Content warning: mentions sexual abuse, torture, Islamophobia
On 15 February 2003, the now-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn spoke out to the largest anti-war demonstration in British political history. In front of two million people at Hyde Park, London, he exclaimed, ‘Stop now or pay the political price!’ He was warning about the consequences of attacking Iraq.
It’s easy to say that the violent overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime made the world a safer place, when at the time most media outlets helped support this pro-war rhetoric. However, on July 6th 2016, the Chilcot inquiry presented a scathing criticism of the United Kingdom’s involvement in the Iraq war. The inquiry claims that not only did Tony Blair, as the then Prime Minister, exaggerate Iraq’s threat to gain MP and public support for military action, but that the case for Iraq’s possessing weapons of mass destruction was based on ‘flawed intelligence and assessments.’ Chilcot concludes ‘that the circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for military action were far from satisfactory.’ That Western intervention was illegal.
As Al Jazeera reports, leading to the war, the British press used sensationalist headlines and exaggerations of nuclear threat to persuade the skeptical public. Displaying an alarming Eurocentric bias even during the conflict, the death of a European or American was more likely to be reported as a singular event by the Western media, as opposed to Iraqi deaths, therefore underplaying the war’s repercussions.
‘Saddam has gone, and we have 1000 Saddams, now,’ Kadhim al Jabbouri said. A champion weightlifter, he became a symbol of the Iraqi population’s rejection of the regime after toppling Saddam’s 12-metre statue in Firdos Square, Baghdad. ‘It wasn’t like this under Saddam. There was a system. There were ways. We didn’t like him, but he was better than those people.’
Western intervention ironically lacked hindsight on the aftermath of the war they started within the context of the Middle East and around the world. 165,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed by war-related violence according to the Costs of War Project 2015 estimates. A UNCHR 2007 report claims that there are well over 4 million Iraqis displaced because of the war.
British involvement in the war also went beyond using violence to create peace. Accounts from Iraqi prisoners and civilians, supposedly protected by the Geneva Conventions, suggest that the UK employed a policy of systemic torture and sexual abuse.
Western intervention ironically lacked hindsight on the aftermath of the war they started within the context of the Middle East and around the world.
One of the most chilling claims affirmed by the Chilcot inquiry is that the Iraq occupation helped create ISIL. While Saddam’s oppressive dictatorship cannot be denied, warmongering extremists used this political chaos during the war to unleash previously contained sectarian violence, oppressing the population, regardless of their religion. The project Iraqi Refugee Stories includes direct statements from those affected by the war. Experiences range from a couple of different Islamic denominations receiving death threats, to a son’s task of finding his dead father’s body in over 350 corpses.
Upon the publication of the report, Tony Blair released a lengthy statement in an attempt to deflect as much blame as possible from him, whilst appearing apologetic and responsible for his mandate that has destroyed millions of lives. Families of the British soldiers who died in the war wanting to pursue legal action against Blair and his parties still have the justice system working against them.
This illegal war has resulted in countless tragedies that can be felt by Muslims in the Middle East and the UK. Blair fundamentally exposed his ignorance by stating that the war had taught him to listen to Islamic bodies before resorting to military action, when proponents of the Anti-War movement he had ignored included Muslims, who have a more direct connection to the violence in the Middle East than any MP who voted for the war will ever have.
To really state the elephant in the room: for a country that has a history of causing illegal wars and occupations for supposed aims of liberation, the UK does have a hard time accepting immigrants and refugees, especially from countries they’ve helped destabilise and destroy.
Blair fundamentally exposed his ignorance by stating that the war had taught him to listen to Islamic bodies before resorting to military action
The rise of Islamophobia in the UK, especially since the EU referendum, highlights how sectarian violence isn’t fuelled by religion but by minority nationalist elements that uses various media reports depicting Muslims as a violent threat to justify they own maniacal violence. It is not hard to realise how anti-Western sentiment in Iraq has developed when looking at the rampant bigotry and hate crimes in the UK, which still hasn’t even suffered from an illegal occupation.
The Chilcot report confirms anti-war statements that were being continually repeated of a few hundred words in 2.5 million words. Corbyn, one of the few politicians who listen to anti-war activists, released a statement of apology for the war on behalf of the PLP. However, perhaps the main problem is the Parliament’s refusal to listen to the general population that’s increasingly becoming comprised of minority groups in solidarity.
Featured image: Displaced Iraqi civilians sit in an US Marine truck as they wait to be evacuated from the city of Fallujah 17 November 2004, 50 kms west of Baghdad, by a US Marine Civil Affairs unit © Patrick Baz / AFP via Middle East Eye