Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

On the position in Iraq today, I agree with noble Lords who have pointed out that the surge seems to have brought some improvement in security. It would be churlish not to recognise that and to give praise to General Petraeus, but it is also right to point out that factors other than the extra 30,000 troops have also helped to produce this situation. There is first the ceasefire that Moqtada al-Sadr ordered his militia to implement. There is the ethnic cleansing, which means that fewer Shias and Sunnis are now living side by side in Baghdad. Then, as has been mentioned, there are the deals done in Anbar Province by the United States—the same country that refuses to deal with Hamas on the ground that it is a terrorist organisation but which has at the same time supplied arms and money to Sunni militia and vigilantes, many of whom have the blood of American soldiers and Iraqis on their hands. It has done a deal with them to stop them attacking US troops and to police their own zones. The position is an improvement, but

24 Jan 2008 : Column 370

Mr Maliki’s anxiety over this arrangement and his fears that these troops should not be incorporated into the main Iraqi forces show that it may be temporary and that we should not rely too strongly on it.

What are the lessons that we need to learn from this disastrous episode? First, we need to learn that the whole concepts of pre-emption, promotion of democracy and nation building need to be rethought. Our language in these matters also needs to be rethought. Democracy can be built only slowly in societies where family and tribe are the first loyalties. Secondly, this war has tragically encouraged the growth of al-Qaeda’s threat and influence. It has assisted extremist organisations in recruiting British Muslims even in this country, as was illustrated by the chilling import from Baghdad of the technique of packing petrol and gas canisters into cars. Thirdly, the phrase “the war on terror” should be completely banned. Greater emphasis should be placed on the police, intelligence and diplomatic efforts. We are facing not an ideological threat to our way of life or a global insurgency but criminal threats from a lot of disparate groups, many of them opportunistic groups that attach themselves to nationalistic movements, as al-Qaeda has done with the Sunni resistance movement in Iraq.

Lastly, we need to recognise that military occupations nearly always end up being unpopular. Opinion polls show that the occupation is strongly opposed by a majority of Iraqi citizens. A recent poll showed that 70 per cent of Iraqi forces want US forces to leave the country immediately. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, made a powerful case for not making a precipitous withdrawal, but the risks of a prolonged, large-scale occupation outweigh those of a gradual withdrawal of the sort that is being advocated by some of the candidates in the US presidential election. It is in our interests that the Iraqis should assume responsibility for their own destiny, and in that way make the accommodation that is necessary for political stability.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I ask the noble Lord to reflect on his point that the Government claimed that there were links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. That point was actually made from the Front Bench of the Conservative Party and explicitly denied by the Front Bench on this side of the House using the intelligence available at the time.

1.45 pm

Lord Smith of Finsbury: My Lords, it was with a heavy heart nearly five years ago that I told my own Government and my own Prime Minister that I thought they were making a huge mistake in joining the American invasion of Iraq. I proposed the Motion in another place that brought 130 of my Labour colleagues into the Division Lobby against our own Government. I took no pleasure in doing that, and there are no prizes in politics for having been right at the time—nor would I wish to seek any—but I must observe that that decision to join in the American invasion of Iraq was the single most catastrophic foreign-policy decision taken by the UK in the past 20 or 30 years.



24 Jan 2008 : Column 371

As a result of that invasion, thousands of people, many of whom are our own troops and many are Iraqis, are dead or injured. There are even higher numbers of refugees. Iraq has been in chaos for at least three and a half years. It is in less chaos now, but still the sustainability of society in Iraq is very much in question. Perhaps most crucially of all, the struggle against terrorism worldwide has undoubtedly been set back and hampered by the decisions that were taken then. We need to ask ourselves with care and seriousness how we came to make these mistakes and how they can be avoided in future. Here, for what it is worth, is my list.

