February 22nd 2007
Comment at end
PLEASE NOTE: This page mainly comprises of records of decisions associated with Tony Blair’s time as Prime Minister.
Watch MSNBC’s Brian Williams interviewing Tony Blair about Iraq. Recorded 23 May, 2007, shortly after Mr Blair announced that he would leave office on June 26th.
- Tony Blair – VERY Latest
- Tony Blair: “I did what I thought was right” Resignation Speech
- Leader’s Deathbed Confession (A Few words for Brutus er Duncan – I mean, Gordon)
- Blair to go to Iraq – No, No, No – Yes, Yes Another High Profile Potential Hostage?
28 July, 2007
BACKGROUND to the Iraq invasion, March 2003.
On 20th March 2003 Tony Blair made this televised announcement to the nation.
13th July, 2007
ALEXANDER ,THE NOT SO GREAT, LECTURES THE USA
Brown’s man in the USA – Douglas Alexander has made distancing noises from US policy just as Bush is under attack by many in his own republican party. Lecturing the USA about its need to do good in the world and not to use force is indeed to lack any historical understanding. No country, bar none, has done more good in the world than the USA. Oh how Mr Bush must be missing Blair today.
13th June, 2007
Falklands 25th Anniversary
Dame Thatcher has recorded a message for British troops. It is likely to have a more positive impact on our troops than some of the ferral press referred to by the Prime minister yesterday. Listen here.
“The struggle against evil is never ending. Tyranny and violence wear many masks. Fortune does in the end favour the brave.”
BBC website report:
Baroness Thatcher has issued a rallying call to British troops in war zones in a message to mark the 25th anniversary of the liberation of the Falklands. She said that in “the struggle against evil… we can all today draw hope and strength” from the Falklands victory.
“Fortune does, in the end, favour the brave… and none are braver than our armed forces,” she added in the message to Falklands Islanders and UK forces.
She said “we should still rejoice” at the victory in 1982.
25 May, 2007
Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr appeared in public for the first time in months on Friday, delivering a fiery anti-American, anti-occupation sermon to thousands of followers and demanding U.S. troops leave Iraq.
It was not immediately clear why he chose to return now to his base in the Shiite holy city of Najaf from Iran. His speech had new nationalist overtones, calling on Sunnis to join with him in the fight against the U.S. presence. He also criticized the government’s inability to provide reliable services to its people.
Al-Sadr’s reappearance, four months after he went underground at the start of the U.S.-led Baghdad security crackdown, came just hours before his Mahdi Army militia lost its top commander, Abu Qadir, in the southern city of Basra in a gunbattle with British soldiers, Iraqi police said.
Wissam al-Waili, 23, also known as Abu Qadir, was shot and killed along with his brother and two aides during the battle Friday afternoon, police said. See report.
BLAIR IN IRAQ ATTACKS – not fazed
19 May, 2007
Making a surprise visit to Iraq, probably his last as prime minister, Mr Blair landed a short while after the British Embassy in Baghdad had been attacked. Later, in Basra, while visiting British troops, there were further attacks. He was not in danger and they were not thought to have been aimed at him personally.
However, he betrayed an irritation with journalists who continually press questions about security. I’m not surprised.
They are clearly fighting the battles of yesterday and employ every tactic to undermine the battle of today and tomorrow. In other words, the – if we weren’t here, nobody would be in danger – argument. Move on. There’s good chaps.
I really DO wonder where the British backbone has gone these days. Thank goodness our troops are still amazingly strong and resolute, unlike many of us sofa critics.
Watch the video following his discussions with Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and other top Iraqi government officials.
16 May, 2007
STAY AT HOME ROYAL SOLDIER BOY
So Prince Harry is NOT going to Iraq after all. Sir Richard Dannatt says that the threats uncovered towards him and thus his unit, have caused a change of mind.
They obviously did not want him brought back draped in the royal standard. Wonder what they’ll drape over Tony Blair if he comes back in a box since he’ll only be a civilian albeit representing his Blair Foundation for peace and religious tolerance? Dread to think. It seems that although Downing Street voiced its concern about Harry’s safety citing the dangers to him and his troops, including captivity, the army made the final decision.
WHY NOT SEND PRINCE HARRY? DEATH THREATS? DANGER FOR HIS SOLDIERS? NO – OF COURSE NOT!
