I beg to move,
That this House
takes note of the military situation in Iraq.
The motion is not designed to divide the House. It is a sad fact that the debate has been made necessary by a combination of the reluctance of the Secretary of State for Defence to make a proper oral statement to the House yesterday about the military situation in Iraq—[Interruption.] We received a pretty strong impression that the Government would try to shelter the Secretary of State by whichever means they could. The debate is also rendered necessary by the fact that post-conflict occupation of Iraq is proving a very different experience from what was anticipated.
First, nothing should detract from the huge achievement of the British, American and other coalition forces earlier this year. American and British forces achieved their military objectives with extraordinarily few civilian casualties. In particular, the painstaking way in which 7th Armoured Brigade and 16th Air Assault Brigade took Basra and the surrounding towns will go down as a new textbook standard for how to fight a 21st-century war. We remain in no doubt about the prize that the military victory represents for freedom, regional and global security in the long term and, most immediately, the long-oppressed people of Iraq.
We do not resile from the achievements of our armed forces or our support for the decision to go to war. We should not dismiss what has been achieved since the end of the combat phase. The leader who possessed and used weapons of mass destruction, never abandoned the ambition to obtain chemical, biological and nuclear capabilities and defied the United Nations to the end in his attempt to achieve his objectives, is gone. With the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, Iraq is no longer a state sponsor of terror. Many key figures in his evil regime have been tracked down, killed or captured, including his two notorious sons.
We should welcome and acknowledge that, throughout Iraq, 37,000 Iraqi police have been trained or retrained and are now taking on their proper role. A new Iraqi army is being recruited, trained and equipped and will progressively take on at least a share of the security role. Thousands of tonnes of arms and ammunition have been seized throughout Iraq and destroyed.
Politically, a 25-member national governing council has been established and will create a preparatory commission to write a constitution. There are municipal councils in all major cities and 85 per cent. of towns, thus enabling Iraqis to take responsibility for managing local affairs.
That precious progress should confirm to anybody who cares about fundamental human rights that the terrible price of even the limited war was worth it. Moreover, there can be no going back.
The number of Iraqi civilians who were killed during the conflict is a tiny proportion of Iraqis and other civilians who were killed by Saddam Hussein during his reign of terror. That should occupy the hon. Gentleman, who has a record of speaking up for human rights in the House.
There can be no going back.
In answer to the question of Llew Smith, I believe that the generally acknowledged figure is more than 6,000.
I do not want to interrupt the flow of Mr. Jenkin, since he is trying to support and oppose the Government at the same time. However, he said that things had not turned out as expected—expected by whom?
I shall deal with that later. It should be possible to criticise some Government actions and support others. People would have more respect for politics in this country if it were more constructive than destructive.
As one of the occupying powers, the United Kingdom has a moral and legal obligation to see through the political, social and physical reconstruction of Iraq. In the British sector, progress is due almost entirely to the extraordinary dedication of our armed forces on the ground. When I visited 7th Brigade headquarters in May, soldiers were not simply providing security but restoring utilities and public services, providing medical assistance, restoring local health care facilities and helping local people to reopen schools, community centres and even local newspapers. They were rationing fuel, taking food and potable water to where it was needed, running the railway system from Basra to Umm Qasr and even the banking system. The latter involved a daily decision by the responsible officer about the way in which to control the quantity of money in circulation to prevent inflation.
However, there are clear limits to the amount that soldiers can be expected to achieve. In May, our officers on the ground were asking, "Where is the Department for International Development?" When my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary visited at the end of July, they were asking the same question. Precious little genuine construction has been taking place.
My right hon. Friend has also tabled a written question asking how many contracts have been let and are in progress. If the Secretary of State for Defence can provide an answer today, I am sure that it will be illuminating. Lack of tangible improvements in living conditions in Iraq is increasing Iraqi frustration with and cynicism about the coalition, and creating ever more challenges for our armed forces.
British commanders warned in May and July that remnants of the ousted regime, backed by terrorists from outside Iraq, would become an increasing threat. According to some reports, hundreds if not thousands of insurgents from Saddam Hussein's former Government have organised into cells, especially in the Sunni-dominated areas in and around Baghdad. The nature of their resistance is clouded by the presence of hundreds of criminals freed from Iraqi jails just before the war and as many as 1,000 foreign fighters, mainly Islamic militants, who have filtered into Iraq from Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Jordan. Some are suspected of direct ties to al-Qaeda. They have been getting better organised and play on the widening disillusion among ordinary Iraqis.
Why did Ministers apparently ignore those warnings? What intelligence existed before the conflict to show that armed opposition would become a problem afterwards? We have had to accept the terrible news of further British casualties, and I am sure that all Members want to pay tribute to our servicemen who have been killed in the course of their duties and extend our deepest sympathy to their families and friends.
The Government are sending reinforcements when our armed forces are already overstretched and trying to recover their readiness for future military operations. Although increased military capability is clearly necessary to deal with the increased terrorist threat and the continuing burden of so many civilian tasks on our soldiers in Iraq, the reinforcement underlines the fact that the post-conflict plans, if they existed, have gone wrong.
Before the conflict—I quote my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary—we made clear what had to happen before any military action:
"We need to hear from the Government that there is a blueprint—that there are plans and resources—so that a democratic, prosperous and renewed Iraq can quickly enter the family of nations and the global economy."—[Hansard, 24 September 2002; Vol. 390, c. 39.]
I have made that perfectly clear and I am surprised that the Secretary of State has not noticed. We support his decision but the reasons for its necessity are worth probing. If he is trying to reduce our military commitments and has withdrawn forces from Iraq only to have to start sending them back a few months later, I suggest that something has gone wrong. Does he deny that?
If the hon. Gentleman agrees with the Government's decision to send extra forces, does he accept that it does not help the armed forces if he makes erroneous claims about their being overstretched?
I seem to recall the recently departed Chief of the Defence Staff pointing out that it would take some 18 months for the British armed forces fully to recover their readiness for future military operations of the kind that we saw earlier this year. Perhaps the Secretary of State has forgotten that discussion. Perhaps he was not at that particular meeting, but it was certainly widely reported in the press. It is well understood that, with such a high proportion of the British Army committed to military operations, its training and readiness cycle is under significant strain. More particularly, on a personal level, many members of the armed forces have had their leave cancelled or their training delayed, which affects their personal morale and capability. If the Secretary of State is in denial about the problem of overstretch in the armed forces, I fear for their future.
The shadow Secretary of State has detailed some of the visits that he made after the war and the discussions that he had with our military commanders about the prospect of civil disintegration in Iraq. Did he, however, raise his concerns about such a prospect when he visited our troops before the conflict, both in theatre and outside, and when he had discussions with the Secretary of State at that time?
I did not think that front-line commanders preparing for a conflict would have to worry about what the Department for International Development and the Government back home should have been worrying about. They were more concerned about whether there were going to be enough chemical suits or whether the food was going to be delivered on time to their soldiers, and about some of the other problems that our overstretched logistics were presenting to them.
I would like to press the hon. Gentleman on this point, because I am aware that he visited the Gulf before the war and that he had discussions with the Secretary of State at that time. The commanders certainly expressed to me their concerns about what might happen after the war. We probed that matter and, indeed, went to the United States and spoke to representatives of US Central Command about it. Did the Conservative shadow Secretary of State carry out the same exercise?
We had a whole debate in the House—in January, I think—on post-conflict planning. It was then that the Government gave us assurances that planning would be in place, and it is for them to explain why those plans have turned out to be so different.
Increased military capability is clearly necessary to deal with the increased terrorist threat and the continuing burden that so many civilian tasks place on our soldiers in Iraq. But this reinforcement underlines how the post-conflict plans have gone wrong. The Prime Minister assured the House on
"every bit as viable and well worked out as a military plan."—[Hansard, 3 February 2003; Vol. 399, c. 36.]
I questioned the Secretary of State for Defence on
We now know from Clare Short that there was no plan. What does the Secretary of State have to say about that? Why on earth was the right hon. Lady allowed to stay in her post month after month, when she was so clearly seeking to obstruct the Government's policy? This underlines how weak the Prime Minister has become in his own party and his own Government. Presumably the Defence Secretary had discussions with the right hon. Lady, then his counterpart at the Department for International Development, about post-conflict reconstruction. What on earth did they discuss? Was he aware that there was no plan, when he committed British forces to this operation? More importantly, is there a plan now?
Yesterday's written statement says that
"the full scale of the requirement"— for reinforcements—
". . . has yet to be developed".
It goes on:
"The military capabilities needed will be identified as the detail of the plan's implementation takes shape."
Does this mean that there is still no fully formed plan? If we are committing further UK forces, what exactly are we committing them for? The Secretary of State's statement tells us that the requirement is
"driven by initiatives of the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Department for International Development (DFID) to accelerate reconstruction activities in Iraq".—[Hansard, 8 September 2003; Vol. 410, c. 2WS.]
"The key task there is to make use of these troops to get the infrastructure back up and running."
Will the Secretary of State explain what is meant by that?
There is an urgent need for increased security, increased patrols, better protection of key points, convoys and installations, and better intelligence as well as a need to improve border security, disarm rebels, mediate between warring Iraqi factions and speed up the recruitment and training of the Iraqi military. Our soldiers are fighting a classic counter-insurgency war, for which their training and experience have well prepared them. Their priority must be to kill or capture the terrorists, but are we to believe the Government when they say that they are increasing the burden of essentially civilian tasks for our troops? The fact is that the reconstruction effort has been painfully slow, and rectifying that is a key priority in restoring Iraqi public confidence in the coalition provisional authority. Where are the civilian agencies and contractors that should be undertaking these tasks?
Will the Secretary of State tell us whether there is a clear plan? If there is, please will he publish a suitable summary of it for the House? Unless he can do so, in the light of the months that have already passed with so little reconstruction activity, why should we believe his assurances that any plan exists at all?
Did not the shadow Secretary of State sit through the Foreign Secretary's statement yesterday, in which he went through plan after plan? [Interruption.] He did. He said, for example, that all 240 hospitals in Iraq are operating. That is probably better than France, considering the way things are at the moment. The Foreign Secretary outlined detailed plans yesterday. It is the shadow Secretary of State who seems to be in denial.
It might be the root of the problem that the Foreign Secretary's idea of detail is very different from ours. A few sketched aspirations do not constitute a strategic plan. There is a case for the Government publishing a proper document that includes details of how they plan to move forward and that sets out the military tasks rather than the civilian tasks that they expect our armed forces to undertake. I can tell Mr. Foulkes that there are people in the armed forces who are very worried about the lack of a strategic plan and about what the Government are taking on in Iraq without such a plan.
I favour our military forces concentrating on the security tasks, so that those people can enter Iraq safely and carry out their tasks. That means that DFID will have to co-operate actively with the British armed forces and that the NGOs will have to work closely with our armed forces on the ground. That is the only way to improve the situation, rather than dumping on our soldiers all the jobs that they cannot do.
We are witnessing the collapse of the pro-war coalition. Did it never occur to the hon. Gentleman, or to any Conservative Front Bencher, that given that the Government deceived the country over the reasons for going to war, they might well also have deceived us over the after-war preparations?
I am not here to play politics in this debate. I am here to hold the Government to account for their failure to plan properly for post-conflict Iraq. I am therefore asking the Secretary of State to publish a plan, perhaps in co-operation with his counterpart at DFID.
The Government have clearly been involved in promoting good will between the United States and our other allies in the United Nations. We certainly support a greater role for the United Nations if it will bring other nations in to support the coalition's effort to improve security, provided that there remains a coherent single military command, which, naturally, would be American. Will the Secretary of State spell out exactly what increased role for the UN he envisages, and how it will affect the conduct of military operations in Iraq?
The US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, has stated that the latest draft resolution contains
"invitations, direction, and other ways of inserting the UN in the development of a new Iraqi government".
If this is still not enough to appease French anti-US sentiment, what consideration has been given to a lead role for NATO? NATO is successfully leading the peacekeeping force in Kabul, and it has the experience and expertise to lead multi-national military operations in war-torn countries. There is great confidence and expectation at NATO headquarters that it should play a role. NATO has already been assisting the Polish armed forces in Iraq; moreover, it could decide to lead peacekeeping forces on the basis of a decision involving 18 rather than 19 in order to exclude any French obstructionism.
The prerequisite for avoiding what the Foreign Secretary's memorandum described as strategic failure in Iraq is the restoration of personal security, along with a tangible start on the rebuilding of Iraq. If we fail to achieve that soon, it will be difficult for genuine political reforms to take hold, and the political liberation from Saddam Hussein will be in danger of becoming the kind of foreign occupation that the Iraqi people resent and for which we have no ambition.
Iraq is already a magnet for terrorists who want to have a go at United States or United Kingdom soldiers. The horrific attack on the United Nations confirms that they want to destroy anything associated with the values of democracy and freedom. We cannot let them win.
There is every reason to be optimistic about the future of Iraq, provided that there is coherent planning and determined implementation. That holds out the prospect not just of democracy and prosperity for the Iraqi people for the first time, but, with all eyes in the middle east focused on Iraq, of a transformation of security throughout the region. The Government must convince the British people that those prizes are worth the money, the sweat and even the lives of the hard-pressed men and women of our armed forces. They have our admiration and good wishes as they face the challenges ahead.
Throughout the shadow Defence Secretary's speech, I hoped to hear one constructive suggestion of something that the official Opposition might do that would differ from the policy that the Government have pursued. Not once, in any part of his speech, was there the slightest indication that they would do other than pursue that policy.
I will deal with that point in a second.
The House is all too aware of the tragic events in Iraq over the summer months. The bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad on
The security situation in Iraq is undoubtedly difficult. We face challenges even in the south, where Shi'a hatred of Saddam and the Ba'ath party has generally made the population more welcoming of the coalition's presence. Organised crime has increased since the collapse of the old regime, partly because of the amnesty that Saddam granted to prisoners as coalition forces entered Iraq. Sabotage, copper theft and fuel smuggling are all damaging the local economy, and the consequent need to guard infrastructure until the Iraqis are fully able to do so for themselves diverts effort from the primary task of creating a generally more secure environment.
