Menzies Campbell: Three years of war have been a disaster. Even the neo-cons know it. So what now?

Coalition forces are holding 14,000 prisoners without charge

Share

Three years ago this month, we went to war in Iraq. But four years ago this month, when Jack Straw advised the Prime Minister about an invasion of Iraq, he said: "We have also to answer the big question - what will this action achieve? There seems to be a larger hole on this than on anything."

The Foreign Secretary's perceptive and prophetic words have a chilling resonance. He was echoing the concerns of many, but why did the Prime Minister, and indeed the whole Cabinet, go ahead regardless?

Recent weeks have seen a terrible intensification of sectarian violence. Extremists have deliberately sought to provoke internecine conflict, most spectacularly through the bombing of the al-Askariya shrine, which triggered scores of brutal reprisals as was intended.

Last week, Amnesty International described large-scale violations of human rights in Iraq, and the US State Department reported that "civic life and the social fabric remained under intense strain from the widespread violence, principally inflicted by insurgency and terrorist attacks". The US Ambassador to Baghdad was more candid: the invasion had "opened a Pandora's box" that could lead to a regional war and the ascendancy of religious extremists who "would make Taliban Afghanistan look like child's play". At the same time, a covey of senior neo-conservatives, arch-advocates of the war, now admit they got it wrong - seriously wrong.

With the transfer of the Iran dossier to the UN Security Council, and amid increasingly confrontational rhetoric from both Iranian and American politicians, we have to learn from the mistakes, misjudgements and mishandling of Iraq.

Coalition strategy on Iraq, both pre- and post-conflict, has followed a flawed pattern: a reliance on force; a belief that ends justify means; and a disregard for the lessons of history.

Recent disclosures show that President Bush and the Prime Minister had decided to go to war against Iraq months before the invasion, irrespective of the search for weapons, irrespective of diplomacy, irrespective of legality. As we now know, intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.

Under neo-conservative ideology, means are subverted to ends and principles to power: the consequence for Iraq was a grotesquely ill-judged and illegal war.

There was a scandalous lack of planning. The occupation was conducted with wholesale disregard for accepted principles of post-conflict stabilisation and counter-insurgency. Security forces were disbanded, creating a vacuum that invited upheaval; the UN was marginalised, with the US dominating the drawn-out political transition; there were and remain inexcusable delays in the restoration of essential services and the reconstitution of Iraqi security forces; and excessive use of military force and cultural insensitivity generated hostility and mistrust.

In responding to the insurgency, there has been a catastrophic failure to win the support of the Iraqi people: a strategy that won battles, but lost hearts and minds. The American experience in Vietnam, and the French struggle in 1950s Algeria, have shown that a strategy which relies excessively on military force and neglects the "cognitive terrain" cannot succeed. As the military expert, retired Brigadier Gavin Bulloch put it: "The strategic centre of gravity will be the support of the mass of the people."

Today, 14,000 prisoners are subjected to indefinite detention by coalition forces, without charge or trial, some of whom have been subjected to torture or other abuse. More than 35,000 have been detained since the war, over two-thirds of whom have since been released. Nothing could be better calculated to spread resentment. The closure of Abu Ghraib is a first but insufficient step; this gross and persistent violation of international law must come to an end.

There are currently more than 150,000 foreign troops in Iraq. Despite their important role in stabilisation and reconstruction work, we need to acknowledge that the troops are perceived as occupiers.

The latest figures from the Pentagon show the number of attacks on coalition troops reached a high of more than 550 a week; in a recent UK MoD poll, close to half of Iraqis believed the attacks were justified, and eight in 10 strongly opposed the troops' presence. We must accept that a clear, explicit exit strategy is imperative.

But an immediate withdrawal of coalition forces could precipitate even greater violence. In recent weeks, the insurgency has fanned the flames of sectarian strife, though the warring parties appear for the moment to have pulled back from the abyss of civil war.

The priority now is the formation of an inclusive government, founded on compromise, with prominent roles for Sunni leaders. Further measures must be taken to deliver what Iraqis so desperately need: personal safety and access to essential services. A national strategy is urgently needed to disband sectarian militias and reintegrate them into national forces. More must be done to train professional Iraqi security forces, root out militia and death squads that have infiltrated the forces of the Ministries of Defence and the Interior, and ensure appropriate ethnic and religious balance.

Regional powers could be encouraged to do more to stabilise and support Iraq. It is in no one's interest, least of all the countries of the region, that Iraq should become a failed state. Iran must be prevailed upon to desist from dangerous meddling.

The British government justified war on the basis of the threat from Iraq and the promise of benefit to Iraqis. But where there was no threat, there is now powerful insecurity; and Iraqis now suffer from militant extremism and violent upheaval.

The war undermined the authority of the UN and the post-Second World War framework of international law, largely fashioned by Britain and the US, more than any other single event since 1945. It has strained relations between the Western and Islamic worlds, and, as the intelligence services warned, has increased the terrorist threat.

It is breathtaking that after the deaths of more than 30,000 civilians and soldiers, including 103 British personnel, and at a cost to Britain of over £4bn, there has never been an inquiry into political decision-making on the war or its aftermath.

Sir Menzies Campbell is leader of the Liberal Democrat Party

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Client Relationship Assistant / Business Support

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you willing to give fantastic Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Assistant Document Controller

£11000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Greenwich based firm of Archite...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A still from 'The Interview' starring Seth Rogan (right) and James Franco  

The Interview: If a film being cancelled is an outrage, what does that make the 200,000 North Koreans living in death camps?

Mike Harris
Economy drive: Cuba may soon be changing  

Cuba: Obama gets it - the best way to defeat the Castro brothers is to end the embargo

James Bloodworth
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum