§ Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)
I beg to move,That this House notes with concern the deteriorating security situation in Iraq and the Middle East and the impact on public opinion in Iraq of the reports of mistreatment of Iraqi citizens and detainees; believes that progress in Iraq is only possible if the role of the United Nations is expanded and enhanced and the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis on 30th June is real and visible; recalls that on 18th March 2003 when this House endorsed military action against Saddam Hussein it did so on an understanding that progress on the road map for a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians would be a priority for Her Majesty's Government; expresses its disappointment that recent events have made the achievement of a negotiated two state solution more difficult and less likely; recognises the bravery and professionalism of British armed forces serving in Iraq in difficult and dangerous circumstances; calls upon Her Majesty's Government not to commit any further troops unless requested by United Kingdom commanders in Iraq for the purposes of securing the safety of British forces and the fulfilling of Britain's legal obligations under international law towards the inhabitants of Iraq; and further declares that any such troops should remain under United Kingdom operational command and within the area currently under United Kingdom control.
It is worth recalling that we went to war against Iraq on a threat and a promise. The threat was that of weapons of mass destruction, and the promise that of progress in the middle east peace process. But neither threat nor promise has been fulfilled. No weapons of mass destruction have been found. and none appears likely to be found now. The Iraq survey group has disappeared from view and its head has resigned. The road map has been rolled up. Unilateral action by Mr. Sharon has been approved and a negotiated settlement in the middle east seems further away than ever.
There is more. The coalition of which the United Kingdom is a member is shamed and embarrassed by the treatment of detainees while in the custody of the United States, and we may yet suffer domestic shame and embarrassment when current inquiries are completed. Here in the United Kingdom, there is no acceptable explanation of why Ministers did not see communications from the Red Cross and Amnesty International. The handover date of 30 June now depends on the efforts of Lakhdar Brahimi and the United Nations—the same United Nations that was sidestepped by the coalition in spring 2003. There is some irony there, which will, not doubt, not be lost in Manhattan.
Violence in Iraq is on the increase, as British troops found at the weekend when they had to bayonet their way to safety. The tragic death this morning of the head of the Iraq governing council is yet another demonstrable success for terrorism. In the minds of many Iraqis, the army of liberation is delivering much less than it promised. At Falluja, the United States has had to acknowledge the failure of the doctrine of 678 decisive force. Thousands of Iraqis have died since March 2003, but we do not even afford them the dignity of keeping an accurate estimate of their numbers.
It is indeed a brave new world, and it is hard not to be angry—angry for Britain and its reputation; angry for the brave young men and women who are serving in difficult and dangerous conditions in Iraq; angry, too, for a House of Commons that was persuaded to support military action on a flawed prospectus and, as we now know, with no clear strategy for the aftermath of conflict.
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)
We were told last week—the reports were, no doubt, inspired by the Government—that extra troops were to be deployed to Iraq, perhaps in Najaf. However, there were reports this weekend that, on the contrary, we were no longer in for the long haul and that we were talking about withdrawing troops before 2005–06. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the Government owe the House an explanation of their strategy and of what we are planning to do with a country for which we have taken responsibility?
§ Sir Menzies Campbell
There is no way to answer the hon. Gentleman's question other than in the affirmative. I shall set out some conditions that are appropriate in the event that additional troops are thought necessary, but he has put his finger on something that I hope the Secretary of State will explain, not just to the House but to people outside.
It is hard not to be angry that, in the name of a coalition of which the United Kingdom is a member, detainees have been subject to degrading and inhumane treatment, for which no one takes political responsibility. Asking Private Lynddie England to take all the blame seems a little unfair.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con)
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree with the proposition that, if the United States Government deny people in Guantanamo bay their civil and legal rights, it is perhaps not surprising that junior soldiers feel the same way, and that that is a severe indictment of that Administration?
§ Sir Menzies Campbell
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has made that point on previous occasions in the House and I have supported him on some of those occasions. There are still British citizens in Guantanomo bay and they are entitled to due process and a trial according to the accepted principles of law. If no such trial is available to them, they should be returned to the United Kingdom so that we can consider whether or not there are adequate grounds for prosecution.
I am angry about these matters, not because I was deceived, but because my scepticism and that of many others is increasingly justified. I am angry because our relationship with the United States, put into sharp focus in recent times, should be a partnership of influence, and we should not be so subordinate that we often appear to be subservient. What sort of relationship is it if we are actively discouraged from public criticism of the US Administration and their ultimate responsibility for the
679 humiliation or, as one writer put it, debauchery towards the Iraqis in their custody? In the House, we have to rely on the feline ambiguities of the Leader of the House.
§ Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central) (Lab)
While concurring with the sentiments of the right hon. and learned Gentleman about Guantanamo bay and the mistreatment of detainees there and in Iraq, does he not agree that all decent people in the House and beyond hope and pray for peace and democracy in Iraq? Is it not distasteful that his party is putting success or failure in Iraq at the top of its Euro-election campaign agenda, so that real failures such as the assassination this morning or imaginary failures such as the forgeries in theDaily Mirror are desirable to fuel electoral success? Is that not shameful opportunism when there is a need for genuine debate?
§ Sir Menzies Campbell
I have not met a single elector who objects to the issue of Iraq being raised in relation to the European elections. In the course of the campaign, I have met many people who wish to raise the question of Iraq and Britain's role. They wish to express their anxiety about the nature of present events and the long-term consequences for the United Kingdom.
What sort of relationship allows Members of Congress more licence to criticise the Bush Administration than it does the British Government? The harsh, unpalatable truth for Washington is that only the United Nations can save us all. All the coalition eggs are well and truly in the UN basket. If Brahimi fails, what is the alternative strategy? I do not have an answer to that question, but those who took military action against Iraq ought to have one, because it is by no means certain that the efforts of Lakhdar Brahimi will be successful.
§ Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Lab)
Ambassador Brahimi has been asked to appoint an interim Government who are truly representative of the Iraqi people, and we all hope that he succeeds. There is more hope if he appoints that Government rather than the coalition, but that does not address the problem of troop withdrawal. We have not said that if the interim Government ask us to withdraw our troops we will do so; we have said that we hope that that would come about. Mr. Brahimi had the same authority in Afghanistan, but he had no authority over the US troops, and the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating. His authority to appoint an interim Administration does not necessarily mean that we will get an exit strategy for our troops, but that has not been made clear.
§ Sir Menzies Campbell
My view is that it would be difficult for a provisional Government, appointed by Lakhdar Brahimi, to exercise the sort of responsibility that the right hon. Lady suggests, but I am in absolutely no doubt whatsoever that, when we get to the stage of a democratically elected Government of the Iraqi people, that institution must have total responsibility for the conduct of Iraq. Indeed, at that point, I would say that
680 the United Kingdom and others should begin a phased withdrawal of their troops. The responsibility for Iraq, given to the Iraqi people, must be whole and complete.
§ Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab)
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?
§ Sir Menzies Campbell
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will continue.
In New York, we should be arguing for a Security Council resolution that is maximalist, not minimalist—arguing along with France and Russia for the maximum transfer of authority to the provisional Government—but the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people must be about substance, not simply ceremony. The raising of flags and patriotic music will be no adequate substitute for real authority.
The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) mentioned the exit strategy. Let me suggest principles that should most certainly apply. First, all our effort should be directed to supporting the United Nations in establishing a provisional Government, to whom as many functions as possible should be transferred. Secondly, once a provisional Government have been established, all our efforts should be directed to supporting the United Nations in the preparations for the elections. Thirdly, as soon as an Iraqi Government have been democratically elected, under United Nations supervision, United Kingdom troops should begin a phased withdrawal.
§ Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware no doubt that the Iraq governing council, no less, has accused the United Nations of massive institutional fraud over the oil-for-food programme—a fraud that is estimated to be about $64 billion. Bearing it in mind that that fraud has directly enriched Saddam Hussein and his supporters, undoubtedly involves members of the Security Council and, indeed, the UN itself and has probably provided money to fund the very insurgency that our troops are now fighting, does he believe that the UN is an entirely suitable body to carry out that task?
§ Sir Menzies Campbell
I ask the hon. Gentleman to suggest an alternative. I do not know that there is any queueing up, and I do not know that there is any alternative strategy on offer either. He is quite right to point to the disgrace of the fraud in relation to the oil-for-food programme. Perhaps he should consider whether he is entitled to say that members of the Security Council may have been involved—that is a rather sweeping statement—but he is certainly right to highlight the fraud. I for one am most certainly disappointed that the extent of the fraud was so considerable and that moneys may well have been diverted in the directions to which he has referred, but if he has an alternative to Lakhdar Brahimi, let us hear it, because it is only in him, in the United Nations and in the Secretary-General of the United Nations that any prospect rests of keeping the date of 30 June, chosen not for its intrinsic merit, but rather for its importance as a 681 signpost in the American domestic political campaign. That date can be kept only if the United Nations ensures that it is kept.
§ Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con)
The one thing that puzzles me about the line of argument that the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his fellow Liberal Democrats advance is that the United Nations—while it may or may not have some moral authority, depending on one's point of view—has no resources other than those provided by its membership. There is no army or police force belonging to the United Nations. Where are the army and the police force that he wants and needs to enhance the security situation in Iraq, outside the current coalition? There are no volunteers who will simply put on blue berets and come and do the job that he wants them to do.
§ Sir Menzies Campbell
I do not think anyone has suggested a blue beret force in the circumstances of Iraq.
§ Sir Menzies Campbell
Exactly. As the hon. Gentleman says, who is going to do it? It is not possible to have a blue beret force, but we could have had a Security Council resolution in the same terms as that which was adopted for the first Gulf war, which provided that all necessary means should be used for the expulsion of Iraq from Kuwait, which accepted that the United States would be in command, but which insisted that that force had to report back and be subject to the authority of the Security Council. That most certainly would have been a much more politically attractive solution than the one that was arrived at, of a self-generating coalition going in the circumstances that we now know and side-stepping the United Nations.
§ Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP)
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that there are a number of countries with distinguished United Nations military service that have said that they would be happy to commit troops in a circumstance that was fully authorised by the United Nations—countries such as Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia, which have a particular credibility in the Muslim world? Would that not be an attractive proposition, to try and get the maximalist United Nations mandate that is propounding, and help us move with international credibility to a new phase of peacekeeping?
§ Sir Menzies Campbell
There is no doubt that if such countries were to become part of a coalition authority, they would require a maximalist United Nations resolution, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that there is the possibility between now and 30 June, for example, of putting together a UN force with blue berets. In my judgment that is not practical. That is why I have referred not only on this occasion but on others to the advantage of an arrangement similar to that used in the first Gulf war.
§ Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab)
I am touched by the right hon. and learned Gentleman's 682 faith in United Nations resolutions. How would he answer constituents of mine, refugees from Iraq, who said that if one mistake was made, it was in the first Gulf war, when we stopped at the border in compliance with the UN resolution?
§ Sir Menzies Campbell
If I may say so, I do not think that the hon. Lady was in the House at that time. She would not have found much support for that view. She would not have found much support for that view from President Bush's father or from Mr. John Major, who was the Prime Minister at the time. The consequence of doing what she suggests is that the coalition that had been created for the expulsion of Iraq from Kuwait would have broken up. In addition, the Iraqi forces at that time were much more effective than those we found when the military action took place last year and there would have been the risk of very substantial casualties. The arguments against going to Baghdad in 1991 were overwhelming at the time, and in my judgment have not been diminished in any way since.
§ Mr. Wareing
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that if the occupation continues after 30 June, and all that the Iraqi people are being offered is another appointed Government—appointed by whoever—that will be viewed by the Iraqi resistance in rather the same way as the Vichy regime was viewed by the French resistance in wartime France?
§ Sir Menzies Campbell
But it is not practical to have elections between now and 30 June. That is the date of the agreed handover to a provisional Government.[Interruption.] It might meet the hon. Gentleman's point if there were a sufficient and detailed commitment to—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Allow the right hon. and learned Gentleman a hearing. It is unfair to him when there are so many conversations going on.
§ Sir Menzies Campbell
What would meet the hon. Gentleman's point would be if it was clear that the move towards elections was serious and was being undertaken; that there was voter registration and that the necessary institutions were being established. But I do not think that it is possible to achieve what he would like to achieve in the time available.
As soon as an Iraqi Government have been democratically elected, UK troops should begin a phased withdrawal. But in the meantime, I am firmly of the view that we should commit no further forces to Iraq unless at the request of British commanders on the ground; unless for the purpose of securing the safety of existing British forces in Iraq; unless for the purpose of fulfilling legal obligations incumbent upon us under international law, including, if necessary, a fresh resolution from the Security Council; unless any such troops remain under United Kingdom operational command; and unless any such troops are deployed within the area currently under United Kingdom control.
There should be no question of British forces extending their role and responsibility in Iraq. There should be no question of British forces providing a substitute for any forces that may have been withdrawn
683 by other coalition members. We have made more than an adequate contribution. I suspect that many hon. Members think so; I am certain the whole country thinks so.
Operational command of such troops should remain with United Kingdom commanders. General Sir Michael Jackson, with characteristic frankness, a fortnight ago described differences in doctrine between ourselves and the United States and we have seen illustrations of those differences. We should not put our forces into a position in which they may have to choose between following an order or following their training and their instincts.
It is now commonplace for some to argue for immediate withdrawal. To those I say this: consider the consequences of that. Inevitably, terrorism and violence would flourish and instability could easily spread throughout the region. But more significantly, the United Nations' effort, which is the only political track presently available, would be fatally undermined.
To be against immediate withdrawal is not to be in favour of an open-ended commitment. The Iraqi people must be given the responsibility for themselves and their government as soon as possible. I commend the motion to the House.
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)
I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:welcomes the work being done by the UK and its Coalition partners to establish stability and security in Iraq; regards any mistreatment of Iraqis by Coalition forces to be unacceptable; recognises the bravery and professionalism of British forces in Iraq in assisting the Iraqi people in rebuilding Iraq; applauds the work of the UN Secretary-General's special adviser, Lakhdar Brahimi, for his contribution to helping establish a sovereign Iraqi Interim Government which will assume power by 30th June; and supports the Government in its efforts to secure a new Security Council resolution and deliver the wishes of the Iraqi people for a sovereign, stable and democratic Iraq.
On behalf of the Government, I should like to repeat our regret following the death this morning of Izzedine Saleem, president of the Iraq governing council. Our thoughts are with him and with his family at this terrible time, to whom we extend our condolences.
Izz al-Din Salim was a tireless advocate for Iraq and for its people. He was exiled from his home by Saddam Hussein and, until last year, lived in London, where he worked as a writer and activist in the service of his people. When the former regime fell, he returned to Iraq as head of the Islamic Dawa party in Basra, where he earned the respect of local people and the coalition.
Izz al-Din Salim's death is an enormous loss to Iraq. It is too early to say whether this morning's attack was specifically targeted at him. In any event, it is a further tragic demonstration of the callousness of the minority who seek to challenge the rule of law and undermine the establishment of a democratic, peaceful Iraq. It demonstrates why we are determined to deal with those who perpetrate these criminal acts of terrorism. It demonstrates that these attacks are against the Iraqi people themselves, just as much as against coalition forces. We are working with the Iraqi people, and together we will succeed.
684 Izzedine Saleem's death also demonstrates why the coming months are critical for the future of Iraq.
§ Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab)
I join my right hon. Friend in offering my condolences to the family of Mr. Salim. I spent half an hour talking to Mr. Salim last Thursday. He was a gentle scholar who had contributed a lot to the governing council and to the future of a democratic Iraq. It was said earlier that his death was a triumph for terrorism, but it is the complete opposite. It will be a triumph for terrorism unless we stay the course, and Mr. Salim and all the members of the governing council, and all those who are fighting for the future of a democratic Iraq, would, I think, feel exactly the same. We must stay the course.
§ Mr. Hoon
Like me, my hon. Friend has met a number of members of the governing council, which is united in its determination to resist terrorism and criminal acts. I emphasise that the attack was against the Iraqi people, whom we cannot afford to let down, and I entirely support my hon. Friend's point.
We are attempting to transfer authority, after decades of tyranny, to an elected, representative Government in Iraq. I specifically refer to the transfer of authority, rather than simply sovereignty, because sovereignty resides with the people of Iraq and cannot be taken from them, although their rights have frequently been usurped over the years.
On 30 June, authority in Iraq will pass to the Iraqi interim Government; the extent of the authority that we will be able to hand to them has been subject to recent debate. On 1 July, the coalition provisional authority and the Iraqi governing council will dissolve. The interim Government will, however, initially limit themselves, by confining their work to the effective day-to-day administration of Iraq's affairs, which is only right. Decisions about Iraq's longer-term future should be left to the elected transitional Government—as every Iraqi to whom I have spoken agrees. That is why we are moving forward with that strategy, and the Iraqi people should have the opportunity to choose those who will decide their future.
§ Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) (Lab)
To what extent will the interim Government have strategic control of the new multinational force after the transfer of sovereignty?
§ Mr. Hoon
I hope that my right hon. Friend will accept that I will deal with the precise security arrangements in a moment. Obviously, some discussions about the precise level of control remain, but I assure him that we are alive to the issue. We will try to find a sensible solution that meets the needs of coalition forces and secures their safety, but recognises that authority has properly passed to the Iraqis.
§ Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge) (Lab)
I have received several e-mails from constituents over the past few days claiming that the British Government are about to send 4,000 extra troops to Najaf. Will my right hon. Friend confirm or deny that point?
§ Mr. Hoon
Again, my hon. Friend anticipates a passage in my speech that I shall reach in a moment. As 685 I have done on a number of occasions, I assure her and the House that the Government have taken no decisions on any number of extra troops. I will inform the House in the usual way as soon as any such decision is taken, if it is taken.
§ Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab)
My right hon. Friend says that the nature of the Iraqi Government is a matter for Iraqis. Does he have a view on whether that Government should be secular? Would he be concerned if religious parties were to form a Government next January?
§ Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) (Lab)
On the constitution and an elected Iraqi Government's right to decide the nature of the state, is it true that, once elected, the Iraqi Government will not have the right to rescind previous changes such as the wholesale privatisation of the public sector in Iraq?
§ Mr. Hoon
An Iraqi Government will consider such matters when they are established with democratic legitimacy conferred by elections. The interim Government's main task, acting under the transitional administrative law that we and the Iraqi leaders worked so hard to agree, will be to prepare the ground for full elections to a transitional assembly around the turn of the year. For the first time, Iraq will have a representative body chosen by all its people that works for the country as a whole. The assembly will be responsible for choosing a transitional Government and for preparing a constitution in time for general elections towards the end of 2005.
§ Clare Short
Ambassador Brahimi made it clear that elections cannot be held without security. If an interim Government are appointed, there may be so much chaos that elections are not possible. Does my right hon. Friend share that worry, and what should be done?
§ Mr. Hoon
I do not share that worry, but it is a risk that we have to address. That is why our forces, alongside Iraqi forces, are working so hard to deal with the security situation. I am sure that my right hon. Friend would support them in their efforts to do that precisely to allow elections to take place in accordance with the schedule.
It has always been our intention to involve the United Nations in the process. We are working towards a new Security Council resolution. We expect it to be agreed before the transition and to emphasise the new arrangements for full Iraqi authority. Any new resolution will take account of the views of United Nations Security Council members, other international partners and, most important, the Iraqi people. We expect that it will clearly mark the next stage in the transition towards democracy in Iraq, confirm the mandate of the multinational force and specify the future role of the United Nations, including support for the political process and assistance in preparing elections.
§ Mr. Hogg
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the strategic purposes of the resolution must be 686 to attract other countries, which do not currently do so, to provide soldiers for Iraq? Consequently, the language and the nature of the resolution must be drafted with that principally in mind.
§ Mr. Hoon
I would regard that as an incidental advantage of such a resolution; I would hardly describe it as the main reason for it. If, as a result of passing a new Security Council resolution, other countries are willing to deploy their forces to Iraq, I will strongly support it. I am sure that that also applies to the Iraqi people.
United Nations international staff are already operating in Iraq and in the region. One team, headed by Lakhdar Brahimi, has been consulting Iraqis on the formation of the interim Government; the other, headed by Carina Perelli, has been examining options for the electoral process.
We also believe that the United Nations has a vital role to play in preparing for elections and giving advice on the constitutional process in 2005. We would welcome United Nations involvement in the full range of humanitarian and reconstruction tasks in Iraq. We very much value the United Nation's constructive attitude towards Iraq's future, expressed by the Secretary-General down. It is all the more commendable following the terrible tragedy that the United Nations suffered last August.
Regrettably, as we make both political and economic progress, some continue to oppose the process: former Ba'athists, terrorists and others willing to use extreme violence, sometimes for personal gain. I assure the House that we will not allow the violent few to hold hostage the prospects and fortunes of the many Iraqi people who want peace and progress. We are determined to do what we can to provide security in Iraq, for it is only within a secure and stable environment that reconstruction and political life can flourish.
§ Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con)
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for saying that. It will be essential to have troops on the ground to ensure that that happens. I have constituents who are currently serving in Iraq and are worried about the possible extension of six months to nine months. Will he answer that point?
§ Mr. Hoon
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman was not present during Defence questions, when I dealt with that. There is no reason at this stage to extend the usual tour of duty for British soldiers in Iraq. However, if circumstances on the ground make it necessary, we will have to make that decision. However, no such decision has yet been made.
§ Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab)
The continuing violence must hugely worry civilians in Iraq. I realise that it is not Government policy to count the number of civilians killed and injured, but will coalition forces undertake that now, or in future under the authority of the United Nations, to build confidence among Iraqi civilians that things are getting better, not worse?
§ Mr. Hoon
As I believe was suggested earlier, it is extraordinarily difficult to count precisely the numbers 687 killed or injured when engaging coalition forces. Perhaps I could give my hon. Friend an example from recent events. Yesterday, British forces were attacked in al-Amarah with 15 mortar rounds. I am pleased that they were able to respond effectively. Two British soldiers were wounded and several militia—we estimate 30, but that is necessarily an estimate that cannot be made with great precision—were killed. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) came pretty close to suggesting that British forces in that position were required to go back into danger and ordered to count the dead bodies of those who had attacked them in the first place. I simply appeal to him to be realistic.
§ Sir Menzies Campbell
If that was the inference that the right hon. Gentleman derived from what I said, let me say that I did not intend in any circumstances to give that impression. There is, however, a legitimate question as to whether we keep a count of the civilian casualties, because of their nature and because of the consequences for public opinion in Iraq and elsewhere in the middle east.
§ Mr. Hoon
The right hon. and learned Gentleman leapt to his feet in a passable display of indignation, but I wonder how he would, in practice, do what he suggests. It is all very well to make these suggestions, but somebody actually has to do it. I have said that we do our very best to make a reasonable estimate of the number of casualties, but when soldiers come under attack, they return fire. They cannot be expected to go back and count precisely how many people they have killed.
§ Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con)
If the Secretary of State were to instruct troops to go back to count the casualties, does he think that people would believe the numbers that were given?
§ Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con)
I am rather disappointed that, in the debate so far, we have been so negative about the role that UK troops have played in Iraq. I believe that we have done a magnificent job. Will the Secretary of State advise the House of the role that he foresees over the next six weeks and beyond 30 June for British forces, who I believe are the finest in the world? We need to say that, to give them encouragement for the very difficult work that they are undertaking. I have a great belief in our forces.
§ Mr. Hoon
I entirely agree. I was rather allowing the facts of the engagement I mentioned to speak for themselves. British forces came under attack from an overwhelming force. They were ambushed and responded in kind, achieving a considerable military success, at a cost of two lightly wounded British casualties. That was a remarkable success. I also agree with the hon. Gentleman's other observations about the abilities of Britain's armed forces.
688 This weekend, Basra and Nasiriyah saw a number of attacks against the coalition resulting in injury to three British soldiers and the loss of one Italian soldier. Right hon. and hon. Members may have seen reports over the weekend of a failed mortar attack against British forces in Basra that resulted in three Iraqi civilians being killed and three more wounded. This tragic incident highlights once again the indiscriminate nature of the attacks being carried out, not only against coalition forces but against the Iraqi people themselves.
The Falluja brigade has been formed from former Iraqi soldiers. It is a temporary organisation designed to provide security in the town, patrolling alongside US forces. Our objectives in Falluja remain unchanged: to ensure that armed groups can no longer intimidate local people and to confiscate heavy weapons from lawless insurgents. In Najaf, we should remind ourselves of what lies behind the recent tensions. Iraqi prosecutors investigating the murder of a senior cleric, Ayatollah Abdel Majid al-Khoei, have strong grounds for the arrest of a number of suspects linked to al-Sadr, including al-Sadr himself.
In the meantime, al-Sadr's illegal militia have been harassing local people in several cities, including Basra and al-Amarah, unlawfully occupying public buildings and terrorising women on the streets and in universities. We have attempted to disarm al-Sadr's militia peacefully and, when necessary, by force. Our efforts are having some success. We judge that al-Sadr's support, while vocal and violent, is indeed limited and may well be on the wane. In both Falluja and Najaf, we continue to seek political solutions where possible and will, of course, respect the nature of the holy sites.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab)
What care is being taken not to damage the great shrines at Najaf and Karbala? Apart from any cultural considerations, risking such damage really is playing with Shi'ite fire.
§ Mr. Hoon
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend about the sensitivity of the holy sites, which is why we are taking great care to respect them. This also seems relevant to the attitude of the Shi'a towards al-Sadr himself, because the overwhelming majority of them do not support or approve of his behaviour. In that disapproval lies the political solution that I have set out.
§ Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD)
I listened with interest when the Secretary of State said that, in certain parts of Iraq, the Government and the Army will seek to find political solutions. To what extent are the Government determined to apply the lessons learned in Northern Ireland—some of which have been very useful and constructive—to the situation in Iraq? Or does he feel that there are no comparisons to be drawn?
§ Mr. Hoon
There are never exact comparisons, but I certainly believe that British troops on patrol in Iraq daily apply the lessons that have been learned so painfully over a long period in Northern Ireland. The other, wider point to make is that there will not ultimately be a military solution to this kind of crisis. Whatever security action we take on the ground has to 689 be supported and complemented by an appropriate political process. That is precisely the strategy that I am setting out on behalf of the Government.
§ Mr. Hoon
Perhaps I may make a little progress. I have given way a number of times, although I will give way in due course.
Security sector reform is a crucial part of our strategy to allow the Iraqi people to rely less on coalition forces. We are making strong progress, and our armed forces are playing a vital role. As the House will recall, I announced last year that we would send extra forces to Iraq for just that task. They are supported by civilians from the United Kingdom and by contributions from our allies, and are doing an excellent job. It is not just the coalition in Iraq that recognises the importance of this work for Iraq's future. A substantial police training centre for Iraqi officers is operating in Jordan and producing large numbers of graduates each month. Other countries have also privately offered help, and we are exploring their proposals.
There are now close to 80,000 trained Iraqi police, as well as tens of thousands of other security personnel, including border guards, facilities protection staff and civil defence forces. In the British area, more than 12,000 police have been recruited, and we have trained some 8,000, either in Jordan or in the police training centre that we established with our Danish coalition partners. Six battalions of the Iraqi civil defence corps—some 5,000 people—have been recruited, trained and equipped, as have 5,000 border police, which is some 60 per cent. of the assessed requirement. Raw numbers, however, can seldom provide the full picture.
On the ground, real, tangible progress has been made, with Iraqi police on patrol across the country. Those police are an enormous credit to Iraq and have shown great bravery and resolve in the face of vicious attacks. For example, after the recent terrorist outrages in Basra, which killed more than a dozen schoolchildren, the Iraqi police stabilised the situation and are now investigating. The Iraqi Ministry of Health, which has fully passed to Iraqi control, provided medical care on the scene.
§ Tony Baldry
The Secretary of State is describing the action that has been taken on security and military grounds, but it is quite clear that one of the problems that we have had in Iraq is the concept of the coalition forces being occupiers. The UN resolution refers to them as occupiers. All of us in the House are supposedly politicians, and we know that we have to win people's hearts and minds. Will he give the House some idea of the thinking and the work that is being done to win the hearts and minds of Iraqi people, so that they cease to see the coalition as occupiers and regard us as part of the process that will lead sooner, rather than later, to their liberation?
§ Mr. Hoon
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's observation. He will know, probably as well as I do, that the word "occupier", which is not the happiest word in this context, is one that we are required to use by virtue of the Geneva conventions. It sets out our status. Obviously, that will change on 30 June, which is why we 690 are working in such a determined way towards that date. However, he is also right, in the sense that we are helping with the reconstruction of Iraq. The coalition provisional authority reports that around 20,000 reconstruction projects have been completed—building Iraq's infrastructure, generating jobs and getting its economy moving. The United Kingdom is involved in some 2,700 of those projects, and every day the quality of life in Basra gets better.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con)
Following the same theme as my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), this is a very valuable description of the security situation, but it seems to be in pursuit of a totally unchanged political policy. I detect no tone of any change. After June, as we get a UN resolution, what attempts are going to be made to internationalise the problem? Does the Secretary of State agree that we need the support of the Russians, the French, the Muslim countries, if we can get it, and perhaps some Asian countries? Are other countries going to be involved in the political resolution, or will that remain totally in the hands of the occupying forces and people who are free to contribute troops and money, if they wish to join in?
§ Mr. Hoon
At least two of the countries that the right hon. and learned Gentleman mentions—Russia and France—will have to sign up to the Security Council resolution, so they will be engaged in a debate, and indeed in the political process set out in any new Security Council resolution. As I indicated to the House earlier, one of the incidental benefits of such a resolution is the possibility of more countries providing troops on the ground and, therefore, more countries being prepared to engage in the reconstruction effort.
That is crucial in providing employment for Iraqis, which gives them a stake in the development of their country and which is proving remarkably successful. I can give the House a long list of achievements. About 90 schools have been refurbished in our area of responsibility and a further 140 refurbishment projects are under way. We have completed 65 general health projects, 16 hospital projects and 32 health centre projects. A programme is under way to refurbish something as mundane as petrol stations in southern Iraq. Some 21 berths in Umm Qasr port are open to deep-draft ships. A grain-receiving facility has been renovated and can now process up to 600 tonnes of grain an hour. A whole range of projects has been set up across the country to deliver precisely the improvements asked for.
§ Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab/Co-op)
Should not my right hon. Friend correct the misleading impression given by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), that only British and American troops are in Iraq? I have just come back from Budapest, and I know that Hungary has troops in Iraq under Polish command, whom it will continue to keep there. Some 27 other countries have troops in Iraq. Should not that fact be spread more widely by the Government to counteract the propaganda that only Britain and America are there?
§ Mr. Hoon
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that 30 countries are providing troops and sharing 691 security responsibilities as they work closely alongside Iraqis. I would be willing to see that figure enlarged by other countries providing forces to Iraq.
There has been speculation in recent weeks that more UK forces may be on their way to Iraq, either to replace Spanish troops who have recently left or to provide more command capability. In fact, US forces have replaced the Spanish contingent. As far as our own area is concerned, we judge that we have sufficient forces in Iraq, although we always keep that under close review.
We are considering, with partners, the levels and disposition of forces in the context of the crucial period we are now entering, from the establishment of an interim Government through to the election of a transitional assembly and Government early next year. We have not yet reached any conclusion on what that may mean for our own military contribution. If we decide to make any significant change, we shall, as I have already indicated, inform the House in the usual way.
§ Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con)
Winning hearts and minds is one of the important things that British troops have to do. Recent events have made that far more difficult because of stories appearing in newspapers that have proved to be false. I am the Member of Parliament who represents Fulwood, which is home to the Queen's Lancashire Regiment. Does the Secretary of State accept that the great anguish and frustration felt by members of the regiment and their families has been relieved by the fact that the stories proved to be fake? Will he assure the House that theDaily Mirror is fully complying with the investigation now taking place so that those who are culpable may be brought to justice and so that everyone may know that what was published in the newspapers over the past two weeks put the lives of our servicemen, which were already at stake, under even greater tension?
§ Mr. Hoon
I, too, have received strong representations from the hon. Gentleman's constituents and from those of surrounding constituencies that provide recruits for the regiment. The Mirror group has certainly said that it will fully co-operate with the investigation, but I have not yet seen the results of that.
§ Mr. Ancram
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I wish to raise a matter on which he may need some notice before replying, but which is germane to the debate.
A story is running on the wires, on Associated Press in particular, that a roadside bomb containing sarin nerve agent has exploded in Iraq near a United States military convoy. Brigadier-General Mark Kimmitt said:The Iraq Survey Group confirmed that a 155 millimetre artillery round containing sarin nerve agent had been found. The round had been rigged as an IED (improvised explosive device), 692 which was discovered by a US force convoy. A detonation occurred before the IED could be rendered inoperable. This produced a very small dispersal of the agent.There were no casualties.
As we are constantly talking about weapons of mass destruction, I thought that the right hon. Gentleman should have the chance to take advice on that incident and inform the House of the background to it.
§ Mr. Hoon
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for setting out that information for the benefit of hon. Members. I have been in the House since business started today, so I have not had an opportunity to receive that information. In due course, no doubt, I shall be able to verify it. It certainly indicates the kind of risks and threats that coalition forces face and the extreme lengths to which some fanatics who oppose us are prepared to go to cause loss of life.
§ Mr. Hoon
I really must make progress and reach a conclusion, so I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not give way.
I regret that allegations in recent weeks about the conduct of some coalition forces have marred our record in Iraq. No one who saw those photos from Abu Ghraib could fail to, be shocked. The President of the United States and the United States Defence Secretary have apologised for any mistreatment, and I am fully confident that the United States' investigations will be comprehensive and thorough. Mistreatment of prisoners is wholly unacceptable. In an environment where insurgents are prepared to murder police officers, humanitarian aid workers, civilian contractors and innocent children, our own standards cannot be allowed to fall. Allegations have also been made against UK forces and they are investigated as soon as they are received.
Hon. Members have rightly raised concerns about the effect that recent allegations will have on our standing in the Islamic world. I can assure the House that we are considering how we can ensure that we make it clear to the Iraqi people how seriously we take these charges, and how determined we are to deal with them. The governor of Basra, however, whom I met only a few weeks ago, has said that he has not registered a single allegation of human rights abuses by British forces.
We will continue our mission in Iraq. I have no doubt that when we succeed—and succeed we shall—the lives of ordinary Iraqis will be improved beyond anything they could have dreamed of under Saddam Hussein. We are making further progress every day. It would be wrong of us to falter now.
§ Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con)
I, too, wondered whether the Secretary of State had finished or was giving way yet a gain.
693 I welcome the debate, although it is a disgrace that it is not being held in Government time. Had the Government had the courage to initiate such a debate, and as Iraq is not for them or us a cynical European or local government election issue, we could have had a full day's debate on this important and urgent matter.
As both the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) and the Secretary of State indicated, this debate is being held in the grim shadow of the tragic assassination today of Izz al-Din Salim by those who still seek to prevent the peaceful return of Iraq to the Iraqis They must not be allowed to succeed.
I shall start with two comments. First, we were right to support the Iraq war. The threat posed to international peace and security was acknowledged and real. Iraq and its peoples needed rescuing from Saddam. Those two facts were not going to change and if we had not done it last year, we would still be looking to do it in the future, at almost certainly greater risk and cost. It is worth remembering that, if the Liberal Democrats had had their way, Saddam would still be murdering his people, still destabilising that volatile region, still posing a threat to international peace and security and still requiring to be dealt with.