Yesterday I told the House of the outcome of the formal review of UK forces and resources in Iraq undertaken by the UK divisional commander in theatre. That review identified an immediate requirement for two additional battalions, 2nd Battalion The Light Infantry and 1st Battalion The Royal Green Jackets, together with some additional specialist personnel. Those additional forces, numbering some 1,200 people, are now being deployed to Iraq. Indeed, the 1st Light Infantry Company arrived in theatre over the weekend.
Can the Secretary of State give an indication of how many more troops he expects to send to Iraq in the next few months, under whose command and for how long British troops will be in Iraq, and when he expects all British and American forces to be withdrawn and to end the colonial occupation of the country?
I do not accept my hon. Friend's conclusion, but I will certainly deal with his questions during my speech.
The extra forces will give commanders in theatre a range of additional capabilities to meet the growing number of military tasks that we face. Those tasks will include providing the coalition provisional authority with additional protection and improving our information-gathering capability in the divisional area of operations. Crucially, our extra personnel will also be involved in initiatives such as the training of additional indigenous Iraqi security organisations, in particular the Iraqi civil defence corps. Plans are being developed for a significant acceleration of the forming of 18 battalions of the ICDC, and we envisage their being able, over time, to take over many tasks from coalition forces.
It should be emphasised that we are deploying additional forces to Iraq to allow commanders to undertake more military tasks. The situation in Iraq is constantly evolving, as are the kinds of tasks being undertaken by UK forces.
I thought that the reason for deploying extra forces to Iraq was to avoid strategic failure, to quote the Foreign Secretary. But given that it was the Government's bypassing of the processes of the United Nations that led us into this morass, might not ceding full authority to the UN now help us to get out of it? If the Government do not do that, we will face not strategic failure but the needless loss of many, many more lives.
I do not accept that we bypassed the United Nations; and, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, discussions are taking place again in the UN about a further resolution to support the effort being made by the international community in Iraq.
At the end of July, General Lamb's review concluded that force levels were about right for the tasks at that time, although we rebalanced them slightly with the deployment of a small additional number of troops. That shows that we keep force levels under constant review to ensure that we can move the right capabilities into theatre at the right time to undertake tasks as they arise. Our flexible approach allows us to minimise the effect on our forces by ensuring that troops who do not need to be in Iraq can take some well-earned time off. I am sure the House agrees that it would be wrong to keep troops away from their families for any longer than necessary. We will continue to keep our force levels under review and to adjust our force numbers as necessary to meet United Kingdom and coalition military objectives.
We also intend to deploy a number of armoured patrol vehicles at the same time as the additional troops. That, too, is a requirement identified in GOC 3 division's review of the evolving situation in Iraq and the likely future capability requirements for UK forces. A full investigation of the incident that led to the tragic deaths of three members of the Royal Military Police on
We have always said that local commanders are the people best placed to identify the capabilities that they require and how to use them. It is obviously crucial for service personnel to be issued with the right equipment, but force protection is as much about tactics, techniques and procedures as it is about specific items of protective equipment. While inevitably carrying an inherent risk, those tactics—described by some as a softly, softly approach—have been tried and tested in operations around the world and are crucial to achieving our objectives in Iraq.
No one ever suggested that it would be easy to restore stability in Iraq, certainly given the time frame that we have had since the end of hostilities. In the south particularly, the basic utilities—power and water supplies—were in a dreadful state as a result of the former regime's policy of deliberate neglect. The situation is now further complicated by looting and sabotage. I should emphasise, however, that that is the activity of a small criminal minority, not the population of the south as a whole.
I have been talking to some young people who have just returned from serving in Basra. What those soldiers have told me in my surgery certainly does not reflect the rosy picture that the Secretary of State paints of the south. Three soldiers who had done a six-month stint out there said that pressure is being brought to bear for them to go back. They said:
"The situation is getting much worse. They tolerated us at first; now they deeply resent us."
I was not painting a rosy picture; indeed, I went to some lengths to point out the difficulties faced by our forces in the south. Equally, I do not accept my hon. Friend's assertion that the situation is getting significantly worse. The great majority of the population in the south are very supportive of the coalition's presence and understandably simply want basic infrastructure—fuel, power, water—of a standard that we would expect, compared with the standard that they suffered under Saddam Hussein's regime. I shall return to that issue in a moment.
I do not necessarily disagree with a great deal of what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, but will he clarify what the Foreign Secretary meant when he said on the radio this morning that the key task is to make use of these troops to get the infrastructure back up and running? Can he confirm that, as he seems to be saying, British armed forces will be concerned with security tasks and military training to enable the civilian agencies and contractors to come in, rather than with providing soldiers to do civilian jobs?
Essentially, there is a need to ensure adequate power, for example. That can be achieved by moving in mobile generators, but there is not a lot of point in moving such generators in to the south of Iraq if they are then stolen and the metal sold in the scrap metal markets of Kuwait. The forces will be working with those providing the generation capability to ensure that such capability is providing electricity, not simply disappearing from the south.
Can the Secretary of State explain why the Government can provide precise information about the number of our armed forces who were killed or injured as a result of the war and its aftermath, but cannot provide similar information about the number of Iraqi civilians killed or injured as a result of that conflict?
I am sorry that my hon. Friend finds that question so difficult—I would have thought it self-evident that we keep a very close track of those whom we ask to perform tasks on behalf of the United Kingdom Government. It is obviously more difficult to identify with precision those who are killed in the course of a conflict, especially civilians. I would have thought that the answer is self-evident.
Although, as I said yesterday, I would wish to see many more countries involved in addition to those that already have troops in Iraq, is there not one fact that every single critic on both sides of the House must answer? How could such a murderous dictatorship, responsible for the murder and often brutal torture of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, be destroyed other than through what has happened in the past few months?
My hon. Friend has been a consistent supporter of the Government's position and I am grateful for his observations. Above all else, whatever the difficulties and problems with security and the basic infrastructure, those who visit southern Iraq all say the same thing: Iraq is an enormously better place now than it was under Saddam Hussein. Those people know that, and they are enormously grateful to the coalition and for the efforts that have been made.
My hon. Friend seizes on one particular example—France—overlooking the fact that the great majority of European nations are supportive of the coalition's position, and that up to 30 countries have sent forces. In a sense, it is for him to ask why all those countries are willing to help. Indeed, more countries have indicated their willingness to help, subject to a further United Nations resolution. There is a strong international coalition that wants the problems of Iraq to be resolved. I repeat to my hon. Friend the point that I made yesterday: whatever his doubts about the situation leading up to the conflict, and about the conflict itself—I recognise that he had them—surely he and all of those who oppose the conflict must recognise that the situation now requires that we make a determined effort to restore Iraq to the international community, and to provide precisely the structures that we are putting in place to allow Iraq's people not only to take responsibility for their own affairs, but to rebuild their country.
Does the Secretary of State think that the United States' position might change if countries such as France and Germany decided to deploy the quantity of troops that the Americans have stationed in Iraq?
It is a fact that about 140,000 US troops are currently in Iraq, which says a considerable amount about the United States' determination to rebuild that country.
Will my right hon. Friend accept the words of Major Ivor Morgan, a constituent of mine who is serving in one of our field hospitals in Iraq? In writing from that field hospital, he makes it clear that the armed forces and Great Britain have a role—to give back to the people of Iraq what we all enjoy in England, namely, a life in which all people are free from tyranny, live equally and have choice, and live without fear where democracy exists. He wants to make sure that we all accept that this is an appropriate role for the armed forces, and that we support it.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I cannot improve on the comments that she has passed on to the House.
A few moments ago, I pointed out to the House the importance of working with an international coalition. As I said, it involves some 30 countries. Seven countries have already deployed forces under the United Kingdom's Divisional Command, making a valuable contribution to the provision of security. To accuse the coalition of losing the peace, as some have done, is to ignore the real progress that we and the Iraqi people have made, in spite of the difficulties. It risks the assumption that the terrorists who blow up the United Nations building or the Baghdad police headquarters somehow speak for the Iraqi people. They do not: on the contrary, the majority of Iraqis support the coalition and are delighted, as I have said, that Saddam has gone.
Most of Iraq is calm. Newspapers, shops, markets and many other aspects of normal daily life are flourishing. Children will soon be returning to school after their summer break. The coalition has recruited and trained 37,000 police; a facilities protection service that is some 14,000-strong is designed to guard Iraq's economic infrastructure from looting and sabotage; and there are also 2,500 border guards. A further increase in the number of these Iraqi security forces is a key priority for the coalition in the coming months. In addition, coalition forces are working with and supporting Iraqi leaders at both local and national level.
The Iraqi governing council, the establishment of which was welcomed in United Nations Security Council resolution 1500 as an important step towards the formation by the Iraqi people of an internationally recognised Government, has established a preparatory constitutional commission. This commission will put forward recommendations on the democratic drafting of a new constitution for Iraq—one that will enshrine human rights, transparency and justice for all of Iraq's ethnic and religious groups. The council has also sworn in a Cabinet of Ministers that is representative of Iraq's differing ethnic and religious groups. This is a major step forward in the process of transferring political control back to the Iraqi people. Our aim—the aim of all of those working together for Iraq's future—is to maintain this momentum, while building the secure environment within which progress in other areas can be made.
Ultimately, the key to Iraq's success will be political and economic development. While UK forces have so far done all that they can to repair waterworks and power lines, we need to make more rapid progress on rebuilding Iraq's basic infrastructure. We must also ensure that the Iraqi people feel involved in this reconstruction process. The riots in Basra a month ago required careful handling.
In encouraging the Iraqi people to participate in reconstruction, it must be appreciated and recognised that they suffered for more than 20 years—a period in which nobody was brave enough to do anything unless it came as a Ba'ath party order. That factor has to be built in in asking the Iraqis to take the initiative. It will take time.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He provides the answer to the point raised by my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn, who spoke about an occupation. Surely even he would recognise—he argues consistently in the House in favour of democracy, respect for human rights and so forth—that the position in Iraq has improved enormously. Surely he would not prefer the people of Iraq to go back to the sort of society in which they lived under Saddam Hussein. We can all unite on that argument. I would not suggest that we can all agree on why military action was taken in the first place, but even from the perspective of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North, what we are now doing is the right thing, given the need to improve the lives of the Iraqi people.
I was dealing with the position in Basra a month ago. There were riots, which required careful handling. I pay tribute to the sterling effort of the coalition forces to engage with local political parties and the protesters themselves, and to distribute emergency fuel supplies, which prevented further unrest. The incidents demonstrated the impact that infrastructure issues can have on security. Progress on those questions will be only short lived without accompanying progress on improvement in those basic facilities.
Consequently, in southern Iraq, we will make a major effort to repair the damaged infrastructure, combining the expertise of the military, the Department for International Development and CPA South. The sum of £20 million has been allocated to fund the initial stages of that work, which will deliver a more stable power supply, improved fuel availability and lead to a significant improvement in the delivery of water services to all sections of the population. Critical to the project's success will be the enabling military support that we provide. The required military capabilities will be identified as the detail of the plan's implementation takes shape.
It is noteworthy for the whole House that when the Ministry of Defence needed to send more troops—another 2,000 or so—at short notice, it was often the military battalions that were despatched. We are all aware of the overstretch implications for the Army in general, and the infantry in particular, as a result of the present difficult position. In order to avoid any sapping of morale, will the Secretary of State take the opportunity this afternoon to scotch the rumours circulating within the Ministry of Defence that there are plans afoot to reduce the number of regular infantry battalions? Our recent experience shows that we desperately need those troops, so I hope that the rumours will be laid to rest now.
Recent times have seen a significant increase in the infantry forces available to the Army—progress that I greatly welcome. Many young people seeing the success of our armed forces in a series of different operations want to be involved. As I told the House yesterday in Defence questions, we need constantly to review our position. There are no plans along the lines that the hon. Gentleman suggested, but as I promised the House, a White Paper will be published in due course, in which we shall set out our short-term future direction for equipment and other aspects of the organisation of our armed forces.
I announced yesterday that we are taking steps to identify and reduce notice to move for some additional headquarters personnel in certain units. That will allow further deployments as rapidly as possible in response to the accelerating programme of work.
The Government have set out their vision for Iraq and the Iraqi people. In the document published on
May I begin by paying tribute to the brave men and women who are risking their lives to bring peace and stability to the Iraqi people, and pass on the condolences of all on the Liberal Democrat Benches to the families of those who have died recently in the conflict? The current military situation in Iraq should come as a surprise to no one. No one expected the war to be easy, but the warnings about the potential difficulties of the post-conflict phase, and the tremendous difficulty of winning the peace were sounded loud and clear before the fighting began—even from within the US and British Governments. UK forces are performing their work in Iraq with tremendous skill, but they face a difficult and complex campaign. Parliament and this country were split over the decision to go to war when we did, but now that British forces are in the country, we support them and hope that they will succeed in their mission to bring peace and stability to Iraq. No reasonable person would oppose the plans for improving security in that country.
Will the hon. Gentleman do us the favour of explaining exactly the Liberal Democrat position on the war in Iraq? I recall standing alongside his leader on
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we, like most reasonable people, support the Geneva convention. Britain and America are occupying forces. We invaded Iraq and have the responsibility to stay there to resolve the situation. If the hon. Gentleman will give me the time, I shall move on to explain the Liberal Democrat position—it is different from the Government's—on how that should be achieved.
No reasonable person should now be calling for the troops to be withdrawn. Our reservations at the time about the difficulties of winning the peace and the lack of international consensus about the terrible costs of war led us, along with brave people from both sides, to vote against the Government. However, those decisions were taken, and now that the main conflict is over, securing stability and democracy in Iraq is in the interests of the whole international community. There are difficult and dangerous problems in Iraq and we should be trying to make the best of resolving them. An unstable Iraq is a danger to the region and a danger to the world. Iraq may not have been a hotbed of terrorist activity before, but it is in serious danger of becoming one now and that must be dealt with.
I welcome the review of troop movements conducted by the Ministry of Defence, but lament the lack of planning, or hopelessly over-optimistic planning, for the post-conflict phase. The UK has maintained approximately the same number of troops in Iraq since the end of major combat operations. We were told then that commanders on the ground believed that the situation did not merit more troops. Now, despite the arrival of Italian, Polish and Spanish troops, it is clear that it must have changed. Can the Secretary of State explain what is different now from the end of July? Is Iraq substantially more dangerous now, or has there been a change in the political imperative?
Current UN figures place the number of attacks on coalition forces at an average of more than 10 a day. Will the Secretary of State comment on the rate of attacks on our forces? Is it an increase on previous months? Are British forces in greater danger now than they were a few weeks ago? The Secretary of State's written statement yesterday made it clear that the new deployment represents an interim reinforcement, so what are his estimates of the total number of troops in fact required? Will existing offers of troops from other countries meet that requirement; and will the Secretary of State confirm that if more troops arrive from other places, we may expect Britain and America to reduce their contribution?
At the same time we await the Government's defence White Paper. We believe that the Government must think hard about the long-term requirements for infantry numbers in the light of recent events.
I do not even understand the question. Clearly, we opposed the war. There is no doubt about that; we voted against it. However, the House voted for the war and we accept that. We supported the troops in what they were doing; we wished for a swift and successful outcome; and we still wish for that. The number of troops on the ground should be determined by the force commanders. As the Secretary of State said earlier, at the end of July the force commander on the ground accepted that the number of troops was then correct. Clearly, more troops are now required and I am trying to ascertain whether the situation has become worse or whether the political imperative has changed. That is what the debate is about.
In that regard, does the Secretary of State agree that if more troops were sent under a UN mandate, backed by a new resolution, they would stand a better chance of producing real stability in Iraq? That would be better than simply sending more coalition forces. Advocates of UN control make the case that a UN force would be better at restoring security than an American-led one. Surely that is the case. A framework for political transition under the UN authority is the key to providing hope for the Iraqis and stemming the support of terrorist groups. Ultimate security in Iraq depends on the emergence of a legitimate Iraqi Government with their own security forces, supported if necessary by international military and police. We believe that the UN can best create such legitimacy.
Does not the hon. Gentleman understand that the UN is not a military organisation, and that it is not good at commanding multinational military operations? That is what we found in the Balkans. It was not until the Americans took a lead, with NATO, that we were able to get a grip on the situation there. Is not that the model that we should be pursuing, and not an ephemeral and idealised UN solution that is really only a vehicle for French resistance to American policy?
If one is looking for a model, the first Gulf war is a very adequate one. The UN authorised the Americans to control that force. Clearly, a force of the size involved now needs America to remain in the lead, but that must happen with UN authority, and other UN nations must also be prepared to take part. We believe that such a force—helping to keep the peace, develop the new political leadership of Iraq and bring about the reconciliation of the country—would best be led by the UN.
Before his tragic death in Baghdad, the late and respected Sergio de Mello said that total security could never be provided by outsiders. The coalition could never provide enough guns to coerce all the people of Iraq all the time. So the sooner that there are Iraqi forces answerable to an Iraqi Government, the better. We believe that that can be brought about most quickly by a multinational UN-led operation in Iraq.
I hope that the Government will impress on the US that it would be an error to disband the Iraqi army. If it is domestic security that is required, no one would be better placed to provide it than some of those former soldiers. It is difficult to see what obstacles lay in the face of reconstructing and retraining that army. If there are any, will the Secretary of State say what they are?
Is my hon. Friend aware that a precedent exists for using Iraqi forces? Personnel from the Basra naval academy have been retrained as guards for the world food store outside the city.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who I know has seen the situation in Basra at first hand. If it is possible to use the Iraqi navy for such purposes, it should also be possible to use the Iraqi army.
In that connection, will the Secretary of State say what plans exist to involve the governing council in security matters, policing and so on? Is there a coherent timetable for handing back power to the Iraqi people?
The UK Government should be using whatever special influence they have with the US to put the UN in the driving seat in Iraq. That may mean sharing reconstruction contracts among other countries, but if that is the price to be paid for international help, it should be paid.
That may be an extreme view, but a French politician told me only a few weeks ago that he would not ask French troops to put their lives on the line to protect American business men securing American contracts from an American-controlled Iraqi Government. Only the UN can provide the Iraq council with legitimacy, get the constitutional conference moving, and make Iraqis feel that they have a say in their future.US and British forces will have an obligation to remain in Iraq until that time comes, but ultimately the UN should take over.
We are debating the military situation today, but we should not forget the humanitarian situation—the supply of power and water, and the provision of food. It is clear that aid agencies cannot operate without security, and the reports that NGOs are leaving the country on account of the worsening security situation are deeply worrying. What impact is the current instability having on the welfare of the Iraqi people and the supply of assistance? Will the Secretary of State confirm what discussions he or his colleagues at the Department for International Development have had with the NGOs? Are the Government working towards achieving the security that the NGOs require to carry out their work?
I turn now to the issue of weapons of mass destruction. What is the current assessment? Are British troops—or indeed Iraqis—considered to be at any risk from the yet undiscovered weapons of mass destruction? Has any more evidence been found?
I conclude with some thoughts about today's Conservative-inspired debate. I find it rather surprising that members of the Conservative party—who supported the decision to go to war and, indeed, were the only people who were more vociferous in their support for the US than the Government—should now complain so bitterly about its aftermath. When the Leader of the Opposition led his party through the Lobbies with the Government on
People on all sides of the argument understood that going to war without the full support of the international community could cause difficulties when the war was over. I assume that members of the Tory party did not support the war on conditional terms—that they did not back the Government only on the understanding that everything went well. They supported the decision to attack Iraq at the time, and they have to live with the consequences.
The House should imagine for a moment what would have happened if the US had attacked Iraq but the British Government had decided not to contribute. The Tory party would have attacked the Government for failing in their duty. Indeed, the Tory leadership fully supported a pre-emptive strike a long way in advance of the votes in this House on
When did the Tory party start supporting the attack? On
The Conservatives backed pre-emptive action to the hilt, and they did so in spite of the warnings from so many people—including members of the Conservative party—that such action might cause problems.
In connection with today's debate, we should remember that, before the debate in March, the dossier and the deployment of troops, the Tories backed George Bush's war. This House, and this country, should never forget that.
When I listened to the start of the debate, I thought that there must have been some confusion behind the Speaker's Chair. I thought that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had bumped into the shadow Secretary of State, that they had dropped their notes, and then picked up each other's by accident. I was convinced that the speech by Mr. Jenkin was being made by my right hon. Friend. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has made many fine speeches, but it was not his finest hour today. The House has been deprived of a proper opportunity to discuss the Iraq issue, and the Opposition motion is very disappointing. If all my right hon. Friend has to worry about is what is coming at him from across the Dispatch Box, he does not have much to fear.
I last spoke in a debate on Iraq last November. I opened my speech with a question: would the world be a safer place if we went to war in Iraq? If not, I believed that we should not go to war. I supported the Government and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on that occasion, and continued to do so until March.
I did not vote in favour of the war, however. That was not because I supported Saddam Hussein, or because I was against military action—had we succeeded in getting a second resolution through the UN Security Council, I would have been quite comfortable about continuing my support. I made my decision because I was worried about the consequences of intervention, and history shows that those concerns were justified.
I do not speak from retrospective spite. I am certainly not one of the "I-told-you-so" brigade, although there may be a few of those. I am expressing my deeply felt conviction. It was not comfortable for me to vote against a three-line Whip for the first time in 16 years, but to this day I am convinced that my decision was correct.
If Mr. Speaker were in his place, he, as a Glaswegian, would understand my next point. Anyone who goes to the wonderful city of Glasgow and who has lost his way will always find a friendly face prepared to give him directions. If you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, said to someone in Glasgow, "I'm lost and I want to be there", he would give you a warm reception and say something like, "I'll tell you where to go, but if I was going there, I wouldn't start from here." There is no good our looking retrospectively and criticising what has happened. It is our duty and responsibility to concentrate on how we get from where we are to where we want to be.
I speak from a position of supporting the Government. I am certainly not one of those who criticises the Prime Minister—quite the opposite. I am a firm supporter of the Prime Minister, and history will prove that his influence on the American Administration from 9/11 onwards was vital. I hate to imagine how the world would be if he had not exerted his influence to restrain the hawks in the American Administration. People criticise the Prime Minister for blindly following George Bush, but that is not my reading of what he has done. The Prime Minister has not done that at all. He supported more the position of the US State Department and Colin Powell than he did the position of the Defence Department's Rumsfeld and others around the President of the United States.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point about how our Prime Minister may have restrained the actions of the United States. Would he care to think whether the new behaviour of the United States, more friendly towards the United Nations, owes more to the influence of our Government or to the practical experience of the Americans in Iraq?
Let me give a politician's answer: it is very much a bit of both. However, I am sure that the Prime Minister would much have preferred to have a second resolution. So much was invested in getting that resolution that we were put in the position of not being able to back away and hold back some of the American hawks, and that may have added to the pressure placed on the Government to commit themselves to going in with the Americans rather than letting them go in on their own. I am sure that our Prime Minister has had influence in arguing the case for looking more supportively at the United Nations. I am confident, too, that what has happened in the European Union and in NATO must bring about a revision of how we work together.
It is tragic for the rest of the world that the hawks were given so much power in America, but they are finding out now that they cannot go it alone. The only answer is to go through the EU and NATO, and certainly through the UN. To return to my Glaswegian story, the point is that in order to get to where we need to be, there is only one road to take—the road through the United Nations. I see no other solution. I heard the Secretary of State say that 30 countries will join the coalition in sending troops, and that is always welcome. But the question is how many troops those 30 countries will send.
There we are. Waiting for someone else to join the coalition and bring a solution is not the answer. The only answer is to go through the United Nations. The sooner we accept that, the better. We must not defend entrenched positions—all that happens when we get entrenched is that we stay in the trench.
The hon. Gentleman will agree that this is not just a question of numbers. The quality and experience of troops is also important. The benefit of having Indian, Pakistani and even French troops is that they have experience of peacekeeping operations and know how to do the work. It is great to have 100 Lithuanian troops in Iraq, but they may not have been involved before in peacekeeping operations, while other troops from other UN forces will have had previous experience.
Let me conclude by turning to a real problem that has been made much worse by the events of the past six months. We can see what is happening in the middle east, in Palestine and on the west bank. There are people on both sides of that argument—indeed, we have people on both sides in the House. In my 16 years here, I have been fortunate enough never to find myself on either side of that argument; instead, I have seen the injustices on both sides and the need for the two sides to live side by side in peace. There is no rocket science involved in accepting the logic of finding a political solution, but politicians are all too often not part of the solution, but part of the problem. I despair when I see what is happening in Palestine and Israel, but once again the only solution must be a multinational solution though the United Nations. We must unite within the UN to bring solutions to such dark problems. If we do not, we will be here in six months holding another debate on Iraq and the middle east as we discuss more misery, more killings and a continued lack of commonsense political solutions. I hope that we can go forward through the UN and that the American Administration can bite their lip, swallow their pride and seek a UN mandate through the Security Council to solve the problems in Iraq and the rest of the middle east.
My hon. Friend Angus Robertson often tells me how he finds himself in full agreement with Mr. Hood in the Select Committee on European Scrutiny, which the hon. Gentleman chairs. I, too, find myself in virtually total agreement with every word he has just said.
Similar to the hon. Gentleman's Glasgow example, it would be possible for those of us who unambiguously opposed the conflict to say that it has nothing to do with us and is all the fault of the Government and the Conservative Opposition who led us into the morass in which we find ourselves. It would be possible to say that we should therefore offer no solutions or suggestions for how to get out of the mess. However, as the hon. Gentleman said, it is incumbent on us to put forward our proposals and solutions. It is a matter of great regret that the amendment that my hon. Friends and I tabled was not selected so that we could divide on it this evening. It would have found a lot of support across the House from people who genuinely seek a way to improve the situation. Indeed, I see the Liberal Democrat spokesperson, Mr. Keetch, nodding in support of that.
What is the Government's objection to unambiguous UN authority for the stabilisation force in Iraq and to its being under UN control and within the ambit of the UN? I listened closely to President Bush's statement the other evening. Although I would not say that he is running back to the UN cap in hand, a significant level of concern has forced him into that position.
The House should reflect that, while we mourn the British armed forces' casualties in Iraq, the casualties of the American forces are much, much greater. They have lost more people in Iraq since
I agree with the hon. Member for Clydesdale: pressure of events rather than the eloquence of the Prime Minister persuaded America to put Colin Powell—the Secretary of State—back in charge of some aspects of American foreign policy. What has been proposed to date will not be satisfactory, understandably, for many of the countries that resolutely opposed conflict on US and UK terms.
Although I realise that for the Government the BBC website is not the most reputable source, for a large majority of people it is, none the less, a much more reputable source than the Government themselves. Today, in analysing the moves of the UN, the website states:
"Several Security Council members—including France, Russia and Germany—are reluctant to approve any resolution that appears to give retroactive blessing to the Iraq war, which they opposed."
That is entirely understandable. I would not approve that. I am sure that the hon. Member for Clydesdale, although he is looking for a solution, would not approve of anything that gave a blessing to something that we thought fundamentally wrong. The website continued:
"They have also insisted that any UN mandate give genuine power to the international organisation, rather than merely being a fig leaf for a US-run operation."
That, too, is entirely understandable.
As the Minister wants to intervene, I hope that he will tell us what are the obstacles to giving a genuine UN mandate, rather than a US fig leaf. What are the blockages?
