Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:24 pm on 17th May 2004.

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Photo of John Barrett John Barrett Shadow Minister (International Development), International Development 5:24 pm, 17th May 2004

As this nightmare unfolds on our televisions and we watch women, men, children, civilians and contractors dying daily, it is worth remembering again why the House sent in the troops. At least we had a vote on the issue, as Mr. Foulkes said, but the picture that was painted at the time was that weapons of mass destruction existed and presented a threat. Do the Government—does anyone—still believe that that is true? What happened to the 1,400 people who constituted the Iraq survey group? If they had found anything of note, the Government would be trumpeting their report. Why the silence? Mr. Ancram mentioned one round—is that it?

When those who opposed the war questioned the Prime Minister, the reply was often, "At least we have captured Saddam Hussein", as though that alone justified military action. The Government cannot have it both ways. We are in a coalition, and I must remind the Government that it was US soldiers who captured Saddam. If the US forces' success on that occasion is something that we want to share, we must also accept that they, as part of the coalition force, have been accused of shameful actions, and that some of them have perpetrated almost indescribable acts involving prisoners in Iraq. We cannot say that that has nothing to do with us, because it has been done in the name of the coalition.

We were given four reasons for going to war: the threat of weapons of mass destruction and the non-compliance with UN resolutions; the fight against terror; the humanitarian crisis; and Saddam's reign of terror. People say, "At least Saddam's reign of terror is over", but if that vote on weapons of mass destruction were to be repeated today, now that we know that the 45-minute threat related only to battlefield weapons and that the two trucks that were supposedly mobile laboratories were in fact sold to Iraq by us for meteorological purposes, there is no way that we would go to war based on the dodgy dossiers, the dodgy evidence, the Prime Minister's word or anything similar, because trust in the Government has gone.

The argument moved on to the fight against terror as a reason for going to war, but the terrorists have been fuelled by recent events. Those who wanted to portray the west as inhuman now have all the recruiting material they need. They have material—including photos and videos—to last them a long time. Donald Rumsfeld sends a shiver down my spine; what must he do to those in Iraq?

Hon. Members mentioned the reconstruction plan and said that the humanitarian grounds were reason enough for going to war in Iraq, but Iraq is not yet the relatively wealthy country that it should be. Before any trouble, it had a standard of living similar to that of Spain or Portugal, but it has not yet returned to that position. The end of Saddam's reign of terror has been cited as the only success, but the toppling of a dictator would never have won international support as a reason for going to war. If that was the reason that we went to war, we should be at war constantly.

What next? There must be either an exit strategy or more troops. The present situation is a nightmare. If the troops were pulled out tomorrow, the country could implode. Any terrorists not in Iraq would make their way there, and Osama bin Laden would probably be among the first. Civil war could break out. The Kurds might see an opportunity to establish their own homeland. Those who are suffering most would continue to suffer. Would sending more troops alleviate that?

The only way forward is to involve other countries through the UN. If that does not happen, we and the USA will have to send more troops just to protect those who are already there. I have already mentioned the consequences of pulling the troops out. We are left between a rock and a hard place. We must get other Muslim and Arab nations brought in on their terms, so that they can play a part in the drive for peace. We and the American Government are part of the problem as well as part of the solution. We cannot move the troops out today because that would make things worse, but if they stay indefinitely it will inflame an already dire situation.

How many more people must die on each side before this comes to an end? We need to hear what the Government plan to do next. We heard earlier from the Secretary of State that we cannot estimate the number of casualties, but on this day, the anniversary of the battle of Monte Cassino, at which it is estimated that 200,000 people died, surely we can estimate the number of civilian deaths in Iraq.