§ Clare Short
We do not have votes in the Cabinet. We do not have much discussion, either. Everyone tends to justify their own actions, but surely the lesson is that being willing to use force to back up the authority of the UN to support the people of Iraq in getting rid of Saddam Hussein, perhaps by indicting him, could have been done more carefully, in a more considered way and with more international co-operation. The people of Iraq would be much better off if that had happened. Should we not all face up to that and stop trying to justify every position that we have taken in the past?
§ Mr. Ancram
I will take a lot from the right hon. Lady but I find it difficult to take that when she stayed in the Cabinet throughout the war, regardless of the fact that there had been no second UN resolution.
Support for the war, however, does not and cannot entail placid acceptance of everything that has followed. That support cannot—nor should it, in a democratic Parliament—inhibit us from criticising the conduct and drift of the post-conflict programme.
Secondly, the Prime Minister hit rock bottom last week when he inferred that our criticism of him was a criticism of our armed forces. We have always made it abundantly clear that we not only support the effective and courageous manner in which our armed forces are carrying out their responsibilities in Iraq in the face of great difficulties and dangers, but are immensely proud of their professionalism and dedication.
The whole House will share my disgust at the malicious attempts in some quarters to damage the reputation of our armed forces in Iraq by making untrue or faked allegations that also endanger their lives. With 694 the editor rightly gone, I hope that theDaily Mirror lessons have been well and truly learned. Of course, where there are serious and genuine allegations of abuse, those responsible must be rooted out and dealt with firmly and effectively. We can have no time for such people.
§ Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton) (lab)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that at the time when war was embarked upon, Iraq represented a real danger to other countries. Can he tell me of any country, apart from Israel, that recorded in any international forum any threat that it felt itself to be under from Iraq?
§ Mr. Ancram
The words that I used were, "The threat posed to international peace and security was acknowledged and real." That is because during the previous 12 years, 17 United Nations resolutions had been passed under chapter VII of the UN charter, which relates to threats to international peace and security and which allows, under article 43, for military action to be used to deal with such threats.
§ Mr. Ancram
I want to make a little progress. This is not our debate and I am conscious that many hon. Members want to speak. Those who know me will be aware that I am usually very generous in taking interventions.
§ Mr. Clarke
I am grateful for that privileged treatment and I shall try not to abuse it.
Given that I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend that our attitudes today cannot be determined by whether we were in favour of the war in the first place, does he agree that even if the war was justified, the present situation has been made infinitely worse by the painful lack of planning for what was to follow after the occupation and the incompetence with which the interim Government have at times conducted themselves in trying to impose security on the country? Is it not important that the House should address itself to the problem that we now face: how do we get from being an unpopular occupying force to being part of a genuinely international effort to create a stable Iraq?
§ Mr. Ancram
My right hon. and learned Friend has either been reading my mind or reading my notes from a distance, because he pre-empts what I am about to say.
This debate is important because of the crisis of public confidence that has been brought about by the lack of direction, lack of candour and general incompetence in the Government's handling of Iraq. That has its roots in the Prime Minister's refusal to hold a proper inquiry into the Government's use, in the run-up to the war, of intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. It has been further deepened by the incredible failure of the Prime Minister and his senior colleagues to keep abreast of the 695 serious reports on prisoner abuse by the Red Cross and Amnesty International, and by the extraordinarily conflicting reasons for that failure that were given in the House last week—including, as hon. Members may—recall, the Secretary of State for Defence saying that he had not read the Red Cross report because it had been given to the Government in confidence. That is compounded, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) says, by the Government's failure a year ago to set out a clear post-conflict plan—for which, incidentally, I had been calling—since the debate in this House on 24 September 2002.
Strategy is still being developed on the hoof. Last Wednesday, the Foreign Secretary chose to announce—not in this House, but on "BBC Online"—that British—troops would leave Iraq if the new post-30 June interim Government asked them to do so. Having called for the transfer of power to be real, not cosmetic, Conservative Members welcome that announcement—but why was it not made in Parliament and why was it not made earlier? There remain other unanswered questions that I shall come to shortly.
Today, we find Downing street apparently briefing about—hon. Members can choose their phrase depending on the newspaper that they read—"gear—changes" and "new exit strategies". To me, exit strategies are redolent of failure at a time when we need a clear, positive plan with a clear end game for achieving our overall objective: to return Iraq to the Iraqis under a representative and democratic Government.
If we are to understand the strategy, we first need to know the full details of the handover on 30 June. To whom will it be made and who will have been responsible for making that decision? Given the role of the United Nations representative in the handover, what will be the role of the coalition in the run-up to the handover?
We believe that, even in the remaining six weeks, there is still a need for a high-powered United Kingdom political representative in the coalition, working alongside General McColl on the military side, to ensure that the UK political voice is clearly heard and heeded.
We need some answers now, to show that the handover will be a real transfer of sovereignty. How does the Foreign Secretary's statement on withdrawing UK troops if requested by the interim Government conform to what I understand was the crucial Brahimi agreement with Ayatollah Sistani, which was reported in Sir Jeremy Greenstock's article inThe Economist on 7 May, namely, that the unelected Government who will emerge from the handover and precede elections will not have sovereign freedom to affect the future of the Iraqi state? How is that consistent with saying that they can decide whether coalition forces stay or go?
We also need a clear security strategy to restore public order and stability in Iraq, not least, as has been said, because of the forthcoming elections next January. What will be the position of our troops if we are asked to remain after 30 June? Will they be, in the old phrase, "in aid of the civil power" at that power's request? What is a realistic assessment of when Iraqi security forces will be capable, in terms of numbers and training, to impose 696 and maintain the necessary degree of security? Despite the fact that the Secretary of State told us again today that no decision has been made about whether further deployments of British troops will be needed, what is the likelihood of a requirement for more UK troop deployments and in what capacity? We should at least be given an indication.
§ Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con)
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is one thing if further troops are necessary at the behest of British commanders to secure the safety and positions of British forces, but that many of us would be gravely concerned if there were to be an open-ended commitment for the deployment of British troops anywhere in Iraq at any time?
§ Mr. Ancram
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. He, too, must have such good eyesight that he can read my notes. I was just coming to a point that has been discussed over the weekend and raised in the debate: whether the House should vote on future deployments. I am firmly of the view, which I suspect is shared by my hon. Friend, given what he has just said, that the House should never try to second-guess operational decisions or requirements on the ground. However, where a decision is to be taken that would substantially or materially change the nature of our military involvement, which could include a request to undertake operations that are outside our current area or not under our command, seeking the opinion of the House would probably be justified. That does not indicate that we would oppose such deployment, but that we should want to consider it on its merits.
§ Paul Flynn
I welcome the statement that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just made. Does he agree that the information that he gave the House earlier shows that there has indeed been a substantial change in the level of danger into which we are sending our troops? Does he also agree that a valuable precedent was established when the House voted to send our soldiers to Iraq to kill and, tragically, to be killed? Is it not clear that many of the assumptions on which those decisions were based were false and that there is a need for a new decision if more troops are to be sent?
§ Mr. Ancram
I do not accept that our troops were sent to Iraq to kill and be killed; they went there to restore stability and democracy in that sad country after many years of a vicious and evil regime. I have said what I said about voting. I very carefully judged my words and do not want to add or detract from them.
We need a credible economic strategy to create employment and to remove a major cause of resentment, which is itself a recruiting sergeant for dissent and worse. Lack of income is fostering enormous resentment in various parts of the country. As Jeremy Greenstock wrote, the guiding slogan for the coalition should be "security and jobs, stupid".
What plans are there to promote a comprehensive, long-term, job-creating investment programme? What plans are there to ensure a credible humanitarian strategy? For instance, what is the current situation in the hospital in Basra in relation to reported shortages of personnel and equipment?
697 Would not reconstruction be more acceptable locally if it was bottom-up rather than applied top-down?
We also need to ensure that anything that is done by the coalition that is not consistent with the objectives for which we went to war ceases. The objective of removing the threat posed to international peace and security by Saddam Hussein has been achieved, but the objective of creating a stable, democratic and prosperous Iraq is not yet achieved.
§ Mr. Hogg
My right hon. and learned Friend needs to be very careful. The stated purpose for going to war was to ensure compliance with United Nations resolutions. I did not happen to agree with it, but that was the stated purpose. No doubt the restoration or creation of democracy was an intended by-product, but it was not the lawful justification for the war.
§ Mr. Ancram
My right hon. and learned Friend has, on many occasions, made the case against regime change. The terms of the United Nations resolutions acknowledged and recognised that Saddam Hussein was a threat to international peace and security and was required to be dealt with. That was the justification upon which we backed the decision to go to war. Indeed, I understand from the Foreign Secretary that that was also the position that he took at the time.
We should, however, acknowledge, as the Secretary of State for Defence did, the substantial body of work of reconstruction that is actually being, carried out in Iraq. Electricity is now more equitably distributed and more stable than it was under Saddam Hussein, who used to feed most of it into Baghdad for political reasons. Basra alone now receives 21 hours electricity each day, and the sweet water canal system that provides drinking water to 1.75 million residents of Basra city has been renovated. The number of telephone subscribers, including mobile users, is 33 per cent. greater than it was before the war. Some 2,500 schools have been refurbished and 70 million textbooks have been reprinted. Almost all of Iraq's 240 hospitals are functioning, more than 1,200 clinics are open and more than 3 million children under the age of five have received vaccinations. That is solid progress and we should recognise and welcome it.
As several hon. Members have said, however, we must recognise what is undermining those efforts. In the vital battle for hearts and minds, perception matters. How the coalition is perceived matters, so how the coalition acts matters, too. There is a difference between what is seen as an army of liberation intent on restoring the state to its people and what is seen as a conquering army with all the heavy-handedness that can accompany that. I am always wary of commenting from afar on specific military actions without experiencing the real threat on the ground and the nature of the insurgents that are being faced. Nevertheless, I believe that the military conduct of United Kingdom forces has, in this regard, been exemplary.
§ Mr. Ancram
I shall not give way again because, as I said, many other Members wish to speak in the debate.
698 There is no doubt that confidence right across Iraq has been shattered by the horrific incidences of prisoner abuse, particularly in the Abu Ghraib prison. We roundly condemn them. Such behaviour has no place in the conduct of the army of a democratic state. They are not only unacceptable in themselves, but highly damaging to the coalition's credibility in Iraq. One thing that would help to prevent further such abuses is, independent monitoring of all detention facilities in Iraq. When the Minister replies to the debate, can he specifically confirm that all and every part of coalition detention facilities throughout Iraq are open to unfettered inspection by the Red Cross? I repeat: all and every part of coalition detention facilities. Perhaps he can also clarify whether, after 30 June, responsibility for these detention facilities will pass from the coalition to the interim government.
I come finally to the underlying theme of this debate—the Government's relations with the United States. I bow to no one in my belief that our special relationship with America is crucial to our national interest. I believe in a true partnership with America, based on shared values, shared traditions and, frequently, shared interests. Shortly, Europe will be reminded of what, 60 years ago, the United States, as liberators, did for our war-ravaged continent and the debt of gratitude that we owe to them. Our relationship, however, must always be, as it always has been, a partnership in which frankness is at the core.
We are constantly given the nudge and the wink that that is the case for the Prime Minister, but we are never given the evidence. Even the closest of allies have differences of opinion and emphasis. A candid friendship, except when confidentiality is essential, should not be afraid of such differences—and the advice that follows on from them—being known.
The Prime Minister, however, seems to have established a new doctrine of international relations. He never admits in public whether the differences even exist, let alone the discussions he has had on them. That reticence is not necessary. Margaret Thatcher let Ronald Reagan clearly know of her displeasure at the United States invasion of Grenada in 1983. She quickly made her concerns known after the Reykjavik summit in 1986 between Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev. How can the British people ever know what influence a British Prime Minister has brought to bear on our American allies if he never discloses it? Is it surprising that people wonder whether any influence has been brought to bear at all?
Although the outlook in Iraq is, for the moment, bleak, we must never fall into the Liberal Democratic trap of just being negative. With them in power, Saddam would still be in place, he would still be murdering and he would still be threatening. Thank goodness he is not. Of course, things could be better. If the Government had planned more effectively when we pressed them to, if they had not dithered on the way forward and if they had not been so incompetent in keeping a grip on what was happening in Iraq, things today would be better. However, although time is short, we can still get it right. The cause we fought for was right and the objectives at 699 which we are still aiming are right. For the sake of the people of Iraq and of international peace and security, we must ensure that they are achieved.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)
Order. I remind all right hon. and hon. Members that Mr. Speaker has imposed an eight-minute limit on all Back-Bench speeches.
§ Mrs. Barbara Roche (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab)
For very many Jewish people of my generation, the major influence has been the holocaust and the second world war. That has certainly influenced my political views. The enduring view of that conflict and the holocaust is that the international community of the day knew what was happening in the concentration camps and knew that the train lines were carrying Jewish people and others from all over Europe to their certain death and destruction, and failed to act. That is an abiding issue for me, my community and many others. Similarly, in recent times, the failure of the international community to take any action until it was far too late led to the genocide and holocaust in Rwanda. I use the word "holocaust" advisedly. I hardly ever use it because to use it in a loose way defiles the memory of those who died.
For me, the Saddam's regime was horrific. I also represent a constituency with an enormous number of Iraqis, including many Iraqi Kurds. My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), with her great experience of the situation in Iraq, spoke so well of their plight. The husband of one of my constituents—a very brave woman—was an officer in Saddam's army. He was a dissident. He was called in. He was tortured. While he was being tortured, his wife was brought in and raped in his presence. After the rape, he was executed. She managed to get out of the country. We subsequently managed to get her children out of the country and into this country. She is a brave and wonderful woman.
Getting rid of Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do. That is why the events of recent weeks are so disturbing.
The accounts of what happened and of what was done by the American forces are absolutely dreadful. There are two accounts of those events. Either it is claimed, "We were only obeying orders"—a claim that again has an awful resonance for those who remember the events of the last century—or, as I now believe, institutional—torture was authorised at a very high level. None of us who saw those pictures—there are probably more to come—can stand by and let that torture happen. I certainly cannot, and I suspect that the whole House cannot. That means that we, on behalf of the Iraqi people, have to make it clear to the Americans in the strongest possible terms how we feel about events. It means that Donald Rumsfeld has to resign now and the practice of using private contractors in Iraq for intelligence purposes must cease. Given what we have heard over the weekend, it also means that we need to ask the Americans if it is correct that filming took place of other appalling incidents in Guantanamo bay involving British citizens who were detainees there.
700 These dreadful events have overshadowed the magnificent contribution that so many of our British armed forces have made in the most difficult circumstances. There is no doubt that major acts of reconstruction are taking place and that our forces, with their long experience of engaging with civilian populations, have sought to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. There is obviously a great deal of self-sacrifice on behalf of those people, and I congratulate our forces on that. We must be under no illusion, however: with the Americans' recent record, none of that message will get through, either to the Iraqis or to the public in this country. That is why we have to protest in the strongest possible terms.
What does that mean? We cannot simply desert the Iraqi people—that would be wrong but on 30 June we have to hand over the maximum amount of authority to the Iraqi interim Government. That interim Government must be seen not as a puppet regime but as an interim Government who truly reflect the Iraqi people. We must make sure that the interim Iraqi Government have control over the security forces in Iraq if the country is to prosper and survive. The UN has to have the maximum power and control, and we all need to use our best endeavours to bring that about. On the deployment of troops, we of course need to listen to what British commanders on the ground are telling us, but we must also take into consideration the will of the Iraqis and the interim Iraqi Government, and we must do that in consultation with the UN.
The situation is so grave that this is not the time to seek narrow political advantage—it is too serious for that. We all have to resolve to work together for the Iraqi people. Iraq is a country with a brave, intelligent and able population, where parliamentary democracy once flourished. We nust do everything possible to help it and to restore it, but, more importantly, we must do all that we can to give the Iraqi people control over their own lives and destinies.
§ Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con)
I would say to the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) that if there is a moral imperative on countries such as ours, where human rights are respected, to intervene in countries where they are not, there is an awfully long list of the latter—and that that was not the justification for the war. Saddam Hussein's was a particularly unpleasant regime, but there are many more unpleasant ones around the world—for example, in Sudan, where rather more people are being killed.
From the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) we heard something of an "I told you so" speech. I suppose he is entitled to make such a speech in the circumstances, but I am not sure that it was terribly helpful. From the Secretary of State, we heard an "It's all going according to plan" speech, but it clearly is not—if there was ever a plan in the first place. Those such as I who supported the war from the start—I still do—are deeply troubled by the fact that there seems to be no effective plan. We keep making the same mistakes and do not learn from them.
Now, we hope that on 30 June, Mr. Brahimi will somehow bail us out of the problems that we have encountered. Why it has taken us until 15 months after 701 the end of the war to reach the point of handing over power to a more representative Iraqi Government—or transitional authority, or whatever it is to be called—I simply do not know. We persevered for more than a year with a group of people who were largely selected by the United States and who did not have the confidence and support of the Iraqi people. That caused problems, and the actions of some of the American forces, their interrogation techniques and some of the ways in which we have set about enforcing security, have exacerbated those problems.
However, we have to start from where we are. Whether or not one supported the war, there are two objectives that we should want to achieve. The first is to leave behind a reasonably peaceful Iraq where the rule of law is respected, at least to some extent, and which is starting down the road to democracy. We now have a duty to try to leave that behind us. The other policy objective is related to one of the reasons why I supported the war: I believed—perhaps "hoped" is a better word—that a reformed Iraq might act both as a beacon and as a rebuke to other countries in the region whose Governments are pretty awful.