I intervene to tell the hon. Gentleman that if he had been in the House yesterday, he would have heard my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary explain some of those details; in particular, the work that the United Kingdom, the US Government, the European Union and others are doing in the UN to try to strengthen the UN mandate in Iraq. That is why there is a draft resolution; it is being discussed at the Security Council and proposes
"a United Nations-mandated multinational force under existing unified command".—[Hansard, 8 September 2003; Vol. 410, c. 39.]
because that is the best way for the UN to operate.
Under the command of US armed forces. The concern of many of the countries that opposed the war, and many of those that did not, is, as the BBC website pointed out, that there will not be genuine power for a genuine UN mandate. The Minister knows all too well that there is a substantial difference between an invitation with a supportive UN resolution under the US command structure and a genuine authority under the UN for a multinational force. Even if he does not realise that, the countries that are, as yet, reluctant to take part certainly do realise it. What exactly are the obstacles to moving to that genuine UN position?
Until that point, I was enjoying the hon. Gentleman's view. The point that we made is that the UN could authorise the United States to command a force. Can he give us an example where a UN force of the size that would be required in Iraq has ever had a multilateral system? Surely, all UN forces have a command structure. We suggest that it should be a US command structure. No other nation and no other body could actually command a force of that size.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are other examples of UN administrations, most recently in East Timor, where such a command structure was established. It was not the size of Iraq, but we have not had to try to establish a command structure in a country of that size.
Throughout the debate, the Liberal Democrats have tried to have things both ways. My interpretation of the hon. Gentleman's speech was that he was calling for a genuine UN force in Iraq. If he is saying that what President Bush is proposing at the UN is exactly that, his reading of the President's remarks a few nights ago is significantly different from mine. I thought that they were carefully phrased to say that the command structure would remain under US control.
The Liberal Democrat spokesperson engaged us with a quote from a French source, which tried to suggest that there were a variety of other reasons for not conceding that command structure. I am calling for a genuine UN authority and command structure.
And in the Department for International Development.
This is a strange debate. The Minister has just said that what my hon. Friend Mr. Hood, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National party are calling for is what the Government are arguing for at the United Nations. The Liberal Democrat spokesman is right: if the UN force that we want is not commanded by the US, can Mr. Salmond tell us which country will do it? I have great respect for Lithuania—apart from its football—but which country does the hon. Gentleman suggest? Lithuania, Poland?
I am interested in the fact that the right hon. Gentleman suggests Lithuania and Poland rather than France, Germany or one of the other major powers, or indeed the many other countries that have committed substantial numbers of troops. I have no doubt that it will be extremely difficult to summon the number of troops that will be required unless from a variety of countries. Equally, I have no doubt that unless the operation is genuinely UN authorised and led, it will be impossible to bring into that force the very countries that would participate, but will not do so, to cite the BBC website, as a "fig leaf" for a continuing US-run operation. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can explain why those countries are reluctant to embrace the UK Government's offer. Perhaps the Minister can tell me why the Government have yet to persuade those countries, and the many others that see the current moves of President Bush as those of a country under pressure through overstretch rather than one that is willing to embrace a UN operation.
Nor do I have great confidence in the Government's claims of UN authority for their actions. If I interpret the Secretary of State's comments correctly, he still maintains that the conflict took place under proper UN processes. Few other people in the international community would maintain that position, but the Government maintain their fig leaf of proper authorisation because it is necessary to spin that yarn to try to justify the unjustifiable.
I object to the statement about spinning a line. With great courtesy, I remind the hon. Gentleman that in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Serbia we could not achieve a force and command structure that was effective until the Americans and the British decided to take it over. Only at that point, when the structure of command was straight and easy, did we have sufficient troops. I remind the hon. Gentleman, with great passion, that we were told by the whole world that we were 10 years too late and thousands of Muslims died as a consequence, so I hope that he will withdraw that statement—it is silly and offensive.
I have no doubt that the hon. Lady objects to being spun a line. The majority of people in this country object to being spun into a war under false pretences.
I have heard the hon. Lady, now she will get her answer. I am certain that it would be a good thing if Muslim troops from Muslim countries were in Iraq at present, but we cannot get those troops because of the US Administration's anxiety to maintain absolute control over the command structure of the stabilisation force in Iraq. Incidentally, why was the US so anxious not to be in a dual role in Afghanistan, as a combatant country and in the stabilisation force, yet that is apparently all right in Iraq? What are the obstacles that prevent the United States from fully ceding authority to the UN? Is it a question of the contracts that the Liberal Democrat spokesman mentioned a few minutes ago? Would it be too much of a climbdown to have to return to the UN and say that the French are not really "surrender-monkeys", that the Germans are not really ungrateful and that the UN is no longer the talking shop that the US Administration described it as only a few months ago?
Ms Taylor shakes her head. Has she really forgotten the disparaging tones with which members of the US Administration described the UN? Can she really have forgotten the activities of those in the cabal in the US Administration who took us into this war? Is she really saying that she would trust their opinion more than she would trust the UN, as the international authority, which is supported by most people in this country?
I would simply like to know from the Government what is it about the doubts of France, Russia, Germany and many other countries in the UN that they are not willing to satisfy. The Government should establish that they are not trying to find a fig leaf for continuing US control, but that they want a genuine UN-authorised force. There is no doubt in my mind that such a force would stand a better chance of stabilising the position in Iraq in a way that is most certainly not happening at the moment.
Finally, I want to continue the analogy used by the hon. Member for Clydesdale. He said that, in Glasgow, people say that they would not necessarily start from here. I also recall that English comedians regarded the Glasgow concert halls as the toughest venues anywhere, anytime. I have never heard the Braemar gathering described as a particularly tough venue, except that the Prime Minister managed to get booed while in the royal enclosure of the Braemar gathering this weekend. The police interviewed one of the people who booed him and decided that it was not a breach of the peace; it was a legitimate expression of opinion. [Interruption.] The booing was widespread.
The polls are not good reading for the right hon. Gentleman either. I suspect that he should worry about a Prime Minister who cannot even venture safely into the royal enclosure of the Braemar gathering. I suspect that the reason for that is the deep-seated resentment of people of all classes and types. They deeply resent being gathered into a conflict on a trail of deception. If the Government want to recover any sense of regard among the population, instead of trying to smooth lines and pretend that things are not as they are, they should genuinely eat their pride, go back to the UN and start to make this process legal under international law, as it always should have been. I hope that we will hear, in the summing up of the debate, that the Government will now embark on that course, which many of us would have advised many months ago.
I welcome the debate because it is an opportunity to discuss the situation in Iraq, and I suspect that we will have to discuss that for many months, if not years, to come. I cannot see the British and American Administrations easily withdrawing from that situation or being prepared to agree to a UN operation, as Mr. Salmond has outlined, because that goes to the heart of the problem: the politics of the US Administration, led by George Bush, who are deeply antagonistic to any kind of internationalism or multilateralism. Indeed, since US companies have already signed up a large number of contracts of behalf of the temporary administration in Iraq, I suspect that things will carry on like that.
It was indeed the Administration led by George Bush, who were then vainly trying to get UN support, but I am rather surprised that my right hon. Friend, with such a long and distinguished record in international affairs, should seek to defend the most right-wing US Administration we have ever seen.
Has my hon. Friend considered the fact that, with the forthcoming elections in America, the Government might find themselves in the very peculiar position of supporting the viewpoint of the Republicans in the US, while the Democrats are attacking the cause for war?
It is extremely perceptive of my hon. Friend to raise that issue. Watching the debate in the Democratic party in the US, it seems that the stronger the anti-war position adopted by the candidates, the more support they get and the more likely they are to gain the nomination. Come the primary elections next year, the British Government will be in the strange situation of being lined up with George Bush against a Democratic party that will, I hope, adopt some kind of anti-war position, and it may do so because a large number of ordinary people in the US are also deeply upset about the policy in Iraq and also deeply opposed to the military intervention there.
I twice went to the US earlier this year to take part in anti-war activities, and I was very interested in the large number of ordinary people who journeyed through appalling weather to Washington to demonstrate in January. Some of them held placards saying, "40 million Americans go without any health care, yet our Administration can afford to go to war in Iraq." The same things were said in San Francisco and other parts of the country. There is a massive anti-war movement in the US, as indeed there is in this country.
I intervened on the Liberal Democrat defence spokesperson, who kindly gave way while on that subject, but I have watched the Liberal Democrats in operation, as we all have for many years, and they seem to have developed a fine art of making statements in the House and opposite statements on the streets of this country—something called Liberal Focus teams in operation on the ground. Mr. Keetch himself said that the Liberal Democrats now support the position of British troops in Iraq and that they support the increase in British troops in Iraq as well as other things surrounding the war. Yet, on the ground, Liberal Democrats go around claiming, where it suits them, that they are the anti-war party in this country. I am not proud of the position that the British Government have adopted because I deeply disagree with it, as I have made clear on many occasions, but I wish that the Liberals would just be clear about what their position actually is.
Yes, I do favour the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq, and I favour supporting the development of a civilian Government in Iraq, if necessary, with UN support. What I see in Iraq at present is a British and American occupying force—that is what it is in legal terms—and I see the Americans gaining contracts from that for Halliburton, Bechtel and many others, all of which happen to have funded George Bush's election campaign in the first place. The British Government are totally complicit in that whole operation. When George Bush says that he is not prepared to agree to UN control of forces in Iraq, what is the position of the British Administration? They say that they are in favour of the US and UN, but they are incapable of influencing that policy.
I want to raise one or two other issues briefly, because this is a short debate. We have to ask ourselves some questions about how we got into this position. Was Iraq the real, credible and present threat that was claimed in the early part of this year? We were told, in terms, that there were weapons of mass destruction. We were told that there was a real, credible and present threat from Iraq. When will the Iraqi survey group report? When will we know definitely whether there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? When will we know about all the weapons that Britain sold to Iraq in the first place some years ago?
If it is right and proper, as it is, for Lord Hutton to conduct an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr. David Kelly, why is it not appropriate to hold an independent judicial inquiry into all the circumstances leading to the war in the first place, the pressures that were put on and the political decisions that were made to take us into that conflict? It is only right and proper that the British public should know in whose name the war is being fought and who is benefiting from it.
I have observed from reading websites and information and from talking to people who have come back from Iraq that it is a country with varying degrees of insecurity. Some areas are considerably worse than others. Many poverty stricken and unemployed former Iraqi army soldiers, who were given their weapons but no money and told to go away from their barracks, are running amok throughout the country. I also observe increasing opposition to the British and American presence in the country, but the insecurity does not extend to the oil wells and oil refineries. Huge efforts are put into protecting the oil pipelines. The argument that the war was for oil is only part of the truth—it was not the only reason, but it was a major factor. I suspect that in the long run we will get a large north American base in Iraq and a long period of instability in the region, because if one reads the musings of Rumsfeld, Bush, Cheney and all the others, the project for the new American century is all about such wars and the imposition of American bases in different places throughout the world. Is that really the kind of world in which we want to live in the long run? Is that really a sane, safe and secure way to look at the problems that are facing the whole globe?
The hon. Gentleman referred to insecurity in Iraq. Can he say whether that insecurity would increase or decrease if British troops were withdrawn tomorrow?
I suspect that the insecurity is serious or very serious in some parts and less serious in others. If British troops withdrew, I suspect that there would be a change to the atmosphere because the Iraqis would have an opportunity to develop their society themselves.
Is there to be a situation in which we put in more and more troops to protect their security? I heard the Defence Secretary yesterday defending the increase of 1,400 troops in Iraq—a few more are going. Successive generals used exactly the same arguments during the imposition of more American forces on Vietnam throughout the 1960s and 1970s. They said that the troops needed to be there for their own protection. Several hundred thousand troops ended up there, and there was ignominious defeat and failure as well as a huge loss of life among Vietnamese and American people. I am frightened that the same situation is developing in Iraq.
Does my hon. Friend agree that when the Soviet Union went into Afghanistan, it did so quickly and had a fairly successful entry to the country? Ten years later, when it came out, the red army was defeated and Afghanistan in such a state that the Taliban were able to take it over. It is easy to conquer a country, but what happens afterwards must be considered.
The Soviet Union found to its cost that invasion is quick and simple with an efficient and well-equipped army, as my hon. Friend says. The problem arises in the longer term, and no doubt the situation was a major factor in bringing about the fall and demise of the Soviet Union.
The war has tragically cost the lives of servicemen from Britain, the United States and Iraq as well as the lives of many Iraqi civilians—the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan cited a figure of 6,000. Iraq Body Count, which is a reputable academic organisation, puts the figure between 6,000 and 10,000. I do not know the figure, so I look forward to the Secretary of State's answer. Many people are dying due to unexploded cluster bombs, which were sold by this country and are on sale at the defence equipment exhibition that is being held in the east end of London. I suspect that large numbers of people will die of cancer because of the use of depleted uranium weapons and the poison that comes from them. A price will be paid for the war by children who are yet to be born in Iraq and poor civilians who do not have access to medical equipment.
Surely we need to look at the world in a rather different way from one involving a series of wars and conflicts during which we align ourselves politically with the United States Administration. We should instead examine the causes of war: injustice, poverty and the grasping of natural resources. When I hear the speeches of Bush and Cheney in which they talk about North Korea and other such places, I am horrified that what has happened in Iraq could well be repeated in other places. I ask the Government to think seriously about the need for a real break with the American strategy and about some intelligent approach to achieve peace and justice in the world, which would save us from wars in the future.
The debate is important and it is appropriate that we should have it after our two-month recess during which the situation in Iraq has deteriorated and we have seen the circumstances surrounding the outbreak of the conflict exposed in the Hutton inquiry. I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) and for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) on not exposing, or gloating about, what has happened during the inquiry but concentrating on what has happened on the ground in Iraq. The situation has deteriorated and they have especially examined the role played by the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development. It is important to preface my remarks with congratulations to our troops on their efforts.
