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December 21 - 27 2011
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By Alex Spillius and Damien McElroy PRESIDENT Barack Obama marked the end of America’s military involvement in Iraq last Wednesday with two words for his troops: “Welcome Home”.
Addressing soldiers in an aircraft hangar at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, he conspicuously avoided the triumphant style of George W Bush, his predecessor who began the war in March 2003 and gave a “mission accomplished” speech six weeks later.
Mr Obama instead sought to soothe the doubts of a nation about the worthiness of a war that has claimed 4,484 American lives and left an Iraq that some critics warn will become a client state of Iran.
“Iraq is not a perfect place but we are leaving a sovereign, stable and selfreliant country with a representative government elected by its people,” he said. “This is an extraordinary achievement and today we remember everything you did to make it possible. Years from now your legacy will endure in the freedom of our children and our grandchildren.”
Mr Obama described the uniformed young men and women before him as part of the “9/11 generation”, as he attempted to carve an honourable niche for them in the story of America.
They belonged, he said, in an “unbroken line of heroes spanning two centuries” from the colonists who resisted British rule to their
grandparents who defeated fascism in the Second World War. “I could not be prouder of you, America could not be prouder of you. You have earned your place in history because you sacrificed so much for people you have never met,” he said.
Unlike empires of old, the United States did not invade other states for “territory or resources”, he said, “we do it because it is right”.
“There can be no stronger statement of our commitment to self-determination than our decision to leave Iraq,” he continued.
A crowd of hundreds in the former insurgent bastion of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, set alight American and Israeli flags in a protest to mark Mr Obama’s speech. Surrounded by Iraqi soldiers,
Barack Obama shakes hands with soldiers in North Carolina demonstrators carried posters bearing photographs of insurgents, faces covered and carrying weapons. They also held pictures of American soldiers killed and military vehicles destroyed in the two offensives against the city in 2004.
“We are proud to have driven the occupier out of Iraq, at the cost of enormous sacrifice,” said Khalid al-Alwa, the local leader of the Islamic Party, a Sunni Muslim grouping. “Those who destroyed Iraq paid the price because the people here held them accountable.”
Yaser al-Asadi, 22, a student from Baghdad, said: “If we knew that the Americans would do what they did, we would have defended Saddam’s regime instead. I lost my brother in a random shooting by the Americans and lost my home during the sectarian conflict.”
Some Iraqis still harbour suspicions that the American role was driven by its economic interests. Ahmed Alaa, 38, a professor in computer sciences, said: “They came to Iraq not to liberate it but to exploit its oil and other resources. They think of their future even if it is at the expense of other people.”
Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister who was visiting Washington last week, has moved to consolidate power as America’s grip has weakened. He has rounded up hundreds of former Ba’ath Party members, but has faced allegations of using the strong-arm tactics associated with the former dictator.
By John Nagl
OVERWHELMINGLY, the American people would say the war was a mistake, and undeniably, the reason we went to war was invalid.
This was a preventative war designed to stop Iraq using or proliferating its presumed weapons of mass destruction to terrorists or terrorist states, but those weapons did not exist. Ironically, if they had, we did not even send enough troops into Iraq in the first place properly to secure the supposed weapons sites.
We fought a far longer war and far costlier war than we ever could have imagined. If we had known in 2003 what it was going to cost and what we were going to get for that cost, we certainly wouldn’t have gone into Iraq.
For five years, Iraq was the most important item on policymakers’ agenda. That meant we allowed China to steal a march on the United States. It gained economically, militarily and perhaps even diplomatically.
Britain chose to be a good ally but paid a much higher price than it could ever have expected. The special relationship is recovering, but it was damaged.
There were grave questions in the Pentagon about the decision to invade, and I was among those who opposed it. I thought Iraq had weapons of mass destruction but I thought it could be deterred – that was, after all, how we dealt with the Soviet Union.