None of the 22 Arab countries has anything resembling a working democracy; in none is the rule of law respected; and all are giving rise to a brand of Islamic terrorism that presents a serious danger to us. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism is connected with the nature of the regimes in those countries. I am not suggesting that we could set up Jeffersonian democracies in Egypt and Saudi Arabia tomorrow, because I suspect that the people would elect Mr. bin Laden and his lieutenants. That is a measure of the problem facing us. However, if we do not start down that road, the existing regimes will be overthrown by Mr. bin Laden and his lieutenants and we will face worse than the ayatollahs in Iran for a generation to come.
Reform in the middle east is desperately needed. If we can leave behind us an Iraq in which the rule of law and human rights are observed and which is something approaching a democracy, it might reinforce our efforts to secure reform in the region. That is the only way to get long-term stability in the region and long-term security of our interests.
§ Clare Short
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that democracy will not be achieved in the middle east until the Palestine-Israel situation is resolved? The reason why the US supports oppressive regimes in Egypt, Jordan and other countries is that their peoples are so angry about the suffering of the Palestinians that democracy would give rise to countries that are hostile. If we resolve the Palestine-Israel situation and get all weapons of mass destruction out of the region, a process of democratisation can start. Without such resolution, that process cannot start.
§ Mr. Maples
I have said a great deal in the House and elsewhere about the middle east peace process. I have strong views, which I have taken up with the Prime Minister in writing and in speeches. However, I have only eight minutes and cannot deal with the subject now, save to say in defence of the United States that nobody could have tried harder to bring about peace in the region than President Clinton did in the last year of his Administration.
702 We have to try to leave behind us a stable and, hopefully, democratic Iraq. We are relying heavily on Mr. Brahimi to give some authority to the transitional administration and to ensure that it has a large measure of credibility and support among the population—more than the governing council, which was established by the provisional authority.
It is worth viewing the security threat in that light. The security threat comes in part from criminal gangs, in part from supporters of the old regime and in part from Islamic terrorism. The latter is, to some extent, sustained by Shi'ite clerics and by outsiders, but it also has overtones of nationalism—resentment of the presence of American troops. If the new authority has greater credibility and support, the security threat will diminish. Arabs, and Iraqis in particular, will deeply resent terrorists killing other Iraqis who have the support of the local population. Now the killers' excuse is that the governing council is the puppet of the United States and that its members are collaborators.
I do not buy that as a reason for killing them, but nevertheless I accept that it may have some political resonance. If the governing council, which clearly has the support of the people, is moving towards the implementation of a constitution and preparations for elections within a year or so, there is a chance that the security threat will diminish. Iraqi security forces will increasingly have the authority and political support to deal with the threat. If terrorism is seen as an attack on home-grown politicians, they will have the backing of the population of their home country in trying to deal with it.
It is difficult to see that happening without the presence of coalition forces beyond 1 July. We said that we would leave soon after that date, but I hope that we did not mean what we said, because there would be no chance of leaving behind us a stable Iraq. There are clearly forces bent on chaos or civil war, which is not in our interests and will certainly not send the right message to the region. As for sending more forces to Iraq, I would expect that to be done only if our military commanders wanted it. They should be sent only to the Iraqi region for which we are responsible and should be deployed in sufficient numbers to be commanded by a senior British officer, not parcelled out among other commands in Iraq.
If the threat is reduced, there is a chance of achieving stability in the region, which is a prize worth hanging on to for a bit longer. To those who say that we should abandon the enterprise because it reinforces failure. I would reply that the consequences of failure, whether reinforced or not, are terrible for the credibility of British and American foreign policy; for the credibility of our threat to use force; and for our long-term objectives. If we back off now, the message across the region will be, "Britain and the United States do not like this at all, but they are not going to do anything about it." That message, however, will suggest to people in those countries who are in favour of democracy and human rights that there is no support outside the region for what they want to do, thus handing the region over to two forces—the forces of the status quo, which are undemocratic, corrupt and nepotistic, and the forces of extreme revolution in the hands of Mr. bin Laden and his supporters.
703 It is worth reflecting on the consequences of abandoning our policy, both for us and for our alliance with the United States. If we leave the US alone in its enterprise it will probably retreat into isolationism. Most of Mr. Bush's critics in the House feared that he would pursue that policy when he was elected, but now they are criticising him for pursuing an interventionist policy abroad. British foreign policy and defence are built on our strong alliance with the United States and to abandon that alliance will leave us floundering in the middle of the Atlantic without the security of European defence co-operation, about which the present Government, the previous one and I share some scepticism. We have no alternative but to try to see the enterprise through and I believe that the objectives are worth pursuing.
§ Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab/Co-op)
In that fateful vote on 18 March 2003, I supported the Government's deployment of troops. That was the first time ever that the House of Commons was allowed to vote on the deployment of troops and the Government should receive credit for that. It is also important to remember that they won that vote with a very substantial majority. Given subsequent events, however, some people have asked me whether I would vote the same way again. Two or three newspapers have phoned me to ask that very question, but I have not seen the results in print because—I suspect—they did not get the answer that they wanted.
I would do exactly the same again—I told them that—because those of us who voted in favour thought very long, hard and carefully before doing so and we knew exactly what we were doing.
Like all hon. Members and everyone beyond the House, I abhor the torture and humiliation of the Iraqi prisoners and I say so, but I also abhor the execution of Nick Berg. Not everyone says that, by the way; not everyone who condemns the other torture condemns that as well. However, the torture—albeit awful—is of a totally different order and extent to the vicious murder of thousands and the torture of many more by the Saddam Hussein regime, to which the mass graves testify.
Of course the situation in Iraq is difficult. There is sabotage by external terrorists who do not want us to succeed. Criminals are inevitably exploiting the situation. Thankfully, Iraqi opinion is turning against extremists and terrorists, and we should be pleased about that. I got the impression that the Liberal spokesman wants everything to go wrong to prove that he was right and so that he can say, "I told you so."
§ Mr. Dalyell
It was not the critics in the House, but Senator Edward Kennedy who described the Abu Ghraib prison as "under new management"—but the same as Saddam. It was Senator Kennedy, not us.
§ Mr. Foulkes
Of course, Senator Kennedy is a well-respected man; he has his own history to deal with.
As well as the sabotage and the criminal elements, thousands of children are being educated at school. Many ill people are being treated in hospitals. Oil and 704 water are flowing again, in spite of attacks. Electricity supply is restored. Of course that does not hit the headlines, but it is the increasing reality in Iraq.
In this extremely difficult situation, where do we find the Liberal Democrats? As usual, they are on the bandwagon of opportunism.[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) can sigh and moan, but it is true. Not just in the House of Commons, but on the stump in the European elections, they are showing cynical opportunism. As we heard from their spokesman today, they are coming up not with a solution, but with constant. carping criticism, undermining the morale of our servicemen and women.
§ Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford) (LD)
May I tell the right hon. Gentleman that I have visited Iraq since the start of conflict and the troops there have told me that they have been very grateful to Liberal Democrats and others who have been putting their side of the argument? May I remind him that the Liberal Democrats pointed out that our troops did not have the right kit and the right boots when the right hon. Gentleman's Government sent them to war to fight?
§ Mr. Foulkes
When the hon. Gentleman was talking to those troops, he did not understand the irony that they were using to make their point. They are a cleverer lot than he gives tham credit for. He and the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman have taken a very interestingly different line on that from time to time.
§ Mr. Foulkes
No, I am not going to give way.
In contrast to the Liberal Democrats, our troops are helping not only to keep the peace in difficult circumstances, but with reconstruction and rehabilitation. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sit Menzies Campbell) did not even mention or recognise that, let alone give them credit for it; nor did he come up with any constructive and practical suggestion for the way forward. Indeed, he spoke like the lawyer he is, to put a straitjacket on our troops. If it is necessary to reinforce our forces for effectiveness, for their safety or to extend their tasks, the Government should do so.
At least the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not call for immediate withdrawal. I suppose that we should be thankful for that small thing, although some—including my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), who, given his time in office, ought to know a great deal better—call for that immediate withdrawal. That is the height of irresponsibility. It would result in a bloody, all-out civil war, in which thousands of people would die, and the danger of a return to dictatorship.
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
It is rare for me to defend my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), but my understanding of what he said is that he hoped that after elections there would be a withdrawal, not an immediate withdrawal after 30 June.
§ Mr. Foulkes
I bow to my hon. Friend's correction. Perhaps I shall have to correct my remarks in relation to 705 my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston. I shall check the record. There are some who are calling for an immediate withdrawal, which would certainly result in bloody civil war, as I said. That, incidentally, is not just my view. It is also the view of leaders of socialist parties whom I met at the Socialist International executive in Budapest on Friday, and not all of them supported the intervention by Britain, the United States and the other countries that supported us. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) said in an intervention, we must stay the course. That was a telling phrase. Following the assassination of the leader of the governing council, it is even more vital that we reaffirm our intention to do so.
I conclude where I started. One of the world's worst dictators has gone. Some people have said—as did the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples)—that there are many other dictators. At least there is now one less. Because we cannot get rid of them all does not mean that we should not get rid of one of them. I am glad to see that the hon. Gentleman agrees with that.
Now, Iraq is moving, albeit hampered by terrorists and by the faint-hearted, towards democracy and prosperity. That is something of which the House and our Government should be proud. I support the Government in their determination to see it through.
§ 5.6 pm
§ Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park) (LD)
The previous speech was most enjoyable, in the usual Dr. Pangloss style of the right hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes). We heard, as usual, that all is for the best in the best of all possible situations.
It is important for the House to examine the reasons we were given a year ago for going to war with Iraq. Weapons of mass destruction, we were told, were ready within 45 minutes to destroy us. Dossiers were published to support that view. In my family, where there are three scientists—albeit two medics and a geologist—those dossiers were looked at carefully and thought to be extremely faulty and very bad science indeed. I wonder whether there are any scientists at all in the Cabinet if they could accept the sort of rubbish that was peddled at the time.
Nevertheless, many in the House accepted those dossiers and the reason given. We know that there were no weapons of mass destruction. If there were, where are they now? We do not hear the Government speculate very much on where they might have gone. The whole situation in Iraq has been such a shambles over the past 12 months; if the Government were so sure that there were weapons of mass destruction, it is extremely worrying that we have no hint of where those weapons might be now.
We were also told, as Dr. Pangloss reminded us, that human rights were being abused and that Saddam Hussein was a monster. I entirely agree. That means it is even more important that our campaign should have been conducted in the most impeccable way, and that there should have been faultless behaviour by the Americans and ourselves in Iraq. The reverse has been true.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab)
Can the hon. Lady imagine what would have occurred 706 if photographs of abuse in prisons, which was far worse under Saddam Hussein, had come out? If such photographs had been available during Saddam Hussein's regime, they would have been used as part of the humanitarian justification for the invasion of Iraq.
§ Dr. Tonge
The hon. Gentleman makes a point, but I am getting a little tired of hon. Members saying that the human rights abuses allegedly being committed by the Americans, even if not by our troops, are somehow better or not so bad as those committed by Saddam Hussein. Abuses of human rights cannot be graded. The abuse of human rights is an absolute. We no longer have any moral authority. I was reminded of that last week while we were tackling the Sudanese Foreign Minister on the abuse of human rights in Darfur when I noticed faint smiles on the faces of the Sudanese delegates. It is difficult to claim the moral high ground when such things have been going on in Iraq.
We were also told that somehow Iraq had a connection with world terror and Osama bin Laden, but since the invasion of Iraq world terrorism has increased. The supporters of Osama bin Laden, who had no previous connection with that country, are now in there. We in Britain are more at threat than we were a year ago when we went to war.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Osama bin Laden did have a contact with Iraq, and the contact was that on two separate occasions he made serious attempts to assassinate Saddam Hussein. That was the relationship.
§ Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab)
The hon. Lady will perhaps appreciate the intent of my intervention when I say that the question of the moral authority of our troops under the Ministry of Defence and the Secretary of State for Defence is entirely different from that of Saddam Hussein and his regime, in that here we investigate the allegations and act on them when they are proved. I challenge the hon. Lady to say that Saddam Hussein would have done the same.
§ Dr. Tonge
As the hon. Gentleman says, why did they happen in the first place? Who gave the authority for American soldiers to abuse soldiers in this way? Was it just because the same thing was happening in Guantanamo bay? Why were the British Government so weak and feeble in trying to get our citizens out of Gantanamo bay? It rather suggests that they are colluding in American treatment of prisoners of war.
Liberal Democrats have been accused of being opportunist, but on the doorstep people say that they have been told lies about weapons of mass destruction by the Government, that at the very least Britain has colluded with human rights abuses in Iraq, and that we have endangered the safety of British citizens by increasing terrorism. The Government should be ashamed of their record in the past year, and if they have no shame, I am ashamed on their behalf—truly ashamed.
707 The Prime Minister could save his soul. We have heard very little about the middle east peace process, which is mentioned in the motion. The Prime Minister could save his soul and his Government by breaking with George Bush and Ariel Sharon and by using every means to put pressure on Israel to withdraw from the territories of Palestine that it has occupied since 1967. That is a key issue that has not been addressed this afternoon.
If the Minister were to tell us that the offered withdrawal from Gaza is a step in the right direction, I would merely laugh in his face given what has been going on during the last week with the bulldozing of houses, sometimes with people in them—a scorched-earth policy—and the killing of leaders in that area before withdrawal is even considered.
When the Minister replies, cannot he acknowledge the visit of the delegation from the Palestinian assembly, which is in Britain this week, and accept once and for all that the road to peace in Iraq and the wider middle east, as well as the road to solving the threat of terrorism in this world, still lies through Jerusalem?
§ David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab)
The sadistic abuses in Iraq revealed in the past week or so have undoubtedly set back hearts and minds in that country and throughout the region. We must thoroughly investigate how such acts could take place in the very prison where Saddam had his torturers and murderers. I find it difficult to believe that those who carried out the abuses and worse did so without the knowledge of senior officials and that they acted on their own initiative.
In order to ensure that people in the middle east, especially in Iraq, understand how seriously the issue is taken in the United States, the best course of action would be for the Secretary of State for Defence and his deputy to resign. That would show that when America says that it is sorry, it really means that it is sorry, and that the person in charge takes responsibility.
§ Chris Bryant
If my hon. Friend means that Donald Rumsfeld should resign, I agree with him, but he did not make that clear and seemed to suggest that the British Secretary of State for Defence should resign. Does he distinguish between systematic abuse by American soldiers, which is abhorrent to those Labour Members who, like me, have been members of Amnesty International for many years, and the incidents involving British soldiers, which may have been one-offs?
§ David Winnick
No comparison is possible between what the Americans did and the allegations against British soldiers, which should be investigated. I hope that I made it clear that the United States Defence Secretary and his deputy should go, and go quickly.
I do not regret supporting the destruction of Saddam's regime. The hon. Member for Stratford-on- 708 Avon (Mr. Maples) described that regime as "unpleasant"; it was not only unpleasant but outright murderous, and should have been dealt with much earlier. I was in the House when the controversy occurred over whether military action should be taken to liberate Kuwait. Some of my hon. Friends opposed that action, and I am not sure what the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) would have done had she been in the House. In 1991, I hoped that Iraq would be liberated, but I accepted that that was not possible because the coalition would have fallen apart. Had such action been possible, it would have been justified.
Lord Ashdown, the former Liberal Democrat leader, took the lead in urging action to stop the Serbian crimes in Bosnia and Kosovo. He was right, but some Labour Members—perhaps me, for that matter—were a little slow, and the Prime Minister has gone out of his way to praise the way in which the former Liberal Democrat leader understood the need to deal with the crimes that were being committed. Action was taken rather late in the day, but if Milosevic and his cronies were guilty, how much worse were the crimes of Saddam? If one supported what was done in Kosovo—some hon. Members did not—how can one object to action to destroy the regime in Iraq, which was far worse, far more criminal and far more murderous?
§ Mr. Keetch
Twelve months ago, Liberal Democrat Members did not rule out military action against Iraq in all circumstances. We said that it was not the right time and that the inspections conducted by Hans Blix should be allowed more time—what is more, Hans Blix also believes that he should have been given more time.
§ David Winnick
The Saddam regime had from 1991 onwards to comply. If Security Council members, including this country, had acted more effectively, we would not have got into the position that we reached. I made it clear at the time that, apart from weapons of mass destruction—Hans Blix was by no means satisfied that there were none, and the hon. Gentleman agrees with that—on the ground of human rights alone, I agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) that we were right in the action that we took.
I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Richmond Park said about Palestine. I recently had a debate on the subject in Westminster Hall. The actions of the Israelis over the past few days were deplorable. We have seen on television Palestinians forced out of their homes, those homes bulldozed and the people forced to live in tents. The more the United Kingdom speaks out against Sharon's actions, the better things will be. I am pleased that more than 100,000 people in Israel demonstrated their distaste and dislike of and opposition to Sharon's policies. I support a sovereign Palestinian state, which should come about as quickly as possible. I made my views clear, as the hon. Lady knows because she listened to me, only a few days ago in Westminster Hall.
Mistakes were made after the liberation of Iraq and far more should have been done to provide basic facilities. I believe that there was a slowness and that we did not explain our intentions to the people to Iraq. That 709 did not help. I agree that the United Nations should be given a far more active political role in preparing the future of that country. The deadline of 30 June must remain but it should be only the first step towards an Iraqi Government, who need far more legitimacy than the current governing council.
