Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s views of Tony Blair and the Iraq war are not new. Very little is in the debate between those who supported intervention in Iraq and those who opposed it.
There was also very little in the Archbishop’s case that justified it making headlines. But I suspect we will see more in this vein as we approach the vexed tenth anniversary in the Spring of 2013 of the intervention in Iraq.
The tenth anniversary also coincides with the 25th anniversary of the use of weapons of mass destruction at Halabja which was the most notorious part of a long-running genocide against the Kurds.
I backed the intervention and have visited Baghdad twice and Iraqi Kurdistan nine times since 2006. Many Iraqis supported the intervention, although they were appalled at the mistakes made in the aftermath of the successful ousting of Saddam Hussein. Others preferred other means of ridding themselves of fascism.
They all want to go beyond this debate and rebuild their country, which needs international support. Despite much reduced but still terrible massacres by Al Qaeda in the Arab part of Iraq, Iraqis have freedoms far beyond anything they had under Saddam.
There is a long way to go, especially in the Arab part of Iraq which has had less time to overcome its past than has the Kurdistan Region, which successfully rose up against Saddam in 1991. With this extra time, they Kurds have managed to modernise their infrastructure with, for example, nearly continuous electricity compared to just a few hours in Baghdad.
Other areas are deeply disturbing. Take civil society, for instance. I am privileged to be an honorary member of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (though I miss branch meetings). The unions were all but liquidated under Saddam. They still face great restrictions on their rights – Saddam’s ban on public sector unions is still in force. Their offices are raided and there is a long way to go before Iraq complies with international standards. But they are not imprisoned and executed in their thousands.
My hope is that myriad Iraqi voices are part of future discussions. I also hope that these debates will rise above the level set by Archbishop Tutu.
His weakest argument made was that “Leadership and morality are indivisible. Good leaders are the custodians of morality. The question is not whether Saddam Hussein was good or bad or how many of his people he massacred. The point is that Mr Bush and Mr Blair should not have allowed themselves to stoop to his immoral level.”
It surely matters much morally to know what Saddam did and to recognise that the man who modelled himself on both Hitler and Stalin was a monster.
As Oliver Kamm rightly argues in his riposte to the pontiff in the Times: “Saddam was not merely a bad man. He was a tyrant unlike any other. It was well said that under Saddam’s despotism Iraq was a charnel house above ground and a mass grave below.”
Kamm mentions the often overlooked treatment of the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs and adds that “Saddam was not a wronged party in the Iraq war. He was a psychopathic, kleptomaniacal butcher in serial violation of UN Security Council resolutions. Intervention to overthrow him was not a war crime but a judgment born of a changed assessment of the risks to Western security after 9/11.”
Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the Kurdistan Regional Government High Representative to the UK says that “The Kurds of Iraq are especially grateful to Tony Blair, and John Major who established the no-fly zone in 1991 which saved us from extinction. We lost hundreds of thousands to Saddam’s genocidal campaign to exterminate us. We are now free to comment and contribute to debates like this and to respectfully disagree with Archbishop Tutu about ignoring the evils of Saddam.
It is partly because of misconceptions such as Archbishop Tutu’s that an e-petition has been launched calling for the genocide against the Iraqi Kurds to be recognised.”
Bayan then adds: “We were Saddam’s victims, as were other Iraqis who did not applaud his rule, and we all know that he would have continued his campaign of oppression and killing had he been allowed to. Things are much better for us and for the vast majority of Iraqis now, even if mistakes were made by the Coalition after its intervention in Iraq.”
I leave the last word to Bayan: “I know that differences on Iraq are very deep in the UK and elsewhere. I only ask that our views on our country are heard. But by far the most important task is to encourage deeper and broader cultural and commercial connections for mutual benefit and to help us build a democratic and federal Iraq so that the sacrifice of so many in Britain and in Iraq is not wasted.”
Gary Kent writes in a personal capacity
The petition can be signed at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/31014