I beg to move,
That this House
condemns the barbaric acts of ISIL against the peoples of Iraq including the Sunni, Shia, Kurds, Christians and Yazidi and the humanitarian crisis this is causing;
recognises the clear threat ISIL poses to the territorial integrity of Iraq and the request from the Government of Iraq for military support from the international community and the specific request to the UK Government for such support;
further recognises the threat ISIL poses to wider international security and the UK directly through its sponsorship of terrorist attacks and its murder of a British hostage;
acknowledges the broad coalition contributing to military support of the Government of Iraq including countries throughout the Middle East;
further acknowledges the request of the Government of Iraq for international support to defend itself against the threat ISIL poses to Iraq and its citizens and the clear legal basis that this provides for action in Iraq;
notes that this motion does not endorse UK air strikes in Syria as part of this campaign and any proposal to do so would be subject to a separate vote in Parliament;
accordingly supports Her Majesty’s Government, working with allies, in supporting the Government of Iraq in protecting civilians and restoring its territorial integrity, including the use of UK air strikes to support Iraqi, including Kurdish, security forces’ efforts against ISIL in Iraq;
notes that Her Majesty’s Government will not deploy UK troops in ground combat operations;
and offers its wholehearted support to the men and women of Her Majesty’s armed forces.
The question before the House today is how we keep the British people safe from the threat posed by ISIL and, in particular, what role our armed forces should play in the international coalition to dismantle and ultimately destroy what President Obama has rightly called “this network of death”.
There is no more serious an issue than asking our armed forces to put themselves in harm’s way to protect our country, and I want to set out today why I believe that is necessary. If we are to do this, a series of questions must be answered. Is this in our national interest? In particular, is there a direct threat to the British people? Is there a comprehensive plan for dealing with this threat? Is the military element necessary? Is it necessary for us to take part in military action? Is it legal for us to take part? Will we be doing so with the support of local partners, and will doing this add up to a moral justification for putting the lives of British servicemen and women on the line? And above all, do we have a clear idea of what a successful outcome will look like, and are we convinced that our strategy can take us there?
I want to address each of those questions head on—first, our national interest. Is there a threat to the British people? The answer is yes. ISIL has already murdered one British hostage and is threatening the lives of two more. The first ISIL-inspired terrorist acts in Europe have already taken place, with, for instance, the attack on the Jewish museum in Brussels. Security services have disrupted six other known plots in Europe, as well as foiling a terrorist attack in Australia aimed at civilians, including British and American tourists.
ISIL is a terrorist organisation unlike those we have dealt with before. The brutality is staggering: beheadings, crucifixions, the gouging out of eyes, the use of rape as a weapon and the slaughter of children. All these things belong to the dark ages, but it is not just the brutality; it is backed by billions of dollars and has captured an arsenal of the most modern weapons.
In the space of a few months, ISIL has taken control of territory that is greater than the size of Britain and is making millions selling oil to the Assad regime. It has already attacked Lebanon and boasts of its designs right up to the Turkish border. This is not a threat on the far side of the world; left unchecked, we will face a terrorist caliphate on the shores of the Mediterranean and bordering a NATO member, with a declared and proven determination to attack our country and our people. This is not the stuff of fantasy; it is happening in front of us; and we need to face up to it.
Next, is there a clear, comprehensive plan? Yes. It starts at home with tough, uncompromising action to prevent attacks and hunt down those who are planning them. As the House knows, we are introducing new powers. These include strengthening our ability to seize passports and to stop suspects travelling, stripping British nationality from dual nationals and ensuring that airlines comply with our no-fly lists. And in all this, we are being clear about the cause of the terrorist threat we face. As I have said before, that means defeating the poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism, by tackling all forms of extremism, not just the violent extremists. So we are banning preachers of hate, proscribing organisations that incite terrorism and stopping people inciting hatred in our schools, universities and prisons.
Of course, some will say that any action we take will further radicalise young people. I have to say that that is a counsel of despair. The threat of radicalisation is already here. Young people have left our country to go and fight with these extremists. We must take action at home, but we must also have a comprehensive strategy to defeat these extremists abroad.
Let me answer that very directly: this mission will take not just months, but years, and I believe we have to be prepared for that commitment. The reason for that is that America, Britain and others are not—I think quite rightly—contemplating putting combat troops on the ground. There will be troops on the ground, but they will be Iraqi and Kurdish troops, and we should be supporting them in all the ways that I will describe.
In terms of mission creep, I will address very directly, later in my speech, why we are discussing what is happening in Iraq today and only that. That is the motion on the Order Paper.
The Prime Minister has said on a number of occasions in this House that we face a long-term generational struggle and the priority is to fight this poisonous ideology. Will he commit now to working with the mainstream, moderate Muslim community in this country—who see these atrocities carried out in the name of their religion and utterly reject them—and to having a practical programme to make that happen?
I absolutely commit to doing that and we have to do it not just in Britain, but right around the world. We should be very clear that the cause of this problem is the poisonous narrative of Islamic extremism. Wherever there are broken states, conflict and civil wars, we see this problem arise, whether it is Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Qaeda in Yemen or ISIL in Iraq and Syria. We need Muslims to reclaim their religion from these extremists. That is happening in our country and around the world. It was notable that President Obama, in his speech to the United Nations, singled out Muslims in Britain who are saying, “This is not being done in my name,” and we should praise those people.
The Prime Minister places his trust in the Iraqi army. The problem is that, having caused this mess in Iraq, we armed the Iraqi army, they ran away and ISIL now has their arms. Is he seriously contending that by air strikes alone we can actually roll back ISIL, or is this gesture politics?
To be absolutely direct, I am not claiming that by air strikes alone we can roll back this problem. What this problem requires is a comprehensive strategy, including a well formed Iraqi Government and well formed Iraqi armed forces, because they in the end will be the ones who have to defeat this on the ground.
Where I disagree with my hon. Friend is on the cause of how this came about. As I have said, there is the background of Islamic extremism, but I would say that the two principal causes of this problem are the fact that in Syria Assad has been butchering his own people and acting as a recruiting sergeant for the extremists, and that in Iraq the Maliki Government did not represent all the people of Iraq. I thought that Ban Ki-moon, in one of the most powerful interventions I have heard him make, got it spot on when he said that missiles can kill terrorists but it is good governance that will kill terrorism. We should have that thought front and back of mind as we debate this afternoon.
In answer to the first part of my right hon. Friend’s question, that is absolutely essential. A lot more needs to be done. I met Prime Minister al-Abadi in New York and discussed this very directly with him. We need to make sure that the Government in Iraq are not just supporting the Shi’a community, but bringing together Shi’a, Sunni and Kurd in a united country, with armed forces that are respected by every part of the community. That has not happened yet, but it is happening and I think that President Obama was absolutely right to delay this action until we had an Iraqi Government with whom we can work as a good partner.
I am going to make a little progress with my speech and then I will take several more interventions.
As I have said, we have to take action at home and abroad. As we take action abroad, it must involve using all the resources at our disposal. That means humanitarian efforts, which Britain is already leading, to help those displaced by ISIL’s onslaught. It means diplomatic efforts to engage the widest possible coalition of countries in the region as part of this international effort. At the United Nations, we are leading the process of condemning ISIL, disrupting the flows of finance to ISIL and forging a global consensus about preventing the movement of foreign fighters. Vitally, and as I have just been saying, this strategy also involves political efforts to support the creation of a new and genuinely inclusive Government in Iraq and to bring about a transition of power in Syria that can lead to a new representative and accountable Government in Damascus so that it, too, can take the fight to ISIL. As one part of that comprehensive strategy, I believe that our military have an indispensible role to play. In a moment or two, I will say why, but first I will take an intervention from John Woodcock.
To be frank, what Syria needs is what Iraq needs: an inclusive, democratic Government that represents all of its people. We have had our strategy in that regard—backing the moderate Syrian opposition, the Syrian National Council, and working with others—but I do think that Iran has a role to play. I met President Rouhani in New York to discuss that and other issues, and Iran can play a role in helping to bring about better government in both Syria and Iraq. The jury is still out as to whether Iran will play that role, but we should certainly be encouraging it to do so.
I am sure that we are all grateful for the recall of Parliament and the opportunity to debate this matter. My right hon. Friend has mentioned Syria, and he has mentioned that the Kurdish peshmerga and the Iraqi army are on the ground fighting ISIL. Also fighting ISIL on the ground is the Free Syrian Army. Given that last week the United States Congress voted to support the Free Syrian Army overtly with weapons, and given that the Free Syrian Army is conducting a ground war, which we are not prepared to do, will my right hon. Friend say whether we are looking again at the possibility of giving military hardware to the Free Syrian Army? It has the people, but it does not have the weaponry to take on Assad or ISIL. It has been attempting to do so for the past year, and it needs our help.
As my right hon. Friend knows, we have supported the Syrian National Coalition and the Free Syrian Army with advice, training, mentoring and non-lethal equipment, and I am not proposing a change to that today.
Let me address directly the issue of ISIL in Syria. I am very clear that ISIL needs to be destroyed in Syria as well as in Iraq. We support the action that the United States and five Arab states have taken in Syria, and I believe that there is a strong case for us to do more in Syria, but I did not want to bring a motion to the House today on which there was not consensus. I think it is better if our country can proceed on the basis of consensus. In this House, as I am sure we will hear in the debate today, there are many concerns about doing more in Syria, and I understand that. I do not believe that there is a legal barrier, because I think that the legal advice is clear that were we or others to act, there is a legal basis, but it is true to say that the Syrian situation is more complicated than the Iraqi situation. It is more complicated because of the presence of the brutal dictator Assad. It is more complicated because of the state of the civil war. We should be clear that we have a clear strategy for dealing with Syria, backing the official opposition, building it up as a counterpoint to Assad and working for a transition. As I have said, in the end, what Syria needs is what Iraq needs: a Government that can represent all of its people.
Does the Prime Minister accept that without the Iraqi army being able to take and hold ground, there is a real risk that air strikes alone will not only prove ineffective but could become counter-productive, especially if civilian casualties mount and ISIL spins the story that it has withstood the might of the west and held its ground, which it has so far managed to do?
I would disagree with my hon. Friend on the basis that the air action that has already been taken by the Americans and, to a degree, by the French has already made a difference. Lives have been saved. Christians, Yazidis and other minorities, who otherwise would be butchered, have been saved by that action. If my hon. Friend is asking me, “Do we need a better Iraqi army that is more capable on the ground?” Yes, of course we do, but the truth is that, because we, rightly, are not prepared to put our own combat troops on the ground, we should be working with the Iraqis and the Kurds so that they become more effective. However, we cannot wait for that and allow minorities and others to be butchered and the risk to our own country to increase, without taking action.
Let me make some progress on why I believe military action is necessary before taking more interventions. Frankly, without it, I do not believe there is a realistic prospect of degrading and defeating ISIL. We should be frank: a military conflict is already taking place. ISIL has taken territory. It is butchering people in Iraq. Iraqi, including Kurdish, security forces are already fighting ISIL. We have to decide if we are going to support them and I believe that we should. If we are to beat these terrorists, it is vital that the international community does more to build the capability of the legitimate authorities fighting extremism.
Along with our European partners, as has been discussed in the House, we are playing our role, supplying equipment directly to the Kurdish forces. We are strengthening the resilience of military forces in Lebanon and Jordan and our Tornado and surveillance aircraft have already been helping with intelligence gathering and logistics to support American attacks on ISIL in Iraq. To be frank, and it is vital for the House to understand this, the Iraqi Government want more direct assistance. Earlier this week, the Iraqi Foreign Minister wrote to the UN Security Council requesting military assistance to support its actions. When I met Prime Minister Abadi in New York on Wednesday, he reiterated that request to me. In Iraq, the real work of destroying ISIL will be for the Iraqi security forces, but they need our military help and it is in our interest, and theirs, to give it.
There is a problem in Iraq, though, that we need to recognise. It is not just political and it is not just about capability. There needs to be a will from the Iraqi army to defend the Sunni areas of the country. In the Prime Minister’s talks with the new Government, has he seen that change, which actually means that our air strikes will support a country that has the will to defend all its own people?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. That is the conversation we are having with the Iraqi Government. There is no doubt in my mind that this Iraqi Prime Minister is a change from the previous regime. They understand this point but frankly we should be tough in our interactions with them. They want our help. They want more training and more expertise. They want our counter-terrorism expertise to help them to defend against these appalling car bombs in Baghdad. We should give them that help, but we should say as we give it to them, “This is conditional on you defending and protecting all your people, and that must include the Sunnis in Iraq as well.”
The Kurdish President is on record as saying that the Kurds do not want British servicemen and women on the ground fighting the fight for them. What they need is better equipment, training and the air support. Did Prime Minister Abadi deliver a similar message to our Prime Minister? What is the situation vis-à-vis the Sunni tribes, because they need to play a role and to take the fight to ISIL, too?
My hon. Friend is spot on. The Iraqi Prime Minister was very frank in his requests to me. He said clearly in New York, “We need your help to drive these people out of our country and indeed out of the world.” He was very frank about that. We are supplying equipment to the Kurds. We can do more to help the Iraqi security forces. As for the Sunni tribes, of course, we need them to help but they need to see that they can be part of a successful Iraq. That is why the involvement of other Arab countries is so important. There are particular countries that may be able to encourage the Sunni tribes to take this step.
I am glad that the Prime Minister seems to accept that air strikes alone cannot hope to be successful unless they are in close co-ordination with credible ground forces. The only ground forces he has mentioned so far are those of the Kurds and the Iraqis. What are the other Arab states proposing to do, because surely those ground forces have to be Sunni-Muslim ground forces and we need other Arab countries to supply them?
My hon. Friend makes an important point but we should tread carefully here. We are proposing to act at the request of the legitimate Iraqi Government. That Government are supposed to represent all their country—Shi’a, Sunni and Kurd. That country should be doing that, rather than relying on other countries to provide Sunni forces in order to deliver that effect.
It is important that we keep up the pressure, because it is the Iraqi Government who should be representing all their people, rather than getting proxies to do it for them.
I will take more interventions, I promise, but I want to answer this question, which is whether it is necessary specifically for Britain to take part in this international action. Should we just leave it to others? I do not believe that is the right answer. The coalition needs our help, in particular with the vital work being done in terms of air strikes. Britain has unique assets that no other coalition ally can contribute:
the Brimstone precision missile, which minimises the risk of civilian casualties and which even the United States does not have; we have our unique surveillance and intelligence capabilities; and we have our highly professional forces, which are well used to working with their US counterparts. These are some of the reasons why President Obama made it clear to me that America wants Britain to join the air action in Iraq, which has now been under way for several weeks.
I believe it is also our duty to take part. This international operation is about protecting our people too, and protecting the streets of Britain should not be a task that we are prepared to entirely subcontract to other air forces of other countries, so it is right for us to act.
Will the Prime Minister recognise that killing extremists does not kill their ideas? On the contrary—it can often feed their ideas, and for that reason the former MI6 head of counter-terrorism has said that getting Saudi Arabia and Iran around a negotiating table would be far more effective than bombing. Why are we not hearing far more from this Prime Minister about the political and diplomatic solutions to this situation, rather than reaching for the military solution, which could undermine them?
With respect to the hon. Lady, we are taking those diplomatic initiatives. My right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary has recently returned from Saudi Arabia; I am the first British Prime Minister in 35 years to meet an Iranian President. We need all those political and diplomatic moves to take place—they are absolutely vital—but in the end there is a part of this that requires a military solution. ISIL has to be defeated on the ground. That is principally the work of the Iraqi security forces, but we can play a role as well.
Many of those who we have heard speak against the action, and some of those who have contacted me, give voice to the fear of the consequences of action, but is it not the point, and the reason that we have been recalled today, that the consequences of non-action—as I believe this House proved last summer—are far, far worse?
My hon. Friend is right. What we have to weigh up are, of course, the consequences of action. That is why I set up a National Security Council, at which the heads of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, and regularly the head of the Metropolitan police, attend and advise. But we have also got to think of the consequences of inaction. If we allow ISIL to grow and thrive, there is no doubt in my mind that the level of threat to this country would increase. We have already seen ISIL murderers butcher innocent people in a museum in Brussels; we have already had plots here in Britain by ISIL. How much stronger will ISIL be before we decide that we need to take action as well?
ISIS, indeed, is made up of murderous psychopaths; that is not the issue. We know that. The question is: will what the Prime Minister and the Government are proposing be effective in destroying ISIS? Look at what the House of Commons agreed to: Iraq; Afghanistan; and, under this Government, Libya. None are success stories. Are we going to embark on action that could last for years?
I will come on to why this is different to the decision the House made in 2003 about Iraq, but the fact is that this is about psychopathic terrorists who are trying to kill us and we have to realise that, whether we like it or not, they have already declared war on us. There is not a “walk on by” option; there is not an option of just hoping this will go away. As I have just said, the plots are not in doubt.
I promise the House that I will give way more. I want to leave plenty of time for other contributions, but I want to turn directly to the question of legality. The Attorney-General has given his advice on the action we propose to take. There is a clear legal base for UK military action to help Iraq defend itself from ISIL. A summary of this legal position is being placed in the House of Commons Library. The Iraqi Government have requested our help and given their clear consent for UK military action, so there can be no question about this. We have the letter from the Iraqi Government to the UN Security Council, we have the public statements from Prime Minister Abadi and President Masum, and we have the personal requests made to me and to the full UN Security Council by Prime Minister Abadi in New York on Wednesday. So there is no question but that we have the legal basis for action, founded on the request of the Iraqi Government.
Let me briefly address the fact that we will be acting in support of local partners, which has been a major concern of Members across the House. We have a substantial international coalition in place, including Arab nations committed to confronting and defeating ISIL. Sixty countries are acting in some way to help to tackle ISIL. Of these 10 are Arab states, five have already taken part in air strikes with the Americans in Syria, and even regional powers, such as Iran, are publicly condemning the extremists.
As I have said, our differences with Iran remain. Iran’s support for terrorist organisations, its nuclear programme, the treatment of its people, all have to change, and we will not back down on these things. But if Iran’s political leaders are prepared to help a more secure, more stable, more inclusive Iraq and Syria, we should welcome their engagement.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There are a variety of legal arguments that can be deployed. In this case it could not be clearer that we are acting at the request of a sovereign state, and if we were to act in Syria, I believe that would be the legal basis too: collective self-defence against ISIL which threatens Iraq. But my hon. Friend is absolutely right to say, and I have said this in the House before, that if one is averting a humanitarian catastrophe, that is a legal basis on which to act. Let me be clear again that although it is right that we are having this debate and this vote, if there was a moment when it looked as though there could be an urgent humanitarian need for intervention, I would be prepared to order that intervention and then come to the House and explain why.
We have a comprehensive strategy for action. As I have said, we have a clear request from the Iraqi Government. We have a clear basis in international law. We have a substantial international coalition, including many Arab partners, and we need to act in our own national interest. So I believe that it is morally right that we now move to a new phase of action by asking our armed forces to take part in international air strikes against ISIL in Iraq, and I believe we should do so now.
Muslims around the world have made it clear that ISIL has nothing to do with Islam; it is an evil organisation. Linked to that very point, have there been discussions with the 57 members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, which represents Muslim states, to see whether many more of those Islamic countries will be joining this international coalition, along with the five Arab states, to ensure that it is a wider, broader coalition and has the most effective outcome?
All these conversations were taking place this week at the UN General Assembly, and one of the most important things that can happen is Muslim Governments, Islamic countries across the world, coming out and condemning ISIL, and explaining that this is not a bunch of people acting on behalf of a religion, but a bunch of psychopaths who have perverted a religion, and that it is not being done in their name.
Let me address briefly what I believe a successful outcome would look like, and then I will take some more interventions. We would want to see a stable Iraq and over time a stable Syria too. We want to see ISIL degraded and then destroyed as a serious terrorist force. But let me be frank: we should not expect this to happen quickly. The hallmarks of this campaign will be patience and persistence, not shock and awe. We are not deploying British combat troops, but we are providing air power in support of local forces on the ground. No British or western troops will occupy Iraq. Many other elements will be needed for a long-term success, many of which I have set out clearly at the Dispatch Box today.
I am listening closely to what the Prime Minister is saying. He has talked about the international coalition, but the Peshmerga fighters from the Kurds have taken a lot of the brunt of fighting ISIL in the first instance. Can he assure us that all the parties within Iraq also support this intervention, in particular the Kurdish political leadership?
What I can be clear about, having spoken to them, is that both the Kurdish leaders in Iraq and the Iraqi Prime Minister have been frank that they want our help. They have both said very clearly, “We do not want British combat troops on the ground, but we do need the arms and the ability to defeat this murderous, terrorist organisation.” We are helping in exactly the way they would like us to help.
I support the Prime Minister’s motion. I also think that, in the end, we will have to deal with ISIL in Syria as well. Did I hear him correctly a moment or two ago? Did he say that if there was an urgent humanitarian need, he would take the action and then get subsequent support from the House? Surely it should be the other way round.
No, no. To be absolutely clear, the right hon. Gentleman heard me right the first time round. If there was the need to take urgent action to prevent, for instance, the massacre of a minority community or a Christian community, and Britain could act to prevent that humanitarian catastrophe—if I believed we could effectively act and do that—I am saying I would order that and come straight to the House and explain afterwards.
Let me be clear: I think the convention that has grown up in recent years that the House of Commons is properly consulted and there is a proper vote is a good convention. It is particularly apt when there is—as there is today—a proposal for, as it were, premeditated military action. I think it is important to reserve the right that if there were a critical British national interest at stake or there were the need to act to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe, you could act immediately and explain to the House of Commons afterwards. I am being very frank about this because I do not want to mislead anybody.
It is very good that this House debates and votes before action happens. May I press the Prime Minister, however, because he has often said that there would no boots on the ground? The motion is very carefully worded—slightly differently. Will he confirm whether he is asking the House to allow any presence of UK military personnel in Iraq, and if so, in what roles?
No. The reason for choosing the words “combat troops” is very important. Of course, when we, for instance, contemplated putting in Chinook helicopters to evacuate the Yazidi people from Mount Sinjar, that would have involved British forces being in an area of Iraq. The servicing, efforts and helping of those helicopters would have involved British personnel. That is why we talk about British combat troops. Again, we should be very clear about that.
I am grateful—[Laughter.] We are both from Birmingham; we get everywhere.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way. Whether or not we are militarily involved in Syria, there is no doubt that the fighting in Syria has been and is intensifying, which means that the humanitarian crisis that has already been unfolding in Syria will also intensify. For example, there have been more than 650 major impact strikes on Aleppo since February. This will require new ways of getting humanitarian aid in. What preparations are being made for that, because the current arrangements need to be stepped up, and who are the Prime Minister and the international community co-operating with to ensure that that aid gets in?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We have a very advanced aid programme. Britain is the second biggest bilateral donor. We have been providing more aid across the border, and we are working with all the international partners, as you would expect. That includes, this week, increasing our aid contribution to make sure that that happens.
I want to make some progress with my speech, and I will then take some more interventions.
As I have said, what is required is an inclusive Iraqi Government. We need a Syrian Government who represent all their people. But I want to be frank with the House. Even after ISIL has been dealt with, we should be in no doubt that future British Prime Ministers and future British Governments will, I suspect, be standing at the Dispatch Box dealing with the issue of Islamist extremism in different forms and in different parts of the world for many years to come. ISIL has sprung up quickly, but around the world we see the mayhem caused by other groups, whether Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabaab in Somalia or al-Qaeda in Yemen. We are dealing with a generational struggle caused by the perversion of one of the world’s great religions, Islam, but I have no doubt that this struggle is one that this House and this country are more than equal to.
I have said that we will come back to the House if, for instance, we make the decision that we should take air action with others in Syria, but I am not contemplating the use of British combat forces because I think it would be the wrong thing to do. The lesson to learn from previous conflicts is that we should play the most appropriate role for us. It is for the Iraqi Government and for the Iraqi army to defeat ISIL in Iraq. Indeed, in time I hope, it is for a proper, legitimate Syrian Government to defeat ISIL in Syria. Where we should be helping is with aid, diplomacy and political pressure and, yes, with our unique military assets where they can help, but it should be part of a comprehensive strategy and should not go over the heads of local people and should not ignore the regional powers, learning the lessons of the past. That is what this debate is about, that is what this motion is about, and that is why I believe that we are taking the right steps.
Does the Prime Minister agree that the wording of the motion before the House today was carefully chosen to ensure that we get support for it? Would he accept that it to some degree hamstrings the Government? Is there not a place here for leadership and statesmanship, rather the popular support of the House? He needs the support of the country, but do we really need a vote on the matter?
I say to my hon. Friend that we live in a robust democracy where this House of Commons frequently demands and wants, quite rightly, to see Ministers at the Dispatch Box defending their actions and setting out, as I have just done in this now accepted convention, that if there is to be premeditated military action, the House of Commons should be consulted in advance. I have set out where I think there are gaps in that convention, about which I could not have been clearer, and I think that that probably has all-party support.
I will take two more interventions and will then complete my speech.
I thank the Prime Minister. He has rightly talked about defeating ISIL militarily and politically, including with help in the region. Will he say something about how we need also to defeat ISIL financially? Which countries are supporting ISIL, including by purchasing oil, and what are the British Government and others going to do about that?
The hon. Lady is absolutely spot on with that point. There are a number of things that we need to do. First of all is action at the UN, which has now been taken, to cut off the financial flows to ISIL. We need to take action to tell the world that ISIL, supposedly the enemy of Assad, is actually selling oil to Assad and making millions of pounds from it. American air strikes have already dealt with some of the so-called mobile oil refineries that ISIL has been using to raise funds, but clearly more needs to be done to persuade those who may have backed organisations such as ISIL in the past, because they were seen as Sunni Arab organisations, that they made a terrible mistake and should not do it again. That was very much what was being discussed around the table at the UN Security Council and is an issue that I would support.
I thank the Prime Minister for giving way. I was going to make a point about ensuring that we can cut off funding to ISIL, but will he expand a little more on that in terms of what is going on with international pressure to ensure that ISIL’s funding is squeezed? At the end of the day, it is currently a well-funded organisation and squeezing its funding will ensure that it cannot operate in the way that it has been up until now.
My hon. Friend is right. Part of the reason why ISIL has got hold of so much funding is because it has the oil and also simply took money out of banks in some of the towns it took in northern Iraq. A long-term squeeze must be applied in this case.
I thank the Prime Minister for giving way. Does he agree that if we are serious about tackling jihadi terrorism in the middle east, we must take a much tougher line with some key allies, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, which have been fuelling and funding terrorism for decades and, if reports are accurate, continue to do so?
What I would say to my hon. Friend is that we need to have this very direct conversation with everyone in the middle east about the dangers of sectarianism and of supporting groups because they are
Sunni or Shi’a. That is part of the background that has led us to this problem. We need everyone to recognise that, whatever branch of Islam they are from, terrorism breeds further extremism and terrorism and, in the end, comes back and damages their own countries and societies.
It is inevitable that the shadow of the United Kingdom’s last military involvement in Iraq hangs heavy over this Chamber today, but the situation that we face today is very different. We are acting in response to a direct appeal from the sovereign Government of Iraq to help them deal with a mortal terrorist threat. It is a threat to Iraq and a threat to Britain. We are not acting alone, but as part of an international coalition of 60 countries, many of them from the region and all of them committed to rolling back ISIL, however long and difficult the task may be. This is not 2003, but we must not use past mistakes as an excuse for indifference or inaction. We will play our part in destroying these evil extremists. We will support our Muslim friends around the world as they reclaim their religion, and once again our inspirational armed forces will put themselves in harm’s way to keep our people and our country safe. I pay tribute to them for their extraordinary bravery and service, and I commend this motion to the House.
I rise to support the Government motion concerning military action against ISIL in Iraq. It is right that the Prime Minister has brought this issue to the House and committed to bringing future decisions to the House too. Let me start by saying that all of us, whatever side of the debate we are on, will be conducting it with huge admiration for the bravery, spirit and duty displayed by our armed forces, who act on the decisions that this House makes.
Let us be clear at the outset what the proposition is today. It is about air strikes against ISIL in Iraq. It is not about ground troops from the United Kingdom, or about UK military action elsewhere. It is a mission specifically aimed at ISIL. As we debate this issue today, I understand the qualms and, for some, deep unease that there will be about that undertaking, both in the House and in the country. Those who advocate military action today have to persuade Members of the House not just that ISIL is an evil organisation but that it is we, Britain, who should take military action in Iraq. I want to do so by first setting out the particular nature of the ISIL threat, by secondly talking about the criteria that we should apply to judging the case for military action, and by thirdly saying something about the role of our country in the world, which for me is directly relevant to this decision.
Will the right hon. Gentleman also clarify Labour’s position with regard to the politics? Many of us are concerned that there is no clear exit strategy militarily, but what about the politics? There is no point in military intervention if the politics are not right—and they are not. Many of those who served under al-Maliki are still in place, and many Sunnis still feel alienated. Without the hearts and minds policy being right, military intervention will not be enduring.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s long-held caution on these issues, but the point I will make is that there needs to be a comprehensive strategy.
We are not talking about a military-only solution. It is about political action, humanitarian action and wider strategic action, and I will come to that later in my remarks.
First I want to say something about the nature of ISIL. As the Prime Minister said, ISIL is not simply another terrorist organisation. We have seen, of course, its hostage-taking of innocent British citizens, and it is not just British citizens whom ISIL is threatening but Christians, Yazidis and fellow Muslims, Sunni and Shi’a, from many different countries and backgrounds—anyone who does not subscribe to its deeply perverted ideology.
If the House will allow me, I want to give one hideous example recently gathered by Amnesty International, because it is directly relevant to the decisions that we make today. On the morning of
Let us be clear about what this is: ISIL is murdering Muslims. So to those who say that military action against ISIL is somehow an attack on Islam, let me just say this: I understand the anxiety, including in communities in Britain, but the truth is entirely different. It is Muslims themselves who are saying it—leading British Muslim scholars and imams recently wrote of ISIL:
“They are perpetrating the worst crimes against humanity…it is a war against all humanity.”
ISIL’s ideology has nothing to do with the peaceful religion practised by billions of people across the world and by millions of our fellow citizens, who are appalled by their actions.
The Leader of the Opposition mentioned hostages. David Haines was brought up and educated in Perth, and some of his family are constituents of mine. To the people of Perth, David Haines was simply a hero, and the more we find out about his remarkable life, the more appalled we are by his brutal and barbaric murder. The people of Perth are planning a commemoration of his life, and I am sure that the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister will want to join them and congratulate them on their efforts to ensure that this man is properly remembered.
The hon. Gentleman spoke with great eloquence on this issue. In a way, it tells us all we need to know about this organisation that it would take hostage people who exist simply to try to help the innocent victims of conflict all around the world.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way and for his support—this time—for the Government motion for intervention. Given what he has said about the horrors of ISIL, if it is necessary for us to come back to the House and debate a motion to intervene against ISIL in Syria, will he support it?
I do want to deal with this very directly, if the House will give me permission. I want to be very clear about this. We will obviously consider any further proposition if the Prime Minister chooses to come back with one. Let me mention three issues that concern me about the difference between Iraq and Syria.
First of all, there is the question of legitimacy. There is a strong argument about the legal base for action in Syria under article 51. The point that I have been making in the last few days is that, in my view, when we are not talking about being invited in by a democratic state, it would be better—I put it no higher than that—to seek a UN Security Council resolution. Why? Because that is the highest multilateral institution of the world and therefore it would be better to seek authorisation on the basis of that.
There are two other issues in play in relation to Syria. One, there is the question of ground forces. The point that a number of hon. Members have made is that we cannot defeat ISIL by air power alone. In the case of Iraq, the Iraqi army and the Kurds can conduct those operations; there is—I put it no higher than this—an outstanding question about who will perform that function in Syria. Secondly, as the Prime Minister himself made reference to, there is a big outstanding question about the overall outcome that we are seeking in Syria. The Prime Minister said that there is a clear strategy and plan in relation to that; personally, I think that a lot more work needs to be done on what exactly the route map is in Syria. Those are the particular issues that I raise in relation to Syria.
I want to make some progress with my argument, if the House will allow me.
ISIL is not simply a murderous organisation. As the Prime Minister said, it has ambitions for a state of its own—a caliphate across the middle east, run according to its horrific norms and values. That is why I believe, and established in the first part of my remarks, that we cannot simply stand by against the threat of ISIL. But as I said in response to Mr Baron, in acting against it we need to learn the lessons from the past. We should be clear about this with the British people. That means a comprehensive strategy—humanitarian and political, as well as military, and, crucially, rooted in the region. Some of that work is under way, but I believe that much more needs to be done.
There is a reality that the House must face up to: to make this alliance work, there is the need for military action as well to contain and help counter the threat of ISIL in Iraq. That is why we are meeting today.
In the second part of my remarks, to make the case for military action by the UK, I want to return to the criteria that I have previously set out—criteria that learn from the past and judge whether military action can be justified. First, in any action that we take there must be just cause. I believe that ISIL does establish just cause: on humanitarian grounds, which I have set out, and on grounds of national interest. On this point, the international instability created by the undermining and potential overthrow of the democratic Iraqi state would clearly have implications for the stability of the region and therefore for us and our national interest. It would make it more likely that Iraq would become a haven and training ground for terrorism directed against the UK.
Secondly, military action must always be a last resort; again, I believe that this criterion is met. ISIL has shown that it is not an organisation that could or should be negotiated with. Thirdly, there must be a clear legal base, to provide legitimacy and legal force for our actions. I support the motion today because we are responding to the request from the democratic Iraqi state, and that is recognised in the UN charter.
As one who voted on
That is an important point. I shall come to it later, but let me say now that, while some people would say that our intervention in Iraq means that we should not intervene in this case, I think that there is a heightened responsibility for us precisely because we did intervene in Iraq, and—with all kinds of implications—the Iraqi state that has emerged is partly our responsibility.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Government have a moral obligation to help the Iraqi people in their hour of need—an obligation which, like the deficit, this Government did not create, but has to deal with? [Interruption.]
If I may say so, I think the hon. Gentleman did himself no credit with that intervention.
Let me turn to the fourth test. This is important, because it is the hardest test of all, and we need to level with the House about it. We must believe that there is a reasonable prospect of success before we take the grave step of committing our forces. The aim is clear: it is to reinforce the democratic Government of Iraq and prevent the advance of ISIL, at the invitation of that Government, and it is to do so by using international military air power while the Iraqi army and Kurdish peshmerga conduct a ground campaign.
No one should be in any doubt that this is a difficult mission and that it will take time, but there is already evidence that the US action is having the effect of holding back ISIL. Prior to that action, ISIL was advancing, with catastrophic consequences for the Iraqi people. This is where there is a choice: to act or not to act. Both have implications, and both have consequences. In June, ISIL took Mosul. Failure to act would mean more Mosuls, and more killing of the sort that I described earlier.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if the outcome is to be greater stability, and if it requires the intervention and the support of neighbouring countries, it would have been quite good to hear more about Turkey’s attitude and, in particular, its attitude to arming the Kurds?
My hon. Friend has made a really important point. It is incredibly important that we mobilise all countries in the region, and Turkey is primary among them. We need to learn the whole lesson—namely that there can be no solution without our engaging not just the people of Iraq and an inclusive Government in Iraq, but the wider neighbourhood.
Let me now turn to my fifth criterion. There must be broad support in the region for reasons of legitimacy—because this action must not be seen as some new form of imperialism—and of effectiveness, because regional support is essential to the long-term success of the mission. At the end of August, the Arab League made a statement calling for comprehensive measures to combat ISIL, and we now see a regional coalition consisting of Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as well as other countries.
Sixthly and finally, the proposed action must be proportionate. We must make sure that innocent civilians are protected. I know that strict conditions are in place to ensure that there is proper targeting, and that everything possible is done to avoid civilian casualties.
Having scrutinised those six conditions—just cause, last resort, legal base, reasonable prospects, regional support and proportionality—I believe that they are met.
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to a broader coalition. Does he, like me, welcome the fact that 120 clerics and imams from around the world are setting out sections of the Koran, making it quite clear that ISIL has nothing to do with Islam and is an evil organisation which everyone around the world, including the Muslim world, has a duty to tackle?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. This is not a clash of civilisations. The vast, vast majority of Muslims all around the world abhor ISIL and its activities.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the Prime Minister on what has been said so far today. It is vital for the sense to be felt that the entire House is behind our troops when they are out performing in this way.
My right hon. Friend has spoken powerfully about the fact that this is not a war on Islam, and we are all very conscious of the scars that remain from the past. Will he say a little more about what he, as Leader of the Opposition, will do to ensure that our Muslim communities here recognise that this is not a war on them, and that it is absolutely about protecting Muslims as well as people back here in the United Kingdom?
My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. I will play my part—as I am sure will he and other Members across the House—in setting out the case and explaining the basis of action, which is to protect innocent Muslims in Iraq who are under terrible threat from ISIL day after day. That is why there is such urgency in this case.
The Prime Minister argued that this was a generational struggle, but only last year in this House, he passionately argued for action in Syria. Had he got his way then, what would the position of ISIL be today? Would ISIL not be stronger? If the consequences were unforeseen over the space of a year, does that not show that our commitment should not be open-ended, but should be back to be scrutinised by this House?
As we are, on this occasion, seeking the unity of the House, it is incredibly important that we do everything we can to make that happen. The proposition last year was about chemical weapons in relation to President Assad. That matter was dealt with by others. Of course, the situation in Syria remains very dire. I believe that we made the right decision last summer, but today is about trying to get the whole House supporting the motion before it.
Does my right hon. Friend recall that, fairly recently, this House and the international community were condemned for tolerating genocide in Rwanda and then for tolerating genocide in Sudan? Given the evidence today of genocide, particularly against the Kurds in Iraq, it is no wonder that the British people are in support not just of him but of the motion before the House.
My right hon. Friend speaks incredibly powerfully. In the examples he cited, many of us may feel that there was a case for intervention that was not taken up. These decisions are always incredibly difficult, but if we can help innocent people who are under threat of persecution, it is right to do so.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right in supporting this motion, but may I press him on our role in the world and how it is perceived by people outside? This hokey-cokey approach to international conflicts concerns many people who have just seen thousands of innocent Palestinians murdered while we stood on the sidelines. Will he confirm to the House that he will show the same commitment, and push for resources, to get a satisfactory conclusion in Palestine?
I agree that it is right to speak out on these issues—and to speak out without fear or favour—and to pursue the two-state solution that we need.
I want to move on if I may to the third part of my remarks.
Some people might accept the criteria that I have set out, but say that it is not our job to intervene because western intervention always makes things worse—we must confront this issue, because it will concern not just Members in this House but people in the country. I understand that argument, but I do not agree with it. Intervention always has risks, but a dismembered Iraq would be more dangerous for Britain. ISIL unchecked means more persecution of the innocent. If we say to people that we will pass by on this one, it makes it far harder to persuade other Arab countries to play their part. Members across the House have been saying that this must be resolved in the neighbourhood and that we must engage the region. We would have less moral authority to say that we want the Arab states to play their part, if we say, “I’m sorry, but this has nothing to do with us. We won’t intervene.” Finally, we should pride ourselves on our traditions of internationalism. Being internationalist and not withdrawing from the concerns of the world is when Britain is at its best.
I want to speak now about the underlying reasons for wariness over action. I am talking here about the 2003 war in Iraq. I understand why some who were in the House at the time will wonder whether this is a repeat of that experience. In my view, it is not, and it is worth setting out why.
