Oliver Miles: Questions to ask before you vote on Thursday

How do we interpret our international obligations? How do we leave Iraq?

Share

With local elections on Thursday, it is time to ask some new questions about the Iraq war, including the big one: have we got a plan? There is a purist view that local elections should be about local issues. So they should, but politics at the local, national and international level are dominated by national parties, and we have few enough opportunities to hold them to account. Even at general election time, Labour opponents of the war told each other to hold their noses and vote Blair.

In between, we rely on the media to hold government to account, Parliament and the Labour Party having tried and failed. But the media are bored with Iraq. You don't sell newspapers by reporting four months of wrangling in the bazaar between people with forgettable names and incomprehensible allegiances over the failure to form a new government. Wake us up when somebody British gets killed or kidnapped.

The politicians, Labour and Conservative, are not so much bored as mesmerised. Michael Ancram is not the first and will not be the last to accept that yesterday's positions cannot be sustained today. For Tony Blair, the less said the better. But the likely antagonists in the next general election, Gordon Brown and David Cameron, have everything to win or lose by getting the timing right. Step forward the man who will lead us out of the mess we are in. Meanwhile, they sit on the fence.

So here are some questions I ask any Labour or Conservative canvasser brave enough to knock on my door. I should dearly like to hear our national champions - John Humphrys, James Naughtie, Jeremy Paxman - asking Gordon and David.

Long-term objectives. There has from the start been uncertainty whether or not the Americans intend to retain military bases permanently in Iraq. Has this been discussed and agreed between the coalition forces, or do we leave it to the Americans?

Tactics. It is clear in retrospect that the move of the Black Watch to the Baghdad area at the end of 2004 was in support of the disastrous assault on Falluja. Had we discussed that operation and similar operations which followed it with the US government? Do we agree that such operations are desirable?

Weapons. British military doctrine is about hearts and minds. Jack Straw was asked on the BBC Today programme on 7 January whether the number of US air strikes, which rose to 120 in November and perhaps 150 in December, was to be the pattern in the future. He replied "I can't comment on that." But we need to know if the RAF Tornado squadron committed to Iraq has carried out such air strikes. If so, why has no announcement been made? If not, is this because we do not agree with the American use of overwhelming force?

Casualties. The Prime Minister gives the impression he doesn't care how many people, other than members of the coalition forces, have been killed. How do we interpret our international obligations, for example Article 17 of the First Geneva Convention with its requirements about identification, reporting and honourable interment?

Terrorism. Does anyone doubt the assessment in the leaked letter of 18 May 2004 by Sir Michael Jay, the Head of the Diplomatic Service, that foreign policy in the Middle East is a "key driver" for recruitment to extremist Islamist groups, "especially in the context of the Middle East peace process and Iraq"?

And finally, the big one. How are we going to leave Iraq? The standard reply is "when the job is done" and, when pressed, "when the new Iraqi government is confident enough it can handle its own problems, and asks us to leave". The snag is any Iraqi government (there isn't one at present) formed under foreign occupation will be the creature of the occupation, or will be perceived as such by other Iraqis. So waiting for "our" Iraqi leaders to take the initiative is like waiting for a man to ask you to saw off the branch he is sitting on.

That doesn't mean nothing can be done. Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to President Carter, has proposed a four-stage plan: Washington quietly asks Iraqi leaders publicly to ask the US to leave, the two governments fix a date to end the occupation, the Iraqi government calls a conference of Muslim states to help consolidate internal stability, and the US, as it leaves, convenes a donors' conference.

The plan is a flimsy one. But it should be the priority of both government and opposition to insist that we mobilise all our diplomatic, intelligence and military resources to produce a plan which will work. If we don't, the situation is likely to slip ever further out of our control, into civil war, the breakup of Iraq, or regional war.

mail@olivermiles.com

The writer is a former British Ambassador to Libya

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager - Enterprise, M2M & IOT Hardware

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager - Enterprise, M2M & IOT Hardware

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Food Production / Operations Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a large and well ...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Accounts Assistant is requir...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Now they’re using Game of Thrones to sell Shakespeare. And there’s nothing wrong with that

David Lister
Ukip MEP Janice Atkinson (left) with party leader Nigel Farage  

Hey, Nigel Farage and Kerry Smith – my family are East Enders too and never use that word

Victoria Richards
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
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