Iraq

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:56 am on 24th January 2008.

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Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour 11:56 am, 24th January 2008

My Lords, the noble Lord gave a characteristically honest and clear speech, the key theme of which is the case for an inquiry. There have been many debates in the House calling for such an inquiry, which have been defeated. One may not like the results, but there have been those discussions. I concede also that the response of the Government has been, as the noble Lord said, somewhat unclear. At one time we were told that there would be an inquiry, but only when the time was right and the troops have been withdrawn—but how many troops and when? It begs many questions.

I am very doubtful about the wisdom of an inquiry. The precedents are not good. The Falklands commission was a rather unhappy commission of about six months and the results were not particularly valuable. It is obviously difficult to limit the time. The noble Lord has ruled out a Saville-type Bloody Sunday inquiry, but probably only the lawyers benefited, save of course that it was of benefit to the public in that it was part of that process which led to the ultimate settlement in Northern Ireland.

An inquiry can go on for a very long time. Indeed, the noble Lord has given it a vast agenda—from refugees to the preparedness of our troops to the advice given to the Prime Minister beforehand and so on, which could take a long time. The noble Lord seems to have ruled out a judicial inquiry. Even a parliamentary inquiry could take some time. There have already been at least two parliamentary inquiries: namely, that of the Foreign Affairs Committee, which I had the privilege to chair—we said, quite properly, that we were deprived of many of the sources of information and, therefore, were not able to give conclusions as clearly as we would have liked; and that of the Intelligence and Security Committee. The intelligence side was covered by the noble Lord, Lord Butler. One may not like the conclusions, but they largely exonerated the Government.

Clearly, the question is whether it was right to invade. The Government decided that it was. The Security Council and the important countries of the European Union said otherwise. This is a political matter, and it is the job of Parliament and the Select Committees appointed by Parliament to do their job. We were also in many ways—and we remain—the junior partner of the United States. An inquiry could also look at our relationship with the United States. There clearly was a plan. The question was whether its execution was faulty. What is the position as regards reconstruction? The noble Lord said that there is currently evidence of some improvement in the military and security situation and in the economic situation there. The danger is that any inquiry would not add to our store of knowledge and would give more heat than light.

We know of the problems today that have arisen from the invasion. We do not know, and cannot by definition know, what would have happened if there had been no action. Were there no invasion, that also would have had certain consequences. It may only have been deferring the conflict. The containment policy was certainly unravelling by 2002 and 2003. There was increasing defiance of the international community and oil sanctions. Oil smuggling was increasing. Had there not been an invasion, Saddam Hussein would probably still be there, torturing his people and preparing the way for one of his nasty sons to succeed him. We might now be dealing with an Iraq possessing nuclear weapons, rather than an Iran potentially seeking them.

The temptation is for us all to re-fight those old battles, the debates of 2002 and 2003, but we are where we are. There is a real danger of a diversion of time and talent in an inquiry. The criticisms of the United States are clear. The first two orders of the CPA were the de-Baathification that led to taking so many trained administrators from the scene and the disbandment of the army that let loose many hundreds and thousands of armed men into the community. With the civil service, the pensions policy that has just been voted in will at least go some way to address the faults there.

There was, as we know, a plan in the US—the 13-volume Future of Iraq project—that was apparently overruled by political appointees in the Pentagon, relying on Chalabi and other exiles. I recall meeting Richard Perle, who some thought of as the puppet-master of the neocons in the Department of Defense. He told me that there would be enormous joy at liberation—perhaps not church bells, this being Iraq, but flowers and greetings. Everything would happen thereafter without any serious planning. Certainly, the State Department had been overruled. There is clearly considerable criticism of the early days of the CPA.

Equally, we failed to appreciate the run-down nature of the physical infrastructure in Iraq—the electricity, the sewerage, the transport, petroleum—after many years of sanctions. There were many unintended consequences of the invasion, not least the way in which Iran has attained regional dominance. If many of us made misjudgments at the time, we can comfort ourselves in part that many of the opponents of the war made equally massive misjudgments in terms of the scale of refugee flows. As the noble Lord said, the scale of the refugee problem has been awful. Yet internal civil war, the division of Iraq and regional war were forecast by a number of opponents.

Of the lessons for the British Government, just a few headlines include having a greater sense of history and local knowledge, and not imagining that a country is a tabula rasa. Cabinet government is important, as the noble Lord has said, with checks and balances, not least those parliamentary. European Union colleagues were jealous of what our Foreign Affairs Committee and other committees in the other place were able to accomplish compared to the opportunities that they had. Then, certainly, there is intelligence. Clearly, the Prime Minister had much intelligence. It is a matter of public knowledge that I was given that same intelligence, and perhaps the only fault was in not asking sufficient questions of it, as we were clearly deficient in human intelligence.

There were other major questions about pre-emptive strikes and relations between this country and the United States. Clearly, there have been withering criticisms, but there are now some improvements—certainly in the military—after the surge and the so-called "Anbar awakening". There has been very limited success politically; there is still a winner-takes-all ethos, and major questions are unresolved. We need to have dialogue with the regional players and particularly not to go for regime change in Iran as part of policy but have dialogue with that country, as we have done with North Korea. There are positive developments on the ground but the plea is that one should look forward on the basis of the current realities rather than turn over stones of what we failed to do in the past.