Andreas Whittam Smith: Will Blair now tell us what our soldiers died for?

The truth is they are dying for a policy that increases the risks of terrorist attacks on Britain
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The Independent Online

Dramatically, in the past few days, the Government's remaining arguments for invading Iraq have been blown away. First to go was the view that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein had improved the lot of Iraqis - no more arbitrary arrest and torture, no longer an absence of democracy, no more crumbling infrastructure.

Now comes a report published by Kofi Annan. It shows that in every respect Iraq has deteriorated since Saddam Hussein was in power. Believe it or not, there is more human rights abuse. Arbitrary detention and torture of detainees in Iraqi prisons is widespread. An inspection on 1 June found 1,431 detainees - about 10 per cent of the total in custody - with signs of physical and psychological abuse. Some 52 arrest warrants have been issued against officials of the Ministry of the Interior but they have yet to be served.

The report goes on to say that the current level of violence and disorder is likely to continue for some time. Large-scale kidnappings are common, as are false checkpoints and summary executions by various Shia and Sunni armed groups. Militia elements have infiltrated governmental and law-enforcement institutions, thus undermining the confidence of the Iraqi people in state institutions. The existence of death squads, some linked to the existing militias, and even to government security forces, is highlighted by the daily appearanceof the bodies of murdered persons bearing signs of torture and execution.

Civilians as well as personnel of the Iraqi security forces and coalition troops are killed every week - over 3,000 in both June and July. Many are women, children and minorities. "Iraq," writes Mr Annan, "has become one of the most violent conflict areas in the world." Some 14,000 people are wounded each month and 200,000 people have had to flee from their homes. In addition, he says, most Iraqis now live without reliable access to health care, social services, education and employment.

In summary, if these trends continue, the social and political fabric of the country could be endangered. There is a grave danger, in the secretary general's opinion, of a breakdown of the Iraqi state. In other words, the net effect of the intervention by American and British forces has been to turn a barely functioning country into a failed state. Then yesterday details were made available of a fresh "National Intelligence Estimate" compiled jointly by the American intelligence agencies.

It states that the war in Iraq has become a primary recruitment vehicle for violent Islamic extremists, motivating a new generation of potential terrorists around the world whose numbers may be increasing faster than Western governments can reduce the threat. The report cites the "centrality" of the invasion of Iraq, and the insurgency that has followed, as the leading inspiration for new Islamic extremist networks and cells that are united by little more than an anti-western agenda. It concludes that, rather than contributing to eventual victory in the global counter-terrorism struggle, the situation in Iraq has worsened the position for the west. In other words, British soldiers are dying and being injured for a policy that actually increases the risks of terrorist attacks on Britain. As the headline in yesterday's New York Times put it: "Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terror Threat".

There are numerous reasons why the administration led by Mr Blair has found itself responsible for one of the worst foreign policy disasters ever perpetrated by a British government. One is the faulty process by which the decision was taken. Although Parliament was consulted (but not properly briefed) Mr Blair basically took the decision on his own with the help of a few advisors.

Thus it turns out that the Peace Camp organised in Manchester by the pressure group, Military Families Against the War last week had something to say that was far more important than anything that will be heard during Labour's conference. It asked the most serious questions that can be put to Mr Blair. For what exactly have over 100 of our soldiers died? For what good cause have thousands of them sustained injuries? The Peace Camp was drawing attention to the 118 British soldiers killed in Iraq of which 89 died in action. In addition, more than 7,000 British military personnel and civilians have been injured.

What now will the Government say to the wives, children, siblings, parents and friends of British soldiers killed and injured in Iraq? Will it tell them the horrible truth that their loved ones died to make us safer and Iraq a better place but achieved the opposite result as a consequence of the Government's grave errors?