The main concern is obviously the question of HIS BEING TAKEN AS A HOSTAGE. This would have even more implications than would death for the future of Iraq, as I argued on my page the other day with reference to Tony Blair‘s intentions after office. Fear of Harry being used as a bargaining tool is the REAL reason.
Can you imagine this scenario if Harry were captured, “We’re sorry Your Majesty, but we have to let them do their worst with Harry. We are leaving him to his fate (in any case we’ve no bl**dy idea where he is). And we can’t be seen to give in to blackmail or terrorism.
Death we can live with. Changing the whole course of the war and the future of the Middle East due to pressure from the possible torture of a high profile hostage over a prolonged period, is a different matter entirely. Why they didn’t realise that a couple of months ago, I’m not sure. It may have been that they expected peace to have been more settled by now.
And while I’m on the subject, who makes the final decision as to whether the lynchpin of the (private) Blair Foundation goes out there as ambassador for peace and reconciliation? Mr Brown, PM elect? Looks like it’s farewell then, Mr Blair. Don’t forget to record that video message, former Prime Minister. Click here to read my thoughts on Blair in Iraq
Whether or not Harry’s de-deployment is a propaganda victory for the insurgents – well, we’ll just have to deal with that. In any case the anti-war media in this country will have another field day.
Meanwhile Chatham House calls for a re-think on Iraq:
There is not ‘one’ civil war, nor ‘one’ insurgency, but several civil wars and insurgencies between different communities in today’s Iraq. Within this warring society, the Iraqi government is only one among many ‘state-like’ actors, and is largely irrelevant in terms of ordering social, economic, and political life. It is now possible to argue that Iraq is on the verge of being a failed state which faces the distinct possibility of collapse and fragmentation. These are some of the key findings of Accepting Realities in Iraq a new Briefing Paper written by Dr Gareth Stansfield and published today by Chatham House.
The paper also assesses Al-Qaeda activity within Iraq, especially in the major cities in the centre and north of the country. Dr Stansfield argues that, although Al-Qaeda is challenged by local groups, there is momentum behind its activity. Iraq’s neighbors too have a greater capacity to affect the situation on the ground than either the UK or the US. Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey all have different reasons for seeing the instability in Iraq continue, and each uses different methods to influence developments.
Dr Stansfield argues that with the myriad conflicts in Iraq following societal, religious and political divides and often involving state actors, the multinational forces are finding it exceptionally difficult to promote security normalization. The recent US ‘surge’ in Baghdad looks likely to have simply pushed insurgent activity to neighboring cities and cannot deliver the required political accommodation. A political solution will require Sunni Arab representatives’ participation in government, the recognition of Moqtada al-Sadr as a legitimate political partner, and a positive response to Kurdish concerns. Further, it would be a mistake to believe that the political forces in Iraq are weak and can be reorganized by the US or the international community, there must be ‘buy-in’ from the key Iraqi political actors.
Dr Stansfield says: ‘The coming year will be pivotal for Iraq. The internecine fighting and continual struggle for power threatens the nation’s very existence in its current form. An acceptance of the realities on the ground in Iraq and a fundamental rethinking of strategy by coalition powers are vital if there is to be any chance of future political stability in the country.’
10th May, 2007
In this video from a press call in Washington, Tony Blair makes a very strong case for the fight against terrorism, after a few short words from President Bush. (Compare Blair’s articulate language and clear thinking with the American president’s contribution. No wonder the Yanks love Blair!)
I consider this the best explanation you’ll find. If this doesn’t make people understand, well, hands up – they’ve lost it.
- Blair’s Commons Speech on supporting USA over Iraq
- PM’s Announcement – Iraq invasion launched
- Iran Page
26th April, 2007
The question is still in the air – should he stay or should he go?
No, not Mr Blair this time, but Prince Harry. Prince Harry to Iraq? Yes or no? Must admit I find this one difficult, because I believe insurgents will upgrade their murderous output so endangering ALL of our troops even more, as well as the Prince. But most people on the BBC site think he should go, though some of this vote might have been taken when his deployment was first mooted. General Sir Richard Dannatt will make the final decision.
24th April, 2007
Britain transferring Army Base to Iraqis
BASRA, Iraq – The Shaibah logistics base, once the main centre of British military operations in Iraq, was turned over to the Iraqi national army on Tuesday for use as a training base.
