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Our Crimes in Iraq Must Not Be Forgotten
If the alliance was arrogant at the time of the invasion, it is even more so today
Don't bring up the catastrophe in Iraq, not in polite circles or at dinner parties, or anywhere in public really. Better to burp or fart loudly. That is the message for 2008. What war? We have moved on, you bore, say the frightfully busy great and good, their eyes glazing over.
The people responsible for the war have, of course, moved on, and we must follow their fine example. Still they rise, praise be to them. Such self-belief, such resilience, no sign of weakness, no dribble of an apology. Awesome. Instead of being marched off to face war crimes tribunals they are forgiven their trespasses and rewarded generously.
The Catholic Church blesses and receives the deceiver (Mr Blair); fat banks and oil companies welcome them on boards (Jonathan Powell, Mr. Blair et al); they are called to make peace in the Middle East and lecture us on ethics ( Mr Blair and Mr Campbell) and invited in to the Cabinet (Jack Straw).
For some (still) enthusiastic warmongers - boys who never forgot the excitement of running around shooting their toy guns at strangers - the invasion and colonisation is the best thing ever. The "surge" has worked, they declare - our boys and American soldiers are not dying in the numbers they were, and look!, Iraqis are coming out to play, buy and sell, smoke their pipes in tranquillity, and thousands are returning from exile in Syria. Hip hip hooray. For we're the jolly good fellows.
In the US with the primaries going full blast, John McCain is anointed as the noble saviour, the man who promises to crush all those aliens out there who are plotting to kill the US of A. I attended the BBC Radio 4 Alistair Cooke Lecture delivered by McCain, and what I heard was a man who uses his terrible experiences in Vietnam to justify all future wars he wants his country to wage.
Bill and Hillary both actively and tacitly supported the invasion of Iraq and never once defended the UN route. These candidates are "liberals", we are told. Only in America. None of the above are exactly in the habit of mentioning the caged of Guantanamo or the anguish of Iraqis. Obama did fleetingly touch on these ugly American transgressions, but not for long, and not with intense moral purpose. At least the guy tried, and had the guts to vote against the invasion. The others still seem to believe fervently that the attacks on 9/11 outweigh all other acts of political violence.
If the alliance, its leaders and brass bands were imperiously arrogant when they went into Iraq, they are even more so today. Failure has given them no humility at all and completes the cycle of villainy. They lied and broke international law and appear to have no duty of care towards the innocent inhabitants of that blighted land.
Iraqi deaths are now calculated at around one million. According to international organisations monitoring migrations, Iraq is going through one of the largest and most serious humanitarian crises in the world, with population displacement within and from Iraq. Last November, cholera figures were the worst for 40 years, says an Iraqi health minister. Childhood diseases are rampant. There are relentless bombardments across the country, for reasons not given, on people unseen and labelled al-Qa'ida.
The current hand-wringing about British journalistic standards concentrates entirely on small, domestic matters. The real shame and scandal is that air attacks on Iraq go on and on and get hardly any serious coverage. In 2006, there were 229 such raids; in 2007 there were 1,447 raids (dead uncounted and unidentified). The ghastly, ruthless General David Petraeus says they have now reached a "sustainable level of violence". That is, at least, a truthful assessment and one that explains why we went into Iraq. If the allies allow Iraqi Sunnis, Shias and Kurds to carry on murdering each other day after day, not so many that it turns into a full-blown civil war, we can steal their oil and control the place.
Meanwhile, here Lord Guthrie, once Chief of Staff, and others of his ilk are furious with Gordon Brown for promising that the consent of Parliament will be sought before any future war is launched by the Government. These generals have become extraordinarily bullish after the lamentable collapse of all their strategies in Iraq - thereby fending off any accountability and reasonable interrogation as to why even Basra became disillusioned with our presence.
There are, thank God, people who keep alive truth and awaken our collective conscience. On Tuesday there is a public meeting in London (courtesy of the Stop the War Coalition) organised by Phil Shiner, public interest lawyer and an indefatigable campaigner for justice. For years he has tried to expose the brutality of some of our soldiers in Iraq who have committed heinous crimes against the populations and got away with it. At the meeting, which all good people should attend, Shiner will be talking about the British state and how it tolerates the torture, mutilations and killings of Iraqi civilians.
This Thursday the Jordanian Jamil el-Banna and Libyan Omar Deghayes go to court to argue against extradition to Spain to face charges of terrorism. These are the two men who were last year released from Guantanamo Bay, where they were caged and tortured for five years. Imagine the state of their minds and bodies, their fears of incarceration.
Here they were interrogated by our spooks and police officers, and released without charge. Yet Spain clamours for them and we will deliver them into yet another jurisdiction unless the lawyers can win the case. Helena Kennedy and Geoffrey Bindman have spoken up to defend these poor men; journalist Victoria Britten has investigated charges against them for four years and tells me she is absolutely sure they are innocent. Great Britain, Mr Brown? Tell me about it.
Just released too is the film Battle for Haditha by the exceptionally diligent director Nick Broomfield (I must remember him in my prayers). He has bravely brought to the screen an untold story of the war - the massacres of innocents by the allies in Hathida, a middle-class Sunni city where he says "couples would honeymoon on the Euphrates". Fallujah was similarly "punished". Both places at first supported the invasion and learnt to their cost that their saviours had dark intent and too many had lost their own humanity.
If Blair is elected President of the EU and either Clinton or McCain get the US presidency, the final insults will be added to the endless injury suffered by the Iraqis. They will know conclusively that there ain't no justice in the world. And some of them will turn to terrorism. And the peace we hope for will never come.