'Independent' writers debate whether world is safer place

Two of The Independent's most provocative writers engaged a large audience in an animated public debate on the merits of the Iraq war at Manchester town hall last night.

Two of The Independent's most provocative writers engaged a large audience in an animated public debate on the merits of the Iraq war at Manchester town hall last night.

The Independent debate, which placed Robert Fisk against Johann Hari on the question "Has the Iraq war made the world a safer place?", gave an eloquent voice to anti-war sentiment, in the traditions of Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky. Fisk's case, that the war had succeeded only in consigning Iraq to a state of "anarchy and madness", comfortably held sway among the audience of 500.

The debate, chaired by Simon Kelner, editor-in-chief of The Independent, pitched Fisk's argument - that the West's century-old obsession with "rescuing" the Middle East from itself had left it at the mercy of anarchists whom the West will be forced to do business with - against Hari's proposition that Iraqis wanted the war and that today's chaos was an improvement on Saddam's tyranny.

The notion that the West had created "an oasis of democracy with its centre in Iraq" was "a lie", said Fisk, opening the debate. "The one thing we did do was get rid of the man we helped to create - Saddam Hussein - and we are now searching for other beasts to take his place: the name Zarqawi comes to mind."

Fisk, whose writing in The Independent had clearly won over many in the audience, described how a recent journey south from Baghdad to Najaf revealed burnt-out Iraqi police vehicles, US trucks and an occupying force which was manifestly overrun. "The chances of [January] elections are fading faster than water running into the desert," said Fisk. "The Americans must leave Iraq, the Americans will leave Iraq, but the Americans can't leave Iraq."

Hari countered with his own vivid experiences among the Marsh Arabs. "While the Baathist [minders] were away, I asked them: what do you think about the war? They concluded it was better to take your chance with the Americans than live with infernal Baathism."

There was also eloquence from the floor. A former US naval officer, worrying that the West had "lied about Iraq like we lied about Vietnam", urged The Independent to continue "challenging the lies" in a way no other paper has.

"It is astonishing," concluded Kelner, "that despite the illegality of the war, the thousands of Iraqis and hundreds of soldiers who have died, that nobody on either side of the Atlantic has paid a political price."

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