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Iraq

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:35 pm on 26th February 2003.

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Photo of Mr Michael Portillo Mr Michael Portillo Conservative, Kensington and Chelsea 2:35 pm, 26th February 2003

I think I have covered that point. I must admit that, in my view, Members who persist in saying "We have been wrong over a period of 12 or 13 years, and we must therefore be wrong to try and put our mistakes right now" are on very weak ground.

In an important sense, Saddam and Bin Laden are co-belligerents. They share a hatred of the west, and a belief in the efficacy of terror. Let me add that if Britain tried to stand aside—here I disagree with my right hon. Friend Mr. Clarke—that would not spare us from the terror. A display of weakness will bring more terror, not less; and I think it is a dangerous myth to believe that terrorism is in some way beyond deterrence .

The Prime Minister's task has been made more difficult—I admit this—because America has not been willing to say much about the middle east peace process. I think that the United States is strictly correct to reject any link between Iraq and the regional peace process, but there are many indirect links. Certainly, I believe it might have been easier for the Government to try to establish direct connections between Iraq and the Palestine Liberation Organisation than to try to establish them between Iraq and al-Qaeda. It is clear that Saddam is the hero of the Palestinian suicide bombers.

Many today have focused on the dangers to the region if there is a conflict. Of course there are dangers, but I say that if Iraq is disarmed there are opportunities too. The United States will then engage in the middle east peace process; but it will do so with an unambiguous hostility to terrorism. A new Palestinian leadership will then understand that terrorism will not work, and that therefore political engagement may.

Prime Minister Sharon may be ruthless in war, but he would also be ruthless in peace. The peace will require Israel to give up land, positions and settlements, and Mr. Sharon is the man to force such an outcome on the Israelis.

As the Prime Minister said yesterday, Iraq is a potentially rich country. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes said today, it is a country with a middle class and educated people. If economic and political freedoms are returned to Iraq, that can have a powerful effect on a region in which those liberties are largely absent. Perhaps Iran too will flip towards the moderates.

This crisis has cost the west dearly in terms of the damage to its institutions. New institutions may be required. I am a great supporter of NATO, but it is damaged, and in any case it is geographically very limited. I believe that we should look for a new organisation, not to replace NATO but to stand alongside it. The aim of that organisation would be to counter terrorism, and its focus would be global. The United States, Britain and Australia would certainly be founder members of the new organisation; perhaps its headquarters would be in Prague or Madrid. Whatever the precise form of that new organisation, I believe that its time has come.