Blair’s legacy: an Iraq shattered by invasion
Matthew Carr: Why the Chilcot inquiry should apportion blame
The Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war reached its dramatic apotheosis today with the much-anticipated appearance of Tony Blair. As predicted, he still insists that invading Iraq was "the right thing to do" regardless of the manipulations that made it possible and regardless of the consequences. In these circumstances it is worth recalling the impact of the Anglo-American invasion on the country it intended to liberate.
No one knows how many Iraqis have died as a result of Operation Iraqi Freedom and its calamitous aftermath, but estimates range from 100,000 to more than 1 million. Last week the Iraqi Health Ministry reported that 2-3 million Iraqis are mentally and physically disabled: a legacy that includes victims of all Iraq's wars going back to 1977.
According to the Iraqi government, 1-2 million Iraqis are widows and 5 million are orphans. Since 2003, according to the United Nations, more than four million Iraqis have become refugees or 'Internally Displaced Persons' (IDPs). All this in a population of 30 million.
Today whole areas of Iraq are saturated with radiation and dioxins, which some Iraqi doctors attribute - at least in part - to depleted uranium (DU) weapons used by the Anglo-American coalition. In Fallujah, the target of two major US assaults in 2004, doctors reported last November an "unprecedented and at present unexplainable" rise in deformed births, including babies with two heads.
Iraq's health and educational systems are shattered. According to Unicef, 40 per cent of Iraqi children have no access to clean drinking water and more than two million primary school-age children do not go to school.
On the plus side, Iraqis now have the formal trappings of parliamentary democracy and are able to vote for a corrupt and authoritarian government whose security forces are riddled with sectarian militias and former death squad members.
The daily death toll has subsided since the bloody peak of bombings and death squad killings of 2007. But a leaked memo from a senior US officer in Baghdad last July noted that "political violence and intimidation is rampant in the civilian community as well as political and legal institutions".
Blair and his fellow conspirators have tended to ignore this legacy or else they have blamed it all on "foreign" terrorists or Iran.
Earlier this month Alastair Campbell told the Chilcot inquiry of his pride at having overthrown a "barbaric dictator" as though the war was a personal moral mission. Whatever can be said about Saddam, there is little evidence of morality or honour among Campbell and the other men who plotted the Iraqi leader's downfall.
Their dominant motivation appears to have been one of servile deference to the powerful and the 'special relationship' in particular - rather than any concern for the Iraqi people.
Some have gone on to more lucrative activities. Jeremy Greenstock is a director with De La Rue, the company which produced currency for the Iraqi government. David Manning is a non-executive director with the BG Group. Jonathan Powell is a senior managing director with Morgan Stanley. No one has done better than Blair himself.
The calamitous legacy of Operation Iraqi Freedom has tended to receive muted treatment in the Chilcot's clubby, genteel atmosphere. At times the polite discussions of "mistakes" and "inadequate planning" have resembled a post-mortem into an unsuccessful England cricket tour rather than the greatest moral and political disaster in British history.
There is nothing surprising about this. The government did not set up the Chilcot Inquiry in order to indict itself. Its declared remit is not to "apportion blame" but to "identify the lessons that can be learned... if we face similar situations in future" with its alarming suggestion that this grisly debacle might one day be repeated.
And yet almost in spite of itself, the inquiry has now brought the sleazy manipulations and outright lies that made the war possible to the surface. In doing so, Chilcot and his team have the historic opportunity to hold those responsible to account.
Whatever happens today, this is not just about Blair. It is ultimately about the kind of society we wish to be. To launch an aggressive war based on false pretences is not only a corruption of democracy, it is a breach of international law and therefore a crime.
So the Chilcot committee really should "apportion blame" when it finally reports later this year. Anything less, to paraphrase Clark Gable, would be tantamount to saying that we frankly just don't give a damn not only about Iraq, but about ourselves. ·