Iraq

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:51 pm on 24th January 2008.

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Photo of Lord Chidgey Lord Chidgey Liberal Democrat 12:51 pm, 24th January 2008

My Lords, a vast amount has already been written, said, hypothesised and argued about over the latest war in Iraq, and its consequences. This debate is no exception in adding to it. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, on securing it today.

If we could summarise the political military analysis—for example, that given by Mr Wilkinson at Chatham House last October—we would stress that governments must learn that when you intervene in someone else's country, for whatever reason, you have to allow that some of the consequences will entail nation building. If you intervene in someone else's country you must have and act on a political and economic reconstruction plan that delivers improvement to the quality of life or face the consequences or the prospect of nurturing insurgents. Having intervened in someone else's country, in any post-conflict environment, the essential priorities must be to establish security, the rule of law and to deliver access to justice, if I may echo the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad.

It is fairly easy to list the lessons to be drawn and noble Lords who have spoken have given us a very good insight into the key questions that we should address. I do not wish to repeat them, but they include the question of whether there was too great a rush to war in 2003. Were enough forces deployed? Were they properly resourced and prepared? Did the overwhelming desire to find weapons of mass destruction cause stockpiles of conventional weapons and lead them to be disregarded, but which later armed the insurgency? Should the Iraqi army have been disabled? Was the comprehensive de-Ba'athification process really necessary? There are more than enough questions to put a case for a further and deep inquiry into the intervention in Iraq.

Written evidence submitted to the Foreign Affairs Committee in another place by organisations such as the Council for Arab-British Understanding, among others, bring home the outcome of failures to follow the simple lessons of pre-emptive military intervention. Iraq went almost overnight from a heavily government-controlled state, headed by a despot, to anarchy with no state control. With the state effectively dismantled Iraqis turned to their own tribal and sectarian groupings for security and support. Sectarian divisions were aggravated and deteriorated. Iraq's future potential has also been undermined. Brutal, targeted attacks on academics, journalists and doctors have added to and accelerated a huge brain drain that dates from the sanctions era. It will take a lengthy period of calm, safety and security to attract this key talent back in sufficient numbers to give Iraq a viable future.

Perhaps the most sombre lesson to be drawn is the degree to which the population of the region has been destabilised. According to the UNHCR, Iraq's displaced are the world's largest group of urban refugees and the largest refugee crisis in the Middle East since 1948. The UNHCR estimates that there are 2.2 million IDPs in Iraq and that a further 2 million have fled from Iraq—mainly to Syria and Jordan—whose health, education and social support systems have buckled under the strain.

Syria's 1.4 million Iraqi refugees are increasingly running out of resources, with a third now on the verge of destitution. Poverty is making inroads into the refugee population's health, with a fifth of the chronically ill unable to purchase medication. Tens of thousands of Iraqis will need food support over the coming months, with more than 250,000 expected to need food assistance by the end of the year.

In Syria alone, some 100 new cases of refugees living in extreme poverty are identified every week. Women and children are particularly vulnerable to exploitation. Nearly half the families report that their children have dropped out of school, with one in 10 working to help support their families. Overall, the number of Iraqis uprooted by sectarian violence and human rights abuses is surpassed globally only by the 6.4 million Sudanese internally displaced persons and refugees. That is something that your Lordships might reflect on when recognising that by far the greater part of the Iraqi refugee crisis results from the US/UK-led intervention.

The Minister will be aware that such is the enormity of Iraq's displacement crisis that this year the UNHCR needs to raise more than £130 million for its Middle East region operations—its largest single relief operation. Targets have been set that include doubling to 200,000 the number of Iraqi refugee children attending school; supporting 15,000 families who decide to return home; and assisting 400,000 displaced persons living in insecure and dangerous conditions.

Those programmes deliver shelter, healthcare, education, general support and food to uprooted Iraqis throughout the region. They are at risk unless the UNHCR appeal is met with strong support, which sadly has not been forthcoming from the UK Government. Given the Minister's experience in the UN, he is uniquely placed to explain why our Government do not support the UNHCR targeting of immediate relief programmes at refugees in and outside Iraq. What basis is there for considering that UK investment in reconstruction and infrastructure, aimed at rebuilding the basic services in the longer term, can be a substitute for the immediate support urgently needed by hundreds of thousands of refugee victims of a war that we helped to initiate?

Finally, further to an Answer given to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, on 21 January, to which the noble Lord referred again today, on the resettlement of Iraqis at risk under the Gateway Protection Programme, the Minister will be aware that its success is dependent on a sufficient number of local authorities participating. There is considerable concern that this is not the case at present. Will he advise what steps the Government are taking to ensure that local authorities will come forward?