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Hilary Aked

Corbyn, Chilcot and Blair

The spectre of Blair and the Iraq war still haunts Labour's fault lines [Getty]

Date of publication: 5 July, 2016

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Comment: On the eve of the Chilcot report, Hilary Aked argues that Labour must put their squabbling aside, and remember the shameful belligerence of Bush and Blair's invasion

The world paid just a modicum of attention to the 200 people killed in Baghdad on Sunday, by far the biggest attack carried out to date by IS. It was as if Iraqi lives are cheap and Iraqi deaths the norm.

In the UK, the media remained largely pre-occupied with the chaos that still reigns following the so-called Brexit referendum vote to leave the European Union. It triggered Prime Minister David Cameron to resign, sparking a Tory leadership contest and saw the start of what's been called an attempted "coup", an ongoing effort by Labour MPs to pressure leftist leader Jeremy Corbyn to step down.

But the latter brings us back to Iraq. Though they don't like being called "Blairites" those on the right of the Labour party calling for Corbyn to resign, feature amongst their ranks, very few who opposed (as Corbyn did) the UK's involvement in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Indeed, Angela Eagle, considered by many as the best candidate to oppose Corbyn, voted both for the Iraq invasion and for bombing of Syria. Owen Smith MP was not in parliament at the time of the decision on Iraq but opposed the recent Syria bombing and for this reason some see his prospects of beating Corbyn in a leadership election as marginally better than Eagle's.

It would be absurd to claim that the current turmoil in Labour is all about the Chilcot report, due to be launched on Wednesday by Sir John Chilcot, after a seven-year inquiry into the country's involvement in Iraq. But the spectre of Blair and the Iraq war still haunts the fault lines within New Labour.

The consequences of the Chilcot report are potentially more momentous for the UK than for Iraq

And come Wednesday, we could witness something remarkable. Assuming Corbyn continues to resist the putsch attempt being mounted from within his own party, his comments about Blair upon the release of the long-awaited and very overdue Chilcot report are likely to be unequivocal. Corbyn had long made clear his belief that the war was illegal and that Blair could be charged with committing a war crime.

The consequences of the Chilcot report are potentially more momentous for the UK than for Iraq. All the details of the 2.6 million word report cannot bring back the dead. But for the British public, most of whom already feel that Blair lied, it will likely offer evidence relevant to the widespread perception that intelligence and public opinion were manipulated. (Blair still has his cheerleaders in the UK media, however, who tend to omit the Iraqi body count when they talk about him or the war, though even they admit it was wrong.)

One of the critical issues is whether Blair had already agreed in 2002 to join George W Bush's American invasion. Another is whether Blair committed to regime change or merely to disarmament. No weapons of mass destruction were ever found of course, so the latter is something of a moot point. But the Chilcot report may offer new insights - and possibly new documents - shedding light on these matters.

In many ways the report is about the state of the UK's democracy. Blair ignored public opinion and cautious assessments from the Foreign Office and elsewhere of weak intelligence sources that were presented as near-certainties.

Some say the neoconservative worldview which favours military solutions is deeply entrenched in Britain but the road to war also revolved around intense political pressure being applied to top lawyers like Lord Goldsmith to offer certain interpretations of the need - or lack thereof - for extra UN Security Council resolutions.

In many ways the report is about the state of the UK's democracy

The UK recently commemorated the centenary of the battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest in World War One which saw 60,000 British casualties in a single day, 1 July 1916. Little mention was made, in these ceremonies, of the "enemy" troops who also lost their lives in huge numbers, let alone the complete senselessness of this imperial war. It seems we did not learn the lessons of the Somme.

Although the invasion of Iraq was carried out on utterly different terms and modern, technologised warfare means fewer army casualties, many British soldiers were still killed. And their families want Blair to explain why.

Moreover, countless Iraqis were killed. The figures are damning: Some estimates say 600,000 people died in just four years. The US-led invasion caused untold damage to country. The UK enthusiastically played along in an operation consisting of occupation not liberation. It has been said many times before, but bears repeating: The roots of the current regional turmoil stem from the complete failure of this "liberation" mission.

So what are the chances of real accountability?

Although the International Criminal Court has said it will not investigate Blair's decision to go to war, as Geoffrey Bindman points out, technically speaking a UK court could hear such a case. However, practically speaking, given that such a move would require the consent of the Attorney-General, it comes down to the political will of the British establishment to hold itself accountable.

For the time being Corbyn's words may be the most concrete justice Iraq can hope to get from the British establishment

Although a group of MPs have made noises about a plan to impeach Blair under an 1806 law, it is likely to be found wanting.

Though history's verdict on Blair will be damning, for the time being Corbyn's words may be the most concrete justice Iraq can hope to get from the British establishment. He has made a "peace offering" to his mutinying MPs but the chances of any type of peace in Iraq look bleak.

The UK must put aside the relatively insignificant Labour squabbling tomorrow: The release of the Chilcot report must above all be about remembering the arrogance of Bush and Blair's invasion, the shameful belligerence which cost hundreds of thousands of lives, and the suffering of the many who are still living and dying in the chaos they left behind.

Hilary Aked is an analyst and researcher whose PhD studies focus on the influence of the Israel lobby in the United Kingdom. Follow her on Twitter: @Hilary_Aked

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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