I supported the action last year and, as I have said, I make no apology for the way in which I voted in March 2003. However, I believe that there is a danger that the longer the occupation lasts the more suspicion will grow in Iraq and the region that the United States in particular wishes to stay for a long time. There is a danger that the occupation will be perceived as indefinite and that every excuse will be found to continue a military occupation. People in Iraq who are not terrorists or insurgents and said that it was right to take action to destroy Saddam's regime as well as those in the wider middle east will conclude that it was not simply a question of ousting Saddam. All sorts of conspiratorial theories will be presented that the action was a means of turning Iraq into a satellite of the United States or the coalition. There is great political danger in an indefinite occupation of Iraq.
Once the 30 June deadline is reached and the governing council is given more legitimacy, I hope that every step will be taken to ensure that the Iraqi Government's political role is given far greater emphasis than is currently intended. In so far as it is possible, I hope that more countries, especially Muslim countries, will be included in the transitional period. We all want the same outcome: a sovereign Iraq, a country that is not occupied and an elected, democratic Government with legitimacy. Those are the objectives for which my colleagues and I voted last year. That is why I emphasise that we must be very careful, not only because of the current terrorism, to ensure that the occupation has a limit and that the people of Iraq can rule themselves without outside occupation or interference.
§ John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD)
As this nightmare unfolds on our televisions and we watch women, men, children, civilians and contractors dying daily, it is worth remembering again why the House sent in the troops. At least we had a vote on the issue, as the right hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) said, but the picture that was painted at the time was that weapons of mass destruction existed and presented a threat. Do the Government—does anyone—still believe that that is true? What happened to the 1,400 people who constituted the Iraq survey group? If they had found anything of note, the Government would be trumpeting their report. Why the silence? The right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) mentioned one round—is that it?
When those who opposed the war questioned the Prime Minister, the reply was often, "At least we have captured Saddam Hussein", as though that alone justified military action. The Government cannot have it both ways. We are in a coalition, and I must remind the Government that it was US soldiers who captured Saddam. If the US forces' success on that occasion is something that we want to share, we must also accept that they, as part of the coalition force, have been accused of shameful actions, and that some of them 710 have perpetrated almost indescribable acts involving prisoners in Iraq. We cannot say that that has nothing to do with us, because it has been done in the name of the coalition.
We were given four reasons for going to war: the threat of weapons of mass destruction and the non-compliance with UN resolutions; the fight against terror; the humanitarian crisis; and Saddam's reign of terror. People say, "At least Saddam's reign of terror is over", but if that vote on weapons of mass destruction were to be repeated today, now that we know that the 45-minute threat related only to battlefield weapons and that the two trucks that were supposedly mobile laboratories were in fact sold to Iraq by us for meteorological purposes, there is no way that we would go to war based on the dodgy dossiers, the dodgy evidence, the Prime Minister's word or anything similar, because trust in the Government has gone.
The argument moved on to the fight against terror as a reason for going to war, but the terrorists have been fuelled by recent events. Those who wanted to portray the west as inhuman now have all the recruiting material they need. They have material—including photos and videos—to last them a long time. Donald Rumsfeld sends a shiver down my spine; what must he do to those in Iraq?
Hon. Members mentioned the reconstruction plan and said that the humanitarian grounds were reason enough for going to war in Iraq, but Iraq is not yet the relatively wealthy country that it should be. Before any trouble, it had a standard of living similar to that of Spain or Portugal, but it has not yet returned to that position. The end of Saddam's reign of terror has been cited as the only success, but the toppling of a dictator would never have won international support as a reason for going to war. If that was the reason that we went to war, we should be at war constantly.
What next? There must be either an exit strategy or more troops. The present situation is a nightmare. If the troops were pulled out tomorrow, the country could implode. Any terrorists not in Iraq would make their way there, and Osama bin Laden would probably be among the first. Civil war could break out. The Kurds might see an opportunity to establish their own homeland. Those who are suffering most would continue to suffer. Would sending more troops alleviate that?
The only way forward is to involve other countries through the UN. If that does not happen, we and the USA will have to send more troops just to protect those who are already there. I have already mentioned the consequences of pulling the troops out. We are left between a rock and a hard place. We must get other Muslim and Arab nations brought in on their terms, so that they can play a part in the drive for peace. We and the American Government are part of the problem as well as part of the solution. We cannot move the troops out today because that would make things worse, but if they stay indefinitely it will inflame an already dire situation.
How many more people must die on each side before this comes to an end? We need to hear what the Government plan to do next. We heard earlier from the Secretary of State that we cannot estimate the number of casualties, but on this day, the anniversary of the 711 battle of Monte Cassino, at which it is estimated that 200,000 people died, surely we can estimate the number of civilian deaths in Iraq.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab)
I think that we should get away from two simplistic approaches to developments in Iraq and what needs to be done. One comes from those who supported the invasion, but who excuse or explain most of what has occurred since as not a great problem, or claim that it is outweighed by the severity of the Saddam Hussein regime, and say therefore that what has taken place is basically okay. My right hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) expressed such a view. We need to get away from and beyond that.
At the other extreme, there are those who opposed the war, who might be in danger of damning almost everything that has happened since, or of using what Wittgenstein called a one-sided diet of examples all the time about what is wrong in terms of humanitarian and other considerations, and who might say, "I told you so." It is as though things have not developed or moved. In both those camps, there needs to be shift and movement.
I was pleased to hear the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick), because no one has been more strident than he has in defending the right to invade Iraq. He strongly emphasised his deep concerns over what has been revealed about humanitarian problems—not just those—on the American side of the coalition, which need to be investigated fully and properly and acted on and which arise from Amnesty and Red Cross reports. He also stressed that there had been problems, that things had not gone right all along and that we were not always clear in connection with those. I think that there are those on both sides who recognise that we are in a different situation once the attack has taken place, and it is very important that we respond to changing developments.
I opposed the war, but I am keen to see the reconstruction of Iraq and its development into a free society with civic institutions and free provision. In that I associate myself—I can do a little bit in certain areas—with the new Iraqi Federation of Workers Trade Unions, which is a free trade union movement that works in difficult circumstances. It is challenging many trade unions in the Arab world, many of which are state controlled and, to some extent, replicas of what existed under the Ba'athist regime. The federation is not all that acceptable within Arab territories, and there is a still a remnant of Ba'athist trade unionism, which existed in Iraq and needs to be confronted.
The federation does not do too well in dealing with the Americans, because the Americans are interested in the redevelopment of Iraq in terms of their own vision, so their capital interests in that connection are to the fore. Trade unions are therefore a difficulty if they are going to be free, because they represent the workers who want to get into such things.
The federation challenges various people, but it has great difficulties because of mass unemployment and other problems. Just as things were developing nicely, 712 with the International Labour Organisation involved in "the United Nations office in Baghdad; the bombing took place last August and all that was lost. All the federation's connections became difficult. Those who are working in that area should say to the Government and those who supported the invasion that some of us who opposed it and would defend that position nevertheless might have something to offer and to say about these changes
I am the most unlikely person in the world to vilify the armed forces in southern Iraq. I did my national service in Basra back in 1955–56. It was a peaceful period, but I understand what life is like there and the problems, even if there has been a great transformation since. At least I understand the heat of the midday sun that the forces will face. I hope that the Government recognise that some of us are not just taking what seem to be predictable positions.
§ Chris Bryant
My hon. Friend is making some telling points. Does he believe that there is not as big a difference between the two sides on this matter as many people would assume? Most people want British troops to leave Iraq as soon as possible. The division between us is on how soon that can happen.
§ Mr. Barnes
There are differences in the way in which the argument is put forward in different camps. One problem is point-scoring, one side against the other, which means that extreme positions are taken. The fact that some of us opposed what was taking place from a certain analysis and a certain background also means that we shall not just surrender to the position of those who supported the invasion. We want people to realise how tough the circumstances are and that there are some things that we are unlikely readily and easily to get. United Nations' involvement would be tremendous, but without it there might still be things that we could argue for and encourage the Government to do, as long as people realise that we are also in the game.
The point is often made that Britain is not to blame and that the problem rests with the Americans. What has been revealed about abuse falls very much within the American camp, but that does not absolve us. The Americans are our allies. We joined them. What are we working towards with them? If they were on the edge—they seemed to be at one time, although they seem now to pulling back—of further invasions of Syria, Iran and Korea, the clear lesson is that they are not fit people for us to be associated with, at least under the current regime, when it comes to entering any other military adventure anywhere in the world.
The special relationship between the UK and America should give us an opportunity to speak about what has happened so far as Rumsfeld and others are concerned. IfThe New Yorker is correct to say that Rumsfeld ordered a loosening of the rules under which military personnel could squeeze information out of detainees, we should react to that. If, asThe New York Times says, rough treatment is par for the course in American prisons and part of the culture there, that too should influence us seriously. We should direct our minds to engaging in such serious matters without continually listening to point-scoring in the Chamber from one side against another. We should try to work together while still recognising the limits to that and the fact that we may speak from different positions.
§ Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab)
The road to peace was mentioned several times earlier in the debate. The road to peace in Iraq seems to be a journey through a vale of tears that will go on for some time. It is one of those journeys where we know where it began but do not know where it will finish. When we embarked on the war, which I still consider to have been illegal and immoral, the then Chief of the Defence Staff expressed his misgivings about embarking on such an operation without a clear exit strategy.
That remains the case to this day.
Before those with a different view on the war criticise me, I put on the record that, like everybody else, I have nothing but admiration for the forces on the ground and the exemplary way in which they have performed their task. They did not ask to go to Iraq: they have been placed there, and they will do their job in their usual professional way. Our dilemma concerns our destination and what it will mean for the soldiers on the ground, as well as the wider issues.
I despair whenever I hear the Government present their case. We heard it again in this debate and in Defence questions. Every time a Government spokesman refers to Iraq, we hear the same circumlocutions, euphemisms, diversions and inaccuracies that present a wholly misleading case. One of my favourite, pithy aphorisms is from Noam Chomsky, who said that whoever captures the language captures the argument. It is important to look at the language that is used. For example, we have heard much about sovereignty, but what does that actually mean? If we hand over sovereignty on 30 June, can we do so in any real sense if the new authority will not have any control over its own security forces? Indeed, the official Opposition would be up in arms if it were suggested that the United Kingdom did not have true sovereignty over its own defence and foreign policies because it was part of Europe. We can at least be certain that whatever takes over in Iraq on 30 June will not be sovereign in any way that we would recognise.
Another word that is bandied about is "contractors", which has become an all-embracing term for the privatisation of war. For example, let us take the terrible murder of Nick Berg. He was a television aerial and dish erector and had gone to Iraq to make a few quid. He could legitimately be described as a contractor, but many of the other contractors are nothing more than mercenaries. They are former special service operatives performing highly specialised, highly paid and highly dangerous jobs. They accept the money for the job, and they are not in the same bracket as those who are trying to restore the civilian infrastructure.
Let us not forget that we went into this shambles in Iraq because of an unholy alliance between the Government and Conservative Front Benchers. Today, we heard an exchange in which the shadow Foreign Secretary gave the Secretary of State for Defence the latest news on weapons of mass destruction and shells with sarin gas. By definition, a shell is a battlefield weapon, but they have again altered the meaning of WMD so that it covers just about anything. We should not forget that the reasons for war given in this House 714 revolved around the pivotal issue that there were weapons of mass destruction, but we have still failed to identify or provide any as evidence.
§ Mr. Keetch
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the alleged WMD containing sarin nerve gas was—according to General Kimmitt—found several days ago? It was a very small shell, it was ineffective and whoever rigged the round to explode appears not to have known that it contained a nerve agent. That is hardly the kind of weapon that we were warned about in the run-up to war.
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
No, it is not, but many of us argued not only about the definition of weapons of mass destruction, but the likelihood that any would be found anywhere in Iraq, given that we had been bombing them for so many years and had taken out any worthwhile defence and military facility. That is not to say, "I told you so"—it is a matter of record.
§ Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway) (Lab)
Will my hon. Friend reflect on what the Foreign Secretary said about the fact that Saddam had a choice? He could either give up his weapons of mass destruction or be deposed. The logical conclusion is that if he had given up his weapons of mass destruction we would not have deposed him and he would still be there under the sufferance of the British Government. In those circumstances, how can it possibly be argued that WMD were our principal reason for going to war?
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. Like the Foreign Secretary, he is a lawyer, and he is used to the contortions of that sort of legalistic argument, which does not hold any logic for reasonable people. More importantly, as is evidenced by poll after poll, it does not convince the people of this country, who are less confused than the Government appear to be.
The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) commented on the number of Iraqi dead. When I tabled questions about that to the Ministry of Defence, I received a rather brusque answer. We all get used to being told, in effect, to mind our own business. I was given the same dismissive response when I asked about liaisons with non-governmental organisations that attempt to gauge civilian casualties in such conflicts. I was left with the clear impression that the issue is an irrelevancy. I do not consider the death of anybody, civilian or soldier, an irrelevancy to be marked by that sort of answer.
As it stands, the perception of our own efforts in Iraq is inextricably linked with the impressions of the American military. I do not think for one moment that our soldiers are guilty of the systematic and systemic abuse that seems to be the case with American troops, but that is not how it will seem to people on the ground. We should dispense once and for all with the myth that people who point to such abuses are endangering our troops. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) said, the logic of that is that we should all keep quiet. People who knew about the holocaust kept quiet, and it went on regardless. When abuse takes place, it is one's duty as a citizen, an individual and an elected representative to speak out about it—it cannot be hidden.
715 Where do we go from here, given that we are in this mess and have to deal with this shambles? I am not one of those who believe, as was suggested earlier, that my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) had called for an immediate withdrawal—he did not. His argument was clear and unequivocal, and I tend to agree with it. There should be a clear timetable for withdrawal. As the Government are so keen on targets, I do not see why we could not set a target for our withdrawal by saying that it would take place after the election of a Government in January.
Alongside that, we should take a firm view on engaging further troops in the field. AsThe Independent remarked today, putting troops in because commanders on the ground deem it necessary in order to conduct necessary operations within their current remit or to effect their withdrawal is different from an American commander asking for more troops to make up for shortfalls elsewhere. If the Americans want more troops, let them put them in. I hope to heaven that that is not needed, but we should not widen the remit of our soldiers' existing commitments in Iraq.
If we are to get any sense of where we need to go in this horrible situation in which we find ourselves, the most important prerequisite is for the Government to come out of denial and recognise that what they did was wrong. They might have done it for the best of reasons—their case involves a lot of post facto rationalisation which does not convince many in this House, and is not convincing the British people—but there is nothing—wrong with saying, "We may have gone down a certain road with the best of intentions, but let's recognise that we got it wrong and need to go in a different direction." As long as they maintain the myths about weapons of mass destruction—as do Conservative Front Benchers—and keep trying to justify the unjustifiable, they will only find themselves deeper and deeper in the morass.
§ Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab)
My contribution will refer to the opinions of young soldiers who have just returned from Basra and to my beliefs about insurgents, militias and radical clerics, whether from outside or inside Iraq.
Last week, some of my daughter's former school friends returned from Basra on leave. I was privy to their conversations but did not take part as I was keen to listen to what the young people were saying. They were pleased to be home and said that although life in Basra was difficult, things had got significantly better during their tour of duty. They described the difficulties, but equally they talked about the other side of things—they said that they were winning hearts and minds and felt more and more involved with the ordinary, everyday life of the Basra community. They were known and welcomed by local people.
I found the conversation interesting because I rarely hear such comments either in the press or in the House. One of those young people was 21 and the other was 23; they showed no fear about returning to Iraq and said that they would be pleased to go back after their six-week leave. They made it clear that the children and 716 young people would be waiting for them to take part in tournaments, football matches and all sorts of everyday community activities.
The British armed forces are exceptional in their involvement in the development of stable communities, with the Iraqis determining how that activity will be undertaken. Although I have not been to Iraq I have visited Bosnia, where ordinary folk told us again and again, "Please keep your armed forces here, they have given many of us the belief that our grandchildren will be able to grow up in our country."
In their conversation with my daughter, those young people were making it clear that they are developing peaceful relationships with ordinary people that will endure. They would appreciate it if that were recognised. Of course, they are not involved with the prison service; they are based in Basra and Umm Qasr, working with ordinary people. I was pleased to hear them say that they were looking forward to their return to Iraq.
It is not just young people who are making such statements. I have a close colleague in the Territorial Army, who is somewhat older than those young people. He, too, has served in Iraq, in a medical team, and he told me that on the whole the coalition forces and their activities were warmly welcomed. Although, obviously, there were inordinate difficulties, Britain was seen as a fair nation; when things went wrong they were investigated and appropriate action was taken. People did not talk about the creation of a sovereign state, but it was clear to him that Britain's involvement was helping them to believe that one day the rule of law would be established and their lives would be secure.
I have always been involved with the British armed forces and their deployment, so it saddens me to hear so much criticism yet so few references to the value that we give in so many countries in so many parts of the world. Of course, I do not underestimate the grave consequences of acts perpetrated by a few who, whether in communities or in prisons, carry out indecent and disgraceful acts. That is not just a dereliction of duty; those people bring disgrace to the armed forces and to our country. However, those disgusting and unauthorised acts are perpetrated by only a few and it is my belief that, ultimately, they will not undermine the ability of our coalition troops to create—as they did in the Balkans—an open, law-abiding society.
I also want to refer to the acts of the insurgents, some of whom have connections with al-Qaeda, radical Shi'a clerics or Islamist extremists. They are determined to scupper the introduction of the rule of law or an open democracy, because they know that, in such a society, they would have to pitch in and fight for the support of ordinary folk, and they would not get that support. Al-Sadr and his Jaish-al-Mahdi militia are a fierce fighting force, as everyone with military connections is aware.
§ Norman Lamb (North Norfolk) (LD)
The hon. Lady refers to the rule of law, but is not the coalition's case for the importance of the rule of law undermined when the United States fails to respect the Geneva conventions in Guantanamo bay and when we hear reports that the 717 abuse of prisoners may not have been isolated acts but part of a wider culture with links high in the US Administration?
