The long shadow of imperialism hangs over Iraq | @guardianletters

Guardian readers' views on the causes of the current crisis, from the creation of Iraq to the war led by George Bush and Tony Blair

John McTernan is wrong (Toppling Saddam was right, but we pulled out too soon, 13 June). First, and he should know more than most, no plans had been made for what to do when Saddam's army was defeated. Second, what was done – sacking everyone who'd been in the Ba'ath party, bringing in foreign companies to cherrypick the bones – alienated much of the population. Third, what we allowed to be installed in the democracy was a corrupt government which, like so many of the western companies brought in to make money out of Iraq, was not improving the lot of the common people. Why should the Iraqi army die for leaders who may well have their stolen millions hidden in British-controlled tax havens?

What McTernan also blithely ignores is that by going into Iraq we took our eye off the ball in Afghanistan and failed to sort that country out too. He calls Saddam a fascist, which he wasn't – just a dictator, the sort we love to cosy up to all over the world if they have resources we want. Who backed Saddam against Iran? Who sold him the anthrax? Why are we now backing the Egyptian dictator? Why haven't we removed the leaders of countries that fund the madrasas that pour a poisonous message into youthful ears round the world?

One thing he is right upon. A majority of MPs voted for the war. About two-thirds of the Labour party and all of the Conservative party, under a three-line whip, with honourable exceptions like Kenneth Clarke, voted for the war.
Michael Dommett
Alton, Hampshire

• So, concern is rising that Iraq may disintegrate into three separate territories, or even states, based on ethnicity and religion (Crisis pulls US back towards Iraq, 13 June). Isn't this what would have happened anyhow a hundred years ago if the British and French had not played great power politics in the region and created the geographical absurdity that is present-day Iraq?

Iraq is not a nation state and never has been. Its people have never been allowed to mature organically into a cohesive identity with a shared culture and a common understanding of itself as Iraqi. Instead, the inhabitants of Iraq have been struggling with a false identity imposed from without. Three nations, comprising the Kurds, and the Sunni and Shia Muslims, have been artificially confined in one externally defined state, each looking for its own political identity. It is as if Hitler had won the second world war and the British, French and German nations had been forced to meld into one state and compelled to assume a common national identity.

Is it not now time for western powers to leave Iraq and the wider region alone and allow the process of nation-building and statehood to work itself out in its own cultural and political context? It may be a long and painful process, but it could hardly be more painful or more lengthy than its current externally imposed agony.
Clive Wilkinson
Rothbury, Northumberland

• Events in Iraq are changing the west's view of Islam in the Middle East. It has been dominated by the perceived divide between mainstream Muslims on the one hand and extremist fundamentalists on the other: a division between those who broadly accept the world as it is, and those who want to challenge and change the west. This is a view in which Islam is polarised by its attitude toward the non-Muslim world. But what the current events reveal is a polarisation caused by the deep sectarian divide within Islam itself. Both the external and the internal dynamics are fuelling events in Iraq.

As in Syria, non-intervention, or minimal intervention, must be the western watchword. The forces at play are beyond external control. Intervention can only put a stopper in the bottle – but the bottle itself is shattering. We may have to look on appalled, but a century of western hegemony has prevented the Arab world from finding its own resolutions to what are its own problems.
Olivier Alexis

• In the US, Senator John McCain and House Speaker John Boehner have accused Barack Obama of inaction on Iraq and "taking a nap" (Obama caught napping, say critics, 13 June). John McTernan bemoans the early withdrawal of US and UK troops from Iraq (only there eight years, only 100,000 dead, not enough bullets fired to bring about peace). It is to Obama's credit that he has not rushed to hurl more hot metal into the most complex war zone imaginable. Let us hope he reads Owen Jones's column (A nightmare foretold, 13 June) – perhaps he will take the time to assess what has happened so far, imagine the risks of making a terrible situation worse, and abstain for a second time from military action in that region. After successive abstentions from speculative military adventure, peaceful diplomacy could become a habit.
Dominic Rayner

