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Every few months a member of the audience at a meeting I am addressing asks whether I regret supporting the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. The look in their eyes is both imploring and accusatory – “surely you must agree with me now”, it seems to say. I reply that I regret much: the disbanding of the Iraqi army; a de-Ba’athification programme that became a sectarian purge of Iraq‘s Sunnis; the torture of Abu Ghraib; and a failure to impose security that allowed murderous sectarian gangs to kill tens of thousands.
For all that, I say, I would not restore the Ba’ath if I had the power to rewind history. To do so would be to betray people who wanted something better after 35 years of tyranny. If my interrogators’ protesting cries allow it, I then talk about Saddam’s terror state and the Ba’ath’s slaughter of the “impure” Kurdish minority, accomplished in true Hitlerian fashion with poison gas.
My questioners invariably look bewildered. The notion that, even if they opposed military intervention, they had obligations to support those who suffered under a regime which can be fairly described as national socialist had never occurred to them. No one can say that time’s passing has lessened their confusion.
It’s 10 years since the overthrow of Saddam and 25 since he ordered the Kurdish genocide. I can guarantee that you will not hear much about Saddam’s atrocities in the coming weeks. As Bayan Rahman, the Kurdish ambassador to London, said to me: “Everyone wants to remember Fallujah and no one wants to remember Halabja.” Nor, I think, will you hear about the least explored legacy of the war, which continues to exert a malign influence on “liberal” foreign policy.
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