Will the hon. Gentleman comment on how it is consistent and reasonable to criticise the British Government's lack of planning in Iraq as the situation deteriorates, with which I have a fair degree of agreement, yet to make no criticism whatsoever of the American role, which is far more important?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his early intervention. Perhaps he would care to listen to the rest of my speech and make a judgment on that.
I want to say a few words about the role that our troops have played in the conflict. I congratulate them on their efforts, skill and courage. I have spoken to many of my constituents who have come back from Iraq—I have a substantial Ministry of Defence establishment in my constituency—and I am proud to be associated with the attitude that the troops have taken on the ground. If I may say something to satisfy the comments of Mr. Jones, I am impressed by the attitude of the British troops compared with that of some of the American troops. The way in which the American troops have approached the Iraqi people might be described, at best, as arrogant. The situation has been deteriorating every day.
Surely my hon. Friend accepts that the Americans are policing a much more difficult part of the country and that they must necessarily adopt different tactics.
Whatever the tactics adopted by various troops, every occupying power has a duty to respect the human rights of those whom they are present to protect. There have been instances when United States troops have done things that I would frankly not wish to defend, but that is beyond the scope of the debate, which is about the military situation in Iraq as it affects this Government and our troops.
I have taken a close interest in the situation in Iraq both in the run-up to the conflict and during it. I am a member of the Select Committee on International Development, which has published several reports about the preparations for the conflict. The Committee has taken evidence from two Secretaries of State and other Ministers and officials. It has taken an interest that sometimes has gone beyond the role of the Department for International Development by examining other agencies, including those that act for the Ministry of Defence.
It is no secret that I spoke during the debate in the Chamber on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction on
"There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein is an evil dictator with scant regard for human rights. There is no doubt that in the past he has used chemical weapons against his own people. We know from the run-up to the last Gulf war that he sought an albeit crude delivery mechanism for his weapons. It is clear that, along with at least 10 other dubious regimes in the world, he would like to possess nuclear weapons."
However, I went on to say:
"Despite the Prime Minister's claims of 'linkage', there is no evidence that Saddam has assisted al-Qaeda. There are Governments with whom we have good relations who have given much greater comfort to those evil terrorists. We await"— we still await—
"the evidence of the weapons inspectors that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. If he possesses them, the evidence is clear that the range of any of his delivery mechanisms would be a threat to his near neighbours, most of whom seem"— and remain—
"totally unconvinced of the need for war at the present time."—[Hansard, 26 February 2003; Vol. 400, c. 347.]
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that although al-Qaeda was not conspiring with Saddam before the war, it is more than likely that it is in Iraq now, conspiring with any unscrupulous element to disrupt a settlement?
I would not wish to speculate too much on that, but the conflict has not improved the terrorist situation. As we have seen on the ground in Iraq and in other parts of the world, the situation has deteriorated.
The Hutton inquiry has shown that the Government massaged some of the flimsy evidence on Saddam's capabilities. The evidence of the UN weapons inspectors was that they could find no weapons of mass destruction.
As the hon. Gentleman said, he was not taken in by the document and voted against it, as I did. The truth is that we are in the position that we are in today because we lost that vote on the war, not because of what the Government said at the time.
The hon. Gentleman is right, but the background to the current military situation is that the UN weapons inspectors could find no weapons of mass destruction. There were no chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, yet the Prime Minister told the House that Saddam Hussein had them and they could be deployed in 45 minutes. That is the longest 45 minutes in history.
The British people were taken in by dodgy dossiers and other things. I think that Hans Blix was too convincing in the view that he presented to the UN and that the military situation was precipitated by the possible disappearance of a window of opportunity, but that is all history, as hon. Members have said. We need to consider how we deal with the awful situation in Iraq now.
From those whom I have spoken to who have been on the ground in Iraq, it is clear that the life of ordinary Iraqis in many parts of that country is not, as the Secretary of State said, better than it was. There are severe problems with electricity and water supplies and other basic essentials of normal life. Crime and killings are commonplace. Any occupying power should be truly ashamed of the breakdown of law and order in that country.
In my constituency last week, I attended a meeting at which a number of people who had recently been in Baghdad and Basra told stories that are a fair reflection of what is going on, although I cannot corroborate them. We were told that a son was kidnapped in Basra. The family knew where to go to deal with the problem because the gang that had kidnapped him had set up a shop in the centre of town. It was clearly marked and everyone knew it was there. All one had to do was go to the shop with the name of the person who was sought and, after ferreting through files and so on, someone would come up with a piece of paper stating the ransom to be paid for the person to be returned. That is appalling and it is just one example of what is going on.
There are many such stories: electricity transmission lines have been pulled down in broad daylight under the gaze of coalition forces who appear to the local population to be either unwilling or powerless to do anything. I am talking not about sabotage but about a criminal business activity done for money. The scrap metal produced from such activities is freely available on markets around the world. The question is whether coalition forces were prepared for the aftermath of the war. Was the situation that we face today predictable? If so, what has gone wrong?
The International Development Committee spent a long time considering the humanitarian consequences before, during and after the conflict. As I said, we published several reports on that. We took evidence from the United States Administration in Washington, the UN in New York, numerous other international organisations and non-governmental organisations. We took evidence a number of times from both Secretaries of State for International Development. When asked the general question of what planning had taken place or whether there had been any, Baroness Amos said on
Baroness Amos said:
"there was planning which DFID was involved in with respect to what would happen post the conflict, and much of that planning went into thinking about the scale of the humanitarian crisis. At that time it was feared that there would be huge numbers of internally displaced people, refugees and so on, and much of the planning went into that. What was not anticipated was the scale of looting which happened post the conflict and which has hampered the effort to a certain extent."
She went on to say:
"there was preparation, there was preparation for a range of possible crises, ranging from prolonged urban warfare through large population movements and widespread disruption of essential infrastructure. As it happened what we did see was widespread looting and a breakdown in law and order, which had not been anticipated and which led to serious problems."
The disruption of essential infrastructure has happened, so what was the planning for?
Baroness Amos said:
"As I said, there is no doubt there were real initial difficulties, and that is because the planning was for different things."
She went on to say:
"I think that we planned for very specific scenarios which did not occur, and on top of that you had the looting which did occur . . . In addition to that there was confusion at the beginning, and part of that confusion was to do with the fact that the planning had been for these particular humanitarian scenarios."
So they got it wrong, at least in the Secretary of State's post-conflict view.
I take the House back to the evidence given by the previous Secretary of State, who on
"The importance of infrastructure—especially for water and sanitation—has been fully recognised by the military and plans have been developed to provide, where necessary, emergency water and electricity supply."
In answer to a question about the possible security situation, she said:
"The risk of ethnic violence following conflict is a serious concern. Military and humanitarian planning is informed by this risk . . . The objective will be to create a secure and safe environment for all Iraqis, so that people do not want to move. This will require a focus on quick stabilisation of areas coming under coalition military control".
I shall now cite one of the Committee's recommendations to which the then Secretary of State replied. We said:
"It is important that the UN should have the lead role in a post-conflict Iraq as soon as possible. There is a real danger that donors and NGOs would not play a full part in the post-conflict reconstruction of Iraq if the country were administered by a military governor".
I think that that has come to pass. The right hon. Lady's response of
"The Government agrees. A UN mandate will be required to provide legal authority for the reconstruction effort, and to make possible the engagement of the International Financial Institutions and the wider international community. The Government is at the forefront of efforts to ensure that a suitable UN mandate is put in place and is holding regular discussions with key partners to achieve this."
Another of our recommendations said:
"We believe that one area in which the military could play an important role is policing and protection. We urge the military to develop plans to provide such protection, where requested, for humanitarian work if they have not already do so."
The then Secretary of State replied:
"The need for the maintenance of law and order has been fully appreciated and incorporated into campaign planning."
The Secretary of State ended her response to the Committee's report by saying:
"The Government is strongly committed to ensuring that we urgently relieve the suffering of the Iraqi people. In our view, the overall level of preparedness of the international community to cope with the humanitarian challenges which may lie ahead in Iraq is not as great as it could be . . . We will focus, in particular, on efforts to ensure that the UN is both funded and enabled, through Security Council resolutions, to play a leading role."
The Government acknowledged that there was a need for post-conflict planning, but as the current Secretary of State for International Development said, they planned for the wrong scenario. It was clear from the evidence that we took from the United Nations, both here and in New York, and from senior officials such as the director of USAID, Andrew Natsios, in Washington, that the post-conflict planning was both far too limited and unco-ordinated. That reinforces the need for the UN to have a key position. If the new Iraq is to fulfil the vision of the beacon of democracy, prosperity and freedom that President Bush has talked about, the Iraqi people must feel that they have ownership of this process. They must feel that they have confidence in this process, which means that it must be a UN process. That security force must be a blue beret security force, and if we are to have an economic effort to rebuild Iraq, it must be an international effort, not just a United States effort.
There is no doubt that we have removed an evil dictator who was oppressing the people of Iraq. I have every sympathy with those inside and outside Iraq who sought his removal. However, the case should have been made to the international community and executed under the auspices of the international institutions that we have spent half a century building up. Let us now restore the confidence and legitimacy of the United Nations. Let the United Kingdom and the United States put their strength and resources at the disposal of the UN for the benefit of the Iraqi people and for peace in the middle east.
I hope that Mr. Walter will forgive me if I do not follow his general doom-mongering comments. We are fairly tight for time. I shall concentrate on what Mr. Jenkin said in his opening remarks. I listened with great interest to my hon. Friend Mr. Hood, who is no longer in the Chamber. He made a series of pertinent observations at the beginning of his speech. He said that the hon. Member for North Essex can usually be relied on to make a pretty good speech in debates such as this. I would not necessarily agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman says, but he can be relied upon usually to make a pretty good quality contribution. Yet today—many hon. Members in the Chamber, and perhaps some of my hon. Friends, might agree—the hon. Gentleman's speech seemed pretty thin. As the debate progressed I could not help noticing that the Opposition Benches emptied. That was followed by frenetic activity, with the Opposition Whip leaving the Chamber and getting a few Conservative Members to return to their places.
I could not help noticing also that Mrs. Spelman, who I understand is the Opposition's spokesperson on international development, was looking rather concerned. Perhaps she was wondering whether she could make any meaningful interventions in a debate on the military situation in Iraq.
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's remarks are in the spirit in which the debate has been conducted. Before he passes comment about the presence of international development spokesmen, he might like to look at the Government Benches. He will find that there are no representatives from the Department for International Development in the Chamber.
This is a debate on the military situation in Iraq, and I thought that the hon. Lady was looking rather concerned that she would be unable to participate. Fair comment has been made, so let us move on.
The Opposition's problem is that basically they do not have a meaningful critique of Government policy. They broadly agree with the Government's position and their actions. They think that there is not a bad general prognosis for the longer term. However, they have to find some thin gruel with which to attack the Government. I suspect that that is why the introductory remarks of the hon. Member for North Essex were a bit weaker than they might otherwise have been in normal circumstances.
I shall reflect on a couple of paradoxes that ran through the hon. Gentleman's comments. The Opposition want to agree broadly with the action taken on Iraq. The hon. Gentleman is reluctant to say negative things about the longer term, but everything that the Opposition say about the situation in Iraq conveys the impression that everything is falling apart. They do not really believe that, and when I hear Opposition Members make such comments on television they are clearly made without any spirit. We can see that in their eyes and hear it in their voices.
Earlier on, the hon. Gentleman raised the issue of overstretch. The Government made an announcement this week on the deployment of troops to Iraq. The hon. Gentleman talked about the deployment as a problem of overstretch. When he was asked by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State whether he agreed with the deployment, he said that he did. In government, decisions have to be made that may have some minor negative consequence. It is certainly the case that we had 45,000 troops in Iraq and now we have 12,000. My arithmetic tells me that that is not a recipe for overstretch. That is one of the paradoxes that run through the comments of Opposition Members.
By and large, the Opposition, including the hon. Gentleman, understand the need for patience. In due course, small advances will be made here and there. We shall see a gradual reconnection of power, a gradual increase in lawfulness, and a gradual reconstruction of the infrastructure. There will be good reasons for some celebration. No doubt Opposition Members will want to take part in that celebration. However, the nature of their line at present is effectively to deny that any improvement will ever take place. That is not credible and it does not achieve a balance.
The hon. Gentleman has considerable personal experience as he has served in the Army, and I should be grateful if he would comment on two points. First, my hon. Friend Mr. Jenkin, talked about the positive things at the beginning of his speech and tried to give a balanced view. Secondly, what is the hon. Gentleman's response to the Foreign Secretary's memorandum that was leaked last week and spelt out in dramatic terms the way in which the situation in Iraq was deteriorating, saying that 5,000 UK troops needed to be sent there? That is not something made up by the Opposition—that is the hon. Gentleman's own Foreign Secretary.
I wholeheartedly agree with the general assessment that more troops needed to be deployed in Iraq in current circumstances. The commander on the ground asked for extra troops, and that is exactly what he got. The previous troop level satisfied his earlier assessment. It is terribly important, as the hon. Gentleman will know, that the commanders on the ground state the troop requirement—essentially that is what the MOD has provided. I therefore agree with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, as the House has been in recess for two months, the Opposition have done the House a service by using their time to provide the debate today, thus allowing the House to discuss the latest situation in Iraq? Members on both sides of the House have welcomed that opportunity. On the point about overstretch, the hon. Gentleman is right that the Opposition have supported the deployment of troops, but we have pointed out that that has resulted in overstretch for our armed forces. That is not hypocritical—we have supported the action, but we have to accept that there are knock-on consequences. Surely, it is perfectly appropriate for the Opposition to point that out in the House of Commons?
They can point out what they want, but the fact is that one cannot make an assumption of overstretch simply because troop deployment is to be increased. The overall deployment level is substantially lower, but the Opposition are using the term "overstretch" as if it were a given—an increase in troop deployment must mean overstretch. That is not the case either now or more generally.
