June 24, 2008 – Well, I suppose we should be grateful for one thing. It seems that a Western politician is finally going to pay the price for his involvement in the Iraq war. After five years of disaster and bungling, I am told that justice is about to be done, and I expect many readers will be delighted.
Think of what we did to the place. We blitzed Iraq with our bunker-buster bombs. We flattened their housing blocks, we crippled their infrastructure. We sparked a murderous civil war in which hundreds of thousands have died – and all for the sake of a lie, or a series of lies.
We were told that Saddam had lethal long-range weapons with which to threaten his neighbours, and perhaps even British bases in Cyprus. We were told that the Pentagon had a plan for his speedy and efficient removal. We were going to usher in a new era of peace, democracy and human rights.
Things did not, to put it mildly, turn out that way, and the worst of it is that no one has so far been arrested. Despite all the manifold acts of deception and incompetence, there is not a single politician, on either side of the Atlantic, who has been put on trial or even had his collar felt. Until now.
This week, I am reliably informed, the police will act – and whom do you think they have in their sights? Is it Bush or Rumsfeld or Cheney? Have they found a member of the American administration to take the rap for the disgusting scenes in Abu Ghraib?
Is it Blair, brought to book after the Commons failed to impeach him? Is it Alastair Campbell, unrepentant sexer-up of the dodgy dossier? No, my friends, we are not so lucky. None of the major players is going to be arraigned for the Iraq disaster, and the long arm of the law is instead reaching out – incredibly – for me.
I am informed by my friends in the Metropolitan Police that I am shortly to become the one and only Western politician to be brought to justice for crimes committed in Iraq. My transgression? I have somewhere in my possession a cigar case that once belonged to Tariq Aziz.
As veterans of this column may dimly recall, the circumstances in which I came by this object were so morally ambiguous that I cannot quite think of it as theft. It was a few days after the Americans had captured Baghdad, and the city was a scene of lawlessness and chaos.
Grinning looters were hacking up the roads and carting off the copper wiring, and I was taken to see what the mob had done to the villas of Saddam’s regime.
We came to the riverside house of Tariq Aziz, the white-haired Chaldean Christian who served as Saddam’s deputy and foreign minister, a man so intimate with the tyrant that he inspired one of the only jokes of the war: When does Saddam have his dinner? When Tariq Aziz.
As I stared at the remains of his home, I saw utter destruction. Surely the looters had left nothing of value.
Such was their lust for metal piping that the very bidets had been ripped out and smashed. A blackened safe lay on its side, and everywhere was rubbish and filth. And there, just by my toe, protruding from beneath a piece of dusty plywood, was the cigar case.
Actually, it was only the bottom half of a cigar case, in thick red leather and coarsely stitched. But I immediately saw its importance. If this was the cigar case of Tariq Aziz, think of the scenes it had witnessed.
When Aziz flew to Geneva for the ill-fated talks that preceded the first Gulf war, this cigar case was in his breast pocket. When the Baathist elite met for their late-night whisky-fuelled sessions, this was the cigar case that had lain mute on the table as the air was filled with smoke and the bloodthirsty ravings of the dictator.
I reached down instinctively, and placed it for safekeeping in my pocket. Amid such wholesale larceny and devastation, who was going to quibble about a cigar case?
The British Government had just assisted in the destruction of billions of pounds of Iraqi property; Western forces had allowed thieves to carry off 99 per cent of the valuables of Tariq Aziz, not to mention the priceless Sumerian artefacts of the Iraqi National Museum.
Would there be anyone so petty, so time-wastingly idiotic, as to complain? Alas, I forgot about the Labour Party. Five years after I found this memento, Labour stooges were recently combing my articles for anything discreditable to a Conservative mayoral candidate.
They found the article, and with bulging eyes they went to the Metropolitan Police and demanded that I be prosecuted. I am accused by my political opponents of removing a cultural artefact from Iraq. As it happens, I also have in my possession a letter from the lawyers of Tariq Aziz, informing me that Mr Aziz wishes me to regard the cigar case as a gift.
But never mind. The file has been opened at Scotland Yard; the proceedings have begun. The poor police have no choice but to investigate this ludicrous affair, and in the interim I am told I must hand the cigar case into police custody – or else be led in manacles from City Hall.
I briefly toyed with making a fuss, and pointing out how utterly selfish and stupid it was of Labour to waste police time on this kind of thing. Just when the police are trying to focus on beating knife crime and making the streets safe, they are told they must lavish money and manpower on a preposterous investigation that will do nothing for the security of the public.
And yet, of course, there is something magnificent in the very absurdity of the case. It may seem vexatious and trivial, but the law is the law, and no one can count himself exempt even from its weirder ramifications. This principle is the foundation of freedom.
It is, after all, what we were fighting for in Iraq, and it is with a glad heart that I now propose to hand the cigar case over – though it would be nice, I have to admit, if they arrested Blair and the real culprits instead.