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Letter from the Defence Correspondent: The US and Britain have a duty to help stop al-Qa’ida



It is a fitting irony that fighters from a breakaway al-Qa’ida faction have taken over Tikrit during their rapid advance in Iraq. The city is the birthplace of Saddam Hussein, and his supposed link to al-Qa’ida was one of the justifications used by the US and Britain to invade.

Saddam’s was a brutal regime, but the examples given of his Islamist terrorist connections were as false as the claims made of his weapons of mass destruction in the dodgy dossier produced by Tony Blair’s No 10. It was, as we now know only too well, the attack on Iraq and the huge mistakes made in the occupation that rejuvenated al-Qa’ida into its current hydra-headed form and opened the door to vicious sectarian strife between Sunni and Shia. 

The jihadists have created what their name suggests – the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – winning control of Iraq’s Sunni heartland and the bloodiest of the rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

One can, with some justification, blame Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his Shia-dominated government’s myopic policies for easing the path of the jihadists. A significant factor in Isis’s success is that it exploited Sunni grievances long ignored by Baghdad.

But what is happening is also the legacy of George W Bush and Blair, and the US and Britain have a duty to help stop al-Qa’ida. The UK Government’s scope for action is limited. It is up to Washington. This may lead to the US being sucked into the shifting sands of Mid-East strife, but that is the price for the war and the Pandora’s Box opened 11 years ago. The alternative may be another fall of Baghdad, not with Saddam’s statue pulled down, but the flag of al-Qa’ida over the Iraqi capital.