Iraq withdrawal: 'Labour paid the price for invasion at the polls'

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FEW could argue the claim that Tony Blair's decision to join George Bush in invading Iraq to replace Saddam's evil dictatorship with a democratically elected government has been a catastrophic blunder for Britain – and the Labour party.

So it will be of some relief to many that after six years of bloody fighting that all but a handful of UK troops, who are being left behind to help train Iraqi forces, are coming home.

Billed as a campaign the allies could not win, the initial invasion and capture of Saddam and his henchman proved to be the easy part. But as rival factions and insurgents continued to oppose the allied forces, and fight amongst themselves, the task became harder.

Operation Telic, as it was named, lasted longer than either two of the great World Wars and it is perhaps more down to good luck than anything else that the casualty toll remained so low. Nevertheless, 179 UK personnel lost their lives while hundreds of thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians perished.

Unlike the Falklands where British intervention was met with almost universal support at home, the decision to invade Iraq was never so popular.

It proved to be so at the polls as Labour paid the price in both England and in Scotland where the SNP in particular put the party to the sword.

Even candidates canvassing in the 2007 city council elections, where Labour lost control of the city, admitted they would lose votes over the invasion.

The country's top military brass were critical of the manner of the campaign and claimed their advice was continually ignored. Leading the charge was the head of the Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt who in 2006 called for a timetable for the withdrawal of British forces to be set. The following year when there was little sign of this happening he warned of a "generation of conflict" and some likened the ongoing war against the insurgents to the Northern Ireland troubles which tied up British troops for 38 years until peace was brokered.

The ending of UK involvement in Iraq yesterday will bring welcome relief to many. To the servicemen who have risked their lives and their families, to military leaders charged with deploying their forces under such dangerous conditions and to those who have remained opposed to our intervention.

But it will also be welcomed by many in the Labour Party, including Gordon Brown. Although he will remain saddled by Labour's legacy of becoming involved it will be one less current thorny issue that can be thrown in his face when he goes to the polls. But his opponents may choose instead to focus on Afghanistan, where there appears to be little prospect of UK troops being withdrawn, citing it instead as a continuing example of British foreign policy disaster.

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