By Mike Phipps
Over a million people have now signed a petition calling for the award of a knighthood to Tony Blair to be revoked. Furious soldiers – and the relatives of those killed in Iraq – are reported to be ready to send their medals back in disgust.
In contrast to Sir Keir Starmer, who said Blair “deserves the honour”, one Labour MP, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Daily Mail: “I just think it’s ridiculous he’s been given a knighthood – he’s an untried war criminal.”
Warming to the theme, the Mail was quick to emphasise Blair’s hypocrisy for accepting a knighthood after leading the charge to strip former Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe of his. It’s just a shame that the newspaper – and many others – were not so rigorous in exposing the fraudulent basis for Blair’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan when they were launched.
Around two million people marched against the invasion of Iraq in 2003. And people have not forgotten: according to a poll, the decision to honour the former Labour prime minister is supported by just 14% of the public, with 63% against.
The Labour front bench sees no problem with Blair’s knighthood. After all, most prime ministers get peerages, and knighthoods have no political power attached. Blair would hardly be the first untried imperialist war criminal to be so honoured.
Furthermore, Blair himself apparently believes that this is what knighthoods are for. A Freedom of Information request by The Sunday Times in 2012 revealed that Blair’s government considered knighting Syria’s brutal President Bashar al-Assad, the butcher of democratic uprisings within the country.
But in reality as Lindsey German, convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, said – quoted approvingly in the Daily Mail for once – Blair’s knighthood was a “kick in the teeth for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan”.
The Stop the War Coalition have called a protest in Windsor on June 13th when Blair will join the Queen at Windsor Castle as part of a Garter Day procession.
Blair’s war in Afghanistan cost over 100,000 Afghan lives and left the country in a state of ruin. The reactionary Taliban are back in power and the people’s suffering continues: 18.4 million people need humanitarian assistance and more than 30% of the population are facing emergency or crisis levels of food insecurity. While the West’s military intervention is largely over, its economic sanctions continue to wreak havoc with the livelihoods of ordinary Afghans.
In Iraq, Blair’s war was based on a false prospectus of Saddam Hussein possessing non-existent weapons of mass destruction. It’s now clear that, eight months before the invasion, Blair was committed to supporting the US-led war, whatever the evidence. Well before UN weapons inspectors had completed their work, Blair wrote to President Bush: “I will be with you, whatever.”
“I was determined to do everything I could to avoid it if we could,” he later said of the invasion of Iraq in the recently screened Blair & Brown: the New Labour Revolution. As I noted at the time: “The old habit of mouthing what he thinks people want to hear irrespective of its accuracy lives on.”
Blair’s Attorney General took the view that the Iraq war might be considered illegal. So concerned was Blair about this advice leaking into the public domain that he told his Defence Secretary to burn the memo from the Attorney General which said this, according to the former Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon.
The war in Iraq left a harrowing legacy. Allied forces refused to keep statistics of Iraqi civilian deaths, but one detailed survey carried out by Iraqi academics estimated that more than 37,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in the first eight months alone. Up to 6,000 people were killed in early 2004 in the aerial bombardment of Fallujah, a city still suffering from a higher than normal level of birth defects and cancers as a result of the munitions used. Over a million may have perished in the conflict as a whole.
The broader legacy is one of rampant political corruption – Iraq ranks as one of the most corrupt countries in the world -and lethal sectarianism. Blair himself admitted there were “elements of truth” to the view that the invasion of Iraq helped promote the rise of ISIS.
As a result of the invasion of Iraq, war crimes were committed on Blair’s watch. A 180-page report by the International Criminal Court produced just one year before Blair got his knighthood said that hundreds of Iraqi detainees were abused by British soldiers between 2003 and 2009. At least seven Iraqis were illegally killed while in British custody between April and September 2003. Some detainees were raped or subjected to sexual violence. Others were beaten so badly they died from their injuries. All the individuals were unarmed and in British custody at the time.
Since then, the Guardian reported two months ago, “The Ministry of Defence has quietly settled 417 Iraq compensation claims and paid out several million pounds to resolve accusations that British troops subjected Iraqis to cruel and inhumane treatment, arbitrary detention or assault.”
The late Desmond Tutu suggested that Blair and Bush should be tried at the International Criminal Court in The Hague for having “fabricated the grounds to behave like playground bullies”. That outright condemnation did not feature in many of his recent obituaries.
“Can a ‘man of honour’ be a man who orders the killing of innocents? Or does he kill them honourably?” asked Lily Hamourtziadou, a senior researcher for Iraq Body Count and a senior lecturer in security studies at Birmingham City University and Bülent Gökay, Professor of International Relations at Keele University, recently. “The UK’s entire ‘honours’ system is outdated, wrapped in a past imperial mindset and colonial language that is incapable of being reformed and decolonised.”
Another topical reason to oppose the knighting of Tony Blair is the role he played in burnishing the image of Kazakhstan’s former ruler Nursultan Nazarbayev and his autocratic regime. ”Narzabayev invited Blair to give him strategic advice after Kazakh security forces shot dead 14 people during the country’s December 2011 anti-government uprising,” reported the Guardian. “The Kazakh government is said to have paid Blair’s consultancy $13m for its services.”
In recent days, the Kazakh government has unleashed ferocious repression against a popular uprising. Hundreds of protestors have been killed and the government has given the order to “shoot to kill without warning” to suppress opposition.
State-bestowed honours are cheapened when people like Blair get them. If anyone deserves to be honoured, it is Iraqi journalist Muntadhar Al-Zaidi, who became famous after throwing two shoes at President Bush during a news conference in Baghdad in 2008. “This is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, you dog!” he shouted as he threw the first shoe. “This is from the widows, the orphans, and those who were killed in Iraq,” he yelled with the second.
In response to his brave stand, he was arrested, beaten and tortured which left him in enduring pain. “I do not regret throwing the shoe,” he says. “My regret is that all I did was throw one shoe and not have more legs so I can throw three, or four or five.”
Polly Toynbee wrote glowingly recently of the achievements of Tony Blair’s government “despite the tragedy of Iraq”. But it was not some tragic natural disaster: it was the result of conscious policy undertaken by Bush’s and Blair’s governments. And it was a war crime.
The Czech writer Milan Kundera said: “The struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” Tony Blair’s knighthood should be opposed and exposed – so we never forget.
Sign the petition to rescind Blair’s knighthood here
Mike Phipps is editor of the Iraq Occupation Focus e-newsletter, available at https://lists.riseup.net/www/info/iraqfocus. His book For the Many: Preparing Labour for Power was published by OR Books in 2018.
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