The price of regime change

Bomb attacks in Iraq show that elections do not guarantee stability

As the Chilcot inquiry continues, and the media wait with bated breath for Tony Blair to take the stand, you would be forgiven for thinking that the devastation of Iraq was in the past, finished, concluded, and the UK's role in the whole regrettable incident a distant memory, as the country gears up for its first true democratic elections in March.

But the recent upsurge of violence shows that this is very far from the truth. In October, 155 people were killed and 700 injured as a two bomb blasts ripped through Baghdad in the morning rush hour. Last week, 127 more were killed, and today it has been reported that at least five are dead.

In addition to these big explosions near government buildings, foreign correspondents report regular small-scale attacks on "softer" targets such as mosques, schools and marketplaces.

Violence in Iraq has always been complicated, stemming from sectarian conflict, criminal gangs and Muslim extremists. But this recent upsurge coincides with the passing of a law that will allow the general election to go ahead next year, and is widely accepted to be the work of al-Qaeda, fighting to destabilise the state.

It is hardly the most stable state, anyway. As I wrote in October:

. . . 1,891 civilians were killed in the first six months of 2009; 1.6 million people are internally displaced -- a lack of clean water, fuel or electricity preventing their return home. Unemployment is at 50 per cent, and just 19 per cent of people have proper sewerage.

It would be as well to remember the recent election in Afghanistan, the other country to which the west bravely brought democracy: elections rendered irrelevant by extreme violence from insurgents and fraud from the incumbent president.

Of course, the situation in Iraq is different in many ways. But the Chilcot inquiry has indicated that the main priority in invading was to topple Saddam, and has affirmed that the Americans held a deep-seated belief that they would be thanked: a senior civil servant spoke of "a touching belief [in Washington] that we shouldn't worry so much about the aftermath because it was all going to be sweetness and light".

As the death toll rises, it is worth noting that regime change comes at a cost.

 

Follow the New Statesman team on Twitter

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Tom Watson rouses Labour's conference as he comes out fighting

The party's deputy leader exhilarated delegates with his paean to the Blair and Brown years. 

Tom Watson is down but not out. After Jeremy Corbyn's second landslide victory, and weeks of threats against his position, Labour's deputy leader could have played it safe. Instead, he came out fighting. 

With Corbyn seated directly behind him, he declared: "I don't know why we've been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. But trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won't win elections like that! And we need to win elections!" As Watson won a standing ovation from the hall and the platform, the Labour leader remained motionless. When a heckler interjected, Watson riposted: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo." Labour delegates, many of whom hail from the pre-Corbyn era, lapped it up.

Though he warned against another challenge to the leader ("we can't afford to keep doing this"), he offered a starkly different account of the party's past and its future. He reaffirmed Labour's commitment to Nato ("a socialist construct"), with Corbyn left isolated as the platform applauded. The only reference to the leader came when Watson recalled his recent PMQs victory over grammar schools. There were dissenting voices (Watson was heckled as he praised Sadiq Khan for winning an election: "Just like Jeremy Corbyn!"). But one would never have guessed that this was the party which had just re-elected Corbyn. 

There was much more to Watson's speech than this: a fine comic riff on "Saturday's result" (Ed Balls on Strictly), a spirited attack on Theresa May's "ducking and diving; humming and hahing" and a cerebral account of the automation revolution. But it was his paean to Labour history that roused the conference as no other speaker has. 

The party's deputy channelled the spirit of both Hugh Gaitskell ("fight, and fight, and fight again to save the party we love") and his mentor Gordon Brown (emulating his trademark rollcall of New Labour achivements). With his voice cracking, Watson recalled when "from the sunny uplands of increasing prosperity social democratic government started to feel normal to the people of Britain". For Labour, a party that has never been further from power in recent decades, that truly was another age. But for a brief moment, Watson's tubthumper allowed Corbyn's vanquished opponents to relive it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.