Let's not make Iraq even worse

There is little that outsiders can do. But what little can be done should be done more intelligently than in the past

Share

It hardly matters who was right and who was wrong about the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The main significance of that decision now is that we British have a greater responsibility to the people of Iraq than we otherwise would. Our government helped to add to their misery over the past 11 years, and it helped to open the door to the disaster that is now unfolding.

As Joan Smith writes today, the debate in Britain about Iraq, Syria and the wider region has been "frustratingly parochial", consisting largely of variations on the theme of "Tony Blair was wrong". So he was, but the question is what should be done now.

The temptation is to say, "Haven't we done enough harm?" and to withdraw from the world. However, The Independent on Sunday was never opposed to all wars; we are opposed to dumb wars, as Barack Obama once said. We support the ideal of liberal interventionism, of the responsibility to protect people from crimes against humanity, even by military force if necessary.

The question facing the international community now is whether there is anything realistic that can be done to protect Iraqis. Their country is heading towards the all-out civil war between Sunni and Shia that seemed to have been avoided in 2008, when a remission of violence allowed the British combat forces to withdraw in 2009 and the Americans to depart in 2011.

The conflict in Iraq has made a fool both of those who got the United States and its allies into it and those who got them out. George Bush, with his boast of "mission accomplished" in May 2003, and President Obama, with his wishful "We're leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq" in December 2011. Mr Blair should have stayed out, but, once we were in, Gordon Brown should not have cut and run.

Not even Mr Blair is arguing for regular Western forces to return to Iraq, although John McTernan, his former political secretary, has made that case. Mr Blair, in his long essay published last night, argues for something both more "graduated" and more ambitious. He wants the world's rich democracies to support those forces in the Muslim world who would stand up to religious extremism. He is not wrong, but it seems rather vague and, to the extent that he might be saying something useful, it is less so coming from him.

He is, as it happens, right to note that Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, bears the most immediate responsibility for the corruption and sectarianism of the state, and for the collapse of the Iraqi army, which ran away from Mosul. But Mr Maliki owes his position to a deal to which Mr Blair was a party as much as to his flawed democratic mandate.

There is, in short, little that outsiders can do. But what little that can be done should be done more intelligently than in the past. If the international community gives "support" to the Iraqi government, it should not take the form of hard currency: the heist in Mosul has already made the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) the richest terrorist group in the world. Supplying arms is no more useful, as the Humvees driven round Mosul by Isis fighters attest. There could be a role for US and British military advisers and trainers, but they were asked to leave as a political gesture by Mr Maliki. As for drones or air strikes, it is hard to imagine that they could do anything but make matters worse.

The best that can be hoped for in the short run is that Mr Maliki realises the mistakes he has made and learns from them, and that he can turn the tide against Isis. But that will not resolve the situation in Syria, or the separate crises in Libya and Egypt, where all options for Western policy seem bad.

Perhaps the limit of the ambition of the new interventionism should be to avoid making matters worse.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an I...

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A pack of seagulls squabble over discarded food left on the beach at St Ives on July 28, 2015  

Number of urban seagulls in Britain nearly quadruples: Hide food and avoid chicks to stay in gulls’ good books

Tom Bawden
 

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen