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2.43 pm

Lord Luke: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on introducing this debate. When we consider the situation in Iraq, it seems to me to be a good idea to look at some of the historical trails that have formed the country and at its geographical position in the Middle East.

Mesopotamia, as it used to be called—the noble Lord, Lord Owen, mentioned that so effectively by quoting Kipling—lies broadly between the two great rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, which run from sources in Turkey south-south-east into the Gulf. Control of the waters of these two rivers comes from abroad—from Turkey—which is a source of weakness. Together with the serious situation created by the reckless way in which Saddam Hussein destroyed the salt marshes, that makes it imperative to come to urgent regional agreement to apportion water fairly to all peoples dependent on them. Oil, which Iraq possesses in abundance, is vital to the nation’s prosperity, but essential stability must depend on guaranteed supplies of water. What are the Government doing to ensure that discussions to achieve this take place as soon as possible?

Iraq is the site of the world’s oldest known civilisation, the Sumerian. It was briefly part of the Persian, Hittite and Roman empires. It was an important adjunct to the Turkish Ottoman empire from 1533 to 1916. On the break-up of that empire, a Hashemite prince from Saudi was, in 1921, brought to rule by the British under a League of Nations mandate. This mandate was terminated in 1932 and the monarchy, with British support, lasted until 1958, when it was overthrown. A series of palace coups covered the next 20 years until 1979, when Saddam Hussein achieved power as an absolute ruler. As we

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all know, he exercised an intemperate and brutal regime, fighting Iran and many of his own countrymen. He invaded Kuwait in 1990, only to be thrown out in 1991 by Operation Desert Storm.

In March 2003, as we know, Iraq was invaded by a coalition primarily from the USA and Britain. From then until now, there has been a continuing and debilitating struggle to stabilise the country and to establish as firmly as possible a central Government in Baghdad composed of elements from the Sunni and Shia communities and the Kurds. Slowly, both in Baghdad and in the south, lessons in counterinsurgency have been learnt. The British have now withdrawn the bulk of their forces. The Americans have vastly increased their commitment—the surge. Both ploys appear to be working at the same time. Given continuing political and military support, a stable democracy—a semi-democracy, at least—may emerge. Some provinces are undoubtedly making better progress in this than others. In the past five years, the Americans have learnt well, albeit the hard way, how to deal with insurgents—so much so that they are now considered to be as good as, or better than, the British at this essential task.

How do we effectively combine military and civil powers at the same time? This is essential learning for all of us both in Iraq and Afghanistan. We and the Americans have perforce also had to learn how to fight wars in two conflicting theatres at the same time and how to balance competing demands for troops and materials. Hopefully, indeed certainly, we do learn and have learnt some lessons during this protracted period, but will we ever learn about the dangers of being caught by friendly fire? It seems not. We have learnt a lot about relatively simple things, such as how to keep reasonably healthy in desert war conditions, how to cope with searing heat, how to look after wounded soldiers in a quite exceptionally efficient manner and how to keep engines of tanks, other armoured vehicles and aircraft going when they are ingesting sand. We have had to consider how to train our troops in theatre and how to fight a vicious war at the same time as trying to build a nation.

The British Army in Iraq, although much smaller than in recent years, is as efficient a fighting force as it ever has been in its glorious history. But, of course, much long-term training has had to be postponed and rest periods minimised. Let us hope that it will not be too long before the Army will be able to leave the Middle East and Afghanistan altogether, revert to normal patterns of activity and cease to be so overstretched. In the mean time, secondments from the Territorial Army, as in many years in the past, have been found to be most worth while. The soldiers and officers are very keen and professional, and indistinguishable in combat from the regulars. They also bring extra skills, and their excellence is one of the most important lessons that we have learnt in the past few years.

We are all immensely proud of our Armed Forces, very grateful for the sacrifices that they have made and for their unquenchable spirits, which inspire us so much.



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2.50 pm

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, there were times at the beginning of this debate when my memory took me back to when I was a nervous first-year undergraduate listening to the speeches of the grand Suez veterans who dominated the Cambridge University Union and being immensely impressed. I have been immensely impressed again by the noble Lords, Lord Fowler and Lord Tugendhat, and others. I strongly support a broader inquiry because the implications for British foreign policy of the Iraq invasion are very wide.

If one accepts the argument made by a number of noble Lords on all sides that the impact of the Iraq invasion is comparable to that of Suez, as we look back five years after the Iraq war, we should recollect how much Harold Macmillan's Government adjusted the assumptions of British foreign policy in the five years after Suez. He sped up the process of decolonisation. He accepted that Britain had to re-establish a relationship with the United States, recognising that Britain was the junior partner, and reluctantly, and under pressure first from the Eisenhower Administration and then from the incoming Kennedy Administration, he recognised that we had to apply to join what was then the European Economic Community. They were major adjustments to British foreign policy—the last major adjustments, in effect, to British foreign policy. Five years after the Iraq invasion, what adjustments have we seen under two Prime Ministers? We have seen very little. That is the issue an inquiry now ought to address.

It would be as difficult for the Conservative Front Bench as for the Government: the Conservative Party, after all, has clung more closely to the world view of the American Republicans than has new Labour. I notice the deep investment by American think tanks in co-opting the Conservative Party as far as they can. We have all noticed the alienation of the Conservative Party from its European Conservative counterparts. The Conservatives wish to follow the United States rather than work with the French and Germans, which I suggest is now the way forward—and I support everything that my noble friend Lord Lee said about the desirability of working more closely with our French partners rather than always bumping along behind the United States.

There are clear lessons to learn from what we understand about the special relationship. In effect, we tested the special relationship to destruction under the impact of the move to war in Iraq. It was a revelation of just how junior a partner of the United States we had now become. In the 1950s and 1960s, we could still hope to have a high degree of intellectual influence in Washington. Many people in Washington still knew their counterparts in London: they had worked with them during the war. They respected their understanding of the world and we were spending a great deal of money—I am not sure entirely wisely—maintaining British defences east of Suez, so we were a global power alongside the United States. It was a real, special relationship.

Now, we are one among a number of partners. Israel, as we have discovered, has a much stronger special relationship with political power in Washington

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than the British. Mexico, Japan and other countries also have their special relationships, not forgetting Ireland. We now have to decide what sort of relationship we want to establish not only with the outgoing Bush Administration, but with the incoming successor. Of course, the Bush Administration have been exceptionally ideological and we may hope that their successor will take a very different view. But American foreign policy emerges out of a very self-referential debate, so long as there is no external counterbalance to force the avid arguers of Washington to think about the outside world. Domestic lobbies, domestic intelligentsia, the power of money, and the funding of right-wing think tanks all play a large part.

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, remarked that we need actively to prepare to come to terms with whatever it is that the next Administration asks us for, and we need to prepare on a European basis rather than simply a British basis. When I was working at Chatham House many years ago, I remember that very odd period when the US Administration changed every four years from Ford to Carter to Reagan, and each time a team would come over and say, “This is the way we have to see the world. Forget about what the last Administration told you and forget about your own domestic constraints; this is where you have to follow us, because otherwise we will have tremendous problems with Congress”. We shall have that again in the middle of 2009. We need to be working with our partners on the European continent to have a coherent response that relates to the Middle East, Russia and elsewhere.

One thing that strikes me most about this whole episode is how clear American policy was. For those of us who had followed the group who became the neoconservatives from the 1960s onwards, it was always clear what their world would be like. I remember in the late summer of 1967, when still a graduate student, I went with my then girlfriend to visit Eugene Rostow, then US Assistant Secretary of State, whom I had known when he was still a professor. He explained to us that the 1967 Middle East war was not a local war but part of the Soviet plan to outflank NATO through its soft underbelly. That was a very particular view of the way in which Israel fitted into the geopolitics of the Middle East.

I happened to know Paul Wolfowitz and others when I was still a student over there and many others of us have continued to argue with them. The aides to Senator Jackson, the Committee on the Present Danger and the Project for the New American Century all set out the policy very clearly, and Rumsfeld, Cheney and others were closely connected with that. I therefore ask myself, what were our embassy staff in Washington reporting to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Office from 2001 to early 2003? Were they not telling us how much the American drive was being pushed by ideological preconceptions rather than by hard, thought-through intelligence?

I remember on behalf of the LSE being at a meeting of the association of American schools of international politics in November 2001 in which Condoleezza Rice said, “We have forgotten that we

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need to follow the internal politics of the Middle East more than we have done”. That was a real revelation from someone who was then the National Security Council adviser. I remember going to a National Intelligence Council conference in early 2002 in which it appeared to many of us that the regional experts from the CIA and elsewhere were part of the opposition to their own Administration. If I may say so, as an outside expert and Opposition politician, I have also been struck by the fact that over the past five years I have had much more open contact with members of the US intelligence community than I have ever had with members of the British intelligence community—and I suspect that that is also something that an inquiry should look at. It would help a little if our intelligence agencies did have a rather more open dialogue with those outside.

