Year after year, Tony Blair has seen his popularity undermined by his position on Iraq. Surveys in two major British newspapers last week showed nearly two thirds of people want the UK’s troops to leave, either immediately or by the end of the year. And that is regardless of whether their mission is completed or whether Washington wants them to stay.
One reason is the number of young men and women who have died during the conflict. There are more than 7,000 UK troops in Iraq and around 120 soldiers have been killed since the March 2003 invasion, about the same proportion as US deaths.
In May this year both George W Bush and Blair acknowledged they had made mistakes in Iraq. The US President said the biggest error was the Abu Graib prison scandal while Britain’s Prime Minister said it had been wrong to exclude Saddam Hussein’s Baath party members from leadership roles.
There have already been four probes into aspects of the war in Iraq, including the Hutton inquiry and the 2004 Butler report, which exposed intelligence failings.
The Butler report cast doubt on the way intelligence was compiled and the quality of information but cleared Blair of distorting the details he had.
In Basra, British troops have lost a lot of whatever popularity they may have once had, with violent demonstrations against their presence. And even the head of the British army in Iraq said earlier in October that they are doing the country’s security more harm than good.