First, we should not give open-ended commitments to allies, however important, and particularly to Presidents of the United States, long before military action is taken. We should always remember that the role of a candid friend is sometimes to tell an ally that we believe it is wrong. The United States has given huge sacrifice and service to the rest of the world in the past 100 years, but it is not always right. Sometimes, as an ally and a friend—as one of its most important friends in the world—we need to tell it that we believe that it is wrong.

Secondly, we should not seek to fit the facts around the story that we have already decided to tell. It appears that there were times in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq that that was precisely what was happening.

Thirdly, we should work exhaustively through international organisations and especially through the United Nations. It is an imperfect instrument of course, and always will be, but in working for change around the world we need to use the instruments that we have because if we do not seek to use them, and indeed do not seek to improve them, the resulting actions can bring much greater chaos. Yes, we need to think seriously about how the United Nations is composed, how it works, how it takes its decisions and how those things can be improved. The very important point made by my noble friend Lady Symons is that the international community needs seriously to think through the criteria for intervening in the affairs of a sovereign country, and the United Nations is absolutely the right body to do so.

Fourthly, we need to recognise that we will win against terrorism and terrorists only by engaging in dialogue, and deploying argument and example, rather than by seizing on force as the immediate way to win that argument. We must realise, in particular, that you cannot impose democracy on a country by force. Democracy has to be built from the bottom in a society; it cannot be delivered from above.

Fifthly, we must realise that in the Middle East, and the Islamic world in particular, the fate of the Palestinians is not a sideshow, nor an afterthought, but absolutely central to any understanding of the respect—or lack of respect—towards the West that is held across that entire region. The silence of many western Governments over what has been happening in the past few days in Gaza is something that we need, perhaps, to reflect upon.



24 Jan 2008 : Column 372

Sixthly, if you do invade, you must have a clear plan for what to do next. Do not stand by as looters take over, the national museum is stripped of its treasures and the entire government service and army are removed from their posts, creating a lethal combination of chaos and readily mobilised armed insurgent groups.

Seventhly, you need to plan sensibly for peace and reconstruction. Perhaps we need to look at the role that our organisations, particularly DfID, can and should play in this process rather more closely than we have in the past.

Eighthly, perhaps above all, you must know that war is never, and never should be, the first resort of policy. Sometimes, of course, military force may be necessary. I was part of the Cabinet that took the decision to take action in Kosovo; it was the right decision then, but war is not always the right decision. We must not allow one successful mission to lead us into thinking that others will automatically be right or easy. War is never easy. It is nasty, brutish, and it may, very often, be far from short. It is also full of unintended consequences. Actions entered into with entirely honourable motives turn out rather differently from what those who entered into them expected.

These are some of the things that we need to consider for the future. There is a lot that we know and can do without having an inquiry. I happen to think that an inquiry would be useful, and would urge the Government to consider the call for an inquiry more readily and favourably than, perhaps, they have done until now. We know a lot about what went wrong and why. We need now, even before an inquiry takes place, to apply ourselves to not making the same mistakes again.

1.53 pm

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, following the noble Lord, I wish to say that, across the House, this is assuredly not a political debate. It is a pleasure to be able to agree with everything that he said. Indeed, there was only one speech that I did not understand and with which I do not agree—that of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea. He is not in his place, so I do not propose to say why.

The other speeches made the points in my speaking notes better than I could have put them myself. I think in particular of the noble Lords, Lord Owen and Lord Tugendhat, and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, with whom on other occasions I have often disagreed. There is a sense of the House at this stage that needs no elaboration from me. So, why am I here? I was asked to speak; but for that, I would not be here at all. Therefore, I am not going to impress on noble Lords my view of how to accentuate what has been said. My view on that is virtually irrelevant. I am not a diplomat, nor in that sphere of operations.

We are concerned about consequences. One of those post-war consequences, as one noble Lord put it, is the escalation in suicide bombing since the botched operations in occupying Iraq. That is one consequence that nobody has yet mentioned. It has

24 Jan 2008 : Column 373

escalated at the behest of al-Qaeda. Somehow, this has to be addressed. It is a most serious problem and a direct result of a botched invasion. Who is going to address it? It has to be dampened down and, somehow, the ashes of a holy war must be raked out of the hearth.

