War criminals exposed

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The Chilcot report went further than many expected in condemning Tony Blair's role in the invasion of Iraq. As Judith Orr says, it also reinforced the need to be vigilant against all warmongers.

It took 12 days for the Chilcot report on the Iraq war to be read aloud non-stop at the Edinburgh Festival event last month. The 2.6 million words of the report were not the whitewash some had feared. In fact they were a confirmation of what so many of those who protested against the war at the time said.

There were no lawyers on the Chilcot panel; this inquiry was never going to call for charges against chief British warmonger Tony Blair. But families of soldiers killed in the war are using the evidence brought forward in the report to pursue a legal case against him. Because, although he didn’t take a line on the legality of the war, Chilcot criticised the process Blair drove through to declare that invasion was legal: “We have, however, concluded that the circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for UK military action were far from satisfactory.”

As human rights lawyer Philippe Sands pointed out, “‘Far from satisfactory’ is a career-ending phrase in mandarin-speak, a large boot put in with considerable force.”

Though while bereaved families are forced to crowd fund to bring Blair to court, any legal defence mounted by the multimillionaire will come from the public purse. They have raised over £160,000 to date so the story is not yet over.

Yet Blair has no shame and remains belligerent. On the day the Chilcot Inquiry report was published he declared he would do the same again. Later that day veteran anti-war campaigner and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called a press conference to apologise on behalf of Labour for the war. Such a move is central to why Corbyn has won such an enthusiastic mass following after first standing for and winning the Labour leadership in the summer of 2015.

The seeds of the deep bitterness about mainstream politicians and the establishment were sown in 2003. When Britain joined the US assault on Iraq despite the opposition of the majority of the population it politicised millions. The 2 million strong demonstration organised by the Stop the War Coalition in February 2003 was Britain’s biggest ever. But Chilcot proved that Blair had already promised US president George W Bush that Britain would be with him “whatever”.

The warmongers’ contempt for the electorate, let alone the people of Iraq and region, is staggering.

So when it comes to Corbyn, they just don’t get it. His popularity has left Blair spluttering: “I’m accused of being a war criminal for removing Saddam Hussein — who by the way was a war criminal — and yet Jeremy is seen as a progressive icon as we stand by and watch the people of Syria barrel-bombed, beaten and starved into submission and do nothing.”

As if Blair and the pro-war politicians in Westminster care about the people of Syria. Millions have suffered under the bombs of dictator Assad, his ally Russia, the West and its local allies, and now many also suffer at the hands of Isis. If the politicians cared they would let every refugee fleeing the conflict find safe refuge in Europe. Instead over 2,500 have drowned in the Aegean and Mediterranean seas. On our own doorstep in Calais several thousand refugees, including unaccompanied children, live in increasingly desperate conditions and are denied entry into Britain.

There is growing horror over the suffering of the Syrian people. This is encapsulated by the now iconic image of five year old Omran Daqneeshpe in the back of an ambulance dazed and bloodied after his Aleppo home was bombed. But stepping up Western military intervention in Syria is not the answer; it is part of the problem in the region.

The last vote for Britain to join the bombing of Syria was won in December because Labour warmongers, led by Hilary Benn, once again tried to cloak imperialism with progressive values. Benn junior’s intervention was the most shameless when he likened bombing Syria to British people joining the International Brigades to fight Franco’s fascist dictatorship in Spain in the 1930s. As it happened, Britain’s “heroic” intervention in Syria was minimal militarily. It exposed the cynical truth about the warmongers’ motives. Joining the US bombing was not about saving Syrian people or the world from the terrorism of Isis. Britain signed up so it would ensure its seat at the table in the intended future carve up of Syria and the region.

Chilcot may have exposed the lengths to which our rulers will go to justify their imperialist project but it hasn’t stopped the practice.

The continuing resonance of the mass opposition to the invasion of Iraq means that any new war faces greater scrutiny and opposition. So there is ever more pressure for the warmongers to create a humanitarian gloss to attempt to win popular support. So we have to be vigilant against the hypocrisy of the politicians who will use genuine human sympathy for the victims of counter-revolution and terror to mobilise for their own interests. Whatever the pretext, whoever the protagonist, whether deemed “legal” or not, all imperialist wars must be opposed.