Like Donald Anderson, I shall focus on Iraq, but not exclusively and in a wider security context beyond that country. First, I want to make it clear that whatever differing views hon. Members in this Chamber may take about the rights or wrongs of the invasion of Iraq in the first place, I consider that we have a wholly unambiguous responsibility to give total support to our armed forces who are now in Iraq in their vital work and to do our utmost to ensure their safe return to our country.
Now that weapons of mass destruction have been found not to exist following the final report of the Iraq survey group, and as the Government were clearly aware that that was the likely conclusion, the Government's justification for the war in Iraq has, of course, changed fundamentally. We have been invited on successive occasions by the Government, and not least by the Prime Minister, to support the war on the grounds of the benefit to the Iraqi people from regime change—getting rid of Saddam Hussein.
Undoubtedly, the removal of Saddam Hussein has mostly been beneficial, although as has already been pointed out, the 1 million-strong Christian community in Iraq now faces a degree of virulent and indeed violent persecution in the post-Saddam Hussein era that it never experienced when he was in power. Whether or not it was beneficial to remove Saddam Hussein—I have made it clear that, on balance, I think it most definitely was—it is not the basis on which history will judge whether the invasion of Iraq was justified. In any number of countries around the world, people might have their position improved by the removal of a regime. Indeed, some of us in this Room might argue, as I most certainly would, that regime change in this country might be beneficial for the people. However, regime change is not a justification for military action, particularly if there is no threat.
The question that must be posed now and which will be answered by historians is whether the world has become a safer place as a result of the invasion of Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein. I do not pretend for one moment that that fundamental question can be conclusively answered now, but some 18 months away from the invasion and the end of a short war, it is already possible to start drawing at least preliminary conclusions. The pluses and minuses that must be considered in determining whether the world has become a safer place yield initial results that look distinctly discouraging.
On the plus side, we got rid of an aggressor who was responsible for two wars. He was responsible not merely for the invasion of Kuwait, but for starting the Iran-Iraq war, which resulted in an appalling number of deaths. In addition, he had in the past possessed and used weapons of mass destruction. However, we must focus on the situation when the British and American Governments decided to invade Iraq. We now know that at that time Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction. He was being successfully contained—perhaps more successfully than we thought—by the no-fly zone policy, which was undoubtedly successful. He was also contained by the UN weapons inspectors who had been in the country since the end of the first Gulf war. We now know that, in addition to having no weapons of mass destruction, there was no production of such weapons. It has not been demonstrated that Saddam Hussein posed a direct threat to British interests such as the sovereign bases in Cyprus. At the time of the invasion, it was difficult to argue that he presented a security threat to us or the worldwide community. Most significantly, given what has happened since, it was not possible to show that he had links with al-Qaeda at the time we invaded Iraq. To all intents and purposes, Iraq was free of al-Qaeda.
Turning to the minus side, the presence of al-Qaeda is the single greatest security change from a worldwide perspective. As was forecast accurately by the Joint Intelligence Committee and reported by the Intelligence and Security Committee before the war, an invasion of Iraq was likely to bring into Iraq an al-Qaeda presence that had not been there previously. The Prime Minister was clearly warned of that. That JIC intelligence assessment has been shown to be wholly correct, and now inside Iraq a considerable number of al-Qaeda operatives have an opportunity to hone their terrorist techniques. Having honed those terrorist techniques, the worldwide risk is that as so many of the operatives come from outside Iraq, they will in due course go back to other countries and practise them.
I was interested in reported comments made by the Iraqi interim Prime Minister Allawi earlier this week. He gave the information that, of those arrested in Iraq in the last two weeks, 167 were foreign fighters. They included four senior members of the al-Zarqawi terrorist group, who, interestingly, have renamed themselves "al-Qaeda in Iraq". The four senior members who were arrested were all foreigners. One was a Palestinian, another was Lebanese, another Saudi and the last Egyptian. In a real and practical sense, that illustrates the extent of foreign al-Qaeda penetration into Iraq.
The security consequences are considerable. What is happening in Iraq is that, although we do not wish it, we are inadvertently providing a training area of the highest quality for al-Qaeda operatives. Any experienced military trainer will say that, for training to be first class, there are two requirements. First, the training should, as near as possible, create an operational situation. Secondly, the best training is against the best and toughest. Unhappily, that is precisely the training benefit that we are providing to al-Qaeda in Iraq. It does not have to simulate an operational environment—it has got one. That provides it with the best possible training environment. It is training against the best—British and American forces.
We are training al-Qaeda personnel across the range of potential terrorist weapons and devices. We are giving them the opportunity to use the existing range of terrorist weapons—surface-to-air missiles, rocket-propelled grenades and improvised explosive devices, which are often remotely controlled. We are, of course, also giving them training and experience in the positioning and use of suicide bombers. They can train against the most sophisticated countermeasures that are available against terrorists—those used by American and British forces. I am afraid that I cannot exaggerate the potential benefit to al-Qaeda of being able to use and try to deploy terrorist tactics against those countermeasures.
Those involved are getting training in infiltration—the infiltration of counter-terrorist forces, such as the Iraqi police and Iraqi armed forces. Sadly, it appears without any doubt that they are having success. Reference was made to the brutal, cold-blooded murder of about 50 Iraqi police recruits. From what one reads, all the indications are that that must have been at least in part an inside job. Lastly, they are being trained in intimidation. As we have seen only today, they have intimidated the Christian community in Iraq by announcing that they intend to murder one person in every Christian household in the country if Christian women in Iraq continue not to wear headscarves.