The brief ceremony by British and Iraqi forces was the latest example of the coalition’s efforts to give Iraqi forces control over some parts of Iraq as British forces plan to begin withdrawing from southern Iraq where most of them are based. Two other British bases – al-Saie and Shatt al-Arab – were turned over to Iraqi forces in Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, in the last month.
The bulk of British soldiers in the city will now operate from a British base at Basra’s main airport.
After Tuesday’s ceremony, during which British and Danish flags were lowered at Shaibah and an Iraqi one raised, Maj. David Gell, the British military spokesman in Basra, said: “It was a significant event marking the increasing capability of the Iraqi security forces. ”
“Closing these British bases enables us to focus on more productive operations designed to disrupt rogue militia activity, with less of our manpower tied down on base security and administrative tasks,” he said in an interview.
Last week, Iraqi troops also took charge of security in the southern province of Maysan, a region that borders Iran.
It was the fourth province to come under full Iraqi security control since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, the others being the southern provinces of Dhi Qar, Muthanna and Najaf. Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie has said three Kurdish provinces in northern Iraq would follow next month, and then the southern provinces Karbala and Wassit.
Some British troops are still based in Maysan and are expected to continue training Iraqi security forces and patrolling Maysan’s borders. British forces also will remain on call, if Iraqi officials decide they are need to support Iraqi security forces during fighting.
But U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, have said the transition of responsibility in Maysan represented another step toward Iraqi self-reliance and its path toward national unity and improved security.
Tony Blair has announced that Britain will withdraw about 1,600 troops from Iraq in the next few months, and plans to make more cuts to Britain’s 7,100-strong contingent by late summer.
A British handover of security control in Basra is anticipated in months, but our forces have lately suffered their heaviest losses for more than two years in an intensifying battle against Shia militias in southern cities such as Basra.
18 April, 2007
It certainly doesn’t seem to be getting any better in Iraq, despite “The Surge”. And despite the handover of the Maysan province today by the British to the Iraqi troops, the numbers killed in Baghdad today, some 160 at last count, are designed – yes “designed” to frighten off the coalition forces, in expectedly deep despair. As I have mentioned here before it would be wrong for us to withdraw for THIS reason. Iraqis killing Iraqis is no reason for the UN “peace-keeping” forces to withdraw. Painful as it is, it is reason for them to continue. The Shia/Sunni groups are locked in a cycle of destruction which belies all sense, but was to be expected. Quite how any Iraqi government can bring these factions together is unclear given their propensity to indiscrimate violence. Moqtadr Sadr’s recent departure from government may or may not help.
There really needs to be some thought, however, as to the support the Americans, British, Australian, and others are having from the international community. If they can’t send troops, what about funding?
Surely the UN should re-assess the situation on the basis of the evil within Iraq perpetrating these crimes on its own? Surely there can be agreement on the terrorism rife there? Surely, no-one can believe everything would be ‘peace and love’ if only the coalition left? Surely NOW, more countries should lend a hand?
Click here to read the report on withdrawal of troops.
Click to view Blair’s interviews with Sky’s Adam Boulton.
“The Surge”. Click the arrow on the screen to run the video on this page.
Thursday 12th April 2007
OUTRAGE IN IRAQ IS IT NOW CIVIL WAR?
First a main bridge in Baghdad was blown up this morning and a few hours later Parliament itself. Many killed, including MPs.BBC report on bridge destructionWednesday 11th April 2007USA EXTENDS TROOPS’ TOUR OF DUTYAdmitting American troops are overstretched, Defense Sectretary Robert Gates has announced that the length of time troops must serve in both Iraq and Afghanistan has been extended from 12 months to 15 months.So, Ahmadinijad and others in his regime now know they can get away with murder – or rather nuclear expansion. Why? He now knows the limits of the power of his enemies.
- An American president under attack at home, whose political opponents go house-calling on the enemy.
- A British Prime Minister, bloodied and battle-scarred, about to leave office in weeks.
- An Australian Prime Minister who has to call an election in a matter of months.
Weakened enemies, and a United Nations which moves slower even than the EU when it comes to decision-making. And even then, it is limited in its strength of action by one, or at most a handful of powers’ ability to contribute.
