Jack Straw on Libya: the Iraq connection
Jack Straw has an important and well-written article in The Times today (pay wall), which augurs well for the quality of his memoirs. He points out that one Arab democracy is often left out of the commentary on the uprising across north Africa and the Middle East — Iraq:
No more than Egypt or Tunisia is it yet a fully functioning democracy, but it is a lot further down the path to that goal. It’s got an agreed constitution — and an elected government that more or less works.
(It took a long time to form the present Iraqi government, but not as long as in Belgium, as he says.)
He does not claim that the toppling of Saddam Hussein helped to trigger the fall of the other Arab domino-dictatorships. But it did help to make Gaddafi less dangerous than he otherwise would now be:
I was closely involved in the démarche of the Libyan regime towards the end of 2003, when Colonel Gaddafi was confronted with painstaking (and accurate) intelligence developed by our Secret Intelligence Service and the CIA about his WMD programmes. I have no doubt that what convinced him peacefully to abandon these programmes was Iraq. But don’t take that from me. Just three days after Libya had agreed to have its WMD programmes dismantled under international supervision, CNN reported that “Gaddafi acknowledged that the Iraq war may have influenced him” in his decision. In the same report Hans Blix, the former UN weapons inspector, said he imagined that “Gaddafi could have been scared by what he saw happen in Iraq”.
We would all have been scared if his programmes had been further developed in the eight years since: 23 tonnes of mustard gas, 3,563 unfilled chemical aerial bombs, “hundreds” of Scud-B, and five of the much more advanced Scud-C missiles made up part of the haul. Libya had previously declared just one nuclear site. There were in fact 12. In 2004 inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency gave forensic detail of an extensive, active covert programme for highly enriched uranium and the production of nuclear weapons.
He takes issue with the idea that the invasion of Iraq strengthened the Iran theocracy in the long run:
If I were a leader of the hardliners in Iran I would be very exercised about my longer-term prospects of hanging on to power without a legitimate mandate.
But for the change in Iraq that began in 2003, the region would be a much more dangerous place.
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