Iraqi Refugees

Part of Constitutional Reform – in the House of Commons at 6:14 pm on 3rd July 1991.

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Photo of Mr Ted Rowlands Mr Ted Rowlands , Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney 6:14 pm, 3rd July 1991

I have the record. I asked the Minister: Is there not a case for championing some particular autonomy which would recognise the very distinctive … characteristics of the Kurdish people? I was not pressing for a Kurdish state; I was questioning whether the Kurds would be a problem. The Minister rightly said that we must maintain territorial integrity and national boundaries, but in January the general attitude was that the Kurds were a problem and an embarrassment. They became a global embarrassment only when we saw their suffering on our television screens.

Hon. Members have said that the Kurds and Shi'ites represent a new challenge to the way in which we conduct international affairs and to the new international order that may emerge in the wake of the Gulf war, but the United Nations seems to recognise international disorder only when there is an act of aggression by one state against another. Experience of Yugoslavia and Iraq shows that international regional disorder occurs not only when one state attacks another but when the inherent structural problems of the societies on which we base international order—the notion that nation states are inviolate—are not recognised by the international community. As the cement of the empire, in its broadest sense, dissolves at the end of the century, those issues will become increasingly prominent.

That problem is demonstrated by the disintegration of the Ethiopian empire and the emergence of traditional rivalries. The dissolving of the cement of the Soviet communist empire is causing similar tension and rivalry in traditional relationships. The same is happening in Yugoslavia and will happen in the middle east.

On our travels, I spent my time on planes reading one of the most authoritative accounts of the origins of Iraq. Everybody knew that we just drew lines on a map. Minutes of memoranda of the great debates on the birth of the artificial state of Iraq disclose chilling prophesies that now seem relevant, despite their being written 40 or 50 years ago. One internal commentator said: You are flying in the face of four milleniums of history if you try to draw a line around Iraq and call it a political entity". At the time of the birth of Iraq, the minutes of a Foreign and Commonwealtth Office official said: Almost 2 million Shi'ite Moslems in Mesopotamia would not accept domination by the minority Sunni Moslem community yet no form of government has been envisaged which does not involve Sunni domination. He described the nature of that domination as essentially military domination.

Although I am not saying that we should be trapped by history—50 or 60 years later, events may have made those early judgments wrong—it is chilling to note the assessments that were being made during the artificial creation of a state such as Iraq because, in different ways, they are now manifesting themselves. We must ask ourselves the awkward and painful question whether Saddam Hussein, whom we all detest and believe must go, is not at least partly the creature of the state that was created. If the answer is yes, do we say for ever and a day that a state that was artificially created for a host of wrong motives should be the basis on which we maintain international order? I realise what a dangerous minefield one walks through when one makes such comments, but, given the dissolution of empires in the late 20th century, these issues will crop up time and again.

I shall complete my brief historic footnote by saying that, curiously, the 1920 treaty of Sevres, which was drafted and approved but never implemented, recognized that such issues would arise and tried to write in autonomy for the Kurds, the Armenians and the Azerbaijanis—areas that have now become hot spots.

A number of hon. Members have asked to what extent the new international order will continue to uphold the principle of non-interference in nation states, especially if they are not necessarily cohesive or do not have sound bases of language, culture and national identities. That problem will not go away.

The dilemmas of the Kurds and Shi'ites in Iraq, the fact that we have established safe havens and sent rapid deployment forces to defend them and to guarantee the rights of minorities within the inviolate nation state of Iraq point in the long term to a new international order based on, dare I say it, some form of world government. Unless we learn the lessons and realise that, I am afraid that this last episode will be a footnote in the sad history of Kurds rebelling and being betrayed.