Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Iraq and the wider Middle East

House of Commons debates

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

(Selected extracts)


Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington & Chelsea, Conservative)

As the disastrous conflict in Iraq has rightly been referred to as Blair's war, will the Foreign Secretary inform the House of Commons of what is so important about the Prime Minister's engagements this afternoon that he cannot be present in the House to take part in the first debate on Iraq in Government time since the war began?


Alex Salmond (Banff & Buchan, Scottish National Party)

I thank the Foreign Secretary. On 25 October last year, at Prime Minister's questions, the Prime Minister told us that he would be

"happy to debate Iraq at any time."—[ Official Report, 25 October 2006; Vol. 450, c. 1515.]

Why should we believe him now that he says that he will debate it at some point in the future? Why was he so anxious to talk us into this disastrous war, but so reluctant to explain how we will get out of it?


John McDonnell (Hayes & Harlington, Labour)

My right hon. Friend mentioned that the Prime Minister would come to the House at the end of Operation Sinbad or, as she said, when a turning point has been reached. How will we judge when that turning point has been reached?


Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, Plaid Cymru)

I thank the Foreign Secretary for giving way. She mentioned the build-up of American troops. Is she aware of the comments today of the ingoing commander, Lieutenant General Petraeus, who said he could guarantee no success, even with the extra so-called surge?


William Hague (Richmond (Yorks), Conservative)

This is a debate for which many in the House have been calling for some time. British troops have been in action in Iraq for nearly four years, and it is high time that the House of Commons took stock of what has happened. I say to Ministers that there is also a strong case for a similar debate on Afghanistan in the near future.

Whether we supported or opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003— [Interruption.] There is every variety of view on the Labour Benches about that. We must all, however, face up to the fact that the situation in Iraq now is grim and serious. We must learn from what has happened, not minimise some of the things that have happened...


...We know that a great deal is at stake. Given the importance of the issue and the strength of feeling in the House about it, I have no hesitation in saying that the Prime Minister should attend this debate. It is not acceptable to Conservative Members, and quietly unacceptable to many Labour Members—perhaps not so quietly, as they are nodding their heads—who worry about such matters, that the Prime Minister, having been so keen to lead such debates in the run-up to the war when things were going fine, now prefers, with the whole issue in the balance and 130 British lives lost in Iraq, to skulk out of the Chamber to attend to something else.

According to The Sunday Times, the Prime Minister's spokesman said:

"The Prime Minister never attends these debates, whatever the subject."

We now have a Prime Minister who never attends debates, "whatever the subject". The Foreign Secretary indicated that there was hope for a turning point soon, and that the Prime Minister would then make a statement. Where would the House have been in the second world war if Winston Churchill had only come along when a turning point was in prospect or had been reached? It is sad that the Prime Minister prefers the mentality of the bunker to the open thinking of debate.

Edward Leigh (Gainsborough, Conservative)

The Conservative party was sold this war on a false premise. We were lied to by the Government. I keep meeting Conservative Members who tell me that if they knew then what they know now, they would have voted against this war. Will my right hon. Friend say that we will not be dragged down into the mire by this discredited Government? The more we attack this war and our presence in Iraq, the more we speak for the British people.


Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Scottish National Party)

The right hon. Gentleman has probably noticed that the leader of every mainland party is in the Chamber today except one, the Prime Minister. Does he agree that the Prime Minister should be in the House today, helping us with our inquiries on Iraq?

William Hague (Richmond (Yorks), Conservative)

I think that the hon. Gentleman may have already gathered my answer to that from what I said earlier. Certainly, the Prime Minister should be here. It is unimaginable that an Attlee, a Callaghan, a Churchill or a Thatcher would not have been here to debate a situation in war...


William Hague (Richmond (Yorks), Conservative)

Of course, without an inquiry we do not know what advice was given by the British Government at the time. That is one of the things that an inquiry should be establishing, and if that were the case Ministers would have much less to fear from an inquiry than they might otherwise.

As far as one can tell, Ministers agree with the case for an inquiry. On 31 October, the Secretary of State for Defence said on television that there would be such an inquiry, just after the Foreign Secretary had resisted announcing one in the House. We may differ as to when, but our case is that if an inquiry beginning with events in 2003 does not commence at least before the end of 2007, it will be found that many memories will have faded and many e-mails will have disappeared. If Ministers do not announce such an inquiry before the end of this parliamentary Session, we will ask the House to debate a specific motion requiring them to do so...


Jeremy Browne (Taunton, Liberal Democrat)

I am confused by what the hon. Gentleman just said. When the Prime Minister used to speak on this subject in the House he made it explicit that Saddam Hussein could stay in power, and that he was happy to sanction that, if Saddam complied with the United Nations resolution. So removing Saddam Hussein was not the reason why Britain went to war, and we should not be using it retrospectively to make a case for a failed Government policy.


Menzies Campbell (Fife North East, Liberal Democrat)

...This is an important debate, far too long delayed, for the House, the public and—perhaps most importantly—for our armed forces. I mean the Foreign Secretary no disrespect when I say that the Prime Minister should have opened the debate on a substantive motion in which he invited the House to pass judgment on the policies of his Government. It is wrong to say that previous Prime Ministers have avoided foreign affairs debates. In September 1990, Margaret Thatcher led the foreign affairs debate following the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein and, towards the end of that period, in February, John Major, who by then was Prime Minister, led two debates held because of the issues raised by the military action that was taking place and the consequences of it for British interests.

With almost chilling regularity, every Wednesday we now find ourselves having to acknowledge fatalities in Iraq. I do not know how the Prime Minister feels, or the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), but it is the bleakest moment of the week for me. But that is nothing to the blight on the lives of the families and friends of those who have been killed. They are brave men and women who do their duty in Iraq, and I yield to no one in my admiration for them for their professionalism and their courage. Today they deserved to hear all the party leaders. The Prime Minister owed that to them.

The origins of our involvement in Iraq are well known. I remain of the belief that I had on 18 March 2003 when I went into the No Lobby to vote against the Government's proposals. That was not a party political issue in the sense that only one party did that. Conservative and Labour Members joined us as did, in particular, Robin Cook, whose wisdom has been much missed on this issue since his untimely death.

I am fortified in my view that it was an illegal war based on a flawed prospectus by the increasing number of converts to scepticism. Indeed, few candidates for Labour's deputy leadership seem willing to defend the decision in public. It was a question of judgment for all of us, but our judgment has been vindicated by events since then. What has happened since November 2003? As the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) pointed out, there were no weapons of mass destruction...

...We may all be able to agree, no matter how we voted on 18 March 2003, that the United Kingdom will never do anything similar again.

I also feel vindicated by the leaked documents that we have seen and the memoirs that have been published. Whatever was said in public—and a variety of things were said in public—we now know that the principal objective of the United States was regime change. That was always their objective. Why else would the British ambassador, after a lunch with Condoleezza Rice, have reported back to London that he told her that we would not resile from regime change? Of course, that policy was fundamentally and irreparably illegal, under article 2.4 of the charter of the United Nations...


...The House was specially recalled during the summer recess, and all hon. Members were given a document that morning. It was a dossier that gave the impression, among other things, that nuclear weapons in the possession of Saddam Hussein could be launched within 45 minutes...

...As we learned subsequently from various inquiries, the provenance of that document can hardly be regarded as impeccable. If the hon. Gentleman reads the whole of my speech, he will see that I pointed out that international law is not based on UN resolutions alone and that one also has to take account of customary international law. Customary international law provides clearly that armed force is not legitimate unless it is used as a last resort, when all other diplomatic and political considerations have been exhausted. Among other reasons that is why, when Dr. Blix and Dr. al-Baradei were still engaged in their investigations and were saying that they were receiving sufficient co-operation to justify continuing, the decision to take military action against Iraq was fundamentally illegal.


Frank Dobson (Holborn & St Pancras, Labour)

Sometimes debates on foreign affairs get involved in so much detail that we lose sight of the fact that the paramount object of British foreign policy should be the safety and security of Britain and British people, whether they are at home or abroad. Against that criterion, the invasion and occupation of Iraq has been a failure. As a result of the invasion and occupation, Britain is less safe and British people are less secure...

