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Guardian: Iraqis think Blair made a ‘mistake’

by Jonathan Cook

It will be no surprise to readers of this blog that I believe Tony Blair should be put on trial for crimes against humanity for assisting George Bush in attacking Iraq in 2003. The Chilcot inquiry, however compromised its members were by their establishment ties and however cautious they were in their use of language, have very belatedly reached the same conclusion.

If “military action at that time was not a last resort” and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein “posed no imminent threat”, then Bush and Blair launched a war of aggression. And that, according to the definition laid out by the Nuremberg Tribunal, is the “supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

But what I think of Blair’s actions and what Chilcot thinks of them are irrelevant to the question of what Iraqis – who were the chief victims of this crime – think of the attack on their country. And here a deception, mirroring those we have endured from the corporate media for the past 13 years, persists.

It is truly extraordinary that today’s front page of the supposedly liberal Guardian continues to promote Blair and the British establishment’s version of the Iraq invasion the day after the Chilcot Report officially discredited it. Not only that but – shamefully – the Guardian stuffs its Blairite spin on the invasion of Iraq into the collective mouths of the Iraqi people.

The Guardian promises a story telling us how Iraqis – whose voices we so rarely hear – feel about the Chilcot Report and what Bush and Blair did to their country. The declared intention here, at least, is noble: it is vitally important that we hear what Iraqis think. But is that really what the Guardian offers us?

According to the headline, the Iraqis’ view is best summarised in the following quote: “They should have known better.” And the standfirst below it continues the theme, claiming the Chilcot Report told Iraqis “what they already knew: the war was a grave mistake”.

One has to be truly delusional – as the Guardian and other liberal media so often are – to believe for one second that the most commonly held view among Iraqis is that Bush and Blair made a “mistake” in destroying their country. I believe Blair is a war criminal. Chilcot appears to be believe Blair is a war criminal. But Iraqis are either so magnanimous or so dumb that they think it was just a “mistake”. Did the Guardian editors ponder adding a “genuine” instead of “grave” before the word “mistake”?

The reporter, Martin Chulov, did not write the headline and standfirst. That will have been overseen by the most senior editors – certainly the foreign editor, probably the home editor, at least one of the assistant editors and, assuming she is hands-on, the editor herself, Kath Viner. None of them apparently paused to consider whether it was credible, let alone moral, for the Guardian to present Blair’s “mistake” defence as the collective verdict of the Iraqi people.

But Chulov, as so often in his coverage, is deeply implicated in this calumny. The headline and standfirst are based on a highly dubious reading of Iraqis’ views Chulov presents in an early paragraph as he describes their reaction to the latest mass attack:

Bystanders in the central Baghdad neighbourhood of Karrada seemed oblivious to the release of the Chilcot report, … which was little more than a footnote to most of the crowd. For the mix of mourners staring into the middle distance, desperate relatives wailing for help, forensic officers crouched near puddles and others who stood bewildered by the scale of destruction, it would merely tell them what they already knew: that the war and its aftermath were both grave mistakes.

Chulov would doubtless defend this assessment, claiming it is based on several quotes from Iraqis in the piece. Shafi Abdul Hassan, for example, is quoted saying: “We need honourable men to lead us out of this. There were enormous mistakes made, but our leaders have not helped us since.”

There is nothing in this quote to let us know who Abdul Hassan is referring to when he speaks of “enormous mistakes”, but the context suggests he is talking about Iraq’s own leaders, not Bush and Blair. It comes after he has mentioned the need for “honourable men to lead us out of this”. I assume he means Iraqi leaders have made “enormous mistakes” in the aftermath of their country’s destruction and the Iraqi people need better leadership if they are going to recover.

The Guardian could have chosen a surely more representative view – offered a little later in the piece – by Colonel Ahmed Hassan, an interior ministry police officer. He says: “There is no excuse for [the decision to invade]. It was an extermination war.”

But the framing of this article suggests Abdul Hassan is some kind of compromised government insider giving the official line rather his own personal and well-considered assessment. His quote seems to be there only for “balance” – to give the other side.

Chulov talks to two other Iraqis, both from areas that were controlled by the British military and were least riven by sectarian discord. The first sounds remarkably relaxed about an illegal invasion that, according to best estimates, led to the deaths of at least a million Iraqis and the displacement of probably four million.

Atheer al-Attar, an engineer from Basra, says:

The way they handled things was wrong. If they managed it correctly, we could have had better relations with the British now. I am for the invasion. I think it opened a lot of new horizons, but it could have led to a much better outcome.

The other, Fadi Faris, talks mainly about the context of the attack: whether Iraqi society was in a situation where it was ready to be “democratised” by the US and Britain. Or as he puts it:

It was like bringing a knife and giving it to a child. Under Saddam we had a government with a big problem. Now we don’t have a real government and we only have problems.

Interestingly, the Iraqis interviewed seem to share the assumption of the Guardian and the rest of the western liberal media that the motives behind the attack were benevolent rather than cynical. None seem to think that oil was a factor in the US-British attack on their country. Which is strange because, having lived among Palestinians since before 2003,  I have rarely encountered one who does not think oil was a major consideration in the attack. (Another widely held view, of course, is that the attack on Iraq was about disposing of a major regional enemy of Israel. I suspect some Iraqis share that assessment too, but you won’t hear it in the Guardian.)

And here we reach the issue of journalistic responsibility. In any conflict zone, places where societies are weak and divided and there are many competing interests, a reporter can find someone to take just about any position of any issue. There will be many  interpretations of what happened and who is chiefly to blame. Each interviewee may have more than one perspective of any single issue.

A reporter’s job is selection. Select whom to speak to. Select the questions to ask. Select which answers to highlight. Select which quotes to include. Select where to place them in the story and how much emphasis to give them.

All journalists do this in every story they write. Chulov did it here. In a story of this nature – one freighted with so much historical importance – he was obligated to talk to a wide range of people in different situations to get a sense of these various views and then weight them in the article according to their representativeness. He was also obligated to present their opinions in a fair context. If the story claims to be telling us what Iraqis think of Blair and Britain’s role, then that is the key question he should have asked his interviewees, and their answer to that question should have been provided in the piece.

Chulov, who has spent much time in Iraq, must already have a good sense of what Iraqis think about Blair and the attack on their country. But there is little evidence he fairly reflected that in his piece. Instead he read into his lead quote the most benign interpretation possible regarding Blair and Britain’s role. And then he backed up that dubious interpretation with quotes from two people whose representativeness seems more than unlikely – both appear to be established contacts from his time in British-controlled areas of south-east Iraq, presumably whose views he already knew.

Those views are important. But in the case of Faris, he is not answering the question the Guardian suggests he is: what he thinks of Britain’s role in attacking and destroying his country. He is talking about internal problems of Iraqi society – a very different issue.

In reality, Chulov and the Guardian’s assessment that the Iraqi people think Blair made a “mistake” is based on only one Iraqi’s view – that of Al-Attar. Is his view indeed representative of the Iraqi people as a whole? Can we even say for sure that the quote attributed to him is representative of his views as a whole, or is it just representative of the section of the conversation Chulov has selected for us.

Chulov’s piece had a duty to reflect the true anger of Iraqis about their country’s destruction. Instead the Guardian recruited them against their will to act as a witness in Blair’s defence.


11 Comments

  1. Richard Le Sarcophage says

    Chulov is an utterly infamous Zionist propagandist. Does anyone else remember his being so easily able to enter Syria at the beginning of the jihadist onslaught, and join some takfiris (Israel’s allies al-Nusra Front, if memory serves me well)in interrogating a captured Syrian soldier? No doubt later served up as dinner.

    Like

  2. Johnny Hacket says

    Andrew Rawnsley cheer leading sycophantic Blair boy has a piece today conflating the Chilcote with brexit .I posted the following but will be interested to if I get moderated
    johnnyhacket 

    8m ago 

    01

    The trouble with the Internet along with the bereaved families of Iraq is that they have a longer memory than Rawnsley.

    This from APRIL 2003

    Saddam may have been felled, but Tony Blair has not overcome all the pockets of resistance at home. They snipe on. Those who predicted that dethroning the vile monster would be such a catastrophe that it would be better to leave him in peace are already asserting with equal confidence that Iraq without Saddam will develop into a total disaster. We can only hope that their forecasts about what happens next are as spot on as those they made about what has just passed.

    Rawnsley , the cheerleader of Blair’s victory , that resulted in the death of countless Iraqis, countless because you didn’t seem to think they were worth counting , you were too busy telling us what a success it all was going to be , and yet you have the nerve to offer your “opinion” to us today .

