Leading article: We have a duty to Iraq - to make plans for an early exit

Share
Related Topics

Last week's television footage of a British soldier in flames, escaping from his armoured vehicle in Basra, was a possible turning point in this country's disastrous involvement in Iraq. One image captured the essential truths that Mr Blair would rather avoid: that the condition of Iraq is getting worse and that British troops are no longer regarded as protection against still worse horrors.

For a long time after the invasion, The Independent on Sunday resisted the demand for "troops out". Britain was wrong to take part in the invasion, but once Saddam Hussein was overthrown a simple maxim applied: "Who broke it, fixes it." The United Nations reluctantly entrusted the US and its allies with the legal and moral responsibility for the welfare of the Iraqi people. And the Iraqi people themselves, deeply torn between regarding the coalition forces as liberators and occupiers, feared the bloody consequences of foreign troops leaving too early.

That was then. This is now. It has been getting harder, and has now become impossible, simply to sit tight and hope that things will improve to the point where the Coalition can declare Iraq "fixed" and bring its troops home. It is now as obvious as it could be that the presence of foreign troops is the principal cause of the continuing and growing violence in Iraq.

It remains the case, however, that in parts of the country, including Baghdad, the incipient civil war between Sunni and Shia might be bloodier if the Americans were to pull out tomorrow. But that is not true of the British sector in the south. What the flames from the petrol bombs illuminated in Basra last week is the fact that many of the Shia who are represented in the government in Baghdad regard the British forces as being against them. The Shia should be able to run the south themselves; the British presence is still there largely to provide political cover for the Americans in the north.

This is emphatically not to argue that we should disown our responsibility to the Iraqi people. But there comes a point when we have to ask whether that responsibility is best discharged by staying or going. We have to avoid repeating the mistake of unpopular occupations throughout history, insisting that our obligation is to "see it through".

The occupiers of Iraq have already repeated too many of the errors of the past, from blaming "forces from outside" to setting too much store by "milestones" such as next month's referendum on the constitution. All occupying armies outstay their welcome, but the US-led Coalition in Iraq was never particularly welcome in the first place.

The mindset of this occupation needs to change, therefore, from "as long as it takes" to a step-by-step strategy for withdrawal. The prospect of British troops leaving would be useful primarily as a way of putting pressure on the US administration to make that mental shift. Immediate US withdrawal may not be either desirable or remotely politically possible. But the Americans will bow to reality in the end. The only question is how soon they will face up to the fact that Iraq has gone wrong and is getting worse.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister, at the subordinate end of the transatlantic alliance, must give up his policy of trying not to mention the war. The absence of an exit strategy leaves a dangerous sense of drift. His only hope of retrieving any honour from the flames of Basra is to set out the practical steps that need to be taken to make the withdrawal of British forces possible sooner rather than later.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Data Warehouse & Business Intelligence Co-ordinator

£35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Required skills include SQL querying, SSRS, u...

Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, PHP, HTML, JavaScript, CSS

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, HTML...

Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst- Insurance

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst - Insurance ...

Recruitment Genius: Property Manager

£25000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent, growing Sales...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The demise of a Sixties monster

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
A CCTV camera is seen in front of a large poster opposite in central London  

Home Office is creating more powers to turn everyone into suspects – but leave us no safer

Shami Chakrabarti
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?