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Iraqi inquiry: Blair testimony underwhelms Baghdad

Teashop owner Laith in Baghdad
Laith, a teashop owner, lives with numerous problems in Baghdad

By Gabriel Gatehouse
BBC News, Baghdad

In Baghdad on Friday, most people were enjoying their evening, oblivious to the questioning of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair by the members of the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war.

Many were unaware of the event in London entirely. Those who had heard mention of it on the TV news bulletins seemed unmoved.

"We should look forwards, not back," said one young traffic policeman - out of uniform, relaxing in a pavement tea shop on his day off.

"We should stop arguing about whether the invasion was right or wrong. Britain should look forward too," he added.

But Laith, the owner of the tea stall, was less forgiving.

Off-duty Iraqi traffic policeman
This off-duty traffic policeman said everyone should 'look forward'

"We've seen no positive changes here since 2003," he said.

He complained of poor water and electricity supplies, rising unemployment, and a general lack of public services.

Indeed. The people of Iraq grapple with a long list of problems on a daily basis, not least the continuing violence which - despite security gains - still claims the lives of hundreds of people every month.

The 2003 invasion is regarded as an American adventure here first and foremost.

The circumstances surrounding Britain's decision to go to war are not top of people's list of concerns.

The Chilcot inquiry has received little attention in the Iraqi press. What coverage there has been has tended to see the affair as an internal British affair.

Some have questioned its timing, pointing to the UK's imminent general election.

Those who are following the inquiry in Baghdad however, will be focusing on two questions.

The first is the apparent lack of adequate post-war planning on the part of the coalition forces. When it comes to the problems mentioned by Laith, the tea-shop owner, many people here trace them back to post-invasion mismanagement.

Debris from a car bomb in Baghdad, 26 January, 2010
Some fear the outcome of the Chilcot inquiry could fuel the insurgency

The second is the question of legality.

There are those in the government who fear that if the Chilcot inquiry throws doubt upon the legality of the war under international law, it could provide fuel for insurgents by providing them with a justification, in their eyes, to continue their campaign.

There are plenty of people in Iraq who disagree with Laith, who say they have seen positive change in Iraq since 2003.

There has been a huge growth in the availability of consumer goods: computers and mobile phones. People also feel freer to express their political opinions openly and assertively without fear of persecution.

One test of these new freedoms will come on 7 March when Iraqis will vote in a general election.

If this can be held peacefully and if, crucially, the result helps to overcome divisions between the various sectarian and ethnic groups, then Iraq may indeed be able to start looking forward rather than back.



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