Seven years in the writing, two million words and at a cost of £10 million, the Chilcot Report was finally published in July. A pretty comprehensive piece of work, you might think, but as an Iraqi friend pointed out, there’s just one thing missing from the report: Iraq.
This is a report about British governance and while it was more critical of Tony Blair than many expected, its primary purpose was to allow the political establishment to wash its hands of a war in which British troops are still engaged.
Moreover, UK forces are still being investigated for abuses they committed during the conflict. The International Criminal Court has received 1,268 allegations of ill treatment and unlawful killings committed by British forces. Of 259 alleged killings, 47 were said to have occurred when Iraqis were in U.K. custody.
Tucked away in the Chilcot Report is a reference to one of the key motives for the 2003 invasion. Sir David Manning, foreign policy adviser to Tony Blair, told the US national security adviser, in December 2002 that Britain wanted its fair share of the spoils. “It would be inappropriate for HMG [Her Majesty’s government] to enter into discussions about any future carve-up of the Iraqi oil industry,” he said. “Nonetheless it is essential that our companies are given access to a level playing field in this and other sectors.”
The consequences of a war that western elites would prefer to put behind them are still being felt in Iraq. Coalition forces involved in the aerial bombardment of Islamic State strongholds kill scores of civilians on a weekly basis, although this is rarely reported. British air strikes on Iraq and Syria increased 85% in the first half of this year. On the ground, western forces have mobilised sectarian militias to fight IS. They now stand accused of summary executions, kidnappings and other human rights abuses. The UN, not known for intemperate language, warns this could lead to a “renewed cycle of full-throttle sectarian violence”.
And these are only the immediate consequences of the US-led invasion of Iraq. To this we cold add the 5 million refugees, the million killed, the million disabled, the destruction of infrastructure, the institutionalisation of sectarian corruption and “religious cleansing”. The long-term health consequences are especially worrying, particularly the high rates of cancer in areas where western forces deployed depleted uranium munitions. A recent study links high levels of heavy metals in children’s baby teeth to the bombardments of the last decade. As in Vietnam, Iraqis could be paying a terrible price for generations to come.
One positive from the Chilcot Report is that the issue of justice is back on the agenda. Compensation and reparations may be as distant as ever, but the call to prosecute those responsible has been raised afresh by the families of British soldiers who lost their lives in Iraq. Within two weeks, members of the public helped raise £150,000 to enable the Families Campaign to engage expert lawyers to examine whether a prosecution of Tony Blair can be mounted. Watch this space!
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