Earlier this month in London Twiggy Garcia, a courageous barman, made an attempt to place Tony Blair under citizens’ arrest. This action may have been largely symbolic, but it had a huge resonance around the world, and was widely reported.
Garcia said that Blair responded to his request to accompany him to the nearest police station – typically – by changing the subject. He should be “more concerned with Syria” than with Iraq.
Since getting away scot-free with his unprovoked military aggression against Iraq in 2003, Blair has often repeated the same refrain. Time for people to “move on”.
Well Iraq has never “moved on”. Almost 11 years on, and the country is still in a near-daily state of warfare. Car bombs litter the streets with body parts, and armed gangs control much of the west of the country, bordering Syria.
Millions have been turned into refugees. A 2006 study in the medical journal Lancet put the death toll since the invasion at nearly a million. One 2008 survey said it had reached 1.2 million. Six years on, no one seems to be counting the dead any more.
All this was a direct consequence of the the US-UK invasion that devastated the country. Tony Blair and his apologists deliberately ignore this point.
Blair’s propaganda line often goes that the death toll is not his responsibility, because it was the consequence of the sectarian civil war that followed the invasion. This is a total lie.
In fact, by now, we know that the sectarian civil war was instigated by the American occupiers of Iraq as a matter of early policy.
Possibly the most buried story of 2013 was revelations about the secret Iraqi role of James Steele, a US special forces colonel, and veteran of America’s dirty wars in Central America.
Steele was sent by Donald Rumsfeld himself to oversee “sectarian police commando units in Iraq that set up secret detention and torture centres to get information from [Sunni] insurgents. These units conducted some of the worst acts of torture during the US occupation and accelerated the country’s descent into full-scale civil war”.
These “commando units” were in fact mostly Badr Brigades militias, long-time foes of Saddam Hussein who had spent decades in Iran. They yearned for revenge and, drunk on their new found America power, took it out on Sunni Iraqis.
This in turn was a major factor in the rise of Al-Qaeda in Iraq — which today holds violent sway in parts of the west of the country. These sectarian policies of the US occupation forces fed recruitment to horrific groups associated with figures like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. These groups specialised in car bombs targeting Shi’a civilians.
The bitter irony in all this is that, in the lead up to Bush and Blair’s war, British and American media for a time used to parrot farcical government claims that Saddam Hussein was secretly working with al-Qaida (when in fact they were bitter enemies). There was no al-Qaida in Iraq before Blair’s invasion – but the occupation opened the floodgates.
In fact, history is likely to show that Blair’s invasion of Iraq was one of the largest ever recruiting boosts for Al-Qaeda. The West opened the region to them. Al-Qaeda in Iraq became the “Islamic State of Iraq” and today, with its expansion into the civil war in Syria, it has re-branded itself again as the “Islamic State of Iraq and Sham [greater Syria/the Levant].”
That doesn’t, of course, mean that Blair and Bush and their advisor were clever enough to plot this terrible trajectory out in advance. You only have to be reminded the the huge amount of sway Iran how has in Iraq to see unintended consequences.
However, there is no doubt that they took advantages of events as best they could. Stirring sectarian divisions has long been part of Western policy in the Middle East (such as the French empire’s backing of Lebanese Christians and the British imperial championing of the colonial Zionist movement).
This continues today in a different form. And of course, Britain, American and France all openly support — with millions upon millions in aid and trade – the two most violent sectarian forces in the region: Israel and the Saudi kingdom of horrors.
Iraq continues to burn because of such imperial policies. If there was a just international system, Blair would face war crimes charges.
An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist that lives in London
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.