Tony Blair and the Iraq war are in the news again. Yet another private prosecution attempt is brought in front of the courts. This time the case has come under the name of General Abdul-Wahid Shannan ar-Ribat a former chief of staff of the Iraqi army. To be clear as much of the mainstream media has not reported, this is a man who served under Saddam Hussein. After retiring from the army, he then went on to become governor of Nineveh (the eastern side of Mosul) between 1993 and 2003, where he was removed from his post following the invasion. In short this is a man who did well under Hussein’s regime. Make no mistake then that those who have brought this case to the Westminster magistrates court are apologists for Saddam Hussein.
Looking at the past, with the benefit of hindsight, it seems to me that the argument against removing Saddam Hussein amounts to, “he kept the fundamentalists under control”. We should really look at this another way, we liberated Iraq from a brutal dictator. The Iraqi people then had a chance to build a free and democratic state. Instead the country descended into sectarian violence. This should be seen as a failure not of the invasion itself but of Iraqi leadership (and indeed our own) in the aftermath.
To blame Tony Blair for the sectarian divisions which plague Iraq and much of the Muslim world is a misreading of the situation. It also absolves those that have been the perpetrators of violence of responsibility. The invasion did not create Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Jabbut Al-Nusra etc. The Islamic fundamentalism which underpins these groups has been prevalent in the middle east and across the Muslim world long before Blair and Bush came along.
In going into Iraq, the intention was to remove a dictator and replace him with a liberal secular democracy. This to me is a noble cause, the mistake here was to believe that this could be achieved via military force alone. Morally this is a key point which people miss. We must, when judging the decisions made at the time, think about the motives of Blair.
Understandably there are those that make the case that the country was deliberately misled by Blair regarding the pretext to war. This has never been conclusively proven and a question only Blair himself can answer. Personally, I do not doubt Blair’s motives. Many of the attacks on him have a political motive. Usually by the left as a pretext for moving the labour party away from the new labour era centre ground.
The lesson we should take from Iraq are that the problems of the middle east run deep. Beyond regime change, cultural change is needed in much of the Muslim world. Without widespread support for the ideas of freedom, liberty and secular democracy any attempt by us to instigate regime change is doomed to fail.
Attacking Blair for removing a brutal dictator, with the aim of advancing these ideas is a mistake, counter to our interests. To use Iraq to silence a man who has much to offer political discourse, particularly at a time where his experience and knowledge of the top table is invaluable is a huge own goal.