It is not a lay problem. It can be addressed only by the Arab world, which understands that Islamic law as a state religion, diversely applied throughout the states, means governance by God as the master of man and the universe. What these bombers are doing is a matter of belief; there is no lay resolution. They have to be helped in some way. There must be an effort to contain what is going on. That can be done only by acknowledged clerics who are cognisant of the divergent interpretations of the Koran. We have to accept that they are divergent; for example, the way in which Islamic law operates in north Yemen is wholly different from how it operates in south Yemen. This problem can be approached only by the Arab world. Perhaps Saudi Arabia could be persuaded by diplomacy to set up a form of global debriefing exercise, with access to such global intelligence as could be made available, while masking all sources. Pre-emptive, proactive action could undoubtedly be taken to alleviate the problem. Noble Lords may think that I am mad but I am not; this problem can be addressed only in this way. One has to take some notice of the problem, and if what I suggest is not appropriate, then what is?

Another step towards learning a lesson could be the recognition that, as more than one noble Lord mentioned, our Parliament should not give approval to the armed invasion or occupation of a sovereign state unless it was satisfied that proper steps have been taken on the restoration of damage and on training so that POWs and civilians are not ill treated, and so on. There is a myriad of requirements on Parliament. Parliament must assure our forces that what is being done is lawful, that an assurance was asked for and given—but that it was given on botched advice which muddled up self-defence of the realm against attack with the armed invasion and occupation of a sovereign state.

Surely there is more to be learnt, but, in the mean time, are those not two lessons?

2.02 pm

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, we may be underestimating the scale of the humanitarian crisis in Iraq today. This is because of the short-term results of the surge and a good deal of understandable propaganda. Like the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, I measure the crisis in terms of the number of refugees and the displaced. As the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, said, it is the largest number of urban refugees anywhere in the world today.

We and the US carry a major share of the responsibility. This exodus is the result of the war itself and the terrible and criminal mistakes of the coalition, such as de-Baathification, as well as, of course, the legacy of Saddam. More importantly, Iraq is not yet a country that its people wish to return to. We have heard that there are about 1.4 million Iraqi

24 Jan 2008 : Column 374

refugees in Syria, which has now closed its borders because the urban population has run out of resources.

My niece, Lulu Norman, was recently in Damascus interviewing refugees. She has kindly allowed me to quote freely from her diary, which takes us to the heart of the problems—the nightmares—faced by Iraqi families in exile. In one woman’s family, she says:

Then there is the sectarian divide:

One woman, a computer programmer, had recently come to Damascus for medical treatment:

We should take comments like those very seriously if any of us are still under the misapprehension that the US and the UK are seen as saviours in Iraq.

The diary continues:

What about the future for those families? Will they ever return to Iraq? One woman said:

We must face the fact that our record in accepting Iraqis, despite our role in the war and our responsibility as the principal ally of the US, has been dismal. According to the International Rescue Committee, we have one of the lowest protection rates in the EU. Of the 1,305 Iraqis who applied for asylum here in 2006, only 3 per cent received refugee status and 8 per cent were granted subsidiary protection. Compare that with a protection rate of 90 per cent in Sweden in the same year.

The US has made a strong commitment, thanks to huge moral pressure on Congress from the NGOs, and has a resettlement target this year of 12,000 Iraqi refugee admissions. However, Human Rights Watch has pointed out that 12,000 is the number of Iraqis who typically entered Syria every week in 2006, and that the US reached only one-quarter of its target last year. It has also highlighted the intolerable conditions

24 Jan 2008 : Column 375

facing refugees in prisons in Lebanon, which treats them all as illegal immigrants. The Human Rights Watch report is entitled Rot Here or Die There. More than one in four refugees are Christians and the local Chaldean churches have tried to make up for their Government’s inadequacy.

