Baghdad Burns While London Spins

New Statesman (1996), August 25, 2003 | Go to article overview

Baghdad Burns While London Spins


The real action is in Baghdad, not at the Hutton inquiry in London. It is there that the case made for the war in Iraq crumbles by the day. The US and British invasion, far from removing a source of danger to the world in general and the Middle East in particular, has created a new zone of instability, as graphically illustrated by the bombing of the UN building in Baghdad. Terrorism, far from being weakened, has been strengthened. Before the invasion, Iraq was just a murderously nasty state; now it is a failed state, which struggles to provide electricity, drinking water, sanitation, crime protection and, above all, security. The US has created in Iraq precisely the conditions that it once tried to prevent by supporting dictators like Saddam. The analogy, as Tim Lambon suggests (page 14), is not so much with Vietnam as with the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. According to intelligence reports, Saudi militants are streaming into Iraq just as they did into Afghanistan two decades ago. All this is more or less exactly what critics of the war predicted. And if Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction immediately before the war, as the invaders insisted he did, we must wonder what is supposed to have happened to them now. If they exist, the chances of them falling into the hands of terrorists who are likely to use them are now infinitely greater. Contrary to the belief widespread in America, al-Qaeda had no significant presence in Iraq before the invasion. It does now.

Yet at the Hutton inquiry, Downing Street officials have the demeanour of men who have done nothing wrong (see Nick Cohen, page 6). How can this be so? The answer--and this is Alastair Campbell's finest hour, perhaps his last and greatest service to his master--is that they have managed to focus the minds of the British political and media classes on to a single, extraordinarily narrow issue. This is the allegation, broadcast by Andrew Gilligan in an interview with John Humphrys on the Today programme at 06.07 on 29 May (and presumably heard by a few early-rising cows and insomniac cockerels), that when the government published the statement that Saddam could launch deadly weapons within 45 minutes, it "probably" (Mr Gilligan's word) knew it to be wrong. In later interviews that day, Mr Gilligan said merely that the government "knew that claim was questionable". Likewise, in later interviews, he gave his source as "a British official who was involved in the preparation of the dossier", instead of somebody who was described at 06. …

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