A retired Northern Ireland Army officer who served in Iraq has insisted that current turmoil in the country does not mean western involvement there has been a waste.
Doug Beattie, a retired captain of the First Battalion Royal Irish, said the current invasion of Iraq by al Qaida splinter group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) is a sectarian campaign that would or could have happened whether or not western forces had toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003.
“I think people in UK are absolutely fixated on what happened in Iraq in 2003 and often think that everything that happens in the region now has to do with 2003,” the new UUP Armagh, Banbridge Craigavon councillor said.
“But what we are really seeing now is an extension of the Arab Spring.”
The democratically oriented revolution across the Middle East of recent years helped create support for rebels in Syria and created a power vacuum in which ISIS grew stronger, he said.
“Then they flooded from Syria to northern Iraq, and as they go they are picking up supporters and getting bigger,
“Some people say ‘If we had not gone into Iraq in 2003 we would not be in this situation now’. Rubbish! Saddam could not have stood up to ISIS either.
“The Iraq invasion of 2003, the Arab Spring and what is happening today in Iraq are not really connected.
“These circumstances could have blown up in the past five years anyway.”
The UK should give non-military help to Iraq now – but the military support should now be provided by the Arab League, just as the African Union has dealt with Islamic militants in Somali, he says.
“The conflict in Iraq is about sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia Muslims. It is a sectarian issue. The Sunni minority, which held power under Saddam, is rising up against the Shia majority.”
It is his view that ISIS are trying to create a greater Islamic state in the area. By saying they support the Sunni minority in Iraq they are able to recruit more fighters from that part of the community.
The former captain, who was decorated with the Queens Commendation for Bravery for his service in Iraq, added: “There will be a lot of grieving mothers and fathers [of soldiers] who will now be thinking it was all for nothing, because people are linking what is happening today with the invasion in 2003.
“But today’s events would or could have happened regardless of what happened in 2003.”
The UK lost some 195 service personnel in Iraq while the civilian population suffered over 250,000 deaths, he said.
“[But] You can’t look back and ask was it worth it?” he said. “I think any right-minded person will see that invasion was not necessarily the right thing to do. But we went in and tried to create a better situation for the people.
“Yes there has been a horrendous loss of life, but when the UK left it really did seem as though Iraq was on the up.”