The decision by the Labour government to support America and invade Iraq was always going to be a controversial one. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 resulted in a swift military victory. However, the peace process after the military defeat of Saddam Hussein's forces has been marred by numerous problems within Iraq despite a large peacekeeping force. Deaths are a daily occurrence and a daily risk for Iraqis, primarily those living in Baghdad. Sectarian violence has been a major and seemingly insolvable problem and many now in the UK doubt the wisdom of the UK's continued role in Iraq. Some have linked the problems within Iraq and the Middle East with the growth of Islamic extremism within the UK, especially amongst young males.
The decision by the Labour government to invade Iraq was based around the issue of Iraq's failure to let UN inspectors seek out 'weapons of mass destruction' (WMDD). The ability of Iraq to launch missiles within 45 minutes was enough to persuade the House of Commons to support the government in its use of military force against Iraq.
“What I believe the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt is that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons.”
Tony Blair - September 2002.
“Weapons of mass destruction have been a central pillar of Saddam's dictatorship since the 1980's. Iraq was found guilty twelve years ago. Yet they lied and lied again.”
Geoff Hoon - former Defence Secretary - January 2003.
Since 'Shock and Awe', Prime Minister Tony Blair has had to concede that there were no WMDD - or, at the least, none were ever found in the post-Saddam Iraq. President Bush had to do likewise.
“I have to accept that we have not found them and we may not find them. He (Saddam) may have removed or hidden or even destroyed those weapons.”
Tony Blair - July 2004.
“Following the conclusions of the comprehensive report… the Iraq Survey Group is no longer conducting an active programme of field investigations into weapons of mass destruction.”
Geoff Hoon - former Defence Secretary - January 2003.
Some in the Commons were vocal in the belief that they had been misled and support for the government's actions has dwindled -though support for the troops in Iraq has been strong. There are some in the public arena who believe that Blair acted illegally and there has been talk of a private prosecution against the Prime Minister - though this is highly unlikely to occur.
However, with mounting British casualties (125 service personnel killed mid-November 2006) and with a growing group of people who feel that with the war over Britain has no part to play in Iraq, the government is getting more and more embroiled in a war of words. That even surfaced when the Prime Minister was asked for his view on the pronouncement of the death sentence for Saddam Hussein. Blair stated the Britain was against the death penalty but that Iraq had the right to decide for itself. When this was pursued along the lines of 'if Iraq has the right to decide for itself, why not pull out British troops and let them govern themselves?' the Prime Minister replied that now (November 06) was not the time for British troops to cut and run.
It is becoming increasingly clear that as 2006 comes to an end, support for the Prime Minister within his own party is weakening. There are a variety of reasons for this but Iraq is a primary one. In the US midterm elections, the defeat of the Republican Party in Congress was primarily explained away by the US involvement in Iraq. What impact Britain's involvement would have on a general election is impossible to speculate as the next one may be as far off as 2010. There have also been few by-elections to analyse where a protest vote may have taken place.
With a complex involvement in Afghanistan and an increasingly difficult role in Iraq - primarily in Basra - the military situation looks difficult. While those Iraqis who are anti-British cannot hope to defeat the British forces around Basra, they can make constant attacks on them. Suicide bombers are extremely difficult to mount a defence against (though these have been a primary issue in Baghdad as opposed to Basra) but the inability to detect one until it is too late has to have a negative impact on morale. Colonel Tim Collins made his famous speech to his men before the battle against the Iraqis commenced in 2003:
“We go to liberate, not to conquer. We will not fly our flags in their country. We are entering Iraq to free a people… .show respect for them.”
In October 2006, Collins said:
“Three years into the occupation, with no real improvement, it is time to admit failure… .British failure in Iraq made be seen by history as “ill-conceived and without enough effort”.
Since the fall of Saddam, Iraq has a democratically elected government. However, large areas of the country are ridden with religious/factional rivalry; violent death is a daily occurrence; lack of the most basic of necessities occurs (fresh water, electricity etc) on a daily basis; a joke doing the rounds in Baghdad amongst the locals is that to end all the problems experienced in the country, Iraq needs a strong and forceful leader - why not bring back Saddam?
Tony Blair will no longer be Prime Minister when the next general election is held. Therefore, Britain's involvement in Iraq will impact the future leader of the Labour Party. At present, the opinion polls held in the UK indicate that the recent history of Britain's involvement in Iraq will not help Labour's cause.