I’m sometimes moved to wonder why we bother! Leave the rest of the world to it. Let France come to OUR rescue.
We’re all doomed, Captain Mainwaring ….
Tuesday, 10th April 2007
Are we about to withdraw more troops from Iraq? Well, it depends. Limited as we are by logistics it depends on whether or not the USA is about to attack Iran over its nuclear ambitions. Many have been screaming about this for some months and it seems the USA offered to launch air-strikes in recent weeks in return for the “hostage crisis” but the offer was declined by our government. Who’d be the British Prime Minister at this time?
About to leave office, is Tony Blair about to go quietly with the success of Northern Ireland ringing in his ears, and the decisions on Iraq and Iran left to his successor? Or does he take a chance that just one more push might make a difference to the fight against terrorism and proliferating nuclear states? That one more push might, after all, mean that he has to remain in place longer than this summer. Is he THAT desperate to stay in power? Or if that is not a motivating cause, which it surely is not, is it weak NOT to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with America at this time?
If Iran became the main game in town, would that provide an excuse for the British and Americans to row back on Iraq? Would it unleash more insurgency attacks? Would it calm or inflame the whole of the Middle East? Would it be the end of the world as we know it? Or would it send to both terror insurgents and states looking to acquire nuclear weapons the only message they seem to understand?
Tuesday, 27th March 2007
IRAN – not Iraq, this time
Iran Told To Free Captives – Updated: 20:03, Tuesday March 27, 2007
MR BLAIR WARNS OF A “DIFFERENT PHASE” – view video
If diplomatic efforts fail to secure the release of Royal Navy personnel the Prime Minister has warned Iran of moves into a “different phase”. The Prime Minister’s spokesman said he was referring to “a different way” of handling talks. But the PM might be contemplating stronger measures.
Tomorrow the government will lay out their diplomatic case for early release of our marines and sailors.
We might well ask in this political chess game if the British were seen as a softer touch than the Americans.
The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary are piling pressure on Iran to release 15 Royal Navy sailors and Royal Marines captured in the Gulf. Tony Blair said he was “utterly confident” those in custody had done nothing wrong while Margaret Beckett demanded their safe return in “very robust” terms.
The captives seized on Friday include married mother-of-one Faye Turney, 26, and 21-year-old Paul Barton. All 15 British personnel were detained at gun-point after they boarded a dhow carrying suspicious cargo off the coast of Iraq.
Iran claims their vessel strayed into Iranian waters – a claim emphatically denied by Britain.
Mrs Beckett spoke to her Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki for the second time since the affair began. It is understood that Mrs Beckett will make a statement to the House of Commons soon.
The sailors and marines have now been held in an unknown location for five days, but are said to be being treated humanely.
Monday 26th March, 2007
Not good news about the number of troops going absent without leave. Whatever it’s due to, it needs to be addressed.
Awol soldiers claim the Army ignores their problems
Thousands of soldiers are going absent without leave (Awol) because the Army cannot handle combat stress sufferers, the BBC’s Panorama has reported. One soldier on the run told the programme he was ridiculed by the Army when he had problems after Iraq. Mental health lecturer Steven Walker, who has interviewed ex-soldiers, said Army support services were stretched.
The Ministry of Defence said that fewer soldiers are going Awol, and most cases involved family issues.
My thoughts: I’ve just watched a father of one of the soldiers saying he wanted to “wring Tony Blair’s neck” for how his son was treated after being unable to cope with the stresses of army life. Yes, well, the PM is to blame for EVERYTHING, of course! But the army defended its position saying that there had been major improvements in psychological care of young traumatised soldiers in recent years. Whilst not wishing to minimise this in any way, there is another argument here.
Is the army recruiting and training the right kind of soldiers? One youngster keen on joining said it was because of the driving skills he’d be learning that he was joining up.
Someone needs to explain to would-be recruits that armies are about wars and wars are about death.
Defence of the large numbers said to have died since the Iraq invasion have today been made, but the government still disputes the figures.
The British government was advised against publicly criticising a report estimating that 655,000 Iraqis had died due to the war, the BBC has learnt. Iraqi Health Ministry figures put the toll at less than 10% of the total in the survey, published in the Lancet. But the Ministry of Defence’s chief scientific adviser said the survey’s methods were “close to best practice” and the study design was “robust”. Another expert agreed the method was “tried and tested”.