The UK is almost alone in continuing to return asylum seekers to Iraq. Will the Minister confirm that the Home Office still believes its February 2007 operational guidance notes on Iraq which state that,

Surely those notes need to be reviewed. As we have heard, the UK has agreed in principle to resettle up to 500 Iraqis in Britain over the next fiscal year under the UK-UNHCR gateway protection programme, which will include many former interpreters and their dependants. However, the success of this programme is still in doubt. As we heard on Monday, it is dependent on a sufficient number of local authorities coming forward to participate.

The noble Lord, Lord Corbett, and I were involved in a campaign to accept refugees from Indochina nearly 30 years ago. There was huge public sympathy for those refugees and our churches, charities and local authorities went out of their way to receive thousands of them into temporary housing and private homes. Many noble Lords will remember that the same happened at the time of Hungary in 1956 and again more recently in the case of Bosnia, although on a smaller scale.

The noble Lord, Lord Lamont, has pointed out that Iraq is different for the reasons explained. But there is a lot of good will towards Iraq in the UK which is based on an extensive Iraqi community and many others who have relations or interests in Iraq. One glance at the Medical Aid for Iraqi Children newsletter shows how many charities, schools, churches and individuals are subscribing regularly, and have done throughout the war, to medical supplies for children in hospital in Iraq. It must be possible for the UK to accept a larger share of Iraqi refugees, many of whom will return when Iraq is safe. The Government’s present argument, that they are focusing resources on reconstruction, does not seem to me to admit the extent of the present crisis.

2.09 pm

Lord Soley: My Lords, I join others in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, on bringing forward this debate and the way he did it. I have never had a problem in principle with an inquiry, but have rather more difficulty with what that inquiry should focus on. My preference by far would be to focus on the post-conflict failure, because it is this which now makes it difficult to justify the initial decision, which I supported and would support again.

On the point of my noble—and very good—friend Lord Smith, we have to be careful about the balance we attribute to the United Nations here. Strong supporter of the UN as I am, a number of brutal dictators would still be in power if we had waited for

24 Jan 2008 : Column 376

it to act. Two of the most obvious examples are Idi Amin and Pol Pot, both of whom were removed not by western powers but by local ones. At the time I was strongly in favour of that.

My other problem with a wider-scale inquiry is that, frankly, it would need to go back to 1991. That is where one of the mistakes was made; we failed to remove Saddam Hussein then. I understand the argument against, but importantly we would have had far greater international support and—of particular importance—more regional support had we done it at that time. I know there was opposition to it, particularly in the region because of the uncertainty about the stability of Iraq afterwards, but there would have been far greater support than now and Iran would have been less of a problem. It is bizarre that we took no action then—a time when Saddam Hussein had used weapons of mass destruction against his own people. We would have had a far stronger position generally, and far greater help in dealing with the post-conflict situation.

A wider inquiry would also have to acknowledge the failure of the sanctions regime. People often forget that particularly brutal dictators will often use the sanctions regime to punish their own internal opposition. Kurds, Shias and others will suffer while those on the side of the dictator, those who live in his home town and so on, will be protected. I often remind people of the years when you saw demonstrations on the television set of well dressed, well fed Iraqis demonstrating in favour of Saddam Hussein and against the sanctions, and the same clip would show you a starving baby in a hospital. It is the curious power of propaganda that people do not ask why the baby is starving if the people doing the demonstrating are well fed and well clothed.

The post-conflict plan was severely flawed. Yet it is important that there was a plan and it was being worked on. A lot of it was being worked on here; there were frequent meetings at Wilton Park. There was a warning sign at Wilton Park in that it was getting difficult to get agreement between the Iraqis present about the future government of Iraq. That was a warning sign but, let us face it, we had had that situation before, going right back to the Second World War and what to do with Germany after the collapse of Hitler.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page