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Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 26th February 2003.

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Photo of Mohammad Sarwar Mohammad Sarwar Labour, Glasgow Govan 5:30 pm, 26th February 2003

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this very important debate.

It is important to re-emphasise that those of us who are opposed to war in this House and across our nation are not friends of Saddam Hussein. We were against him when he invaded Iran, we opposed him when he invaded Kuwait and we spoke out against him when he used chemical weapons against his own people. Unfortunately, the UK and US Governments supported and armed him in the 1980s. I am surprised that no apology was forthcoming from Conservative Front Benchers for supporting Saddam Hussein when he used chemical weapons against his own people. The American Administration is extremely well informed about Iraq's weaponry. As The Scotsman pointed out last Friday, Donald Rumsfeld probably still has the receipts. Like many opponents of military action, I am proud to say that we have been friends of the Iraqi people over two decades of Saddam's rule and we remain their friends today. We are concerned about the tens of thousands of lives at risk through an attack on Iraq. That is the real moral issue that we must all face.

The overwhelming majority of people in Britain support us in sharing that sceptical view. In my constituency, my party membership is unanimously opposed to war, including the former Member of Parliament for Govan and Cabinet Minister Bruce Millan. Among the general public, people from all walks of life are openly talking about opposition to war, including Govan's most famous son, Sir Alex Ferguson. Given that we have seen more than 70,000 people gather in Glasgow alongside 1 million in London to demonstrate their opposition to war, I must ask my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench if they are listening to the people of Scotland and of Britain. I have not found anyone outside this House—no one among the real people whom we seek to represent—who is in favour of war. People here and around the world are clearly against war. There is no groundswell of support for military action.

The 52 African Governments expressed their opposition at their recent summit. If Al Gore had been elected President by the Supreme Court Judges instead of George W. Bush, we would have an American Administration opposed to war. Our own policy on Iraq demonstrates that the Government are not at the heart of Europe, but in the heart of President George Bush. The policies of our key European allies, led by President Chirac and Chancellor Schröder, are more in line with British opinion than my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

The French President expressed that clearly when he said,

"there is no reason . . . to change our logic, which is the logic of peace and switch to a logic of war".

I do not doubt my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's good intentions but I disagree profoundly with his support for President Bush. I am suspicious of the genuine motive for the American position. Saddam Hussein is as great a monster today as he was 20 years ago. The only difference is that he was our monster then.

Iraq has the largest oil reserves in the world today. The American Administration is brimming with oil interests. Almost every key member, from President Bush downwards, has been heavily involved in the oil industry. The United States should not try to buy support in the United Nations Security Council. The 15 nations should be given enough objective evidence to reach a fair and independent assessment of the situation in Iraq.

The international coalition is being built with bribery and by bullying smaller nations such as Chile and Cameroon. That starkly contrasts with the joining of forces to repel Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. The business press always gives the bottom line on what is really happening. Yesterday, the Financial Times reported that America was preparing to pay a high price for support in its bargaining with Turkey. The Financial Times stated that

"this time America's allies are waiting to be bought off", and that the cost would be dear in "hard cash" and "IOUs".

It is sad to see America's loyal ally, Turkey, "haggling furiously". From a first US offer of $2 billion to $3 billion and an initial Turkish demand for $92 billion, it appears that a settlement of $16 billion has been reached. Is that any way to pull a stable international coalition together? Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, puts matters more starkly. He believes that it is

"no longer a war against terrorism, it is in fact a war to dominate the world".

I recently spoke to Americans who opposed military action. They made it clear that their biggest problem is not President Bush but my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. If he did not support United States policy, any backing for war would collapse across the Atlantic. Those who argue that President Bush would go to war alone, without our Prime Minister's support, are wrong. President Bush needs Prime Minister Blair to sell the war in the United States. That is shown in the efforts to prove a tenuous link between al-Qaeda and Saddam, based on the presence of an al-Qaeda group in northern Iraq. It is disappointing that the fair-minded Colin Powell could present that to the United Nations as evidence.

We all know that al-Qaeda terrorists operate in Britain, the United States and many other nations. Clearly, that does not mean that our Government or any other support al-Qaeda. The claim has no credibility. Saddam and Osama bin Laden are implacable opponents. They oppose each other as much as President Bush opposes them both. We should not look for a spurious link to terrorism as an excuse for war against Iraq.

The UN weapons inspectors are in Iraq for a reason. The international community sent Dr. Blix and the skilled inspectors to do a job. They should be allowed the time that they need to complete it.

I end with a quote from the leader comment in The Guardian today:

"To go to war now would be to act without the freely given consent of the vast majority of nations; without the support of key allies; without a legally unambiguous mandate; without just cause, and against the wishes of the people of the west and the Muslim world."

I shall vote for the amendment.