Seb Cooke discusses how the movement that opposed the Iraq War in 2003 has been vindicated in the findings of yesterday’s Chilcot report
If you’re on the left in Britain and anywhere in your late-twenties or thirties, chances are you came into politics via the Iraq War. On the 15th February each year, people of this generation recall what they did that day in 2003, how they got to London, who they met and the life changing ideas that took root in a sea of two million other people marching against war. I was 16 and went on a coach from mid Wales. We marched, Blair went to war anyway and we changed ourselves and British politics forever.
This is my experience of the war and it’s similar for many others in Britain. But that experience is not shared by everyone. For someone like me in Fallujah, a sixteen year old boy when the war started, the actions of Tony Blair and George Bush didn’t result in demos and mass meetings. It was more likely to mean death, displacement, torture, bombing and destruction. That is the experience shared by millions of Iraqis. That is why we marched.
Like a lot of people, I didn’t know a lot about the politics and the history of the Middle East in 2003. But you didn’t need to be an expert to know that Iraq had nothing to do with Saddam being a threat to his people, and everything to do with expanding Western interests in the Middle East. Once you saw that, as a majority of people did, you understood the lies and deceit that went on at the highest levels of world power to justify the invasion. There was always this stench that came from Blair’s drive to war, but after two million took to the streets the opposition to it became much more potent. The mass anti war movement led by the Stop the War coalition gave that raw anger a direction and political framework, and helped to popularise for a generation the wrongs of Western Imperialism. This meant that post-Iraq, Blair’s days were numbered and he has been hounded ever since.
This is the context of Chilcot. State inquiries don’t happen in a vacuum, they are swayed by the political atmosphere and this is no different. The broad public consensus is that the war was wrong, Blair lied about WMD, and the world is worse as a result. The anti war movement, the families of the dead and the situation in the Middle East has brought about that consensus. Anything other than official state recognition of this would have caused outrage and risked damaging the ruling class’ reputation even further. This doesn’t mean that this is good for the elite at all; it’s recognition of the fact that ordinary people helped produce the Chilcot report and it shouldn’t be forgotten.
Our input doesn’t end there though. In the commons, after Cameron had disgustingly downplayed the report and defended his ally Tony Blair, Jeremy Corbyn stood up. He delivered a speech that went further than Chilcot in damming the Iraq war and told the world that it was us, the millions who marched, who had got it right, and it was them, the governing class, who had got it so wrong. That message delivered in the belly of the British state was our victory as well.
Corbyn was a central figure in the anti-war movement, his election as Labour leader very much about a rejection of the Blair years which were so discredited by Iraq. His presence yesterday responding to Chilcot is no small part down to the scale of our movement. Maybe this is why the Blairite MP Ian Austin couldn’t help himself by heckling Corbyn as he was giving his speech. It was a moment of frustration because his side had stalled, the pre-Chilcot coup had failed and here was Corbyn handing him his ass.
Finally there is Blair. Apparently his speech after Chilcot was wobbly to say the least. He is not a confident man right now. Alastair Campbell has been wheeled out to stick up for his friend and even had the brass neck to say he didn’t do anything wrong. A few days before Bagdad fell Saddam Hussein made a defiant speech saying he was on the cusp of victory against the coalition. Now it looks like the Blairites who are the ones in the bunker, pretending their world is fine shortly before it caves in around them.
This may be the case, but Cameron reminded us today that our ruling class stick together. And it’s in their interests to see Blair go quietly rather than go to court. They are on shaky territory though. Brexit has created a political vacuum, a crisis in their own authority and their attempt to oust Corbyn has stalled. Earlier this year, we were reminded of how rotten they were over Hillsborough. Now we have Chilcot. With both of these events, it has been the families of the dead who have kept the fight going despite everything. It is their voices that ring true against the hollow excuses of the politicians who have tried to silence them. They are the ones who are now most powerfully calling for Blair to face the consequences. Our movement stands alongside them, and we must now see legal proceedings against Blair as a priority. With him goes many others, not least the Blairites who orchestrated the coup last week. It would also further weaken our ruler’s political authority and strengthen ours.
Yesterday was vindication for the families who have fought for so long, the people who marched and everyone who opposed the war. The next step is Blair. This won’t undo the misery and destruction he has caused, but it will take us a step closer in our fight for a world that’s free of the needless death and war that he symbolises.