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

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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’  

Children's TV shows like Grange Hill used to connect us to the real world

Grace Dent
An Indian bookseller waits for customers at a roadside stall on World Book and Copyright Day in Mumbai  

Novel translation lets us know what is really happening in the world

Boyd Tonkin
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine