PRESS RELEASE (06/07/2016): This is a statement from British Muslim Youth in response to the ‘Chilcot Report’ into the Iraq War.
Today the long overdue report into the Iraq War has finally been published. The size and volume of the report effectively means that it will take some time for us to digest and immerse ourselves in the findings of Sir John Chilcot. In due course we look forward to dealing with the detail of the report and as an organisation, to assist in ensuring that lessons are learned.
This latter point here is key. There are some, albeit a minority, who claim that the Iraq War happened over a decade ago and that we must now look beyond it. To those people we say; history teaches us quite eloquently that if you fail to learn the lessons of the past, you are doomed to repeat them. This is precisely why the findings of the Chilcot Inquiry are so fundamental to us as a nation. There is a plausible argument, that has traction amongst ordinary people, of all political persuasions – from the right and the left of politics – that the lessons of Iraq have not be learned. Our interventions in Libya and Syria lend support to this point of view.
Sir John Chilcot made clear that in March 2003, military action was not the last resort, as all peaceful options had not be explored. War cannot and must not be the first option. It has to always be the last option. In 2003 our government fell majorly short of this maxim. Intelligence was weak or even dubious to say the least. The legal advice, from the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, was far from satisfactory. And there simply was no planning for what came next after the Saddam regime had been removed. The British Military didn’t have the resources to mount the operation. The price of these mistakes has been too high a consequence. Death and destruction has followed.
As a Muslim organisation that works overwhelmingly with young British Muslims, one of the biggest gripes this particular category of people have is our involvement in the Iraq War. For most of these people, their political activism and worldview has been defined in large parts by this conflict. When we speak to young Muslims about topics of violence and extremism; whilst they always abhor the actions of terrorist groups that commit murder in the name of Islam – they always point to the Iraq war as a point of alienation and in some cases, vehement opposition to our countries political institutions and foreign policies.
There are some Muslims/Muslim organisations that argue that the entire cause of radicalisation of Muslims is as a result of British foreign policy. We have never subscribed to this point of view. For us, a perverted ideology of extremism, which manifested itself by carrying out a suicide attack in the grounds of the Prophet Muhammed’s (peace be upon him) mosque in Medina on Monday, also plays a potent role. However, to diminish or outright deny our mistake in going to war in Iraq as not being part of the radicalisation process, is at best, misguided.
Similarly our legacy in Iraq still haunts the people of that region till today. The so-called Islamic State rose out of the burning embers of our intervention. Again, we accept it is too simple, even disingenuous, to lay the blame for the rise of Daesh totally at the feet of the last Labour government led by Tony Blair, but our folly in Iraq undeniably was a major contributor in the rise of Daesh. There was no Al Qaeda in Iraq before we went in there, but there is a monster there now, which ridiculously makes Al Qaeda seem reasonable and moderate. Only this week 250 people were killed in Baghdad at the hands of Daesh. In Fallujah, children till this day are born with deformities as a result of Depleted Uranian, used by our ally the United States of America. This narrative provides groups like Daesh and Al Qaeda the perfect recruiting sergeant. They conveniently use the war and the atrocities committed to say to young Muslims around the world that the West is at war with Islam. For such groups this is an easy sell, hence the reason for large number of British Muslims who have gone over to Iraq and Syria.
We are not arguing that Britain should never go to war, or intervene in a conflict ever again because of Iraq. The Second World War, the Falklands and the intervention in Kosovo (to name a few) were just wars. Things were done properly and the case for war in these cases were fully made out. There was no alternative to war, and our involvement was a force for good. It improved the lives of those who were suffering. It liberated the Jewish people from the gas chambers, saved Muslims from genocide and pushed back a fascist despot. Unfortunately, none of this can be said for Iraq. Saddam Hussein was a vicious and violent dictator. There is no question about this. But our actions in going to war in Iraq leaves so much to be desired.
In the coming days we will hear a lot about the legality of the war, and questions about war crime charges. We learned this week from the office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) that they will not be investigating whether Tony Blair committed war crimes, by partaking in this war. However, the ICC have said that they could prosecute individual soldiers, if they find evidence of potential war crimes. In the interest of international law and justice, there is an argument that if soldiers have broken the law, they should be prosecuted. Nevertheless, it makes us somewhat uncomfortable knowing that soldiers are being prosecuted; yet the politicians who sent these men and women into harm’s way, on a pack of lies, are free of any responsibility. If there are questions about potential war crimes allegations then those at the very top like Tony Blair, and the then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw should also be investigated. This is was the principles of natural justice require.
On a side note, much of the intelligence for garnering the pre-text for war in Iraq came from the use of torture and rendition. If there are questions to be answered, about British Secret Service involvement in this and about who in the government knew about this, then we would urge those in positions to do so. This should be investigated as a matter of urgency. Values of international law and human rights must always be upheld, without fail.
The truth is that this total blunder in Iraq could have been easily avoided. There was no second United Nations Security Council Resolution, therefore this brought into question the legality of the war. Hans Blix, the UN Weapons Inspector, said there was no evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) in Iraq. Over a million people marched through London urging the Prime Minister Tony Blair not to take us to war. The French President Jacque Chirac was loud and clear in his opposition to the war. Yet all these people were ignored. The result was, hundreds of thousands innocent Iraqis killed, the Middle East thrown into chaos, hundreds of British soldiers killed and thousands of soldiers were maimed, injured and scarred for life.
On this day, we remember the Iraqi’s who have been killed and the millions displaced and made refugees. Our thoughts are with the families of British personnel who lost their lives or were injured. Today is also a day to remember politicians like Robin Cook and Charles Kennedy who are no longer with us. They courageously told us in 2003, what we learned officially today. Whilst today is not a day to bask in vindication or “I told you so” politics, it is difficult not to imagine just what if we had heeded their advice? If anything comes from this inquiry, we hope that that it makes clear the logical steps and evidence threshold required, in order for our country to go to war in the future.
Put simply: we cannot afford another Iraq.