§ Ms Taylor
I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman says, but I am not prepared to say that such behaviour is part of the way of life or conduct of the British armed forces. I am dismayed by those serious allegations against the Americans.
Our forces know that al-Sadr and his militia are laying in wait for them and will ambush them. People outside understand that, but we need to say it in this place, too. Such militias will bomb our forces indiscriminately with rocket-propelled grenades. They whip up emotion and manipulate the poor to fight with them and die for "Moqtada". Our very young British forces have to fight against such people and win hearts and minds in their communities. We cannot hold discussions and negotiate with those insurgents; they will not even talk to moderate Shi'a clerics. They want only to deliver their own agenda—for them that is the only agenda.
Our armed forces are young, but they are extremely professional and competent and I hope that everyone in the House will make that statement again and again. I hope that on 30 June we shall see the establishment of an Iraqi governing force. I hope that reconstruction will take place with United Nations involvement. However, it is important to remind the House that we deployed a NATO force in the Balkans because the UN was unable to deliver peace in that region. When we talk about the value of the United Nations we should also acknowledge that there is no easy way to deliver peace in such countries; only a serious, careful and constructive force can deliver.
I believe that we were right to deploy and I hope that in years to come—perhaps in only a year—we shall see—significant benefits. Our troops can see them now; let us acknowledge that fact.
§ Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Lab)
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) that our debates on Iraq put a terribly optimistic gloss on the situation in that country—an interpretation that is quite different from what we hear at public meetings and in discussions with groups of citizens all over our country. People are extremely worried about the situation in Iraq; they understand that things are deteriorating and becoming more violent and that insurgency is spreading to the south and will endanger our troops. Yet, in this place, the discussion is complacent, as though we are talking about a few local difficulties and if we carry on as we are everything will be all right.
That is deeply worrying, because the situation is getting worse, and it is not all right. We need a responsible exit strategy in the interests of our troops and the people of Iraq.
I must say that the way in which the Secretary of State for Defence dealt with the question about the failure to make any calculations concerning the number of Iraqi civilian deaths was disgraceful. As everybody who takes a responsible view of these matters knows, Iraq Body Count is trying to make such an estimate and is looking 718 at more than one published source to try to reach an accurate figure. Its estimate—it recognises that it cannot be totally accurate—is that as many as 11,000 Iraqi civilians have lost their lives, and the numbers go on rising. On top of that, 6,000 to 8,000 Iraqi soldiers died in the war, and many of them were young conscripts. More than 700 United States troops and civilian workers who worked in their support have died, as have 67 UK troops, including some civilians who were working in their support.
§ Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD)
Does the right hon. Lady agree that the Secretary of State mischievously confused two things—making an assessment of Iraqi casualties, and making an assessment of Iraqi casualties in circumstances in which British officers would be put at risk? They are two quite different things, and not doing one is not a case for not doing the other.
§ Clare Short
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. To say that we can only go in to count the casualties after we have escaped from danger is to make a joke out of a very serious matter. The truth is that, when our political leaders speak, they too often express more distress when the person killed is from our armed forces, or an ally, appearing to belittle the loss of life among Iraqi civilians. That is quite wrong and very dangerous. The failure to count the number of civilian deaths is part of that. Obviously, it is possible to see how many people went to hospital, how many people lost their lives and how many people were buried. It is possible to make estimates which, while they would not be entirely accurate, would suggest that we were taking the situation seriously.
There is another aspect of the debate in the Chamber, but not in the country, that I find enormously worrying. In the country, there is an intense political mood and more interest in debating politics than I have seen for a very long time, but there is derision about Westminster. People are buying political books, having political discussions and attending meetings while despising what goes on in this Chamber. We in this Chamber should look at ourselves and listen more carefully to what people out in the country are saying.
Hon. Members repeatedly say that we must not turn away from the Iraqi people and go when the job is half done. But what are the Iraqi people telling us? They are making their views clear in poll after poll conducted by responsible American organisations. I should have thought that any poll taken in Iraq would have an urban bias and would not reflect the views of the poor who are not on the phone. The polls show that, while the overwhelming majority of people are glad that Saddam Hussein has gone, they think that the situation in their daily lives is worse than it was when he was there. We should be shamed by that and take it seriously, because that is what the Iraqi people are telling us. They are also now saying—it is a change in their position—that they want the coalition to leave immediately. That is what they say in response to polling undertaken by responsible American organisations. It is a little odd for Members of this place to say that we must behave responsibly towards the Iraqi people and stay when the people of Iraq say that they would like us to go. I do not mean that we should just walk away and leave chaos 719 behind, but we should look for a rapid exit strategy. That is what the Iraqi people want us to do, and it is what we should do.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes): those of us who had strong views about the rush to war should not say that we have been vindicated by the mess that there is now in Iraq. We have to go forward from the situation we are in. In response to the cheap remarks from the shadow Foreign Secretary, let me say that although, as everyone knows, I was very critical of the rush to war, like the Liberal Democrats' spokesman on defence I was not against the threat of the use of force. I thought that it was necessary to threaten the use of force and to be willing to contemplate using it to back up the authority of the United Nations. However, under the doctrine of just war—both the legal teaching and the Christian teaching, which is very like Islamic teaching—we should have exhausted all other means. We did not exhaust all other means, so I was prepared to leave the Government. I said that I would leave the Government, but I was persuaded by the Prime Minister—he pleaded with me—to stay, in order to help with the reconstruction. We reached an agreement on the basis of three things.
The first of those things was publication of the road map, and the Prime Minister used the threat of resignations to get the road map published. We now know that the process was not sincere, but the position looked more hopeful at the time. I was also promised a UN mandate for reconstruction and that we would internationalise reconstruction. I left the Government when those promises were broken. I make the point now not so that I can talk about my position, but to make the House face the reasons for our difficulties with the UN's authority in Iraq.
The difficulties did not arise because the UN failed. When hon. Members talk of the UN failing because members of the Security Council cannot reach agreement, they distort reality. The UN Security Council is an instrument of its members and it cannot make decisions if its members will not come together and agree internationally on how to move forward.
The UN was ready and had made preparations to take the lead in helping the Iraqi people create an interim Government, as it had helped in Afghanistan, Mozambique, East Timor and Kosovo. That is the international system for post-conflict situations. However, the United States was not willing to give the UN the authority that it normally has—as, for example, in Afghanistan—in selecting the Iraqi interim Government. The UN was put in a subservient position, and the Security Council did not want another row because the UN's authority was already being diminished. The Security Council allowed the US to have another resolution, but it was told that it would not have international support on that basis.
The lesson is that there must be a sincere commitment to giving the UN the proper authority. Then we should say that we will leave as soon as possible, and whenever a legitimate Iraqi Government ask that of us. Under the auspices of the UN, we should be replaced in Iraq by international forces who will come in under a proper 720 mandate. The Pakistanis have made it clear that they would accept that, and the Spanish withdrew because there was not a proper UN mandate.
We need a responsible exit strategy for the sake of the people of Iraq and for the sake of our soldiers. Instead of that strategy, what we have is vague talk about a "vital role" for the UN. Those words were given to us after President Bush visited Hillsborough, but meant nothing because we had a UN resolution for post-conflict Iraq that put the UN in a subservient position. Poor old Sergio Vieira de Mello went in against his better instincts to take on the role and lost his life.
We must mean it when we say that we will give the coalition's authority away, and we must make it clear that we want to leave. The Iraqis do not believe that that is our wish. They have read the work of the Project for the New American Century and seen that, before they took office, senior figures in the Bush Administration wanted permanent bases in Iraq. The situation is serious and deteriorating and our Government are not putting forward a responsible exit strategy. If we fail to get out and the quagmire gets ever worse, we will rue the day.
§ 6.8 pm
§ Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD)
I have three reflections to make on the debate.
It is helpful to consider how this all started. In the second or third debate after 11 September, I remember getting very angry because Conservative Members were then suggesting that we should perhaps attack other countries rather than just going into Afghanistan. I said at the time that an invasion of Iraq would be wrong. However, support for broadening the scope of the attacks came from more than just the odd Conservative Back Bencher. Conservatives launched a broad attack on the Government, saying that they were not doing a proper job because they were not backing America—not fully behind Uncle Sam. They argued that we should support Uncle Sam whatever he wanted to do. If the Government made the mistake of thinking that they would easily persuade the House of the case for a war in Iraq, they did so because they were not just helped but pushed into taking that stance by the official Opposition.
The Secretary of State for Defence spoke at length about contractors and gave a long list of all the good works—much good work has certainly taken place—and projects that have been completed.
I noticed one significant omission—the electricity supply—which surprised me. The oil supply was not mentioned, either. I was part of the armed forces parliamentary group that visited Basra a year ago. We saw at first hand how important it was to get the electricity supply up and running. It is not simply a case of providing electricity so that people can turn on lights and watch television. Electricity is not an optional extra for Iraqis; it is an essential. The water is not necessarily safe to drink and has to be boiled, which is generally done on an electric ring. Without electricity, the Iraqis have to scavenge timber, which we saw when we were there, so that they can make a fire to boil the water so that it is safe. They were so desperate to find wood that they went to the munitions stores and emptied mortar shells out of wooden boxes and on to the ground so that they could have the wood to boil their water.
721 I hope that, in his response, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will remedy that omission and give us a full detailed briefing on the electricity supply. In particular, perhaps he can tell us what repairs have been undertaken, and to which power stations. The one thing that puzzled me when we were there was that no work was being done on the power stations, which were designed and constructed by the Russians. Surely we could have said to the Russians, "Why don't you come and help repair the power stations? You've got the parts. It's all your technology. You can get them up and running fast."
When we left the country, the contracts had not been let. Indeed, I do not think they were let until the end of last year. It will be interesting to know how many of the power stations are up and running. To complicate matters, the Russian design is complex. It is based on interlinked power stations and it only takes one of them to be down to have a knock-on effect on the others. So getting just one up and running is not enough. They all have to be got working to an extent to guarantee the electricity supply.
Why was there a delay in granting those contracts? Perhaps one of our problems is that we have lost the peace and have spent a long time trying to put in the resources necessary to build the infrastructure. There is a lack of planning. Last September, we asked Ministers from the Department for International Development about the number of police who were in Iraq to help. At that time, I think we had managed to send two police officers out to help build up the police force. Even though that is now being done, the fact is that valuable time was wasted—yet we wonder why we are struggling with the peace today.
We have heard much about the abuse of prisoners. What is remarkable about the Secretary of State's remarks earlier today; about the response by the Minister of State to questions asked by myself and others last Thursday; about the Prime Minister's response to a question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) on Wednesday; and about the debate at the beginning of last week is that whenever the abuse of prisoners is raised, Ministers' reply is, "We knew all about it. It's okay. We didn't need to see the report. It was all being dealt with." The questions are not simply about what is happening in the British-controlled area, but about what the Government knew about the abuses carried out by the Americans. Perhaps the Under-Secretary can categorically tell us when the Government were advised of abuses by American forces in their detention centres. When the Government became aware of those abuses, what did they do? The Minister of State said:We are each concerned about what the other does in those circumstances".—[Official Report, 13 May 2004; Vol. 421, c. 51.]
We heard the "we" word from the Secretary of State: "We are doing this, we are doing that, jointly, as the coalition."
§ Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that a coalition is occupying Iraq and has command? There is an administrator and a British 722 deputy administrator, both of whom apparently did or did not see, and did or did not read, the report by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
§ Richard Younger-Ross
Yes, it is a coalition. That is why the Secretary of State used the "we" word. In the light of that, why did the Minister of State say that he would not respond to questions on what the British knew about the American abuses? If we knew about those and the Minister is concerned, as he stated inHansard he was, how were those concerns expressed to the Americans? Was there a memo? Was there a telephone call in which someone said, "George, what's going on? There's something wrong. Can you let us know?" Perhaps the Under-Secretary will advise us on that.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab)
May I have this opportunity to talk quietly on one subject to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs? It is about America. There are two Americas, whatever the Foreign Secretary said, and the view of one on this subject is very different from the view of the other. I spent the past 16 days not in Washington, which is a sort of cauldron, but in the middle west, in Kentucky, Missouri and Kansas, where there has been a tectonic shift—I think that that is the expression—in opinion. I do not know what information the Foreign Office is getting from its embassy in Washington, although the ambassador was one of the architects of the policy on Iraq, but there is a striking change of opinion in the middle west. It is not only the American dead who are coming back, but a massive number of those who have been wounded, either severely or not so severely, and who have possibly been saved by the skills of modern medicine, whereas in previous wars they would have died. The numbers are significant.
There is also growing and massive discontent in the United States about those who have been sent to Iraq who are members not of the regular forces, but of the national guard. They never thought that they would see service outside Oklahoma, Nevada or wherever. Those people—untrained—are being sent into the blistering—heat and difficult, edgy conditions. Those of us who have been in the services can imagine what it must be like, and my heart goes out to the troops.
Much has been said about how we should stay the course. I just wonder whether the Americans will stay the course. I do not normally quote from newspapers in the House, but on the plane coming back I saw the Saturday leader inThe New York Times. Under the headline "America Adrift in Iraq", it states:Six weeks of military and political reverses seem to have left the Bush administration doing little more in Iraq than grasping at ways to make it past November's presidential election without getting American troops caught in a civil war. The lowering of the administration's expectations might be therapeutic if it produced a realistic strategy for achieving a realistic set of goals. Unfortunately, there appears to be no such strategy, only odd lurches this way and that under the pressure of day-to-day events.Many others in the United States are far more critical than we in Britain have seen them to be. They have watched interrogations by Senator Kennedy and Senator Carl Levin. One gets the feeling in the United States that they are not going to last the course.
723 It is my candid view that we must get out as soon as possible. If I am asked by the Government Chief Whip or anyone else why I am voting for the Liberal Democrat motion, it is simply because I listened carefully to every speech in the debate.
§ Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con)
It is a matter of record that I am one of only two Members who has served in Northern Ireland as a Minister for over six years. During that time, particularly when I was the Minister responsible for security, I had the opportunity to observe closely the work of the British Army, and I yield to none in my admiration for the work that they do. I saw them when they were fighting, and I saw them relating to local people who did not want them to be there.
I say that by way of background to the two points that I want to make. I stand in this debate as someone who has become very confused. I take comfort from the fact that I am probably a pretty good representative of the people in that regard. I want to pinpoint two confusions, both of a fundamental nature, because until they are resolved it is difficult to envisage the nation gathering together around a policy.
The first confusion is that we are now being told that we went into Iraq to get rid of a bad man. There is no debate about the fact that Saddam Hussein is a very, very, very bad man, so to the extent that that is true, there is some substance to the statement. Yet I do not ever remember a debate in the House in which we were asked, "If we are going to go to war to get rid of a bad man, who votes for Saddam Hussein, and who else might we consider having a go at?" My personal view is that, had there been such a debate, Robert Mugabe would have been pretty high on the list, but there was no such debate. So to be told now that what we are really doing in Iraq is getting rid of a bad man adds a layer of confusion to public opinion, but the Government do not appear to understand the confusion that they are creating.
§ Dr. Pugh
Adding to the confusion, though, must be the right hon. Gentleman's Front-Bench colleagues. I recall the shadow Foreign Secretary saying, in effect, that if we had not taken out Saddam Hussein this year we would have had to do so another year. That did not seem to be predicated on whether he had weapons of mass destruction; it seemed to insinuate that, since he was Saddam Hussein, at some time we would invade Iraq.
§ Sir Brian Mawhinney
It may well be that at some point we would have had to invade Iraq; that is not the debate. I do not have a crystal ball, and the Liberal Democrats are the last people to whom I would turn for one. I am talking about how we got where we are today, and why there is a mood of unease in my constituency and in the country more widely. None of that, and nothing that I am saying, undermines the support that my party has given to the Government on this issue. However, if the reason for going to war in Iraq is changed, without an explanation that the people can understand and identify with, the consequence is confusion.
724 There is another confusion. My clear understanding is that one of the fundamental reasons for our going to Iraq is the fact that we, and the world, were threatened by weapons of mass destruction. There are many people who would like to move the discussion beyond that point, but I have to tell the House that I have not yet been able to get beyond that point. There is no debate about the fact that the Government said that weapons of mass destruction were at the heart of the policy decision, which I supported. I make no apology for doing so, and in the same circumstances, were they to be repeated, I would make the same decision. I will tell the House what was one of the key factors in my thinking.
My Prime Minister and my Foreign Secretary—I do not mean by that that I support them, but particularly in the context of war and peace they are my Prime Minister and my Foreign Secretary—two of the most senior Privy Councillors in the land, stood at the Dispatch Box and told me, a reasonably senior Privy Councillor, that we needed to go to war because of weapons of mass destruction. I am confused because I do not know how long I am supposed to give the Government before the argument based on weapons of mass destruction ceases to have any credibility whatever. I have put my case in careful terms because I am trying to give them as much of the benefit of the doubt as a senior Privy Councillor should give the Government in the context of war and peace.
I have shared that view with the House because I think that I am pretty normal. I think that I am a good representative of the British people at this time. The argument about weapons of mass destruction was made, and it is now being brushed under the carpet. A new argument is being made, and people are saying, "Excuse me, but that was never the basis on which we went into Iraq."
My party supported the Government. I say again that I believe it was right to do so and, in the same circumstances, I would vote again with the Government—and I believe that my party would. I am not trying to rewrite history; I am trying to get at why there is so much unrest and unhappiness in the country. Of course, it is in part because of the terrible attacks and the death and destruction, although I think that the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor) was absolutely right to point out that there is a lot of good news, which does not, as we both know, always mean newspaper news. Much is being done that is good and to the benefit of the local people, yet there is a problem.
