Belfast Telegraph

Iraqis are still paying the price for Tony Blair's mistakes

The former Prime Minister's miscalculations have cost the lives of soldiers and civilians, writes Patrick Cockburn

Few Iraqis will have paid much attention to Tony Blair's appearance before the Chilcot inquiry last week. They are too busy trying to stay alive eight years after the beginning of the war he helped to launch.

In the last few days at least 127 Iraqis have been killed by suicide bombers, 52 of them last Thursday in the holy city of Karbala when three cars blew up among pilgrims.

The last time he gave evidence to Chilcot, Mr Blair was perkily full of information about how life had improved in Iraq since Saddam Hussein.

But, in truth, the war that he started has yet to finish. The wounds inflicted on Iraqis since the invasion of 2003, coming on top of the Iran-Iraq war, the Gulf war and sanctions, will take decades to heal.

The main impression I got from both Mr Blair's evidence to the inquiry last year and his autobiography was his extraordinary ignorance of Iraq.

Even more damning than what he did before the war was Mr Blair's failure to learn much about the country after the invasion.

Going by his evidence, he seems to think, as well as speak, in slogans. In his evidence he lost no opportunity to blame the Iranian hidden hand for destabilising Iraq and backing al Qaida.

The former British ambassador to Iran, Sir Richard Dalton, told the inquiry that Mr Blair's claims were all "very much exaggerated" and that he was seeking "to cast a retrospectively benign light on a series of very bad decisions" in the past to open the door to an attack on Iran in the future.

Mr Blair's enthusiasm for a confrontation with Iran stems partly from the fact that he never seems to have understood what went wrong for him in Iraq. It was not so much the war against Saddam Hussein that doomed the venture as the occupation which followed.

George W Bush and Tony Blair somehow failed to foresee that getting rid of Saddam Hussein and his Sunni-dominated regime meant that the Shia and Kurds would take over.

There was only one way for the US and Britain to square the circle whereby they could overthrow Saddam Hussein, but not let the Shia and their Iranian allies replace him: this was to take power themselves.

It is important to realise when watching Blair before Chilcot that the mistakes he made as Prime Minister led to real people dying. Most were Iraqi. Some were British.

Yet it ought to have been easy to see what was going wrong from the early days of the occupation. Iraqis who were glad to see the end of Saddam Hussein were not going to allow a quasi-colonial regime to replace him. An early and grim example of Iraqi attitudes was the killing of six British military policemen in Majar al-Kabir in southern Iraq in June 2003.

No part of Iraq had resisted Saddam's regime more fiercely. The local provincial capital, Amara, was the only one to be captured by anti-government guerrillas (to be promptly ordered out by the CIA, which threatened to have them bombed).

Yet it was in Majar al-Kabir that British troops were sent to remove people's heavy weapons, search houses and send foot patrols through the streets.

Local leaders were bemused. The only reason they could think why they were being disarmed was that America and Britain intended to occupy Iraq for a long time.

I went to the partly burnt-out police station where the six military policemen, with no chance of escape, had been riddled with bullets.

It is worth remembering those six soldiers. They - and many others - paid for his mistakes with their lives.


From Belfast Telegraph