Tariq Ali on Chilcot Iraq Report: Tony Blair is a War Criminal for Pushing Us into Illegal War

StoryJuly 06, 2016
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Tariq Ali

political commentator, historian, activist, filmmaker, author, and an editor of the New Left Review. His most recent book is The Extreme Centre: A Warning.

Sami Ramadani

Iraqi-born lecturer in sociology and writes on Iraq and Middle East current affairs. He was a political exile from Saddam’s regime but campaigned against U.S.-led sanctions and the invasion and occupation of Iraq. He is a member of the steering committee of Stop the War Coalition.

While Iraq is marking a third day of mourning, a long-awaited British inquiry into the Iraq War has just been released. The Chilcot report is 2.6 million words long—about three times the length of the Bible. Using excerpts from private correspondence between former Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush, the report details how Blair pushed Britain into the war despite a lack of concrete intelligence. For example, eight months before the invasion, Blair wrote to Bush: "I will be with you, whatever." Then, in June 2003, less than three months after the invasion began, Blair privately wrote to Bush that the task in Iraq is "absolutely awesome and I’m not at all sure we’re geared for it." Blair added, "And if it falls apart, everything falls apart in the region.” For more, we speak with British-Pakistani writer, commentator and author Tariq Ali.

NEXTTariq Ramadan: Iraq War Waged for U.S. Economic Interests Has Destabilized All of Middle East
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I’d like to ask Tariq Ali your response to the report, especially the sections that talk about Blair’s almost obsession with regime change, with getting rid of Saddam Hussein. And also, why did it take seven years to produce this report?

TARIQ ALI: It took seven—it took seven years because it—it took seven years because every single person interviewed had to have a chance to see the report, and Blair and his lawyers were looking at the fine print very closely, as were the generals and other people.

The findings of the report, quite honestly, are not very remarkable or original, as Sami has already said. These were things that were being said by all of us before this war started. It was what virtually every speaker said at the million-strong Stop the War demonstration in London. Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn, in particular, have been saying all this. So, to have official confirmation that what we were all saying was right is nice, but it’s too little and too late.

And because the report had no desire or was not permitted to discuss the legality of this exercise, it means that while there is evidence in the report for independent lawyers to proceed and file a citizen suit, the report itself doesn’t allow the state to actually prosecute Blair for war crimes. He is a war criminal. He pushed the country into this illegal war. His supporters in Parliament are trying to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn, who was 100 percent right on this war, backed by the bulk of the media. So we’re in a strange situation now. The report, I think, will anger lots of people who, unlike us, were not convinced by the movement that what was taking place was a lie, based on a lie, and it was illegal. What is going to happen now remains to be seen, but I would very much hope that independent groups of lawyers and jurists demand now that Blair is charged and tried. It’s very clear he pushed the war. He forced the intelligence services to prepare dodgy dossiers. He pushed his attorney general to changing his opinions before he was allowed to address the Cabinet. All that, we have in the report. The question is: Is anyone going to answer for it, or is this just designed to be therapeutic?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Tariq, about this whole issue of the Labour leadership in Parliament trying to remove Jeremy Corbyn, even though he was one of the most vocal antiwar advocates, and even though the base, the majority base, of the Labour Party still supports him?

TARIQ ALI: Well, I mean, it’s bizarre. You know, some people said to me that the reason they tried this coup against Jeremy in Parliament was so he wasn’t leader of the Labour Party when the Chilcot report came out. We’ll see what he says today at his press conference in three or four hours’ time. But I think he will be very harsh. The irony is that the woman who is the main candidate against him is a supporter of the Iraq War. Now that we have a judicial inquiry which says what it says about the war, I think surely it’s time that constituency Labour parties started the process of removing some of the chief warmongers from Parliament. They don’t represent anyone now, except a Cabinet in the past, a government which went to war. And if you look at some of the footage being shown on Channel 4 today—what Corbyn said, what Benn said, with what Blair said, I mean, the utter complacency and brutality with which Blair told Parliament, "There are some people here who think that regime change is wrong," and Gordon Brown nodding vigorously and Margaret Beckett on the other side—these are all the people involved in trying to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn. And something—you know, I hope Labour members will now fight back, because it’s precisely against this sort of thing that Corbyn has been fighting the right inside the Labour Party.

AMY GOODMAN: Sami Ramadani, you’re on the steering committee of Stop the War Coalition, a friend of Labour opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn. This backlash against him for—around the Brexit vote, which he was opposed to when he was the opposition leader and spoke out against—on Democracy Now!, spoke out against Britain leaving the European Union just two weeks ago, what you think is behind it?

SAMI RAMADANI: Really, my own feeling is—and probably Tariq would share that view with me—is that they are genuinely worried that Jeremy Corbyn might lead the next—to victory, the Labour movement to victory in the next general election. And they are terrified of that prospect. They looked at the four by-elections that happened since he was elected, and they were all won with comfortable majorities. In fact, the last one doubled Labour’s majority. And then they looked at the local election results, and again he did very well. And they are genuinely worried that if he wins, what’s going to happen to them? What’s going to happen—

AMY GOODMAN: They’re concerned he’ll be prime minister?