...Almost four years ago, on 26 February, we questioned the haste of letting loose "Shock and Awe" on Iraq. We pointed out that Iraq was not a source of terrorism and urged that more time be given to the UN weapons inspectors, although it turned out that they had an impossible task, because there were no weapons for them to find. However, we were ignored when we gave those warnings...


Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford & Woodford Green, Conservative)

...This is such a serious debate that it should really be led by the Prime Minister, who could have laid out his personal view as well as that of the Government on how the situation should have been engineered. It is a matter of regret that he has chosen to be absent from this important debate.

I support the view that there should be an inquiry at some point—sooner rather than later, I hope—into the reasons for going to war and the conduct of it. We have nothing to fear from such an inquiry. Democracy in this country to carry the British people along with these decisions requires at some point a check on those reasons, so that people are able to see clearly and independently what those reasons were. I make it clear, in case anyone wanted to intervene on me, that I back the whole idea of an inquiry...


Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth & Horncastle, Conservative)

By absenting himself from this debate, the Prime Minister, one of the architects of the Iraq catastrophe, has indicated yet again his lack of respect for the House of Commons and his own Back Benchers. The consequences of the invasion of Iraq were predictable and predicted, but I am not one of those people who believe that, having got into this appalling situation, we can just cut and run, as the phrase goes. Indeed, one of the reasons why I warned against the invasion before 18 March 2003, why I voted against the war, and why I have frequently intervened to criticise the conduct of the war, is that I have always recognised that it is much easier to invade a country than to get out of it subsequently. All history indicates that.


Gavin Strang (Edinburgh East, Labour)

...We cannot address the problems faced by Iraq today by saying that we should not have started as we did. All of us, including those of us who opposed the invasion of Iraq, have a responsibility to address the current situation and consider how best to improve matters. At last there is consensus that the situation in Iraq is horrendous. Throughout last year we were told that the coalition was winning—it was just that we were winning more slowly than expected. Earlier this month, President Bush finally made a public acknowledgement that the situation in Iraq was unacceptable, and that existing policies had failed...


Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton, Labour)

It is nearly four years since the great debate of 18 March 2003. Many hon. Members of all parties have entered the House since that date, and they may not be aware of all the arguments put forward then, but we must not forget that that debate had many precursors. The question of Iraq was discussed ad nauseam—certainly during the 1990s, and some would argue as far back as the 1980s. The problem of Iraq has a long genesis.

Some of the earlier speeches astonished me, because it seems that history is still being rewritten. For example, the Foreign Secretary made little or no reference to the real origins of the mess in which we find ourselves. The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) made some allusions to them, but did not go into detail. We cannot understand where we are going in respect of Iraq and the middle east in general if we do not understand where we are coming from...

...We should recall that the premise on which we went to war was that there was a clear and imminent threat from weapons of mass destruction. There were no weapons of mass destruction; there was no clear and imminent threat. We should remember, too, what the threat consisted of—capability plus intent—but there was no capability and no obvious intent on the part of Saddam. We can argue as much as we like about what a terrible man he was; of course he was, but he was no more terrible than many other authoritarian rulers on the planet.

We were taken into war on a false prospectus. There were no weapons of mass destruction and no threat from them or anything else. At the time, much was made of UN Security Council resolution 1441, which we debated for a long time in this place. However, subsequent events—leaks, memos, memoirs—all reinforced the view held by many of us at the time that the resolution was just a pretext and that the decision had already been taken and the die was cast. It all goes back to 1998 and the letter to Bill Clinton from the Project for the New American Century. Studying the "Who's Who" of the neo-con world who signed that letter helps us to understand why we ended up in the position we are in.

That was America, however. The real problem was the decision taken by our Government, in our country, on our behalf. With that hindsight, it is truly amazing that the Prime Minister is still Prime Minister and that the then Foreign and Defence Secretaries—with the Prime Minister, the triumvirate who seemed to run the whole thing—are still in the Government. Nobody has been held to account, and I fear that nobody will be until the independent inquiry that is required looks into the whole process by which we were taken into what remains, by any objective analysis, an illegal and immoral war...


Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, Plaid Cymru)

Many people welcome today's debate in Government time, but it is unfortunate that it is on an Adjournment motion, and that there is no substantive motion to be discussed. That disappoints many of us but, as has been said, it is even more disappointing that the Prime Minister decided to absent himself from today's proceedings. That same Prime Minister said on 25 October that he would debate Iraq any time, anywhere—yet today he found other things to do, rather than come to the Chamber to explain what policy, if any, the Government are following. That is disappointing, but if we consider the history of the build-up to the war, we should not be all that surprised.

As I said, on 25 October the Prime Minister said that he would debate the subject "at any time", so we hoped that he would make the effort to come to the Chamber today. Earlier this week, his spokesman said that the Prime Minister never comes to Adjournment debates, and that is probably why the Government tabled an Adjournment motion. That is not very clever, and it is rather transparent.

I should like to speak about the background to the conflict. In September 2002 we were treated to the dossier, and I remember saying at the time that it was probably the least persuasive document in recent political history. It was full of suppositions and ifs and buts, it did not inform the debate, and it utterly failed to provide any justification for military action, let alone imminent military action. On reflection, perhaps the dossier did not have to do that, as we have learned that the Prime Minister and the President had met at the President's ranch and decided on military action, come what may, within a few days of that debate.

In a parliamentary response to me on 15 January 2003, the Prime Minister said:

"we are prepared to take action if necessary in respect of Saddam's regime. It is right because weapons of mass destruction—the proliferation of chemical, biological, nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology along with it—are a real threat to the security of the world and this country."—[ Official Report, 15 January 2003; Vol. 397, c. 682.]

So he clung on to the WMD theory at that stage. On 25 February 2003, in response to the rhetorical question:

"Is not war now inevitable?"

the Prime Minister replied:

"Of course it is not."—[ Official Report, 25 February 2003; Vol. 400, c. 135.]

Six months before, he had agreed with President Bush that war was indeed inevitable. At the time that statement was made, 120,000 American troops were massed on the Iraqi border, ready to go in.

These events catalogue how the Government have treated Parliament with disdain, and obfuscation—if not, I am sad to say, with deceit. Here we are, more than three years down the road, and apart from toppling Saddam nothing much has been achieved. On 13 January this year, President Bush acknowledged that Iraq was more unstable now than when Saddam was in power. He said in a CBS programme that without question, decisions had been made and things had been done which should not have been. He went on to say:

"I think history is going to look back and see a lot of ways we could have done things better. No question about it."

Although that is a gross understatement, it is a welcome acknowledgement by the President that things are going from bad to worse...

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North, Labour)

The debate is crucial. It is about the role of Parliament and the political institutions of this country but, bizarrely, the Prime Minister is not here. There is a motion for the Adjournment of the House and apparently no opportunity for the Government to set out a statement of their case for the war in Iraq and their policies on the middle east. The only way in which the House can express dissent from the Government's policies is by calling a procedural vote on the Adjournment later. I understand that that will happen and that several hon. Members will vote to express their dissent from policies that we are asked to agree...


...Last night, President Bush gave the State of the Union address. He was not the gung-ho President Bush of 2002, whose axis of evil speech promised war all over the world. He was a President desperately trying to find some way forward. He was offered a way out by the Iraq Study Group, which he seemed to reject, and has now gone for the bizarre option of putting in more troops to try to control the situation.

President Bush will be for ever remembered as the President who got bogged down in the war in Iraq, just as President Johnson is remembered as the President who was bogged down in the war in Vietnam. He knows what the opinion polls in the United Sates are telling him; the Prime Minister knows what opinion polls in this country are saying...


George Galloway (Bethnal Green & Bow, Respect)

...For the moment, the trial of Tony Blair merely takes place on Channel 4 television. The day will come, and it is coming soon, when a real trial of Tony Blair will take place in a real court.


John Baron (Billericay, Conservative)

...In October last year the Prime Minister responded to my question at Prime Minister's questions by saying that he would be

"happy to debate Iraq at any time."—[ Official Report, 25 October 2006; Vol. 450, c. 1515.]

His absence today is an insult to the lives that have been lost, particularly to our own military...




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