When it came to the only occasion on which members of my party were offered an intelligence briefing in late 2002, we were told nothing that we had not already worked out for ourselves from public sources and were left wondering whether we had not been told what we needed to know or whether there was not anything more to know that we had not already discovered.

There are other lessons to be drawn. There is of course the lesson about Afghanistan, in which five years were lost after the expulsion of the Taliban before we really began to invest heavily in the reconstruction of that country, from which the British Army is now suffering. We would like to know how far British Ministers stressed to our American partners in 2002 that Afghanistan ought to be the priority and were overruled. There are a large number of lessons about the Middle East region as a whole.

We understand from what has been published that Prime Minister Blair thought that he had from President Bush the assurance that after the successful invasion of Iraq, the Arab/Israel conflict would be the first item on the American agenda. There again we have lost five years until President Bush has at last, and very late, come round to accepting that. We need to know a little more about policy towards Iran now that we also know that in 2003 the then Iranian Government attempted to strike a much more positive and open relationship with the United States, which was refused. I have just been reading Ali Ansari’s very interesting new ISS paper on Iran in which he talks about the disastrous impact on Iranian reformists of the axis of evil speech.

There are lessons also about the impact of the Iraq invasion on our British Muslim population. When addressing very large meetings of British Muslims in Lancashire and Yorkshire in the months that followed that invasion, I certainly found that they were very disturbed by the implications of what they saw as an anti-Muslim invasion.

There are lessons about prerogative powers to which this House will return next Thursday. There are some pretty large questions about the opportunity costs. From estimates provided by the House of Commons Library on the additional costs of being involved in Iraq, I note that we have spent nearly £6 billion extra so far. Lastly, there are lessons about the capabilities

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of our Armed Forces, now so desperately overstretched by the long-term commitment in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the broadest question is about the future of British foreign policy—how much we see ourselves as continuing to be engaged in humanitarian intervention using our military abroad where needed, with whom and within what framework. Part of the cost of Iraq has been that the British were unable to play a role in the Republic of Congo, in Darfur—beyond a very minimal one—and in the Lebanon. How large do we see our responsibilities in maintaining and improving order in the world, and with whom—always with the Americans, more often with the Europeans, and wherever possible within a NATO or UN framework? Those are the underlying questions which concern what British foreign policy is now really about.

3.02 pm

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, this has been a very good debate full of speeches of power and great experience. In fact, I even dare to say—having been here a mere 11 years myself—that it was your Lordships' House at its best. I even thought for a moment that we might get some coverage for this debate as long as there were no distractions such as ministerial resignations. Unfortunately, there were such media distractions so we will be lucky to get a few column inches. However, this has been a valuable debate and we all owe a debt to my noble friend Lord Fowler for promoting it and putting the case for an inquiry—that has run throughout the debate—with brilliant clarity. As he mentioned, he had family links with what has gone on, as many of us have. My own son was in Basra in the Territorial Army, to which my noble friend Lady Park referred. For many of us the place may be rather far away but what has gone on is very close indeed.

The theme throughout the debate was that of an inquiry, with most voices in favour. One of two noble Lords referred to the doctrine of unripe time—about which my noble friend Lord Goodlad warned. But on the whole there was a strong feeling that the time has now come for a proper inquiry into all aspects of this matter. I would be the first to assert that we should collectively look forward and not back in Iraq and that, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, we are where we are, and that all efforts must now be directed at bringing Iraq into the comity of nations as, we hope, a united and potentially prosperous country. Nevertheless the case has been made very clearly that there are some vital lessons to be learnt from the past four bloody years. The cost to our own country has been high in lives lost and in resources. Of course, for America it has been very much heavier still, and still more so for the tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives lost in Iraq itself. There has been a rise in suicide terrorism, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway, and the almost unspeakable violence against women of a kind which has now created in Basra an atmosphere where women fear to go out in case they are murdered, as my noble friend Lady Verma mentioned.

