Toby Dodge: What happened to our obligation to Iraq?

A leading opponent of the war says that in pulling out, politicians and the British Army are colluding in a reckless betrayal

Share

On Monday afternoon Gordon Brown announced a far-reaching policy change before the House of Commons. Attempting to regain the political momentum after a series of potentially disastrous blunders, the Prime Minister declared that British troops in Iraq would be reduced to 2,500 within six months.

The drawing down of British forces to little more than a symbolic presence is a central part of Brown's campaign to gain a renewed electoral mandate. He is desperately trying to put as much space as possible between himself and Tony Blair.

Jettisoning Blair's strategy for Iraq would allow Brown to ditch the most divisive issue in British politics for at least a decade. It would also distance him from the White House while George Bush was still in residence. In effect, the British Government's commitment to the Iraqi people given on the eve of the invasion in March 2003 has been sacrificed in October 2007, at the altar of Brown's election campaign. Given the domestic and international significance of Brown's announcement and the partisan strategy driving it, the response of the opposition in Parliament was strangely subdued.

David Cameron declared "the whole country will welcome the fact that more troops are coming home", adding that "there is clearly a limit to what outsiders are able to achieve". Sir Ming Campbell was even more robust, claiming that, "after four and a half years, Britain has more than fulfilled any moral obligation to the people of Iraq... our obligation now is to our young men and women in our armed forces".

Something approaching consensus appears to have broken out in Westminster and across Fleet Street. Ranging from those on the Trotskyite left who run the Stop the War coalition, all the way the through to the old Etonian leader of the Conservative Party, there is general agreement that little can be done for Iraq and that we should bring our troops home.

But this overlooks the facts on the ground. One does not have to look too far beyond the growing cosy consensus in Westminster to uncover the very disturbing reality about the lives of the people of Basra, Iraq's second city. Those, like myself, who have visited the region this year, or who have taken the time to interview the increasing numbers of Iraqi refugees fleeing the city, certainly do not see it as a success of a muscular intervention which now requires downgrading to "an over-watch" role. Instead it is a city dominated by criminal violence and militia death squads fighting over the spoils of oil smuggling and domination of a terrified population.

In Kate Clark's File on 4 programme on Radio 4, she described how secular professionals and intellectuals were being forced to flee the city by Iraq's "Shia Taliban". The globally respected International Crisis Group described Basra as a "case study of Iraq's multiple and multiplying forms of violence", where the local population has little choice but to seek protection from one of the rival groups and gangs fighting for control.

The violence in Basra, which exemplifies the violence elsewhere in Iraq, is not driven by sectarian difference or ancient hatred ignited by the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. The population of Basra is largely made up of Shia Muslims. The violence that now dominates the city was triggered by the invasion and exacerbated by mistakes made by British and American officials in its aftermath.

The coalition invaded Iraq with far fewer troops and resources to deliver on the promises of stability, prosperity and democracy given to the Iraqi people by George Bush and Tony Blair on the eve of war. The result is the violence that we are seeing now.

The militias and criminal gangs that terrorise Basra's population are a direct result of mistaken British policy in the city. They stepped into a political and security vacuum created by policy drafted in Whitehall. To argue, as Ming Campbell did in Parliament last week, that Britain has more than fulfilled any moral obligation to Iraq is to disregard totally the United Kingdom's direct responsibility for the situation on the ground today.

In drawing down the troops, Gordon Brown blithely attempts to forget the promises made by Tony Blair before the invasion. The consensus in Parliament that greeted last week's announcement mendaciously ignores the horror faced by ordinary residents of Basra every day; it colludes deliberately to forget the direct role that British policy played in creating the hell that is Basra today.

And the attitudes in Parliament are mirrored in the attitude of Britain's top military brass. In his extraordinary interview last year, the chief of the Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, claimed that the British "should get ourselves out sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems". He went on explain how such a speedy withdrawal could be facilitated by an "aim for a lower ambition".

It is unclear if General Dannatt's current ambitions for Iraq have dropped so far as to encompass the ongoing anarchy in Basra. His outburst can partially be explained by his anger at the underfunding of the military and poor judgement in Downing Street that led the Army to increase its commitments in Afghanistan while still fighting in Iraq. Even so, it is hard to explain how a senior military figure can seek to blame the current situation, primarily caused by previous policy mistakes, on the continued presence of his own forces. Such curious reasoning may be understood in terms of the growing collusion between the British military and political elite to remove their troops, despite the costs.

The mismatch between the Government's interventionist ambitions and military funding has clearly caused a great deal of anger at the highest levels of the British armed forces. But that is no reason to use the good offices of the Daily Mail to intervene in policy debates over Iraq with some very curious analysis about causes of violence in Iraq.

As an academic who has studied Iraq for my entire career, I was vehemently against the decision to invade and have been repeatedly critical of very poor policy decisions taken since 2003. But the cosy consensus that now dominates Whitehall and Fleet Street is equally misguided and will, if anything, drive Iraq further into civil war. Pulling out of a country in the midst of civil war will not only exacerbate violence on the ground but will make solutions even harder to find. The only solution to the Iraq debacle is "multilateralisation", the increased role of the United Nations in the country.

But what statesman would commit troops to a UN peacekeeping force once the US and British armies have pulled out? British politicians have to realise they played a major role in driving Iraq towards civil war. They still have a major part to play in any solution. Declaring success and walking away as Iraq burns is both mendacious and reckless.

Dr Toby Dodge is an expert in Iraqi politics at Queen Mary College, University of London

React Now

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

Guru Careers: Creative Director / Head of Creative

£65K - £75K (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Creative Director...

Recruitment Genius: Female Bank Weekend Support Workers

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: You will need to be able to follow instr...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Luxury Brand

£18000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global wholesaler and reta...

Recruitment Genius: Store Manager - Department Store

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This organization is one of the founding names...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

'You’re just jealous', and other common misconceptions about the Protein World advert

Hannah Atkinson
David Cameron has said he is not going to “roll over” and let Labour leader Ed Miliband and the SNP’s Alex Salmond wreck the achievements of the last five years  

After five years of completely flaccid leadership, I'm glad something 'pumps up' David Cameron

Joe Sandler Clarke
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence