TV review: The Iraq War, BBC2


Whatever else it has done, The Iraq War, Norma Percy's three-part history of the conflict and its aftermath, has greatly increased our understanding of diplomatic prevarication. Every colour in the spectrum of mendacity makes an appearance in these programmes, from the infra-red of the outright lie to the ultra-violet of polite euphemism.

My favourite from last night was the "fraternal visit", the phrase used by Jack Straw to describe the trip to Baghdad he made in the company of Condoleezza Rice. They'd gone to visit the then Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a man who'd disappointed the Americans by failing to quell the activities of Shia militias. And to be fair, al-Jaafari does seem to have been a bit of a disappointment.

After al-Qa'ida militants bombed the al-Askari mosque in Samarra – one of Shia Islam's holiest shrines – Jaafari was disinclined to impose the curfew that might have restrained revenge attacks. His reasoning was situated somewhere to the red end of the spectrum: "People want to vent their feelings, that's fine... In a democracy, people must have room for disagreement," he said. And, as he almost certainly knew would be the case, those disagreements were mostly expressed with a bullet in the back of the neck for scores of Sunni civilians.

The "fraternal visit" was designed to oust al-Jaafari and install some more congenial figure in the premiership, a mission that was naturally preceded by a press conference insisting that this was the very last thing that Straw and Rice had gone to Baghdad to do. Deciding who the Iraqi Prime Minister was going to be was, of course, the sole privilege of the Iraqi people. Then Condi softened al-Jaafari up with flattery and Jack went in and delivered some brotherly advice. We're supplying the security, he said bluntly, and we're supplying the cash. So resign now. Al-Jaafari, who could clearly recognise a horse's head at the bottom of the bed when he saw one, obliged.

Next man up was Nouri al-Maliki, chosen as the best of a bad lot by the Americans . Al-Maliki gained some momentary points for candour here with his description of the opportunity he'd been offered by the Americans: "Whoever agreed to be Prime Minister of Iraq would have to be adventurous or insane," he said. As sectarian killing mounted in Iraq, nobody on the Coalition side found it easy to decide which al-Maliki was, though his decision to fly to Basra and personally oversee the ousting of Muqtada al-Sadr's militiamen certainly tilted analysis in favour of insanity. "We thought it would be easy," al-Maliki recalled, a terrible phrase for a politician to utter, and one that should be inscribed on the tombstone of the some 170,000 civilians who've been killed since the invasion.

Like both previous programmes, this offered a depressingly detailed account of the failures of the war. Unlike the first two episodes, though, it brought that account of failure up to date, finishing with Obama welcoming al-Maliki to Washington and praising "Iraq's most inclusive government yet", immediately after a sequence that highlighted the increasingly totalitarian nature of his regime. The Americans got another strongman, but last month in Iraq was the bloodiest for five years, with 1,045 Iraqis killed in sectarian violence (two days before transmission around 70 people died in tit-for-tat bombings and murders).

In fact, this final episode did its job so effectively in exposing the hollowness of claims about the success of the war that it left you hankering for the one important journalistic component that has been missing from the series – simply because of the way it is constructed – tough and forensic cross-examination. Bring back Tony Blair and Jack Straw, you thought by the end, and force them to answer some harder questions. Really? Was it all worth it? For this?

Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Arts and Entertainment


These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells