Saturday, 30 January 2010

Iraq policy, past, present, and future

No, I haven’t watched Tony Blair’s testimony to the UK’s Iraq Inquiry yesterday, though I did hear snippets on the radio. I’ve been working my way through all the oral evidence videos from the start, as time allows, and am just coming to the end of December, so I expect I’ll get round to hearing Blair’s account in early March.

Others have remarked on the obsessively narrow focus of most UK news organisations in covering the inquiry, concerned almost exclusively with political and legal issues leading up to the invasion, and particularly on the desire to find evidence of some kind of illegality, or even criminality, in the actions of Tony Blair. In the process an enormous amount of very interesting and important testimony on wider issues through a longer timeframe of several years’ UK military and political engagement in Iraq is distorted and even ignored.

This is important, because these wider issues being covered by the Chilcot Inquiry are relevant right now with regard to Afghanistan, and are also immediately relevant in ensuring preparedness for future events.

They are also relevant for the UK’s future relationship with Iraq.

Looking then to much more recent events in Iraq, and on to Iraq’s future, may I recommend some additional viewing, Withdrawal and Beyond in Iraq: A Discussion with General Caslen, an event at the United States Institute of Peace from December 9th. About the talk:
Major General Robert Caslen recently returned from Iraq, where he served as commanding general of Multinational Division – North. This area of operations includes Ninewa, Kirkuk and other volatile areas along the Arab-Kurd fault line.

He discussed the security implications of the impending U.S. withdrawal, prospects for peaceful resolution of the Arab-Kurd conflict, and what the strategic relationship between the U.S. and Iraq looks like post-2011.
Notable in what he said was how, despite his strong reservations on the risks of withdrawing troops from cities last year, particularly in Mosul, he became convinced of the huge strategic benefit of implementing the SOFA on time. Also prominent in his comments is his view on the necessity for the US to build up civilian State Department involvement in Iraqi regional development now, prior to the completion of the military pullout, in order to ensure a strong future relationship between Iraq and the US.

In all of the above viewing, something is missing of course. On BBC Radio 4’s World at One yesterday, a reporter commented on how little notice the Chilcot Inquiry had received in Iraq. Might he not have realised that this was not so remarkable, given how little notice the Inquiry has taken to date of Iraqi views? It’s primarily an inquiry into British political and military effectiveness, rather than an inquiry into Iraq and its people. Missing are the voices of the Iraqis at the centre of these events.

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