The Muslim Council of Britain today provided its initial response to Sir John Chilcot’s long awaited report on Britain’s involvement in the invasion and occupation of Iraq (2003-2009).
In the view of the MCB and many of our affiliates, Britain’s decision to go to war in 2003 was catastrophic: not only for the Iraqi and British lives lost, but the sheer chaos it has left behind in the region. Moreover, as the Muslim Council of Britain warned back in 2003, the conflict would be a recruiting sergeant for a new generation of young people seduced by the message of extremism.
In a masterly understatement, Sir John Chilcot declares that ‘the Iraq of 2009 certainly did not meet the UK’s objectives as described in January 2003: it fell far short of strategic success’. The MCB welcomes Chilcot’s analysis of where responsibilities reside for an illegal, illegitimate war that lies at the root of today’s instability, terrorism and mayhem.
Whilst the report lays out starkly the former prime minister’s unrelenting zeal to commit our country to the Bush White House’s war aims, we wish more light was shed on the reasons for Mr Blair’s loyalty to a particular US foreign policy-making clique.
Whatever its diplomatic turn of phrase, the findings point in one direction, and the cold hand of justice should now be ready to tap the shoulder of one individual as well as his accomplices. The whole glorifying Blairite cover of R2P (responsibility to Protect) mantra, to allegedly advance human justice, is now revealed as nothing but a formula to advance global mayhem.
Justice demands for a day of accountability for a million Iraqi deaths (at least) and of course also 179 British servicemen. Chilcot provides a meticulous audit trail for such a prosecution: one man’s ‘failures to establish ministerial oversight’; of not making an ‘agreement on a satisfactory post‑conflict plan a condition of UK participation in military action’; omissions that ‘made it more difficult for the UK Government to take an informed decision on the establishment of the UK’s post‑conflict Area of Responsibility (AOR) in southern Iraq’; untruthfulness of saying it was only in ‘hindsight’ that the importance of post-conflict planning could be recognised.
Since mid-2002 the Muslim Council of Britain used every opportunity at its disposal to speak truth to power so that our nation could avoid this disaster. In its publication of that year, The Quest for Sanity, it warned that ‘there is now a sinister agenda based on “pre-emptive strike” against any real or perceived threat, and ‘regime change’. The very parties that supplied and condoned the use of chemical weapons against the Kurds of Iran and Iraq are now clamouring to justify the invasion of Iraq, citing possession and possible use of weapons of mass destruction as their reason’. This sentence even ended with an exclamation mark, to indicate the common knowledge that Saddam did not possess WMD.
The MCB’s then Secretary General of the day, Sir Iqbal Sacranie met Prime Minister Tony Blair later in 2002 and told him that the Muslim community was not going to buy into the need for military action against Iraq. In January 2003 an MCB press release pressed the point, ‘While the military occupation of Iraq may help secure increased supplies of cheap oil and create trillions of dollars worth of reconstruction contracts, the human costs and lasting damage this would cause to US relations with the Muslim world would be incalculable. The humiliation and bitterness that would attend a military conquest is likely to provide a natural ground for the growth of bitterness and conflict for generations to come . . . By taking the lead in averting a war against Iraq and promoting genuine peace and justice in the Middle East, the Prime Minister would not only win the hearts of humanity but also a pride of place in its history’. However Blair, took a different course, and post-Chilcot his epitaph is unlikely to be a glorious one.
Perhaps in its own ‘hindsight’, the MCB underestimated the fervour with which an initially progressive Prime Minister converted to the neoconservative ideology. Blair’s Iraq misadventure was aided and abetted by a similarly inclined media, willing to shape public opinion with lurid and misleading headlines such as ‘Brits 45 minutes from doom’ (The Sun, 25 September 2002). British Muslims have paid a price for this, by seeing an initial generation radicalised, and with grassroots Muslim groups being subject to vitriol from neoconservative ideologues – many of whom remain in positions of power – because they did not support the war. More importantly, Britain’s soldiers, dead or injured, have paid the higher price. And the mayhem and terrorism around us are also part of this legacy.