My Lords, few will fail to recoil at the horror of the atrocities committed by the brutal force of Daesh, and events in Tunisia, Turkey, Iraq, Mali, Kenya and Paris last month will have brought into our sharpest focus the wantonness of the threat from the terrorists.
Fewer still will not want to see the eradication of a dissolute band of fanatics whose ideas undermine the very universal values of fundamental human rights and conventions that have been hard fought for over many centuries in our countries. I am all too conscious of the fact that the victims of these acts of barbarism are so often majority Muslims, who are on the receiving end of increasing numbers of Islamophobic attacks here and in Europe.
I believe that vast majority of people in our country are not convinced that we should write the death warrants of more of our soldiers and civilians in Syria. The Prime Minister’s case for war is predicated on the belief that military success will be assured as a result of the combined ground forces of the Iraqi Army and the so-called moderate Syrian opposition to Assad and Daesh, along with precision-targeted bombing by the allied forces, including Britain. Most military strategists understand that for there to be any possibility of defeating Daesh, a substantial ground force is required, as has already been said. Much has been made of local opposition forces amounting to 70,000—a number which is rightly being challenged. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, that the phantom numbers of available boots may indeed be the Prime Minister’s 45 minutes.
What is evident is that the fundamental foundations of the Government’s arguments are flawed. With regard to so-called precision bombing, I argue against the logic that there will not be destruction and deaths of innocent civilians—men, women and children who will not have anywhere precise to go.
Significantly, there have already been 8,289 air strikes by the US-led coalition in Iraq and Syria. What is officially called Operation Inherent Resolve demonstrably failed to achieve its objectives. How differently will we do precise bombing to make it more effective and less bloody? If we determine the number of bombs we dropped by the precise and comprehensive nature of our intelligence information, I ask the Minister to report to the House what is our intelligence about the numbers of civilians—men, women and children—who are likely to be the casualty of our actions.
Should we simply ignore the advice of one of our most senior military figures, NATO General Sir Richard Shirreff, who has warned that air strikes on Syria will not defeat Daesh and could be the first step towards Britain being involved in a bloody and protracted war? The former NATO Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe spoke this week of the inevitability of Western forces needing to be deployed alongside local groups. What of these local groups? Are we ready for the inevitability of sending our young men and women into harm’s way to fight alongside an undisciplined and questionable collection of armed militants and extremists whose numbers and capability have been grossly exaggerated and whose loyalties are seriously in doubt? Are we saying that it is okay as long as these militants are on our side?
I sincerely hope that I will not be dismissed as one of the terrorist sympathisers when I say no—no to the killing of innocent people. We cannot pretend to imagine that there will not be thousands of women, men and children among them. Millions of citizens marched against the Iraq intervention, which has caused an estimated 800,000 deaths and utter chaos, not only in Iraq. It is largely responsible for today’s chaos in Libya and Syria, so to argue that we are capable of resolving the current desperate situation by more indiscriminating bombing is preposterous.
I hope that our Government heed the wisdom of our seasoned professionals, clear the fog from their eyes and ears, see the suffering and the pain and hear the cries of the victims of our inevitable forthcoming gesture of political solidarity with our allies.