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.
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.”
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.