The researchers spoke to nearly 1,850 families, comprising more than 12,800 people. In nearly 92% of cases family members produced death certificates to support their answers. The survey estimated that 601,000 deaths were the result of violence, mostly gunfire.
Shortly after the publication of the survey in October last year Tony Blair’s official spokesperson said the Lancet’s figure was not anywhere near accurate. He said the survey had used an extrapolation technique, from a relatively small sample from an area of Iraq that was not representative of the country as a whole.
Speaking six days after Sir Roy praised the study’s methods, British foreign office minister Lord Triesman said: “The way in which data are extrapolated from samples to a general outcome is a matter of deep concern….”
It would appear they were only able to sample a small sliver of the country
Some scientists have subsequently challenged the validity of the Lancet study. Questions have been asked about the survey techniques and the possibility of “mainstreet bias”.
Dr Michael Spagat of Royal Holloway London University says that most of those questioned lived on main streets which are more likely to suffer from car bombs: “It would appear they were only able to sample a small sliver of the country,” he said.
Dr Spagat has previously conducted research with Iraq Body Count, an NGO that counts deaths on the basis of media reports and which has produced estimates far lower than those published in the Lancet.
I don’t pretend to know much about this, but I know that the Iraq Body Count figures are one tenth of the Lancet’s extrapolated figures. If the Lancet’s numbers are a case of extrapolating figures, then there is bound to be room for error, where some areas have many hundreds killed per week, and some none at all.
Having said that, any death is one too many for the families involved.
However, it is equally patently wrong to extrapolate conclusions in the direction for which some use these figures. To argue that because of HIGH numbers of deaths the invasion and the coalition countries and forces are therefore culpable is wrong. As is the argument that the invasion, therefore should never have been started. As is the argument that the coalition forces and their leaders or governments are responsible for the deaths.
Switching on a news programme daily shows us who is doing the killing. Not the troops, not the Iraqi security forces, nor the Iraqi, British or American governments.
Varied and many insurgency groups are blowing up and shooting their own people.
People looking at these figures need to work out who the good guys are here, and not look for any pretext under which they can hold those they consider ‘ responsible’ to account to suit their own agenda.
If millions die at the hands of insurgents they die AT THE HANDS OF INSURGENTS. Not at Blair’s or Bush’s behest. That definitely tells us something about the complexity of invading lands such as Iraq, and something about the history of its warring factions. It may also indicate that the war strategy was insufficiently resourced, and that the post-invasion plans were inadequate.
Any other conclusion regarding the motives of the coalition leaders is plain wrong. They did not invade in order to kill thousands, nor did they ask their troops to do so. For the last three years they have been mandated by the UN to ‘keep the peace’ though that peace is challenged daily by those who wish to continue the war.
Saturday 14th March, 2007
MARINES CAPTURED IN IRAN – update
Iran says that the 15 captured Royal Navy marines have admitted to being in Iranian waters.
Friday 23rd March, 2007
15 British Navy personnel captured at gunpoint by Iranian forces
View report from Commodore Nick Lambert of HMS Cornwall. He has said that the 15 British Navy personnel seized in the Gulf were on a “routine operation”and that there is “absolutely no doubt in my mind that they were in Iraqi territorial waters.”
Iraq Deputy PM seriously injured
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Salam Zaubai has been injured in a double bombing in Baghdad in which nine people were killed, Iraqi police have said. Police said a suicide bomber blew himself up and a car bomb exploded as Mr Zaubai was leaving a mosque close to his home in the Iraqi capital.
Now that two high-profile politicians have been in the line of fire in two days, security must be heightened even more so than before. No politician or civilian should be bombed into submission by terrorism.
Thursday 22nd March, 2007
UN chief Ban Ki-Moon is shaken by Baghdad blast.
View video, as he ducks following blast. The blast, a few hundred yards from the building, interrupted a news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki. No-one was hurt.This mortar or rocket attack on the international zone, otherwise known as the Green Zone, where all the diplomats and most of the US military are, in the centre of Baghdad, bodes security problems for diplomats and politicians as well as ordinary Iraqis.
Monday 19th March, 2007
One of those on trial for the intended bombing in London has said that he wanted to do it because the Iraq demonstrations were making “no difference” to the government’s policy.
