Commentary

UK Chilcot Inquiry Rekindles Iraq War Debate

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

Views from the Region

The publication of a long-awaited UK report on the Iraq War — the Chilcot Inquiry — has brought many observers back to the debates surrounding the original arguments for and against invasion. Revelations of very early war planning between the UK’s then prime minister, Tony Blair, and former U.S. President George W. Bush have convinced some that the report ought to be only the first of many steps leading to criminal accountability for the architects of the ill-fated war. Others have expressed fears that much of Western reticence with regards to their involvement in Syria is a result of their experience in Iraq.

According to Al Ahram’s Gamal Essam El-Din, Egyptian members of parliament, angry at the revelations of the Chilcot report, have recommended using the upcoming Arab League summit to condemn “Western military intervention in the Arab world”: “MPs seized on the publication of an independent British judicial report investigating the UK’s participation in the war against Iraq to denounce Western policies. ... In a statement on 8 July parliament’s Arab Relations Committee, led by MP Saad Al-Gammal, said former U.S. president George W. Bush and former British prime minister Tony Blair should be tried for war crimes. ... According to the statement, the Chilcot report revealed Western conspiracies directed against the Arab world, the Middle East and the Arab Gulf. ... The committee recommended the Arab League use the next Arab summit in Mauritania to condemn Western military intervention in the Arab world and use its influence in the United Nations to ensure it is never repeated.”

Osama Al Sharif, writing for the Gulf News, argues that the Chilcot report should be used to build a foundation for initiating criminal prosecutions against Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush: “[W]e know that the war was an illegal one and that both the U.S. and the UK misled the United Nations Security Council and the international community and more importantly their own citizens. It is inconceivable that both Blair and Bush remain immune to criminal charges despite overwhelming evidence against them. To evade prosecution and accountability for an illegal war that continues to claim innocent lives on a daily basis is a stain on the face of the UN and the international community. The Chilcot report should not be the end of the road in looking into the Iraq war and its catastrophic consequences. It should provide a building block for more inquiries that seek to put those responsible for continuing carnage and chaos on trial in the future.”

Jordan Times’s Hasan Abu Nimah expresses similar views on criminal responsibility, while drawing attention to what he views as a hypocritical Western attitude toward Arab countries: “The Chilcot report, incriminating as it is, is not and should not be the final word on a war that left perpetual disasters. It is an internal British report that may now allow families to seek private prosecutions against the former prime minster. However, still needed is a bold and independent international investigation with powers to determine responsibilities, verify war crimes and demand legal accountability. ... The haste and enthusiasm with which some Western leaders take their decisions to attack an Arab or a Muslim country could not but raise serious questions about deeply anchored and often blind hatred guiding them…. How ironic and hypocritical it is that the people who offer such wise and pacific advice are the very same people who rushed to wage two major wars on Iraq in a span of 10 years, bombed Khartoum in Sudan, bombed Tripoli in Libya, invaded Afghanistan, bombed Libya once more and continue to feed an ongoing destructive war in Syria.”

The National’s (UAE) Faisal Al Yafai, believes that the greater tragedy in the aftermath of the Iraq war is the risk of doing nothing to stop the ongoing carnage in Syria: “Mr. Blair was on television, justifying his war by announcing that ‘the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein’. Leave aside that many millions of Iraqis may disagree – those enslaved under ISIL’s ‘caliphate’, those whose fathers were slaughtered by sectarian militias, those whose children were blown to pieces by U.S. bombs, all may well wish for the brutal stability of Saddam’s reign – it remains the wrong answer to a question no one asked....The use of force is not always bad. Sometimes it is necessary to stop something far worse. Today in Syria the world is witnessing the worst war of this young century. But because the war is mostly confined within Syria’s borders, traditional doctrines of war don’t apply. With no neighbors directly threatened by war, there is no basis to intervene. But morality must tell us that standing by and watching as the lives of millions of people burn is wrong. Iraq was a war of choice. Syria is a war of morality. It is the tragedy of Syrians that the international community cannot see that distinction yet – and the millions of words of the Chilcot report will only obscure it further.”

Writing for the Turkish daily Hurriyet Daily News, Murat Yetkin provides a direct reply to Mr. Blair’s assertion that the world became safer after Saddam. Mr. Yetkin answers that question by pointing out that “the world is not a safer place after the fall of Saddam Hussein. On the contrary, the world is a much more dangerous place in which to live with the spread of terrorism to a global scale, putting the lives of every person in every corner of the world at risk. ... Like Taliban and al-Qaeda being the by-products of the U.S.-led projects to counter the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, ISIL is a by-product of the U.S.-led and U.K.-backed invasion of Iraq in 2003. Now terrorists belonging to those organizations, agitated by the most extreme form of religious fanaticism, are threatening the entire world amid a deadly competition with each other. Saddam Hussein was a ruthless dictator who oppressed the majority of people in Iraq. But no, Mr. Blair, neither Iraq, nor the Middle East, nor the world is a safer place after Saddam.

Another Turkish commentator, Burhanettin Duran, reflects in the pages of the Daily Sabah on the former UK prime minister’s expression of sorrow over the mistakes made in the run-up to, during, and in the aftermath of the Iraq War, pointing out that Mr. Blair, and the West in the general, needs to do more than just confess: “People across the Middle East maintain that Western countries stage interventions in the region with their best interests at heart. A closer look, however, shows that the West consistently acts irresponsibly. At the same time, Western governments have proven extremely unskilled in rebuilding the countries they invade, often at the expense of their own long-term interests. The global crises of illegal migration and terrorism fueled by turmoil in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria attests to this. It would appear that the world will not need another 13 years to hear Obama's confessions about what went wrong in Syria. Here is a better idea: Western leaders should stop confessing and try repentance instead. The world would be a better place if they refrained from making mistakes on purpose.”


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