Iraq

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:49 pm on 22nd February 2007.

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Photo of Lord Butler of Brockwell Lord Butler of Brockwell Crossbench 2:49 pm, 22nd February 2007

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, for initiating this debate, and echo the congratulations to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker of Aldringham, on his maiden speech. It would have been apt in any circumstances, but it is particularly apt at the present time.

I should like to address my remarks principally to what has been said by the noble Lord, by opposition spokesmen in another place and by other noble Lords about a further privy counsellor review of the decision to go to war. I agree that there are further lessons to be learnt from our experience of the war. I also agree that the learning of those lessons may well require access to the confidential papers of government, which inquiry by a group of privy counsellors allows. But with great respect to the noble Lord, I must say that I doubt whether the scope for an inquiry goes as wide as he suggested. The lessons to be learnt concern the way in which plans were made—or, as everybody now acknowledges, not adequately made—for the situation in Iraq after the defeat of Saddam Hussein.

I doubt whether any further inquiry is needed into the reasons why the United States and the United Kingdom went to war or even into the machinery of government questions referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Owen. Like the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, I think that we, and increasingly the British public, know what happened about that. I have always believed that our Prime Minister had good reason for wishing to support the Americans in removing Saddam Hussein. But he had a problem. He had the clearest legal advice that military intervention solely for the purpose of regime change could not be justified in international law. The only justification for military intervention was to enforce the Security Council resolutions at the end of the first Gulf War prohibiting Iraq's possession or acquisition of weapons of mass destruction.

I have also always accepted and continue to accept that the Prime Minister sincerely believed that Saddam possessed such weapons and was bent on acquiring more. Our intelligence community believed that, as did other countries' intelligence communities, as well as Hans Blix when he first took UN observers back into Iraq. But here was the rub: neither the United Kingdom nor the United States had the intelligence that proved conclusively that Iraq had those weapons. The Prime Minister was disingenuous about that. The United Kingdom intelligence community told him on 23 August 2002 that,

"we ... know little about Iraq's chemical and biological weapons work since late 1988".

The Prime Minister did not tell us that. Indeed, he told Parliament only just over a month later that the picture painted by our intelligence services was "extensive, detailed and authoritative". Those words could simply not have been justified by the material that the intelligence community provided to him.

I remark in passing that the Prime Minister has come close to admitting that his reasons for continuing to support the war were reasons for which there was no legal justification. He has said that he apologises for the mistakes that were made, but he does not apologise for removing Saddam Hussein. But, absent WMD, there was no legal justification for military intervention to remove Saddam Hussein.

There can be no doubt that mistakes were also made in designing and carrying through the post-war strategy. Why were those mistakes made? First, it should be acknowledged that they were primarily American mistakes. The United States' decisions on the post-war strategy in Iraq were flawed by what can only be described as naivety, ignorance and arrogance.

Why was Britain not more influential in influencing that strategy? Did we try to change it and fail or were we as naive and ignorant as the United States? Maybe that is the area where there is a case for further inquiry, but I suspect that, in this case too, we know the answer. We know that two factors contributed to our ineffectiveness. One was that the British Government were so focused on justifying the war and trying to secure Security Council agreement that they did not focus sufficiently on the post-war strategy. Even today, we have the evidence of Sir Jeremy Greenstock that the Government did not have their eye on that particular ball.

The second factor was the Prime Minister's centrist and informal approach to running the Government, which prevented all the resources available in departments on this aspect from being brought into play. We know that the Secretary of State for International Development at the time, Clare Short, tried repeatedly to get the Cabinet to focus on post-war Iraq and got short shrift for it. Even so, no doubt there are lessons to be learnt from this. But like the noble Lord, Lord Jay, I am less certain about the timing suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd. It would be a mistake at this moment if we were to allow a preoccupation with the past to divert us from the present and the future. The main thrust of our energy must be forward-looking. We have to decide now what strategy will make the terrible situation in Iraq better and not worse.

As many other noble Lords have said, we must also ensure that inattention does not cause us to make the same sort of mistakes in relation to Iran as were made in Iraq. As I saw from the review that I conducted, as the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, will remember from the Scott inquiry and as I remember from the Falklands inquiry, which took place after the completion of the war, inquiries of this sort are hugely demanding on the resources of the very people in government who are also deeply involved in handling the current situation. Even in a non-partisan inquiry of the sort advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, the reputations of those concerned are closely at stake and they are bound to be concerned about that. The situation in the Middle East is so dangerous that the world cannot afford another blunder. In a no doubt well intentioned effort to learn from the past, let us not allow our attention to be diverted from the perils that lie before us.