I think it’s time some of these people understood – THAT IS NOT HOW WE DO THINGS IN ANY DEMOCRACY AND PARTICULARLY IN THIS COUNTRY. You do NOT bomb the government or the country into submission on ANY policy.
Friday 16th March, 2007
“Friendly fire” killing unlawful a Coroner’s Court has said.
Thursday 15th March, 2007
Tony Blair has told Sky News the western world should stop apologising for trying to do the “right thing” in Iraq.
Mr Blair said: “We should be there to fight those people when what they are trying to do is destroy by terrorism the chance by people to get a democracy.
“We’re not making it worse, they [the terrorists] are making it worse…
“Until the western world stops apologising for its values, stops apologising for the work its troops are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan, we’re never going to defeat this.
“We’ll end up in this situation where the worse these people are, that becomes a reason for our retreat, rather than our determination to see the job done.”
He defended his decision to go to war and said, despite so many deaths, the invasion was necessary and just.
Mr Blair said: “It’s a tragedy there’s been so many lost lives but they’re not lost lives doing the wrong thing. We’ve been trying to do the right thing.”
Mr Blair’s decision to join the US-led invasion of Iraq was opposed by many within his own party as well as millions of ordinary Britons.
It has coloured almost every political move he has made since.
However, he has stood by the decision, insisting he cannot honestly say he regrets seeing Saddam Hussein deposed and put on trial.
View videos from interview
Sky’s Adam Boulton began his live interview with the Prime Minster by putting to him the question from a mother who lost her soldier son in Iraq: Is it a noble cause?
Prime Minister Tony Blair tells Sky’s Adam Boulton that he was right to back US-led war on Iraq – and that it WAS legal.
When challenged by Adam Boulton over the suitability of equipment and vehicles being used by the UK forces, Mr Blair said the government was doing its best to ensure the safety of British troops.
When asked whether he would say sorry to the families of soldiers who have died in Iraq, the Prime Minister spoke of his sorrow, but refused to say the war was a mistake.
Despite facing criticism for his relationship with The US President, Tony Blair says he won’t pander to those who say he should distance himself from George Bush.
Tuesday 13th March, 2007
The GOOD News From Iraq
SkyNews video from “Iraqi Kurdistan” in the north – now a land of peace and prosperity. It has taken ten years, but people there want the coalition to stick it out in the rest of Iraq, to bring the whole of the country, whether eventully split or not, into the modern era.
Report from SkyNews on the Middle East
Video – 2 mins – quick rundown of Shia/Sunni history
Extensive links to further information on today’s Iraq, from SkyNews
Monday 12th March, 2007
In an interview today Hans Blix, former UN weapons inspector in Iraq re-iterates his position on WMDs. Accusing the US of witch hunting, and both Bush and Blair of replacing question marks with exclamation marks, he seems unable to see anything good in the present Iraq situation, apart from the removal of Saddam Hussein.
Perhaps he needs to look at “Iraqi Kurdistan” in the north of Iraq (link above) so see what the future might hold for the rest of the country, after decades of Saddam’s tyranny. Yes, it has taken years, since George Bush Senior’s time, but the people in the north, many of whose families had been murdered by Saddam’s WMDs, are 100% supportive of the coalition’s continuance in the rest of Iraq. Mr Blix, like the rest of us, needs to look to the future now.
The invasion of Iraq was justified on the basis that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
Wednesday 7th March, 2007
Tony Blair in Prime Minister’s Questions claimed today that “only British troops could make a real difference in southern Afghanistan”. He shared concerns that NATO allies are limited by their own caveats from front-line action, and stressed that he is working on allied countries to better contribute.
26th February, 2007
Des Brown, the Defence Secretary has announced that 1,400 troops will be sent to Afghanistan in the spring and summer. This is a few hundred more than expected and shows that there is no British opting out of responsibilities in the Middle East. Wish we could say the same for our NATO allies.
22nd February, 2007
Listen to Tony Blair’s interview on “Today” with John Humphrys, this morning, following the troops withdrawal announcement.
John Humphrys raked over the past “failures of responsibility” of the coalition in a determined effort to extract an apology, to no avail. The Prime Minister argued his corner clearly and persuasively. He denied that the “vacuum” cited to have been caused just after the invasion by inadequate planning was our mistake. “You had to disband the police of Saddam. There was no way the Iraqi police force would have been able to keep order properly. They were the instrument of Saddam. The principal reasons you have a problem is because there are elements giving you that problem.”
