When I first read the story of seven Iraqi women and children killed at a checkpoint while trying to flee the fighting in Najaf, my immediate reaction was “Now, surely, those who have supported the war will see that it can only lead to disaster”. A little more thought made me realise, not only that I was wrong, but that this tragedy will probably make matters worse. War hardens hearts, and this will only make them harder. When this war started, it was claimed that the rules of engagement were the most restrictive of any war in history. Two weeks later, the rules are those of Vietnam in the war zones, and those of Northern Ireland in occupied territory, yet virtually no-one who initially supported the war has conceded that they were mistaken.
We have already come to accept the assassination, not only of top leaders like Saddam, but of anyone associated with the regime, both by bombing and CIA death squads. Shoot to kill policies for suspect civilians have been announced, then expanded. Restrictions on targets for bombing have been dropped. Food and water are being used as weapons, and the prospect of starving the Iraqi defenders out of Baghdad is already being mooted.
Given the increasing frequency of references to Northern Ireland and Guantanamo Bay it’s reasonable to assume that torture of prisoners classed as ‘terrorist suspects’ will begin within the next few weeks, if it hasn’t started already. This will be denied with great vehemence, then, when it comes out, defended as an inevitable response to Saddam’s evil methods.