Thursday, February 16, 2006

Beacon of Democracy

“Mr President, what did my son die for?” That was the question put by bereaved mother Cindy Sheehan, during her vigil outside George W. Bush’s ranch. Well, now we know.
Casey Sheehan, and 1,850 American soldiers died so that Islamic fundamentalists, who loathe the West and all it stands for, could turn Iraq (or most of it) into a theocratic state based on an almost Medieval reading of the Qu’ran.
Leaked extracts from the draft constitution say that “it is not permitted to legislate anything which conflicts with the principles and rules of Islam”. In other words, women will not be allowed to divorce, give evidence in court, hold investments or expose their heads in public. Homosexuality can be punished by death. Thieves can have their hands removed. That’s Sharia law.
Well, I suppose that’s their choice. It’s not for us to dictate how other peoples lead their lives or run their legal systems. However, I suspect the folks back home thought they were in the business of creating something a little more noble, more in tune with the values of what we used to call the West. A “beacon of democracy” was what the President promised. The draft constitution does refer to “democracy and human rights”, but it will be the human rights of Iran or Saudi Arabia rather than Britain or the USA.
And even if this constitution is finally ratified in time for tomorrow’s third deadline, it will resolve nothing. Iraq’s three ethnic groups - Kurd, Shia, Sunni - have agreed to disagree on all the key areas: the role of Islam, the share of oil, provincial boundaries and the possession of armed forces. Iraq will be left with a highly unstable asymmetrical federation, destined for disintegration.
Meanwhile killing American soldiers has become a mass spectator sport in Iraq. Instant replays of attacks are available on extremist web sites within hours as. America’s humiliation has become an international media event. Vietnam was never like this. American parents have every right to be very,very angry.
And what of Rose Gentle, Scotland’s Cindy Sheehan, who has been attempting to take the UK government to court for mounting an illegal war in Iraq which killed some 89 British soldiers? What would Tony Blair say to her, and indeed to the relatives of the fifty seven people killed in the London bombings? Was Britain was made a prime target for Islamic terrorism in order to create a republic of fear? Is that what we paid the “blood price” for?
The international terrorist cadres should be immensely grateful to Britain. We’ve done their job for them. By destroying Saddam’s secular dictatorship and then handing power over to the Mullahs we have aided the creation of the second Islamic state in the Middle East. A beacon of hate for terrorists throughout the Islamic world. Job well done!
British casualties have largely ceased in our area of operations around Basra. But this is not because we have won the hearts and minds of the people. As the New York Times journalist Steven Vincent revealed before he was murdered last month, British troops in Basra have been handing over power to Shia religious groups, including followers of Moqtada al Sadr, the militant cleric. It’s a kind of multiculturalism in reverse. We respect their ethnic and religious extremists, and they tell us to get out. Understandable really, since we should never have been there in the first place.
But our departure won’t mean an end to bloodshed. Indeed, the constitution looks more like a recipe for civil war than the foundation of a stable democratic state. The Kurds in the north want nothing of the Shias in the south, and are demanding the return of the oil rich region of Kirkuk. They are prepared to sign a compromise document, but only if they can keep their own army, autonomy and freedom from religious tyranny.
One of the Sunni leaders actually managed to crack a joke about the constitution, which he said had been the work of the “foundering fathers”. Not bad from religious hard liners not renowned for their stand up skills. But what they are threatening isn’t so funny. The Sunni areas in the heart of Iraq have been the epicentre of the insurgency and large areas are already under the control of Abu Musa bal Zarqawi’s mujahideen. The Sunni Muslims hate the Shia Muslims almost as much as they loathe Christians, and are promising civil war.
Perhaps this was inevitable. Perhaps Saddam Hussein’s brutal dictatorship was all that was holding Iraq together. But it makes a mockery of the coalition war aims. Why did we blunder our way into this country, killing at least 25,000 civilians and destroying most of the economy, only to end up with a Frankenstein stitched together out of ethnic body parts which cannot and will not cohere?
This is not just another Suez. That inglorious episode was a short-term humiliation for a post-colonial power. The invasion of Iraq has inflamed the entire Islam world, from Leeds to Kabul. America has lost the support and respect of the world, Islamic and non-Islamic, and is desperately looking for a way out. The Middle East has been destabilised, and thousands of suicide bombers recruited to the cause of jihad.
We know who is responsible for this. Yet there seems nothing that can be done to hold our leaders to account. The sense of rage among the British voters is almost palpable. At this week’s Edinburgh Book Festival session with Clare Short, the audience were queuing up to condemn Tony Blair and express their rage about Iraq. These are middle-aged, middle-class book-loving Scots, not young Muslims. Yet they were literally fighting over the microphone.
Later, a former member of British intelligence, who had taken part in a debate I chaired on Iraq in 2003, took me aside in a corner of Charlotte Square. “I just wanted to tell you that I was wrong, wrong, wrong”, he said. “It was all lies. The war should never have happened. I am appalled at the way the intelligence was manipulated. It is a disgrace that John Scarlett (head of joint intelligence committee) should have been rewarded by becoming head of Mi6”.
Clare Short, who resigned over Iraq, argued that we need to remove the Prime Minister’s power to wage war, derived from Royal Prerogative. That is long overdue. However, it was parliament which endorsed the action, in two Commons votes - in one of which, Ms Short voted with the government, even as Robin Cook resigned on principle.
My question is this. Why did the rest of the cabinet not do something? Where were Brown, Clarke, Hewitt, Prescott, all those left wingers who campaigned against Vietnam in the 60s and criticised British conduct in Northern Ireland. why have they not done something about this disaster in Iraq? Why, even after a general election in which Blair was so unpopular he had to be joined at the hip with Gordon Brown, are they meekly settling down to another four years under this leader?
Iraq has been an affront to democracy. Too many people have died. This must not stand.

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