Honor Thy Pledges
Like so many others in this country I recently received a letter and a card from the Rt Hon Tony Blair. It read: "Enclosed is a summary of our pledges for you to review. We fulfilled every pledge in 1997 and 2001. If re-elected we will do so again."
I was shocked. The letter, and the "six pledges to ensure a better life for British people", were Iraq-free zones.
Whatever happened to the war on Iraq? On the eve of the invasion Blair said: "The question most often posed is not 'Why does it matter?' but 'Why does it matter so much?' Here we are: the government with its most serious test, its majority at risk, the first cabinet resignation over an issue of policy." And yet in his current election campaign, the prime minister has sidestepped the issue. Suddenly, Iraq seems very far away once more, and the Iraqi people long forgotten. Why?
Is it because Iraq has become a bleeding wound too painful to look at, or a mess that should be avoided at elections? Or is it that Blair genuinely believes that he has honoured his pledge to the Iraqi people?
On the eve of the war Blair made the Iraqis three promises: that he would get rid of Saddam's WMD, defeat terrorism, and establish democracy and a respect for human rights in Iraq.
Two years on, it has been proved beyond doubt that there were no WMD. Iraq, which previously had no links to "terrorism", is now the duty-free shop of suicide bombers. As for democracy, the election, when it eventually came, was designed to placate international opinion rather than give Iraqi people what they wanted: peace, security, and an end to occupation.
And what of human rights? In an attempt to justify the war before the invasion, Blair spoke passionately in parliament about the suffering of Iraqis: "Today [Iraq] is impoverished: 60% of its population are dependent on food aid; thousands of children die needlessly every year from a lack of food and medicine; 4 million people out of a population of just over 20 million are in exile." He asked MPs to remember "the brutality of the repression - the death and torture camps, the barbaric prisons for political opponents".
The irony is that these are the very problems that the majority of Iraqis are still facing today, two years after "liberation". An estimated 60% of Iraqi families still depend completely on the monthly food ration. A recent UN human rights commission report says that malnutrition among Iraqi children under the age of five nearly doubled last year to 7.7%, and blamed the war for this deterioration. More than a quarter of Iraqi children do not get enough food to eat.
Four million Iraqis are still in exile, and more are joining their ranks. Many academics, scientists and consultants are leaving for the fear of assassination or kidnapping. According to the interior ministry, 5,000 Iraqis were kidnapped in the last 15 months. Roadside bombs, mortar assaults, shootings by US troops and suicide attacks are all part of daily life.
There are 17,000 prisoners, mostly under US control. Two new prisons have been built by US contractors to accommodate 4,000 new prisoners in the south. A recently published Human Rights Watch report documents the torture and ill-treatment of members of political and armed groups, the arbitrary arrest and torture of criminal suspects, and the torture of children held in adult facilities.
There are reports, too, of women being taken as hostages by US soldiers to persuade fugitive male relatives to surrender. Amnesty International has condemned this, reminding governments that "it is against international law to take civilians and use them as bargaining chips". The blockade of food and destruction of water reservoirs during the siege of Falluja was "used as a weapon of war", a UN expert said in a report to the organisation's human rights commission.
Banned weapons have been used in Iraq too, as the US military has been forced to admit, including the MK-77 incendiary bomb, a modern form of napalm. Britain is party to an international convention banning such weapons where they may cause harm to civilians and yet, during the assault on Falluja, British soldiers were placed under the command of a US military that has no such qualms. Reports have emerged of melted bodies in the city, a crime that has been met with silence not just by Tony Blair but also by Ann Clwyd, his human rights envoy to Iraq.
On the second anniversary of the invasion, 300,000 Iraqis demonstrated in Baghdad to demand the immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops and the release of detainees. Three effigies of Bush, Blair and Saddam were burned. The message was clear: Bush and Blair, like Saddam before them, are legally and morally responsible for the destruction of Iraq and the daily killing of its people. Let us hope that the British people do not allow Blair to conveniently forget his war during this election campaign.