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Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:59 pm on 26th February 2003.

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Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Labour, Cynon Valley 3:59 pm, 26th February 2003

In 1991, I stood at the Opposition Dispatch Box and described what I had seen on the mountains of Iran and Iraq when the Kurds fled from the bombardment of Saddam Hussein. I am afraid that people have very short memories. The scenes were appalling and typical of the attacks made by the Iraqi regime on its own people. The victims include Arabs as well as Kurds. They also include Assyrians, Turkomans and the Shi'as in the south of the country who were forced to flee from the marshes into Iran.

I have spent the past two days travelling and I have come back for this debate so that I can tell the House what I have seen and heard. As the House knows, I have continually argued the case over the years for indicting the regime for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. I am grateful to 201 of my colleagues on both sides of the House who supported my proposal. I believe that the regime should be removed and that it could have been removed by using international law and indictment. It is a great regret to me that this country, which could have led the way, did not do so. After two years of our making the case and providing evidence from the victims of the regime, the Attorney-General felt that there was not sufficient evidence. I do not know how much evidence one needs, because it abounds. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have the evidence, and the Kurds captured documents from the torture centre that they eventually liberated. Thousands of their citizens died there.

On my latest visit, I opened the first genocide museum in Iraq. It was snowing and quite dark on that day and people had come from all over the area. Their relatives had died in that torture chamber. Inside the museum were photographs that the Kurds had taken. The images were of skulls and shreds of clothing, and of the type of thing that one sees in genocide museums elsewhere in the world. I have been to similar museums in Rwanda and Cambodia, and I have seen the holocaust exhibition in London, but I am afraid that, on this occasion, I just cried. I do not think that I have ever cried in public before, but I did so because the regime's victims were all around me. One old woman came up to me with a piece of plastic and pushed it into my hand. I unwrapped it and saw three photographs. They were of her husband and two sons who had died in that torture centre.

People had written things on the cell walls. Sometimes the writing was in blood and sometimes it was just marks to cross off the days of the week. Inside one cell is a statue of a Peshmerga, whose face looks upward towards a grill through which the light comes. I was told that that Peshmerga had died in that cell and that he was always looking towards the light, because he hoped that, one day, he would be out in the daylight again.

The victims were all around me, and I have been involved for 25 years—including before I became a politician—with the Iraqi opposition. For those 25 years, I have heard the tales of Saddam Hussein's regime and its repression of the Kurds and other minorities. People seem to think that that all came to an end in 1991, but that is a big mistake. Repression, torture and ethnic cleansing have continued throughout the time since then.

On my latest visit, I met some of the victims of torture who had, in the past few months, come out of the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad under the so-called amnesty. One man told me stories that I hardly like to repeat, but we at Indict have taken victims' statements over the past seven years. This victim was a youngish man who said that he had been in prison for eight years. He said that almost every day, people were executed at that prison—not one person, but hundreds. When there was an attack on Uday Hussein's life some time ago, 2,000 prisoners in the prison were executed on the same day. That is the reality of Saddam's Iraq. When I hear people calling for more time, I say "Who will speak up for those victims?"

I shall recount only two stories told by the same man. He told me that a university professor gave birth at the Abu Ghraib prison while he was there. Apparently, because of the very poor diet of thin soup and bread, she did not have enough milk to feed the baby when it was born. She begged the guards for milk, but they refused to give it and the baby died. She held that baby in her arms for three days and would not give up the body. At the end of the three days, because the temperature in the prison was very hot—some 60° C—the body began to smell. They took the woman and her dead baby away. I asked the former prisoner what happened to her and he said that she was killed.

The man then talked about a young boy aged 15 who had done something or other and was in the prison, and fainted during one of the torture sessions—he was beaten so hard that he fainted. The guards pinned him up to the frame of a window and crucified him on the window frame while he was still alive. When he came to, he was crying out for water, but nobody would give him water. One of the other prisoners threw water in his face, but that prisoner was himself taken away and beaten.

Ethnic cleansing goes on all the time. I visited a UN camp where there were hundreds of recent victims of ethnic cleansing who had been kicked out of Kirkuk. The men, women and little children in the camp had been told that they had 24 hours to get out of Kirkuk because they would not agree that they were not Kurds, but Arabs, as part of Arabisation. In other countries, we have taken action against people responsible for ethnic cleansing, so I say to my colleagues, please, who is to help the victims of Saddam Hussein's regime unless we do?

I believe in regime change. I say that without hesitation, and I will support the Government tonight because I think that they are doing a brave thing.