First, as the Prime Minister said, this case is about supporting a democratic state. It is not about overturning an existing regime and seeking to build a new one from the rubble, which is a much harder undertaking. Secondly, there is no debate about the legal base for action in Iraq, as there was in 2003. Thirdly, there is no argument over whether military action is a last resort. Whatever side of the debate we are on, no one is saying, “Let’s negotiate with ISIL.” They are not people with whom we can negotiate. Fourthly, there is broad international support, not a divided world, with all 28 EU member states and the Arab League providing support, and five Arab states taking part in action. Fifthly, there is no question of British ground troops being deployed. I understand the wariness there will be in the House and in the country about whether this is a repeat of 2003, but on those five grounds it is not, and it is demonstrably not.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that our failure to reconstruct Iraq properly after the war actually increases our responsibility to act responsibly and engage other partners in the region to create a more stable country for the future than we have seen over the past 10 years?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend about our responsibilities, and indeed our responsibilities to the people of Iraq.
I will not give way again.
The late Robin Cook said this in his resignation speech on the eve of the Iraq war:
“Our interests are best protected not by unilateral action but by multilateral agreement and a world order governed by rules.”—[Hansard, 17 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 726.]
This is multilateral action, prompted by a legitimate democratic state; and a world order governed by rules, if it is about anything, must be about protecting a democratic state, which is what the motion before us is about. I believe that, although this is difficult, it is the right thing to do. There is no graver decision for our Parliament and our country, but protecting our national interest, security and the values for which we stand is why I will be supporting the motion this afternoon.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will have noticed that the House is very full. My constituents expect me to be able to get into the Chamber and hear my Prime Minister. No such obligation rests on this poor man behind me. Will you find a safe place for this camera crew, so that he can film without getting in our way?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. As far as I can see, the camera crew is certainly not interfering with the business of the House, and everybody is safe. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, to which I have responded.
May I point out to the House that no fewer than 77 hon. and right hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, in consequence of which colleagues will understand my decision to impose, with immediate effect, a five-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.
This intervention is different in two respects. For the first time, war is fought using social media as a tool. The power of the internet is becoming increasingly apparent. We have all been shocked by the slick propaganda. For most of us, the first we heard of ISIL was through YouTube. This is the world that we live in today. The second is the young age and radicalism of our opponents. Albert Einstein once said that old men start wars but younger men fight them. Well, not any longer. The ISIL and al-Qaeda commanders are in their 30s and the old men are the refugees.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. One of the most powerful weapons that IS has been using is social media. What should Governments around the world, like ours and like that of the US, be doing to ensure that social media are not used, that sites are blocked and that IS is stopped from getting its publicity out into the public domain?
I agree with my hon. Friend. I think he has answered his own intervention. I think the Government should be addressing that and recognising that soft power is now a tool of war, and should be addressed very seriously indeed.
I was saying that our opponents are young and radical. Up against them are the slow, clunking democracies of the west and the civilised world. But these democracies are our strength. This building and our electoral mandate—they give us a legitimacy that ISIL and similar rebel groups will never have, and that is what will ultimately undermine them.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. An important part of all this, alongside the military action that I hope we will endorse today, is the soft approach—the diplomatic record of the United Kingdom in relation to many of the Sunni tribes in the area over which ISIL has control. Is it not important to recognise that ISIL, with its use of social media and its very strong media operation, is effectively an opportunist front for what has been a civil war? We cannot negotiate with ISIL, but we must make sure that we negotiate with and talk to the people in the Sunni community within the tribes in that area.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman; indeed, he anticipates what I am coming to in my speech.
The western world agonises about how to respond intelligently and responsibly to these violent threats. I congratulate the Prime Minister on the rational and measured way in which he has assessed the situation and on the leadership that he has shown. A coalition of the willing has been assembled. The response has been prepared. Our thoughts are now with the men and women of the armed forces. This is not going to be an easy campaign. It is going to be messy, it is going to be untidy, and there will, I fear, be fatalities. But this intervention is the very least that a country such as Britain and the United Kingdom should be doing. We are a world leader in the EU, in NATO, and in the G8. We hold down a permanent seat in the Security Council in the United Nations. We derive benefit from all these positions, but they also give us responsibilities, and we have a duty to act.
I have to say, however, that it is of some regret to me that, while I recognise the politics, we are not authorising action in Syria today. The border between Syria and Iraq has virtually disappeared. It is a sea of human misery. There is open, cross-border movement of people both legal and illegal, military organisations, innocent citizens, and homeless, terrified refugees. It is a seamless conflict over two countries covering thousands of miles and presenting a vulnerability in ISIL’s stretched resources that we are not capitalising on.
I will not, if my hon. Friend does not mind.
We have long encouraged the Arab states to get involved. Now they are, and the irony is that we are pulling our punches as they do. This is the first time that there has been an international coalition in Syria, and we should be a part of it. The Leader of the Opposition said that it would be better if a resolution was tabled at the United Nations before intervening. Given that Russia has already said it will veto such a resolution, it is incumbent on him to say what his position would then be. Why the hesitation over Syria? We will never end this conflict by turning back at the border. Perhaps when the Deputy Prime Minister winds up the debate, he could say what is the role for the Free Syrian Army, which has just been given half a billion dollars by the US Congress to equip its fight. It has been fighting ISIS for months, and, like the Peshmerga in northern Iraq, it is fighting for its homeland.
We are all agreed that air attacks alone are not going to bring this war to an end. ISIS will clearly go underground, and we will need forces on the ground to ram home the advantage that air cover provides. We all accept that there are not going to be British or American boots on the ground, but the Peshmerga and the Free Syrian Army are willing. They have strong contacts with each other and stand shoulder to shoulder in their exchanges.
I will not, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.
Strategically, it makes sense to bolster moderate forces to take the fight to ISIL. This means supplying funds and equipment to the Free Syrian Army, which has shown itself to be a reliable partner over a sustained period. In the longer term, this will strengthen its anti-Assad capability and bring him to the negotiating table—something that we have been talking about for over three years. No one should be under any illusion that the attacks on innocent citizens in Syria remain 99% the work of the Syrian regime, which has now killed an estimated 170,000 of its own people, as against just a few hundred killed by ISIL.
Mr. Speaker, war is a terrifying business, particularly for those who have experienced it. On occasions it is a necessary evil, but no matter how necessary, it is always ghastly and horrendous. It is with a feeling of depression and trepidation that I will be supporting the Government tonight.
Although I support the motion authorising military strikes on ISIL in Iraq, and although I fully support my party leader’s caution over extending it to Syria without UN backing, the blunt truth is that simply allowing ISIL to retreat across an invisible border, to them, that they control into Syria to regroup is no answer.
First, why British military action against ISIL’s barbarity but not Assad’s butchery? Should not the haunting and ill-fated legacy of invading Iraq instruct us to stay well clear? In the Cabinet in 2003, I backed Tony Blair over Iraq because I honestly believed that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. I was wrong. He did not. We went to a war on a lie, and the aftermath was disastrous. That has made me deeply allergic to anything similar in the region and certainly anything remotely hinting at cowboy western intervention.
In supporting the motion, as I think broadly we are across the House, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the lessons from the 2003 intervention in Iraq is that we should have designed in the reconstruction of Iraq as a democratic state from the outset, rather than leaving it till after we had achieved some military effect?
Indeed. We tried to, but the Americans took no notice, frankly.
In the Syrian horror from which ISIL has sprung, of course Assad’s forces have unleashed waves of terror, but his jihadist opponents too have committed terrible atrocities. That is the context that has given birth to ISIL; not because the House prevented the Prime Minister from armouring moderate rebels in the Free Syrian Army. Had the Prime Minister got his way last August, where might those British arms have ended up? Probably with ISIL. Instead of trying to bounce Parliament into backing military strikes in Syria last August, we should have been promoting a negotiated solution right from the beginning. That was always going to be the only way to get Assad and, more importantly, his backers to shift towards compromise.
Syria never was some simplistic battle between evil and good; between a barbaric dictator and his repressed people. It is a civil war; a quagmire into which Britain should tread at dire peril. At its heart are the incendiary internal Islamic conflicts—Sunni versus Shia, and their chief protagonists and sponsors Saudi Arabia versus Iran. There is also a cold war hangover, of the US—with all its considerable military and intelligence assets in the region—versus Russia, with its only Mediterranean port and intelligence capability in Syria.
Even more crucially, Assad is backed by 40% of his population. His ruling Shia-aligned Alawites, fearful of being oppressed by the Sunni majority, along with the Kurds, Christians and other minorities do not like his repressive Ba’athist rule very much. They fear the alternative even more; becoming victims of genocide, jihadism or sharia extremism. Assad was never going to be defeated militarily and he is not now. That is the truth. If western military intervention had somehow toppled him without a settlement in place, violent chaos on the Syrian quicksand would still have ensued. The Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, along with the UN, set out a political solution, which should always have been the imperative. That means negotiating with Assad’s regime, along with the Russians and Iranians standing behind him.
Our failure to undertake that is a major reason why the civil war, in my view, has been so prolonged and why ISIL has been allowed to flourish. Medieval in its barbarism and its fanatical religious zeal, which views its own narrow Wahhabi sect, dating from the 18th century, as possessing the sole truth, it uses that as the justification for exterminating both all its opponents and any other religious group blocking its way to establishing a caliphate. It has to be stopped and Britain has the military surveillance and intelligence capabilities that those on the front line fighting ISIL do not. In northern Iraq, only US air power—at the request of the Iraqi Government, the Kurds and the minorities facing genocide by ISIL’s remorseless advance, and very significantly, with the military participation of half a dozen nearby Arab countries—has knocked back ISIL’s well-equipped army. It would not have happened otherwise. That Iran gave its de facto if covert blessing is of significance, opening an opportunity for future engagement and collaboration which could be transformative for the whole region, Israel-Palestine included. Britain should also help local Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting ISIL with air strikes, drones, military equipment and other support. But not with troops on the ground. Countries in the region have to take ownership of this battle because ISIL threatens them all.
But the elephant in the room, for me, remains Syria. ISIL will never be defeated if it is constantly allowed to regroup from its Syrian bases. Without either UN or Syrian Government authorisation, air strikes in Syria may be illegal, although there could well be justification under international law for such strikes, even without UN agreement. And UN authority for air strikes in Syria will not be granted without Assad’s and Putin’s agreement—maybe President Rouhani’s too. That is very difficult—to many, very distasteful—but very necessary. What is the alternative? Although Syria’s Russian-supplied air defences have been hit by the fighting, they are quite sophisticated. Even the US had to pre-inform Damascus about the timing and location of its air strikes this past week or so.
Yet engaging does not mean befriending. Rather, it is akin to what Churchill said in 1941: “If Hitler invaded hell”, he told his private secretary as Germany readied to invade Stalin’s Russia,
“I would at least make a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.”
Handled sensitively this could be an opportunity—and I urge the Prime Minister to take it—to kick-start a proper Syrian peace process and to defuse the long-standing, deep and inflammatory divisions among Muslims in the middle east: Iranians as Shi’ites sponsoring Hezbollah and other militias; Saudis and Qataris as Sunnis sponsoring al-Qaeda and other jihadists—including ISIL, where they have helped to unleash a monster that threatens to devour them all.
By acting carefully, not bombastically, and by making common cause with both Saudi Arabia and Iran to confront a common ISIL enemy, Britain could even help realign middle east politics to overcome the bitter and violently corrosive Sunni-Shi’a fault line in the region. It is a big ask, and an even bigger task, but an immensely valuable one.
I do not think there is any significant controversy about the moral and legal case for what is proposed, and in five minutes I will not set it out. The world would be a better place if ISIS was destroyed, and Britain would be a safer country without doubt. The legal case for intervention in Iraq is clear with its Government’s inviting us, and I think it is pretty clear in Syria because of the genocide and the humanitarian disasters being inflicted on that country. I do agree that it is artificial to divide the two problems: the Sykes-Picot line is a theoretical line on the map now, and there is absolutely no doubt that ISIS has to be defeated in both countries.
Given that one of the principles of counter-insurgency is to deny the enemy a home base, is it not absolutely essential that we back the American efforts in Syria? Otherwise, we will never defeat ISIS in Iraq. For people to suggest that we cannot go to Syria is actually tying our hands behind our backs.
I agree with my hon. Friend. President Obama has been quite open that the alliance we are joining is going to launch attacks on ISIS in both Syria and Iraq, and it is unrealistic to proceed on any other basis.
The real debate, to which I would like to contribute briefly, and which is the only issue for the vast majority of people in this House and for the vast majority of our constituents, is: where are we going; what is the long-term purpose; what is the strategy; and how are our foreign policy, our politics and our diplomacy going to be better on this occasion that they have been for the last 15 years?
The disaster of past occasions is not that we attacked pleasant regimes; we attacked evil men when we attacked Hussein, when we got rid of Gaddafi, when we attacked al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and we would have been doing so if we had attacked Assad’s chemical installations last year. It is no good going back; I supported two of those: Libya and Syria last year; I was dubious about one of the others; and I opposed Iraq. That is not the point. What happened in all those cases was that the military deployment produced a situation at least as bad as it had been before and actually largely worse.
No. I have no time; I am sorry.
We did not create extremist jihadism; we did not create these fanatical, fundamentalist pressures, but we made things worse and made it easier for them to spread by some of our interventions. So we all agree that we must not repeat that. We need to be reassured, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on his speech, where he spent a very great deal of his time trying to reassure. I am left with the feeling that certainly I shall support the motion, because some of our best allies are taking part in this intervention, but I still think that we are at the early stages of working out exactly where we are going.
Our participation in these military attacks is almost symbolic. Six aircraft and our intelligence are no doubt valuable to our allies, but we are symbolically joining them. My main hope is that it gives us a positive influence on the diplomacy and the unfolding politics that have to take place to try to get together—again, all sides seem to agree that this is necessary—the widest possible participation and settlement between the great powers of the region, to get what we all want: lasting stability and security in what at the moment is a very dangerous region of the world.
I congratulate those who are responsible—Americans, no doubt—for getting the Sunni allies and the Arab states into what is taking place. That makes a big difference from previous occasions, but all these things have problems. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Arab states actually support other extremist Islamist, Sunni organisations, and they have to be persuaded not to. ISIS is the worst of the Sunni threats to the region, but it is not the only one, and its enemies include al-Qaeda and other groups as well.
The participation of the Shi’a is even more problematical, because there is no real Shi’a engagement, and that takes us on to the crucial matter of Iran. A lot of what is taking place in the region is a proxy struggle for power between Iran and the Shi’ites and the Saudis and the Sunni, and we revived ancient sectarian warfare that most sensible Muslims—the vast majority—hoped was long since dead.
Iran is a key influence because it is a close patron of Assad in Syria, of Hezbollah and of the Shi’ites in Iraq, including the Shi’ite militia, which is the only effective armed force at the moment for the so-called Iraqi Government. Somebody has got to get the Iranians and the Saudis closer together to support moderation and to decide what stability replaces things.
I am delighted that we have aligned ourselves with the Kurds, but their aim of Kurdistan makes problems for Turkey, and Turkey is a key ally as well if we are to make any progress.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on addressing all these things and on meeting Rouhani for the first time, and I wish him well over the coming several years, because no genius will solve this problem in a very short time.
Before I make my contribution today, I want us all to take a moment to think about and to pray for the hostages who are being held by IS and the hostages who have been murdered in the most horrific circumstances, and I want us particularly to think today about Alan Henning. Alan is a taxi driver from Eccles in Salford. He is not a constituent of mine, but he lives very close to my home. Alan and his wife and family are in the thoughts and prayers of everybody in my city, everybody across the country and, I hope, everybody in this House. Alan went out to Syria on a humanitarian mission to give aid to the men, women, children and babies who were being slaughtered. He was there as an ambassador from our country and today I make a personal plea to the people of IS—whether it falls on stony ground or not—to release him. He should come home to be with his wife and family and the people who love him.
I associate myself entirely, as I am sure the House does, with my right hon. Friend’s remarks about hostages, but we need to be very careful about language. When we talk about humanitarian intervention but mean military intervention, that puts at risk those people who are doing purely humanitarian work.
My hon. Friend, as ever, makes a good point. There can be absolutely no doubt that Alan was there on a mission of mercy and support.
A lot will be said today about military power, air strikes and troops on the ground, and I make it clear from the outset that I support the terms of the motion. Personally, I think it is minimalist motion and have no doubt that we will have to return to the issue and debate it again in the future. I agree with my right hon. Friend Mr Hain that if we take action only in Iraq, IS will, no doubt, go back into Syria and we will face very serious problems.
Like lots of other people, I think we may well end up having to go into Syria as well, but if that happens how will we ensure that bombing in Syria will not have the perverse effect of strengthening Assad, who the Prime Minister has said is one of the begetters of ISIL in the first place? Are we going to have a much more sophisticated strategy than just bombing in Syria?
My hon. Friend makes an absolutely relevant point. I think that most of us who have been involved in these issues for some years have sometimes seen the unintended consequences of action we have taken. That is why a far-sighted strategy about what we do, what the impact will be and how we build resilience and coalitions will be essential.
I thank the Prime Minister for the work he has done in building the alliances and the coalition, because it means we are in a significantly different place today than we have been in years past. I think that the idea of the west on its own—America and Britain—taking a war to the middle east is completely wrong, and that the idea that the states on the ground, which have a personal responsibility for the safety of their own region, should take this action, with our support and backing, is absolutely right. I know how difficult it is to build those alliances, so I am thankful for that.
I want to talk not about the military action, but the causes of terrorism, which I have mentioned many times in this House. Unless we deal with the root cause and the poisonous ideology being promulgated by the extremists who seek to groom vulnerable young people into extremism, we will find ourselves back here time and time again. Now is the moment at which we need to be really serious about this agenda. The latest estimate is that 3,000 people from the European Union alone have gone out to fight in Iraq and Syria. They are young, vulnerable men and women.
People can be radicalised in all kinds of environments, including at home by their family, in a youth centre, increasingly on the internet and social media and, indeed, sometimes in religious institutions. It is very interesting that the Home Office’s current estimate is that less than 2% of radicalisation is being carried out in religious institutions; actually it is happening in ungoverned spaces in parts of every single community.
Will my right hon. Friend put on record her interest in the work of the Active Change Foundation in Walthamstow? It not only set up the “Not in My Name” campaign, which both the Prime Minister and the President of the United States have talked about, but is doing exactly the kind of work my right hon. Friend is talking about and which we should be doing more of.
I am delighted to place on record my appreciation for that organisation and my hon. Friend’s commitment.
We have debated the Prevent strategy many times in this Chamber. In his statement on
“We should be clear about the root cause of this threat: a poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism…a warped world view…And we should be clear that this has nothing to do with Islam”.—[Hansard, 1 September 2014; Vol. 585, c. 24.]
I am grateful for that and for the many statements that religious people in this country, including imams, have made in response to atrocities. We are now beginning to move from condemnation to a proper narrative about the fact that such atrocities are not justified by the religion, but we have a long way to go. I urge the Prime Minister to be more courageous and to say that we need to support credible scholars to develop a view of Islam in a modern day, 21st-century democracy, where Muslims are in a minority, that is more relevant to everyday life and that will protect and build the resilience of young people. That is difficult work and we will be accused of trying to tell people what to believe in their religion, which is not the place of a Government in a democracy, but the work is urgent and needs to be done.
I ask the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary to come back to this House with a proper plan for how we are going to conduct the counter-narrative to the ideology. The Home Office has the research, information and communications unit, but it is small and is not doing the kind of effective work it could do. It needs to be bolstered and to take in the best ideas from all of our partners around the world in order to build a narrative, and that must be done in a practical way so that we can show people that this is not the future for our country.
I want to give two examples of why this work is so important. Members will probably have seen in today’s newspapers the case of Samira Salih al-Nuaimi, who was a human rights lawyer in Mosul. She was taken and brought before a sharia law court and tortured for five days. She was sentenced to public execution and murdered on Monday. She was a brave human rights lawyer. That is what a caliphate does and that is what this ideology is: it is mediaeval and it is about human trafficking and exploitation.
Secondly, there are people in this country like the young man from Brighton whose mum said he was brainwashed. She had no idea and does not want other people to follow him. Those are the reasons I want to see the Prime Minister back here with a proper counter-narrative ideology plan, and I will support him in that.
I, too, remember the speech made by Robin Cook in 2003. I remember it with great admiration and perhaps a little emotion, not least, of course, because he resigned from the Government as a result of his views and joined the rest of us who voted against them in the Lobby that evening.
This is not, however, 2003. It is an entirely different set of circumstances, an important feature of which is the fact that we would be responding to a request made by the lawful Government of Syria. [Hon. Members: “Iraq.”] I meant Iraq; I have Syria on the brain and will come back to it in a moment. The very existence of the Government of Iraq and, indeed, the country for which they are responsible is undoubtedly at stake. In my view, there is a legal basis—it has been referred to by many of those who have already spoken—for what we are being asked to endorse today.
That, I hope, is the product of the alliance that the United States, through President Obama and the efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry, have been putting together. An illustration of that commitment is the fact that five countries in the region have joined in to support the air strikes carried out so far,
No, I am afraid that I must move on.
The circumstances faced by Iraq are such that its very survival is at stake. It is important that we exercise a degree of responsibility in the matter. Although it is not the sole cause of the current circumstances in Iraq, there is no doubt that the military action in which we joined with the United States against Saddam Hussein has been a major contributor to the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
Let me deal with the question of Syria. I am content that were there to be a motion to the effect that we should take similar action in Syria, there exists a proper and sound legal basis for such action. Indeed, the very factors that justify intervention in Iraq would be of equal weight in relation to Syria. Those are, to put it briefly, the barbarism that is being displayed, and the fact that regional stability is being heavily undermined. Let us remind ourselves that such undermining of stability has an impact on countries such as Jordan, a close ally that would be a necessary component were there ever to be a global settlement for peace in the middle east.
We must also recognise that the Arab countries that have joined in have exercised a degree of responsibility in doing so. In many cases, they are taking on elements in their own countries that are opposed. How would any other country, faced with that decision, feel in the event that the motion that we are debating were not passed? It has been suggested that we need a United Nations resolution before we can embark on any action of the kind that is proposed, or indeed on similar action in relation to Syria. We must accept the reality that the prospect of a United Nations Security Council resolution is totally remote. Indeed, even to put such a resolution on the table would be a wholly pointless exercise because of the attitude that would undoubtedly be taken by Russia and possibly also by China.
The language that has been used so far has been about destruction, but I am not sure that it is possible to destroy an ideology. I am not sure that it is possible to destroy a cult of the kind that now exercises such malign influence. One thing that we most certainly can do is to adopt a policy of containment and deterrence. To do that, we have to degrade its military capability and create circumstances in which any return to barbarism will be met by swift and effective action. I think we would do best to agree that we are not likely to embark on a successful process of destruction, but that we can have an effective doctrine of deterrence and containment.
There is no parallel between today’s debate and the debate on Iraq in 2003, but there is a parallel with Kosovo. When Kosovo was an issue, with considerations similar to those that we are discussing—not least ethnic cleansing—the international community was able to deal with the situation without a resolution. A lot has been said about the long term, but we do not have that luxury.
It is so easy to despair. In politics, especially, how often do we obsess about small differences rather than about the biggest challenges? Too often, we are interested by the internal workings of Westminster power, and we stop looking outwards. We turn away from the world and in on ourselves, but that is a mistake. Our country is internationalist in outlook and, to us, all people matter, just as our neighbours and our families matter. People in Iraq matter. The conflict has innocent victims who have been scared out of their homes: women, men and children who take no part in violence but who will lose the most.
ISIL has executed a murderous and disastrously effective campaign of violence. This summer, it has taken control of Iraqi cities and exploited the fragile political situation to cause terror and devastate morale. ISIL has demonstrated that it has a serious stock of military equipment that it is prepared to use to attack indiscriminately. It must be stopped.
During the past 20 years, the position of the United Nations has shifted, and it now places a responsibility on its member states to deal with genocide when it occurs in the world. That does not, in my view, require a Security Council resolution. We need to do something when people are threatened in this world.
I will say more about internationalism shortly. Some people will say that the conflict is not our fight, and we should leave it to those who are closer by. For those who feel strongly, it is tempting to offer a counsel of despair and walk away. It is much harder to set about dealing with violent threats in a complicated context where the risks are high. In response, I say that we all want peace, and the only question is how to achieve it. The UK should not dictate the answer to the violence or carelessly interfere, but that does not mean that we should turn our back while the violence persists. In answering the question of whether we should do anything or nothing, we have to ask ourselves what good we can do.
Does not my hon. Friend accept that no one is talking about walking away? The only argument is over whether bombing is the way to resolve the long-standing political problems in Iraq and the surrounding region.
As I have said, in answering the question of whether we should do anything or nothing, we have to ask ourselves what good we can do. Conflict in the middle east seems to invite comparisons, but although we should learn from history, the search for patterns and repetition can be misleading. There is no reason why the future should necessarily be like the past. In fact, our job is to make sure that it is not.
ISIL is a serious and growing force that is wreaking havoc on the Iraqi Government and on innocent people. The Iraqi Government have asked us to help, and we have the capacity to do so. Our Government have made their aims clear, and the Leader of the Opposition has set the right tests. We in this House must offer scrutiny as best we are able and make the success of the operation more likely. A vital factor in that success will be to cut off the financial supply to ISIL, as my hon. Friend Liz Kendall has said. A United Nations Security Council resolution on that point was adopted on
There are other facts that matter. We are talking not simply about security, vital though that is, but about politics and development. We need more than a military response. Peace requires not only the absence of violence but the meeting of other needs. Basic needs must be met to keep the vulnerable alive, and all who are affected must be shown a way out of the conflict. In the past, the UK, via the Department for International Development, has put reasonably substantial sums into development-focused assistance for Iraq. That ended in 2012 when the bilateral programme ended. This year, DFID’s budget for Iraq has been more than £25 million, but only £4.3 million has been spent so far. Do we need to increase efforts to ensure that money that has been committed can be spent effectively and soon? In addition, we must question whether that is enough support. By way of comparison, we will spend some £75 million this year in Syria, and a similar sum in Yemen.
I want to make two further points about development, the first of which concerns long-term needs. The budget that I have mentioned is for a single 12-month Iraq emergency humanitarian assistance programme to help 65,000 ordinary Iraqis who are in serious need. It will be used to provide emergency medicines, food and basic shelter, and to reunite families. At what point will Iraq receive longer-term development assistance, rather than simply humanitarian assistance? Instead of emergency aid, such longer-term assistance would support the wider development needs of victims of the conflict. Have the Government discussed that possibility internationally?
Do Ministers know how many children are losing out on their education as a result of the conflict? Schools in the Kurdish region are being used for shelter, which is the right thing to do, but it means that many children are losing out on their chances and hope for the future. In addition, what is the risk to wider health care needs? The Iraqi Government must be supported to maintain not simply the hard infrastructure that the country will need—power, transport and water—but the vital infrastructure of public services. Development assistance must work alongside military answers to ISIL. Is DFID working alongside the military in planning? [Interruption.]
Order. There is quite a persistent chatter in the House, which is, frankly, discourteous. All colleagues should be heard with courtesy. Please let us do so.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
We were able to help a handful of the most vulnerable people from Syria to take refuge in our country. I would like to ask whether we can do more. The refugee crisis now is colossal. This country must live up to its obligations and our moral duty to help those who have done nothing to cause the conflict and are innocent victims of it.
Victims of violence in Iraq need our help, and our military assistance, but our job is far bigger than that. We must also try, limited though our power is, to win the peace.
The threats that ISIL poses are very clear. The humanitarian outrages that it has already perpetrated have been on our television screens and in our newspapers. ISIL threatens the destabilisation of the region and an all-out religious war. It will be a global exporter of jihad if we allow it to be. Therefore, the question of whether to act or not is a relatively simple one. However, in choosing to act, we must do so politically, economically and militarily, all in concert. Politically, we need greater regional support even than we have had until now. That includes Turkey, which is a key player in the region and a strong NATO ally. We also need a clear view from the regional powers on exactly what political shape they want to achieve in the region. If anything, the lesson we learned from Iraq is that military victory, where it is possible, is only the beginning of a much more difficult process.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that countries, including Turkey, Cyprus and others, in the region need to do much more to disrupt the flow of fighters from Europe and elsewhere to Iraq and Syria and indeed back here, if possible?
It is the duty of all those who wish to see international order maintained to do everything in their power to disrupt the flow of such people.
All conflicts are ideological and this conflict is no different. We require political and religious leaders in the region to be much more vocal about the fact that this has nothing to do with Islam, that it is a cruel, barbaric, mediaeval and misogynistic creed, and that it is not religion but a political perversion. We also need to make those messages clear to those young, impressionable individuals in Britain who may be considering becoming involved in such an enterprise. Those who are already there need to understand that they are not welcome back in this country and that the full force of the law will be applied should they come back. They cannot take a jihad gap year and come back to the UK with impunity.
The question of oil has been mentioned but, through the international financial system, we also need to stop financial flows to ISIS. It is very well funded and we must stop groups in the region playing a double-game, publicly decrying ISIS but providing it with the funding it requires.
My right hon. Friend is making an important point about the economic levers that need to be deployed. Does he agree that there is a serious dichotomy? Some of the middle east coalition allies in the current arrangement also fund the export of undesirable aspects of Islamic fundamentalism, particularly to north and west Africa.
I agree. Not only are those countries funders, but ideologically they give succour and support to groups, such as ISIL, that have been causing trouble in the region. Those countries cannot have it both ways.
On military action, I absolutely welcome the decision to use British air power. It has been obvious for some time that the forces on the ground were not able to achieve a military solution because they did not have sufficient air power. However, in applying British air power, we must understand that this is not just about dealing with the command and control, or even supply lines, of ISIL. Close air support will be required if there is to be a successful counter-offensive by any ground forces in the conflict. We need to understand the risks that that will pose to our forces. However, it is a mistake not to include Syria in today’s motion. ISIL operates from Syria. It attacks individuals, communities and the Iraqi state itself from Syria. There is a clear legal case for attacking ISIL bases in Syria. I am afraid that sooner or later we are going to have to do it. It would be far better if we said so explicitly today.
There is no doubt that the situation in Syria is complex and difficult. My point was simply that, if we want to defeat ISIL, we cannot do it without defeating it in Syria, where it has bases from which it operates. Otherwise, we are giving ourselves an impossible task, which will get us into the mire later.
We need to be clear in this country that we cannot disengage from the global threats that we face. It is clear to us that there are those out there who hate us ideologically for who we are, not what we do. When the US was bombing ISIL and we were delivering humanitarian aid, it did not differentiate between an American hostage and a British hostage who were beheaded. Terrorism and terrorist ideology respect no borders. Acting will undoubtedly have a cost on this occasion, but the cost of not acting would be infinitely greater.
There is little time, so I will try to deal with just some of the issues. Clearly, we have needs, opportunities and tasks to complete. As I understand it, the plan, which has not been explained terribly well, is that we should just be part of a process to try to find, fix and then, as the Americans would describe it, finish the opposition. Our contribution to the process at the moment is, at best, to help to fix the enemy in the position it is in—and not allow it to advance and do any more harm—and perhaps to do more than that if we can.
That is part of a campaign. In many respects, the language is over-ambitious; it always is. It is about wars on terror and eliminating and destroying. That needs to be better calibrated but, as I understand it, our part is in what possibly is not yet a fully formed strategy; it is a developing campaign. We need to make whatever contribution we can to a long-term process. As a number of hon. Members have said, that involves diplomatic activity as much as military activity. We need to do a lot more on that. We also need to do a lot more on the financial activity and the ideology that is peddled. My right hon. Friend Hazel Blears made an important point, to which I will return. We need to invest in those processes; we have been disinvesting in them. Therefore, we have opportunities.
We need to understand that others have made progress. It is interesting to see a woman jet pilot from the UAE flying an F-16 in combat. Other nations are making progress. One should not deny the success that is being achieved. That does not solve everything but it shows that a different discussion is going on in the region.
Three years ago, in conjunction with the Royal United Services Institute, I set up a defence and diplomacy group in Parliament because it was clear that the strategic focus had moved and we were behind the game. Therefore, we must not make that mistake. There is an opportunity, no more than that, that we must develop and work on.
Some rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia may be possible. Diplomacy is a dirty business; it always is. Sometimes one has to speak to people one does not want to speak to in order to make progress. I did that for 25 years as a trade union official—get over it and get on with it is the answer. One must make progress and recognise success when one sees it.
There are those tasks but we must invest in the ability to do them. We must not only create space by fixing the enemy but enable the countries in the region to be helped to do things for themselves; we must do things for ourselves, too. We have dramatically disinvested. We do not have Jones the spy where we need to have Jones the spy because we have not been paying the money to have intelligence on the ground to understand the position. We have disinvested in our intelligence, at home and internationally. We need to understand that this is a long-term process, and that in doing all these things we need to make a long-term investment.
Is the hon. Gentleman in any way perturbed by the open-ended nature of this motion?
It is a reality; I am perturbed by it, but I also recognise the fact that it is the realpolitik. There is no way that we will make this change in the short term, and neither will we make it in a Twitter debate of 140 characters. As I have said to you, Mr Speaker, on a number of occasions, we used to have defence debates in this Parliament on a regular basis—a full day of discussion—and we need to reinstate them. This will be a long-term process, and this debate will not be the only discussion about it; we will be discussing this matter for the next 15 years and we need the structure to do that.
My hon. Friend knows about these things. Is it not a fact that this whole debate, and all the build-up to it, is in reality about the deployment of about six Tornado aircraft in north Iraq? If we are genuine about being humanitarian, would it not be better to deploy about 60 fully laden cargo aircraft to deliver medical supplies, food and water to the affected areas?
The truth is that to put six jets in the air takes a lot more than six people—I tell the House that for nothing—and we are already contributing with intelligence, humanitarian support and all the rest of it. However, my hon. Friend makes the point that, yes, this will involve long-term investment and a long-term commitment in terms of expenditure on a whole range of places, including perhaps on scrubbing up our bases in Cyprus and other places; we have to invest to do that stuff.
I will just talk about the law for a moment. I led a report for the Defence Committee earlier—in fact, I surprised myself when I discovered that it was 2013 when we produced it—about the legal framework for military personnel in future operations. We have domestic difficulties with all that; the debate about combat immunity has not gone away. The reason I want to raise this issue now is that there seems to be a settled view in some places that there is a legality to going into Syria. That is our next debate; it is not a debate for today, because today we are only talking about operating in Iran—sorry, Iraq; Freudian slip.
If an aeroplane were to go down in Iraq, the search and rescue mission would not be a problem; should an aeroplane go down in Syria, there could well be a problem. There is this “hot pursuit” argument being made, that if Iraq is now defending itself, it is therefore legitimate for it to go over the border into Syria to do so, and to be supported by the Americans and others. However, do we all of a sudden vicariously gain legal legitimacy because we are part of the support activity for that process? Where would that situation leave individual members of the military in terms of their legal certainty? That is a discussion that we will need to have if we get to that point. I understand the arguments that this situation is like Kosovo, that this is collective defence and that it is all these different things, but we need to have a serious discussion about this issue.
The only thing I would say to those who say, “Well, we can make all these decisions today, it is already done and it is all very certain”, is that I do not think it is very certain, including in our own Supreme Court; I think we would find that out if we were to go and ask it. So we should just be careful about what we do. The issue of protection is equally as important for the individual as it is for the collective approach that we are taking.
I will vote for the motion today, despite the fact I think it is being badly sold. I tell Government Members, “You need to get your act together”, because I do not think the general public understand that this motion is a component part of what is a broader developing campaign that will develop into something we might call a strategy. Government Members need to sell their goods a bit better; I think that I understand the motion, but what I also understand is that we have a series of tasks ahead. It is easy to talk to others about what they should do, but I say to Government Members, “You need to address what you need to do.”
I shall be very brief.
First, I applaud the tone and measure of the Prime Minister’s speech to the House today. Secondly, I concur with almost everything that my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke said; he has successfully shot all my foxes. Therefore, I only want to say that in my time in this House the failures in our policy in the middle east, under all Governments, have been really serious. The lesson that we and this Government have learned needs to be highlighted today; it is that the diplomacy that has gone on ahead of the formation of this coalition has been magnificent. It is a new effort in bringing in our coalition partners in this effort—Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Bahrain, the UAE and others—to take part in their fight. It is not the west’s fight; it is their fight, and we are in support of their efforts. It should be marked, and marked well, by the country that we are in support of an Arab coalition.
I endorse the point that Mr Havard made in his excellent speech about the need for further and greater intelligence capability on the ground. I am not party to decisions about that capability. I do not know—of course, correctly—what we have there already, but whatever we have, it is not enough. In all these operations, we need to know much more than we do about the immense intricacy and complication of the tribal structure, and the way that it works. In his admirable speech some time ago, the Chairman of the Defence Committee, my hon. Friend Rory Stewart, made these points very clearly indeed. Intelligence is the key to all future operations of this type.
I conclude by saying only that I, together with every other person in this House and in the wider country, wish good luck and safe return to our Tornado pilots, who I can assure the House will make a magnificent effort on our behalf.
The threat posed by the barbarism, brutality and savagery of ISIL is not merely a threat to the Sunnis, Shi’as, Kurds, Christians and Yazidis of Iraq itself. ISIL poses a clear and present threat to the people of the United Kingdom; it is a clear and present threat to the territorial integrity of Iraq, the Government of which has asked us to intervene by way of air strikes; and it is a clear and present threat to regional stability, international security and civilisation in general. For those reasons, we are in a different place from where we were a year ago when this House was last asked to consider military action—that time, in Syria—and for those reasons we in the Democratic Unionist party will support military action, unlike last time.
A plea has gone out to the country. The sovereign nation of Iraq faces a perilous time and it has submitted a request for assistance at this crucial juncture, to assist it in protecting its national security, and the security and safety of its people. With our history of fighting for freedom, democracy, justice and human rights, how can we as a nation turn our backs and reject such a plea?
This time, there is no question mark about the legality and validity of intervention in these circumstances, and there is certainly no question mark about the need for immediate intervention. The savagery, sheer brutality and scale of the genocidal wave of terror sweeping the region are truly terrifying; it is a savagery and obscenity that continues to shock even the most hardened commentators and those with great experience of previous conflicts.
In Northern Ireland, we are well used to the impact of terrorism on families and communities; we have seen it first hand and directly. However, this terrorism is on a different scale. It is a mediaeval-type barbarism, which people in the country want a response to.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that any decision to take military action is not one that will be taken lightly by any right hon. or hon. Member of this House, bearing in mind the sacrifice or the dangers facing our servicemen and women, but that we cannot sit idly by and allow a group of Islamic fanatics to terrorise and butcher innocent people in Iraq?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. Clearly, the dangers are great for our servicemen and women. I pay tribute to them and salute them for their efforts in many conflicts, and again they are being asked to do a job on behalf of the people of this country; the House is coming together to ask them do that job. We wish them well, and we know that they will display the courage, gallantry and effectiveness that they always display in these situations.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that if the House had voted last year to go into Syria, or to bomb Syria, in effect we would have been on the same side as ISIS and fighting the same battle as ISIL, and does that not lead us all to show a great degree of caution about the fact that within one year circumstances can change rapidly in an incredibly volatile civil war going on in that region?
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the situation then may have led to the consequences that he outlines, which is why we in the DUP voted against intervention in Syria at that time. In any future situation that arises where a motion comes before the House, whether on Syria or the intervention of combat troops, we will take our decisions at the time on the merits of the circumstances. We are taking this decision today on the merits of the circumstances that are before us in the House, and we believe that it is right and imperative that we give the assistance for which the Iraqi Government have asked. It is on a sound legal basis and it will be according to a well-thought-out plan and will make an effective difference. That is the difference between now and last time.
No, I cannot give way because I have used up all the interventions.
Despite what we have said about the barbarism and savagery of ISIL, which is well documented and people can see it for themselves on their TV screens and read about it, there are people who will ask why the UK should get involved and directly intervene in such a situation, for the reasons that have been outlined by many already. ISIL’s brutality and savagery are aimed not just at the peoples of Iraq, but present a clear threat to this country, the west and the region in general. Unless that threat is confronted now, we will be storing up much greater trouble for this country and our citizens in the future. We have seen the brutal murder of David Haines, the kidnapping of and the threat against Alan Henning, and others who have been brutally terrorised and murdered. It is not just that ISIL presents a threat to the UK; this organisation has already taken direct action against the citizens of the United Kingdom, and that demands a response on the part of this country. We simply cannot allow the creation and consolidation of a state covering large swathes of territory that would be the base for the planning and direction of terrorism against this country and on a worldwide scale.
As we know, hundreds of people have already gone to the region from this country and have engaged in terrorist activity and in war. We need to be clear that as we embark on this action in this House today we also say to the people of the United Kingdom that we will take the decisive and clear action that is needed to prevent people from this country who have gone to the middle east, to Iraq and Syria, from returning and becoming a major direct threat to the citizens of this United Kingdom. It would be simply wrong to take this action today and then to say that we will not be able, for whatever reason, to take action to prevent these people from coming back to the United Kingdom. The two have to go hand in hand.
If Parliament were to reject this request today, it would send the disastrous signal that the United Kingdom does not stand by its friends and allies in times of trouble and that it is prepared to ignore the barbarism of ISIL and our international responsibilities and obligations. Intervention is justified because it is on a sound legal basis. It is at the request of the Iraqi Government and there is already a clear and direct threat to the United Kingdom through the murders of British citizens. We will be part of a coalition that includes Sunni Muslim states. There is a clear plan and we can make an effective difference for the better. The barbarism of ISIL has already targeted UK citizens and we must respond to that, otherwise we will be failing our people. We wish our airmen and women well, and we wish them Godspeed.
I support the motion, but I am not under any illusions about the risks and difficulties involved. We have heard already many references to those risks, and from those who are more cautious about any action at all, we have a sense that what is covered by the motion will not be enough to eliminate the threat to the region and the wider world posed by the ISIS barbarians. When the people of a peace-loving nation come with heavy hearts to the conclusion that there is no alternative to the waging of a just war, the situation will always be fraught with doubt and uncertainty—a lack of trustworthy intelligence about what is happening on the ground; concerns about those close to the conflict with whom it will be necessary to form alliances; a desire to ensure a more promising political landscape than currently exists, or, frankly, is likely to exist this side of 50 years. Those against any form of action will always pose questions that are impossible to answer at the outset of any conflict. They will draw on historical examples of when things go wrong, of which there have been several in recent years, but they will ignore the examples of more successful interventions, such as in Bosnia and Sierra Leone.
The fact that the answers to those questions are imperfect does not provide sufficient justification for turning our backs on the Iraqi Government’s plea for help. Yes, we must proceed with caution; there must be an absolute commitment to minimise casualties among innocent people who have suffered so much.
I have been listening carefully to what the hon. Lady has said and to the rest of the debate, and I will support the motion. She is absolutely right to make the point about minimising casualties. Incurring casualties is one of those arguments that are put against action, which we must hear but should not prevent us from making the right decision today. However, as we go forward with air strikes, we must take very seriously the concern that ISIS is embedded among civilians.
I agree with the remark that the hon. Lady has just made in what has been a thoughtful speech, but I hope that, like me, she will be hoping to hear from the Government during the course of this debate how they intend to work closely with the Iraqi Government as a partner to ensure that humanitarian assistance is available to the civilians who are caught up in the conflict.
I agree with my hon. Friend. That is absolutely a priority, and it should not be instead of but as well as what this country provides through humanitarian aid.
Of course, military action is not the only matter with which the House must concern itself. I strongly agree with many of the points made by Hazel Blears. We really must get behind the moderate and universal force of those of Muslim faith, both here and abroad, in seeking to educate the younger, more hot-headed members of that faith, who are such a minority, that this is not the path of true Islam and it is not the path that they should follow.
But proceed to these air strikes we must. Of that I am in no doubt, and for many reasons. First, there is the unique nature of the threat. We are dealing with a growing army of mediaeval barbarians who have the most modern 21st-century military equipment at their disposal. The methods of ISIS are so barbaric, its manpower, military and financial resources so substantial, that the other regional powers are not a match for it without western support. Initially, its focus has been on securing territorial gains and then expanding within the middle east. Unchecked, the history of fundamentalism shows us that there is no doubt whatsoever that ISIS will then turn its sights on western targets. The Prime
Minister is quite right when he says that ISIS is a direct threat to us in the UK, and that is clear from the number of young men who have already been recruited by it to join its fight, some of whom will find ways of getting back into this country, no matter what measures we put in place to deter them, to try to mount terrorist attacks.
That is not the only justification. It is only 11 years since we invaded Iraq, an invasion to which we were not invited, for which there was no post-invasion plan, and which presided over the disastrous de-Ba’athification of the Iraqi army. There then followed Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and other gross abuses and insults to the Islamic world. It was Lord Salisbury who said:
“Our first duty is towards the people of this country…to maintain their interests and their rights; our second is to all humanity.”
I fear I cannot, because of the time. I am sorry.
Nowhere is Lord Salisbury’s second point more true than in the middle east, a part of the world that this country and France actually governed until just 70 years ago.
In supporting the motion, we should fulfil our moral responsibility to the region by confronting ISIS and supporting the forces of moderation in that part of the world; we should increase our aid to the region, and take in our fair share of refugees—Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon cannot continue to absorb them all, on top of the hundreds of thousands of people, if not approaching 1 million people, whom those countries have already absorbed or are having to absorb; and we should prevent the further spread of militant ideology, especially among young Muslims in Britain.
ISIS is a grave threat to world peace and, in its barbarism, it is a truly satanic force that must be confronted by the rest of humanity. We have the measure of fundamentalist Islam, even if we are still working out exactly and in fine detail how to respond. Austen Chamberlain said of Hitler’s Germany:
“For a people who believe in nothing but force, force is the only answer.”
I am afraid that that will turn out to be true of the war declared by ISIS on all those who do not share its narrow and warped interpretation of Islam, and on all women and girls of whatever faith or of none. Although military solutions are far from enough, it is very unlikely that we will be able to maintain our freedoms without utilising our military strength as part of a much broader strategy.
The immediate decision before us in this debate is about military action, but behind that, this is about values. This is not a war against Islam. Islam is one of the great world religions, which is practised freely, without any harm to anyone, by millions of people in this country and around the world. This is not about Islam, but about co-existence.
Co-existence is absolutely fundamental to our society—the ability to elect Governments who are freely chosen by the people, equality of rights between men and women, freedom of speech and freedom of religion are fundamental—but ISIS rejects every tenet of it. That is why ISIS kills, with impunity, fellow Muslims, Christians and Yazidis; engages in sexual exploitation of, and the trade in, women; and cares nothing for anyone who does not sign up to its single truth. This is not about Islam, but about co-existence.
The shadow of past decisions—particularly the 2003 decision to invade Iraq—is a long one in debates such as this one. That is because there is a live debate about the degree to which we are responsible for creating or fomenting violent jihadism. It is important to be clear about that. I accept that past decisions have angered jihadists and perhaps encouraged some people to join them, but it is a fundamental mistake to think that we are responsible for violent jihadism. Let us not forget that the bombing of the World Trade Centre on
I just want to query the hon. Gentleman’s history. What is the connection between the twin towers attack and Iraq?
The point I am making is that violent Islamic jihadism was around long before the decision in 2003.
Beneath the argument that this is really our fault lies a new imperialism—an imperialist conceit that, in foreign policy terms, seeks to divide the world into adults and children. The United States, the United Kingdom and other countries are defined as adults, and movements elsewhere, including the jihadists, are defined almost as children who react only in response to what we do or do not do. That is not the case: they are responsible for their own actions and their own ideology.
No one has forced anyone to behead innocent journalists and aid workers on the internet. No one has forced anyone to go from this country to join a group that carries out such acts. No one has forced anyone to carry out the terrorist acts that we have seen on our own streets. We cannot say this loudly and clearly enough: those who carry out these actions and foment this ideology are adults who are responsible for their own actions.
That brings me to the motion, which sets out a plan for military action in Iraq. I will vote for it, but I have to ask, as other hon. Members have asked, why it is right to carry out such actions against ISIS in Iraq, but not in Syria. The Government have welcomed the action carried out by the United States and Arab countries in Syria in recent days. If it is welcome and right for others to do so, why is it not welcome and right for us? If the Government’s position is that it would be illegal or wrong to act in that way in Syria, why is it not illegal or wrong for the United States and the countries taking part in the action? Militarily, we must ask what the point is of chasing ISIS from Iraq through a barely existing border to Syria. Morally, we must ask why it is right to come to the aid of the victims of ISIS who live under a democracy in Iraq, but not those who live under a dictatorship in Syria.
Is not the motion a reflection of where the country stands right now—somewhat limited in its confidence, overburdened by past events, and looking too much in the rear-view mirror? I would say that “Out, damn’d spot” is no basis for taking crucial foreign policy decisions. Instead, we should learn from the past, ally our soft power with hard power, follow through on our decisions to intervene so that we achieve our objectives, and not just define the struggle as a generational one and begin military action, but actually will the means to complete the job.
I support the motion today, ever conscious, as we all should be, of the young men and women who will be placed in harm’s way on our account.
I support the motion, but for me it does not go as far as it should. It is a snapshot of what will be required. The permission that it gives for the deployment of Tornadoes from RAF Akrotiri, and the fact that we are telegraphing safe havens over the Syrian border to ISIL are matters of concern. The motion is a snapshot of the issues that we need to address, but for me it does not go anything like far enough. I am quite certain that the House will have to return to some of the issues we have discussed today, particularly the point—made more firmly by Opposition than by Government Members—about the need for us to engage on Syria.
Many other things are required, but in the brief time allowed I want to make four points in support of, but in addition to, the motion we are supporting today. First, there is no doubt that this matter requires a multilateral effort. We need to ensure that the United Nations is engaged in every possible way. Of course, as other hon. Members have said, it will not agree at this point to the motion we want on Syria. Nevertheless, we must engage with the United Nations, not least its humanitarian agencies. The vast power, legitimacy and authority that UN support conveys and gives us cannot be understated.
We need to ensure that there is massive regional support, and the Prime Minister deserves credit for having tried to secure the widest possible coalition. It has been a good start and I was pleased to see the successful meeting with Iran in New York, for which the Government deserve credit. Along with many others in this House, I have concluded that the relationship with Iran needs to be rebased and that much more work needs to be done to try to bring Iran into the comity of nations. Let us not be too pious in this House about British policy towards Iran. It was a British coup d’état in 1953 that removed Mosaddegh, the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, so we should bear that in mind as we consider the policy.
Just to illustrate some of the complications of the situation, if indeed we do bring Iran back in, is it not the case that Iran will make it absolutely certain that our other professed wish to bring down President Assad never happens? The relationships are very complex.
My hon. Friend is right that the relationships are very complex, but that argument must not be an argument against trying. We are not trying to do this on any terms, but we must do everything that we can to achieve it.
The right hon. Gentleman was a distinguished International Development Secretary in a previous incarnation. What is his view on winning the peace as well as winning the war, which clearly was not done with Mr Paul Bremer being put in to run the Iraq regime after the previous Iraq conflict? From the right hon. Gentleman’s previous experience, what are the lessons of that and how will we engage people so that they can have a settled political settlement once all the fighting and death is over?
The hon. Gentleman pre-empts a point that I will come on to later.
My second point that Britain’s involvement must be in training, arming and giving strategic support and planning. Many have already suggested that links with the Free Syrian Army, the Kurds and the Iraqi army need to be enhanced, but this is an area in which the British military excel. We need to ensure that we do everything that we can to help train, arm and provide strategic support and planning. Those are issues at which Britain is undoubtedly one of the best in the world.
My third point is that the humanitarian protection of civilians is absolutely essential. I remember during the Libyan campaign, when I had the honour of sitting on the National Security Council, the personal attention that the then Defence Secretary took to ensure that targeting was of such quality and standard that civilian casualties were absolutely minimised. There would be nothing worse than the damage that will be caused by an air campaign if huge numbers of innocent civilians are attacked, as they have been in other campaigns but as they were not in Libya. Libya was successful in that respect at least. We must ensure precise targeting and the protection of civilians. We must give absolute priority to that and must ensure that protecting those who are at grave risk in this conflict is right at the top of the list.
My fourth point, which brings me directly to the point of Mr Allen, is that anyone who thinks that this crisis will be solved by smart weapons from 12,000 feet is completely and totally wrong, which is pretty widely accepted, at least in the House. It is absolutely critical that there is a plan for when the crisis is over and that the plan is enunciated now, because we need to ensure that we split off the hardliners, those who are intent on military action and advancing their cause through weaponry and ordnance, from those who are biddable and who may be brought back into more sensible dialogue and international comity.
I am afraid that I cannot.
We must ensure that people know that there is a plan that will provide a better life for their children and grandchildren when the crisis is all over. That means focusing on governance. As has already been said, the brilliant quote from Ban Ki-moon absolutely sums it up. We must focus on local governance and accountability, on providing some sort of basic services, on tackling the extremes of destitution and poverty that fuel such conflicts and on bad governance and unfairness. We must show people that life will be better once the conflict is over and that we are part of the grouping that is insistent on ensuring that they have that better life.
This is not just something that we see in Iraq and, indeed, in Syria. All across this part of the world, including north Nigeria, Mali, Somalia and Libya, the effects of bad governance and alienation from those who govern—the deep, systemic poverty with no hope or opportunity, no economic activity, and conflict being endemic in the lives of everyone everyday, especially women and children, who are the most vulnerable is such circumstances—are the things that we, the international community, need to make clear will be addressed when the conflict is over. It is not just about smart weaponry; it is about smart policies—soft power as well as hard power—which are absolutely essential to the solution.
Mr Speaker, time does not permit me to tell you how many millions of times “I told you so” is currently being said in the country—or will be once people read of this debate. Millions of ordinary people knew what the expensive talent governing our country did not know, namely that there was no al-Qaeda in Iraq and that there was no Islamist fundamentalism in Iraq before Mr Blair—and his mouthpieces who are still here—and Mr Bush invaded and occupied the country. What a tangled web we have woven is abundantly clear to everyone watching this debate. The mission creep has not even waited for the end of the debate. The words on the motion are about bombing Iraq, but there is a consensus in here that we will soon be bombing Syria. The words do not mention boots on the ground, but there is a consensus here that there will be boots on the ground, the only question being whose boots they will be.
The debate has been characterised by Members of Parliament moving around imaginary armies. The Free Syrian Army is a fiction that has been in the receipt of hundreds of millions of dollars and hundreds of tonnes of weapons, virtually all of which were taken from them by al-Qaeda, which has now mutated into ISIL. The Iraqi army is the most expensively trained and most modernly equipped army in history. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on the Iraqi army, which ran away leaving its equipment behind. ISIL itself is an imaginary army. A former Defence Secretary no less said that we must bomb its bases. It does not have any bases. The territory that its personnel control is the size of Britain and yet there are only between 10,000 and 20,000 of them. Do the maths. They do not concentrate as an army. They do not live in bases. The only way that a force of that size could successfully hold the territory that it holds is if the population acts as the water in which it swims. The population is quiescent because of western policies and western invasion and occupation.
That is the truth of the matter. ISIL could not survive for five minutes if the tribes in the west of Iraq rose up against it.
Does the hon. Gentleman understand how appalled people will be to hear him say that women who have been buried alive or enslaved have been quiescent in their persecution by these people? What a total disgrace.
They don’t like it up them, Mr Speaker. They would rather have an imaginary debate, moving around imaginary armies. ISIL is a death cult. It is a gang of terrorist murderers. It is not an army and is certainly not an army that will be destroyed by aerial bombardment. ISIL is able to rule the parts of Iraq that it does because nobody in those parts has any confidence in the Government in Baghdad, a sectarian Government helped into power by Bremer and the deliberate sectarianisation of Iraqi politics by the occupation authorities. The Government know that. That was why they pushed al-Maliki out—even though he won the election, by the way, if we are talking about democracy. They pushed him out because they knew that far too many people in ISIL-occupied Iraq had no confidence in the Baghdad Government. Nobody has any confidence in the army emanating out of Baghdad.
This will not be solved by bombing. We have been bombing Iraqis for 100 years. We dropped the world’s first chemical bombs on them in the 1920s. We attacked them and helped to kill their King in the 1930s. We helped in the murder of their President in 1963, helping the Ba’ath party into power. We bombed them again through the 1990s.
Now that I have an extra minute, thanks to the hon. Lady, I will be able to tell her.
This will not be solved by bombing; every matter will be made worse. Extremism will spread further and deeper around the world, just as happened as a result of the last Iraq war. The people outside can see it, but the fools in here, who draw a big salary and big expenses, cannot or will not see it, like the hon. Lady with her asinine intervention.
In five minutes it is difficult, but we have to strengthen those who are already fighting ISIL. We have to give them all the weapons they need—the Baghdad Government have paid for weapons that have still not been delivered. We have to strengthen the Kurdish fighters, who are doing a good job of fighting ISIL.
The Saudi, Emirati and Qatari armies are all imaginary armies. They have not even told their own people that they are on the masthead. Has anyone here seen a picture of them fighting in Syria? Anyone seen a picture of a Saudi jet bombing in Syria? Saudi Arabia is the nest from which ISIL and these other vipers have come, and by the way, it does a fine line in head chopping itself. Saudi Arabia has 700 warplanes—get them to bomb. Turkey is a NATO member—get Turkey to bomb. The last people who should be returning to the scene of their former crimes are Britain, France and the United States of America.
I believe that when Members think of ISIS, they think of a foreign fighter, dressed in black, holding before him a terrified offering dressed in orange—a kind of spectre or ghost, screaming at us out of cyberspace. Last week I was in Iraq with my hon. Friend Kwasi Kwarteng, and an Iraqi said to me, “You’ve got to see ISIS in Iraq like this: it’s the good, the bad and the ugly.” The good are the Sunni tribesman, rising up against the sectarian Government in Baghdad, the bad are the foreign jihadists, and the ugly are the former Ba’athist regime people whom my regiment fought in the first gulf war. Who will kick out the bad, the jihadists? The only people on the ground who will be able to do that are the good and the ugly—the tribes and the Ba’athists.
Time and time again, we see that the only way to remove people like ISIS is without the consent of the local people. It is overwhelmingly a political problem, even if it is a security headache. It is not a first-order clash between the west and the Muslim world but one between neighbours. In Iraq, it is a sectarian conflict. ISIS did not take over Iraq’s second biggest city by magic or by force of arms, they took it over because the local people allowed them to. One of my friends from the war in 2003 said that for people in Mosul, there is very little difference between living under a sectarian Shi’a Government and living under ISIS. He said, “The only difference, actually, is that ISIS won’t let you smoke.” That might be overdoing it somewhat, but we have had only the most limited reports of Sunni resistance from inside the great swathe of territory that ISIS controls.
None of that excuses the extraordinary cruelty of ISIS, but before we even think about anything beyond emergency air strikes in Iraq and escalation into Syria, ought we not to stop and work out what needs to be done politically and how we might take the political ground back from ISIS? At Sandhurst, they taught us that military force is exercised to support political ends, and that politics should dictate the terms of military engagement. As we have heard, John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, has worked hard to put together a coalition, but if we tried to make up the worst way to start the campaign, it would be with headlines around the world, including the Muslim world, referring to “US-led air strikes”.
What the hon. Gentleman seems to be forgetting is that we have been invited and requested by a democratically elected Government to help to deal with a mess that many people, including me, believe we created. What should we do when they ask for that help—should we say, “We created that mess, but we are having nothing else to do with it. It is none of our business”?
A first step for the hon. Gentleman might be to join the Territorial Army and, in a year’s time, volunteer to serve in the region. Arab countries should be at the forefront of the fight, and we should think about how to help Iraqi and Syrian Sunnis gain security and a fairer deal, so that they eject ISIS themselves.
By not yet diving in completely, the western capitals have shown that they have learned something from the absolute disasters of Iraq and the NATO deployment to Afghanistan, and from our chaotic and inconsistent response to the Arab spring. However, we must ask ourselves what we are doing when the US Secretary of State seems to be chairing the effort.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s feeling that bombing can work only if there is a plan for what comes next, but I am not hearing from him what that should be. I am probably not the only Member in the Chamber who is not certain about how they will vote because they are not hearing enough about what happens next. I would like him to tell us what he thinks should happen.
That is a fair observation. There is no simple solution to any of this, but the answer will not come from something military that is led by the west. It will come from something political that is led by people within the region.
There is a huge amount that we can do, but it should mostly involve encouraging and enabling other people. It should not be a rerun of Iraq in 1991, when, although there was a grand coalition of Arab states, it was still led by the United States, or of 2003. If we are to win, the lead should come from within the region and should include a long-term political vision. Otherwise, step by small step, we will enter a much darker age of war and radicalisation.
This is not the first time that I have disagreed with George Galloway. In fact, I can remember the last Speaker, before the hon. Gentleman was the Member for Bradford West, asking him to leave the Chamber because he had misbehaved. The microphones here are quite good, and Members do not need to shout to make themselves heard if others are listening. I say to the hon. Gentleman that he is wrong now as he was then. Al-Qaeda was in Iraq before 2003; it operated under the name Ansar al-Islam. It was the Kurds who told me about Ansar al-Islam at that time. They showed me the heads of those who had been beheaded by that very same group. It is not true that al-Qaeda was not in Iraq before 2003.
I remind the House that the hon. Member for Bradford West was the man who greeted Saddam Hussein as a great friend and leader of his people and shook his hand in Iraq. I do not think the Kurds or the Shi’a would have been very pleased with that, given that Saddam Hussein exterminated hundreds of thousands of Kurds and Shi’a. If anyone doubts that, I suggest that they go to the mass graves in al-Hillah and all over Iraq.
I fully support the resolution, but I do not think it goes far enough. I have listened with interest to what the Americans have been saying in the past few days. General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, and other senior US military figures have said that air power alone cannot defeat ISIS.
Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, is a case in point. Yes, the Iraqi military fled, but I believe that there is an alternative story to that—they fled only because they were ordered to by those who were then in control of the military in Iraq.
Last week, I met 120 representatives of the Mancunian Iraqi diaspora from Mosul, whose families live in tents in exile in foreign lands. They just want their families to be able to go back, build civil society and live in peace. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is in our self-interest to help them do that?
Absolutely. Air strikes have obviously not been able to recapture Mosul. Four months on, Mosul is still in the hands of ISIS. Some 2 million people live in Mosul, although many, as my hon. Friend said, have fled. Another problem, of course, is the number of refugees who have gone across borders—into Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey.
The question that sits in the air following the contributions of the two speakers before the right hon. Lady is about who is going to defeat ISIS. My hon. Friend Mr Holloway was suggesting that it had to be done internally, by the Sunnis in Iraq and Syria, or there would be the question of the regional ownership of the military force driving ISIS out. Who is going to provide that effective force? We could be bombing for 10 years with little to show for it.
Of course there is a problem; nobody would dispute that. The Iraqi army, apparently, are not ready or properly trained for such action. We cannot depend on the Peshmerga—a small group of soldiers who have been defending their own homeland and cannot possibly be responsible for defending the whole of Iraq. That is just pie in the sky. The question of what we will do if the air strikes are not successful will continue to challenge us.
The issue of refugees has also been raised. Some countries have been much more ready to take refugees than this one. More than 3 million people who have fled Syria over the past three years have been sheltered by a small number of neighbouring countries. In the past week, more than 100,000 additional such refugees are said to have crossed Turkey’s border, fearing the advance of ISIS. Although we have made some kind of offer, I understand that only 75 Syrian individuals have arrived in the UK since January this year. In comparison, Germany has pledged to resettle 20,000 Syrians. Resettling several hundred over three years does not respond adequately to the clear need. We also have to see what we are going to do in Syria; I am sure that there will be another debate in the House of Commons on that issue.
It is not true that nobody asked us to go into Iraq. In 2003, the Kurds invited us to help them; I remember saying so in this Chamber just a few weeks after I came back from Kurdistan. That is another myth that I want to dispel. The new Iraqi Government deserve our full support. Al-Maliki, of course, alienated so many of the very Sunnis who we hope will fight to defend Iraq. They have to be won back. We can depend on the Kurds, although there are disputes between them and the Iraqi central Government that will have to be resolved in some way. I fully support the resolution, which is a good step in the right direction.
As we get through the debate, we start to say a number of similar things. Before I say the three things that I wanted to say, two things are pertinent. First, most of us approach this debate with a sense of humility bearing in mind the history of Iraq and what has happened there. Secondly, as recent speeches have shown, there are layers of complexity; we should approach simplistic answers with even greater trepidation.
I want to make three brief points. First, in support of the motion I should say that the particular nature of so-called ISIL has become clear in recent months. We have to be careful about the names we use. The Islamic world is deeply upset at the identification of this terrorist, criminal group with the words “Islamic State”—they are neither Islamic nor a state. In some parts of the region, they have started to be called “Daesh”, a derogatory term. We must be sensitive to the issue—the group are not Islamic and not a state.
The particular nature of the group has become clear. Their wickedness is demonstrated in the fact that they want to occupy not just territory, but minds, and they want to seize not just land, but people. The barbarity of the executions is matched by the barbarity of how they seduce and corrupt the people they bring from different parts of the world to follow their lies. We now know the nature of the group, and that is why the motion is set as it is.
In support of the Government’s motion, I should say that had we been discussing something different today, the tone would have been rather different. Although I absolutely agree with others that we are going to revisit the issue, having the motion as it is, allowing us to proceed step by step, might be wise.
This is a long struggle. To an extent, I am reassured by the fact that a coalition of 60 is now dealing with the issue, but I remind the House that for the past three years there has been a coalition of more than 100 states and different entities called the Friends of Syria. That has achieved none of its objectives; Syria has rather dropped off the map recently, until now.
I thank my right hon. Friend personally for all the work he did in the region while he was Minister. The situation is very difficult, but we have to target ISIL, who are bringing the middle east back to the dark ages. There are no two ways about it. Their brutality, as my right hon. Friend has been saying, is second to none. The idea that we should do nothing would be absolutely wrong. I entirely support the motion.
I entirely agree. ISIL’s barbarity is what has brought us here today, as well as the recognition that something longer-term is needed beyond force.
That brings me to my second point. In the past few weeks, I have travelled to both Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates. None of us should underestimate the importance of those Islamic states’ having joined against this terrorist criminal group. That is a big thing. As George Galloway observed, none of it is simple. The fact that some, in the past, supported what became this terrorist group because they felt that they were standing up against Sunni oppression was a very big thing, and the fact that states and theological leaders are now denouncing it marks a profound shift in opinion. It is a big thing to be able to attack those who are attacking one’s enemies. That shift has been profoundly important, and none of us here should minimise it.
Relationships in the area are complex. Not all Islamist groups are enemy groups. Some leaders in some states go easy on some groups, but are now beginning to make a clear distinction, recognising that groups which label themselves in a particular way, professing to stand up for Sunnis who are being oppressed, are not always what they seem. That is a profound change, which—as my hon. Friend Mr Holloway said earlier—enables this alliance to be led not by the west, but by the thought leaders of the middle east. It marks a turning point in the way in which this matter should be handled in the future.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a typically thoughtful speech. It would be unthinkable to stand back and repeat the mistakes of history—the slaughters of Srebrenica and Rwanda, for instance, through barbarism—but the right hon. Gentleman is right to point out that it would also be unthinkable to fail to learn the lessons of history. Evil thrives on a sense of grievance.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, on the one hand, it is of the highest importance for us to work with and support progressive elements in the Muslim community nationally and internationally and resist the demonisation of the Muslim community, and that, on the other hand, a regional political settlement must include a two-state solution?
I shall not respond to the hon. Gentleman’s second point. There is an issue relating to the settling of wider grievances, and that is one of the layers of the complexity to which I referred earlier. However, his first point was absolutely right. The unequivocal response of the Islamic community in the United Kingdom to what we have seen in recent months has also been one of the most profound developments. As the hon. Gentleman said, there should be no demonisation of the Muslim community in the United Kingdom, because its response has been very dramatic and very strong, and must be used to bring to the young people who have been corrupted by this false ideology a sense that their Muslim faith should take them in a different direction.
The last point that I want to make concerns Syria. I entirely agree with colleagues who have raised it as the issue that might have been discussed today. We know that it is there, because there are no borders between Iraq and Syria, and indeed there are no borders when it comes to dealing with the issue, which will be dealt with in Syria sooner or later. However, there are some misunderstandings about how the situation in Syria has arisen, and about the relationship between President Assad and the extremists.
President Assad’s fight is with his people who rose up against him, who are represented by those who supported the protesters, and who have been recognised by more than 100 states, the Syrian National Coalition and the Free Syrian Army. The enemies of those people are not just Assad, but the terrorist criminal forces that have come in. Assad has been in league with those forces, because his greatest fear is his people, not the extremists. Had we taken action against Assad last year, that action would have demonstrated that the rest of the world was prepared to stand up against him, and—as he realised—would have provided an opportunity to bring him to negotiations.
Assad will not negotiate for the peace of Syria until he is forced to do so, which is why we should seek to support those who have been fighting the terrorists and criminals on the ground. That means the peshmerga and the Iraqi army—although the vulnerabilities of the Iraqi army are well known, and they cannot be relied on for some time to come—but it also means the Free Syrian army, which exists and is not a fiction. It has fought both Assad and the terrorists for the past year in Aleppo, and it should be supported. We now know that we cannot do the ground work, which must be taken on by people in the region, so we should support those who are doing it. The United States has moved from covert to overt support, and we should be trying to do the same
If there is to be an overall settlement, underlying grievances will need to be tackled, but the key to such a settlement is an end to intolerance in the region, notably religious intolerance between sects and against the Christian community. Intolerance runs through the region as though it were a stick of rock, and the damage that it does is now being seen in the intolerance of the terrorist and the criminal.
I want to pick up a few strands that have been developing in the debate. Mr Holloway described the way in which the bad and the good were trying to get rid of the ugly, but left unanswered the question of what we should do if they asked for outside help to get rid of the ugly. Whether or not we like the fact that this action is seen as being
United States-led, a democratically elected state is asking for our help, and I think that we are duty bound to give that help.
I always listen with rapt attention to my hon. Friend’s views on international affairs. As one who has sat here listening to all her speeches, may I ask for her guidance on how we are to get out of this once we are in? What is the long-term gain?
First, I am very glad that on this occasion we have the clearly outlined strategy that we did not have a year ago, and that is why I feel comfortable about voting for the motion. Secondly, I am reminded of Ban Ki-moon’s observation that, while missiles kill terrorists, it is good governance that kills terrorism. The long-term answer will be the good governance of functioning nation states, and we must therefore ensure that the nation states that are currently functioning in the region—Jordan, Turkey, and Iran—do not fall apart or become compromised. We must also ensure that the fragmentation that is a risk for states such as Iraq—and, to some extent, Jordan, if we are not careful—is not allowed to happen, because it would not be in our interests. Frederick the Great said that one cannot ride on horseback against ideas. It is not a newly discovered wisdom that ideas cannot be fought with arms, but we seem to forget it at regular intervals, and every generation seems to need to be reminded of it.
Why is military action required now? I think that it is required as a starting point. A myth is developing that ISIS is undefeatable, that it will spread, and that it cannot be contained. The first step must be to show that it can be contained, and that those who want to fight it will be given support.
The point that the hon. Lady is making is very valid at the present time. The air attacks by the United States Government and other forces have already produced some dividends, in that ISIS has slowed its advance. Surely, if we join that campaign now, we will help the process to continue, and, with the armies on the ground, will be able to return Christians and ethnic groups to the areas where they want to live.
Yes, indeed; and the armies on the ground will not be our armies. That is also very important. We must enable those nation states to function properly, and those armies to function properly. The solution—which, essentially, is a fall-out from the post-Ottoman settlement—will only be found within the region, but we have a responsibility within that region. Whether we like it or not, we are no longer the great power that can underwrite any of the settlements or bring about any of the changes; we shall have to do that with others. I have just seen on the news that Denmark is to send in seven F-16s, so the coalition of support is widening.
My right hon. Friend Mr McFadden asked why we were not talking about Syria. I think that the fact that the debate is framed so narrowly is due to lessons that I hope we have learnt from last year. Those who come to the House and cannot explain themselves in a way that will take the House with them must be far more cautious in future. We will return to this subject. It is not a given, but I think that we can bring the parties together at this stage, and can be part of an international coalition.
It is incredibly foolish to think that just because we are not going into Syria, nothing will happen in Syria—to think that we are the only actor that will bring about change. The fundamental lesson for the House today must be that the functioning nation states in that region will have to deal with the terrorists, and that we shall have to assist and take a lead from them. That means that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and Iran must take a responsible position as well. I hope that we shall hear a little more about Turkey, and the effects in Kurdistan, during the winding-up speeches.
There is a real problem here. Who will have the strength and determination today, tomorrow, next year and the year after to be on the ground in Iraq? So far, no one has said who it will be. Whose boots will be on the ground in Iraq?
In fairness to the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, they did say that there would have to be the establishment of a functioning Iraqi army. We know that air strikes on their own are not sufficient; we learned that in Libya. Just going in and getting rid of a head of state is not the answer; it is simply the beginning of an answer. That is why it is important for this House not to lose the determination and the will to pursue and enable.
As I was saying, I hope that Front-Bench Members will come back and say a bit more about Turkey, what it means to arm the Kurds, and what effect that may have on the Turkish Government. Furthermore, perhaps they can set out their thoughts on a UN resolution. Those who think it unlikely that we will get another UN resolution should be reminded that we should try out damndest to get one, because it is only then that we will have the moral authority to consider different options.
I support the Prime Minister and this motion today and welcome the support of the official Opposition. As someone who has focused on the middle east for more than 30 years, I was intending to urge the House to be particularly cautious and sober in approaching this decision today, but it is quite clear that that is exactly the mood of the House and this debate. That caution is necessary, because we are about to embark on something that is unlike anything we have seen before. In my mind, it shows every sign of being neither easy nor conclusive.
When the Falklands were invaded, force was obviously justified. When Kuwait was invaded, we were right to work with others to repel the aggressor. In each case, we knew instinctively what the objective was, and we absolutely knew when we had attained it. But this is different. We are justified in deploying our armed forces both to fight vicious extremists and to support Iraq’s request for help, but the clear strategic objective in doing so and the manner in which we will use our weapons are much more difficult to shape than in the past.
I want to take up my right hon. Friend’s exact point. Does the lack of strategic objective not manifest itself in one particular way? We have heard that this could go on for some time, but we have not heard a criterion for stopping, let alone a criterion for what we are going to achieve.
My whole point is that we have to live with that uncertainty, because we are living in an age that lacks the clarity of the past, but that does not mean that we do nothing. We will be acting in a region the turmoil and disruption of which are more difficult to comprehend than anything we have ever seen, and that means—and this is exactly my answer to my right hon. Friend—that the path ahead is far from obvious. Personally, I have been in favour of the UK taking action only if it is part of a co-ordinated international effort. We now have that, and it is reassuring to be alongside Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and of course the United States and France. Again I say that none of this will be straightforward. Wisdom is not weakness, particularly in the middle east. In the complicated melee of today’s middle east, we would be wise to appreciate that we are confronting a new threat in a new way, and therefore we should calibrate our expectations accordingly.
In passing, I must say that I am a little uncomfortable with the language of some people—essentially outside this House—who seem to see this decision as a test of the United Kingdom’s virility. That is no way to look at this issue, and it harks back to an age and a mentality that simply do not suit the world of today. The country needs to know why we are doing this. The justification for our involvement is best expressed in terms of what it will do to improve Iraq, its people and the region itself and less well expressed by saying that it is mainly because terrorists directly threaten us here in the UK. That threat exists anyway, and it will not be eliminated even if ISIL is forced into submission.
As my right hon. Friend Sir Nicholas Soames said, we must also be realistic about how little we really know. The rise of ISIL has taken us all by surprise, and knowing in detail and with confidence who they are and what exactly is happening on the ground will not be easy. Our well of understanding about the region has run rather dry. If I might say so, this House would do better not to be so quick to mock George Galloway.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a good speech. Is he uneasy about the way in which the gates are being opened in this motion? The motion could open up the possibility of the UK bombing in Iraq for up to the next 10 years, because it is open-ended.
Let me answer the hon. Gentleman this way, because it really is my main point. We are looking at not one country invading another or a national army marching across the border, but a conflict without borders and the advance of non-state actors who have no national identity, no seat in the UN and no coherent political structure. The threat is not from a rogue state or a vicious dictator, but from a poisonous, viral movement that is cutting a swathe of grisly barbarity across the region from Syria to Iraq. That enemy can morph into al-Qaeda one day, disappear into the crowd and come back again the next. We can resolve to beat it, but it is not the same as fighting a country.
As my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell sensibly asked, what can we target? What can we hit? How can we be sure that we are bombing in the right way? Can we perhaps disable infrastructure rather than destroy it, and how will we continue to be effective from the air should ISIL forces move into a dense urban settlement? For all those reasons, we must expect to give our Prime Minister flexibility and discretion, without us descending into political recriminations. He must be allowed to adapt and amend our actions to suit the unfolding acts on the ground and in my opinion—this is a view that has been expressed by my right hon. Friends the Members for Croydon South (Sir Richard Ottaway), for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), and for North Somerset (Dr Fox)—that should not exclude spreading air attacks into the deserts of Syria.
In conclusion, taking on ISIL is not just about bombs. It requires comprehensive confrontation—diplomatic, social, religious, cultural, educational and financial and through the media and the use of intelligence—and ISIL must be beaten on all fronts. This may go on for years; it might not. Today, we should be prepared to start our action, but, equally, should it ever become too impractical or inappropriate to fight from the air, then we should also, without shame, stain or blame, be prepared to stop it.
The one thing that is certain is that no one in this House or anywhere else can be certain that the policies we are being asked to endorse will succeed. If we look at the track record of the interventions of the French, British and Americans in the middle east since the collapse of the Ottoman empire, we see that the odds look as though we will not succeed, because everything else has gone wrong. And yet I find that I am probably going to vote for the motion tonight. This is my argument for doing so.
The situation that we face is different from previous ones. Clearly, what has happened is a threat to international peace and security, and therefore entitles the world powers and the Government of Iraq to invite support to try to protect them against their invaders. It may not be an invading army, but it is certainly an invasion that Iraq has suffered, and Iraq is entitled to call upon the rest of us. And it is faced with a genocidal outfit. Genocide consists of killing people because of who they are, and that is exactly what ISIS is doing.
In any war, some prisoners will be murdered; in many wars, some women will be raped. It is usually the product of indiscipline. In the case of ISIS, it is part of its military strategy to terrorise people, and it is organised: organised murder, organised abduction of women and organised rape of Muslim women. That is not western propaganda, which is its usual excuse; it is parading proudly what it is doing. It is showing on social media the murder of prisoners, the carting off and abduction of women.
I agree with everything that my right hon. Friend has said, but does he agree that when we use drone missiles and attack from the air, that is not—it cannot be—precision, and when we get into this, if we start killing children, and schools and hospitals are drawn in, public support will go away very quickly?
That may be true, but it must be said that without the American intervention from the air, the chances are that ISIS would now be in control of Baghdad. They had to be stopped militarily and one function of the air attacks is to deprive them of their use of heavy weaponry, to give those who are opposed to them a better chance of defeating them. It is necessary, therefore, it seems to me, to provide an opportunity for the ground forces to get their act together and take them on, and if what we are doing can weaken their opponents during that time, that is all the better.
The effort that everyone agrees is necessary—to encourage political activity, to effect political reconciliation, to bring people together, to unite the people of Iraq against their common enemy—can be successful only if we help the Iraqis to keep the common enemy at bay until they have got themselves sorted out. That is why, on balance, I shall support the motion.
The point that the right hon. Gentleman rightly made about the brutality of ISIS, especially towards women, could apply equally to other organisations, such as Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. Does he agree that that determination to support the moderates against the extremists and to use all our soft power needs to be looked at far more widely than the middle east alone?
It is certainly true that part of our tradition—which we sometimes fall short of, and have done in the past—is to promote decency and democracy worldwide. We have an obligation to help all those countries who are trying to maintain democracy or to establish it in the face of extremism. But in this case there was not just the possibility but the likelihood that Iraq as a sovereign state would disappear, and unless we keep up the pressure, there is still a possibility of its disappearing.
However, I am concerned about the ease with which, when some people talk, they slip seamlessly from Iraq to Syria. In Iraq, there are two existing groups fighting on the same side against ISIS. They hope to get further military support on the ground to help them. That is fairly straightforward. But when people talk about getting involved in Syria, they are talking about sending young people from our country to a place where they will not have the faintest idea who they are supposed to be fighting, and people who they might have been allied with this week become enemies next week, or this week’s enemies become allies next week. We owe it to our people, if we are going to send them abroad on our behalf and risk their lives, to try to ensure that they are faced with a fairly straightforward function in war. War is nasty and complex enough as it is without pushing them into somewhere like Syria.
When I first entered the House, they used to talk about senior figures. People talk about senior figures now, but when I first entered the House “senior figures” included Denis Healey and one or two others. They had a bit of a down on sending young people to war, and that was because they had been sent. We should always remember to be very, very careful about sending anybody else’s children to fight for us, particularly if we try to send them in a cause that is not clear, and against an enemy that cannot be easily identified.
Having opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003, with my party colleagues, I have deliberated uncomfortably and cautiously for the past few weeks on the issues about which we must decide today, but I have been persuaded of both the justification and the need for action of the sort that we are asked to approve today. Many Members have spoken about the humanitarian atrocities that are being perpetrated by ISIS. Surely to goodness we must learn from the mistakes of Srebrenica and Rwanda and not make the mistake of simply allowing them to happen.
I very much hope that all Members across the House would agree with that, whatever their take on the military issues to be discussed.
However, beyond the humanitarian catastrophe there is the strategic threat, which will grow given that, as we have heard, ISIS already controls an area bigger than Britain and has the stated objective and ambition to make that bigger and bigger. We have seen from al-Qaeda in Afghanistan what will happen if terrorist organisations with international ambitions are allowed such freedom of manoeuvre. ISIS has manpower; it has got hold of some very sophisticated equipment; it has a flow of money. It is quite a formidable enemy for the Iraqi army and the Kurdish forces. That is why Iraq is looking outside its borders for external help.
Yes, it would be better, as George Galloway said, if the clear lead were given by some of the regional neighbours and by Muslim states. We are very grateful, I hope, for the efforts that are being made by some of the neighbours, but the moral responsibility falls on countries such as the United Kingdom, because we are one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and as we have a substantial Muslim population ourselves, we have more than most to fear from the growth of ISIS if it were allowed to go unchecked. So there is a just cause; there is a clear legal case; there is a plausible objective to degrade ISIS and enable the Iraqi and Kurdish fighters to recover the terrain that they have lost; and there is a strategy that we shall use our air power to soften up the enemy and allow the ground forces to recover that terrain—we are not going to deploy our own forces, but we will help them to do that.
“Can it work?” Members are asking. There are no guarantees, but it could. If there is a detailed plan, then, bluntly, I do not know what it is, but on a need-to-know basis I do not need to know. We do not know how long it will take, what it will cost, or what, short of outright triumph, is our exit strategy. I was impressed by the fact that the Prime Minister was very realistic about the limitations of what air power can do and what military power can do. The military effort has to be accompanied by a humanitarian aid effort, by diplomatic efforts, and by efforts to find a political solution. As many have rightly said, we do not find a political solution to a complex situation on the ground from 20,000 feet above it.
I also welcome the fact that the Prime Minister was appropriately modest about the contribution that the UK is proposing to make. Of course, we will be supplying forces who are highly skilled and very courageous, who will go with the good will of all of us, and who will be using very sophisticated equipment. However, there is absolutely no place for hubris on the part of the United Kingdom about the scale of the overall effort that we are going to make.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The value that we can add to the international effort through our aerial reconnaissance and our intelligence-gathering is probably of more significance than what we are to contribute in outright firepower. The hon. Member for Bradford West made a point worth reflecting on: although ISIS is controlling an area as large as Britain, it will not marshal itself neatly into conventional military bases that render themselves obvious targets. The quality of the intelligence and surveillance will therefore be absolutely crucial to the outcome of this effort.
Broadly speaking, there is a just cause, and there is a plausible strategy and a need for us to contribute to it. In listening to how this debate has unfolded, my greatest misgiving relates to Syria. Many Members have observed that harrying and hassling ISIS in Iraq is pointless if it can simply flee over the border into Syria, and in purely military terms, I see what they mean. However, the strategy that has been laid before us of our air support working in tandem with a credible organised ground force would not apply in Syria, where the situation on the ground is chaos and carnage. There is no credible ground force at this stage with whom we can ally. Although we may have common cause, to some extent, with Russia, with Assad and with Iran over the desirability of degrading ISIS, they have very different views from us as to what they want to emerge on the ground as the lasting solution in Syria, and we would need to be aware of the dangers that that would pose.
Apart from anything else, there is no appetite in the United Kingdom for our getting involved in an ongoing operation, lasting very many years on the ground and trying to instil a new order, and that is the likely outcome if we get involved in Syria. General Dannatt once said, “If you go around kicking down the door, you create a moral imperative to stay around and help clear up afterwards.” We are rightly fed up with the amount of work we have had to do on that in Iraq and Afghanistan. Syria is a very different situation from Iraq, and we would end up doing the same there if we did not watch it.
My right hon. Friend Frank Dobson is completely right to warn us about the gravity of this decision. The question of sending British troops to take military action is the most serious we will ever be asked to answer. However, we are faced with a brutal and murderous organisation that has kidnapped and beheaded victims, including a British aid worker; that has carried out genocide, enslaved women, buried others alive and crucified, executed and butchered Christians, Yazidis and Muslims—in fact, anybody who does not share its warped and perverted view of Islam; and that presents a huge threat to the rest of the region. Given that, and with an international coalition having been built in the region, it is right to confront ISIL.
I would like to ask, as did my right hon. Friend Mr McFadden, why we are being asked to approve air strikes in Iraq but not in Syria; why we welcomed and supported the American bombardment of ISIL targets in Syria this week but said that British action should be limited to Iraq; and why, if we think that the American action was legal, action by Britain would not be. What is the difference between taking action against ISIL on one side of the border and taking it on the other—even though, as we have heard, the border does not actually exist? Are we saying that we would take action against terrorists responsible for beheading a British citizen on one side of the border but would not target them if they scuttled a few yards across into Syria?
As I understand it, we are prepared to take action in Iraq because the Government there have asked us to do so. Does that mean that we would be prepared to take action against ISIL terrorists in Syria if the murderous dictator Assad asked us to do it there? We must avoid giving anybody the impression that he has a veto over any action that we might take. It is also important that we avoid giving any impression that Putin, who has annexed Crimea and invaded Ukraine, and who incarcerates his critics at home and murders them abroad, has a veto over any sort of western action.
I believe that we should have acted sooner to support those among the rebels who want democracy and human rights—that is, when the revolution against Assad started. The tragedy is that the democrats who looked to us for support have been slaughtered. They were starved of the resources, weapons and support they needed. They were killed on one side by Assad, supported by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, and by extremists on the other, supported by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. As a result, the only people not involved in Syria have been those of the western democracies.
Of course, as we have heard, there are consequences to taking action, but there are also grave consequences to not taking action. In Syria, the west’s failure has created the vacuum in which the ISIL terrorists have been allowed to become so strong. Both Assad and ISIS are stronger now than they were a year ago. The west should not just support and arm the Iraqi army and the Kurdish forces—we should be doing much more to help the pro-western, pluralist democrats among the Syrian opposition and support them in their efforts.
I am delighted to take part in this debate. As my right hon. Friend Sir Alan Duncan said, there are no simple solutions to this complex issue. Today’s debate illustrates the complexity that we face as legislators in having to take decisions on behalf of the British people. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a very compelling case. It was an absolutely excellent speech and I agree with every word of it. I have tried to press on him my view that we should have taken this action sooner, but I understand why he could not do so: it is because he was not prepared to bring before the House a motion on which he was not certain of securing a result. I do not blame him for that caution.
The Prime Minister posed the question, “Where is the British national interest?” We need to be satisfied that the British national interest is met by the strategy that he set out. I believe that the answer is crystal clear and that it is in the British national interest that we should support this motion. All the leaders around the world have declared that these IS, ISIL, ISIS people are beyond the pale and are a major threat not just to the middle east but to us here at home. As my hon. Friend Sir Nick Harvey said, they have already overrun a large part of Iraq. They have threatened to overrun the whole of that country, resorting to their barbaric methods in so doing—methods that we have ruled out and most countries abandoned centuries ago. We have seen, and our constituents have seen, the slaughter of innocent people and the way in which these barbaric people have been behaving. They have seen our own nationals and US nationals murdered as well.
It seems to me therefore that if this threat is so great, we have to address it. There are two clear issues. There is a blurred line between them, it is true, but the imperative today is that we should prevent IS from overrunning the whole of Iraq. Indeed, the objective must be to drive them out of Iraq as far as we possibly can. As Frank Dobson so eloquently said, it is not a question of making an act of faith; we have seen it work. The troops on the ground have said that without the intervention of the United States’ air strikes, they would not have been able to blunt the attack of IS in northern Iraq. We know it works. It is not as though we are trying to suggest something for which we have no intimation as to what might happen.
The right hon. Gentleman is right; this motion is squarely within the national interest. He talks about being honest with the British people and we must do that. I support this action, but does he agree that we do not know for how long we will be involved or how long it will take? We do not know in any finite term where this will end and we ought to be honest with the British people about that.
The hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly fair point, but I am afraid to say that that is the case with all military action. We cannot start any military operation and say at the outset that it will take six months. At the outbreak of the first world war, which we commemorated this year, the expectation was that everyone would be home by Christmas. That turned out to be a rather false hope—tragically false. Such things go with the territory of military operations.
It has been said throughout the debate how important it is that there is the coalition of Arab states that we are supporting. I am less clear about who will be directing operations. Could the right hon. Gentleman shed some light on that?
The hon. Lady makes a very good point and if she will be patient, I intend to come on to it, as the involvement of the Arab states is one of the most significant points about this whole business.
The imperative—ridding Iraq of IS—leads to the possibility of dealing with the problem at the political level. It is imperative that we provide Haider al-Abadi, the new Prime Minister of Iraq, with the space in which to deliver the resolution of the differences between the competing communities in Iraq. He cannot do that if his whole country is threatened by these barbarous people intent upon overrunning it. However, the onus is on him to deliver that political settlement.
Debbie Abrahams has rightly mentioned the involvement of other countries. It is very important that we should be standing alongside our friends in the United States; they are our closest ally. We have the same concept of freedom. It is important to do that, but it is also important to be seen to be standing alongside our allies in the Arab world. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a close ally. I was reminded by Mohammed bin Zayed in the UAE that we had no excuse for not understanding the region; we have been there for 200 years. It is a fact that we have experience of the region that other countries do not have. They look to us for support. The fact that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is there, as is the UAE, Qatar and Jordan, is the most significant development in this whole business. As my right hon. Friend Alistair Burt said, we should not underestimate the importance of that. To an extent, our credibility is at stake.
The Leader of the Opposition said that we needed to define our role in the world. He is absolutely right. In opposition in 2009, my right hon. Friend
In assisting our friends in the Arab world, we should be encouraging them to take responsibility for what is essentially a regional problem of theirs. One of the exciting things has been to see a female UAE pilot involved. That is the ultimate insult to the IS people, I am sure. Let us salute her and her role. My hon. Friend Dr Lewis said that perhaps the Arabs should help by putting more boots on the ground, and I think that is true.
My final point is that we will not resolve the IS problem simply by military means. I agreed with everything Mr Hain said; he will be horrified by that, but there we go. He said that the case for striking in Syria was quite strong, but we cannot defeat an ideology by military means alone, let alone by air strikes. That is a challenge for the Muslim world more generally. I hope that this exercise will feed into our strategic defence review, which is coming. We need a proper strategy and we need to feed the experience of this recent political development into that strategy.
We are here again to discuss the issue of stability and conflict in the middle east. It appears that we have not learned the lessons of a decade ago. I made one of my first speeches in this House, soon after my maiden speech, after 9/11. It is clear that we have not taken forward those lessons to provide stability for the region over the last 14 years or so.
Instead, what we and the US—using its influence in the Gulf countries—have done is to start to pump more money and weapons into Syria, which has further destabilised that region. Money has been given to people whom we may think would be our supporters and to those whom we thought were on our side. They were, we were told, moderate. We speak about the moderate Syrian people and about the freedom fighters, but the vast majority of them are affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood, an organisation that the Prime Minister banned in this country. Yet we think that they will be our ally in resolving the issue in Syria.
A number of hon. Members today have said that the issue can be resolved only if we put more money and resources into the freedom fighters. Which of those freedom fighters will we support? The Muslim Brotherhood? Al Nusra? Will we support other extremist organisations that already exist? Will we support the unIslamic state in the region? I deliberately call it not ISIL, not ISIS nor IS; I call it, and Brummies predominantly tend to call it, the unIslamic state. That is what it is. It has no place in the religion of Islam of which I am a part. It has no place in any teachings of Islam. Those people who rape, murder and torture are carrying out things that are banned in Islam. They kill people because they might be Sunni; they kill people who are Shi’a, Christian, Yazidi and Kurds. They kill anybody who does not submit to their warped ideology. We have to be aware of what we are trying to do.
The previous Foreign Secretary went to Europe and said that we needed to lift the arms embargo against the Assad Government so we could supply those so-called moderate fighters. When he came back having made the great achievement of lifting the arms embargo, he sat down with the security people and they said, “Secretary of State ,who are you going to supply these weapons to?” Very soon he decided that there was no option of supplying weapons and decided that we would provide communication aid to those people. We create these types of vacuum. Senator McCain has been an advocate of a neo-Con policy in Syria, which is to make sure that we put in as much money and arms as we can. What we have not realised is that, as part of that effort over the past three years or so, we have created the vacuum that has allowed the un-Islamic state to be formed in those regions, taking people from all the various extremist organisations there and making them even more extreme, more grotesque and more violent than any other organisation—
I am anxious to give the hon. Gentleman an extra minute, because I want to hear what he thinks we should and should not do in the situation we face today. He is in danger of getting to the end of his speech without telling us.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for doing that. I am very keen to get on to the question of the situation today. I will vote later today in favour of providing support to the Iraqi Government, because they have rightly asked us to do so. I will go further: there will be a need for us to provide support on the ground in order to finish the job. The job needs to be finished off properly; if it is not—if we allow significant groupings to remain in Iraq—there will be greater problems for us to go back to resolve. In order to do that, we need not only air strikes but the surrounding Arab countries to put their money where their mouth is, by and large, and to get people on the ground to deal with the situation. The support of our people will be needed, so it is important that we do that and get the issue sorted out. To do that, we need to move on.
A huge number of Muslim academics and scholars have condemned what is happening, as have organisations such as Inspire, led by Sara Khan, which works for women—
Will it be possible to defeat these evil terrorists while simultaneously turning a blind eye to the evils that exist among some of our allies? Surely Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and some of our other allies have to sort their act out, as well.
My hon. Friend is right. Unless we play with a straight bat across the piece and condemn such actions, we will not be able to deal with the situation. It is very important that we do that.
It is my intention when the House divides this afternoon—if it does divide—to support the Government’s motion, but in doing so I am very mindful, having listened to Mr Mahmood, my hon. Friend Mr Holloway—indeed, even George Galloway, had he not treated the House as the recipient of a human foghorn—that they had some important points to make. A note of caution needs to be sounded about what we are trying to do.
The Prime Minister made a powerful case. First, he said that ISIL is a threat to this country directly. I have no doubt that he is right about that. Having spent the first six months of this year signing off consents for the prosecution of young people returning from Syria, where they had served and trained with ISIL—and, in some circumstances with clear evidence, it seemed to me, that they had participated in atrocities—I am perfectly alive to the fact that that threat is real. However, I sound this note of caution. Simply bombing ISIL—whether in Syria, or Iraq, as we are planning to do—is not going to make that threat go away. Even if we ultimately get rid of the ungoverned space, the threat will remain unless or until civil society exists within the Muslim world of a kind that provides a model of how people can co-exist peacefully. We face a challenge domestically, which we must not shirk, in persuading people that that peaceful co-existence exists here and they should not be inclined to emulate what they see in the middle east.
The second factor, and for me the most persuasive, is the genocide being perpetrated in northern Iraq and Syria. This country has a long history of international involvement, and although we may be able to make only a small contribution, I find it difficult to see how we should sit on our hands when a barbarous group of individuals perpetrates the kind of crimes we see daily on our screens. If we can make a contribution to dealing with that, the justification for military intervention is there.
My right hon. and learned Friend is making a compelling case. Would he advise the House that the legal principle of the responsibility to protect in relation to genocide has a wider application that goes beyond the Iraqi borders into Syria?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend—that is precisely the point to which I was about to come.
I have not the slightest doubt that the legal framework exists to take action in support of the Iraqi Government, at their request, to deal with ISIL. I am clear that the legal base is present for that, and the House should not be concerned on that issue. Equally, so far as action in Syria is concerned, should the Government ever be minded to pursue that option and the House to debate it, the preconditions for action in Syria are also present: first, because of the right to self-defence of the Iraqi Government when some of the attacks are clearly coming across the Syrian border; and secondly, because of the doctrine of humanitarian necessity in terms of intervention to protect the population in northern Syria from ISIL’s attacks—something we have seen in recent days in the Kurdish villages by the Turkish border.
In his speech, the Leader of the Opposition rightly raised the question whether, on that latter point, there should be a resolution of the United Nations Security Council. There is no doubt that it has an important role to play in issues concerning humanitarian necessity, but the Government will at least have to consider whether any application, if it were to come, to the UN for such a resolution has any prospect of success. The ability to intervene, I have no doubt, exists, even if no such resolution is present.
