Award-winning UK journalist and author to speak at York about Iraq

Jonathan Steele, a foreign correspondent for The Guardian in the UK and author of the newly-published book, Defeat: Why America and Britain Lost Iraq, will speak at York about how world powers, particularly the US and the UK, can get out of Iraq gracefully.

Sponsored by York’s History Department, Faculty of Arts, Steele’s talk, titled “Escaping the Quagmire: An Exit Strategy for the War in Iraq”, will take place at 4pm on Tuesday, March 11 in S137 Ross Building, Keele campus. The talk is free and open to everyone.

Working for The Guardian since 1965, Steele is the newspaper’s in-house columnist on international affairs and senior foreign correspondent. From 1975 to 1979, he was the Guardian’s bureau chief in Washington before heading to southern Africa, central America, Afghanistan and Eastern Europe in the 1980s to report on current events.

In 1988, Steele became bureau chief for The Guardian in Moscow as the Soviet Union began to dissolve, and held the post until 1994. He has covered the strife in Kosovo and the Balkans during the 1990s as well as the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, and has penned several books on international affairs.

In his talk – based on the eight assignments he has had in Iraq since April 2003 – Steele will challenge the conventional wisdom that the US and UK occupation of Iraq ran into problems because of blunders like dissolving the Iraqi army and the lack of a plan, and will instead argue the occupation was doomed from the start.

“Even if it had been efficient and sensitive, it would have met Iraqi nationalist resistance,” says Steele. “The major error – which still continues – is the US refusal to name a timetable for an early withdrawal.”

The recent drop in civilian casualties in Iraq is only partly due to the surge of extra US troops, says Steele; there are many other factors. He believes political reconciliation among Iraqis, and constructive assistance from Iraq’s neighbours, will only emerge when it is clear the US has decided to end its quest for military bases in Iraq and announce a rapid pull-out.

Right: Jonathan Steele

“The Arab League and the UN must take a major role in organizing a national conference among Iraqis to devise new arrangements for their country’s future, while the US withdrawal gets underway,” says Steele.

His latest book, Defeat: Why America and Britain Lost Iraq (Counterpoint, 2008), looks at why the coalition was defeated in Iraq and contends it had nothing to do with planning. It did, however, have to do with how Iraq was fed up with foreign countries occupying it. Resentment and suspicion of foreign countries was already ripe in Iraq and that was something neither the US nor the UK took into consideration, argues Steele. Weaving together reporting, analysis and historical narrative, the book examines what went wrong.

Steele was twice named International Reporter of the Year by his peers at the British Press Awards; he has also won the James Cameron Memorial Award, and Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism.

For more information about the talk, e-mail Professor Marc Egnal at

By Sandra McLean, YFile writer