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Issue 230, Friday 27 June 2008 - 24 Jumad al-Akhbar 1429
Biting the bullet on Iraq
This month’s admission by Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, that the Iraq war was wrong has not gone unnoticed.
In an address to Parliament on June 2, Rudd dismissed one-by-one the reasons used by his predecessor, John Howard, to join the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq five years ago. He also rejected his predecessor’s claim that Australia had been obliged to send troops to Iraq because of its long-standing relations with the United States, saying that while he valued the alliance highly, it did not mean that Canberra should automatically accede to Washington’s requests for military support.
Howard was one of only four leaders who supported the US-led invasion, but who are all now out of office: Back in 2004, Spain’s Prime Minister-elect, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, vowed to withdraw troops from Iraq and criticised US President George W Bush after ousting Jose Maria Aznar who took his country into the controversial war. “The war in Iraq was a disaster, the occupation of Iraq is a disaster,” Zapatero said in his inaugural address. In Poland, Prime Minister, Donald Turk, moved in quickly after in November last year to meet his election pledge and announce the withdrawal of Polish troops from Iraq. Only in Britain is the case different.
When replacing Prime Minister, Tony Blair, last June, Gordon Brown initially indicated that he would distance the UK from a disastrous and belligerent US foreign policy. But one year on, some 4,200 troops remain as an apparent fig-leaf not to leave the US isolated. The force is holed up at Basra airport outside the country’s second biggest city barely able to defend itself let alone intervene against any flare-up in violence as was recently shown when American troops were called upon for help.
The war has been an unmitigated disaster from the beginning, yet it seems troops will not be withdrawn until after US President Bush is replaced and a decision is made by his successor. Yet, the 2003 invasion has been a total catastrophe not only for the people of Iraq and the hundreds of thousands killed but for Britain’s armed forces and the way the country is perceived around the world. There has also been the heavy economic cost, not to mention its questioned legality.
A poll carried out for the fifth anniversary of the war by Angus Reid Global Monitor found that the vast majority of people in Britain thought that committing troops was the wrong thing to do, with only 28 per cent disagreeing.
The refusal to withdraw troops has been accompanied by the failure to hold a full inquiry into the debacle, which is likely to expose a whole can of worms about how it was justified and lead to demands for apologies before even the possibility of trials for war crimes. Hopes were raised that the transition of power from Blair would allow Brown to open a new chapter of open politics by apologising for the war, but unfortunately the opportunity was not seized. It now seems that this will not happen until Labour is ousted from office. It is a shame that no one is yet prepared to bite the bullet in what could prove to be a turnaround for the Government’s fortunes. No doubt the tone will change after Bush’s departure in January, leaving not only Brown but also the Conservatives to again hang on the coattails of their American counterparts.
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