I’ve just been back to Iraq for the first time since 2003 when I served there in the Army. I announced a further £20 million for our humanitarian relief effort, taking our commitment to £70 million since the summer of last year – that is aside from our military contribution to the international coalition against Daesh (ISIL). Despite the primacy of the Syrian war, Daish’s genesis is principally Iraqi.
A persistent band of internet trolls bombard me with emails purporting to prove that Daesh’s bestiality stems directly from the teachings of the Koran, and that the only true Muslims are – quite properly – violent jihadists. I have used this column previously to refute this nonsense. The reality is that Daesh, however efficiently organised and disciplined, is no more an homogenous phenomenon than any other terrorist group. It does, of course, consist of a significant proportion of religious nutters. It also contains gangsters, psychopaths, opportunists and – particularly in the higher echelons – plenty of Iraqi former regime loyalists. It is from this element that I believe the propensity for such extreme violence stems. These were men who served Saddam Hussein, and they learned their gruesome trade at the feet of the true Master.
Iraq has only a quarter of a million Syrian refugees (by comparison with over 2 million in nearby Turkey, and over a million in tiny Lebanon) but over three million of its own people have fled their homes and need help, which the government and the UN are asking for.
The difficulty is this: Notwithstanding the fall in the price of oil, were it not for Iraq’s rampant corruption; dysfunctional sectarian politics; bloated public sector; economic mismanagement – and free electricity, then Iraq ought to be able to weather the crisis from its own resources. It is difficult to touch the UK taxpayer for more, given the blood and treasure we have already shed there.
On the other hand, news of German and European generosity has reached the millions who have fled their homes to other parts of Iraq. Social media is alive with discussion of the prospects for more ambitious travel. We have to consider what more we need to do that might send the signal that remaining in Iraq still offers fair prospects.