Iraq

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:14 pm on 22nd July 2008.

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Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of Opposition In the House of Lords, Parliament 1:14 pm, 22nd July 2008

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating this important Statement. A military commitment to containing—indeed, sustaining—Iraq has scored national affairs for nearly a generation. Week after week, Parliament hears the litany of brave young men and women who have laid down their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. We cannot fully express our gratitude to them or our admiration for the skill and fortitude of our troops in their varied and often changing missions in this troubled region. So many of the aspirations and enmities causing the multi-layered and overlapping tensions in this region are centuries old. I wonder whether we are any nearer a solution now. In fact, are we any nearer to knowing what the solution is?

It is clear that Iraq must be restored to being a great nation, a pivot of regional affairs—a nation that with security and stability could and should be one of the richest in the world. But while we welcome the Prime Minister's assessment that President Bush's troop surge has been a success, there is still far to go.

As the Prime Minister says, Iraqi army and security forces are now performing better and the Statement promises further progress in Basra, but what prospect have we that in Basra a woman may walk without a veil and go without fear? What hope is there of accelerating economic reconstruction, including even faster progress than reported to the provision of basic amenities such as reliable electricity and clean water?

While there are improvements in security in Basra city, can the noble Baroness confirm that the provisional reconstruction team is still based at the airbase? What prospect is there of a move to Basra proper, and have the circumstances for a move been clearly defined?

I welcome the fact that this time the Prime Minister has not made the error of grandstanding in Iraq on reducing troop numbers—a soundbite never properly fulfilled, to the detriment of his own political reputation and force morale. What is the policy on troop reductions? Everyone wants to see our forces out of Iraq as soon as it is practicable to do so; but is not the right approach, which we have advocated and the Government now seem to be adopting, to lay out conditions which have to be met, to achieve the objectives we set ourselves and, only then, withdraw the troops? Does the noble Baroness accept that there should be no more artificial timetables, as the Prime Minister said only on 19 July? Will she assure the House that no private undertakings have been given to either US presidential candidate? We have been there before, my Lords. Good personal relations with a US president are one thing, British national interests sometimes another.

What is our reaction to the call from the Iraqi Government that all US combat forces, and so, presumably, all UK troops, should be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2010?

What is to be done about the 2 million refugees who have fled Iraq in recent years? What discussions have taken place about their future? Does the noble Baroness agree that the long-term stability and prosperity of Iraq depend upon their eventual resettlement? Will she assure the House that there will be fair, honourable and dignified treatment for those brave Iraqis who helped our forces as interpreters and in so many other ways? Some noble Lords may have seen reports of the squalid and demeaning conditions in which some of these families are living. Can the noble Baroness tell us how many families have been transferred here? Will she assure the House that they will not be placed in accommodation in the UK that no one else will accept? Such action would shame our country.

A second certainty of the resolution of the crisis is that Iran is a proud and ancient nation, one of the anvils of world civilisation, whose particular religious identity has normally been a core of its sense of what it is. It is, and will be, a regional superpower. It must be treated with subtlety and respect. If it feels threatened, it will claim the right to defend itself and, of course, security runs two ways. That said, Iran has a duty to behave with responsibility. Its outrageous threats to the very existence of Israel were rightly condemned by the Prime Minister as abhorrent. Its sponsorship of Hezbollah and Hamas in encircling Israel is equally threatening to Israel. That is no route to justice for the Palestinian people. What engagement, if any, is there with the revolutionary Hamas regime in Gaza, and can the noble Baroness confirm that Hezbollah now has an effective military, political and constitutional block on the Government of the Lebanon and any action by them? What is being done there? After all, France has the EU presidency; it has a historic link with Lebanon. What is President Sarkozy doing to help the matter?

What did the Prime Minister mean when he said that Iran would not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons? It is, of course, a nightmare prospect, and something that we must all strive to avoid, but what are the Government's plans? Will there be sanctions? If so, what, where, when, and enforced by whom? What are the implications for the security of British forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, within range of Iranian reprisal? How can Russia and China be brought, as they must, into the resolution of these issues? Does it need a fresh start? When will we know whether Mr Blair's mission served whatever credible or useful purpose it may once have had?

It would be tempting to ask about Afghanistan, for the issues are linked and the impact on the desperate overstretch of our troops enormous, but I shall ask only this. We are hearing new voices from Washington talking of potentially pursuing al-Qaeda into Pakistan, whether the Pakistan Government agree or not. What is the UK Government's view on that?

As we leave Westminster for pleasant places, families up and down the land keep a watch on photographs of loved ones far away, doing dangerous duty for our country. Across the Middle East, millions yearn for a peace that is so elusive and for leadership ready to take the risks that will break the mould of poverty, hatred and the gun. In the weeks ahead, we should not forget any of them. The prize for success would be immense, but the costs of lack of care and clarity in our objectives are incalculable. As our nation, with its long experience, already knows, none would be spared the pain. Whatever options are charted out in the months ahead, populist disengagement, politically, diplomatically, or even militarily, is not now among them.