When the hon. Member for North Essex made his introductory remarks, he rightly praised the troops for their contribution to our successes to date, winning the conflict in the first place and their excellent work at the moment. Then we heard that everything is falling apart. I do not know how the Opposition or other Members would feel if they were on the ground, constantly hearing how wonderfully they were doing, but learning that the effect of their efforts was negative or had been neutralised. That is simply not the case, and it does not help the debate.
I do not have a clear idea of whether things are getting better in Iraq or worse, but many of my constituents are asylum seekers from Iraq whom I have helped in the past. In the past few weeks, I have seen a number of them. Many of them are from Baghdad, not Basra, and are desperate to get their families out because of the security situation. Last week, I had a call from someone whose wife was in Baghdad—the day before, one of her neighbours had been raped and strangled. The caller said that the security situation in Baghdad is far worse than it was before the war.
I accept what my hon. Friend is saying, and have listened to his comments before with interest—I know that he feels very deeply about this. However, I simply cannot accept that the situation now is worse than it was before when, if someone disagreed with the sons of the regime, they could be dragged off to a zoo, thrown into a tiger's cage to be ripped apart and eaten. Things cannot get much worse than that, and we know that that was a fact of life.
I am not saying that the situation under Saddam Hussein was anything but deplorable, but things can be worse than they are for someone who says something against the Government leadership, only to be taken away and thrown to the lions. Someone could be in a position where it does not matter what they say—an intruder might come in, burgle their house, murder them or kill their children. That is a worse position.
I suspect that my hon. Friend and I will never agree on this issue. I simply do not agree that the situation is worse than previously. There is all sorts of evidence to show that that is not the case. For the moment, I guess that that will be the end of my comments on the issue, as we could debate it endlessly. I disagree that the situation is worse, as such a view does not stand up in the light of the evidence.
The newspapers have been full of reports—I have no doubts about them, as they have been supported by military documents—that Sunni extremists, Ba'ath die-hards and Muslim mujaheddin are all fighting in their different ways to unsettle the situation and put anything they can in the way of reconstruction. Surely to goodness we all understand that the situation is going to be very difficult, and nobody assumes otherwise. Did we not assume that that was going to be the case? Are we not asking the impossible in suggesting that the armed forces should understand everything that is going on and be present in every place where such people can manoeuvre in the community?
I thank my hon. Friend for those wise remarks. It behoves us to remember that these are difficult times. I am sure that there will be a positive outcome in due course, but it will take time. This is not the time for political opportunism, but I sometimes detect a bit too much of it from the Opposition Benches.
It is not difficult to see that the Opposition tend to criticise what is happening on the ground in Iraq while desperately avoiding being critical of a Republican Administration. They want to criticise the situation in Iraq, but not a Republican Administration for whose policies they no doubt have a great regard. Frankly, that approach does not stack up. The situation in the British sector is considerably better than elsewhere. That is not to say that the US is not doing a very good job in the light of the different difficulties that it faces. However, the fact of the matter is that it does not stack up constantly to gainsay the effect that this country is having in Iraq without being critical of the Republican Administration. As it happens, in large terms, I would not be critical of America's efforts, as I think that it is making a pretty good effort. It takes a bit more than a generally negative tone in the short term with a hint at a positive tone in the longer term, along with the idea that the Opposition would have had some sort of cunning plan that they will not tell us anything about, to add up to a useful and coherent debate.
I should like to pull up Jeremy Corbyn, who made some very interesting comments, but suggested that there was a vast anti-war movement in America. I have just returned from a holiday in America and I can tell him that, although there is an anti-war movement, it is not large and certainly not vast. I was in America at the time of the UN bombing, and the concern there is that it is not getting the job done quickly enough. That is exactly what we are saying in this House. As the Americans see it, their role is to try to turn the country back into a democratic state as quickly as possible. Their concern is the time for which their troops will have to be committed in the country. They are already talking about overstretch, and they have 140,000 troops there.
On arriving in America, it was interesting to hear what people were saying on the streets. Obviously, when a bomb goes off and 100 people are killed, there will be much comment. It was extremely difficult to understand the Americans' long-term game plan. The local people saw a country called "Ayraq" that was somewhere the other side of Britain. They do not understand exactly what they are going to do with the long-term commitment that they are going to put in. We in this country would not understand the control and information coming down from President Bush. It is not getting home to the American people this message: "We have to go through with this now, no matter what, because we have to finish off what we have started."
The role of the United Nations, whether in Korea, Bosnia, Beirut or anywhere else, has always been to go into a country to stand between two sides to try to sort out a situation. However, that can be done only when there is some form of military stability in that nation. On
There are great open borders in Iraq with Iran, Jordan, Syria and the Palestinians. In a way, it is a new Cuba. People go there because they can be seen to make a difference. The UN has a vital role to play, but it has to be under the auspices of some form of military force. It is not possible to train a nation's policemen and soldiers without the help of the policemen and soldiers of other nations. We learned that in Rhodesia—Zimbabwe—and in Kenya and Malaya. We, as a nation, are not doing enough, quickly enough, to help those forces to build up. We learned a lesson in Zimbabwe in 1980 when we quickly got British policemen and soldiers out there to train the forces. It may not be a pretty sight 20 years later, but at the time the operation worked well, and it was the speed that counted.
An increasingly prominent question—I certainly see it in my postbag—is: "Why haven't we found the weapons of mass destruction?" I supported the Government. Perhaps I am gullible and I was led astray by the Prime Minister, but—partly because I was in the services—I believe that one should support the troops when they are going in. We need to resolve the problem. It is all right for the Liberals to go on about it: they can change sides as many times as they want, but in the end nobody will believe them. At least we have the morals to stand by what we believe, unlike—I shall not say it.
If the hon. Gentleman will not believe the Liberal Democrats, does he believe his own leader, who said that he believed that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, and could build up an arsenal that he could use against Britain? He said:
"The only question is will he choose to strike against Britain? I believe so."
Does the hon. Gentleman believe his leader?
I want to move on to reserve forces and overstretch. Mr. Joyce made some interesting comments, although I do not agree with him. If we are to continue to have a long-term commitment to Iraq, we must not allow our forces to become overstretched. The British military work on a three-year training cycle. The first year is operational, the second is for training, and the third is for recuperating and resting. We are unable to recruit enough people to join our volunteer forces, so there is bound to be overstretch. The situation will continue for a long time to come. Our experience in Northern Ireland shows that it takes much longer to help people than is anticipated when one first goes in.
If we are to use our forces wisely, that must include our reserve forces, some of whom are hon. Members who are in Iraq or who may yet go there. We need a much better way of mobilising those forces. The cold war is long gone. A situation such as this never arose in the 1990s, at the time of the strategic defence review. We did not anticipate a long-term commitment to a country such as Iraq. If the situation is allowed to continue, we will find that troops are away so much that people will not join the military because their families will not see them or get the back-up that they need at home. The Royal Marines are based just outside my constituency in Taunton. Having just returned, they are about to be redeployed in another situation. That is fine—it is what they signed up for—but they find it very tough never to be off-duty. My hon. Friend Mr. Jenkin asked the Secretary of State about the possible loss of battalions, or even regiments. I hope that that is not to be the case, because we can ill afford it.
About 1.5 million refugees were chased out of Iraq over a long period. Those people should be brought back. Many of them—professional people who were chased out by the Saddam Hussein regime—are the kind of people who are needed back in Iraq to help to rebuild it. Many are in Jordan, Syria and Iran. We need to bring them back before they get the idea of coming back as armed insurgents. They must be brought back and assimilated into society but we must also do much more.
Congress has been asked for another $87 billion. That is an enormous amount of money to have to put up to lead such a programme, but it will be needed. It is all very well claiming that things will get better; the time that they take to do so means that more goes wrong. One cannot expect 47 per cent. of the rural population to do without water for a long period. We must ensure that 100 per cent. of people have clean water.
Why should anyone have faith in the supposedly developed world if we do not give a lead to people who need to be returned to the country and assimilated? Iraqis will continue to disbelieve what we are about. Why should they believe us? Actions speak louder than words. We must make progress; if we do not, we let those people down. The House should therefore completely support our role.
Today's debate is timely, but I am sorry that the Government did not provide a full debate on the subject. I support the amendment that Mr. Salmond tabled. If it had been selected, I would have voted for it because
"stabilisation in Iraq can only be effective if implemented by forces under the control of the United Nations."
I would add that political power must be handed over to the Iraqi people as soon as possible. Some dreadful mistakes have been made, not least the total disbanding of the Iraqi army. That has made the situation far worse.
We are right to focus on the misleading devices that were employed to get the country to go to war. Like everybody else, I await with bated breath the outcome of the Iraq survey group's report on weapons of mass destruction and the Hutton report. However, now is not the time for that.
It is timely to remind hon. Members of the genuine consequences of the illegal and immoral war for the people of Iraq. It is proper to examine the way in which millions of ordinary Iraqi people are suffering now. We should also consider the destabilisation of the middle east. There is no comparison between that and the impact on a few political careers and no question about what should receive priority.
No, I want to continue for a while and my hon. Friend has not been present for the whole debate.
As many hon. Members said, the war has not been cost free. More than 6,000 Iraqi civilians are dead, hundreds of thousands have been injured and the security and livelihoods of many more have been destroyed. For what—a better life? We were told that when the occupying troops went in, flowers would be strewn in their path and they would be welcome. However, the reality is a massive increase in rape—women are not safe to go out—abductions, in the south as well as the north, murders, lootings and all other violent crimes. Power supplies have still not been restored and the water remains contaminated. Diseases such as cholera and dysentery are rife.
Contrary to the claims of the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence yesterday that all 240 hospitals are operating, NGO reports present a different picture. I recommend that my right hon. Friends read those reports on how the hospitals are operating. A mass of evidence exists, if they look for it, that paints a grim picture. There is a huge increase in patients admitted with gunshot wounds; many hospitals are without the medicines that they require; much equipment is useless or not operable during power cuts. Much has also been stolen and wrecked by looters. It is therefore not true that 240 hospitals are operating as we would recognise a fully operating hospital.
I shall do so shortly.
In a sense, Iraqis are worse off than they were under that hateful man. Before anybody asks "Do you support Saddam Hussein?", I emphasise that my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn and I went to 10 Downing street and signed early-day motions in 1987 and 1988, when Saddam Hussein was considered to be someone with whom we could do business. I opposed him then; I do not have any truck with that man.
The view is being put forward that we got rid of a dictator, that it was worth it, and that we are going to bring freedom and democracy back to the Iraqis. I believe that the contrary is happening at the moment, and will do so for the foreseeable future. I cannot see that changing. Iraq has descended into a lawless state—civil unrest is growing and about a dozen attacks on our troops take place daily. The jihadists are entering the country at an alarming rate. This was always predictable; indeed, it was predicted.
What is happening in Iraq is seen by millions of Muslims throughout the world as a western crusade to grab the oil and to grab another part of the world for western society's needs. Iraq is surrounded by 10 or 12 Muslim countries, representing about 240 million Muslims. That is a fertile breeding ground for extremists. Al-Qaeda might not have been in Iraq before, but it, or similar groups, are almost certainly there now. I have never equated Iraq with Vietnam, although I know that some people think that it is going to end up like Vietnam did. My real fear is that Iraq could end up like Afghanistan.
We should give Iraqis the vote, but I am not convinced that the Shi'a majority want anything like what we would view as a western democracy. Iraq will almost certainly become an Islamic state. I do not think that this process will lead to a secular society; the country will probably split into various pieces. Everything that has been said about keeping it as a sovereign state and introducing democracy will simply not come about.
Yesterday, without making a statement to the House, the Secretary of State committed two more battalions and more specialist personnel to join the armed forces already in Iraq. This is a grave mistake. As I said earlier, I have recently spoken to troops who have just returned from a six-month tour of duty in Basra. They did not recognise the rosy picture that has been painted of southern Iraq. I sat and listened to them for more than an hour, and I suspect that two of them will be leaving our armed forces. There is no way that those two young men will go back to Iraq. They said that they were tolerated, at best, when they first went in, but that now there is deep resentment. If people want to look, they can see the demonstrations and the attacks that are happening on a daily basis, not only in the American-held areas but where we are, too.
I am interested to hear what my hon. Friend has to say about the troops returning from Iraq. Other members of the Defence Committee and I visited Basra in late July, and I accept that the situation there is no bed of roses, mainly as a result of a lack of investment by the previous regime over many years. However, schools, for example, are being opened by dedicated troops who are working very hard there. Will my hon. Friend give credit for the fact that things are being done to improve the situation, certainly in parts of southern Iraq? The picture is not entirely the bad one that she and, unfortunately, the press are trying to paint.
I point out to my hon. Friend that all the schools were working before we carried out this illegal invasion. [Interruption.] Most of them were. I have had meetings with Iraqi women who were involved in higher education but who are now unable to pursue their studies because they dare not go out alone, either during the day or at night, because of the abductions, rapes and murders. Many Iraqi women in the south are also being subjected to the hard-line mullahs who now insist that they should be veiled. Many freedoms have therefore been taken away by this untimely and unnecessary war.
I must make some progress; we do not have too much time.
The Iraqis feel humiliated and deeply resent their country being occupied. It is much worse where the United States troops are in control. We are possibly doing a better job than they are, but the resentment is still there.
Yesterday, my hon. Friend Chris McCafferty asked how many ordinary Iraqis—men, women and children—had died since the peace had begun. I think it shameful that the Foreign Secretary admitted that he did not know; but we can obtain the information from the websites, and we read daily of the tragedies caused by the disastrous methods of control used by some of our US allies.
On Sunday Peter Beaumont, a distinguished journalist on The Observer who is very knowledgeable about this part of the world, reported on the victims of methods used by the coalition. Such things happen daily in Iraq. He said:
"Farah Fadhil was only 18 when she was killed. An American soldier threw a grenade through the window of her apartment. Her death, early last Monday, was slow and agonising. Her legs had been shredded, her hands burnt and punctured by splinters of metal, suggesting that the bright high-school student had covered her face to shield it from the explosion.
