WATCHING events unfold in Gaza, I can’t stop thinking about Iraq. Just like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iraq’s wars have long cast a shadow over the Middle East and acted as a haunting reminder to the West of its arrogance, negligence, culpability, and often arch stupidity in terms of policy in relation to the region.

Having covered conflicts on the ground in both Iraq and Israel-Palestine over many years, I feel reasonably well placed to draw certain parallels. The first and most obvious of these is the extent to which they have both exacted a brutal toll on civilians.

According to some estimates perhaps as many as 600,000 Iraqi civilians have died across Iraq since the 2003 American-led invasion of which Britain was part. While those so-called “weapons of mass destruction” were never found, violence raged for years and the aftermath of the conflicts is felt to this day.

Now in a toll without precedent in decades of Israel-Palestinian violence, the number of those killed in Gaza according to the Health Ministry there, has already passed 8000 – most of them women and children.

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In fact, the number of children among that figure, more than 3000, exceeds the annual death toll for children in all wars in each of the preceding three years.

But getting back to those parallels with Iraq, with almost every day that passes as Israeli forces push their way into Gaza, military experts have been drawing comparisons with those assaults on Iraqi cities like Fallujah in 2004, Sadr City a suburb of Baghdad in 2008 and of course Mosul in 2016-17.

In Fallujah’s case, 0.2% of its civilian population was killed compared with 0.3% in today’s war in Gaza. The battle for Sadr City a single suburb meanwhile, is thought to have killed nearly 1000, out of a population of around two million, again proportionally on a par with Gaza. Then there is the largest battle that Iraq experienced where 9000 civilians were killed in Mosul, a figure that to date so far equates with Gaza’s losses.

Of course it goes without saying that there are certain fundamental differences between Gaza and Iraq in military and political terms. But what remains overwhelmingly obvious is the extent to which military engagement in both was embarked upon with virtually no regard to what would come next after the fighting had ended.

The National: Benjamin Netanyahu

Just as in Iraq where US generals equated sustaining the war with winning it, so too have Israeli military chiefs at the behest of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (above) set out on a military campaign with little evidence of a specific aim in mind beyond that of eviscerating Hamas.

As the Iraq experience should have taught us by now, military victory does not measure alongside political achievement. That label of “forever wars” that has been steadfastly attached to America and Britain’s engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan tells us all we need to know about how diving headlong into such conflicts without thinking ahead will always fail to secure post-war peace.

If anything, as Iraq again illustrated, inflicting severe harm on a population and destroying their homes only fosters hatred and resentment as it did toward the Americans, enabling anti-US militias to recruit support among ordinary Iraqis. In the end the only results were death, suffering and ultimately political failure.

Many of us for example will well recall during the post 9/11 era and build up to war in Iraq, one of the most memorable phrases of that time.

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As rage still gripped America – just as it does the Israeli government right now – George W Bush’s declaration that Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, “and their terrorist allies” had formed an “axis of evil,” resonated then and still does today.

For it’s no coincidence that right now as Gaza burns, the rallying cry of those Sunni and Shia Muslim groups and governments opposing Israel has become the “axis of resistance.”

THIS is the thing you see about so many of our political leaders, so few have any real grasp, understanding or experience of a region where the Iraq War still rankles and indeed angers many in the Middle East.

Having to listen now as those same Western leaders reiterate or support the same calls for action – in this instance on Israel’s behalf – only invokes memories of horrors past and the rekindling of a still lingering bitterness.

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The double-headed thinking and hypocrisy of such leaders it seems knows no bounds. While on the one hand sagely warning Israel not to repeat the rage-fuelled “mistakes” of the US-UK so-called “War on Terror”, US president Joe Biden (above with Netanyahu) and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in the next breath then chuck everything they can the way of Netanyahu in support.

Listening to Biden recently urging Americans to accept billions of dollars in additional weapons spending for Israel, I couldn’t help thinking of George W Bush back in 2003 asking for $87 billion to throw into the gullet of the war in Iraq.

Just like Bush back then Biden today did so without offering any explanation as to how Israel’s war would play out or what price would be enacted in terms of seeking some kind of post-war settlement with the Palestinians.

By now the consequences of that fateful decision all those years ago to invade Iraq as the first act in the global “War on Terror” should be all too clear.

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So should the unambiguous lesson that a war that lasts for a decade is not a war that its political architects ever understood how to win let alone secure a lasting and just peace as should be required between Israelis and Palestinians.

Few seem to have learned those lessons from the shameful Iraq debacle least of all the current leader of the Labour Party whose predecessor Tony Blair took Britain into such a catastrophic war along with America.

A few days ago my fellow columnist George Kerevan here at The National, posed the question as to whether Sir Keir Starmer might yet lose the keys to Downing Street in the next election as a result of his stance on the Israel-Hamas war.

If he does I for one would welcome it, for not since Blair has there been a more despicable, unedifying, opportunistic and ultimately damaging response from a Labour leader to a crisis in the Middle East.

The lessons of the Iraq War are writ large and only a warmonger or fool would ignore them at this moment.

To put it simply, what we’re witnessing now in Israel and Gaza gives me the same serious concerns so many of us had 20 years ago over Iraq. And yes, this time – as before – there is an alternative in this case by heeding the plight of the Palestinians and acknowledging what much of their Arab neighbours and wider world recognise – the need to back a ceasefire.