Monday, November 15, 2004


The estimate of 100,000 extra deaths in Iraq which I discussed earlier, eventually gave rise to some lively exchanges on a couple of threads at Harry's Place. I joined in on one called Fallujah, 11 Nov.
Marc Mulholland (9 Nov) asks whether, assuming we accept that 100,000 have died, it is still possible to consider the war justified. He also draws attention to an article from RUSI comparing Northern Ireland and Iraq.

I didn't shell out the £2.50 either, but I have the following comments to make : Ireland, if you cut through the rhetoric about British imperialism (as with that about US imperialism in Iraq now) was about a (protestant) minority trying to impose its dominance.

Similarly, in Iraq now it is very clear that the situation is one of a Sunni minority trying to regain power by the most ruthless means. It's like the dog that didn't bark, but the media has hardly taken note that, in contrast to April, there is no uprising against 'the occupation' in the south by the Shi'a. One exception was Johann Haris's column the other day.  He notes, among other things, that 'there hasn't been a single Shia suicide bomber in Iraq so far'. One might add that neither has there been any executions of foreign hostages by the Shi'a.

What would have happened if the British had faced down the 'Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right' brigade, whether more would have been killed then than in the actual course of events, is something you could discuss for a long time ; but at least the 1922 partition was feasible, if debatable. In Iraq, you could take the Kurds out (though Turkey objects), but how would you separate the Sunnis and the Shi'a ? What would you do with Baghdad, for example ?

So, a unitary Iraq remains the only option, one in which the Shi'a and the Kurds exercise power commensurate with their majority status, something that was denied them to one degree or another since the British dispensation of 1921 and before, but to a total extent and with increasing repression since 1979. I don't go along with people like Robin Cook who say it was only the invasion that brought al Qaeda style terrorism, since the oppression of the Shi'a in practice in Saddam-era Iraq and the theological hatred of the Shi'a in extreme Wahhabism indicate a fundamental identity.

So, it's not so much a case of 'democratic imperialism', but simply a case of majority rule. That for me is the, if you like, 'emotional' case for the war.

It's obvious that the US has made major mistakes in the reconstruction effort and not having enough troops on the ground to control the situation. What is not helpful is much of the 'liberal' media cheerleading when the insurgents pop up elsewhere, attacking police stations or murdering Iraqi civilians and terrorizing them ; or all the controversy about the deployment of British troops to support the US operation to re-establish control of Falluja. People are entitled to their opinion, of course, but we are facing, as I said, a determined and ruthless enemy who takes advantage of any weakness in a democratic society. They have already influenced the result of the election in Spain. If 'every terrorist for miles around' is attracted to attack British troops in the north, it is precisely because of that political pressure against the deployment. (*)

The presence of international forces does not have to be long-lived - that will depend on the Iraqi people and government - but it has to be effective in containing terrorist activity.

In the absence of a serious WMD threat - and it's clear now that the pre-war intelligence only allowed for preventative war by making patently unreasonable 'worst case' assumptions - there was no 'national security' case for war. The war, at best, was pre-emptive, which is illegal for sound reasons.

There was a humanitarian case, to be sure, but this is occluded if the 1000,000 dead estimate is correct. (Marc Mulholland, What if The Lancet is Correct? )

If Saddam Hussein did not inform his generals until December 2002 that Iraq had no WMD (see),  it is hardly surprising that American and British intelligence concluded that he was in possession of them. There was both the moral justifications and the usual foreign policy motives - dealing with someone who was a threat to yourself or allied countries.

To return to the central question of the '100,000 dead', you can say that the cause is the US/UK invasion. You can also say that the cause is the ruthlessness of a minority to exercise power. I could talk about the multiplicity in the causality of events, but that sounds like pretentious crap.

Notes :
(*) Just a word about Hungary : I happened to catch some of a piece on The World @ One on Friday. George (Lord) Robertson has apparently written an article in The Wall Street Journal about the lily-livered attitude of some European countries. I did feel a little sorry though for the Hungarian Foreign Minister who, presented with this by the BBC interviewer, patiently explained that they wanted to do everything they could to help, but under their constitution they needed a two-thirds majority to extend the deployment of their 300 troops.


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