Menzies Campbell: The Iraq War ... Nasty, Brutish and Refusing To Go Away

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[Sir Menzies Campbell is former leader of the Liberal Democrats.]

It simply will not go away. Every time it seems that Iraq, Britain's worst foreign policy judgement since Suez in 1956 might at last slip down the political agenda, it bounces back. If it is not David Miliband's public spat with Harriet Harman at the Labour Party conference, it is the chilling but not surprising news that Iran is brokering the deal to resolve the political impasse in Iraq and install a government months after the inconclusive general election. But this weekend, courtesy of The Guardian and WikiLeaks, we can read over the breakfast table the sorry, harrowing accounts of the aftermath of invasion and the reckless, callous disregard for human life now at last acknowledged to have resulted in 109,000 violent deaths over the five years from 2004 to 2009.

War can be nasty, brutish and long. Let no one claim the moral high ground here. Terrible things are done in the heat of battle, sometimes by design and sometimes by circumstance. The hapless conscripts put in the trenches in the front line by Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf war paid a terrible price when the allied offensive began in the spring of 1990.

Even in fiction there is acknowledgement of dreadful acts of revenge. In the war epic Band of Brothers one of the brothers, off camera, shoots surrendered German prisoners. But these newly released documents, now exposed to scrutiny, tell of disrespect for human life which, for the armchair reader or the studio pundit, is way outside of experience. Although they do make it easier perhaps to understand why so many former soldiers have suffered post-traumatic stress disorder.

So much has been written about why Britain joined military action against Iraq. So many justifications have been offered up by those most intimately concerned in that decision that it is difficult to be clear in one's own mind about the reasons advanced at the time. But the catch-all and last-resort argument has come to be something like, "At least we got rid of Saddam Hussein, turned Iraq into a democracy and made it a better place."

If you believe that argument, read these documents and ask yourself this question...

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