She had been walking to the window to try to calm an escalating situation; to use her smattering of English to plead with the soldiers who were spraying her apartment building with bullets.
But then a grenade was thrown and Farah died. So did Marwan Hassan who, according to neighbours, was caught in the crossfire as he went looking for his brother when the shooting began.
What is perhaps most shocking about their deaths is that the coalition troops who killed them did not even bother to record the details of the raid with the coalition military press office. The killings were that unremarkable. What happened in Mahmudiya last week should not be forgotten, for the story of this raid is also the story of the dark side of the US-led occupation of Iraq, of the violent and sometimes lethal raids carried out apparently beyond any accountability."
That is part of the daily life that people think is making things better for those in Iraq.
It is almost impossible to imagine the level of bitterness and hatred that such actions breed among the Iraqi population. I believe that our service men and women have been placed in grave danger. I believe that the United Nations and the non-governmental organisations are exposed to an Afghan-type situation. When the International Red Cross is pulling out, we have some very serious problems.
Suicide bombers are now operating in Iraq. These are certainly not just Saddam Hussein's disgruntled fedayeen. I think that we have opened Pandora's box. The resolution currently before the UN will not be acceptable. What country, what sane Government, would send their service men and women under that resolution? It keeps the United States totally in control and gives little military, economic or political power to anyone else.
It is clear to everyone who has been involved in the debate that there was definitely no post-war plan. I still believe that the war was intended to allow the US Government to get their hands on Iraq's oil—and, shamefully, my Government were prepared to help them to do so. It has created division between Europe and America, and it has had profound consequences for the United Nations, which I think it has damaged. It was a dreadful and costly mistake. Questions will be asked for years to come about why we went to war. What we certainly do not have at present is an exit strategy, and as a Member of Parliament whose constituents contain young men and women in the services, I think that that is an absolute scandal. I want to know when they are coming home. I want the UN to be brought in—I think that essential—but it will not be brought in under the latest resolution.
This has been a dangerous, reckless adventure, which has made the world a much more dangerous place for all of us. Those who misled and deceived us, and conspired to bring about this disastrous invasion, will carry the guilt. The rest of us should keep reminding the world that such recklessness should never happen again. We should use the United Nations and stick by international law.
I welcome this debate and it is opportune that we are able to discuss this subject today. However, given the seriousness of the situation in Iraq, I find the motion's wording rather wishy-washy. Considering everything that is taking place, much more could have been included in the motion and we could have had a more pointed debate.
Many very wise things have been said in the Chamber today. For example, Mr. Walter made some particularly pertinent points about the lack of preparation. Preparation was an issue that we raised with various Ministers, including the Secretary of State for Defence, in the run-up to the war. We were always assured that everything was going to be all right, everything was planned and all eventualities had been catered for. Those assurances have proved about as worth while as the dodgy dossier, in that the reality has proved rather different from the case that was made.
Some predicted that there would be problems afterwards. I shall quote not from Liberal Democrat Members or Labour Members, but from John Major. The current leader of the Tory party may have some difficulties with that former leader, but I wish that he had listened to him a little more in the run-up to this debate; that way we might not have reached this current position. On
"The problems of winning the war are clear. The problems of winning the peace are going to be much more complex."
Winning the peace is certainly far more complex.
I contend that our troops are overstretched, both in and out of theatre. I am a member of the British armed forces parliamentary scheme, which is attached to the Army for the year. We were privileged to go to Basra in early June and to visit the training facility at the British Army training unit Suffield, in Canada, last week. While we were there, the forces on the ground were asked to do many essential tasks, which they did gladly. However, they involved supervising construction work, helping to purchase fridges for health centres, training policemen and many other tasks that could easily have been done by other agencies, had they been there.
It was pointed out earlier in the debate—perhaps during the opening remarks—that the commanders kept asking, "Where is the Department for International Development? Where is the help that we expect from our Government with what we are doing? It is not there." It is no surprise that commanders are saying that they have adequate forces, but at the same time asking where DFID is. It was only a matter of time before the lack of assistance from DFID created stresses within the armed forces. The sending of extra forces is a response to that consequence.
I point out to the Minister that extra armed forces alone will not resolve the situation. We have to get the restructuring in hand to make the country more prosperous. We must get the basic services working and back under Iraqi control if we are to resolve the situation. In many ways, the longer that takes the more difficult it will be.
I referred to the overstretching of our forces in Iraq because of the tasks that they are being asked to undertake, and to the forces training at BATUS, whose training programme is called Operation Medicine Hat. Because of a lack of pre-training—as a result of Operation Telic, for example—Operation Medicine Hat has had to be cancelled. The troops are now training to a lower standard because the commanders do not feel that they will be able to reach the higher standard. For the Government Front Benchers to say that our forces are not being overstretched is palpable nonsense. Our forces are being reduced in capacity because they are not trained to the high standards that they were before.
If I understood him correctly earlier, the Defence Secretary said that no one should say that the troops are overstretched because it would demoralise them. In fact, every constituent in the armed forces that I have met has asked me to articulate the view that they are dramatically overstretched, which poses severe dangers for morale. Who does the hon. Gentleman believe—the Secretary of State for Defence or his own and my constituents in the armed forces?
I take the point, which the hon. Gentleman makes exceedingly well. I take the view of my constituents and the forces that I have met in both Iraq and Canada, which is that our forces are overstretched. Saying otherwise is to look blindly and fail to see the reality. It is a problem that we need to face up to.
I can provide an example of how the overstretching works on the ground. I referred in an earlier intervention on my hon. Friend Mr. Keetch to the World Food Programme warehouses just outside Basra. The British Army trained some guards from the naval academy and they had a base within the compound to keep an eye on things. They were able to prevent looting. With the changeover of regiments, the new battle group went in, the commander examined what he had to do and reordered his forces. He took the decision—it was rightly his to take—to remove that force, which had been permanently stationed within the warehouse, and allocate it to other tasks elsewhere.
The World Food Programme was concerned and made representations to the Army and us that, if those forces were removed, the local guards would not be strong or disciplined enough, so looting would soon take place. The Ministry confirmed in a letter last week that that was indeed the case. Shortly after our forces were withdrawn, the walls were breached, looting took place and the British commander subsequently had to reverse the decision and put troops back within the compound to prohibit the looting. The problem facing the commander was that forces were limited and could be allocated only so far. Forces could have been allocated more readily if they were not doing the tasks that the Department for International Development and others should have been doing while they were there.
There are major problems—for example, with the electricity, water and oil supplies and with clearing up munitions. The Foreign Secretary told us yesterday that Russian companies were asking to be part of the contracts for rebuilding the power stations. I would like to know why I was told in a parliamentary answer earlier this year that there had been no approaches from Russia regarding the power stations. If Russian companies are interested, why is the process taking so long?
The power stations are not working to full—indeed, only 25 per cent.—capacity. Why cannot we get the components, probably stockpiled somewhere in Russia, into the power stations so that they can run at greater capacity? If they did so, there would be fewer electricity supply cuts, and without so many supply cuts, we would not have so many Iraqi children going to the munitions dumps, taking out boxes of mortars and emptying them on to the desert so that they can take the wood back to burn to boil the water in order to drink safely. How many Iraqi children have died as a consequence of the lack of power? Quite a lot. There is a poster campaign telling Iraqi children not to touch munitions, but the choice between clean water and opening a box of mortars to have the wood is a very hard one.
I am very interested in what the hon. Gentleman is saying, and he makes his case well in respect of unexploded munitions. Has he any information about the effects of weapons that used depleted uranium, in both the first Gulf war and the more recent conflict? What is the incidence of cancers, especially in southern Iraq, as a result of the use of those weapons?
I have no evidence on that. My information, as far as it goes, is that no link has yet been proven between depleted uranium and cancer.
Other hon. Members wish to speak, so I shall conclude my speech. Yesterday, I asked the Foreign Secretary about the resources that are being made available. He said that
"the Department for International Development has committed £198 million altogether this financial year. Within that overall figure, an allocation of £20 million was recently made for short-term infrastructure projects in the south of Iraq."—[Hansard, 8 September 2003; Vol. 410, c. 49.]
That is fine, but it did not answer the question that I asked. I wanted to know what resources, including people, were being made available. When he responds to the debate, I hope that the Minister will say why only two police offices have been allocated to Iraq—one to Basra and the other to Baghdad. More officers are needed to train the local police.
It is said that our forces are overstretched. I hope that the Minister will say how the Government will make available the resources to deal with the problems. Without those resources the prognosis is not bright or good. It is actually very gloomy.
I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker, for not being here for the start of the debate. I had the responsibility of being in the Chair for a private Bill Committee upstairs. I have yet to perfect the technique of being in two places at once.
I begin by congratulating my hon. Friends on the Front Bench on choosing this subject for debate. It is amazing that the Government did not take the opportunity provided by a September return to hold a full debate on this very serious issue. They will stand condemned in the eyes of the public for that omission. I can understand why they should be embarrassed about the matter, but their duty was to hold such a debate.
The House has speculated about the reasons for the war. The Prime Minister may love foreign excursions, or he may want to show what a good buddy he is to George W. Bush. As Jeremy Corbyn said, it may be that there is a strong oil connection behind the war.
Regime change is illegal, as Canning made clear a couple of hundred years ago. However, he said that a pre-emptive strike was permissible under certain circumstances, if it meant that the safety of the realm would be secured. He did not quite use those words, but the sentiment is clear, and it is a short step from there to the Government's argument about weapons of mass destruction, to which the Prime Minister clings like a drowning man clutching at a straw. I suppose that there is a parallel there somewhere.
My hon. Friend Mr. Jenkin, the shadow Secretary of State, was the first to refer to the dodgy dossier, and events have proved him absolutely right. I voted against the war. I did so with sadness, but I did not believe the dossier. I remember the Prime Minister's performances at the Dispatch Box: on more than one occasion, his face was contorted with conviction and honesty as he tried to convince the House, "I am Tony, trust me."
Hon. Members of all parties told me that they did not believe that there were weapons of mass destruction, but that they could not believe that the Prime Minister could come to the House and say what he said unless he knew something that they did not. They said that that was why they supported the Government. What is the situation now, given that some 10,000 people are dead or wounded, and that billions of pounds worth of damage has been done? In the absence of a miraculous discovery, it is fairly obvious that there are no weapons of mass destruction. Also, it is clear that the plans to rebuild Iraq have been woefully inadequate, even though we were assured time and time again that the proper plans were in place.
Like my hon. Friend, I voted against the war, but like him, I wavered when I heard the Prime Minister, thinking that I might be in the wrong. Does my hon. Friend agree that the best thing for the good of the country would be a full inquiry? If we knew that the Prime Minister took his decisions on the best possible intelligence, I would always be prepared to say I was wrong.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; indeed, that is how I meant to end my few immortal words to the House. Since he has said that for me, I shall just give the House the few bits remaining.
I am amazed by the Government's surprise at terrorist and criminal activity in Iraq. It seems as if the Prime Minister writes a script then becomes aghast when the rest of the world does not follow it. There are no weapons of mass destruction—oh dear, there is a mistake. There was inadequate policy to rebuild Iraq after the war. And now they are surprised that terrorist activity is ruining all the reconstruction that should be taking place and they are asking more troops to risk their skins to save the Government's skin.
We had better start looking through the right end of the telescope. I do not think that the west understands the strength of Islamic feeling, faith and fervour throughout the world. We try to impose our values and disciplines on the rest of the world, and we act surprised when that does not work as we want it to. Mrs. Mahon just asked whether we are right to impose western democracy on Iraq, and she was absolutely right. On how many places in Africa have we have tried to impose our democratic processes? Has it worked? Has it stuck? Has it continued? Of course not.
Nor do we understand the strength of Islam. If someone invaded this country, would we expect our patriots to undertake guerrilla activity against the invader? I think we would. We would be surprised if this great British island did not contain people who would say, "No. We want them out. We want to be back in charge of our own affairs." We call people terrorists, but to the Islamic movement and faith, they are holy warriors and martyrs, protecting their own and protecting their faith.
My hon. Friend Mr. Liddell-Grainger said we need quick training and a quick way out. I say amen to that.
My hon. Friend Mr. Page has just said that the witching hour approaches. That is an interesting description of the time for winding-up speeches in the House of Commons, but I have no fears about exorcising ghosts and dispatching myths. If he cares to follow my speech, I hope that I shall not disappoint him after his catchy description.
I thank Jeremy Corbyn for pointing out how important it is to have the opportunity to hold this debate following the summer recess. It was nice of him to do so. We all feel the need to discuss this important issue, and the Opposition have been willing to donate our time for it. It is in everyone's interest.
I rather liked some of the remarks made by Mr. Hood. I cannot say that I greatly enjoyed the anti-American aspect of his speech, but he made one very telling point. One rarely hears from those of us in this profession that, as he said, politicians are usually part of the problem, not the solution. There was remarkable profundity in that, and we should all show his touch of humility on that point.
I had rather less time for the many interventions made by Mr. Salmond. He fails to understand that support for the war was not a blank cheque in support of the failures that came out of the war. Grown-up politics means constructive criticism, even from one's supporters, and that is very much what we are engaged in.
I am not giving way on that point. The hon. Gentleman has burned up too much capital with his previous interventions.
I especially want to single out the contribution from my hon. Friend Mr. Walter, who is a member of the Select Committee on International Development. He explained clearly the inconsistencies at the heart of DFID's policy, which led to the military situation in Iraq. I am glad that a DFID Minister is on the Treasury Bench now, although none was present for the whole of the rest of the debate. The Government chose to open and wind up the debate with Defence spokesmen, yet DFID and the Ministry of Defence are in this together, which is why the Opposition have speakers from both briefs. One Department cannot operate without the other.
