Ten years on, Iraq still casts a long shadow


This week is the tenth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war. It may always be remembered as the defining chapter of Tony Blair’s era as Prime Minister.

Having been an MP throughout those years I know that the 1997-2010 Labour governments were about so much more. The new hospitals, refurbished schools and National Minimum Wage all bear witness to this. So too does Britain’s leadership in the fight against poverty in the developing world.

But none of that alters the legacy which the Iraq war has left both internationally and in the public’s perception of politics here at home.

Few people shed any tears about the toppling of a brutal dictator. But the cost has been huge.

The way it was done ushered in years of sectarianism in Iraq. It split the international community and wrecked the consensus that much of the Muslim world shared with the West about the need to stand up to the Taliban and Al Qaeda after 9/11. The United Nations was left weakened and the international effort in Afghanistan was both sidetracked and undermined.

Across the Middle East and beyond, the USA and UK stood accused of gross double standards for the way we embraced regime change in Iraq, but seemed to look the other way when it was our allies who broke international law. It fed a narrative still peddled by jihadists today, making the world a more dangerous place.

I wonder if the ‘Arab Spring’ might have developed differently, or if the world might have prevented the slaughter in Syria today, without the shadow of Iraq.

At home, the perception grew that the UK went to war on a false prospectus. The distrust in politics and politicians that many people were already feeling deepened. That distrust has stayed with us.

The Iraq war is not something which can be laid at the door of one party. A Labour Prime Minister took us to war, supported by most Conservatives but opposed by 139 of his own MPs. People of all parties and of none are all still living with the consequences.

We still have a way to go in learning the lessons we need to move on.

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Richard Burden

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I was Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield between 1992 and 2019 and a former Shadow Transport Minister. I now chair Healthwatch in Birmingham and Solihull, and the West Midlands Board of Remembering Srebrenica. I also work as a public affairs consultant. I am an effective community advocate and stakeholder alliance builder with a passion for human rights. I am a trustee of the Balfour Project charity and of Citizens Advice Birmingham, and a former Chair of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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You can reach me by email at richard@richardburden.com or use the form on the Contact page to send me a message.