Military Situation in Iraq

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:14 pm on 9th September 2003.

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Photo of Robert Walter Robert Walter Conservative, North Dorset 3:14 pm, 9th September 2003

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 30 June that plans had been made but that they were for a different outcome. That sums up some of the lack of preparedness of our Government.

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 21 March, in response to our first report, said in answer to our question about planning:

"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 21 March was:

"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.