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Most of us will agree with one or other aspect of an inquiry, but not all of it. That is what happens with public inquiries: we never always agree on all the final conclusions because they do not always suit our own
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particular ends or reflect what we wanted to see. The real issue for us today, though, is not that, but how we move forward. Until we start to look into how our foreign policy can address the issue of lives being lost—day in, day out—in Iraq, we will not achieve that.

How do we actively involve and engage other Islamic countries in order to deliver a peaceful settlement for those people who moved away from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein—someone who was prepared to take lives at any cost and did so, and sometimes with the help of the west? We need to move on and give confidence to Muslim opinion around the world that we are going to look into the issues that affect ordinary people who just want a decent quality of life—education and health, for example.

Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the reasons his inquiry is facing problems is that the voice of ordinary people from Iraq—trade union leaders, for example—cannot be heard in this country because they are not allowed to speak? When they are out and about from their country, they face the risk of being assassinated, which has happened at least twice over the last six months.

Mr. Mahmood: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. He has made a huge contribution to the inquiry that is taking place. It is people like him who actually want a positive way forward, rather than navel gazing and continuous scratching of wounds in order to inflict damage. He realises that we need to move towards a decent future for the people of Iraq. That is the most important thing in any inquiry. What we should do in this place is to look into that very seriously and try to determine how it can happen.

6.13 pm

Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Ind Lab): I strongly believe that it is essential to establish an independent inquiry into the route to war in Iraq and its aftermath for a number of profoundly important reasons. The first is that the terrible suffering, loss of life and displacement of people in Iraq continues, as does the death and injury of our soldiers and American soldiers—with no end in sight. There is no serious exit strategy. The Foreign Secretary talks as if all is going well and that if we can just wait a little bit longer, it will all be over and we could have an inquiry then. If only that were so. Whatever view one takes about the route to war, we would all be delighted if stability were to come soon and the killing and dying would end. No serious observer, however, holds that view.

I recently met a former general in the UK Army—he was a serving general when I was in government and I know him from that period—who asked me whether I would like to know the Army view of what was happening in Iraq. He told me that the Army view was that there was absolutely no military purpose to our soldiers being in Iraq and that there was nothing that they could accomplish by being there. All they are doing, he told me, is trying not to get killed. The reason they cannot be withdrawn is that it would embarrass the US if the UK withdrew. That was a serious source of information and he was not saying that that was his personal view, but the Army view. That is outrageous. It means that our young people are killing and dying in
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order not to embarrass the US about its own flawed strategy. That is why we need an inquiry. It is an enormous problem and it is going to go on indefinitely.

Even in the US, where the call for withdrawal gets ever louder and the Democrat party has tried to take up and echo the call in order to win elections, there is no honesty about what is being recommended. What the US really wants to do is remain in Iraq with permanent military bases in order to dominate the Gulf, withdraw to barracks and have a pro-American Government in Iraq. That is the policy. The problem is that that is unacceptable to the Iraqi people. Poll after poll has shown that they want a withdrawal as soon as possible. That means—this is my serious and sincere view and the view of many others—that the insurgency will continue. The trouble, bloodshed, anger and hatred in the middle east will get worse. More people will die and the Muslim community across the world, about which the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Mahmood) has just spoken, will go on being angry and upset. More and more young people will become convinced that the only way to get justice in the middle east is to engage in violence. This whole situation is acting as a massive recruiting sergeant for terrorism, making the problem that it is meant to address ever worse and bringing our own country into terrible disrepute.

Given the situation of our soldiers, it is right that they should be withdrawn. I disagree with the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) about that, but I agree that, irrespective of our views about how we got here, it is right to advise on the positive way forward. I believe that there is a positive way forward and that the Iraq Study Group produced a superb piece of work that points the way forward, but it is certainly not the policy being adopted by the US Administration or, to their shame, by the UK Government.

The Iraq Study Group said that the US has to make it clear that it wants to withdraw as rapidly as possible and give up its aspiration to permanent bases in Iraq. It should then seek to negotiate a withdrawal as quickly and responsibly as possible. If the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr wants other countries, particularly Muslim countries, to come in and help the Iraqis, there has to be a handover to some sort of Government of national unity—an end to the occupation, which would then trigger the willingness of the international community to come in and help the people of Iraq to stabilise their country.

There is now interesting and important evidence that Moqtada al-Sadr is in talks with the organisers of the Sunni insurgency about coming together in a potential Government of national unity, calling for an end to the occupation and then uniting against the al-Qaeda elements who are inciting civil war and violence between Sunni and Shia. That is the way forward and the Iraq Study Group outlined it as a possible policy.

