Syria: UK Military Action — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:07 pm on 2nd December 2015.

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Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative 6:07 pm, 2nd December 2015

My Lords, we are debating a largely symbolic extension of one of the longest-running conflicts in history—the global civil war between the Sunni and Shia factions of Islam that started with the death of the Prophet in 632.

However, I believe the Government’s Motion is morally and militarily justified, with the security of the UK being directly threatened. It makes no military sense to recognise a frontier that ISIL does not. Whether it is expedient is another matter. Where is the strategy? We are told that, with coalition air support, there are 70,000 moderate Muslim fighters ready to take territory from ISIL/Daesh. Will such a force materialise? In July 2006, I visited Afghanistan during Operation Panther’s Claw against the Taliban in Helmand. We were told there were already more than 90,000 trained members of the new Afghan army ready for battle. Yet in Panther’s Claw, with 15,000 coalition forces in action, fewer than 1,000 Afghan troops took to the battlefield.

No definition has been given of moderate. I offer one. A moderate Muslim is one who recognises and accepts that nation states are best governed by secular Governments who make the laws according to the needs of their citizens in the context of today’s world, with these laws being interpreted and applied by an independent judiciary. A Muslim jihadist fights for a theocracy in which clerics apply and enforce Sharia law, based on texts dating back to the eighth century.

I fear that some of our closest allies in this war are far from reliable as members of a coalition to destroy ISIL/Daesh. For more than three decades, the Saudis, supported by the Qataris, have financed the spread throughout the Sunni world and beyond of the malevolent influence of Salafist Wahhabism. ISIL/Daesh, and the other Islamist terror organisations, justify their actions by that credo.

Do the Saudis really want to destroy ISIL? The New York Times of 25 November, based on an interview with Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi Minister of Defence and Deputy Crown Prince, suggests that the prince believes that ISIS is,

“a counterreaction to the brutalization of Iraqi Sunnis by the Iranian-directed Shiite-led government in Baghdad of Nouri al-Maliki and to the crushing of Syrian Sunnis by the Iranian-backed government in Damascus”.

The Saudis, and certainly their clerics, see the removal of President Bashar al-Assad as a higher priority than the defeat of ISIL.

Of Turkey, too, I have doubts. There are convincing reports that Turkey’s political leaders and their families have been enriching themselves by trading in oil stolen by ISIL from Syria. The Turks certainly do not see ISIL as one of their top priorities. Those are to thump the Kurds and to get rid of Assad. I am glad that the Prime Minister has made it quite clear that our military assets will not be used against Assad or his army or in support of rebel operations against them. We shall find that Assad has to have a role in Syria for as long as we can predict.

When the Prime Minister listed,

“all the key regional players around the table”,—[ Official Report , Commons, 26/11/15; col.1492.]

in Vienna on 14 November, he omitted one country: Egypt. Yet President Sisi is doing in Egypt what we want to see in Syria: establishing, in an Arab state, a secular Government tolerant of all religions on the road to democracy. There has been much talk of boots on the ground. Egypt has an army of 500,000, of which Sisi was commander-in-chief before he became President. When the Prime Minister met Sisi on 5 November, did he discuss the possibility of Egyptian forces being used against ISIL/Daesh in Syria and Iraq?