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Blair, Chilcot and Iraq

Thanks to this 'illegal' war, Iraqis at last have real hope for the future. Blair will never satisfy those who demand some ritual sacrifice. But he was right to join an invasion that rid Iraq of tyranny.

The Guardian, 27 January, 2010

Tony Blair's testimony before the Chilcot inquiry on Friday will no doubt demonstrate his usual self-assuredness. But he will never satisfy the legions who demand some kind of ritual sacrifice of him. Yet Blair was right to join the invasion of Iraq despite the ­accusations that he "lied", "sealed a pact with Bush in blood" and fought an "illegal" war. Despite the killing of thousands of Iraqis (mostly by other Muslims, not coalition forces), and despite the unforgivable failure of the coalition to plan for post-invasion chaos, Iraq today has a far better future than under Saddam Hussein.

Remember the context in which Blair joined the US against Saddam. It is crucial. Even before 9/11, Saddam was a massive threat in the region as well as to his own people. He had twice invaded neighbours – and WMD were a favourite tool. He had used them at home and abroad, gassing Iranian troops and Iraq's own Kurds in 1988.

In March 1991, after Iraq was expelled from its brutal occupation of Kuwait, resolution 687 of the UN security council demanded that Saddam destroy or hand over all his WMD to the UN and empowered Unscom, a new UN body of inspectors, to verify his compliance. Over the next 12 years Saddam's regime lied to Unscom, and defied 14 other binding resolutions. The inspectors uncovered a series of weapons and programmes. Richard Butler, the Australian diplomat who became head of Unscom in 1997, said that to Saddam "chemical warfare is as normal as crowd control".

In 1998 the frustrated inspectors left Iraq. In their final report they stated that Saddam had still not accounted for enough chemical and biological ­weapons to kill millions of people. No wonder President Clinton warned that the Iraqi tyrant was covertly building "an arsenal of devastating destruction" and must be stopped.

Accordingly, Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act – regime change was now US policy. But the UN did almost ­nothing. And the longer Saddam defied the UN, the more some leading members – France, Russia and China – helped him break the sanctions intended to secure his compliance with UN ­resolutions. Such behaviour revealed the hollowness of UN claims to the moral high ground.

After 9/11 Blair understood at once that the world had changed. States must be judged on their actions, intentions and capabilities: and the US was no longer prepared to take risks with Saddam. The possibility of the ultimate nightmare – a terrorist attack involving WMD – was too great, especially after the US discovered that al-Qaida had been researching dirty bombs in Afghanistan. Remember, the intelligence agencies of virtually all security council members believed that Saddam still retained WMD, and was determined to obtain more.

In September 2002 (over the advice of Vice-President Cheney) George Bush agreed to Blair's request to go to the UN again. In November the council passed resolution 1441, which gave Saddam "a final opportunity" to co-operate or face "serious consequences". Only now, because allied forces were building up around Iraq's borders, did he allow the inspectors back. Over the next three months they made some progress – but were still denied unfettered access.

In early 2003 opposition to war grew through much of the western world. Washington had no wish to return to the UN. But, more sensitive to public and party opinion, Blair sought another resolution before the US and UK troops invaded. In the corridors of the UN, arms were twisted brutally; France, China and Russia ensured there would be no majority in the council for another vote in favour of "les Anglo-Saxons". This gave Saddam false assurance.

In parliament on March 18 2003 Blair argued passionately that the world could not back down before Saddam yet again. He won the vote easily. But ever since he has been accused of waging an illegal war because of the failure to secure an additional resolution.

Only two wars since 1945 have been fought with the legal blessing of the UN – Korea and the first Gulf war. The US-led Nato interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s were given no UN mandates. Blair's intervention in Sierra Leone was unauthorised – but saved countless lives, not to mention the state. And Kofi Annan said he only wished that in 1994 a "coalition of the willing" had intervened in Rwanda to stop the genocide.

In the years since Saddam's overthrow tens of thousands of ­innocent Iraqis have been killed. Most of them were victims of the brutal confrontation between Sunni and Shia extremists, in particular al-Qaida and the agents of Iran. The woefully inadequate post-invasion planning by the coalition added to the chaos. Yet the seeds of this conflict were sown by the devastation wrought by Saddam's despotism.
Despite the continuing vicious attacks of suicide bombers, Iraq is now bravely inching towards a much more open society. Indeed, on many measures it is one of the freest countries in the Arab world.

Overall, violence is much reduced and opinion polls show that support for democracy is overwhelming. New elections with many competing parties are to be held this year. The dinar is strong, the economy is growing. The Iraqis I know say they have hope for the future, and they thank Blair and Bush for that.


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