The chance to move on
Observations on IRAQ COMMISSION
The new Iraq Commission is the UK's answer to the Iraq Study Group. The latter attempted to offer the Bush administration a way out of the mess created in Iraq as a result of the invasion and subsequent occupation. The White House ignored most of its major recommendations - such as reducing troop numbers and engaging with Iraq's neighbours diplomatically - instead going for a last push in the opposite direction.
The Iraq Commission, however, hopes to find a more receptive audience, especially given a new arrival at No 10. Its task is to publish a blueprint for Britain's future involvement in Iraq, which will be presented to the incoming prime minister in July.
The independent, cross-party commission is jointly chaired by Lord (Paddy) Ashdown (whose independent views on Northern Ireland and the Middle East and an impressive track record in Bosnia speak for themselves), Labour's Baroness (Margaret) Jay and Tory Lord (Tom) King. It will hear from military personnel, diplomats, humanitarian groups and community leaders. All interested parties are invited to make submissions.
The manner in which we were led into war with Iraq seriously dented public confidence in the decision-making process. The Iraq Commission, I hope, will repair some of that damage by involving the public in future strategy in Iraq and the wider Middle East. People need to feel confident in a democracy that their views - through parliament - are ultimately what counts, not those from the other side of the pond.
With co-operation from Channel 4, the public will be able to view submissions made to the commission, join the debate online and watch the hearings.
Britain, despite all that has happened in Iraq, can still play a mediating role in framing a multilateral approach in the region, guided by the goal of upholding mutual security. And it still has enough clout to influence American thinking. Britain also has a moral obligation to assist in Iraq's long-term reconstruction.
One recommendation the commission will not be making is to turn back the clock. What we can do is learn from past errors and make the right decisions now. Today's Iraqi government must be recognised despite the flawed political process that led to its formation. No possible settlement can succeed if its legitimacy is undermined. This means accepting that Shias and Kurds are the primary benefactors of the new order. However, the Sunnis must be convinced that their loss of power will not lead to discrimination. Their "buy-in" is crucial for regional stability and for averting wider Shia-Sunni conflict.
We need less warmongering. Talk from Washington of Iran's links to al-Qaeda smacks of similar claims made in the build-up to the Iraq war about al-Qaeda's links with Saddam. These turned out to be non-existent. Aggression towards Iran undermines its reformist movement and bolsters the fundamentalists.
And what of the "war on terror"? Most serious commentators agree that the "Iraq effect" has made us less, not more, safe in the UK. It has radicalised some young British Muslims. Neither the Iraq war nor 9/11 created Islamist-inspired terrorism but the war has exacerbated it.
Radical ideologues have been adept at using Iraq to justify their hatred of the west and indoctrinate young people. This ideology cannot determine our foreign policy. The only way to defeat it is to lead by example.
Submissions can be sent to The Iraq Commission, 58-72 Upper Ground, London SE1 9LT by 15 June. Asim Siddiqui is a member of the commission and chairman of the City Circle
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