Chilcot: the need to hear the voices of Kurds

The release of the report by Sir John Chilcot will trigger an avalanche of comment about the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the occupation. I hope that the views of Kurds are not swept aside.

Most people in Kurdistan and Iraq were very happy that Saddam Hussein was overthrown and captured, although Iraqi President Jalal Talabani rightly refused to sign his death warrant. Saddam should have served life in prison.

Iraqis and Kurds murdered by his regime rarely had that option, and most people suffered under Saddam’s “Republic of Fear.” And for decades Kurds were the most mistreated by the Baathist Party, which proudly looked to German and Italian fascism for inspiration and whose leader also admired Stalin.

Chilcot focuses on the period from the summer of 2001 to the end of 2009. It has to start and finish somewhere but I hope people understand prior and later events. The defeat of Saddam in Kuwait in 1991 was the beginning of the end for Saddam who had deluded himself that invading Kuwait would be acceptable.

Kuwaitis suffered horrendously but an international force evicted him. The Kurds rose up and evicted him too although the years before what most Kurds call the liberation in 2003 were difficult. They were protected every day by British, French and American jets policing the no-fly zone.

In that interregnum Saddam constantly refused to comply with many resolutions of the UN, whose sanctions regime hurt ordinary Iraqis and all Kurds – doubly for the Kurds as Saddam added his own sanctions to those of the UN.

We know he had had WMD, because they were used against the Kurds and Iranian troops, and he acted as if he still had them. That WMD were not found does not excuse his refusal to respect the terms of the ceasefire after the defeat of his aggression in Kuwait. This defiance was viewed differently following the ghastly 911 attacks on America in 2001, not because Saddam was involved although he welcomed the attacks, but because of the danger that an aggressive rogue state could ally itself with jihadists and encourage other attacks.

A common myth about Saddam’s regime is that it remained secular until the end. But he used religion to mobilise support after 1991. From 2003, Baathist military and political leaders joined jihadists in Al Qaeda and now Daesh – the former US political adviser in Iraq, Emma Sky calls this the gathering of the moustaches and the beards. In any case, there was nothing to stop Saddam concluding alliances of convenience with Sunni jihadists. The Nazi-Soviet pact between Hitler and Stalin comes to mind.

The 2003 invasion quickly defeated Saddam’s forces but things clearly went wrong. A common criticism is the occupiers aggravated Sunni Baathists through excessive Debaathification and the disbandment of the army. Some were bound to resist, of course, but the scale could have been avoided.

Baathist rule also incubated sectarian passions which exploded to the surface. Some suggest that overthrowing Saddam was bound to expose these fault lines and should not have been undertaken. As one who rejoiced in the end of this fascistic regime, let me suggest another view. If Saddam – or his psychopathic sons – had survived, as he had over Kuwait, he could have consolidated his power as sanctions further crumbled and his revenues increased.

If Western troops had withdrawn in 2003, supposedly for a short time, would Saddam have felt he was off the hook? In that case, he would probably have tried to continue his efforts to exterminate the Kurds. Any later Western action would have been harder.

We will never know what might have been but Kurds believe Tony Blair and George Bush acted in good faith. The British public wants to learn lessons, but the Kurds’ views about the past and crucially about the future should also be part of the debate that Chilcot will unleash.

Furthermore, whatever Chilcot concludes about the past process of British decision-making and the specific faults of the post-invasion occupation should not mean embracing isolationism and spurning liberal intervention. Some have succeeded and some non-interventions have been disastrous. We can, however, say with certainty that genocide and suffering will sooner or later require the positive role of Britain and others to be deployed to protect people and uphold our interests.

Gary Kent has visited Iraq and Kurdistan over 20 times in the last ten years, is Director of the APPG on the Kurdistan Region and writes in a personal capacity. @garykent

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