Iraq (Humanitarian Contingency Plan)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:50 pm on 30th January 2003.

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Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Labour, Lewisham, Deptford 3:50 pm, 30th January 2003

I will not. Most people in this House, including me, supported that Gulf war. My right hon. Friend said that we must minimise the risks if we go to war, but a few days ago the Pentagon let it be known that this time, the US plans to fire up to 800 cruise missiles in the first two days of the air campaign. That is twice as many as it fired in the whole of the 40-day Gulf war in 1991.

We are all aware that today's Iraq is not the first-world state of 1990; it is in every sense now a poor, third-world country. The effects of a Dresden-like bombardment on these extremely vulnerable people I find too horrific to contemplate. How many will die in that bombardment? How many refugees will die as they try to flee the country? What will be the environment for those who survive? My right hon. Friend has acknowledged that humanitarian contingency planning will have to take account of the deliberate or inadvertent release of any remaining stocks of chemical or biological weapons. What will be the effect on survivors, deprived of medicine, food and water, breathing a cocktail of carcinogenic air, and facing searing heat in the coming summer months? What will be the cost to the men and women of the armed forces, who will have to remain for months if not years after the immediate war? What will be the cost to Iraq's neighbours?

Iraq has been described as the most dangerous rogue state in the world, and al-Qaeda as the most dangerous international terrorist organisation. President Bush seeks to persuade us that they are connected. I do not find that credible—but let us assume that they are connected. What then? Is it likely that the west will become a greater or a lesser target for terrorists if we carpet-bomb Baghdad? Is it more or less likely that instability will spread throughout the whole region?

Some hon. Members have argued that whatever the political risk to ourselves, we cannot do nothing. I suggest that we are not doing nothing. Iraq's military might has been reined in, and we have the most robust inspection regime ever mounted anywhere in the world. The inspectors have the authority to destroy weapons of mass destruction and delivery systems.

Even were that to be achieved, there are hon. Members who argue—perhaps Sir Brian Mawhinney came closest to saying this—that it might be better to have the war to save the people of Iraq from their existing fate. I cannot accept that. It is, of course, not the purpose of resolution 1441, and it cannot be part of the judgment that the Security Council will take on hearing the inspectors' reports.

I cannot believe that that is the best way forward for the Iraqi people. We know what the immediate humanitarian results are likely to be, but the question is: what will follow the military onslaught? Like Dr. Tonge and my hon. Friend Ann Clwyd, I want to refer to Afghanistan, because that is where I believe we can see the answer—I have been to Kabul myself.

Let me give the House the financial context alone. The cost to the United Kingdom of military action in Iraq has been estimated at more than $8 billion. By comparison, the whole of the international community's pledges to Afghanistan for both humanitarian and reconstruction aid for five years have amounted to a mere $5 billion—half what initial estimates said was required.

As others have said, progress is painfully slow. There is still no effective security outside Kabul, because of the United States' consistent refusal to support an extension of ISAF—the international security assistance force—outside the capital city. There is no trained national army or police force, and anti-coalition forces are still active in one third of the country. The World Food Programme estimates that 6 million people remain vulnerable, and the Select Committee on International Development has recently reported:

"the humanitarian crisis was far from over and there was little evidence that large scale reconstruction had taken place."

Needless to say, there is a strong feeling among Afghans that the west is beginning to walk away. I do not include my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development in that. I know just how hard she has worked and how great her commitment to the people of Afghanistan is.

I share the Prime Minister's aspiration for a new world order, but I do not believe that confidence can be drawn from the Afghan experience. Even less do I believe that a war in Iraq can be in the best interests of the Iraqi people. There can be no contingency humanitarian plans for those who will die. The United Nations has voted the means for solving the Iraq crisis peacefully, and that is the humanitarian response which I believe the House should make.