Iraq — Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:50 pm on 18th December 2008.

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Photo of The Bishop of Norwich The Bishop of Norwich Bishop 2:50 pm, 18th December 2008

My Lords, may I add gratitude from these Benches for the Statement? Like others, I pay tribute to the professionalism and courage of our military forces, who have served so spectacularly well in Iraq, and in extremely testing circumstances. I am sure that many families who will continue to bear the effects of bereavement and injury will greet today's Statement in a telling way. It is a relief that our forces are coming home: indeed, an answer to many prayers. Yet the withdrawal of our forces must not, in any way, conclude our interest in and commitment to the people of Iraq. Were we to give that impression, would it not lead to even greater cynicism, at home and abroad, about our motives for prosecuting that war? I am grateful, then, for many elements of the Prime Minister's Statement.

There was, however, a telling omission, on which I have some particular questions for the Minister. Does she recognise that the Christians in Iraq have been among those most adversely affected by this war? Does she acknowledge that they are now severely reduced in number and, in the past five years, have exchanged the status of a respected and historic minority for an experience of fear, intimidation and, indeed, persecution? Is it not tragic that two western powers with a strong Christian tradition may, unwittingly, have almost eclipsed one of the longest surviving Christian communities in the world? Does that not suggest a worrying degree of religious illiteracy among those who advised on prosecuting the war? It makes you wonder what the rest of their advice was like. What assurances can the Minister give that the Government will continue to seek a better future for Christians in Iraq, and indeed for other religious minorities there? It is not simply the Christians who have experienced such changed circumstances.

I have one other question. Some of our military personnel have experienced extended and intense, frequent terms of service in both Iraq and Afghanistan. What special measures are in place to monitor the psychological effects of such service, which may only be revealed over a long period? Among the lessons to be learned, we surely need to avoid any sort of echo of the problems following the Gulf War.