With its sedate pace and genteel drip, drip revelations, one could be forgiven for thinking of the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war as an academic exercise, delving into some distant historical event in an attempt to understand what happened. But to many Iraqis, the inquiry is something else entirely. It is an inconsequential charade, a classic case of fiddling while Baghdad burns.
Yesterday it was Hans Blix’s turn to appear before the laid back and suitably emotionless inquisitors. The former chief UN weapons inspector revealed nothing we didn’t know. He told Chilcot there was no justification for war, because his inspectors found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction; and he told them that he had needed a few more months to finish his task.
As an Iraqi living in Britain, and fearful for my compatriots back home, I remember waiting with baited breath for Blix to utter those undiluted words when he appeared before the UN security council in 2003, 11 days before the war of aggression was launched. Back then, he minced his words, providing enough ambiguity for Tony Blair and Jack Straw to push on with their plans to drag Britain into the US-led war.
Like a lot of politicians with guilty consciences, Blix has thrown his weight behind justice and morality only after the fact. The problem is, the Iraq war is not some bygone event. When Blair misled parliament into passing a motion to disarm Iraq of its non-existent WMD he started a chain of events that did not simply winch Saddam and his odious sons from the palaces. The war destroyed a country, and left millions dead, maimed, orphaned or widowed. Its horrific consequences are still being visited upon Iraqis – such as the mothers who are delivering deformed babies because of the chemical weapons used by the invading forces.
But there are other long-term consequences. The Iraqis who Blair and Bush glorified and brought to power through sham elections are bleeding the nation dry through corruption and the sell-off of Iraq’s resources to multinationals. Freedom and democracy is nowhere to be seen. Deploying the US-built Iraqi security forces against the people is common. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have drawn attention to the plight of thousands of prisoners, widespread use of torture, and both judicial and extra-judicial killings.
Meanwhile, the litany of repressive policies gets longer. It is illegal to be a member of a trade union, just as it was under Saddam. Paul Bremer, the US envoy who ruled Iraq after the invasion, revived Saddam’s infamous “decree 150” in 2004, effectively banning all public sector unions. Activists are now treated as if they were terrorists. Only last week troops and police raided the offices of workers’ unions across the country, following a government decree under the 2005 anti-terrorism act, to ban them and seize their assets.
Britain’s TUC has described the regime’s action as a “Saddam-style move”, and its general secretary Brendan Barber has written to the foreign secretary, William Hague, to help stop this “dangerous abuse of power”. Dangerous indeed, for the regime has also brought terror-related charges against oil industry trade union leaders. The president of the Federation of Oil Unions, Hasan Juma’a, and several other union leaders have been charged with contacting the media, sabotaging the economy and high treason. Juma’a believes that the regime is trying to “liquidate” the unions while transferring Iraq’s oil wealth to the multinationals.
Having auctioned Iraq’s oil wealth, the oil minister Hussain al-Shahristani was recently given the electricity portfolio after mass protests against lack of electricity supplies and regime corruption. Troops opened fire on the demonstrators while the prime minister described them as “hooligans” and deployed troops in Baghdad to stop the protests – dubbed by Iraqis as the “electricity uprising” – spreading to the capital.
While Chilcot rumbles on, there is palpable anger across Iraq against the regime’s policies and corruption. Anger too at the continued US occupation. Baghdad has the biggest US embassy in the world, from which, many Iraqis believe, the US dictates important regime policies and deepens Iraqi political divisions in order to maintain its control of the country. US aims have changed since the invasion – America wants to steer Iraq’s political and economic direction, and use the country as a base against Iran – but most of the Iraqi people still resist this.
What Blix said yesterday was right, of course. But if only he had said it sooner.
Sami Ramadani, a senior lecturer in sociology at London Metropolitan University.