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The Iraq fury still burns, fuelled by unanswered questions

5 March 2013

3:23 PM

5 March 2013

3:23 PM

I was fascinated to read the reaction to Nick Cohen’s article expressing his view that after 10 years he still believed the invasion of Iraq was the right thing to do. The heart of Nick’s argument is this:

‘I regret much: the disbanding of the Iraqi army; a de-Ba’athification programme that became a sectarian purge of Iraq’s Sunnis; the torture of Abu Ghraib; and a failure to impose security that allowed murderous sectarian gangs to kill tens of thousands.For all that, I say, I would not restore the Ba’ath if I had the power to rewind history. To do so would be to betray people who wanted something better after 35 years of tyranny.’

I posted the piece on my Facebook wall as something all opponents of the war should read, even if they disagreed with Nick’s viewpoint. The reaction was immediate and passionate. Pretty much everyone disagreed with me. One thought it was ‘bogus’; another said Nick had missed the point because the choice to go to war was not driven by a moral imperative, one former cheerleading interventionist suggested the piece was ‘ahistorical’ for refusing to engage with the suffering inflicted on the Iraq people by the war. A former Observer colleague said the piece failed to engage with the ‘blatant, grievous lie’ that took us to war in the first place. An old friend with whom I often spar on Israel, made the related point that ‘we were sold a lie, not Nick Cohen’s reasons for war’. A respected investigative journalist chipped in with this: ‘Looking back, It’s also a bit cheeky of Nick (to put it mildly) to say the good war was only spoiled by the bad disbanding the army & sectarian de-baathification, when Nick did so much at the time to promote Ahmed Chalabi and his CIA funded Iraqi National Congress.’

The post that came closest to capturing my own position was this one: ‘I tire of the “it was for your own good” line from westerners, as much as I tire of the tendencies among antis that Nick describes well.’

Apart from my obvious pride in the quality of the contributions on my Facebook wall, I also feel a sense of unease as someone who was against intervention. It is too easy for us to say that we also wanted Saddam removed, but by other means. No other means were available at the time.

Ten years on, the Iraq war still has the power to to test friendships and unsettle the liberal consensus. And despite the multiple inquiries there are still some serious questions to be answered. One incident that would still reward investigation is the spying operation on the United Nations uncovered on the eve of war by GCHQ translator Katharine Gun. I wrote about this almost-forgotten episode in this weekend’s Observer.

Jack Straw, then the foreign secretary, has not been challenged on whether he authorised the operation to go ahead, although it is almost certain that he did. Whatever we think of the war, it seems that GCHQ staff were taking their orders directly from the National Security Agency in Maryland during this period, something surely worthy of further comment.

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