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24 Sept 2002 : Column 115—continued

7.17 pm

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield): Earlier today, the Prime Minister gave us a powerful description of the nature of the regime in Iraq. Nobody on either side of the debate or on either side of the House has disagreed with it. Partly because of that description, I wonder why the call by my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) for a proper indictment of Saddam Hussein has not been taken up with greater vigour.

I also think that the emphasis that my hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary placed on the context in which they may be considering military action made some sense although I have some questions. It was couched very much in terms of maintaining pressure on Saddam in order to avoid that action. However, I have great difficulty reconciling what was said in the Chamber today about using threats to pressure Saddam with the messages that have been coming rather more consistently from the White House and the United States. They do not appear to be arguing that if international law and UN resolutions are to be obeyed, it is not enough to exhort and set processes in train and that it is necessary to ensure that there is the will and the ability to enforce them.

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Rather, the message is that a conclusion has already been reached and that the procedures of arguing the case in the United Nations and winning international support are stages on the way to reaching that conclusion rather than means of avoiding that conclusion and trying to ensure a peaceful resolution to the problem that we face. That is worrying and profoundly troubling. If we are to play a role in international affairs which maximises our leverage and influence over the United States, we need to draw out some of those distinctions, say that the conclusions have not yet been reached and act accordingly.

Although it is to be welcomed that President Bush went to the United Nations, I find it troubling that that was rapidly followed by an enunciation of the new doctrines to which many hon. Members have already referred: the doctrines in the US national security strategy of pre-emptive strikes. The United States appears to take to itself the power and the responsibility of acting as some kind of global emperor—of deciding which states and actions are legitimate, which states and regimes may remain in place and which will not be allowed to remain. As many hon. Members have said, that is not only profoundly destabilising of the reality of international politics, but undermines the very principles on which the United Nations was based. There can be no shortcuts round the United Nations. No state can set itself above the United Nations as the arbiter of international affairs.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) said, if the United States and perhaps Britain launched military action against Iraq in support of those doctrines, it is true that in the short term and the narrow military sense a victory could be secured. But we must ask what the consequences of that would be for the region and the wider world. I have travelled to the middle east many times and the allegation there from both the Governments and the people in the street is of double standards. Their perception is that somehow international law and United Nations resolutions are more precious in one part of the world than they are in another.

I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have sponsored a new United Nations resolution on the middle east and I welcome their support for a new initiative to get the peace process going. If for Iraq we say that it is not enough to exhort and set processes in train and that we must ensure that the will of the United Nations and of the international community is upheld, that applies equally to Israel. We need to say that.

Mrs. Ellman: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Richard Burden: No, I have not got time. There is only 10 minutes for my speech. The intervention was perhaps predictable.

If we are to overcome those allegations of double standards, we have to demonstrate by our actions that we do not take that approach. We must put ourselves in the position of a refugee in Gaza who is not allowed to go from one part of Gaza to another because it has been closed off, and whose home may have been destroyed by an Israeli aircraft supplied by the United States and perhaps with components made here in Great Britain. It is not enough to say to that person, "There is a difference because for your situation the UN resolution is covered by chapter 6 rather than chapter 7." The reality is the

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same. We must show by our actions that we are serious about those matters. We must show that simply exhortation and setting processes in train is no more sufficient for the middle east crisis than it is for Iraq.

I say that not just from the point of view of justice; I say it because it is vital for our credibility in making any challenges to the threats posed by Saddam Hussein. In the Gulf war in the early 1990s Saddam responded entirely predictably. He is no friend of the Palestinians, but he poses as one. He launched Scud missiles against Israel. Fortunately, Israel did not respond. Do we honestly think that Saddam Hussein would behave differently this time? I do not think so. There may be a key difference in that there is a different kind of Government in Israel. In the aftermath of 11 September Sharon described Arafat as Israel's bin Laden. We know that to be nonsense. Would it not appeal to a hawk like Sharon to try to get those issues mixed up once again and to say that his actions against the Palestinians and his refusal to abide by the obligations of UN resolutions 242 and 338 were somehow about confronting any threat posed by Saddam? Would there not be a temptation for Israel either to respond to attacks from Iraq or even to launch a pre-emptive strike of its own? If we got into that spiral, the consequences for the region and the wider world would be dangerous.