There were a number of interesting contributions from the Government Benches. However, I disagree with the comments of Mr. Joyce, who disputes the claim that there is overstretch. With his military background, I am sure that he will listen to a former Chief of the Defence Staff talking about overstretch in the Army. Soldiers take us—their political representatives at Westminster—on one side, as they did when I was in Afghanistan and the Gulf, and explain what overstretch feels like, what it means and the consequences for them and their families. To dispute that it exists is not a wise course.
The deep concern of Mrs. Mahon for the people of Iraq is respected on both sides of the House. She brought us the important and troubling information that the ICRC is withdrawing from its work in Iraq. That the military situation has become so bad that the ICRC has felt the need to do that is extremely significant. In my experience, it is the one organisation that works in the direst military situations and has been willing to go through the lines to help people, so for it to withdraw from Iraq is very serious indeed.
I hope that other hon. Members who contributed to the debate will forgive me if I turn to some of the main points. The debate has been interesting and it is important that we have had the opportunity to hold it after our break. Incredibly, in the last statement that we heard before our summer recess, the Government seemed to believe their spin about the military situation in Iraq: even then, they had persuaded themselves that it was better than the grim reality. The Minister of State, Department for International Development, actually said:
"Life has regained an air of normality."—[Hansard, 3 July 2003; Vol. 408, c. 552.]
That is extraordinary. How hollow that assessment rings today. Events over the summer have shown what a shambles the Government's policy for post-conflict Iraq has become.
Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary admitted that the situation on the ground is more serious than it was at the end of July. That is important. A senior member of the Government formally admitted in the House that things were deteriorating. That means that, as a coalition partner, we have presided over a deteriorating security situation. The closest we got to an admission of the seriousness of the situation from DFID was in its most recent update on Iraq on
It is difficult for the Opposition to resist saying, "We told you so", but almost exactly a year ago, on
Just in case the Government were not listening back in September last year, we reminded them of the same four points before the conflict started in a debate in the House on
In November, we held a contingency planning forum for the non-governmental organisations, the suggestions from which received barely an acknowledgement. In December and again in January, I asked what discussions had been held with Iraq's neighbours about refugees, and I got the same answer on both occasions—one word: none.
"the preparations are as good as they can be."—[Hansard, 30 January 2003; Vol. 398, c. 1054.]
How does that square with her telling "The Politics Show" on
"preparations for post-conflict were poor"?
So, poor means good for the Government, does it? That failure has contributed to the present military situation in Iraq.
Who is to blame? On
"We are well aware that we must have a humanitarian plan that is every bit as viable and as well worked out as a military plan."—[Hansard, 3 February 2003; Vol. 399, c. 36.]
However, being aware is not the same as doing something about it. Now, in an article in The Independent on Sunday this week, the former Secretary of State for International Development lays the blame firmly on the Prime Minister, by claiming that the threat from Iraq was exaggerated. She said:
"On top of this, there is the total negligence of failing to prepare for the inevitability of a speedy military victory. Many, many lives have been lost and are being lost in Iraq because of this incompetence."
In her resignation letter, the former Secretary of State for International Development said that
"she agreed to stay in the Government to help support the reconstruction".
However, it appears that that reconstruction did not happen. The Prime Minister's added mistake was to ask her to stay on.
I am reaching the end of my speech. The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity in his winding-up speech, and we both have limited time.
Not only have the people of Iraq been let down by Government negligence, but our own people feel let down by the Government exaggerating important information on which the decision to go to war was based. A good outcome can be wrestled from the situation in Iraq. Above all, we have a responsibility to work towards that, but we need answers to questions about why the military situation got worse instead of better.
We welcomed the judicial inquiry into the death of Dr. Kelly, for which we are all sorry, but out of respect for all who have died in Iraq, in part through the lack of contingency planning, we still need a full, independent inquiry into the Government's mishandling of the war. The inquiry should investigate not only the handling of intelligence material and the basis of the decision to go to war, but what happened in the Government to result in such a poor planning process. The Government can best address the military situation in Iraq by publishing a clear plan for the reconstruction of Iraq. Failure to do that will fuel the fears that they do not have a plan, and that does not bode well for the situation in Iraq.
Today's debate has provided an important opportunity for the House to consider developments in Iraq during the parliamentary recess. I certainly welcome the nine Back-Bench contributions to the debate, which has been taken seriously by hon. Members of all parties.
I must briefly tell Mrs. Spelman that we had Defence questions yesterday when my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Minister of State and I were in the Chamber to answer questions on all defence issues, including those that arose during the parliamentary recess. Parliament did not recommence today; it started yesterday.
I want to reflect on the efforts of those from the United Kingdom—military and civilian—who are trying to restore to Iraq the political security and economic stability that it needs and deserves. Many non-governmental organisations and charitable organisations from throughout the world, together with our armed services and staff from the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development, are working throughout Iraq. The House can be justifiably proud of the work that is taking place and all those who are prepared to work in sometimes trying or even dangerous conditions for the benefit of another nation. I am sure that the House will join me in paying tribute to their courage and compassion and the important role that they are playing in the reconstruction.
I want to go through some of the issues relating to the ongoing humanitarian and reconstruction work in Iraq. The Department for International Development has contributed £218 million for the reconstruction of Iraq, which is, of course, money from Her Majesty's Government. The United Kingdom is also providing Euro19 million—I know that Conservative Members will enjoy that—toward European Community funding in Iraq that is contributing to programmes relating to the humanitarian situation. The United Nations World Food Programme distribution system has been up and running since June. Small-scale voluntary returns of refugees from neighbouring countries are being facilitated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. As the hon. Member for Meriden knows, plans have been announced for the construction of emergency housing in southern Iraq for returning refugees and internally displaced people. The aim is to create 4,000 homes within six months at a cost of $27.5 million using local contractors and creating 20,000 jobs.
Despite what has been said this afternoon, almost all hospitals in Iraq are now in operation, although several still face some water, sanitation, power and security difficulties—no Government Member denies that. However, coalition forces are providing security for several such hospitals and Iraqi security guards and the police force are being trained for that purpose. When necessary, Her Majesty's Government are supplying generators.
US aid contractors are working to restore schools throughout Iraq. I am delighted that most schools were open by June this year and that about 5.5 million children were able to take end-of-year exams in June and July. The World Health Organisation reports that there is no overall shortage of medical supplies in Iraq, although there might be a shortage to treat several specific conditions. Some problems remain with the distribution of supplies to hospitals and clinics, which is largely a result of security problems. Routine vaccination for children has been restarted and a catch-up campaign run to vaccinate children who missed out during the conflict.
Water supplies have been disrupted by sabotage, terrorism and looting, and the House should condemn such action, but the International Committee of the Red Cross and others, including British armed forces, have worked well to repair facilities and to provide water by tanker where supplies have been disrupted.
I shall list some of the agencies that Her Majesty's Government are supporting through the Department for International Development. The World Food Programme receives £33 million; UNICEF £9 million; and UN Mine Action Service £4 million. The ICRC and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies together get £32 million.
We are impressed by those figures and do not dispute them. We acknowledge the money that is being spent. What the Government have failed to do, however, is to say why the infrastructure problems in Iraq, which are contributing to the unhappiness of the population, are only now being addressed. Why does that problem suddenly require reinforcements to overcome it? Why was it not in the original plan? Why did the Government not act earlier?
That is all part of what was originally planned. The hon. Gentleman's intervention is timely and perhaps he will reconsider it in a moment. Unlike the Liberal Democrats, who quoted the Leader of the Opposition from last year, I shall quote what Mr. Duncan Smith said on the BBC 6 o'clock news last night:
"There is no reconstruction taking place."
I am putting on the record the reconstruction that is taking place time and time again on behalf of Her Majesty's Government.
The delivery of emergency water supplies or food parcels does not constitute reconstruction. How many contractors are working in Iraq, or has the security situation deteriorated to such an extent that they dare not go in?
I reject the hon. Gentleman's comments. [Interruption.] Yes, I do. I want to carry on with the list. It is extremely long and the House is going to hear it because of the serious allegation by the Leader of the Opposition that no reconstruction is taking place. I note that the hon. Member for Meriden did not repeat that accusation because she knows that it is not true.
Save the Children UK is receiving £500,000; the Mines Advisory Group nearly £900,000; the BBC World Service £400,000; the World Health Organisation £6 million; and the UN Development Programme £7 million. The BBC World Service is an important facility for the production of radio programmes on humanitarian issues for the BBC Arabic Service that the people of Iraq can hear.
Two things. First, I am not pretending that everything is okay. There is much more work to do. Secondly, I note that the hon. Gentleman does not agree with the leader of his party who said that no reconstruction is taking place. [Interruption.] Let me repeat it for Conservative Members: the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green claimed on the BBC 6 o'clock news last night:
"There is no reconstruction taking place."
Let us accept that the Leader of the Opposition is an easy target, but if everything is going to plan, what is the Foreign Secretary going on about in his leaked memo by saying that 5,000 extra troops are required to stop strategic failure? Does that mean that we can expect either another 3,000 troops deployed or strategic failure, or is the Foreign Secretary wrong?
Later in my comments I shall turn to the hon. Gentleman's earlier contribution. [Interruption.] I shall answer him when I am ready. I want first to turn to the Liberal Democrats.
Mr. Keetch referred to the security situation and asked whether we need to send more troops, so his question was not dissimilar to that just asked by Mr. Salmond. The Secretary of State talked about that in his opening remarks. I sometimes wonder whether hon. Members have been listening because my right hon. Friend made the point that we must not forget that much of Iraq is peaceable and the majority of the country continues to support the coalition. However, we must send troops where they are necessary.
I heard exactly what the Secretary of State said today and yesterday—there are to be 1,200 additional troops and 1,000 will be on standby. The question that I and a number of others have asked is whether the Government can give an assessment as to whether that will be the final tranche of British troops deployed in Iraq. I understand that it is difficult to predict the future, but surely the armed forces need to know whether thousands more are to be sent to Iraq.
Thankfully, Government policy is more flexible than that, and I cannot possibly answer that question because, as the hon. Gentleman will accept, we do not know what circumstances may arise. [Interruption.]
Later, if I have time.
My hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn referred to unexploded ordnance. Coalition forces have already cleared 350,000 unexploded munitions, and that was done primarily by UK and Danish teams.
I turn now to the speech of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan. I feel that his horse-racing tips would have been better than his speech. He clearly did not understand my intervention about the UN Security Council. He kept going on about a UN force, but he will be aware that Kofi Annan has ruled out any suggestion of a blue helmet force. To clarify matters for the hon. Gentleman, I point out that the important donors conference in Madrid next month, to which I am sure he would like to give his support, is referred to in the draft text of the Security Council resolution that is currently on the table.
Will the Minister be kind enough to reflect on the fact that the majority of the speeches made by Back Benchers in this debate supported my point about the UN force and, indeed, our amendment, which unfortunately was not selected? Since the Minister chose to mention me, will he return to the question of what the Foreign Secretary was going on about in the leaked memo about 5,000 troops? Will he answer the question—can we expect more troop deployments or not? If it is all going according to plan, why cannot he answer that question?
With respect to the hon. and learned Gentleman, he has not been here all afternoon, but those who have, including Mr. Walter and some of my colleagues, asked about the Iraq survey group. As hon. Members will know, the US is leading efforts to uncover the full extent of the misdeeds perpetrated by Saddam's regime. As well as unearthing efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction, that will include investigations into possible war crimes and support by the regime for terrorism. The group will have all the expertise that it needs for each particular task, and some members will be former UN weapons inspectors. The UK contribution to the group will be between 60 and 100 personnel, both military and civilian.
Questions were asked about troop deployment. My hon. Friend Mr. Hood asked about non-UK and non-US troops in Iraq. There are 14,700 such troops, of whom the majority, 9,200, are Polish, and we very much welcome the support of our soon-to-be EU colleagues in Poland. About 5,500 of the troops are from other nations, including good friends of the UK such as Denmark, Norway, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands.
Other questions have been asked about troop deployments by the hon. Member for Meriden and others. There was a review of troop numbers in July, which was accepted by the hon. Member for North Essex as being right and proper. At that time the review in theatre decided not to contribute any more troops. I emphasise the comments made earlier by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Local commanders in Iraq have requested the additional troop deployments that he announced in the written ministerial statement, and we shall continue to keep the matter under review with our commanders in the field in Iraq.
Does the Minister accept that commanders on the ground said earlier this year that they were happy with the number of troops deployed because they were told that the Department for International Development would provide more resources? The Department has not done that, which is why we have the problem.
I do not accept that. The clear emphasis of the earlier part of my speech was on the work of Her Majesty's Government through the Department for International Development and other agencies. It seems clear to me and to the whole House that the Department is working alongside our armed forces, and with the agencies that I listed earlier.
I shall conclude by taking up three or four points that were made in the debate. Mr. Liddell-Grainger talked about overstretch in the reserves. Reservists exist to be used—I think that the hon. Gentleman will know that. That is in line with the strategic defence review. Indeed, it is what reservists are paid for, and that is why they are reservists. Currently, 2,200 reservists are in theatre, and no extra reservists were called out as part of yesterday's statement and deployment.
My hon. Friend Mr. Smith—I do not know whether he is in his place—is the chair of the parliamentary Labour party defence committee and he knows a good deal about some of these matters. He spoke about the plan to establish democracy in Iraq. The House must understand that two months after the formation of the Iraqi governing council, that council is now heavily involved in the key economic and political decisions. On
Even for those of my hon. Friends who may have opposed the military intervention, I think that it is now time to support those who are working so hard in Iraq to complete the task of its reconstruction. Our thoughts should remain with the families and friends of those who have lost their lives in Iraq. Fifty members of the United Kingdom armed forces as well as some civilians have died since
What those people, both military and civilian, have in common is that they were trying to improve the lives of their fellow human beings in Iraq and the security of the middle east and the wider world. We are determined that their sacrifice will not be in vain. We shall continue what we have begun in Iraq, and we shall see it through to the end.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the military situation in Iraq.