SAMI RAMADANI: —to their political record of supporting the Iraq War or voting with the Tories or abstaining on important welfare—welfare policies or the Tories applying neocon policies? They seem to prevaricate or concede to Tory demands and so on and so forth. And their abandonment of working-class communities over 20, 25—they continued on a Thatcherite policy for—Margaret Thatcher’s premiership destroyed so many working-class communities, and the new Labour leadership under Tony Blair simply continued that policy of abandoning working-class communities, and some of whom became so disillusioned, even voted for—with UKIP, which is an extreme right-wing party—

AMY GOODMAN: Sami Ramadani, we have to break.

SAMI RAMADANI: —party here. And Jeremy Corbyn is providing a new vision and a new strategy, and they want to undermine him.

AMY GOODMAN: Sami Ramadani, we have to break, and Tariq Ali, but we’re going to come back to ask you about what happened in Iraq this weekend, the largest car bomb attack since the Gulf War began. We’ll be back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In Iraq, the death toll from Saturday’s car bombing in Baghdad has topped 250, making it the deadliest car bombing in that country since the 2003 U.S. invasion. While Iraq is marking a third day of mourning, a long-awaited British inquiry into the Iraq War has just been released, blaming Tony Blair for his role in choosing to invade Iraq. I wanted to turn to former Prime Minister Blair. In November, he told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that there were, quote, "elements of truth" to the claim that removing Saddam Hussein played a part in the creation of ISIS.

FAREED ZAKARIA: When people look at the rise of ISIS, many people point to the invasion of Iraq as the principal cause. What do you say to that?

TONY BLAIR: I think there are elements of truth in that. But I think we’ve, again, got to be extremely careful; otherwise we’ll misunderstand what’s going on in Iraq and in Syria today. Of course, you can’t say that those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Sami Ramadani, your response to that—to that clip and to the recent bombing in Baghdad and the general situation in Iraq now, 13 years after the war started?

SAMI RAMADANI: I think I just have to contain my anger, really, because listening to Tony Blair there pontificating about his role in this genocidal war makes any—any human being, really, with a bit of humanity in them quite angry. After all this death and destruction, he would be sitting there trying to justify the fact that terrorism was brought into Iraq after 2003, all of these so-called leaders of ISIS. By the way, ISIS was al-Qaeda in Iraq. That was its official name. And we know al-Qaeda was founded in Afghanistan with the help of the CIA and the support of Britain and so on. But as usual, some of these terrorist organizations that they encourage and arm bite the hand that feeds them occasionally.

But that doesn’t change the strategic picture, that nearly all Iraqis, even supporters—some of the supporters of the invasion and occupation testify to the fact that terrorism was encouraged by the occupation forces, whether of the British or American variety. And the multiplicity of these terrorist organizations was also encouraged by the regional powers—Saudis, Qataris, Turkey. They’re all close U.S. allies. They funded these organizations. They supplied them with arms. Turkey gradually became the logistical base of these terrorist organizations. Some 30,000 fighters, according to the United Nations, came from over 80 countries across the world—trained fighters, most of them—from as far as Chechnya and Libya and Tunisia and Saudi Arabia, of course, and so on. And they were all—as The New York Times, as Seymour Hersh, as many other reliable sources have revealed, that the CIA coordinated a lot of this from Turkey.

So, to sit down and listen to Tony Blair trying to dissociate himself and George Bush and the policymakers then of the proliferation of terrorist groups, the murders in Iraq—really, Iraqis, if you ask ordinary people, they will tell you we are still at war. The 2003 invasion and occupation of the country has not ended. This terrorism is a continuation of that war. They see these terrorist organizations as an arm of the same invasion and occupation of the country. They’re still dividing and ruling. They are still trying to dominate Iraq, because the Iraqi people have a great history of fighting for independence, for progress, for socialism even—

AMY GOODMAN: Sami Ramadani—

SAMI RAMADANI: —and they cannot control the country that easily, and terrorism is serving them.

AMY GOODMAN: Sami and Tariq Ali, I want to play for you a clip of Donald Trump yesterday in Raleigh, North Carolina, talking about Saddam Hussein.

DONALD TRUMP: Saddam Hussein was a bad guy. Right? He was a bad guy, really bad guy. But you know what he did well? He killed terrorists. He did that so good. They didn’t read him the rights. They didn’t talk. They were terrorists. It was over. Today, Iraq is Harvard for terrorism. You want to be a terrorist, you go to Iraq. It’s like Harvard.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Donald Trump yesterday. Tariq Ali, your response?

TARIQ ALI: Well, I mean, you know, how can one deny the truth of what he’s saying? I mean, yesterday, the BBC here showed a photograph—a filmed interview with a guy who had helped to bring Saddam Hussein’s statue down, which was a staged event, Amy, as you know, immediately after Baghdad was occupied. That guy appeared on the BBC yesterday and said he’s ashamed he did that. He wants to apologize for it. He said, "Saddam killed members of my family, but life, everyday life, in Iraq under him was much better than it is today." Most Iraqis, even if they hated Saddam and suffered, say life was much better under him than it was under the occupation and what’s going on today.

So Trump is not wrong, and precisely because he is capable of saying things like that and Clinton isn’t, because her consort as president was involved in the sanctions against Iraq. Madeleine Albright defended the deaths of half a million kids because of the sanctions. So, what can one say? And the other thing which is worth remembering, they are now all saying they made mistakes in Iraq. They’ve made the same and even worse mistakes in Libya. They’re carrying on with Syria. They’re doing nothing to stop the Saudi invasion of Yemen or the Saudi occupation of Bahrain. And then they pretend to be a bit more humble: "We won’t make the same mistakes again." Well, you are making them even as the West is watching.

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