The Iraq Study Group noted, of course, that if we want the help of Syria and Iran, things will have to be done. In the case of Syria, we will need to resolve the problem of the Golan heights. The report goes on to say that there has to be a settlement of the Israel-Palestine issue on the basis of the 1967
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boundaries, the sharing of Jerusalem and a negotiated solution to the right of return. In other words, the Iraq Study Group, which comprised leading Republicans and Democrats who consulted all over the world—including our own Prime Minister—said that the only way out of Iraq is a change of US policy in the middle east. That is the right answer.

If the UK would say to the US, “We support the Iraq Study Group and would work with you on that basis, but if not, we are out because we are doing no good in Iraq, our young people are dying in vain and we are inflaming the problem”, we could all get back together and be proud of our Government instead of being ashamed of how they have proceeded in error and, I am afraid, deceit.

I believe that dishonesty about why we went into Iraq helps to explain the chaos that we are now in. It never was about weapons of mass destruction: the Butler report summarised what the intelligence said and there was clearly no imminent threat. People believed that some scientists were doing work somewhere, but it was obvious that there was no imminent threat. Butler put that on the record. It was not about the nature of the Saddam Hussein regime either. The Prime Minister said in answer to a question—I think from the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), but I am not sure—that if Saddam Hussein would co-operate with the weapons inspectors, he could remain. That was not the reason.

The real reason was set out in “The Project for the New American Century” by leading neo-cons, who then went into Government. They thought that they would be welcomed when they went into Iraq because they believed their own propaganda. The purpose was, however, to remove American bases from Saudi Arabia—the land of the holy places, where they are absolutely not welcome and are seen as an outrage by the rest of the Muslim world—and place permanent bases in Iraq, from which to control the Persian gulf. That was the purpose—that is the purpose—and it is resulting in continuing insurgency, violence, divisions, death and destruction in the middle east.

We need an inquiry because we have dishonesty and bad faith, and we have a strategy that will not work. Surely it is the duty of the House of Commons to consider how we got here and to look at the available alternatives and find a way forward.

Mr. Ellwood: The right hon. Lady speaks of the importance of an inquiry into the war. The invasion having taken place, however, does she also agree that there is a need to look into the aftermath and the peacekeeping that prevailed afterwards? Will she tell the House whether there was enough co-ordination between the Department for International Development, the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office in mounting that peacekeeping operation? The window of opportunity for peacekeeping to work is very small.

Clare Short: I shall come to that point in a few minutes.

The second reason we need an inquiry is that the overwhelming majority of the people in the UK believe that they were lied to about the reasons for the war. Troops are still being deployed, and soldiers are still being injured, losing their lives and taking the lives of
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Iraqis for reasons that the majority in this country disbelieve. Our troops find that very distressing. A year or so ago, I was stopped in Whitehall by an officer in civilian clothes, who said that the worst thing that a soldier ever had to do was to talk to the parents of someone who had died under their command, and that when their country thinks that the war is dishonest and does not believe in it, that duty becomes unbearable. So part of our duty is to our troops. We need to get the truth out there and to treat them with respect. We should not ask them to serve, to risk their lives and to take the lives of others for reasons that their country does not believe in.

The third reason we need an inquiry is to establish why there was such a failure to prepare for post-conflict Iraq. This is the issue that the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) raised a moment ago. I was involved in this, and my view is that the failure properly to prepare flowed from the deceit on the route to war. Preparations were made in the State Department, in the United Nations and in my old Department in co-ordination with other humanitarian agencies across the world for a post-conflict situation in which the occupying powers would honour their obligations under the Geneva convention. The occupying powers have a duty under that convention to keep order, but they do not have the right to reorganise the political institutions of a country. Under such arrangements, there was an expectation of internationalisation and international support.

I went to a meeting of the World Bank shortly after the war. Of course, there were fantastic divisions there, but we worked to say that, whatever the divisions on the reasons for the war, if we could internationalise the reconstruction, please let us all come back in together to help Iraq to rebuild itself. What happened? With just months to go before the date chosen for the war, the President of the United States scrapped all the State Department’s preparations—which were massive and had been made in co-ordination with the rest of the world—and set up a unit in the Pentagon, which started making preparations from scratch. A British general, General Tim Cross, was put in as its deputy. He told me that they were moving in the furniture just a couple of months before the date chosen for the war.

The answer is not that people failed to prepare. The preparations that were properly made according to international law for conditions that would have brought international co-operation were thrown away because of the reasons for the war. America wanted, as in Japan and South Korea, to be dominant in Iraq, to have bases and a pro-American Government there. It did not want internationalisation or a UN lead. That is all extremely important, and we need to learn those lessons if we are to begin to put things right.