Read the BBC report on the Today interview.
[ Pic: The PM announcing 1600 troop withdrawals flanked by Prescott & Brown]
Like most of us, I agree with Tony Blair’s decision to start our troop withdrawal.
It’s a moment of truth –
For the PM, for us, for President Bush and for the Iraqi Government.
Mr Blair can be seen by an impatient country to be putting the evident wishes and requirements of the UK, our troops and our people first. He is also being true to his commitment to our allies and to the cause in which he believes – fighting terrorism.
Blair – A True Believer
On the reasons for the invasion of Iraq, Mr Blair was, and is, a true believer. He was convinced at the beginning and has remained true to that conviction despite the deaths and setbacks. At the same time, he never intended an endless occupation by our troops. Operation Sinbad is a success, in measurable terms, and it is time to start to move out. This decision is backed by our military leaders. Major General Jonathan Shore says that 90% of the attacks in Basra are against our troops.
The case put by many is that the occupying troops are the cause of the daily deaths in Iraq. This is the hardest argument that Tony Blair has to deal with, it would seem. He still has a long way to go to convince many. Just listen to John Humphrys’ repeated call to Mr Blair for an “apology” on the Radio 4 Today interview.
I have never understood why some find it so difficult to accept Mr Blair’s argument that terrorism can NEVER be excused. Of course it can’t and shouldn’t. He has always believed that, in any field of conflict; and I imagine so have most of us. And it IS terrorism that is killing the Iraqi people daily – insurgent terrorism – Iraqi against Iraqi.
Blaming the carnage on the occupying forces – who are there to bring democracy and security, and NOT to attack the people – is distorted logic.
I liken it to this little story, that most eight-year-olds could understand:
There is a house where a caring neighbour has evidence that evil is being perpetuated behind closed doors. He alerts the authorities – but no-one acts. So in the end he breaks in to try to rescue the victims. Sadly his attempts end in failure as the evil-doer kills his victims during the rescue attempt.
So, what do we do about the “caring neighbour”? Tell him to apologise for caring? Try him for the deaths of the innocents (which were perpetuated not by the neighbour but by the killer in the house?) Surely not? We would look to ourselves and wonder why we, who should have cared, did not better support the good neighbour in his rescue attempt. We would blame the killer for killing.
So, while Mr Blair does not accept that the insurgents’ terrorism can be blamed on the presence of the troops, he accepts that the insurgents are using troop presence to justify their attacks on their own people. I agree with him.
We, The British People & The Press Agenda
For the British people over the years, watching the rising death toll of troops and Iraqi civilians, albeit caused by insurgents, our resolve has weakened and our support has waned. Perhaps that is only to be expected. We drifted into unsupportive mode because of several factors, mostly emanating from a doubting press, whose mantra is repeated in a one-sided and determined fashion:
* The validity or otherwise of intelligence on WMDs
* The widespread belief that the Government had been mendacious in its arguments
* Unwillingness to accept that there was a real threat from terrorists in Iraq
* General mistrust of Mr Blair’s unwillingness to enter into an Iraq debate in parliament
* A press campaign which seemed to discredit the Prime Minister personally
* Unwillingness to support a protracted war
* Lack of empathy with Mr Bush and Mr Blair’s association with him
* Distrust of both their stated reasons for going to war
* Increasing anger at troop deaths
* Blame for Iraqi deaths being laid at the feet of the PM and President Bush
Now we can at least begin to put the Iraq war behind us. But will we? Can we? Unfortunately we will still read the same newspapers. One of them, which has called for the war to end for years, now says that with troop withdrawals Mr Blair is retreating! He can never win with some of them. Such “news” papers and their editors have another agenda.
They have little interest in presenting an objective piece of news from Iraq. They distort the facts with the simplicity of their banner headlines. They mislead their readers. They pander to their readers’ and their own prejudices. In the end they are in effect happier to support murderous insurgents than our own democratically elected Prime Minister and Government. They know who they are, and in my eyes their single-minded pursuit of Mr Blair regardless of the facts, means that I will happily shun their papers, possibly forever.