But once we invaded without a plan for what came after Saddam, we had a responsibility to provide stability and security. We learnt too slowly bitter lessons about how to stabilise a country affected by insurgency. The benefits of the war are questionable and indirect, and the impact of what happened there won’t be clear for at least a decade.
Retd Lt Col Nagl was an operations officer with the US 1st Infantry Division in Anbar province
Number of US troops dead
Estimated Iraqi casualties
Cost of deploying one US soldier for one year in Iraq
Number of American vehicles leaving each day
US federal funding for the war
Number of US troops wounded
Overcharges by oil firm and contractor Halliburton deemed
“unreasonable and unsupported”
Number of US marines staying in an advisory role
By Richard Alleyne CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, the journalist, atheist and celebrated contrarian, fulfilled his promise to be “doing something when it comes for me” since he was writing right up to his death, it has been disclosed.
The British-born intellectual had a desk set up in his intensive-care unit at his hospice and was meeting deadlines with only a few days to live, his friend the novelist Ian McEwan said.
McEwan said the 62-yearold essayist, who died last Thursday, had to be helped on to a chair to work “with a pole and eight lines going into his body”. But he still managed to finish his article and still had time to write an extra essay.
“Right at the very end, when he was at his most feeble as this cancer began to overwhelm him, he insisted on a desk by the window away from his bed at the ICU,” Mr McEwan said.
“It took myself and his son to get him into that chair with a pole and eight lines going
Christopher Hitchens had a desk set up in his intensive care unit and was meeting deadlines with days to live into his body, and there he was, a man with only a few days to live, turning out 3,000 words to meet a deadline.”
Hitchens’ death, from pneumonia, a complication of his oesophageal cancer, was announced by his employer, the magazine Vanity Fair.
A heavy smoker and drinker, Hitchens said in his memoir, Hitch-22, that he wanted to die fighting: “I personally want to ‘do’ death in the active and not the passive, and to be there to look it in the eye and be doing something when it comes for me.”
Hitchens carved out a reputation for scathing critiques of public figures and a fierce intelligence. In his 2007 book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, he argued that religion was the source of all tyranny. It became a bestseller in his adopted America.
Hitchens died at the MD Anderson Cancer Centre in Houston, Texas. He is survived by his second wife and three children.
Matthew d’Ancona, page 20 Obituary next week
By Martin Beckford THE ancient legal procedure of habeas corpus has been used to help free a terrorism suspect held without trial by American forces for more than seven years.
Yunus Rahmatullah, a Pakistani national, was seized by British soldiers in Iraq in 2004. He has been kept at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan after admitting he wanted to take part in jihad, or holy war.
Lawyers have not been allowed to see him or fellow inmates and he has only recently been able to speak to his family by telephone. Lawyers have argued that the British remain responsible for him and must treat him according to the Geneva Convention.
They employed the common law procedure developed in medieval times and known as habeas corpus – Latin for “you may have the body” – to claim that the 29 year-old is being held illegally.
Although rarely used now, it has long been seen as an important safeguard against arbitrary detention.
The High Court earlier turned down the claim. However, in a historic move last Wednesday, three Court of Appeal judges ordered that a writ of habeas corpus be issued.
It means the Government has to request that the Americans release Mr Rahmatullah, with his lawyers hoping that he will be allowed to rejoin his family in Pakistan rather than face legal proceedings in Britain.
Lord Justice Maurice Kay said: “On the face of it
[Rahmatullah] is being unlawfully detained and [British ministers] have procedures at their disposal … to enable them to take steps which could bring the unlawful detention to an end.”
A spokesman for the legal charity Reprieve said: “Today’s historic decision marks the first time any civilian legal system has penetrated Bagram, a legal black hole.” Mr Rahmatullah’s solicitor Jamie Beagent added: “We hope that the writ of habeas corpus will finally bring to an end our client’s nightmare of indefinite detention without charge in appalling conditions at Bagram.”
The Foreign Office said: “The Government notes the judgment and will decide on its next steps in due course.”