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

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Read Next
'Our media are suffering a new experience: not fear of being called anti-Semitic'  

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk
David Cameron (pictured) can't steal back my party's vote that easily, says Nigel Farage  

Cameron’s benefits pledge is designed to lure back Ukip voters. He’ll have to try harder

Nigel Farage
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices