Defence Policy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:06 pm on 25th March 2004.

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Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Labour, Birmingham, Ladywood 5:06 pm, 25th March 2004

No, I will not give way because I want to get on, if I may.

Matters were different, however, over preparations for the reconstruction of Iraq. We prepared for reconstruction with international support. When I agreed to stay in the Government, having been pressed very hard to do so by the Prime Minister—I had intended to resign at the time of the war and to vote against the Government—I did so on an absolute promise that there would be a UN mandate for reconstruction, and that reconstruction would be internationalised. I decided to take the flak and the criticism for failing to resign because, knowing that the war was unstoppable, I wanted to try to ensure that reconstruction was carried out properly. That was the most crucial matter to the interests of Iraq and the people of the middle east.

Various preparations were made. First, the military, as an occupying power, has a duty under the Geneva convention and The Hague regulations to keep order and to provide for any immediate humanitarian needs. We worked with our Ministry of Defence to purchase food and make preparations for the possible humanitarian crisis, giving our support and advice. Secondly, we provided funding and support for some British non-governmental organisations that have experience of working in Iraq. We gave much support to the Red Cross, which worked in Iraq through the war but, tragically, withdrew afterwards because of the disorder.

We also supported the UN in preparing its intervention. The UN knew an awful lot about Iraq; it had been running the oil-for-food programme for a long time and had considerable numbers of Iraqi staff as well as international staff. Those staff were withdrawn during the conflict, but the UN had supplies in the region and was ready to go back in. The UN, through the office of Kofi Annan and his deputy Louise Frechette, was fully prepared to move in, under the sort of mandate that it had been given in Afghanistan, to help the Iraqis to put in place an interim Government to start the reconstruction. If that had happened, the whole international community would have engaged with the process. I had discussions with my fellow Ministers across the international system, including in France, Germany, the Scandinavian countries and Canada, and had said to everyone that, whatever our differences over the route to war in Iraq, we must all come together to help Iraq to reconstruct. All that was in place, and ready to go.

So what happened then? There was a big argument, which the Select Committee report alludes to, between the State Department and the Pentagon in the United States of America. The State Department had made full preparations for the situation after the conflict, but it was pushed to one side. The Pentagon took over, made it absolutely clear that it did not want any significant role for the UN, and set up ORHA—the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance in Iraq—which was assembled only weeks before the conflict began. Major-General Tim Cross, whom I had worked with in Kosovo in the support of refugees, became its deputy and found that the furniture was still being moved about and that there were no plans.

That is what happened. The international system and all the international preparations were brushed to one side, and ORHA moved in with retired general Jay Garner in charge. That body was in Kuwait for a time, and it had been busy with Secretary Rumsfeld selecting which Iraqis would have significant positions. No proper preparations were made for keeping order or for giving the UN a proper role—which would, in turn, have brought in the international community. Members will remember the arguments. Will the Indians come in? Will the Pakistanis come in? It was a very good idea to have a substantial Muslim country supporting the keeping of peace and order in Iraq, but none of them would do so without a proper UN mandate and resolution.

That is the shameful story. There were two great blunders, the first of which was to rush to war too fast, without first exhausting all possible means of disarming Iraq or proving that it had no weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, we should have tried to indict Saddam Hussein, while authorising armed support for the UN weapons inspectors if need be. We had to be willing always to contemplate force to back up the authority of the UN if necessary, but in my view we should have taken more time. The reason why we went to war when we did is that there was an unwillingness to rotate the troops through the hot weather. That is why we got into the mess that we did, and why our troops were subjected to such risks.

The second failure was the arrogance of forcing other members of the Security Council to say yes to a war by a pre-ordained date. In doing so, the UN was completely brushed aside, and the international system's machinery for helping a country to reconstruct was not used. In addition, because the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance was so focused on its political tasks, the military moved away from their duty under the Geneva convention and The Hague regulations, which is to keep order. There should have been military rule and an absolute focus on keeping order. The latter failure, which resulted from the closing down of the Iraqi army, explains the situation that we are in.

We have to get out of this situation, which is a disaster for the middle east and for the people of Iraq. The answer is the same as that which should have been secured at the time: a proper UN mandate and lead; international engagement; getting more countries involved; greater legitimacy; and a proper interim Iraqi Government who are recognised as legitimate by the whole international community.

That is the story. I and my Department made full preparations for the proper reconstruction of Iraq, but I am afraid that our country and Prime Minister did not stand up to the Americans when the Pentagon, in its full arrogance, brushed aside the preparations made in its own country through the State Department, and led us into the chaos that we now see.