    Like

  3. rtj1211 says

    Look – it’s pretty clear why the Establishment line is as it is: David Cameron has led British participation in ‘wars’, ‘actions involving the Armed Forces’, call them what you will, in Libya with equally disastrous results. He has also been turning a blind eye to covert actions in arming ISIS in Syria to create the narrative that Assad ‘is a monster attacking his own people’, rather than a leader defending his own country from armed insurgency funded from Washington, London, Qatar, Bahrain and various other dubious sources of cash.

    There’s a lot of nonsense spouted saying that anyone who questions their own country’s motives ‘hates their country’.

    I don’t question my country’s motives: I ASSERT that our motives are solely being a subservient poodle to the USA-dominated NATO. We don’t take any decisions any more, we merely rubber-stamp them.

    We are officially a vassal state of the USA in military terms and, currently at least, a vassal state of the EU in political ones.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. HeeeresJohnny says

    Curiously, only a day after its publication, the Chilcot Report has been all but swept under the carpet by the Guardian, following a day of op-eds that failed to actually acknowledge the damning verdict of the documents 6.2 million words.

    Hardly surprising, given that the Guardian itself was complicit, calling for the invasion to take place when the idea was mooted. Also noticeable are the below-the-line comments being completely shut down when the vast majority of comments are likely to fly in the face of the Guardian’s agenda. This was no different. I suspect the sheer amount of voices BTL reminding people that the Guardian cheered on intervention in Iraq, is currently assisting an anti-democratic coup in the Labour party (at the behest of the very people who voted for the war) and still has a bit of a soft spot for Warmonger-in-Chief, was a bit too much to handle.

    The Establishment has closed ranks and the Guardian is part of the club.

    Liked by 2 people

    • deschutes says

      You are wrong: the Guardian did not support the invasion of Iraq. Prove it to me: go and find the editorials from 2003/2004/etc where the Guardian “cheered on intervention in Iraq”. To the contrary, the Guardian’s editorials were against the invasion and highly critical of Bush and Blair. Further: their lead cartoonist Steve Bell published scathingly critical cartoons of Bush, Blair and the entire invasion.

      When people such as yourself start making up bogus claims about the Guardian, you weaken the case against the Guardian being a bad news website–which in fact it is. My final comment is that the Guardian’s last stand as a marginally decent news website was it being against the invasion of Iraq way back in 2003, or generally highly critical of it. Much later, I think around 2013 or so, it changed, really changed for the worst: into the faux-liberal NATO propaganda windbag it now is. Its coverage of Ukraine, Palestine, Syria being especially atrocious and blatantly dishonest agenda driven drivel and misinformation.

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  5. Michaelk says

    What can one say? The Guardian is truly ghastly, and getting worse and worse. The new editor is a disaster and the thing has lurched even further to the neo-con right. I find many of the articles remind me of an attempt to put a liberal gloss on views, attitudes and actions that are founded on a shockingly imperialist worldview that’s increasingly similar to a kind of ‘soft fascism’ or fascism with a human face, totalitarian, bloody, anti-democratic, destructive, deluded and self-righteous… typified by Blair himself, who the Guardian is protraying as a ‘tragic’ figure in a false narrative full of ‘idealism’ and littered over and over again by honest mistakes.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. M. says

    As a “third worlder”/European living in Britain, this is one of the things that surprised and shocked me the most when moving to London, it allowed me to see that the ideas behind the slaughter of half of the world are still alive and well in big segments of society. All that imperial evil, arrogance, that sense of superiority and of always being rightful is contained in that widespread idea (or newspeak soundbite, to be more precise) of the war against the people of Iraq being a “mistake”. It is necessary to add that I have got that sophism from all kinds of people, from Chulov and thousand other MSM mercenaries, to the (at least apparently) good hearted liberal hippy in college or the lads at the pub.

    That these people are not able to realise the magnitude of the immorality of such an obviously non-sensical claim is not only extremely sad but quite scary as well, to be honest. I wonder if they would feel as uncomfortable as I do listening to them talking about how the rightful anglo-empire ended up provoking the death of millions like one could add too much sugar to a cup of coffee, if they were listening to a German talking about Hitler´s mistakes in the same terms. At this point I am not so willing to make a prediction. That they are also trying to put that nonsense in the voice of their victims is outrageous.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. What a disgrace that Chulov chose only to represent the views of a few rather than the many Iraqi voices, to suit the Guardian’s well tailored and deceitful “Iraq” response to the illegal war, that ripped their lives apart and killed so many. One is mindful that he was unable to interview any of the estimated two million dead as a consequence – but even so….

    Liked by 1 person

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