It is right to take this issue seriously. It is right that we meet the threat posed by Saddam's nuclear weapons programme and his acquisition of other weapons of mass destruction. But we need to be absolutely clear that that can be done only in the context of international law. The instrument that we have fashioned to uphold international law is the United Nations and there can be no shortcuts or ways round it. If we are to ensure that that instrument can be fashioned to deal with Saddam and Iraq, we have to show by our actions, and America must accept, that international law and United Nations resolutions are indivisible. They are as important in their application to the Palestinian in Gaza as in dealing with the threat posed by Saddam.

7.27 pm

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby):

As some Members may know, that is a quote from Neville Chamberlain in July 1938. While history has not been kind to him, it would be astonishing if we did not all sympathise, although perhaps not agree, with those sentiments.

As we discuss war or military action tonight we should remember how ghastly it is. There is always death and every soldier, British, Iraqi, Serb or Afghan, is some mother's son. Nobody who has seen war will relish seeing it again. Chamberlain's sentiments were based on experiences of the first world war.

War may be the lesser of two evils. If Saddam Hussein would comply completely with all UN resolutions, there would be no need for this debate or, for any military action and certainly no need for war. I come to this debate with a slightly different perspective. Excellent speeches have been made, but I should like to discuss the issue from my minor experiences of the Gulf war in 1991 when I rejoined as the chief of staff of the prisoner-of-war guard force in Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. It is only limited experience, but I saw something from ground level.

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First, the Iraqi army—we captured some 8,000 prisoners of war—was not well motivated. Almost as soon as British troops appeared morale collapsed and they surrendered. I am not suggesting that we should be complacent about any Iraqi troops now, but we should know that there was no morale and no motivation. The soldiers were not well equipped. Far from it. Most of their tanks were T55s built in 1955. They were all Soviet tanks and by 1991 Soviet tanks had progressed to T82s, as I recall. It was old, obsolete equipment. Their kit was dreadful.

In field hospitals I saw soldiers that we were treating who had been shot by their own side when they tried to surrender, because that was how they made people serve. We saved many Iraqis from starvation, from dehydration and from dying of cold. The first Iraqis that I encountered on the first day of the war were all very swarthy, dressed in British NBC—nuclear, biological and chemical protection kit. I wondered why they were all dressed like that. The answer was that they were dying of exposure and we saved them. We put in a special Chinook helicopter filled with water, because we took so many prisoners who were dying of thirst because their side had not tried, or not been able, to feed or water them.

When these conscripts saw that they were not in danger, and that they were in a prisoner-of-war camp being well treated and fed, it became like a school outing because they were so happy. Imagine British soldiers with bayonets fixed—18-year-old boys wondering what to do when these unarmed Iraqis would crawl under the fences between the cages to get a second meal. They did not want to shoot or bayonet them, so in the end the Iraqis just got two meals. They were very happy to be under our protection; there was no question about that.

The prisoners were not in any way pro Saddam Hussein. Some of them had literally been rounded up in the fields or in factories. They had been taken away and press ganged; that is well documented from the Iran-Iraq war. They were certainly not in favour of the war and, like all conscripts, they wanted to go home to their families. They wanted peace. They were terrified of informers—Iraq was a police state then as it is now—but I spoke to many in private who were willing to say how desperately they wanted to get rid of the Saddam Hussein regime. That was not true of the Republican Guard—they were a different matter—but it must be said that they also surrendered when they were confronted by superior force.

The huge majority of these people wanted the end of Saddam Hussein and we let them down. I was told that many, when they were finally taken back some six months later by the Iraqi regime, were murdered or imprisoned by the regime.