• Jihadists are running amok in Iraq and you say it's all Maliki's fault (Editorial, 12 June). Got nothing to do, apparently, with our support for the same jihadists in neighbouring Syria. The truth our foreign secretary dares not utter is that Riyadh and its kleptocratic rulers are destabilising the Middle East by playing the destructive sectarian card against "apostate" Shia Muslims. It would have the west go to war with Iran rather than seek a rapprochement. It's time the west distanced itself from the Saudi ruling family. The arms lobbies will bleat on about loss of military export sales, but they should be resisted. The so-called Saudi oil weapon is a bluff, for the regime needs oil revenues to placate its subjects.
Yugo Kovach
Winterborne Houghton, Dorset

• Not doubting that Saddam Hussein was a vicious dictator, at least he kept the lid on religious extremism. In his Iraq, al-Qaida didn't exist, women dressed as they pleased and went to university, and the sizable Christian community felt safe. The illegal invasion of Iraq has led to the deaths of well over 100,000, most of the Christian community having to flee, the growth of sectarianism and the emergence of al-Qaida and even more extreme jihadists in the form of Isis. Isn't it time that George Bush and Tony Blair apologised for the chaos they have created in Iraq?
John Mann
Irchester, Northamptonshire

• The lesson must be that artificial countries created by self-interested imperialists, drawing arbitrary lines on inaccurate maps, will eventually become ungovernable. Except, of course, by a ruthless lunatic.
Mike Scott

• Senator John McCain seems to think that the US "won the conflict in Iraq". I'd hate to see what Iraq would look like today if the US had lost it.
Karl Sabbagh
Newbold on Stour, Warwickshire

• In the midst of our commemorations of the first world war, one cannot help but see its effects still rippling across the Middle East. If only President Wilson had been allowed by his own countrymen to remain in the game and stay the hands of his allies in France and Britain, he would surely have prevented them carving up the remains of the Ottoman empire. At the very least he would have insisted on the self-determination of the three provinces that make up modern Iraq and he would surely have helped usher in a modern Kurdistan. How different things might have been at this particular moment in the Mesopotamian story.
Ted Wilson
Davenport, Cheshire

• Barack Obama is playing a double game in Mesopotamia. On the one hand he wants to help the Iraqi government fight Isis, while on the other he wants to help Isis fight the Syrian government. From the time the CIA first sponsored the holy warriors of international Wahhabism in socialist Afghanistan, successive US administrations have created a monster that has brought untold suffering to the people of the region. They have done so safe in the knowledge that those who would reap the whirlwind would not be those who had sown the wind.
Peter McKenna

• The problem facing John McTernan is that over 50 retired Foreign Office ambassadors and others, often second world war military men who had conducted the retreat from "East of Suez", advised Tony Blair in letters to the Times prior to the invasion not to be so foolish because of the dangers of unleashing "sectarian conflict" on the geographic faultline in Islam re Shia/Sunni viz Iran/Saudi regional rivalries. These were not men prone to overstatement, and I remember my father being aghast at Blair's foolish naivety.

An unprecedented human and social catastrophe stands, and it would be helpful if McTernan above all were to note the wider trillions in the financial cost of his "strategy" and that the west might have put this towards decarbonising the west's energy supply, which it would have now substantially achieved, relieving the future of the threat of climate change. A regional peace conference backed by the wealth of the Gulf aligned with Turkish or Iranian military power is the proper vehicle of a regional solution that should include Israel.
Peter Hack

• John McTernan's renewed enthusiasm for intervention in Iraq is a classic case of being careful what you wish for. Certainly Saddam was an unpleasant ruler, but the west does business quite happily with many such people. The problem was that Saddam was judged to be prejudicial to western interests, so he had to go. Since Bush and Blair intervened, matters have gone from already bad to much worse. That doesn't mean of course that the world just sits idly by. A more enlightened policy on helping refugees and providing aid and assistance is essential.
Keith Flett

The GuardianTramp

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