I’VE just returned from Iraq. For the past weeks there, as in the Balkans immediately before that, I’ve been working on a series of documentary films the daily schedules for which were both fascinating and exhausting in equal measure.

Whenever I revisit Iraq, I’m always struck by how much the country still reels from those events that began with the US-led coalition invasion back in 2003.

That this time I was to return to some of the pivotal locations and meet those Iraqis who were caught up then and continue to be enmeshed in the precariously shifting political landscape since, only reinforces my view of the immense and long-lasting damage done to the country by that misguided Bush-Blair military adventure.

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It was with some mixed feelings then that on arriving back in the UK this week I heard the news that the Iraq abuse inquiries had closed with no prosecution against UK troops.

Add to this the media’s full on “nice guy” tributes following the death of former US Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell, and I couldn’t help feeling that in certain ways the Iraq War is still being waged by some here in the West.

By all accounts Colin Powell was indeed a “nice guy” whatever that means. But let’s not forget that it was in great part because of those lies he told at the United Nations back in 2003, that the US went to war in Iraq just a few weeks later.

The National: BAGHDAD, IRAQ - NOVEMBER 5:  Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein shouts as he receives his guilty verdict during his trial in the fortified 'green zone', on November 5, 2006 in Baghdad, Iraq. Hussein was found of guilty over his role in the

“There can be no doubt,” Powell said, “that Saddam Hussein (above) has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more.”

Admittedly Powell later recognised that his speech was a “blot” on his record and suggested that he was only doing what he had been tasked to do by higher authority.

But as the world now knows and a US government report just two years later in 2005 was to confirm, the intelligence community’s assessment which Powell was happy to push at the time that ultimately led to war was “dead wrong”.

Frankly, only a fool would believe that Powell thought otherwise at the time and was not fully aware that what he was spouting was false, manipulated, and fabricated. There were no chemical weapons, there was, more fundamentally, no reason to invade Iraq.

Trusted, popular, generally considered a “nice guy”, Powell’s speech is now recognised as having helped bring US public opinion behind the war and in turn win over some here in the UK’s corridors of power.

Which begs the question what if he had said then – when it mattered – what the truth really was? Yes, Powell would probably have been forced to resign, but the honourable thing would have been done and others might have followed his lead including the then British foreign secretary, Jack Straw (below) who was known to have admired and had a close personal relationship with Powell.

The National: LONDON - OCTOBER 13:  British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw speaks at  Lancaster House during his meeting with Thai officials on October 13, 2005 in London.  (Photo by Bruno Vincent/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Jack Straw.

Even today try as you might, it’s difficult to find those who will condemn Powell’s role. This was summed up only these past days when US diplomat Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, described him as “the most intellectually honest person I ever met”.

IF most Iraqis who lived through that war have a different view of the man, then it’s only understandable. Many likely share the sentiments of Iraqi journalist Muntadher Alzaidi, who memorably threw his shoes at George W Bush during a 2008 press conference in Baghdad.

Commenting this week on social media, Alzaidi expressed regret only over the fact that Powell didn’t face a war crimes trial for his influential role in bringing about the war.

“I am sure that the court of God will be waiting for him,” Alzaidi wrote on Twitter.

Such remarks might seem unkind in the wake of someone’s death, but they must be seen in context.

No one knows precisely how many civilians were killed because of the US decision to go to war. What we do know however is that between the 2003 invasion and October 2019, at least 184,382 civilians and perhaps as many as 207,156 Iraqis died directly from the violence of the conflict.

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These figures too are before adding those that subsequently succumbed to the barbarism and violence that gripped the country with the rise of Daesh and the instability that still grips Iraq today.

Just as I have no reason to doubt Colin Powell was a “nice guy”, equally I have no doubt that the vast majority of the UK’s armed forces that served in Iraq did so honourably in a conflict they should never have been deployed to in the first place.

But that abuses by a small minority of British soldiers did take place is beyond doubt. The very fact that the Ministry of Defence has paid out a total of more than £20 million in compensation settlements for abuse claims from Iraqi nationals tells us all we need to know.

Yet here again without a single prosecution being brought and the issue effectively closed according to UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, one still can’t help feeling, as with Powell, that there is an attempt to rewrite history.

Having covered the war back in 2003 and the subsequent events that stemmed from it, I have no doubt that Iraq remains collectively wounded by the US/UK decision to invade all those years ago.

Over the past weeks I have talked with a range of Iraqis from Kurdish Peshmerga fighters to Iraqi Army soldiers, Communist Party members to those within the ranks of the Iranian backed Hashd al-Shaabi Shiite paramilitaries as well as Iraqi civilians themselves that survived the ravages of Daesh.

Sharp rivals as some of these are, if there is one thing all have in common it’s that in one way or another, they have been shaped by those events that started back in 2003. To put this another way today’s uncertain Iraq is a product of that disastrous decision to invade 18 years ago.

Whatever some might say there is simply no escaping the fact that Colin Powell told the lies he did or that some British troops committed abuses against Iraqi civilians. Iraqis still living with that legacy know this all too well.

Perhaps the biggest tragedy of all though, is that still there are those in America and Britain who remain in denial of the wrongs they did and continue hell-bent in whitewashing such a malign role.