Richard Ingrams’s Week: Who are the heroes and villains of the Iraqi war?

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The Independent Online

Any dead British soldier is nowadays described in the press as a hero. All you have to do is be killed – not necessarily fighting the enemy. You could be blown up by a roadside bomb or shot in one of those frequent friendly-fire disasters. It's enough to earn you heroic status.

As for the living, it is risky to use the hero label so generally when so many British soldiers in Iraq have been involved in assorted atrocities against innocent Iraqi civilians.

Gordon Brown is only the latest politician to pay tribute to the British Army for its achievements in Iraq, when we all know that it has, in fact, achieved very little.

To be fair to the troops, that is not their fault. They were never involved in any serious fighting and the reason for that is obvious, though nobody this week – when Brown announced the date of a withdrawal – has liked to point it out.

There was so much opposition in Britain to Blair's crazy determination to join the Bush invasion, that the Government (especially Blair and his faithful press man Alastair Campbell) lived in constant fear of army casualties. Over five years and more, 178 service personnel were killed in Iraq but almost every one of them was front-page news. The press kept the score, marking the half-century and the century with full-page spreads of all the casualties.

If Blair was concerned with the welfare of Iraqis he was even more concerned about his own personal standing. The result was that the Army was told at all costs to minimise casualties. Hence the reluctance to engage with the enemy and the eventual retreat to Basra airport where the troops have been holed up for months just making sure that they don't get shot.

Under police protection

Like the Canadian Mounties, the British police like to think they always get their man. It's just a pity that so often it turns out to be the wrong one. Only days after the De Menezes inquest comes confirmation that Colin Stagg was not, after all, the killer of Rachel Nickell.

In both cases the police reaction to the news was the same. Even after the case against Stagg was thrown out by the judge, the then head of the Metropolitan Police Sir Paul Condon told the media "we are not looking for anyone else". This was a pity, as the real killer went on to commit at least two more horrible murders before he was finally arrested.

In the De Menezes case the police reaction has been, if anything, even more complacent. Condon's successor as head of the Met, Sir Ian Blair, said last weekend that no one was personally to blame for what happened. And earlier the officer directly responsible for the chaotic operation, Cressida Dick, had told the inquest, "If you ask me whether I think anybody did anything wrong... I don't think they did."

Not surprisingly, in view of such remarks in neither case did any member of the police force lose their job, and even the identity of the key personnel was kept secret from the public. The officers who shot Mr de Menezes are being accused of committing perjury at the inquest but nothing will happen them. The same is true of the female officer who was given the job of getting Colin Stagg to confess. She too remains anonymous and she was even given a payment to compensate her for her experiences.

Save the animals and make some money while you're at it

It was Hermann Goering who is reported to have said that when he heard the word culture he reached for his revolver. With me it is the word wildlife.

Very few people are interested in wildlife. As far as most of us are concerned, it is simply something to watch on television. But you sometimes get the impression that the welfare and preservation of wildlife mean more to the British public than any other issue.

But behind the various wildlife campaigns, there is often little more than the crudest type of commercialism. They are writing to The Times these days about the reintroduction of beavers into Scotland. This creature has not been seen in this country for hundreds of years and its return is not welcomed by fishermen. In Norfolk, there is a move to introduce sea eagles on the northern coast. Both moves are promoted by organisations such as the RSPB for the benefit of precious wildlife.

But the reality is that what lies behind such moves is money. The hope of local councils, not to mention the RSPB, is that the presence of those sea eagles will attract large numbers of trippers to the remote coast of Norfolk. There will be visitor centres, telescopes, toilet facilities and all the trappings of modern eco-tourism. And hopefully the cash will roll in.

The same goes for beavers. Fishermen who complain about the loss of salmon, farmers who say the eagles are stealing their lambs, these will be overruled by the money-makers hiding behind the safest of smokescreens – the great god wildlife.