I say to the Government that sooner or later they are going to have to come clean with the British people. I say it in those terms because, unless and until they do, they will have great difficulty in putting together broad-based support for whatever will constitute the exit strategy: the role of British troops, coalition troops and others in an Iraq where the power has been transferred. These are serious matters, and I agree with the right hon. Member for Birmingham. Ladywood (Clare Short) that, just occasionally, we in the House need to understand that if we talk in one framework and the rest of the country is talking in a different framework, almost as though we were in parallel universes, we do no service to the country and to our constituents. It is for that reason that I have tried to get to the heart of what I believe is causing a lot of the confusion in our country.
§ Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway) (Lab)
Those of us who opposed this conflict before March 2003 foresaw and foretold a number of things that were undoubtedly right. There were things that we did not prophesy.
We foresaw—and we were right—that there were no weapons of mass destruction. That did not require the gift of prophecy; there was no evidence that there were weapons of mass destruction. We foresaw that thousands of Iraqis would die and that hundreds of British and American troops would die with them. That, too, was not difficult. We foresaw, and warned, that there would be no proper planning for an evacuation of Iraq in a post-Saddam world, and for that too the gift of prophecy was not necessary.
What none of us foresaw was the state of Iraq now, a year after the invasion. None of us foresaw that, after a year, thousands of Iraqis would be in prison with no civil liberties, no rights to a judicial process and no access to advice, and without their parents, children and families being informed of their existence in those prisons.
We could not have foreseen that. I would not have prophesied it, because I would never have believed that it could happen during a British occupation.
Still less did we foresee that in those prisons there would be torture and abuse on a systematic scale. We did not foresee that naked men would be dragged by leashes and chains. We did not foresee that they would be chained to doors and beds and threatened with dogs. We did not foresee that our own prisoners would be hooded. None of that we foresaw. If we had said that that would happen, we would have been regarded—and I would have agreed—as ranting nonsense and attempting to stop a war by grossly overstating and overestimating the dangers. Yet all of that has come to pass, and it has come to pass on our watch.
There has been not one word of contrition in respect of what has happened on our watch. It was known to the Minister of State and to the Secretary of State for Defence for months. It was known that there were reports from the Red Cross. It was known that there was concern about the state of Abu Ghraib prison. Yet during all the accounts and the adulation of what happened in Iraq, nobody came to the House to tell Members that there was a problem that needed to be dealt with; nor has there been any explanation of the failure to do so.
§ Mr. Marshall-Andrews
The Government were aware of the matter at least as early as February, and probably as early as September last year. I have attended every single debate on the subject—more, I think, than the Secretary of State has—and I cannot remember one single occasion when the House was made aware of the problems that were coming before the Government at the time. When we did hear an explanation, it was an extraordinary one: the documents that were provided did not contain the necessary number of words and 726 clauses or have attached to them the necessary appendices to enable them to be treated as dossiers or reports—whatever that may mean.
In truth, no ministerial responsibility has been seen in this House. It is a sad thing to stand here and say that. What we have seen, however, and one of the most distasteful things that have come before the House, is the use of the British Army. I genuflect to nobody in my regard for soldiers, many of whom come from my constituency. I shall always have high regard for them, but one thing that I will never do if we are criticised is enlist that regard as some sort of defence or alibi for my own failings. It is high time that Ministers understood that there is no crisis of trust in the British Army or in British troops, but that there is a profound crisis of trust in British politicians, and the permanent adulatory use of British troops to deflect that is one of the most tasteless parts of this debate.
Of course there is, I am sorry to say, a pedigree for such behaviour. Many of us remember the occasion on which the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) stood before a Tory party conference and rolled out the motto of the SAS. It was a deeply embarrassing moment, perhaps even for his own party. However, despite its pedigree, the practice should stop. Ministers need to answer without relying on the excellence of the forces who are there to do their bidding.
At the end of the day, responsibility is the word. The Secretary of State, the Minister of State and the Prime Minister have frequently taken credit for what has been done in the name of the coalition. They have taken credit for the successes of the Americans—credit for their military successes during the course of the war and credit for the manner in which they have set up administrations when they did so. Now, we must take responsibility collectively with them, because the world outside will never understand if we do not do so.
In free and democratic politics, there is only one way for those who lead to take responsibility. If they do as they should, the world will know that we in this House take our responsibilities seriously. That does not mean that Ministers knew, still less colluded, still less ordered, the torture of prisoners in jail. It means that they say, "When it happens on my watch, I take the responsibility for what has occurred." If they do that, it will send out a signal to the rest of the world, and it will do more than anything else can to remove the increasing threat to British forces from those who believe that we are synonymous with our American counterparts. If we take that responsibility, it will remove part of the shame that, as a result of the revelations, now sits upon the Government, the shame that sits upon this House and, one must unhappily acknowledge, the shame that sits upon our people.
Attempts are being made to relegate these events to a footnote. The mistreatment and torture of people in prison on our watch is not a footnote in history. Ministers cannot say to the House, "We accept that there has been systematic torture by coalition forces—but the water supply is getting better." Such a statement will be treated with the contempt that it deserves.
§ Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford) (LD)
The purpose of the motion standing in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends is not to secure a re-run of the vote 727 held on 18 March last year; rather, it is to urge hon. Members to focus on where we now find ourselves in Iraq and on the future. We have heard a dozen or so Back-Bench speeches on that issue, the two best coming at the end of the debate from the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) and the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir Brian Mawhinney).
The continuing unrest in Iraq, which is fuelled by the likes of Moqtada al-Sadr and which we have seen in action just today, has been further inflamed by the pictures of abuse of Iraqi prisoners by United States forces and by some allegations against UK forces. There is little sign of the unrest abating. Only last week, the Secretary of State said:This weekend saw the most violence so far, with more than 100 engagements between violent insurgents and coalition forces."—[Official Report, 10 May 2004; Vol. 421, c. 21.]Today's debate has given the House the opportunity to reflect on the current situation in Iraq and, more important, to determine what steps should be taken next. Once again, I am glad that it has been the Liberal Democrats who, in our time, have given the House of Commons a real opportunity to discuss the matter.
It is a sad fact that Iraq appears increasingly unstable. Liberal Democrats and Members of other parties warned a long time ago how enormously difficult it would be to restore stability to a post-war Iraq. War is a terrible business, which is why it must always be used only as a last resort. Not only does it put at risk the lives of our armed forces and innocent civilians, but it rips up the fabric of societies and breeds discontent and malice. The appalling images of abuse of Iraqis have added fuel to the fire and will add to the influx of terrorists to Iraq. In his speech of 18 March last year, the Prime Minister suggested that he wanted to break any link between Iraq and terrorism. He has certainly failed to do so. It is sadly apparent to us that Iraq is now more a home for the likes of al-Qaeda than ever it was before we went to war. Back in March last year, the Government were keen to link a potential war in Iraq with progress in the middle east peace process. It is interesting to see that their amendment today makes no reference to that.
But we are where we are. Having chosen the course of war, our duty now is twofold. First, we must ensure that the men and women of Her Majesty's armed forces, who serve with such credit and distinction in Iraq, are given the best possible protection and, secondly, we must try to offer stability, peace and sovereignty to the people of Iraq.
We have heard some good speeches in our debate, including that of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle). He was right to speak about weapons of mass destruction and remind the House of the casus belli, or the reason why we went to war last year. He pointed out the stupidity of the argument advanced by the Ministry of Defence that it cannot calculate the number of civilian deaths. He said that the MOD has objected to some of his questions? my hon. Friends, too, have experience of it refusing to answer their questions. His speech contrasted sharply with that of his right hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), who began by complaining about his lack of press coverage, went 728 on to rubbish my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) and Senator Edward Kennedy in the same sentence and then misrepresented the views of his right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook).
We heard a very good speech from the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), one of two Conservative Back Benchers to make a contribution. He rightly said that Iraq could have been a beacon in the middle east, and could have set an example for other nations. Sadly, however, it has not done so.
As usual, my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) made an impassioned speech, and spoke about the need for peace in the middle east. She said that when she canvasses on the doorstep people talk to her about Iraq. My party has been criticised for treating Iraq as an election issue, but when I knock on doors I discover, as the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) said, that Iraq is an issue that we are right to put before the British people; suggestions from Labour Back Benchers and even Conservative spokesmen that we should not do so in the forthcoming elections are ridiculous. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) talked about the proliferation of terrorists in Iraq.
§ Mr. Keetch
No, I will not.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh) was right to talk about the body count. It is ridiculous of the Secretary of State for Defence to suggest that we are putting the lives of British forces on the line by trying to calculate how many civilians they may have killed. Such a calculation has been made in every other conflict, and to suggest that we and our hon. Friends on the Labour Back Benches are endangering the lives of our servicemen and women by seeking a figure is wrong. Speaking from his experience of Iraq, my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) talked about the abuse of prisoners and the difference between the attitude of the American Department of Defence and that of the MOD. We may criticise the Department of Defence for many things, but since the photographs were published it has acted speedily. Secretary Rumsfeld went to the prison last week, and he also went to Congress to show lawmakers photographs of some of the abuses. In the United States, the first courts martial have begun. I wonder, however, what happened to the fusilier who came back from Iraq last year and tried to get photographs of Iraqi abuse printed in his local Boots. We have still not heard what happened to him, and do not know whether he has been court-martialled.
The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood spoke about the United Nations, about which we again heard two myths: first, that we went to war to support the wonderful UN resolutions, and the British and the Americans were champions of the UN; and, secondly, that the UN had failed in its duty. In reality, however, it was not the United Nations that set the timetable for war in Iraq but the United States and Britain. To try either to blame the UN or to suggest that we were protecting its role is ridiculous. Increasing the role of the 729 UN, as suggested by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), by internationalising the political and security processes in Iraq, and trying to ensure that our forces are associated not with war but with a future peace is the best way to achieve our goals. The pictures of the abuse of Iraqis do not help us, and I found them shocking and awful. Is that what the Americans meant when they talked of shock and awe?
In a recent newspaper article, the right hon. Member for Livingston said that the Prime Minister is in denial about Iraq. He was remarkably prescient, given the Government amendment, which is extraordinarily complacent and simply says, "Don't worry, everything is all right." It would be nice if we could believe that. I respect the British forces, who continue to serve on the ground with skill and determination. As we have said, if UK commanders on the ground seek support as a force protection measure, we will give it to them. However, we owe it to them to have an exit strategy and a plan for the future, as they are putting their lives on the line. We in the House simply pay lip service to that.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell)
We have had a constructive debate but, to be honest, I do not think that anyone has changed their view about whether it was right or wrong to go to war. Nevertheless, it is important that, whatever our view, we focus all our efforts on how we can rebuild Iraq, build on the elimination of the Saddam regime and create a stable and democratic state, as we have a legal and moral obligation to do so.
First, however, I wish to reiterate a view shared across the House and express our deepest condolences about the death of Mr. Izz al-Din Salim, the acting president of the Iraqi governing council, and head of the Islamic Dawa party. He will, I am sure, be sorely missed.
I should also like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to our armed forces. I am confident that everyone will join me in saying that we can be immensely proud of the job that our armed forces are doing. We have all been conscious in recent weeks of the allegations of abuse by coalition forces in Iraq. The photographs of British troops that appeared in theDaily Mirror have been shown to be fakes. I welcome the fact that theDaily Mirror has admitted it was wrong to publish the photographs. However, allegations of instances of abuse remain, and are being investigated. As my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for Defence stated earlier, when an allegation is made against British troops, action is taken immediately. That decision that does not need to be referred to Ministers or made by them.
The Liberal Democrats called for the role of the United Nations to be expanded and enhanced, a view with which we fundamentally agree.
§ Jeremy Corbyn
Before my hon. Friend moves from the treatment of prisoners, will he assure the House that the deaths in custody in the area under British administration are the subject of a thorough investigation that will be publicly reported? Does he accept that, as a coalition of forces is occupying Iraq, the 730 joint administration in Baghdad bears some responsibility for what has happened in the American sector as well as the British sector?
§ Mr. Rammell
It is critical that all instances of abuse, wherever they occur, are thoroughly investigated, and we are committed to doing so. I can assure my hon. Friend that instances of abuse in the British sector are being actively and thoroughly investigated at the moment.
We fundamentally agree with the Liberal Democrats' argument about the need for a greater role for the United Nations. It is a fact, little reported at present, that there is a consensus in which the UN, the Iraqi governing council and the coalition provisional authority all agree that the UN should take a more substantive role once the occupation formally ends on 30 June. We are strongly pushing for that in the United Nations. As Kofi Annan and the Prime Minister recently made clear, we want a new Security Council resolution marking the end of the occupation and the handover to a fully sovereign Iraqi Government.
§ Mr. Rammell
I will give way briefly to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), but there are a host of issues to which I must respond.
§ Clare Short
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Can it be the end of occupation when there will be an interim Government selected by the UN—I accept that that is progress—without either authority over the coalition forces, the Iraqi police and military or the right to change economic decisions that have been made? Is that really a handover and an end of occupation?
§ Mr. Rammell
My right hon. Friend is wrong. The exact arrangements for coalition forces in relation to the caretaker interim Government will be determined in the resolution, which, I believe, will be submitted to the Security Council in the near future. I hope that that provides her with reassurance.
The discussions on the interim Government are proceeding successfully, with Mr. Brahimi indicating that its full structure and officials will be announced by the end of May. I have a problem with people who argue for a greater UN role, but then criticise the timetable for elections as being too slow.
The UN itself and Mr. Brahimi himself have made it clear that they believe that the present electoral timetable is correct and, bluntly, the only realistic one in the present circumstances, and it is important that we go forward with that view.
Let me turn to some of the issues raised during the debate. I was interested and intrigued to listen to the arguments of the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch). In summing up the debate, he made it explicitly clear that the Liberal Democrats are seeking to use the war as an electoral issue in the forthcoming elections. In that regard, I am indebted to Conservative Members for reminding me that the leader of the Liberal party recently made clear his intention not to use that 731 issue during the forthcoming campaign. No one should be surprised at such discontinuity between different members of the Liberal Opposition.
§ Dr. Julian Lewis
I can confirm that the leader of the Liberal Democrats made that commitment on the "Politics Show" on 9 May, which only goes to show that a week is a very long time in politics, especially if one is a Liberal Democrat.
§ Mr. Rammell
I wholly concur with that view.
Let me turn to the views put forward in introducing the debate by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell). On 18 March last year, he said that we went to war on both a threat and a promise. There has been much rewriting of history in the past year by the opponents of war—[Interruption.] It is important to remember that we went to war because Saddam Hussein did not comply with resolution 1441, which gave him a last chance to disarm and comply with successive UN resolutions. It is important to remember as well that, if we had not taken that decision, Saddam would have been reinforced and reinvigorated, and whatever difficulties we face at the moment would have been significantly worse.
§ Mr. Rammell
No, I will not give way.[Interruption.] I am short of time, and I need to respond to a host of Members.
The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife went on to argue explicitly for the phased withdrawal of troops from the date of the elections in January 2005, regardless of the security situation or the wishes of the elected Iraqi Government. I do not believe that, in those circumstances, that would be the right or responsible thing to do.
§ Sir Menzies Campbell
Will the hon. Gentleman take account of the wishes of the British people, the majority of whom would like the withdrawal of troops now?
§ Mr. Rammell
Of course we respond to the wishes of British people, but we also have to give a lead in this situation. With respect to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, his speech was extraordinarily long on critique, but short on substantive alternatives to the argument and course that we propose at the moment. I was very mystified by his argument when he said that arrangements similar to those put in place at the end of Gulf war one were needed. I presume that he was referring to the surrender document that was agreed at that stage, but there is no comparison whatsoever between the situation now and then.
§ Sir Menzies Campbell
Let me help the Minister with his mystification. I was suggesting that there should have been a resolution to authorise the use of force in the same terms as was required in Gulf war one. That would have required the coalition to report back to the Security Council, under the supervision of the Security Council.
§ Mr. Rammell
We could have an historical debate for as long as we like, but I believe that we were right to do what we did; the right hon. and learned Gentleman believes that we were wrong. However, the key point is what we do in the current circumstances, and I heard not one substantive argument from him about a substantive, alternative course of action.
Let me now turn to the arguments of the shadow Foreign Secretary. I wholly agree with him that, if the Liberal Democrats had had their way, Saddam Hussein would still be in place, murdering, terrorising and torturing his people. The right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) also raised the important point about the discovery of sarin artillery munitions and asked for a response in the summing-up speech, and I shall try to respond to him.
General Kimmitt announced today that the Iraq survey group has found a 155 mm artillery round containing sarin. It was rigged as an improvised explosive device and discovered by a US convoy. The following points seem clear: it is thought to be an old munition; those who planted it may not have known what it contained; and preliminary field testing of the substance proved positive for sarin and further samples have been sent for analysis. It does not represent a new capability, but it does appear to be part of a programme declared to the UN. However, the munition should have been handed over to UNSCOM and destroyed. It therefore appears to be in breach of UN Security Council resolutions, and it, significantly, appears to back up what we have been saying all along: Saddam concealed some of his stock. That point needs to be made.
The shadow Foreign Secretary also asked for reassurance and confirmation that all and every part of coalition detention facilities are, and will remain, open to ICRC inspection, and I can confirm that that is the case.
The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) made an interesting contribution, and I strongly support his argument that we should not abandon Iraq now. As he argued, if we did so, that move would dismay the forces of democracy and progress in the region and give succour to extremist forces throughout the world. That is the reality of the situation that we face.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) expressed her justified concerns about allegations of abuse of prisoners by the US military. Let me be clear and let me repeat the words that the Foreign Secretary used on the issue last week. The allegations and clear evidence of abuse in the US sector are very damaging. There is no question about that, nor should there be any pretence to the contrary. We should be clear, as President Bush has asserted, that in no sense were those actions supported or connived at by the US Administration, who are as appalled by the evidence as we are. That is the important point to make, and it responds to some of my hon. Friend's concerns.
The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) gave a speech that was long on moral indignation, but, again, short on substantive alternatives in respect of the actions that we should take. Again, she repeated the 45-minute claim, as though that was the key issue that determined our decision to go to war. It was not: it was 733 not mentioned once in the key debate on 18 March 2003, when we took that decision. The reason we went to war was based on Saddam Hussein's failure to comply with resolution 1441.
The hon. Lady went on to say—this is a significant point—that, because of the allegations of abuse, we have no moral authority in any of the arguments whatsoever, and I think that she was referring to the Government and the country as a whole. I ask her to reflect on those comments and consider whether she really means to make that point. Surely, when allegations of abuse occur, the key difference is the way in which we respond. The allegations are serious, and we deal with them in the strongest possible terms. In no sense do I want to minimise those concerns, however, by making it clear that, of course, brutality, torture and the abuse of human rights formed the very mission statement of Saddam's regime, and there was never any condemnation or investigation in those circumstances. That is the key difference, and it is why we retain moral authority in these issues.
My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) made a very telling contribution. He attacked caricature positions on both sides of the argument. He rightly said that we need to respond to the changing situation. He attacked those who opposed the war, who use every setback simply as a justification for their opposition and their original decision to oppose the war, but, similarly, he stressed that those of us who supported the war need to respond to the changing situation, not blithely dismiss criticism. That argument is indeed well founded.
In reaching a conclusion, it is clear to me that the decision to go to war remains extraordinarily divisive, but those of us who supported military action did so with every bit as much integrity and conviction as those who opposed the conflict. That point is too often forgotten in the debates that we have at the moment. However, whatever view any of us, took, the critically important challenge now is to secure the future of Iraq and all its people. I fundamentally believe that we are at a crucial and critical juncture.
The attacks by insurgents will continue as we approach the end of the occupation and the transfer of power on 30 June. The attacks will continue because the insurgents do not want a free Iraq run by the Iraqis.
Our task, with the UN and the whole international community, is to see the challenge through. We need greater UN involvement—that is what we are arguing for. We need more Iraqis to take on policing and security roles—we are advocating that. We need a continuing British troop presence, but a clear commitment that we will leave as soon as it is safe to do so. That is our commitment. Above all, we need to hold our nerve and follow through on the commitments we have made. To cut and run at this stage, as some have suggested, would be a gross betrayal of the people of Iraq. It would also, significantly, be wholly lacking in political credibility. That is why we will not do it, and why I urge hon. Members to support the amendment and oppose the motion.
§ Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 60, Noes 393.737
|Division No. 176]||[7:00 pm|
|Allan, Richard||Lamb, Norman|
|Baker, Norman||Laws, David(Yeovil)|
|Baldry, Tony||McDonnell, John|
|Barrett, John||Marsden, Paul(Shrewsbury & Atcham)|
|Breed, Colin||Marshall-Andrews, Robert|
|Brooke, Mrs Annette L.||Moore, Michael|
|Burnett, John||Oaten, Mark(Winchester)|
|Burstow, Paul||Öpik, Lembit|
|Cable, Dr. Vincent||Price, Adam(E Carmarthen & Dinefwr)|
|Calton, Mrs Patsy|
|Campbell, rh Sir Menzies(NE Fife)||Pugh, Dr. John|
|Carmichael, Alistair||Robertson, Angus(Moray)|
|Chidgey, David||Russell, Bob(Colchester)|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Sanders, Adrian|
|Cotter, Brian||Short, rh Clare|
|Dalyell Tam||Simpson, Alan(Nottingham S)|
|Davey, Edward(Kingston)||Smith, Sir Robert(W Ab'd'ns & Kincardine)|
|Fisher Mark||Stunell, Andrew|
|Foster Don(Bath)||Taylor, Matthew(Truro)|
|George, Andrew(St Ives)||Teather, Sarah|
|Gidley, Sandra||Thurso, John|
|Green, Matthew(Ludlow)||Tonge, Dr. Jenny|
|Harris, Dr. Evan(Oxford W & Abingdon)||Tyler, Paul(N Cornwall)|
|Wareing, Robert N.|
|Harvey, Nick||Williams, Roger(Brecon)|
|Heath, David||Willis, Phil|
|Hogg, rh Douglas||Wishart, Pete|
|Jones, Nigel(Cheltenham)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Keetch, Paul||Richard Younger-Ross and|
|Kirkwood, Sir Archy||Mr. Alan Reid|
|Ainger, Nick||Brazier, Julian|
|Ainsworth, Bob(Cov'try NE)||Brennan, Kevin|
|Ancram, rh Michael||Brown, rh Nicholas(Newcastle E Wallsend)|
|Anderson, rh Donald(Swansea E)|
|Anderson, Janet(Rossendale & Darwen)||Browne, Desmond|
|Arbuthnot, rh James||Buck, Ms Karen|
|Armstrong, rh Ms Hilary||Burden, Richard|
|Atkins, Charlotte||Burgon, Colin|
|Atkinson, David(Bour'mth E)||Burnham, Andy|
|Atkinson, Peter(Hexham)||Burns, Simon|
|Bacon, Richard||Burnside, David|
|Bailey, Adrian||Burt, Alistair|
|Baird, Vera||Butterfill, Sir John|
|Banks, Tony||Cairns, David|
|Barker, Gregory||Cameron, David|
|Barron, rh Kevin||Campbell, Alan(Tynemouth)|
|Bayley, Hugh||Campbell, Mrs Anne(C'bridge)|
|Beckett, rh Margaret||Campbell, Ronnie(Blyth V)|
|Begg, Miss Anne||Casale, Roger|
|Bell, Sir Stuart||Cash, William|
|Bellingham, Henry||Cawsey, Ian(Brigg)|
|Bennett, Andrew||Challen, Colin|
|Benton, Joe(Bootle)||Chapman, Ben(Wirral S)|
|Bercow, John||Chapman, Sir Sydney(Chipping Barnet)|
|Betts, Clive||Chaytor, David|
|Blackman, Liz||Chope, Christopher|
|Blears, Ms Hazel||Clapham, Michael|
|Blizzard, Bob||Clark, Mrs Helen(Peterborough)|
|Boateng, rh Paul||Clark, Dr. Lynda(Edinburgh Pentlands)|
|Bradley, rh Keith(Withington)||Clark, Paul(Gillingham)|
|Bradley, Peter(The Wrekin)||Clarke, rh Tom(Coatbridge & Chryston)|
|Brady, Graham||Clarke, Tony(Northampton S)|
|Clelland, David||Hague, rh William|
|Clwyd, Ann(Cynon V)||Hain, rh Peter|
|Coffey, Ms Ann||Hall, Mike(Weaver Vale)|
|Coleman, lain||Hall, Patrick(Bedford)|
|Colman, Tony||Hamilton, David(Midlothian)|
|Connarty, Michael||Hammond, Philip|
|Cook, Frank(Stockton N)||Hanson, David|
|Cooper, Yvette||Harman, rh Ms Harriet|
|Corston, Jean||Hawkins, Nick|
|Cruddas, Jon||Hayes, John(S Holland)|
|Cummings, John||Heald, Oliver|
|Cunningham, rh Dr. Jack(Copeland)||Heathcoat-Amory, rh David|
|Henderson, Doug(Newcastle N)|
|Cunningham, Jim(Coventry S)||Hendry, Charles|
|Cunningham, Tony(Workington)||Heppell, John|
|Curry, rh David||Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia|
|Darling, rh Alistair||Heyes, David|
|Davey, Valerie(Bristol W)||Hill, Keith(Streatham)|
|David, Wayne||Hoban, Mark(Fareham)|
|Davies, Geraint(Croydon C)||Hodge, Margaret|
|Davies, Quentin(Grantham & Stamford)||Hoey, Kate(Vauxhall)|
|Hoon, rh Geoffrey|
|Davis, rh David(Haltemprice & Howden)||Hope, Phil(Corby)|
|Dawson, Hilton||Howarth, rh Alan(Newport E)|
|Dean, Mrs Janet||Howarth, George(Knowsley N & Sefton E)|
|Denham, rh John|
|Dhanda, Parmjit||Howarth, Gerald(Aldershot)|
|Djanogly, Jonathan||Howells, Dr. Kim|
|Dobbin, Jim(Heywood)||Hoyle, Lindsay|
|Donohoe, Brian H.||Hughes, Beverley(Stretford & Urmston)|
|Dorrell, rh Stephen||Hughes, Kevin(Doncaster N)|
|Dowd, Jim(Lewisham W)||Humble, Mrs Joan|
|Drew, David(Stroud)||Hunter, Andrew|
|Duncan, Peter(Galloway)||Hurst, Alan(Braintree)|
|Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||Iddon, Dr. Brian|
|Eagle, Angela(Wallasey)||Ilisley, Eric|
|Efford, Clive||Ingram, rh Adam|
|Ellman, Mrs Louise||Irranca-Davies, Huw|
|Ennis, Jeff(Barnsley E)||Jack, rh Michael|
|Etherington, Bill||Jackson, Helen(Hillsborough)|
|Evans, Nigel||Jackson, Robert(Wantage)|
|Fabricant, Michael||Jamieson, David|
|Farrelly, Paul||Jenkin, Bernard|
|Field, rh Frank(Birkenhead)||Jenkins, Brian|
|Field, Mark(Cities of London & Westminster)||Johnson, Boris(Henley)|
|Johnson, Miss Melanie(Welwyn Hatfield)|
|Flight, Howard||Jones, Helen(Warrington N)|
|Flook, Adrian||Joyce, Eric(Falkirk W)|
|Follett, Barbara||Kaufman, rh Gerald|
|Forth, rh Eric||Keen, Ann(Brentford)|
|Foster, Michael(Worcester)||Kennedy, Jane(Wavertree)|
|Foster, Michael Jabez(Hastings & Rye)||Key, Robert(Salisbury)|
|Khabra, Piara S.|
|Foulkes, rh George||Kidney, David|
|Francois, Mark||King, Andy(Rugby)|
|Gale, Roger(N Thanet)||King, Ms Oona(Bethnal Green & Bow)|
|Gibb, Nick(Bognor Regis)||Kirkbride, Miss Julie|
|Gibson, Dr. Ian||Knight. rh Greg(E Yorkshire)|
|Gillan, Mrs Cheryl||Knight. Jim(S Dorset)|
|Gilroy, Linda||Kumar, Dr. Ashok|
|Godsiff, Roger||Laing, Mrs Eleanor|
|Goggins, Paul||Lait, Mrs Jacqui|
|Goodman, Paul||Lammy, David|
|Gray, James(N Wilts)||Lansley, Andrew|
|Green, Damian(Ashford)||Lawrence, Mrs Jackie|
|Greenway, John||Lexton, Bob(Derby N)|
|Grieve, Dominic||Lazarowicz, Mark|
|Griffiths, Jane(Reading E)||Leigh, Edward|
|Griffiths, Nigel(Edinburgh S)||Leslie, Christopher|
|Griffiths, Win(Bridgend)||Letwin, rh Oliver|
|Grogan, John||Lewis, Ivan(Bury S)|
|Gummer, rh John||Lewis, Dr. Julian(New Forest E)|
|Liddell-Grainger, Ian||Pound, Stephen|
|Lidington, David||Prentice, Ms Bridget(Lewisham E)|
|Lilley, rh Peter|
|Linton, Martin||Prentice, Gordon(Pendle)|
|Lloyd, Tony(Manchester C)||Prescott, rh John|
|Loughton, Tim||Primarolo, rh Dawn|
|Love, Andrew||Prisk, Mark(Hertford)|
|Lucas, Ian(Wrexham)||Prosser, Gwyn|
|Luff, Peter(M-Worcs)||Purchase, Ken|
|Luke, Iain(Dundee E)||Purnell, James|
|Lyons, John(Strathkelvin)||Quin, rh Joyce|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Quinn, Lawrie|
|McCabe, Stephen||Rammell, Bill|
|McDonagh, Siobhain||Rapson, Syd(Portsmouth N)|
|MacDougall, John||Raynsford, rh Nick|
|McFall, John||Reid, rh Dr. John(Hamilton N & Bellshill)|
|McGuire, Mrs Anne|
|Mclsaac, Shona||Robathan, Andrew|
|Mackay, rh Andrew||Robertson, Hugh(Faversham & M-Kent)|
|McKenna, Rosemary||Robertson, John(Glasgow Anniesland)|
|Maclean, rh David||Robinson, Geoffrey(Coventry NW)|
|McNamara, Kevin||Roche, Mrs Barbara|
|McNulty, Tony||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Mactaggart, Fiona||Rooney, Terry|
|McWalter, Tony||Ross, Ernie(Dundee W)|
|Mendelson, rh Peter||Roy, Frank(Motherwell)|
|Mann, John(Bassetlaw)||Ruane, Chris|
|Marris, Rob(Wolverh'ton SW)||Ruddock, Joan|
|Marsden, Gordon(Blackpool S)||Ruffley, David|
|Marshall, David(Glasgow Shettleston)||Russell, Ms Christine(City of Chester)|
|Martlew, Eric||Ryan, Joan(Enfield N)|
|Mates, Michael||Salter, Martin|
|Maude, rh Francis||Savidge, Malcolm|
|Mawhinney, rh Sir Brian||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|May, Mrs Theresa||Shaw, Jonathan|
|Meacher, rh Michael||Sheerman, Barry|
|Meale, Alan(Mansfield)||Shephard, rh Mrs Gillian|
|Mercer, Patrick||Shepherd, Richard|
|Merron, Gillian||Sheridan, Jim|
|Miller, Andrew||Simmonds, Mark|
|Mitchell, Andrew(Sutton Coldfield)||Simon, Skin(B ham Erdington)|
|Mitchell, Austin(Gt Grimsby)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Moffatt, Laura||Smith, Geraldine(Morecambe & Lunesdale)|
|Moonie, Dr. Lewis|
|Moran, Margaret||Smith, John(Glamorgan)|
|Morley, Elliot||Soames, Nicholas|
|Morris, rh Estelle||Soley, Clive|
|Moss, Malcolm||Spicer, Sir Michael|
|Mountford, Kali||Spink, Bob(Castle Point)|
|Munn, Ms Meg||Spring, Richard|
|Murphy, Denis(Wansbeck)||Stanley, rh Sir John|
|Murphy, Jim(Eastwood)||Starkey, Dr. Phyllis|
|Murrison, Dr. Andrew||Steinberg, Gerry|
|Norman, Archie||Stewart, David(Inverness E & Lochaber)|
|O'Hara, Edward||Stewart, Ian(Eccles)|
|Olner, Bill||Stinchcombe, Paul|
|O'Neill, Martin||Stoate, Dr. Howard|
|Organ, Diana||Streeter, Gary|
|Osborne, George(Tatton)||Stringer, Graham|
|Osborne, Sandra(Ayr)||Stuart, Ms Gisela|
|Ottaway, Richard||Sutcliffe, Gerry|
|Palmer, Dr. Nick||Swayne, Desmond|
|Paterson, Owen||Swire, Hugo(E Devon)|
|Perham, Linda||Syms, Robert|
|Picking, Anne||Tami, Mark(Alyn)|
|Pickthall, Colin||Taylor, rh Ann(Dewsbury)|
|Pike, Peter(Burnley)||Taylor, Dan(Stockton S)|
|Plaskitt, James||Taylor, David(NW Leics)|
|Pond, Chris(Gravesham)||Taylor, Ian(Esher)|
|Pope, Greg(Hyndburn)||Taylor, Sir Teddy|
|Thomas, Gareth(Harrow W)||Whittingdale, John|
|Tipping, Paddy||Wiggin, Bill|
|Todd, Mark(S Derbyshire)||Wilkinson, John|
|Touhig, Don(Islwyn)||Willetts, David|
|Trend, Michael||Williams, rh Alan(Swansea W)|
|Trickett, Jon||Wills, Michael|
|Truswell, Paul||Winnick, David|
|Turner, Andrew(Isle of Wight)||Winterton, Ann(Congleton)|
|Turner, Dennis(Wolverh'ton SE)||Winterton, Sir Nicholas(Macclesfield)|
|Turner, Dr. Desmond(Brighton Kemptown)||Winterton, Ms Rosie(Doncaster C)|
|Turner, Neil(Wigan)||Woodward, Shaun|
|Twigg, Derek(Halton)||Woolas. Phil|
|Tynan, Bill(Hamilton S)||Worthington, Tony|
|Vaz, Keith(Leicester E)||Wright, Anthony D.(Gt Yarmouth)|
|Vis, Dr. Rudi|
|Walley, Ms Joan||Wright David(Telford)|
|Ward, Claire||Wyatt, Derek|
|Waterson, Nigel||Yeo, Tim(S Suffolk)|
|Watkinson, Angela||Young. rh Sir George|
|Watson, Tom(W Bromwich E)|
|Watts, David||Tellers for the Noes:|
|White, Brian||Mr. Fraser Kemp and|
|Whitehead, Dr. Alan||Vernon Coaker|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31(Questions on amendments), and agreed to.
§ MR. DEPUTY SPEAKERforthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.
That this House welcomes the work being done by the UK and its Coalition partners to establish stability and security in Iraq; regards any mistreatment of Iraqis by Coalition forces to be unacceptable; recognises the bravery and professionalism of British forces in Iraq in assisting the Iraqi people in rebuilding Iraq; applauds the work of the UN Secretary-General's special adviser. Lakhdar Brahimi, for his contribution to helping establish a sovereign Iraqi Interim Government which will assume power by 30th June; and supports the Government in its efforts to secure a new Security Council resolution and deliver the wishes of the Iraqi people for a sovereign, stable and democratic Iraq.'