Iraq

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:35 pm on 18th March 2003.

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Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister 12:35 pm, 18th March 2003

Turkey has given that commitment. I have spoken to the Turkish Government, as have the President of the United States and many others. I have to say to my hon. Friend that it is clear from the conversations that I have had with people in that Kurdish autonomous zone that what they really fear above all else is the prospect of Saddam remaining in power, emboldened because we have failed to remove him.

I have never put the justification for action as regime change. We have to act within the terms set out in resolution 1441—that is our legal base. But it is the reason why I say frankly that if we do act, we should do so with a clear conscience and a strong heart. I accept fully that those who are opposed to this course of action share my detestation of Saddam. Who could not? Iraq is a potentially wealthy country which in 1979, the year before Saddam came to power, was richer than Portugal or Malaysia. Today it is impoverished, with 60 per cent. of its population dependent on food aid. Thousands of children die needlessly every year from lack of food and medicine. Four million people out of a population of just over 20 million are living in exile.

The brutality of the repression—the death and torture camps, the barbaric prisons for political opponents, the routine beatings for anyone or their families suspected of disloyalty—is well documented. Just last week, someone slandering Saddam was tied to a lamp post in a street in Baghdad, their tongue was cut out, and they were mutilated and left to bleed to death as a warning to others. I recall a few weeks ago talking to an Iraqi exile and saying to her that I understood how grim it must be under the lash of Saddam. "But you don't", she replied. "You cannot. You do not know what it is like to live in perpetual fear." And she is right. We take our freedom for granted. But imagine what it must be like not to be able to speak or discuss or debate or even question the society you live in. To see friends and family taken away and never daring to complain. To suffer the humility of failing courage in face of pitiless terror. That is how the Iraqi people live. Leave Saddam in place, and the blunt truth is that that is how they will continue to be forced to live.

We must face the consequences of the actions that we advocate. For those of us who support the course that I am advocating, that means all the dangers of war. But for others who are opposed to this course, it means—let us be clear—that for the Iraqi people, whose only true hope lies in the removal of Saddam, the darkness will simply close back over. They will be left under his rule, without any possibility of liberation—not from us, not from anyone.