Iraq

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:26 pm on 26th February 2003.

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Photo of Lord Wright of Richmond Lord Wright of Richmond Crossbench 5:26 pm, 26th February 2003

My Lords, in my entire career as a British diplomat I cannot recall a crisis to compare with our present situation vis-a-vis Iraq, with the possible exception of the Cuba missile crisis of 1962. I say this not because I think there is any risk, as there certainly was in the case of Cuba, of Iraq targeting the West with weapons of mass destruction; quite the contrary. With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, I have never believed that there was an immediate threat from Iraq either against the United States or against Europe.

It seems to me much more likely, as has been argued by both the Sheikh of Al Azhar and the Prime Minister of Malaysia, that an attack against Iraq, which may well be necessary as a last resort, will be seen in the Islamic world as a direct attack against Islam and will fuel further terrorist attacks against the West. This is all the more likely given the Government's failure to convince our American friends of the need for a balanced approach to the deteriorating situation as regards the Palestinians and Israel.

I believe that we are now facing some decisions, and possible misjudgments, that will have profound effects on our long-term national interests in the Middle East and in Europe and on the stability of the neighbouring countries in the Middle East.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, referred to confusing objectives. Let us consider the arguments that have been deployed to justify military action against Iraq. First, we were told that it was a necessary reaction to the events of September 11th against a regime which had close links with terrorists, if not with the perpetrators of those horrendous events. But senior members of the United States Administration had been pressing, long before September 11th, for an attack against rogue states, including Iraq.

Then we were told that the justification for this new policy of pre-emptive attacks, to which the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, referred, was the evidence of links between Saddam Hussein and Al'Qaeda. But I do not believe that I am alone in finding the evidence produced, both in the Government's dossiers and by Secretary of State Colin Powell in the Security Council, not at all convincing.

Then moral arguments were put forward to show what an evil regime it is in Baghdad and that therefore we should press for regime change in order to install some kind of western democracy in Iraq as a basis for democratising other regimes in the region. Ministers have repeatedly confirmed, both in this House and elsewhere, that our prime objective was not regime change but disarmament. Indeed, the Foreign Secretary is specifically on record as saying that we should not be in the business of changing other people's governments. So the inspectors were sent in, backed—quite rightly—by the threats inherent in Resolution 1441, and the benchmark was to be Iraqi co-operation or non-co-operation. Now we are told—in advance of further reports by Mr Blix and Mr El Baradei, and in the face of reports that Saddam Hussein is indeed starting to co-operate—that the Iraqis are clearly in serious breach of Resolution 1441 and that an invasion of Iraq should now be authorised.

What is the urgency? This is not 1991, when we had an urgent need, with strong international support and involvement, to rescue the Kuwaitis from their invaders. Why cannot we wait, as the French, Russians and Chinese argue, for the inspectors to continue their work, and for further time to be given to diplomacy? We may not believe Saddam's assurances to Mr Primakov; we may not trust anything Saddam says; but it is hardly the way to gather international support for our objectives if we are seen to dismiss the efforts of the weapons inspectors even before they have reported to the Security Council. Why not maintain the pressure, and see whether it works?

I acknowledge that those of us who argue against immediate war face a genuine dilemma; namely, the risk of appearing to reduce the pressure on Saddam Hussein. If that were the true purpose of massing our troops in the Gulf, I would support that. But I fear that the truth is that the Americans, or at least the President's senior advisers, have long been determined to attack Iraq.

I find myself in the position of the Irish guide who advised—rather unhelpfully—that we should not be starting from here. But we are, and I therefore ask the Minister the following questions. Have we taken into account the likely, though uncertain, effects of a military assault on Baghdad? Do we share the improbable view of some Americans that it will be a short and "successful" campaign (whatever that means) followed by democratic elections? Have we not learnt the lesson of Bosnia, where we and our allies have tried to install a democratic system in conditions far better understood than those in Iraq? Are we prepared to stay in Iraq for the 10 years it has taken us in Bosnia?

Do we share the stated American view that we can then use Iraq as an example to install Western-style democracy in Syria and Saudi Arabia, for starters? Having been ambassador to both countries, I can assure your Lordships that this would not be an easy task, even if it could be justified in international law.

It is often said that our troops should not be sent into battle without the support of public opinion at home. But they should at least be clear about the Government's objectives. Are they adequately prepared for the horrendous tasks which I believe await any invading force in Baghdad: the need to control a bloody civil war of revenge; a flood of refugees into neighbouring states; a massive humanitarian crisis; and, of course, the threat from those weapons of mass destruction which the inspectors have not yet been able to find?