A lot of nonsense is talked about the end of the war in 1991—about how we could not go on and occupy Baghdad. All that we had to do was fight on for about another two days. It was not easy; we were coming to the end of our supply chain and lines of communication were very stretched, but if we had moved on at the same pace for another two days we would have cut off the bulk of the Republican Guard, who were north-east of Basra, and if we had done so we would have cut off Saddam Hussein's support.

I hear people say that we had to stop the war because of the coalition. It seemed to me that all members of the coalition were astonished that we stopped, and indeed the

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Arab leaders were very distressed that we had not deposed their enemy, Saddam Hussein. We read self-justification in the papers now, but I remember being told, when I was woken in my basha on the Iraqi sand, that there was a ceasefire coming, which would be exactly 100 hours after the invasion started, because they wanted a 100-hour war. That decision was taken by George Bush Sr. There was no consultation. Douglas Hurd—he can correct me if I am wrong—now Lord Hurd, who was Foreign Secretary, was in Washington DC and he was not consulted. I remember seeing James Baker, then the Secretary of State, standing on the steps of the White House saying, "We have taught Saddam Hussein a lesson." I believe that he misjudged the situation terribly. Now, 11 and a half years on, Saddam Hussein is still a bloody tyrant who terrorises his own people.

I will not dwell on the million people killed in the Iran-Iraq war, or the fact that 600-odd Kuwaiti prisoners of war and deportees who were taken to Iraq have still not been accounted for. Although I will not dwell on it, we should remember that the Iraqis set light to all those oil wells, creating ghastly pollution in the Persian gulf in 1991, and that Saddam killed 5,000 people in Halabja. I will mention the fact that Saddam butchered his own sons-in-law in 1996, having given them a guarantee of safety, and that he has butchered thousands of others. Since 1991, he has defied endless UN resolutions.

Saddam has been compared to Hitler, which people say is completely inappropriate, but I do not think that it is. It is much more appropriate than comparing the foreign policy of George Bush to that of Hitler. I do not believe that Saddam's brutality and his actions against Iraqis are enough to force a war because, with my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie), I do not believe that it is our right to impose regime change on Iraq—although I think that it may occur.

However, Saddam Hussein continues to work to threaten us, and we see that in the dossier. Nothing much in it is new, but it does show that he has the intent to threaten other people. He is a threat to his own poor people and, I believe, a threat to the peace of the world, the region and the middle east. Those who dismiss that assertion should judge him by his past actions.

Saddam launched Scuds against Israel in 1991. Would he launch a nuclear missile against Israel now if he had one? I do not know, but I think that it is a possibility because, as people have identified, it would bring all the Arabs to his side. Perhaps he might.

We should have learned from the experience of the past 12 years, or indeed the 23 years that Saddam has been in power, that we cannot trust him. We cannot negotiate with him. We cannot ride this crocodile.

War is never easy and always ghastly. We have heard some navel-gazing from the Liberal Democrats in particular, asking, "What if this? What if that?" It is very fair that these questions should be asked, but could the result of, for example, Iraq's breaking up be worse for the Iraqi Kurds or the Iraqi Marsh Arabs or the Shi'ites than it is now? They have lived a ghastly life under this regime. If the Iraqi Kurds want self-determination, is not that to a very large extent up to them? It seems to me that it should be, within the United Nations.

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Saddam Hussein has flouted the United Nations for well over 12 years. He is certainly a threat to his old enemies, such as Iran, and perhaps also Saudi Arabia. I think that he is a threat to us in the United Kingdom and the United States, who are also his old enemies. However, the legal position, which has been addressed, is very important. United Nations resolutions are very important. We should remember that Saddam Hussein has no legitimacy himself. He got there by force; he keeps himself there by force. He oppresses, tortures and executes his people. The greatest beneficiaries if, God forbid, we should have to go to war, of his defeat and—I believe it should be an object also—his subsequent removal from power would be the poor, oppressed, benighted people of Iraq.

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