The fourth reason we need an inquiry is to examine the role of the Attorney-General. The full legal advice was never given to the Cabinet. I have never been a constitutionalist, but I am still utterly shocked by what took place. When I read the full legal advice, I still cannot believe that we were never given it, and that the legal advice that was given to the Cabinet and to Parliament was so different—

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): You voted for it.


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Clare Short: I voted on the basis of dishonesty, and of promises from the Prime Minister about the reconstruction and the road map, which were also untrue.

Mr. Jones: That makes it wrong now, does it?

Clare Short: I think that lots of people supported the Prime Minister but now feel that they were deceived by him. People all over the country have that view.

My view on what happened over the legal advice is that the disgrace goes beyond the present holder of the office. The Attorney-General’s role needs re-examination. On any vote in which the House of Commons is to be given the right to decide on war or peace, it will need its own legal advice. We cannot go on with the present arrangements, with the pretence of independence in authority but with political pressure that causes someone to modify their legal advice.

The fifth major reason we need an inquiry is that the people of the UK have lost faith in their politicians and political institutions. There has always been a healthy disrespect for politicians in this country, but now it nears contempt. We need to be honest about what has happened, and to change our institutional arrangements as well as our policy in Iraq, in order to get back the faith and respect of the people of the UK.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. I can see several Members hoping to catch my eye, but the amount of time left for this debate is limited. Perhaps hon. Members would bear that in mind when making their contributions.

6.26 pm

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West and Royton) (Lab): I voted for the Iraq war, which I now bitterly regret. I therefore make these remarks much more in a spirit of contrition than of rebuke. I strongly believe that this issue will not go away. It continues to damage public opinion, as the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) has just so rightly said, and, like all painful traumas, it can be exorcised only by facing up to it, warts and all, and by an admission of mistakes, misjudgments and misrepresentations being made, with a full account being given of the changes to be implemented to prevent any such events from happening again.

That is the only sure way in which to restore confidence and trust, which is what my party is now, rightly, urgently trying to do. Indeed, that has been the central refrain in the leadership and deputy leadership election contests in the party. The Chancellor—the Prime Minister in waiting—has made it clear that he wants a much more open and transparent form of Government to be a key means of winning back the votes that we have lost. I say to him that the Iraq war is unquestionably the place to begin. A wholly independent and thorough inquiry—not only into the war’s origins, which have already been explored to some degree, but into its handling and its aftermath—will do far more to restore confidence and trust than any other single issue.


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I take the Government’s point that there have already been four separate inquiries, but none of them addresses what is clearly still needed. The Hutton inquiry was widely dismissed as a whitewash. The members of the Intelligence and Security Committee are appointed by the Prime Minister and the Committee reports to the Prime Minister. For all its seniority and expertise, which are undoubted, it cannot be regarded as wholly independent. The Foreign Affairs Committee is inhibited because it does not have access to the crucial intelligence data. The Butler review, to be fair, did produce a pretty damning report that drew attention to many high-level failures. However, it concluded that no one was really responsible, and drew no conclusions about how a debacle of this kind could be prevented in the future. None of the inquiries dealt with the handling or the aftermath of the war. What has happened since the war is, arguably, even more important.

Having said that, I do not endorse either the proposal in the Opposition motion that a committee of Privy Councillors should undertake the inquiry. Apart from the fact that the matter was debated less than eight months ago, which makes it hard to believe that there is not a measure of political opportunism in raising it again so soon, I do not believe that it would provide the degree of independence that is vital for the purpose. The committee of inquiry, which I strongly endorse in principle, should be headed by a senior judge or similar person. However, unlike in the case of Lord Hutton, the chairman, members and terms of reference of the inquiry should all have to be approved by Parliament. The acceptance of its independence would therefore be assured from the outset. The appropriate Select Committee might be the Public Administration Committee, whose Chairman I am glad to see in the Chamber today.

A great deal of information relevant to such an inquiry has already been documented. However, several key issues that led directly to the Iraqi disaster have simply been left hanging in the air—they have been debated endlessly, but no conclusions or determination about a different Government action later have been reached. No recommendation has been made for reform to prevent a repetition in future.

Mr. MacNeil: Does the right hon. Gentleman feel that the motion before the House is a good starting point for the inquiry into Iraq or not?

Mr. Meacher: I do believe that it is a good starting point. As I said, I am very much in favour of a committee of inquiry in principle. If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I shall try to spell out how it should operate.

The most important issue that has been left hanging in the air is the interface between the intelligence services and the political decision makers. I noted that the previous Secretary of State for Defence said only last month:


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On the other hand, a few months before that, Carne Ross, a diplomat at Britain’s UN mission in New York in the run-up to the invasion, revealed:


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