Good-bye Basra

Well "the mission" is complete, troops out by next May. What an appalling disaster the whole Iraq fiasco of Mr Blair and Mr Brown has been- and lets not forget that the Conservatives were right up there as cheerleaders. Far too little credit has been given to Charles Kennedy and Ming Campbell for standing up against the war. It was certainly not a populist decision. When they took it, the great majority of the UK population supported going to war with Iraq.

The last leader of a major political party to break ranks and come out against a military conflict was Hugh Gaitskell over Suez - it was a thoroughly principled stance but the British public did not like the apparent disloyalty to our boys and it helped break the Labour Party for a generation. So it took great courage on the part of Charles and Ming to go against the political flow - and I believe that they performed an absolutely invaluable service for UK parliamentary democracy as a result.One million people took to the streets against the war.

They could see that at least one strand of Westminster-based politics shared their outrage. It doesn't mean they all rushed out to vote LibDem - people's votes are founded on complex webs of issues - but at least they could feel that their arguments were being advocated in the two Houses. Otherwise they would have felt even more alienated by traditional politics. The whole story is a sorry saga. It was clear for years that Saddam was totally monstrous.

I described him as the most dangerous man in the Middle East way back in 1975 in a debate at the Cambridge Union Society because of his murderous activities even then against the Kurds. There will be a dusty cassette tape somewhere of the debate. Later he was the aggressor in the Iran-Iraq War - and yet the UK and US governments tacitly supported him. Who knows what regional poison that created. But to go to war without a proper mandate in a bit of Bush-pique was the worst possible scenario.

I just feel sorry for the families of the 178 killed British soldiers. And it has damaged British influence for decades to come. Mark Steel in The Independent had the sharpest comment: "If only he could have done it a week earlier, Muntazer al-Zaidi's display of hurling shoes at George Bush would have been unbeatable in the vote for Overseas Sports Personality of the Year."

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