For the last few years, the Iraq war has been a decidedly unpopular issue as far as the press is concerned. The fact is that the British people are angry that they were misled over the war; millions of them are angry that they were ignored over the war; and people have increasingly come to accept the anti-war movement’s message that the war has been an unmitigated disaster and has failed miserably to bring freedom, prosperity or happiness to the people of Iraq.
However, in this post-Bush-and-Blair, black-president-having, health-care-reforming age, it seems the rich and powerful have decided that it’s time for an international emotional healing session. After all, the number of US troops in Iraq has finally fallen below 100,000 (all the way down to, er, 98,000 – not counting contractors, ‘security consultants’ and sundry other mercenaries), parliamentary elections have just taken place, and nobody is talking about civil war any more.
Chilcot Inquiry: an ongoing farce
In this context, it was announced in June last year that the long-awaited public inquiry into Britain’s role in the war would finally take place, led by a small committee under Sir John Chilcot.
From the outset, it was pretty clear that the Chilcot Inquiry couldn’t be anything other than an expensive exercise in whitewashing. For a start, the members of the committee were hand-picked by Gordon Brown. This seems an odd approach to the pursuit of objective truth and justice – an accused murderer would not typically be allowed to select his judge, prosecutor and jury, or to set the terms of his trial!
Needless to say, the reactionary credentials of the committee members are impeccable. Martin Gilbert – a historian and self-confessed ‘proud zionist’ – is on record as having compared Bush and Blair to Roosevelt and Churchill, and he worries terribly about the “crude anti-Israel sentiment” prevailing in modern Britain. (‘Chilcot inquiry member Sir Martin Gilbert praises Gordon Brown’, The Times, 28 January 2010)
Sir Lawrence Freedman, meanwhile, was a foreign policy adviser to Tony Blair and, in the words of the Daily Mail of 24 November, a “cheerleader for the invasion”. (‘Will Sir John Chilcot resist a whitewash on Iraq?’).
None of the five members have so much as flirted with progressive ideas – they are all totally ‘reliable’ right-wingers.
Nonetheless, there was great excitement when the time came for Blair to give evidence. Surely he would show some remorse? Surely there would be an apology for the misinformation sent out by the government in the weeks and months leading up to the invasion? Surely he would accept that the invasion was in fact illegal under international law?
All hopes were dashed. Blair indulged in his usual smiling dishonesty and vagueness, and the hopeless committee did absolutely everything they could to accommodate him, refusing to pin him down on any meaningful question.
“He was allowed to maintain [his] stance pretty well unimpeded, thanks to the much-noted lack of forensic precision from the inquiry team. Again and again, Blair was allowed to reply to specific questions with long, generalised answers … The result has been hugely frustrating, not least because this may be the last opportunity to question Blair in such a way on what remains the greatest foreign policy calamity of the post-war era – with graver consequences even than the Suez debacle.” (Jonathan Freedman, The Guardian, 29 January 2010)
Seamus Milne described the questions as ranging “from the feeble to the shamefully complicit”. (Ibid)
If the inquiry is going to gain the tiniest bit of credibility, the first thing it must do is head to Iraq and observe the devastation that characterises life there. According to Sami Ramadani: “One suggestion I heard from a Baghdad resident is that Sir John Chilcot and his panel should pack up and go to Iraq to talk to the people suffering the terrible aftermath of war and sanctions.
“‘Let them come and see how some of our children and families have been reduced to searching rubbish dumps to make a living in one of the richest countries in the world. Let them come and talk to the widows and orphans of the US-led war.’” (The Guardian, 24 November 2010)
The committee is due to present its findings in June, just after the general election (clearly nobody would want the results of such an investigation to prejudice the electorate!)
The new bastion of democracy in the Middle East?
More recently, politicians and news analysts have been proclaiming the tremendous success of the recent parliamentary elections in Iraq. The elections are being held up as a model of democracy – a new beacon for the Middle East (the irony of which will not be lost on anyone that keeps their eye on the Palestinian situation).
However, a more serious analysis reveals that the elections were flawed in every way. For one thing, anyone associated with the former regime in any way was prevented from standing.
As John Catalinotto pointed out in Workers World Online, during the election campaign, Maliki’s government “outlawed the candidacy of 454 people who were running for national office, claiming that these individuals were too close to the Ba’ath Party”. Catalinotto further pointed out that any election held under occupiers’ guns cannot be considered fair. The 98,000 US troops “still have the leverage on power. A sovereign election can’t be held in an occupied country.” (28 February 2010)
The Iraqi resistance showed its utter disdain for the whole farce by launching an intensified campaign. According to the New York Times of 8 March, there were up to “100 thunderous blasts in the capital alone starting just before polls opened”.
Given that the majority of candidates were imperialist stooges, the results are really not all that interesting (even the western press has barely mentioned the results). The lion’s share of the votes was shared by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi National Movement coalition, which won 91 seats, and current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law Coalition, which won 90 seats. The scene is now set for a period of turmoil – “months, not weeks … as the willing coalition tries to cobble together enough votes to elect a prime minister … Once the parliamentary seats are allocated, the game will start all over again: coalitions will crack, new alliances will form, and every seat in the 325-member parliament will have its price as a handful of leaders compete to build majorities.” (New York Times, op cit)
Ultimately, the people of Iraq are not fooled by the charades of elections and inquiries. Sami Ramadani pointed out that “What makes Iraqis very bitter is that more than six years after the invasion, the situation for most of them has deteriorated beyond all gloomy expectations. One Iraqi last week was in tears as he spoke about his extended family, for whom life has become dominated by death and destitution. He told the Baghdadia satellite TV station:
“‘How long will we continue dying like this? When the bombs don’t get us, we perish of water-borne diseases, as we drink the dirty water. When the bombs don’t get us, our babies are born deformed because of the depleted uranium they used on us …. When is it going to all end?’” (Op cit)