Ray Fleming´s weekly column

THE second anniversary of the Anglo/American invasion of Iraq falls this weekend. In anticipating it in last Tuesday's Looking Around, I examined once again the legitimacy of the war, especially in relation to the legal advice that was given to Mr Blair's Cabinet and also, at their request, to the British Armed Services.

THESE matters and others will be further reviewed rigorously in an edition of the BBC's Panorama at 11.15pm tomorrow night on BBC1 (digital satellite TV). The programme is called Iraq, the Truth and Tony and I write about it at greater length in my Sight and Sound column elsewhere in today's newspaper.

One of the few positive outcomes of Britain's decision to go to war against Iraq two years ago is that those who opposed it at the time have not given up their protests.

Indeed some polls show that opposition to the war is at a higher level now than it was in March 2002 despite its supposed vindication by the election in Iraq six weeks ago. Tony Blair must be tired of saying that we should now “draw a line” under the war and disappointed that there are no signs of the British people being prepared to do that.

Too often controversial political issues disappear from view a month or two after they have reached their climax as people become bored with them or realise that little or nothing can be done once the die has been cast. This has not happened in the case of Iraq.

There are probably a number of reasons to account for this but the overriding one is the sense so many people have that on this occasion Mr Blair was not the “pretty straight kind of guy” he likes to believe himself to be.

Earlier this week a Welsh Member of Parliament who is promoting a bill to impeach the Prime Minister was suspended from the House of Commons because he said that Mr Blair had “misled” the House over the reasons for the Iraq war.

Honourable members must not accuse each other of lying although it has been permissible to refer to a “terminological inexactitude” since Winston Churchill coined the phrase in 1906.

I have several times in this column said that Mr Blair lied to the Commons and I shall go on saying so until it is somehow proved conclusively that two years ago at this time Britain was, as he claimed, under imminent threat from Saddam Hussein.

THERE was, of course, a heady cocktail of other reasons to justify going to war and this anniversary may be an appropriate time to check how many of them have survived the test of subsequent events.

One of the most attractive was the theory that if Saddam Hussein's dictatorship could be ended and democracy installed in its place the outcome would be a flowering of free and fair voting all over the Middle East.

The advocates of this theory are now pointing to events in Palestine and Lebanon as evidence of its validity yet the truth is that Iraq has virtually no connection to them.

Yassir Arafat's death was the catalyst for change in Palestine and the assassination of the nationalist, Rafik Hariri, in Beirut for the Lebanese insistence on Syria's withdrawal.

True, there have been small concessions to democratic practice in Egypt and Saudi Arabia but these are likely to prove more cosmetic than real.
Another superficially attractive justification for the Iraq war, advanced mainly by Washington, was the alleged link between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein.
This theory was threadbare by the time President Bush acknowledged last year that there was nothing in it and even Vice President Cheney, its main proponent, fell into line a little later.

There were no terrorism organisations in Iraq in March 2002 but there are any number of them there now, as the news tells us daily; they moved swiftly into the vacuum left by America's ill-considered post-war policies and they are now a breeding ground for more widespread terrorism.

IT is, in fact, difficult to point to any concrete gain from the invasion of two years ago.
Saddam Hussein has been deposed and his evil regime removed. The Iraqi people suffered grievously under him but we are not allowed to know how many Iraqis have been killed since the “shock and awe” bombs began to fall on Baghdad; the Americans and the British have not bothered to count but independent organisations who have tried to do so think the total may be over 100'000. Yet we do not have any assurance that the political infrastructure so far put in place will withstand the religious and ethnic tensions that Saddam Hussein was able to control only by brute force. And even if the outcome is eventually wholly satisfactory, will it offer us any guidance on dealing with other evil regimes in the world?

Is Iraq to be a one-off in unilateral, illegal, military action or a model for future pre-emptive actions?
A serious consequence of the Iraq war has been the souring of relations between the United States and many other parts of the world. The wounds inflicted by Washington's dismissive attitude to “old” Europe may have been bound by subsequent diplomacy but they have not been healed.

In the Middle East and the wider Muslim world America is now deeply suspected as being fundamentally anti-Muslim and its reputation as a fair and just nation has been damaged by the behaviour of some of its servicemen and women, for instance at Abu Ghraib, and by the unlawful methods employed at Guantanamo Bay, initiated and defended by senior government officers, including the man recently appointed as Attorney General by President Bush.

Worst of all, for the United States and Britain, is the fact that there is no end in sight for their presence in Iraq. Having caused the problem they quite rightly believe that they must remain until it is solved. When will that be?

Not with the writing of a constitution and further elections but only when new institutions have proved their viability and stability in a volatile country. That could be five or even ten years.

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