Johann Hari: I was wrong, terribly wrong - and the evidence should have been clear all along

Share

A few weeks ago, a small moment - a little line of text on the BBC news website- underlined for me how far life in Iraq has slumped. As I was reading a story, the website's ticker-tape casually stated: "Car bomb in Baghdad; 50 dead." There were no accompanying details.

When suicide-massacres started to happen in Iraq, I would nervously call my friends in Baghdad, Basra and Hilla to make sure they were OK. But I soon realised that this was antagonising them, driving every bomb further into their skulls - should they store a standard text "No, not killed in suicide bomb today" message and send it out three times a day? So I waited, and the next day, I looked through the newspapers for details. Nobody mentioned it. Suicide-slaughters the size of 7/7 are now so common in Iraq they don't even bleed into News in Brief.

So after three years and at least 150,000 Iraqi corpses, can those of us who supported the toppling of Saddam Hussein for the Iraqis' sake still claim it was worth it? (I am assuming the people who bought the obviously fictitious arguments about WMD are already hanging their heads in shame.)

George Packer, a recalcitrant Iraq-based journalist who tentatively supported the invasion, summarises the situation: "Most people aren't free to speak their minds, belong to a certain group, wear what they want, or even walk down the street without risking their lives." Power has been effectively ceded to anti-democratic militias who "take over schools and hospitals, intimidate the staffs, assault unveiled women, set up kangaroo sharia courts that issue death sentences, run criminal gangs, firebomb liquor stores. Their tactics are those of fascist bullies."

When people ask if I think I was wrong, I think about the Iraqi friend, hiding, terrified, in his own house, who said to me: "Every day you delete another name from your mobile, because they've been killed. By the Americans or the jihadists or the militias - usually you never find out which." And I think - yes, I was wrong. Terribly wrong.

The lamest defence I could offer - one used by many supporters of the war as they slam into reverse gear - is that I still support the principle of invasion, it's just the Bush administration screwed it up. But as one anti-war friend snapped at me when I mooted this argument, "Yeah, who would ever have thought that supporting George Bush in the illegal invasion of an Arab country would go wrong?"

She's right: the truth is that there was no pure Platonic ideal of The Perfect Invasion to support, no abstract idea we lent our names to. There was only Bush, with his cluster bombs, IMF-ed up economic model, bogus rationale and unmistakable stench of petrol, offering his war, his way. (Expecting Tony Blair to use his influence was, it is now clear, a delusion, as he refuses even to frontally condemn the American torture camp at Guantanamo Bay).

The evidence should have been clear to me all along: the Bush administration would produce disaster. Who would have thought that they would unleash widespread torture, with over 10,000 people disappearing without trial into Iraq's secret prisons? Anybody who followed the record of the very same people - from Rumsfeld to Negroponte - in Central America in the 1980s, actually. Who would have thought they would use chemical weapons in a civilian city, Fallujah? Anybody who looked up Bush's stance on chemical weapons treaties or Rumsfeld's record of flogging them to tyrants.

Who would have thought they would impose shock-therapy mass privatisation on the Iraqi economy, sending unemployment to 60 per cent - a guarantee of ethnic strife? Anybody who followed the record of the US towards Russia, Argentina, and East Asia. Who could have known that they would cancel all reconstruction funds, when electricity and water supplies are still below even Saddam's standards? Anybody who looked at their domestic disinvestment from the public sector.

Yes, I always knew the Bush administration was primarily motivated by a desire to secure strategic access to one of the world's major sources of oil. While I obviously found this rationale disgusting, I deluded myself into thinking it was possible to ride this beast to a better Iraq. Reeling from a visit to Saddam's Iraq, I knew Iraqis didn't care why their dictator was deposed - they just wanted it done, now.

As I thought of the terrorised Marsh Arabs I'd met, I thought, with one eye on the Balkans, that whatever happens it will be better. I, like most Iraqis, failed to see that the Bush administration's warped motives would lead to a warped occupation. A war for oil would mean that, as Baghdad was looted, troops would be sent to guard the oil ministry, not the hospitals - a bleak harbinger of things to come.

But it is easy for me to repent at leisure. Just as the opponents of the war would never have faced Saddam's torture chambers, I am not hiding in my home, rocking and clutching a Kalashnikov. Millions of Iraqis are, and many thousands more did not live to see even that cruel future because of the arguments of people like me.

And so, after the melancholic mea culpas from almost everyone but Blair and Bush, what? Iyad Allawi - the man the Americans tried to impose as Prime Minister until a massive programme of civil disobedience spearheaded by Ayatollah Sistani made elections unavoidable - says civil war has already begun. There has been a worrying trend among some right-wing commentators to blame the Iraqis: we thought you guys would be a Czechoslovakia, but if you insist on being a Yugoslavia, fine. There have even been evil whispers that Iraq "needs a Saddam" to hold it together.

But this is not a grassroots civil war à la Rwanda or the Balkans, where neighbour hacks to pieces neighbour. It is a top-down civil war, fought by a minority of militias, all of whom (apart from the jihadi-Zarquawi crowd, who are a small minority) claim to fight in the name of keeping Iraq together. Until 2003, over 20 per cent of Iraqi marriages were across the Sunni-Shia divide. Is husband now going to turn on wife, and mother on son?

It is very hard to see a solution, but I believe the threads of one are visible. The polls show that most of these violent militias draw their support from the fact that they oppose the foreign troops, not from the fact that they massacre fellow-Iraqis. So the best way to drain their support - and dampen the inertia towards civil war - is to withdraw the troops now.

Iraqis can see this very clearly: a poll recently conducted by the Ministry of Defence found that 80 per cent of Iraqis want troops out "immediately" so they can deal with the remaining jihadists and anti-democratic fundamentalists themselves. (In a revealing mirror-image, a Zogby poll of US troops in Iraq found that 72 per cent believe the occupation should end within the year. This will soon be a surreal war where the unwilling occupy the unwilling.)

Yes, there is a danger that withdrawal will create a power vacuum exploited by militias, but that is the reality on the ground already. It is time to leave Iraq - but the haunting question now is: will the Bush administration really surrender Iraq's oil after spending $200bn to grab it, just because the Iraqi people and their own boys and girls in uniform want them to?

j.hari@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior IP Opportunity at Major Firm

vary Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - AN OPENING AT A VERY HIGH Q...

Nursery Manager

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Nursery Manager Long term Ran...

Sales Consultant – Permanent – West Sussex – £24-£25k plus commission and other benefits

£24000 - £25000 Per Annum plus company car and commission: Clearwater People S...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Bris...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Liberal Democrats leader says efforts need to be focused on cracking down on the criminal gangs  

Nick Clegg: We should to go to war on drugs, not on addicts

Nick Clegg
East German border guards stand on a section of the Berlin wall in front of the Brandenburg gate on November 11, 1989  

Twenty-five years after the Berlin Wall fell, Hungary’s PM thinks it is Western capitalism that is in its death throes

Peter Popham
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes