Thursday, 21 March 2013

This World - Iraq: Did My Son Die in Vain

BFTF recently watched a very sad BBC programme entitled This World - Iraq: Did My Son Die in Vain which looks at the story of Geoff Dunsmore who travels to Basra to see how the city has progressed in the years since his RAF reservist son Chris lost his life there in a rocket attack on a UK military base in 2007.

Geoff does not flinch from talking to people from all sides of the conflict.

A number of people comment on how brutal the Saddam regime was and that it opporessed large sections of the population.

A civilian witness to the arrival of British Troops in Basra commented that if the troops had seen a person on top of a building "they would see you as the enemy and they would shoot at you...we were screaming, we were so scared" while another described what happened next as being a situation where "There was no electricity, there was no Police force, the government has vanished, everything was destroyed, everything was looted"

Soon after the insurgency started, hard line militas were fighting each other for control of the city and thousands of civilians were dying each month in assasinations and suicide bombings. Mazin's brother in law was an Imam who spoke out against the killings - and was killed in that same violence.

Geoff's guide, Mazin Altayar, was a journalist at the time of the invasion and believed that the milita soon believed that the UK formces were trying to impose values on the Iraqi population and that this was was caused them to begin attacking the UK troops. Mazin commented that "They got rid of lots of the skilled people in Iraq, the scientists, politicians, religious, cultured people" while the narrator adds that some 2,000 doctors and 800 academics and students were killed in the violence.

For BFTF this seems to be the most stomach churning part of the whole disaster.

Incompetence, anger, revenge, bullying, mob violence - all these BFTF can understand, they are part of human nature in extreme circumstances.

But it takes a special kind of evil, a special kind of hatred for society, a special kind of arrogance - to deliberately target doctors and teachers.

The programme then follows Geoff (a retired schoolteacher) as he visits a local school, which he finds is still not fully built. Geoff comments that "I was absolutely speechless when I looked at the environment... the classrooms looked liked a derelict school you would find in Britain" and yet the potential of the young boys and girls at the school is clear, they are full of energy and yet well behaved during the classes. Across Basra, a quarter of schools in Basra have yet to be re-built.

Chris's diary provides a sense of what it was like for the UK troops, and it can be seen how the intensity of the insurgency increased during Chris's time in Basra. And comments from Chris's sister and parents give some insight into the size of hole that the loss of Chris has left in their lives.

Geoff talks to many people who tell of how brutality and trigger happy behaviour of some coalition troops cost the Iraqi civilians dear and it can be seen that, while Geoff has lost a son, many Iraqis lost whole families.

He also visits a water distribution project started by the UK troops - which was then sold to a private company who started charging for the water but did not maintain the plant until eventually there were too many faults to deal with and the company folded. The local population now have to use bottled water and suffer many diseases from their inability to access safe clean water. Geoff comments that "the British had started something off that was immense here for he Iraqis and then we have left them high and dry, literally."

The narrator comments that much of the oil revenue of Iraq is lost to the rampant corruption in the country.

Towards the end of the programme, Geoff meets a group of young Basrans who are cleaning up their neighbourhood and trying to hold their local government to account for the corruption and poor services that they are receiving.

The programme was just heartbreaking.

BFTF recalls that it was a Labour Government that took the UK into that war and asked the local MP whether, if it had been the current leadership in place back in 2003, whether they would also have taken the UK into Iraq and precipitated the disaster that Basra then suffered. After chasing up on 6th May, received a response on 28th May which said:

"...Much has been said about Britain's involvement in the war and important lessons have been learnt. It is important that everyone takes those lessons on-board"


Not exactly a "No, they wouldn't have taken the UK into that war" that BFTF would have liked to have heard, and BFTF wonders what exactly are the lessons that were learnt. But this is now perhaps an argument to park for another time.

But, dear reader, please feel free to challenge your MP on this issue as it is only when MP's receive comments from multiple people that they perceive an issue to be important.

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