Before the Iraq War, we stood under a banner of “Not in My Name” in the two giant demonstrations in London against it. This YouTube video from WikiLeaks shows the video footage from a US helicopter gunship in Baghdad in 2007. The US soldiers believe that a group of men have weapons, including AK47’s and an RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade launcher). They open fire, killing most of the men, leaving only one alive, but injured. In fact the men were all civilians, gathered around a Reuters photographer and his driver. The weapons were cameras. A van comes to try and help the injured Reuters driver and the soldiers open fire again, killing those trying to help. Two children in the van are injured.
It is an extremely graphic and disturbing video.
Before seeing the video, I wanted to give the soldiers the benefit of the doubt and appreciate that the realities of war sometime mean that there are situations close to the limit of what is acceptable. I thought it might be one of the situations in war that are appalling, but unavoidable.
Having forced myself to watch the entire video, I feel fairly confident in saying the US soldiers displayed appalling judgement. Those innocent men were killed unnecessarily, very likely unlawfully.
All wars are brutal and the media age is bringing that brutality home to us. We should not dismiss the brutality, just because it has always been that way. Instead it should be a wake up call to ensure that we only engage in wars if absolutely necessary.
Many civilians have been killed as a result of the war in Iraq, both by our own troops, in our name, by suicide bombers and as a result of a collapse into lawlessness. Some estimates put the civilian casualties in Iraq at 600,000. I am not sure I believe that figure, but it is clear that tens, if not hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children have lost their lives as a result of this war conducted in our name.
This was should never have happened, the public never supported it. It went ahead, because Labour and the Tories supported it. Because they did not have the integrity to properly scrutinise the legality and justification for the war.
Iraq still matters in the 2010 election, not just because we sent our soldiers to war under-equipped and under-paid, nor because legal advice was manipulated or ignored. Iraq still matters because we have a wholly undemocratic system that cannot hold a government to account. It matters because in the UK, there is little to stop an illegal war being conducted in our name, or civilians being murdered in our name.
And that will not change whilst either Labour or the Conservatives are still in power, because they will not lift a finger to provide real democracy in this country. For that reason, Iraq will matter not just in this election, but in every election, until we are able to say what is done in our name.