Iraq: The Interim Balance Part I

By Ramsay, Allan | Contemporary Review, June 2004 | Go to article overview
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Iraq: The Interim Balance Part I


Ramsay, Allan, Contemporary Review


IRAQ is still a volatile and dangerous place. Its principal cities and provincial towns are awash with armed militias and foreign insurgents. Violent crime is endemic. What was, to all intents and purposes, a secular state is on the way to becoming an Islamic one. Power, water and other essential services are intermittent at best. Hospitals, clinics and schools are short of resources. Unemployment is high. The Occupation is resented and the Interim Iraqi Governing Council distrusted. On the other hand people are free to speak their minds and to demonstrate. There is no press censorship and newspapers proliferate. Food is plentiful for those who can afford it. The Interim Constitution has been signed and a nominated Iraqi government is expected to take over from the US-led administration on schedule on 30 June. On that date Coalition Forces will cease to be Occupying Forces. Their presence in Iraq will be legitimised under UN Security Council Resolution 1514. Despite the fact that, in the week immediately before and immediately after the first anniversary of the war, a total of eleven US soldiers and twenty Iraqi civilians were killed, an opinion poll carried out by the Oxford Research Institute (ORI) on behalf of four leading broadcasting companies, including the BBC, 70 per cent of the 2000 Iraqi questioned said they were optimistic about the future.

If anything can safely be said about the Iraq war it is that it still divides opinion. It continues to be a focus for public concern and debate to a degree which must surely be unwelcome to those who claim that, whatever the pretexts for invasion without an UN mandate, they were incontestably right on the grounds of morality, national self-interest and international security. Only the moral justification remains defensible today and even that is not unchallenged. The question as to whether the world is a safer place and Iraq a better one for the removal of Saddam Hussein remains unanswerable: the proponents of the war say one thing, their opponents another. The war has undoubtedly changed perceptions, not least about the means through which Western governments are able to enforce respect for the universality of human rights and democratic principles. In its wake the war leaves a number of casualties, in addition to the thousands killed and wounded and the suicide of poor Dr Kelly.

The debit balance includes the following:

(a) Truth is the first casualty, in this war as in every other. The ashes will be raked over for years to come. It was fought on the basis of a new principle of diplomacy and international law, that of the right of 'preventive attack'. This is not the same as pre-emptive attack which is already part of the vocabulary. It remains a novel concept which is far from acquiring universal endorsement. As put into effect in Iraq it does not seem to need any evidence to support it, but can be launched on the assertion of a single country or group of countries acting alone, without international approval. It reverses the established doctrine that the international system exists to protect the weak from the strong.

(b) Many--if not most--people believe that the US and UK used intelligence selectively, without proper caveat or qualification, to justify the war. Both governments have rejected claims of deliberate manipulation. But the process of gathering, evaluating, preparing and disseminating intelligence, an area in which US/UK cooperation is close, is under investigation in both countries. In the UK case neither the Hutton inquiry nor, it seems likely, given the narrow interpretation placed on its already restricted terms of reference by its chairman, the Butler inquiry, is likely to allay suspicions. The main pretext for the invasion has so far proved baseless. Saddam Hussein did not present an immediate threat to their security. He did not possess viable WMD. Nor did he have links with Al Qa'ida. His continued non-compliance with mandatory UN sanctions was serious but not unique and did not, in itself, justify unilateral action.

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