In this week’s New Statesman: Iraq – Ten years on

Was it worth it?

The Iraq War: Was it worth it?

Featuring: Mehdi Hasan, John Lloyd, Caroline Hawley, Adnan Hussein and Ian Taylor

In our cover story this week, we examine the US-led invasion of Iraq. A decade after more than a million took to the streets of Britain to voice their opposition, five writers express competing views on the conflict that toppled Saddam Hussein and cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

“Iraq is worse off now,” argues Mehdi Hasan. He asserts that the justification “rhetoric” of the then political leaders of Britain and America – Blair, Bush, Powell, Cheney – was “a farrago of lies and half-truths, of delusion and doublethink”.

Not only has “every argument advanced by the hawks proved to be utterly false” but the war has brought chaos, not peace, to the region, “radicalising thousands of young men from the Middle East to the Midlands”.

The Iraq war was a strategic disaster – or, as the Tory minister Kenneth Clarke put it in a recent BBC radio discussion, “the most disas­trous foreign policy decision of my lifetime . . . worse than Suez”.

The invasion and occupation of the country undermined the moral standing of
the western powers; empowered Iran and its proxies; heightened the threat from al-Qaeda at home and abroad; and sent a clear signal to “rogue” regimes that the best . . . means of deterring a pre-emptive, US-led attack was to acquire weapons of mass destruction (see Korea, North) . . .

The greatest weapon of mass destruction turned out to be the invasion itself.

You can read Mehdi Hasan's piece here.

Writing from an opposing viewpoint, the former New Statesman editor John Lloyd argues that “Blair was right”. “I and others who supported the invasion of Iraq a decade ago,” he says, “did so because we thought that Saddam Hussein’s regime was among the worst in the world.”

Despite acknowledging “grave errors” in the early western reports on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Lloyd writes:

For the record, I believe that: a) both the US and the UK governments accepted intelligence that pointed to Iraqi possession of WMDs, but interpreted it in the way most favourable to the case for invasion and b) that Blair wished to support the US largely because he had long thought Saddam a major threat . . .

We did not anticipate that Iraqi forces who hated the US – including those loyal to Saddam – would dominate after the invasion, that the population would not be active in ensuring democratic choice . . . and that the west had limited staying power. We were much influenced by Kanan Makiya’s searing book Cruelty and Silence (1993), which detailed the horrors of Iraq under Saddam and called for intervention – an intervention that, the author argued, would be greeted with “sweets and flowers”.

Caroline Hawley was the BBC’s Baghdad correspondent when war broke out in 2003, and she stayed until 2005. Hawley writes that, at the start of the conflict, “the overriding sentiment [of Iraqi civilians] was one of joy at seeing the back of Saddam Hussein” but many have since seen “their hopes dashed”.

A decade on, it is . . . distressing to think how many horrors and burials, kidnappings and bombings lay ahead . . .

Whatever you think about the reasons that led Britain and the US to war, I still wonder how things might have turned out if only the coalition forces had been better prepared, and had been able to show the Iraqis they cared about them . . .

I never again want to see a father run screaming down a hospital corridor holding
a limbless, bloodied child. It is still happening – you just don’t hear about it much any more.

Adnan Hussein, the editor-in-chief and deputy director of the Iraqi newspaper al-Mada, contends that “the US played a damaging role” in rebuilding the Iraqi state.

Hussein describes returning to his home city of Baghdad a few weeks after the fall of Saddam Hussein and his government:

[I told friends in London:] “The Baghdad I left was a glamorous woman in the heyday of her youth; now she is an aged creature on her deathbed.”

I imagined that Baghdad would rejuvenate itself within a few years. Like many fellow exiles, I thought the presence of international forces led by the US would help restore normal conditions in Iraq. Now, ten years on, it seems that Iraq will require another ten years to recover, given the carnage it has witnessed over the past decade.

Ian Taylor, a lecturer at the University of Leicester, offers praise for the 15 February 2003 Stop the War protest, calling it “one of those rare moments in British history when the radical left had some palpable impact on the course of political debate”.

If the march fell a long way short of achieving what so many of us desperately wanted, it wasn’t a complete failure either. This was the day when the message finally got through to Blair and the Conservative opposition that their war was going to be profoundly unpopular . . .

Blair failed to realise this in time (if he ever came to realise it). His reputation has never recovered.



Rafael Behr: Lord Snooty v The Gimp; or why politics isn’t a game for the voters of Eastleigh

In the Politics Column this week, Rafael Behr reports from Eastleigh, the Lib-Dem “bastion” that faces a by-election on 28 February following the appalling “shenanigans” of Chris Huhne. Behr talks to Carla and Sheena, two residents of Eastleigh, who sum up the prevailing sentiment by describing David Cameron as “snooty” and Ed Miliband as “a gimp”. Behr comments:

Journalists are the worst offenders when it comes to forgetting that most people, most of the time, ignore the minutiae of political combat . . .

What might come across as ignorance or apathy is better understood as perspective.

Read this piece in full on our website now.


Stella Creasy: The final frontier for women

Stella Creasy, the Labour MP for Walthamstow, is our Diary columnist this week. An active campaigner for the global gender equality movement One Billion Rising, she writes:

A billion women will be raped or beaten in their lifetime; [the Vagina Monologues playwright Eve] Ensler wants the same number of people involved in raising awareness by dancing in public on 14 February . . .

Although we are making progress with One Billion Rising, misogyny still seeks to ground us all . . .

When 80 per cent of 11-year-olds in one study by Edinburgh University say it is OK to hit a woman if she’s late with the dinner, we know we have to ensure that every young person wants a partnership based on mutual respect.

Meanwhile, a local resident and space fanatic alerts me that Unilever is running a competition to send people into space – but it is being marketed at men only. It seems we have a new final frontier for feminism . . .

Read her diary piece in full on our website now.


Laurie Penny: with Tasers and placards, the women of Egypt are fighting back against sexism

Laurie Penny reports from Cairo on the rampant post-revolution rise in sexual assaults against women and what Egyptian women are doing to fight back.

She meets with OpAntiSH (“Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment”) -- “a gang of volunteers, some of them men and many of them women who’ve been raped and assaulted. OpAntiSH physically stops assaults in Tahrir Square and the surrounding areas, using Tasers, spray paint, fists, force, sticks, anything they can put their hands on to protect women from ‘mob attacks’.”

Penny explains:

For the women of Egypt, freedom from sexist oppression and freedom from state repression are part of the same battle . . .

Egypt is not the only country where women are bearing the brunt of social frustration and public anger. But the women of Egypt and their allies have understood what the rest of the world has failed so far to grasp – that meaningful social progress cannot exclude women. Western journalists using the sex assault pandemic to imply that Egypt somehow isn’t ready for regime change, to imply that Egyptian men are out of control, have fundamentally misunderstood what this revolution is, and what it can be.

In the Critics

The novelist Jeanette Winterson celebrates the transgressive pleasure of Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando and its origins in Woolf’s affair with Vita Sackville-West (“an unrepentant flirt”).


  • In the Books Interview, Jonathan Derbyshire talks to Tracey Thorn of Everything But the Girl about her memoir, Bedsit Disco Queen: How I Grew Up and Tried to Be a Pop Star.
  • Richard Holloway, the former Bishop of Edinburgh, reviews John Gray’s The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths.
  • George Eaton reviews Unhitched: the Trial of Christopher Hitchens by Richard Seymour
  • Alex Massie reviews On Glasgow and Edinburgh by Robert Crawford
  • Rachel Cooke watches the US remake of House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey
  • Ryan Gilbey reviews This Is 40, directed by Judd Apatow
  • and much, much more...

Read our full "In the Critics this week" blog post here.

Purchase a copy of this week's New Statesman in newsstands today, or online at:

Charlotte Simmonds is a writer and blogger living in London. She was formerly an editorial assistant at the New Statesman. You can follow her on Twitter @thesmallgalleon.

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Shami Chakrabarti’s fall from grace: how a liberal hero lost her reputation

Once, it was trendy to say you liked the former director of Liberty. No longer.

