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Five years after Saddam

PUBLISHED: 11:48 19 March 2008 | UPDATED: 14:30 25 August 2010

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It is five years ago this week the United States, with Britain s backing dropped the first bombs on Iraq.

It is five years ago this week the United States, with Britain's backing dropped the first bombs on Iraq. Now in 2008 how has the war in Iraq affected race relations in the UK and Britain's reputation in the Arabic world? And where do we go from here?

Marina Soteriou reports...

It has been hard to find anyone who actually believes the war was a good idea and furthermore, a well executed one.

For Iraqi Tahrir Swift of Ridgeway Crescent Gardens, Orpington, the war has done nothing to improve conditions in her homeland.

"What are we doing in Iraq? Can somebody please tell me? It is a pointless war," the former teacher said.

Some of her family still live in what she calls a 'lawless' Baghdad.

Mrs Swift, 48, said: "It is a miserable life. A lot of people do not realise. It is disintegrating.

"Men are staying at home and women are going to work. To say that it is better conditions is not true. Prostitution is rife. The place is chaos. The government is not in charge. I want the British to leave. They are making things worse and worse.

"The British have been there for five years and they have done b***er all."

The mother-of-one moved to Britain in the late 1970s to study and was later granted acceptance to leave for good.

She said: "We lived in a mixed neighbourhood in Baghdad. My uncle's next door neighbour is Shia and opposite him is a Sunni. I don't know what it means to be a Sunni.

"These sectarian things are not there intrinsically. There are gangsters who have paid them. Nobody gets up and says 'I am going to kill my Sunni or Shia neighbour'.

"Our borders are open to all to come in and do whatever they like to you and it has turned us into a very weak entity."

Mrs Swift said the war has tarnished Britain's reputation forever and that the people of Basra are far from grateful for having them there.

She said: "Basra is awful. It used to be such a beautiful place and now there is pollution, people are still drinking dirty water.

"If the British had done something, at least they would get the people to like you. All of Basra blame the British.

"The war has cost us £10 billion, for both wars. Can you imagine what you can do with that, in the NHS, with that much money?"

Gravesham MP Adam Holloway was a soldier in Iraq in the first Gulf War and a journalist in the second and present when the first bombs dropped.

The Conservative MP is vocal about the perils of the war. However, like most of our elected politicians, five years ago, he trusted the government in the evidence they were presenting.

These were that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein was in bed with al-Qaeda.

Most of the media regurgitated it, most politicians fell for it and some of the public did too, with the significant exception of the million who marched on the streets of London in February 2003 saying 'not in my name'.

Mr Holloway said: "I trusted Tony Blair and I was fully in favour of it.

"It was completely unnecessary. It was arranged by a clique in Washington and has made our people far more vulnerable.

"I was in Tikrit and I was hugged and bombarded by Iraqis.

"They were delighted this psycho was gone. But is it going to help people in the UK? No it isn't. It is a waste of life and resources. With the perspective of what has happened since, you could safely argue, that they might have been better off with Saddam; that he would die away and the regime would have changed at some stage." Proof of this argument is the MP's recent meeting with southern Iraqi, General Moham, who told him Saddam's sell-by-date was up anyway.

Perhaps this the most depressing aspect to all of this.

It seems now that Iraq is in complete chaos, even without Saddam.

So where do we go from here? Will pulling out of Iraq solve the problem?

Even Mr Holloway, a member of the biggest opposition party that wholeheartedly backed the war, admits his party probably doesn't have the answer.

He said: "Even the US, with all their might, do not have the answer. It is very, very difficult.

"Ultimately, we can feel optimistic about Iraq as there is oil and resources there.

"I was in Iraq last year and it is deeply depressing.

"We have managed to turn millions of people in the Muslim world, which were on our side, to being against us. Our historical task in the next six months, six years, 25 years is to win that back."

One of the few Labour MPs who voted against the war was Clive Efford, MP for Eltham, because he did not believe Saddam posed a threat to Britain. He has since been proven right.

He said: "I voted against the war because I didn't think we had exhausted all of the other avenues which would have avoided conflict, which included weapons inspectors.

"I didn't believe Saddam posed the threat [the government] was saying and we had successfully contained him, with the sanctions.I feel anger and frustration we did something that I felt was unnecessary."

John Austin, another rebel Labour MP, said he also hasn't changed his views from five years ago.

The MP for Erith and Thamesmead said: "I think we are in a dilemma, in that a complete and sudden withdrawal could lead to complete chaos but the military presence is a barrier to a solution.

"We should be winding down our operations and exiting."

He said we need a grater engagement with the neighbouring counties of the Arab League to get them to support the elected representatives of Iraq.

He added: "Iraq has got the potential to be a beacon to the Arab world. It has many resources, it has a strong culture, it is self-sufficient in agriculture and it has some of the finest universities in the Middle East and we need to support them."

However, former soldier Nick Fabian, 30, a delivery driver, from Meopham, who has friends who died serving in Iraq, believes we did the right thing.

He said: "It was right to go in there. We probably outstayed our welcome. We got rid of Saddam and we should have handed it over, done a couple months' handover. I feel a bit misled but when you are in the army you have to follow orders, you can't say no. It is good we went there in the end.

"They wanted to act years ago and they came up with the war on terror."

Dev Sharma Kent Director of the North West Kent Racial Equality Council North, is optimistic about the future.

He believes that the Iraq war was detrimental but said that change can happen quickly.

While the glare of the spotlight in recent years has focused on 'Islamic fundamentalism', Muslims in some parts of Britain were victims of attack as tensions boiled over.

But why has this not happened in Kent?

Mr Sharma said: "A lot of the backlash is ignorance. It is a very tiny minority.

"After September 11 there were Sikhs who were subject to racial abuse because they wore turbans. It affects all minorities. All that helps people to understand that all Muslims are not terrorists. 99.9 per cent of Muslims across Britain are true Muslims and don't believe in violence. Their religion teaches them to live in peace.

"People often say it is difficult and I can see it is not easy but then things can change very quickly.

"I don't think in the long term it is going to affect race-relations in the UK because we are more advanced that other countries. The Race Relations Act we have got is the best in the world. People come here from all over the world to learn about it."

There seems to be some consensus that things have improved in Iraq recently and protest chants of 'troops out now' seems far too simplistic.

But will life get better for the Iraqis? We may just have to wait another five years to find out.

marina.soteriou@archant.co.uk

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