball”. Yet there’s something more important to it. Politics in the first world is very much like a soap opera. We get terribly invested in the current storylines but once new figures and events take precedence we’re liable forget whatever outrageous things preceded them. Those who dwell on old plots are being tedious. It’s this inattention and forgetfulness that allows old tricks to be pulled off again, and old mistakes to be repeated. Few remembered the horrors of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and elsewhere and let themselves believe that the US would be an altruistic and effective force in Iraq. If we forget the crimes and tragedies of the past years what are we going to be suckered by?

I’ve written before on the oppression of Christian minorities in the Middle East. The persecution of believers in Iraq is particularly virulent and this is something its Western invaders precipitated. Reverend Shlemon Warduni, Auxiliary Bishop of the St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Diocese for Chaldeans and Assyrians in Iraq, visited America this month and spoke of what this means for Christians in his country…

For years, Christians and Muslims lived together, not in perfect harmony but with some degree of cordiality and mutual respect. Neighborhoods were often mixed. Our children played together. We celebrated each other’s festivals. Christians could go to schools and have good jobs. After the American invasion of Iraq, things changed drastically.

Our situation in Iraq became a tragedy of immense proportions after 2003. All Christians were harmed, but especially we Chaldeans, the largest community of Christians in Iraq.

We have lost one Bishop – Faraj Rahho; one priest was killed – Fr. Ragheed Ganni; and 6 subdeacons. More than 15 priests have been kidnapped and released after paying a lot of money as ransom. Many of them were tortured. More than 20 churches have been attacked.The tragic high point was the attack on Our Lady of Deliverance Cathedral in Baghdad where over 45 persons were murdered, including two young priests. Many of our faithful have been kidnapped and killed.

Terrorist and fanatic groups continued to attack our Christians in Dora. They forced Christians to leave their houses or to pay “al Jesya” (a fine levied on non-Muslims simply for choosing to live in an Islamic society) because they are not Muslims. They forced our Christian daughters to marry Muslims, even the princes of al Qaida. They said to Christians, “Become Muslims or be killed.” As a result, many Christians escaped the area and went to the north or fled outside of Iraq.

The same thing was done in Mosul (Nineveh) in northern Iraq that traditionally had a strong Christian presence.Many were killed because of fanaticism against them. We tried to talk with everybody to get help for Christians and other religious minorities. Many of them promise us they will do something, but nobody has done anything.

As a result, our people have no trust in anybody and they continue to leave the country with many criticizing the Church for not having helped them. This emigration is catastrophic for our Church. Some wonder if there is a big plot to empty Iraq, if not to empty all the Middle East, of Christians…

Yet, as I wrote…

…the architects of the conflict have thus remained discreetly silent. It’s a sign of their priorities, indeed, that they’re more concerned with backing Islamist fanatics in Iran than oppressed Christians in the nation they like to believe they’ve civilised.

Alastair Campbell was the guest host of Have I Got News for You this week. While the bright young comics of 10 O’Clock Live were downright obsequious towards him Ian Hislop was at least a bit disdainful: firing off gags about Iraq, state secrets and the manipulation of public opinion. Therein lies the problem. Those are subjects that deserve more than gags. Campbell giggled over each of the veteran satirist’s jibes because he knows the programme has all the teeth of an octogenarian with an 8 can-a-day coke habit. There’s no moral power to its comedy: warmongering is treated with no more seriousness than dodgy tax returns and either will have been forgotten once they’ve reached the missing words round. It’s essentially a roast: the panelists insult the visiting politico but they win affection or, at least, grudging respect by showing their ability to have a laugh at their own expense. And, being rational enough to grasp that mild embarrassment is a small price to pay for this, they giggle like schoolchildren. So, you helped to plot a catastrophic war, Alastair? Giggle, titter, chortle, guffaw et cetera.

Our political culture is unpleasantly forgiving. Not that I’ve got anything against forgiveness; it’s just it’s expected, in any other context, that the object of one’s pardon should first accept responsibility for their wrongdoings. In politics, however, where misdeeds are of the greatest consequence, what happens in Westminster or Washington tends to stay there. Thus, Paul Wolfowitz, an architect of the Iraq invasion, chatted about Syria on yesterday’s Newsnight while Campbell, a vicious bully whose indifference to the truth allowed him to help con us into joining it, cracked jokes on Have I Got News for You and the only mentions of the war elicited laughs.

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