Radio and television coverage is more circumspect, thank goodness. The British people will make their own judgement on the PM and his reasons for this action on withdrawal. They will decide, not those papers whose discredited motive is clear.
President Bush – Divergences with Blair
As for President Bush – he may be expected to be spitting blood as his closest ally breaks away, especially as America is about to send 20,000+ more troops, against American public and Democratic opinion. If he is disturbed, he will not show it. And now Denmark and Lithuania have also declared their intentions to withdraw. Bush may be expected to feel deserted, let down, particularly by Blair, despite putting a gloss on the British withdrawal plans as inevitable.
But Blair has made the right decision in pursuing this withdrawal policy at this time.
For too long the PM’s advice has been ignored or set aside. Mr Blair made it clear months ago that he was in agreement with the Baker plan; President Bush ignored that. Blair still believes that Syria, at least, can become an ally in the “values” cause; Bush discounts both Syria and Iran. Blair believes that the Israeli/Palestinian problem is the root cause and thus the answer, if resolved, to much of the Middle East’s problems; Bush does not think long term. Blair’s patience and time in office is running out. However, there might be a “quid pro quo” on the cards some time in the near future. Whatever is going on behind the scenes, Bush and Blair, for all their recent problems are not innocents abroad. Thank goodness for that!
[Pic: At this Washington press conference, the PM looks incredulous at some of the President’s comments. Was this Blair’s turning point?]
What Blair thinks of Bush’s plan to send in thousands more troops, we have not yet heard, though I imagine he will argue that it is right for the Americans in Baghdad, while withdrawal is right for the British in Basra. Both would be true.
This could in fact be a joint enterprise of trying out both tactics as part of the overall strategy.
Tonight I have broken a habit I established when I first set this blog up in September of last year. I am writing about Iraq. There has been so much written on-line and in newspapers about Iraq – mainly against the government’s position – that frankly, I decided a while ago not to indulge. Why bother? If Tony Blair, the great communicator, with all the facts at his fingertips, could not persuade, what chance had I?
In any case, as the Prime Minister alluded to in his Commons speech today on troop withdrawal, he has not had a fair hearing in the media. “Spin” he implied, is something he has been singularly unsuccessful at, as regards this war.
I suppose if Mr Blair ate humble pie, apologised profusely for all his foreign policy “errors”, got down on his knees and promised all sorts of unrealistic future policy limitations, he might regain some reputation, but I seriously doubt it. Though why he should even consider apologising to satisfy such as Alex Salmond is anathema to me, and I’m sure to him.
And of course Mr Blair should not sit through a parliamentary Iraq inquiry, a showcase trial, at this stage in his premiership and in the war, whose aim would be to tie the hands of future prime ministers, (even if some of them could do with tying up).
The printed media has painted a skewed picture of Iraq, focusing on the dreadful carnage wrought by insurgents, and very seldom on the advances made by, for instance, the residents and businesses of Basra.
Blair, the “master of spin”, has had his side of the story spun into knots by the agendas of some in the media.
For example – tonight’s news about the troops withdrawals cut back and forth, to make a point, from the funeral of a young soldier, with comments from his father, to today’s Iraqi atrocity, to the Prime Minister’s speech in the Commons. This was not a father who understood the PM’s reasons for the invasion, but a father who the previous night had called Tony Blair “the worst Prime Minister we have ever had”. Another bereaved father on TV last night emphasised HIS dead son’s pride and commitment to his job, and expressed some understanding of the whys and wherefores behind the PM’s decision to take us into Iraq. But HE was not on the evening news which reported the troop withdrawals. Why not?
And The Reaction From Iraq?
The Government and Basra officials have welcomed Mr Blair’s announcement. Some of them don’t think it is a large enough withdrawal. The Iraqi President sees it as a “catalyst” to greater responsibility for the Iraqi government. Most Iraqis are very satisfied with the news and see it as evidence of progress within their own land.
It should be they, and not the British press, whose response we note.
Tony Blair quote –
“A middle-aged mother looks you in the eye and tells you that her only son has died and asks you why, and I tell you you do not feel like the most powerful man in the country at times like that. Because there is no answer, there is no justification.”
Blair’s Influence on Bush? For that we will have to await the memoirs. But there are some hints as to where they worked and where they didn’t.
After the war – looks like this one didn’t!