However, the Leader of the Opposition’s comments and those of other Members do highlight one of the really important challenges we face. The fact that the framework for legal intervention is present will not necessarily mean that the intervention that subsequently takes place meets the criteria of lawfulness. It has to be reasonable, necessary and proportionate to the aim that has to be achieved. In that, I can well understand the Government’s making a distinction between the situation in Syria and that in Iraq. Even in the context of Iraq, there are some pretty serious challenges. Some of our partners—including particularly the Iraqi Government—have a rather chequered human rights record. We must avoid being party to the ill treatment of prisoners, to the massacre of prisoners, or indeed to any action on the battlefield that could take place that we might facilitate by our aerial intervention. I trust that the Government have looked carefully at that in finding ways of co-operating.
I will not; I must finish.
The moment one looks at that issue, it becomes immediately apparent why the situation in Syria is likely to be so much more challenging. Having made those comments, I would like to emphasise that the fact that there are challenges—be they legal or ethical—is not a reason for doing nothing. Precisely because we have a tradition in this country of observing the rule of law and of maintaining human rights, even in a battlefield context, and because we have an interest in ensuring that civil society is facilitated in an area that has been so singularly deprived of it, we have a duty to take action. What this motion enables us to do is to give the Government the framework in which that can occur.
Order. Mr Meacher will be the last Member to be subject to the five-minute limit. Thereafter, in a bid to maximise the number of contributions, I shall have to reduce the limit to four minutes for Back-Bench speeches. The first Member to be impacted upon by that new limit, I give him notice, will be Sir Edward Leigh. I call Mr Michael Meacher.
It cannot be emphasised too strongly that this is not another invasion of Iraq. It is a response to a desperate plea by the new Iraqi Government for outside help to combat what is seen as an existential threat to the Iraqi state; nor is ISIL just another enemy in the complex and lethal sectarianism of the middle east. It is a monster, with a bloodlust that can only be compared to the Genghis Khan Mongols or the latter-day Nazis—and one that the world simply cannot turn aside from or wash its hands of. But equally, it is foolish not to recognise the risks of military action through air strikes: the inevitable civilian casualties, the death threats to hostages, the very real possibility of terrorist retaliation on British soil and the risk of mission creep, which Mr Grieve was talking about in terms of taking action towards Syria with a dubious legality—I gather from what he said—and the uncertain and unpredictable consequences for the civil war against Assad.
Perhaps the biggest problem, as always in war, is the exit strategy. No war can be won from the air—we all agree on that—and this war can be won only on the basis of political and diplomatic action, which, frankly, will be quite difficult to achieve. First, this depends on the regional powers that feed ISIL with money, arms and political support reaching an agreement that they will withdraw that oxygen, which keeps the pyre burning. In particular, the oil-smuggling network that was created to evade UN sanctions on Saddam’s Iraq, now in the hands of ISIL and yielding more than $3 million a day, must be stopped via Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan.
Secondly, this depends on achieving some reconciliation across the broken Shi’a-Sunni divide. That is incredibly important. Of course things have flared up with lethal intensity because of the highly discriminatory policies of the last Maliki Government. The new Iraqi Government recognise this. Of course they have been in office for only three weeks, but they have yet to provide a power-sharing agreement that will bring the Sunni majority on side.
Thirdly, the moderate Sunni element needs to be split from the extremists. Again, that is beginning to happen, but the lessons of al-Sahwa, the awakening, which played such a crucial role in stemming the insurgency in 2007-08, need to be revisited. Fourthly—this is the most difficult one of all, but the most important—the really big, major powers in the middle east, Saudi Arabia and Iran, which until recently were implacably opposed to each other, clearly are needed to use their influence to restrain their proxies and to restore at least some co-existence across inflamed sectarian lines. All that will be extremely difficult to achieve; but ultimately, the war against ISIL will be won only if we can reconstruct and repair the broken Iraqi state.
My right hon. Friend is making a very good speech. Does he agree that we must do all we can to rebuild trust between the Kurdish Government and the Government in Baghdad, because that will help us to build up civil society in Iraq, which is absolutely key to taking on ISIL?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Of course that is part of the commitment of the new Iraqi Prime Minister, al-Abadi, to produce a governance within Iraq that takes account of all the key parts of the population, not just the Shi’a and Sunnis, but crucially the Kurds, who are a very important part of this equation.
Again, it cannot be emphasised too strongly that the Iraqi Prime Minister, al-Abadi, has made it absolutely clear that he does not want western and US troops on the ground in Iraq because he believes that he has sufficient volunteers to contest ISIL with Iraqi forces, provided that there is collaboration from air cover. But in the last analysis, the only serious long-term answer for these broken states—not just Iraq, but Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and Nigeria—is to restore them again to a real, viable state. It is easy to say that; it is extremely difficult to do. It will take a long time, and it will require enormous, long-term economic and aid commitments, which was patently not apparent after the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. That aid will, no doubt, predominantly come from the US and Europe, but it should come from other places as well.
My right hon. Friend has, of course, mentioned the previous occasion when we debated Iraq, when the UN’s position was absolutely central. There has been very little discussion about the UN today. Does he agree that it would have been preferable if we had a clear position from the UN and a motion specifically relating to Iraq before the House made a decision?
That is a very important point, because the economic and aid aspect, which is crucial—far more important than bombing, as several hon. Members have said—needs much more attention. I do not think that it is sufficiently taken into account in the motion today, and I take my hon. Friend’s point that that needs to be developed. This will go on a long time, and we need to give far more attention to that issue.
I believe that the only justification for military action is not just to halt the ISIL momentum and to protect communities, but to buy the time to put in place the political and diplomatic conditions to enable the reconstruction of a broken Iraqi state, to achieve reconciliation of sectarian-torn communities along power-sharing lines and, above all—again, taking up my hon. Friend’s point—to achieve the long-term support to revive the economies and social institutions of those broken countries.
I visited the Christian villages near Mosul that are most affected by Islamic State. I have heard the harrowing tales of women losing husbands, sons and daughters to death and kidnapping. It is appalling to talk to a mother and hear her say that she last saw her son or her husband going to church and has never seen him again. But attacks on Iraqi Christians and other minorities, such as the Yazidis, have been happening for years, ever since our misconceived and misplaced invasion of Iraq. That replaced an admittedly brutal strongman who protected minorities with chaos. For years, I and others have argued that Assyrian Christians in the Mosul plain needed their own province in Iraq to defend themselves. Frankly, we have been met with a complacent response from the Foreign Office. Now, it is almost too late: the Kurds have failed to protect them. Perhaps they have not got the resources.
The truth is that, until now, we have done everything wrong. In our zealous liberalism, we have encouraged revolutions across the middle east and then been profoundly shocked when the forces that we have helped to unleash have turned against us. In that sense, the British Government are indirectly culpable in fostering the conditions for jihadism to thrive in Iraq and Syria. It is not surprising that last year in Maaloula, a Christian village in Syria, one civilian said to the BBC to tell the west
“that we sent you Saint Paul 2,000 years ago to take you from the darkness, and you sent us terrorists to kill us.”
In that sense, brutal as he is, Assad is a natural ally against jihadism.
Is my hon. Friend saying that we should not support the campaign of the Syrian free forces against the Assad regime, as some Gulf states are urging us to do?
We all want Syria to be a democratic, modern country, and we all want the Syrian free forces to win this battle, but a year ago we were asked in this House of Commons to bomb Assad and now we are being asked to stand on our heads. I have heard of being asked to bomb our opponents and support our friends, but what we are doing now in Syria is extraordinary and makes no sense.
My hon. Friend is making a very important point. The idea is that somehow we could support the Syrian Government against extremists, but the paradox and the problem is that the only legitimacy the Syrian regime now has is the existence of those terrorists. What possible motive would Bashar al-Assad have to remove them so long as they remain his main reason for international support?
I accept that point. The Government tell us that we are not going to follow the Americans down the road of bombing ISIL in Syria, because of the complexities that my hon. Friends the Members for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) and for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) have outlined.
That border, however, does not exist. Our Government say we are only going to bomb ISIS in Iraq—a solution that makes no military sense whatsoever. What will this achieve? Most Back Benchers have no idea what the intelligence says. I suspect it is scanty. No journalist is embedded in IS, which would be a suicidal thing to do. How long will this operation last? Will bombing in Iraq alone seriously impede IS? We have only a tiny number of planes and they are based a long way away. We were once told that never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few, but now never have so few been asked by so many to achieve so much with no clear aim in sight.
Of course, however, IS is winning against the Iraqi Government, but it is not winning against them because of superior armour or its command and control, which is easily bombed; it is winning because the Iraqi Government are corrupt and their army, which we armed, ran away. Are we going to bomb 4x4s racing across the desert?
Make no mistake: this is about our amour propre as a nation. There is nothing wrong in that: we are a member, as we have been told time and again in this debate, of the Security Council, but if we want to act with a big stick in the world, we must wield the means. Yet what have we been doing with our armed forces over the past four years and how many planes have we got to bomb ISIL? What serious difference will we make?
Those are the realities, which we all know, but we are where we are. We have caused this mess and we should apologise to the people of the region for it. We have no idea where this will end. We have no idea what our bombing campaign will achieve or how long it will take. But there’s the rub: we caused this mess.
I want to make a personal point before I sit down. I do not think, for personal reasons, that I can walk away on the other side of the road from those desperate women I talked to in the Mosul province. I have stood beside the wrecked tomb of the prophet Nahum in the Christian village of Alqosh, which is directly threatened. I have talked to the monks nearby who live in fear. How strange that, writing in sublime language 2,500 years ago, the prophet Nahum warned us of the fall of the Assyrians and their civilisation—and their descendants are now meeting the same fate. Therefore, although I have severe doubts about what this will achieve, and with a heavy heart and full of foreboding, I will vote for this motion tonight.
I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I support military intervention by the United Kingdom in Iraq and will vote in favour of the motion. The situation is extremely troubling. The refusal of the west to recognise in a meaningful way the moderate elements in the opposition to Assad in Syria, coupled with the organisational ability and fanaticism of IS, gave IS the space to grow. Some outside support, wealth accumulated by smuggling, oil and kidnapping, and, perhaps, as rumours suggest, handouts from Gulf states, only increased its attractiveness to jihadists around the world.
Given the ideology of IS, it was inevitable that it would spread into the troubled western area of Iraq. The speed of its advance in June may have come as a shock, but we should not be surprised that it has flourished and grown. What may have been surprising was its ability to make common cause with various groups and organisations in Iraq that share little of its ideology, particularly the remnants of the Ba’athists and some tribes. However, it quickly became clear that others would be allowed to operate only as long as they followed IS. There are a number of well-founded stories of tribal groups suffering massacres of their young men after trying to argue or change course.
IS has released many self-glorifying videos that show the treatment of captured Iraqi soldiers, with lines of men being marched into the desert and shot, or knifed on the banks of rivers. Videos have been released of Sunni imams being killed because they would not turn over their mosques to IS. Minority groups such as the Yazidis and Christians have been persecuted, and hundreds of women have been taken away to who knows where. Vian Dakhil, Iraq’s only Yazidi MP and someone I know well, pleaded for the Iraqi Parliament to act as the Yazidi people fled the terror. Vian herself was injured in a helicopter crash as she tried to help her people. Although many have been rescued, they have lost their homes and their security. Untold numbers of people have perished and lie on the mountains or in the desert.
I remain deeply troubled by the way in which the international community has stood on the sidelines. The United Nations doctrine of responsibility to protect has counted for little during the past few months in western and northern Iraq. The only people to help were the Kurds from the Kurdistan region of Iraq and from the north-east of Syria. I am the co-chair of the all-party group on the Kurdistan region in Iraq, and I have had the opportunity to visit several times. I have seen the region develop into a thriving open society with a growing economy. That successful, semi-autonomous region is under attack from IS, and it is being defended by the dedicated and brave peshmerga.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the British Government should have given support to the Kurdistan Regional Government much earlier than they did? Does she agree that the fact that we provided arms directly only after other countries, such as Germany, had done so showed that we were behind the curve and should have acted much sooner?
I agree with my hon. Friend on that subject. Kurdistan has opened its heart and arms to the many refugees who have fled to its territory. Many of them have fled from fighting and car bombs in different parts of Iraq and, in the past three years, many have fled from the conflict in Syria. During the past two months, the number of refugees has increased dramatically as Sunni, Shi’a, Yazidis and Christians have fled from IS. The unstinting support and protection given to the refugees is a credit to the Kurdish people.
It makes little sense to consider the serious situation in Iraq without considering Syria. Of course, it is right to respond to the request of the Iraqi Government and provide them with assistance, but to imagine that IS will recognise a border on a map is simply wrong. When Parliament was recalled on
It is a pleasure to follow Meg Munn, who made an excellent speech based on personal experience. I listened carefully to Mr Mahmood when he said that we had not learned our lessons after 10 years’ experience in Iraq. I differ from him; I believe that we have not learned our lessons on Iraq after 100 years of experience. During the British mandate, we struggled to build the institution of a functioning state. It seems to me that 100 years after our troops landed on the Fao peninsula on
In his opening remarks, the Prime Minister has made the justification for bringing this action today. There is no doubt that we have been invited in by a democratic state to help to defend it. We are part of a broad coalition with 10 Arab countries and 60 other nations. There is now firm evidence that ISIL cannot be negotiated with. I am sure that the Deputy Prime Minister will allude to that again in his winding-up speech.
We are being asked to give limited support. I am reassured that, unless the circumstances were dramatic, the Prime Minister would return to the House to reconfirm any actions that the Government may take. However, as my right hon. Friend Sir Alan Duncan said, the Prime Minister must have that flexibility to act in certain circumstances. I am pleased to be able to say that I support what he said.
This fight is not just abroad; it is also at home. I need some reassurances from the Government that we are not just going to send bombers from Cyprus to strike targets in Iraq and that we need to use our domestic resources to deter young Muslims from being recruited to this barbaric regime. We also need to be careful not to isolate our Muslim communities in our own country. Up and down this country, in the mosques and in our constituents’ homes, they are as concerned as we are about what is happening in Gaza, Israel, Iraq and Syria. We must not leave them behind.
In voting to support the Government tonight, however, my fear is that I have heard nothing today that makes me certain about the endgame. For us, Iraq is a never-ending story. I caution the Government because I do not want this country to be drawn into a never-ending war. I will support the Government tonight. Our thoughts must be with those people who are held hostage by this terror regime, the people who are victims of it and the people who are going to put their lives on the line fighting it.
The decision that we will take today is the most difficult that this House could face: whether to commit our armed forces to conflict. I believe that the use of military force must be a last resort. We must resort to military force only when all political, economic and diplomatic routes have been exhausted. However, the complex nature of the threat that we face and the evil perpetrated by ISIL cannot be confronted by political, economic and diplomatic means alone.
During the debate, it is important that we consider the lessons of history and understand that, whatever we decide, there will be consequences. We know well the possible consequences of military action. We will be entering a situation that we cannot fully control. Nor do we know for certain where our involvement will end. In the short term, we should be prepared for the fact that it might increase the risk against our country. ISIL cannot be defeated overnight and we will need fortitude and resolve over the coming days, weeks, months and potentially years.
However, there are consequences of not acting, too. If left unchallenged, ISIL will continue to sow its seeds of destruction throughout the middle east. Its ambition, though, is not limited to Iraq and Syria. It has already murdered a British citizen and if we do not confront it now, its murderous activities in the region could be exported further afield, including to our shores. Therefore, having very carefully considered the different courses of action, based on the information presented, I believe that the risk of not acting is greater. But if we are to act, we must ensure that our intervention conforms to certain criteria—that it is legal, legitimate and proportionate—and that any use of force brings with it a clear prospect of success in defeating ISIL’s capabilities, and comes with a clearly defined mission, end-state and exit strategy.
We should be clear, however, that air strikes in Iraq can be only one strand of a much wider strategy and that on their own they will not be sufficient to defeat ISIL. Achieving decisive success is only likely to come through subsequent action, and from regional forces taking action on the ground in Syria as well as in Iraq. So we should play our part in helping to build and sustain the wider coalition from across the region, and we should provide support to those contributing partner-nations where we are able to do so. However, there needs to be a wider, encompassing political framework, with a clear plan—both for the immediate aftermath and the longer term—to provide humanitarian aid and reconstruction.
My hon. Friend speaks with great authority on these matters. Regarding the regional actors, does he agree that, although it is welcome that five Arab nations are involved in this mission, they should do all they can to stem the flow of donations from their own citizens to ISIL that has been going on?
I am grateful for that intervention and I absolutely agree that all those regional partner-nations must do everything they can, as we must.
The point that I was making is that military force on its own will not be enough. There needs to be a wider, encompassing political framework, with a plan for humanitarian aid and reconstruction, which will ultimately lead us to create a stronger and more accountable Iraqi Government as part of a wider settlement in the middle east. We should contribute to that work, but ultimately it will be for the countries of the region to ensure long-term peace and stability.
In the midst of this important debate, we should reflect on the service of our armed forces and on what we will ask them to do. I believe that throughout the country, whether people agree or disagree with the action being proposed today, our armed forces will always be held in the highest regard. They represent the best of our country and we have a lifelong commitment to supporting them in every way we can.
The judgments we are making are difficult, and there are no easy answers to the situation we find ourselves in. I do not relish the action that we are taking. Like Members from across the House, I come to this debate with a heavy heart, and I am mindful of the risks and uncertainties that undoubtedly lie ahead. However, it is in our national interest to act; it is in the interest of the people of Iraq to act; and it is in the interest of peace and stability in the middle east that we act. That is why I will support the Government motion today.
Members of the House have laid out, with enormous ingenuity, the complexity of this situation; we have heard about everything from Turkey almost to Turkmenistan. In the end, however, this is a relatively simple motion and we should support the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in the decision that they are making, for two reasons: one is that air strikes, in and of themselves, are a sensible response to the problem that we face; and the second is the caution and the focus that they bring to the issue of defining the wider mission.
Air strikes are sensible because, as I discovered with my hon. Friend Nadhim Zahawi when we stood on the front line looking at the Islamic State, it is clear that essentially what had happened is that an advance across open desert territory, using Humvees and artillery, had been driven back quite easily with air strikes. Those US air strikes of three or four weeks ago achieved the result of preventing people from taking Irbil, and of ensuring that 450,000 refugees currently located inside Kurdistan were protected from the advance of the Islamic State. If nothing else is achieved, that containment is worth while, and the Royal Air Force’s participation in that process would be not only legal but moderate. It would be a reasonable undertaking, not only to defend our troops but to achieve an important humanitarian objective.
That is a very good question. The answer, of course, is that outside the heartland of the Islamic State, which is basically the Sunni areas of eastern Syria and western Iraq, it is very vulnerable. When it moves across open terrain towards Shi’a-controlled areas around Baghdad or into Kurdistan, it is out miles into the desert. It has nobody to move among. This idea that George Galloway presented of it swimming among the population makes sense only in the areas around the Sunni triangle—Mosul, Deir ez-Zor, Raqqa—but does not make any sense in the Kurdish and the Shi’a areas. So the notion of containing through air strikes is sensible.
The second issue—because I think almost everybody in the House has agreed to vote for these air strikes—is the much bigger issue of destroying the Islamic State. Here, what has been very impressive in this debate is the caution that has been shown in making promises about our ability to do that. We have been here before. These people whom we are fighting in western Iraq are very, very similar to al-Qaeda in Iraq, whom we fought between 2007 and 2009. We are facing an increased, exaggerated version of the same problem.
Problem No. 1 is that we do not control the borders. That is most obvious in relation to Syria, but we also have a problem with Turkey. Problem No. 2 is that there is no trust currently among the Sunni population in the Government in Baghdad. They will find it very difficult—even more difficult than they did in 2007—to trust us again. The third problem is that there is very limited will among the Iraqi army to get into those areas. The Shi’a elements of the Iraqi army will be reluctant to go into Mosul. Kurds will be reluctant to go into Mosul, and even if they could be convinced to do so, they would find it difficult to hold those areas because they would be perceived as an alien occupying force. That means, therefore, that all the hon. and right hon. Members who have spoken about a political solution and a regional solution must be right, but we cannot underestimate the difficulty of that.