Harry van Bommel: The war which should never have begun and the perpetrators who walk free

15 July 2016

Harry van Bommel: The war which should never have begun and the perpetrators who walk free

Published last week, the Chilcot report on British involvement in the war on Iraq has demonstrated once more the immense fiasco that this rash military foreign adventure became. It speaks of moral bankruptcy that those who played the leading roles have still not, thirteen years on from the criminal decision to invade Iraq, been forced to face up to their responsibility.

Every day in Iraq people struggle with the consequences of the illegal US-British intervention. Just last week three hundred people lost their lives in an attack in Baghdad, while in and beyond the capital dozens of people died in other incidents. No-one doubts that in the near future violence on a large scale will continue to be a daily reality in a country sorely provoked. It isn’t easy to determine precisely how many deaths occurred as a result of the invasion and the ensuing civil war, but estimates run to more than a million. Millions more have been forced to flee before the violence.

Supporters of the war have always hidden behind the argument that it wasn’t possible to know beforehand that things would get so out of hand. The Chilcot report makes short work of this naivety. In a way that cannot be misunderstood it states that British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the period leading up to the invasion was fully briefed on the possible consequences in Iraq. He was warned that the fall of the regime could lead to an eruption of sectarian violence which would in turn contribute to the rise of extremism in the country. Against the background of the current violence of ISIS in Iraq and since more recently also in Syria, violence that has since also reached Europe, this is a particularly grim conclusion.

Other findings from Chilcot leave little to be desired in the way of clarity. The report of some 2.6 million words concludes that the British government went for military intervention before all peaceful options had been exhausted. Prime Minister Blair promised to give his support to the United States come what may. The UK also, in the face of the absence of support for military action, undermined the UN Security Council’s authority. Planning for after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime was wholly inadequate. Lastly Chilcot concluded that the seriousness of the threat from Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction was presented by Blair with a certainty which was unjustified.

These findings accord in large measure with those of other British investigations, but also with the Dutch Davids report of 2010. As far as this last aspect goes, the matter of deliberately misleading the public, Davids states that Dutch intelligence service adopted a more restrained attitude in relation to the threat from the weapons of mass destruction than did members of the centre-right coalition government (CDA and VVD) in their communications with parliament. As well, from the reports from the intelligence services ministers used only those statements which suited pre-adopted position.

The picture is clearer. At a high level, first of all in Washington, the decision to go to war was taken, after which the justification was dreamed up. In the jargon, as emerged from an official British government document which was leaked earlier, ‘the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.’ Docile media then put their oar in to flog the war to the broad public.

Things went wrong with that, moreover, because there was large-scale penetration of the lies and deception over the weapons of mass destruction - amongst other things - even in the months before the war began. The biggest anti-war demonstration in history, which brought millions of people on to the streets of hundreds of cities throughout the world, Amsterdam amongst them, was the result. These demonstrators showed that they suspected already that the real weapon of mass destruction in Iraq would be the Anglo-American war machine.

It’s to be hoped that lessons have been learned from Chilcot’s findings, but expectations are definitely not high. Incompetent western leaders have already been shown not to have learned a thing from Iraq. In 2011 similar serious errors were made in NATO’s war on Libya. No occupation ensued in that case, but there was no overall plan for a post- regime change Libya. Following the brutal murder of Gadhafi, the country degenerated into violent chaos with heavily armed militias pulling the strings. Any effective state authority has entirely vanished, with Al Qaida and ISIS cashing in.

It is moreover exceptionally cynical that, just as previously in Iraq, the results of the earlier western military incursion have then been used as a pretext for further armed intervention. In western capitals plans are already in place for an attack on ISIS in Libya. This borders on madness. It is after all a recipe for permanent war, a war which, given that it produces its own enemies, is by definition impossible to win.

Back to Iraq. The war, which was coupled with a gigantic propaganda campaign aimed at their own public of the kind which inclines one to cynicism and distrust, caused immense damage. The appearance of the Chilcot report has therefore justifiably caused more and more voices to be raised calling for prosecution of the leading players. Happily, it still isn’t too late.

This article first appeared, in the original Dutch, on 15th July 2016 on the website Joop.nl

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