Sunday, April 26, 2009

Iraq.. has it all been worth it? - Mirror

By Mark Austin


In these tough economic times it's easy to forget that sometime early this summer the flag will come down on Britain's involvement in the most controversial war since Vietnam. Six years after our troops crossed into Iraq from Kuwait to help topple Saddam Hussein, they'll be packing up and coming home.

So how will history judge a war that so divided this country? A job well done? Or as a badly-planned, reckless and ill-advised military adventure that cost far too much money and far too many lives.

Strangely, it will probably be remembered as both.

Whether you were for the war or against it, what is not in doubt is the courage, commitment and heroism of the tens of thousands of British Servicemen and women who have served their country in the past six years.

Theirs is not to question why, theirs is but to do or die. And they did it, and 179 of them paid the ultimate price.

They went into battle in Iraq WITHOUT all the equipment they would have liked and WITHOUT the full unequivocal support of the British public But they fought WITH the utmost bravery, often in the most desperate of circumstances.

And it was a war that became unnecessarily difficult, dangerous and deadly. That was because the politicians and the officials responsible for the post-war planning got it so badly wrong.

The fighting in the real war was largely over in a matter of weeks.
British troops had taken Basra while American forces had rolled into Bagdhad and ordinary Iraqis seemed pretty happy as the giant statue of Saddam came crashing down.

I remember moving into Basra with the Royal Marines at dawn one April morning and all the people on the streets seemed delighted to be rid of a murderous dictator.

But then everything changed. The invading armies turned, in the eyes of Iraqis, from liberators into occupiers. And that was to have the most disastrous consequences.

Disbanding the Iraqi army was, perhaps, the worst mistake. It meant that tens of thousands of disillusioned, unpaid, trained fighters melted away into the villages, towns and cities with their weapons and became ready and willing recruits for the militias taking up arms against British soldiers.

It was a nasty, messy insurgency, the Brits couldn't win it and casualties rose month by month. It took a massive assault by Iraqi troops to finally bring it to an end.

But as British troops prepare to leave has it all been worth it? There is a democratic government in Iraq and the violence has diminished, although the dreadful suicide bombings in the last few days indicate just how fragile things are.

And the real test will come once most of the coalition troops have gone. Will they leave behind a functioning society, or will their departure trigger a bout of bloodletting and civil war that tears Iraq apart? Only then will we really know whether it was worth it.

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