One year on from the start of the war on Iraq and the line still cannot be drawn.
The withdrawal of the case against Katharine Gun has fuelled the angry fire of opposition, and Clare Short‘s revelations have increased its intensity. Since Short claimed that British spies were bugging Kofi Annan at the UN, New Labour ministers and much of the press have lined up to attack her for being ’irresponsible‘, while UN spokespeople along with Hans Blix and others have exhibited little surprise.
The cabinet secretary, Andrew Turnbull, has threatened to prosecute Short for ’making claims which damage the interests of Britain‘, after she suggested the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, had been ’leaned on‘ to give legal authority to the war. But who has really been acting against our interests? With each new leak, more evidence of the dirty dealings in the run-up to the war is exposed. Just three months before the war began, Foreign Office lawyers reported to the US that they believed the war would be illegal without a second UN resolution. The US responded by advising Blair to ’get some new lawyers‘. So Lord Goldsmith dug out the most hawkish legal adviser he could - Christopher Greenwood of the LSE - to provide the basis for his advice.
The illegality of the war boosts the compensation claims from families of British soldiers killed in action in Iraq. The ’battlefield immunity‘ that normally protects the armed forces against legal action doesn‘t stand when a war has no legal basis. The Ministry of Defence is facing action from the families of 13 Iraqi civilians killed by British soldiers, including a housewife shot while eating dinner, a 13 year old boy killed by a cluster bomb and a 65 year old farmer gunned down while fixing a water pump. Far from the British being consummate professionals at dealing with military occupation, they have killed more Iraqis since the ’end of hostilities‘ than before.
The US operation isn‘t looking much better - a troop rotation taking place this month will see 130,000 troops leave Iraq, and 105,000 soldiers take their place. More than 40 percent of the new crop are reservists or, as their trainer Colonel Rick Phillips has called them, ’bullet magnets‘. These soldiers have little training, no experience of a real combat situation, and have spent the last year watching anti-war feeling grow all around them. The level of morale is once again reminiscent of Vietnam.
The continuous stream of revelations about the operations of the secret state raises questions about how democratic our system really is. When Katharine Gun‘s case was dropped, five US Congress members sent a letter of support stating that ’whistleblowers play an essential role in democracy‘. But what kind of democracy requires individuals to risk everything in order to leak information? This is characteristic of a system totally lacking in any real involvement of ordinary people. It only adds to the need for Respect - The Unity Coalition to challenge this disenfranchisement.
Many Respect conventions will take place this month to select candidates for the elections in June. Those that have taken place already have begun to bring together activists into a coherent force to challenge New Labour. But we cannot build Respect in isolation - its relationship to the anti-war movement is key. The success of the international day of protest on 20 March will be a crucial factor in ensuring that Respect lives up to its potential - to be a force on the left which truly gives political expression and form to the biggest, and one of the most important movements this country has ever seen.