Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Iraq is not improving, it's a disaster ....The only sensible objective now is orderly disengagement, and soon

by Oliver Miles

The Commons debate on Iraq today is a historic opportunity for parliament. British policy in Iraq is at a turning point, and we can exercise a vital degree of influence on US policy as well.

Earlier in the summer, there were some welcome international developments. One was the security council resolution of June 8 endorsing the formation of a sovereign interim government, which did something to heal the rifts created in 2003. Another was the successful low-key handover of authority. But the impression that the situation in Iraq itself is much improved is down to Iraq fatigue in the media.

The security situation is calamitous. Two recent attacks killed nine US marines; an attack on the Iraqi minister of justice killed five bodyguards; bombings and attacks on Iraqi security forces have caused multiple deaths; targets in Falluja have been bombed by the US air force; foreigners have been kidnapped or executed with the aim of driving foreign troops and foreign companies out of Iraq.

This, however, is the tip of the iceberg. Attacks on US troops are running at dozens a day, frequently accompanied by looting, burning and stoning. It is generally believed in Baghdad that around 1,000 Iraqis leave the country every day for Jordan and Syria because the security situation is intolerable. According to the Iraqi media, gunmen have killed six Baghdad local councillors in the last two weeks and roughly 750 in the last year. Friends of the Americans such as Ahmad Chalabi are discredited; enemies such as the young Shia firebrand Moqtada al-Sadr have their tails up.

Meanwhile, the Butler report, which followed the devastating critique by a Senate committee of the failure of American intelligence, has dominated the headlines. Senior members of the British intelligence community have accused Tony Blair of going way beyond anything any professional analyst would have agreed.

But the media have allowed themselves to be carried away by the question of secret intelligence, and have ignored equally or even more important questions of policy. Senator Kerry has accused President Bush and his administration of misleading the public about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction and specifically about nuclear involvement. They "misled America... And they were wrong. And soldiers lost their lives because they were wrong". In Britain, now that it is clear that US and British policy has been based on a deception, it is equally clear that Iain Duncan Smith and the shadow cabinet were also deceived. There are plenty of uncomfortable questions to ask about who deceived whom, and Michael Howard has at last said that he couldn't have voted for war in the House of Commons in March 2003 if he had known then what he knows now, though for reasons as yet unexplained he says he is still in favour of the war. Others have gone further: the Labour MP Geraldine Smith has said: "I feel that I was deceived into voting for a war I was morally opposed to."

The assessment of intelligence is open to debate. But other failings are less easy to explain away. The prime minister should be pressed to say what happened to the detailed plans for postwar Iraq which, he told parliament just before the war, had been worked out with our allies. Perhaps they were part of the State Department plans, which we now know were consigned to the wastepaper basket by Donald Rumsfeld.

The story of Abu Ghraib and Guant√°namo Bay is a disgrace. When will we learn whether Britain has equally disgraced herself? What is clear is that no British minister could survive if he had said, as Rumsfeld said: "Technically, unlawful combatants do not have any rights under the Geneva convention. We have indicated that we do plan to, for the most part, treat them in a manner that is reasonably consistent with the Geneva conventions to the extent they are appropriate."

Most important of all, of course, is the future. As a number of Washington analysts have pointed out, the success of coalition policy will depend on resisting the temptation to impose policies that support US, not Iraqi, goals. As Philip Gordon of the Brookings Institution put it: "I would advise them to lose the argument to the Iraqis on some of the big issues - it shows an Iraqi government is really in charge."

This is where parliament can exercise its influence. Unless we really want to rebuild the British empire, under our flag or the stars and stripes, the only sensible objective now is disengagement in as good order as possible. No scramble to get out, but send no more troops and look for every opportunity to build up Iraqi prestige, authority and responsibility.
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· Oliver Miles is a former ambassador to Libya and organised the letter signed by 52 former British ambassadors criticising Bush and Blair's Middle East policy

mail@olivermiles.com
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Published in The Guardian on Tuesday July 20, 2004
http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,1264789,00.html




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