Guest Column by Karwan Jamal Tahir, Kurdistan Regional Government Representative to the UK
There is much for the UK to think about and examine now that the Chilcot Inquiry has released its findings. However, amidst the media frenzy that followed the publication of the Chilcot report it was forgotten last week that there was an Iraq before the 2003 invasion, an Iraq that, for millions, was a concentration camp on the surface and a mass grave beneath.
I commend the British people for commissioning a major investigation into the invasion and the aftermath. This is a testament to the great democracy this country has. However, as a Kurd who personally lived through the horrors of Saddam Hussein’s regime, I am glad that Saddam and the Baath regime are no more. My father, a Peshmerga freedom fighter who was killed by the regime, dedicated his life to the freedom and self-determination of Kurdistan and democracy for Iraqis as a whole. This story is a familiar one for millions of Kurds, and indeed Shias, whose families, relatives and friends were lost to the brutality of Saddam Hussein and his genocides.
This history is often forgotten in the UK and the West. As a former student in Manchester, I know very well that many British people disagreed with the decision to invade Iraq. But as the Kurds’ representative here in London, I extend my heartfelt gratitude to the 179 British soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for us and for the Iraqi people. I also thank their relatives and loved ones and assure them that, as far as the Kurds are concerned, a population that faced extermination under Saddam, their sacrifices were not in vain.
Mr Blair righted all the wrongs of the past: it was the British that denied us an independent state and, along with the rest of the West, supported Saddam during his war with Iran. He completed former Prime Minister John Major’s intervention in 1991, when a no-fly zone was established and saved us from Saddam’s wrath. Removing Saddam in 2003 was the completion of a job half-done in 1991. Britain should be reminded that it is for these reasons the Kurds, who lost more than 200,000 to Saddam and suffered genocide at his hands, including the use of chemical weapons, welcomed Britain and the US with open arms in 2003.
Unlike the rest of Iraq, after 2003 we had more than a decades’ worth of experience in state building and developing institutions. As a result, our region was the most stable part of Iraq after 2003 and, unlike like the rest of Iraq, we did not suffer terrorist atrocities, war and large-scale destruction. This does not mean Saddam was not a threat to us before 2003. We were still beholden to the psychotic whims of Saddam and his sons. Ask Iraq’s Shias, who despite their own no-fly zone in the south, were routinely rounded up by the regime, suffered massacres and indiscriminately attacked; their religious institutions and places of worship were violently suppressed. Long after 1991.
Make no mistake. Saddam is gone. But the threat of terrorism remains. The Baath regime has rebranded itself in the form of so-called Islamic State (Isis). Its most senior members are former Baathists who developed the capacity to butcher and maim decades before we knew Isis as it is today.
Just as we have done for decades, we will continue to combat this terrorist threat, for our freedom but also the West’s. Just as we have done for centuries, we will continue to combat the forces of totalitarianism and facism. Isis represents a terrorist scourge that threatens not just Iraq today but the region, the West and the broader international community. Isis recognises no boundaries, as it has made clear with its recent attacks on the West.
We must learn the lessons of Chilcot but we must not forget that a war is still being fought, that there is an imminent threat to us all. British soldiers need not sacrifice their lives anymore, for our Peshmerga are already fighting, bleeding and dying in this war. We seek financial support, arms, medical supplies and training and intelligence support. We Kurds are grateful for the freedom the 2003 invasion provided us with. We have embraced this freedom and will continue to fight for it.