The lessons we all want to learn are not just about ugly and tragic events but about the ideas and preconceptions behind them—whether, for instance, it

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was right or wrong from the start to believe that there was a packaged form of democracy that could be exported and planted in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. That was a very simplistic Washington notion, rightly commented on by my noble friend Lord Lamont and the noble Lord, Lord Soley. There are lessons on whether in our own case we handled and formulated not just our military endeavours but our whole foreign policy in a wise and intelligent way in accordance with the proper principles of British government and collective Cabinet administration. Was Parliament allowed to play a proper role? Why did the intelligence go so disastrously wrong? We may have a little more information on that if the Government agree to obey the Information Commissioner’s order to release the key dossier on weapons of mass destruction. We must never let that issue go. We have to ask why not enough attention was given to the history of Iraq, about which Britain, of all countries, knew more than anybody else. As the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, just mentioned, we have to ask why we fell out so badly with our neighbours in the European Union. Was there ever a hope of a common European approach or was that just a pipe dream?

All this makes it almost obvious to us that the responsible and sensible thing to do, and do now, is to have an inquiry by an independent committee of privy counsellors to review what has happened in Iraq both before and since the invasion of 2003. My noble friend Lord Fowler put this with crystal clarity. I agree that it should not be a partisan affair. There is no point if it dissolves into being just a party give and take. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, is right about that and so are the noble Lord, Lord Bew, and others.

Of course it is true, as the Government have argued all along, that there have been various reports on this whole saga. There was the Hutton report on the death of Dr Kelly and the profound and brilliant report by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, into certain intelligence failures and apparently misleading statements or exaggerations by the then Prime Minister, and there was a Foreign Affairs Committee report from the other place, which unfortunately did not manage to get evidence from any of the key witnesses because they refused either to attend or, indeed, even to answer the letters requesting them to attend. So much for parliamentary accountability. But as was said by my noble friend and others, these were all snapshots. None of them looked at the whole grim picture and the catalogue of errors which we have seen unfold over the past four years.

We now owe it to our brave Armed Forces and to the British people to hold an inquiry. We need it because we have reached a crucial point when the bulk of our troops are being withdrawn from Basra, leaving a garrison under Operation Overwatch—a garrison which we must not betray by more muddled policy handling and failure to back up fully. The city of Basra is in a state very far removed from the one when my son served there in 2004. We need it because our ally, the United States, has held a series of major, full and deep inquiries and it is shaming that we have not, as my noble friend Lord King reminded us. We need it because we have had no overall assessment of how we entered this war or what planning we did to

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handle the aftermath and consequences, as many noble Lords said. I repeat that we need it because we owe it to the Armed Forces after all their sacrifices to show that we understand what went wrong, why equipment failed to reach them, what we now expect of them, and why budgetary difficulties made it so difficult to supply the right weapons and machinery. We need it because as a nation we need clear future guidance on our strategic purposes in Iraq and the whole region, and because it is essential to understand much more deeply the modalities of asymmetric warfare and the complex linkages between military and civil action, to which my noble friend Lord Luke referred, in pursuit of a restored peace. Above all, we need it because the course of the war is one of the top concerns of democratic peoples not only here but elsewhere.

Opinion experts are always telling us that domestic policies preoccupy the minds of the electorate, but they are wrong. The current American presidential election process proves them to be wrong. It is the foreign policy of a nation—and our nation—that tells us who we are, what our relationship is with the rest of the world, what our identity is, what the purposes of our society are and why we should continue building that society together. That is the case for the inquiry, which I believe to be overwhelming.

Finally, let me consider the immediate future. We have the strategic initiative—the so-called surge of General Petraeus. Has it worked? Some say that it has. The general’s achievement in getting the Sunni cadres on-side in Anbar province could be a harbinger of better times, although others have warned that the Sunni leaders may be our friends this week but will by no means necessarily be our friends next week. We need to assess whether the key to development, which is private enterprise and investment, is now being turned. The IMF has said that Iraqi economic prospects are at last brightening, and the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, had some very interesting insights into the change in the business climate that is beginning to develop.

We need to assess the oil prospects. There is enormous potential there if the Ministry of Oil in Baghdad can get contracts out and new investment going, and if it decides to mix the need for a national oil company, which is in the interests of the Iraqi people, with the expertise of the international oil companies. I am told that a very powerful report on that is about to come from the University of Surrey Energy Economics Centre. We need to clarify how we engage Iran positively and not negatively in this recovery process. For all the dark implications of Iran in Iraqi horrors, it is in the firm long-term interests of the Iranians to have a neighbour that is peaceable and which never attacks it again in the horrific way that it did in the 1990s.


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