The bitter divisions over the Iraq war were reopened on Thursday evening, almost exactly a decade after the invasion.
Panelists were asked ‘was it worth it?’ paving the way for a passionate debate at a packed Goldsmith’s College in London.
They included Clare Short, the former Labour MP who quit Tony Blair’s cabinet over the invasion, and Tory Bernard Jenkin, who was Shadow Defence Secretary at the time.
Hasan and Aaronovitch get heated
Opening the debate, Jenkin said the 9/11 attacks had “shattered the illusion that the world had become safer.
“We had to radically alter our assessment of the potential threat.”
He added: “Saddam Hussein’s intention was to dominate the Middle East by acquiring weapons of mass destruction.”
Jenkin claimed Tony Blair had admitted to doubts over weapons of mass destruction in a conversation with the Conservative leader at the time, Iain Duncan Smith.
Short said neither WMDs or the 9/11 attacks could justify the invasion.
“We could not say openly that we wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein,” she said.
“It was not worth it.
“It was not worth it for the Americans for one reason, for the Iraqis for another reason, and for us for a third reason.”
When a fellow panelist, journalist David Aaronovitch, pointed out that Short had been part of a government supporting the sanctions on Iraq, she insisted ministers had been looking for “alternative ways” of dealing with the dictator until 9/11.
Aaronovitch, who had campaigned to remove Saddam from office, said sanctions had affected Iraqi children “because that was the way Saddam Hussein operated.”
It was a packed house at Goldsmiths for the debate
The dictator had used mustard gas on civilians, he told the audience.
“There are scales and scales of authoritarian, and Saddam Hussein was right down the Pol Pot and Hitler end of the scale.”
Aaronovitch ended by saying that aside from the death toll, the main objection to the Iraq invasion was a lack of willingness by the West to intervene in other conflicts, citing the example of Syria.
Author and columnist Owen Jones launched a passionate attack on the invasion.
“Ten years on, I say this. We have to learn the lessons and above all make sure this never happens again,” he said.
Other speakers included Ali Latif, of the pro-democracy Iraqi
Prospect Organisation, who argued the war had been worth it because it had improved ordinary Iraqis’ lives, and Mehdi Hasan, the Huffington Post’s Political Director, who said it had been a “moral abomination”.
After two hours of fierce debate, the audience voted, as it had at the outset, overwhelmingly that the war had not been ‘worth it’ – although a handful were still undecided.
07/02/2013 21:09 GMT
The debate may be over here - but it's still raging on Twitter
@ huseyinkishi :
In Aug 2007, an opinion poll asked should US and other Coalition forces remain in Iraq - 47% said leave now http://t.co/VteI8WCf #hpiraq10
07/02/2013 21:04 GMT
The debate in full swing
07/02/2013 21:02 GMT
Owen Jones at the podium
07/02/2013 21:02 GMT
What a debate
The audience is filing out, there's lots of chatter. I think we might have started something here.
Time now though to take a look back at some pictures from the night
07/02/2013 21:01 GMT
@ vipviphooray :
@HuffPostUK #HPIRAQ10 @mehdihasan Iraq invasion: "worse than a blunder, it was a crime".
07/02/2013 21:00 GMT
Mehdi closes the debate after getting quite noisy:
"What we are directly responsible for is the hundreds of thousands of people that have lost their lives"
07/02/2013 20:59 GMT
A Moral Abomination
We left Iraq with our tail between our legs but we should never have been their in the first place...it was a moral abomination, Mehdi says
07/02/2013 20:54 GMT
The war in Iraq was the best recruiting tool that extremists could ever have dreamed of
07/02/2013 20:52 GMT
Mehdi Hasan is our last speaker
I approached 60 well known hawks and invited them to participate and a lot of hair was being washed tonight. They've worked out that here is not much to defend in the bloody war.
07/02/2013 20:48 GMT
Shiraz wraps up
Iraq is not perfect today, Iraq may not be perfect tomorrow. But what Iraq has is hope."
Loudest applause yet for a pro-war debater.