A Historic Day for Iraq - but Not in the Way the British Want to Believe

One hundred and seventy-nine dead soldiers. For what? 179,000 dead
Iraqis? Or is the real figure closer to a million? We don't know. And
we don't care. We never cared about the Iraqis. That's why we don't
know the figure. That's why we left Basra yesterday.

remember going to the famous Basra air base to ask how a poor Iraqi
boy, a hotel receptionist called Bahr Moussa, had died. He was kicked
to death in British military custody. His father was an Iraqi
policeman. I talked to him in the company of a young Muslim woman. The
British public relations man at the airport was laughing. "I don't
believe this," my Muslim companion said. "He doesn't care." She did. So
did I. I had reported from Northern Ireland. I had heard this laughter
before. Which is why yesterday's departure should have been called the
Day of Bahr Moussa. Yesterday, his country was set free from his
murderer. At last.

History is a hard taskmaster. In my library, I
have an original copy of General Angus Maude's statement to the people
of Baghdad - $2,000, it cost me, at a telephone auction a few days
before we invaded Iraq in 2003, but it is worth every cent. "Our
military operations have as their object," Maude announced, "the defeat
of the enemy... our armies do not come into your cities and lands as
conquerors or enemies, but as liberators." And so it goes on. Maude, I
should add, expired shortly afterwards because he declined to boil his
milk in Baghdad and died of cholera.

There followed a familiar story. The British occupation force was
opposed by an Iraqi resistance - "terrorists", of course - and the
British destroyed a town called Fallujah and demanded the surrender of
a Shiite cleric and British intelligence in Baghdad claimed that
"terrorists" were crossing the border from Syria, and Lloyd George -
the Blair-Brown of his age - then stood up in the House of Commons and
said that there would be "anarchy" in Iraq if British troops left. Oh

Even repeating these words is deeply embarrassing. Here,
for example, is a letter written by Nijris ibn Qu'ud to a British
intelligence agent in 1920: "You cannot treat us like sheep... it is we
Iraqi who are the brains of the Arab nation... You are given a short
time to clear out of Mesopotamia. If you don't go you will be driven

So let us turn at last to T E Lawrence. Yes, Lawrence of
Arabia. In The Sunday Times on 22 August 1920, he wrote of Iraq that
the people of England "had been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from
which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been
tricked into it by a steady withholding of information... Things have
been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody
and inefficient than the public knows." Even more presciently, Lawrence
had written that the Iraqis had not risked their lives in battle to
become British subjects. "Whether they are fit for independence or not
remains to be tried. Merit is no justification for freedom."

not. Iraq, begging around Europe now that its oil wealth has run out,
is a pitiful figure. But it is a little bit freer than it was. We have
destroyed its master and our friend (a certain Saddam) and now, with
our own dead clanking around our heels, we are getting out yet again.
Till next time...

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