It might be hard to remember now, but there was a time when it was trendy to like Shami Chakrabarti. In the mid-2000s, amid the Iraq War backlash and the furore over identity cards, speaking well of the barrister and head of the human rights campaign group Liberty was a handy way of displaying liberal credentials. She was everywhere: Question Time, Desert Island Discs, Have I Got News For You. A young indie band from Worcester called the Dastards was so keen on her that it even wrote a song about her. It included the lyric: “I turn on my TV/The only one I want to see/Is Shami Chakrabarti.”

The daughter of Bengali immigrants, Chakrabarti was born and brought up in the outer-London borough of Harrow, where she attended a comprehensive school before studying law at the London School of Economics. Her background was a great strength of her campaigning, and during the most authoritarian years of New Labour government she burnished her reputation.

Fast-forward to 13 September 2016, when Chakrabarti made her House of Lords debut as a Labour peer. Baroness Chakrabarti of Kennington wore a sombre expression and a rope of pearls looped round her throat beneath her ermine robe. It was hard to recognise the civil liberties campaigner who was once called “an anarchist in a barrister’s wig” by Loaded magazine.

Yet Chakrabarti has also been cast in another role that is far less desirable than a seat in the Lords: that of a hypocrite. On 29 April this year, Jeremy Corbyn announced that Chakrabarti would chair an independent inquiry into anti-Semitism and other forms of racism in the Labour Party. The inquiry was prompted by the suspensions of Naz Shah, the MP for Bradford West, and Ken Livingstone, for making offensive remarks that were condemned as anti-Semitic. On 16 May Chakrabarti announced that she was joining Labour to gain members’ “trust and confidence”. She said that she would still run the inquiry “without fear or favour”.

The Chakrabarti inquiry delivered its findings on 30 June at a press conference in Westminster. The atmosphere was febrile – there were verbal clashes between the activists and journalists present, and the Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth was reduced to tears. The report stated that Labour “is not overrun by anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or other forms of racism” but that there was an “occasionally toxic atmosphere”. It listed examples of “hateful language” and called on party members to “resist the use of Hitler, Nazi and Holocaust metaphors, distortions and comparisons”. Many Labour supporters were surprised that the report’s 20 recommendations did not include lifetime bans for members found to have shown anti-Semitic behaviour.

Then, on 4 August, it was revealed that Chakrabarti was the sole Labour appointment to the House of Lords in David Cameron’s resignation honours. Both Chakrabarti and Corbyn have denied that the peerage was discussed during the anti-Semitism inquiry. But critics suggested that her acceptance undermined the report and its independence.

In particular, it attracted criticism from members of the UK’s Jewish community. Marie van der Zyl, vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: “This ‘whitewash for peerages’ is a scandal that surely raises serious questions about the integrity of Ms Chakrabarti, her inquiry and the Labour leadership.” A home affairs select committee report into anti-Semitism in the UK has since found that there were grave failings in the report for Labour.

Two further incidents contributed to the decline in Chakrabarti’s reputation: her arrival on Corbyn’s front bench as shadow attorney general and the revelation that her son attends the selective Dulwich College, which costs almost £19,000 a year in fees for day pupils (£39,000 for full boarders). She said that she “absolutely” supports Labour’s opposition to grammar schools but defended her choice to pay for selective education.

Chakrabarti told ITV’s Peston on Sunday: “I live in a nice big house and eat nice food, and my neighbours are homeless and go to food banks. Does that make me a hypocrite, or does it make me someone who is trying to do best, not just for my own family, but for other people’s families, too?”

This was the end for many of those who had respected Chakrabarti – the whisper of hypocrisy became a roar. As the Times columnist Carol Midgley wrote: “You can’t with a straight face champion equality while choosing privilege for yourself.”

Hypocrisy is a charge that has dogged the left for decades (both Diane Abbott and Harriet Harman have fallen foul of the selective school problem). The trouble with having principles, it is said, is that you have to live up to them. Unlike the right, the left prizes purity in its politicians, as Jeremy Corbyn’s squeaky-clean political image shows. Shami Chakrabarti started the year with a campaigning reputation to rival that of the Labour leader, but her poor decisions have all but destroyed her. It’s difficult to recall a time when a liberal icon has fallen so far, so fast. 

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood