Iraq: A forewarned fiasco
“They showed us videos about Iraq and how Muslims were being killed there.” This was one of the most common reports of the radicalization process described to the authorities and Police by young men in the UK charged with and convicted of terrorism related offences. That the Iraq war was the most profoundly effective recruiting tool imaginable for Al Qaeda and radical Islam more widely has been well known for a long time by those of us who have dedicated our energies over recent years to confronting and reversing radicalization wherever possible in our own communities. The flimsy justification for the war was apparent from day one and, as a result, young Muslims already vulnerable to radicalization found themselves easily swayed by an argument by extremist recruiters that painted it as part of a global crusade the West was waging against all of us – “the Muslim ummah”.
Not a word of Baroness Manningham-Buller’s testimony to the Chilcot enquiry is, therefore, news to me. Neither am I surprised to learn that 70 to 80 British citizens were radicalized by the war to the extent that they travelled to Iraq to join it – on the other side – fighting against and killing British soldiers. And that’s just the number MI5 knows about.
What does surprise me, however, is the fact that this was understood to be the likely outcome of action in Iraq at such high levels with such certainty from the outset.
People such as myself, authors, columnists, front line workers and community activists said so loudly at the time but Downing St’s rebuttal was unequivocal; this was a war of necessity, a war for national security, a war to keep us safe. At the same time Blair, Straw, Blunkett et al were repeating this mantra of certainty up and down the nation, to their own party as well as their own constituents, they were receiving briefings from MI5 that the exact opposite was likely to be the case. Yet they pushed on.
And what followed, in the former head of the MI5’s own words, was that the intelligence services became “swamped” by leads about terrorist threats to the UK. Indeed Baroness Manningham-Buller went as far as to say, “Our involvement in Iraq, for want of a better word, radicalised a whole generation of young people.”
And then followed 7/7 and the murder of 52 innocent Londoners by radical Islamists.
“Good faith” is the fig leaf behind which former New Labour Ministers, who could have resigned in protest but preferred to retain their government limousines, produce whenever questions around the extent of their culpability arise. “We acted in good faith.” Now, however, we know they did not. Not only were they fully aware that the direct threat posed by Iraq to the UK was “very limited and containable”, as Baroness Manningham-Buller put it, in writing, to the Home Office at the time, but they also knew from the state’s own internal intelligence service, that the action was likely to increase the terrorist threat to the UK and consequently their own fellow countrymen’s lives would be at stake.
After 7/7, Tony Blair did not occasion to visit a single victim of the atrocity in hospital, as would have been customary for a political leader at such times of national tragedy. Instead he preferred to stay away. As a psychiatrist, I don’t have to think too hard about why this is. He may obfuscate and divert, deploying the considerable intellect and forensic debating skill, with which he is blessed, endlessly in the cause of his rationalization, but the guilt he is working so hard to suppress will never be far below the surface when the direct consequences of his actions face him in this way.
And, of course, he’s not alone in this process. The avoided guilt and culpability will be shared by many. They, as well as we, will remember the very different paths taken by the likes of Robin Cook and John Denham who, aware of the dangers as much as any other Minister, chose to leave the government and have no part in it. A critical momentum against our involvement in the Iraq war could have been built. Lives could have been saved, citizens could have been protected. We now know they knew this at the time.
No working person – whether a builder, doctor, pilot, machinist or manager – would have ordinarily escaped criminal action against them in the face of such wilful negligence during the course of their duties.
If the first duty of any government is to protect its citizens then I cannot imagine a greater crime a government could perpetrate on its own people.
Russell Razzaque is a London-based psychiatrist and author of ‘Human Being to Human Bomb: The Conveyor Belt of Terror’
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