Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: If only the warmongers had been right

The Independent

Published: 20 March 2006

We told you so. There, I've said it, having resisted the urge for many months. Soon after the statue of Saddam was toppled the outburst of vulgar, bawdy triumphalism from the pro-war brigade was a cautionary moment. In the tragic tale of Iraq, the end cannot yet be imagined or predicted, but each phase calls up dirges and pessimism. The "liberated" country is driving at speed towards anarchy and chaos and ever more blood swills in streets and gutters.

We, the anti-war millions, were absolutely right to oppose the neo-con mission to destroy Iraq and the British Government's maidenly acquiescence to the macho superpower. Winning the argument brings no exultation. For this is one political battle it would have been better for us to lose. If only the hawks had been right, if only the fall of that statue had symbolised a new dawn.

Some of the warmongers have seen the dark now and weakly concede they were misguided to bang the drum so loud they couldn't see or hear anything else. Others carry on dementedly biting their opponents and kissing the hems of Blair and his oleaginous courtiers. Last week, Blair said mulishly he would do it all again, because it was the "right thing to do". This week, a Parliamentary Committee examines the justifications given for the war and the Prime Minister's role. He will not like its findings.

Blair's defence minion, John Reid, meanwhile declares that the insurgency in Iraq is all caused by terrorists and accuses anti-war protesters of being their supporters. It is an old, rotten slur. Reid also claims (publicly at least) that civil war is neither imminent nor inevitable, and that Iraqi democracy is flowering give or take a few local difficulties. He forgets to mention legitimate freedom fighters using guerrilla warfare against the occupiers. It is all lies, lies, and artifice. Scores of American and British soldiers returning from this wretched imperial venture - the cost now nearing £6bn - are suffering from acute traumas and guilt and suicides among them are rising.

Iraq's former interim leader Iyad Allawi said yesterday: "We are losing each day 50 to 60 people - if not more. If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is." He warned of spreading sectarianism. We must heed his forebodings. The Kurds are happy with the war and the occupation. Who can blame them? Their horrendous victimisation under Saddam has made them into survivors and pragmatists. In the end the freed Kurds too may live to regret what has been unleashed.

Even if the new government can manage the process of genuine co-operation and reconstruction, some human rights and principles which even survived the long years under the dictator will never be resurrected. With the help of their friends, the mullahs and ayatollahs, the allies have deliberately fostered an intense and particularised religious identity among the factions in Iraq. The secular state of Iraq gave women equal rights, did not force them into black shrouds and off public spaces. Ayatollah Khomeini imposed these rules next door in Iran and a number of my Iranian friends fled and moved to Iraq. Now they face the same oppression in Iraq.

In old Iraq, Christian and Jewish minorities were included in public life. Now they are oppressed and exiled. The place has become a trade fair for Islamicist Stalinists, never present before. Children are killed for accepting sweets from soldiers. Too many allied soldiers treat Iraqis with colonial contempt, sometimes extreme cruelty.

Even though we knew all this, Blair and Bush were still returned to power. We could have toppled this PM or at least diminished him so much that even he might have been chastened. Instead class deference ensured his hubristic reign. Oh it was revolting to watch his election agent licking Blair's ego in Sedgefield last week where the PM fled his troubles to be among loyalists.

And now Condi Rice is going to Blackburn with Jack Straw, to eat specially cooked curries, meet his many enthusiastic Muslim constituents. They hated the war but stood by Straw who had already rewarded his key henchman, Adam Patel, with a peerage. The good Lord Patel (whose grasp of English and law-making is minimal) netted in the votes, delivered Straw back into the Commons and the rest is appalling history. Three years on, it may be time to blame the electorate for the continuing mess in Iraq. Leaders do what they do in our name because we let them. Demonstrations can be ignored; ballot boxes cannot. It is a lesson we must learn.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk