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Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:45 pm on 26th February 2003.

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Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang Labour, Edinburgh East and Musselburgh 3:45 pm, 26th February 2003

We are in broad agreement that, certainly, the inspections process should not be concluded at this point.

Turning to the future, I am not in a position to assess the strength of opposition that the Iraqi regime can mount against the military might of the US, supported by Britain and any other states that might fight alongside us. But regardless of the intensity and duration of a war in Iraq, it would not be surprising if sustaining a new regime within a framework acceptable to the victors was far more demanding in terms of resources and what could be achieved politically. Reports of the plans for Iraq after military action show the scale of what we have in mind.

Neither would I want to guess what support there is for Saddam Hussein in Iraq—possibly the vast majority will welcome his overthrow—but it is certainly true that many people in the wider world will deeply resent a military attack, especially if it is not explicitly authorised by the UN. A leading figure in the international Muslim community who was visiting Edinburgh last year told me that an attack on Iraq will be seen by many Muslims throughout the world as an attack on a second Muslim country after Afghanistan. It would certainly not be a surprise if the new regime in Iraq were a target for Muslim radicals throughout the world.

More broadly, without a second resolution we can be confident that war on Iraq would be detrimental to the international coalition against terrorism that has been built up since 11 September 2001. Some states that are now co-operating would reduce or even cease their involvement. Some individuals who are currently co-operating with the police and the security services, or who have the potential to do so, would be discouraged from doing so. As has been pointed out, a bloody war in Iraq could be a factor in encouraging more young Muslims to adopt a misguided and radical approach and to support and participate in terrorist acts.

What are the options before us? We can all agree that the most desirable outcome is full Iraqi co-operation with weapons inspectors and the peaceful dismantling of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. That would be a victory for the United Nations and for the stance taken by the United States and our Prime Minister. A second scenario is military action that is not endorsed by the United Nations. Some may say that resolution 1441 gives authority for military action, and if Iraq is in breach, any resulting military action can be described as being authorised by the UN. However, France, China and Russia made it clear when that resolution was passed that they did not consider their support for the resolution as constituting endorsement of future military action. Given the views of those three states, the realpolitik is that an attack on Iraq will be seen by the world as authorised by the international community only if it is backed by a further resolution from the United Nations. If military action is clearly endorsed by the UN, I imagine that most Labour Members will go along with it. While many people worldwide would resent the attack, explicit authorisation by the UN would reduce the scale of opposition.