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24 Sept 2002 : Column 61—continued

Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Galloway: No. How do my friends feel having to say that Al Gore is wrong and that George W. Bush is correct? [Hon. Members: "Give way."] I do not have time to give way in a time-limited speech.

My friends have to answer why they are on George W. Bush's side of the argument and not on the side of Gerhard Schroder, the leader of the German Social Democrats, our sister party in the Socialist International.

Mr. Hendrick rose

Mr. Galloway: The second problem is even more substantial. The British people instinctively know that adding another war to the middle east where there are quite enough wars already does not seem like a sensible idea. People see the Israel that the Foreign Secretary told us had received new instructions from the Security Council last night demolishing brick by brick the solemn commitments in the Oslo agreement. They see the bulldozers, like some prehistoric animal, tearing down President Arafat's compound.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) rose

Mr. Galloway: The British people saw on the news this morning that nine Palestinians were killed just last

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night in just one city in Gaza. They see the devastation and the flames in Palestine, the unresolved conflicts in Afghanistan and the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism and hatred against the west and they instinctively know that it is extremely unlikely that the world can be made a safer place by launching yet another war in that region—a war of 60 days and nights of intensive carpet bombardment followed by 250,000 western soldiers invading and occupying an Arab Muslim country. The British people instinctively know that that does not sound like a recipe for security and peace in the world or like a recipe for the diminution of terrorism.

The Prime Minister used a rather chilling phrase in his introduction. He talked about chemical weapons causing a painful and excruciating death, as indeed they do. That is why some of us were outside the Iraqi embassy demonstrating against the brutality of the Iraqi regime when British Ministers—the previous Government's Minister's—and business men were inside the embassy selling the Iraqi regime guns and gas.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden): Untrue.

Mr. Galloway: If Members read the Scott report, they will see just how true that is.

The fact is that innocent Iraqi civilians will die in their thousands if this war goes ahead. They include the children who are even now terrified every night before they go to sleep about when the dive bombers will come. Siamese twins were born at the weekend in Baghdad. Usually when Siamese twins are born we start discussing which of the two unfortunates is going to have to die so that the other one may live. Pretty soon, George Bush, in a bizarre King Solomon-like decision, may well decide that both of them have to die. The question is, is Britain going to be with them?

3.30 pm

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): We have just heard a vintage speech which has raised the temperature of the House—it may have been more of a rant than a logical argument.

We may have forgotten that while a high percentage of people in Iraq may be from the Muslim community, the Iraqi Government are not—they were recently described to me as a secular socialist Government—so I believe that many people in the region would be glad to see them changed. How that change comes about only time will tell. We are fortunate to be able to debate those issues here and express diverse views knowing that none of us will be taken away afterwards to the Tower of London to await trial. Unfortunately, dissidents in Iraq face an immediate sentence from a man who gave permission to his in-laws to return, apparently granting them safe conduct, only to execute them himself. We in Northern Ireland have faced a similar situation. A distinguished politician gave permission to a woman to bring her son back to Londonderry, then ordered his execution. That is the world we are living in.

None of us should take the moral high ground because we are all culpable. People point a finger at one another, but we must face the fact that Governments have very few friends—they have only interests. Some people have spent a long time attacking the Americans and George Bush but we would do well to remember that we are in this state

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today because in the Gulf war the armed forces followed the United Nations resolution, and ceased to pursue the republican guard and others and complete their campaign. The UN resolution was just to liberate Kuwait.

I know something of the problems because my Kurdish friends have concerns, which have been expressed this afternoon, about what happens if Saddam Hussein is deposed. Bearing in mind that the main purpose of action is to destroy weapons of mass destruction, his deposal is another matter, but it will be up to his own people sooner or later. I remember the Kurds telling me that they were concerned about what might happen after his deposal, so we should think ahead to the end, and not just the beginning, of a campaign. Most of us would be happy if the UN reached a security agreement that allowed things to be done lawfully, but it has been argued here today that the law regularly requires force for its implementation. If it cannot be enforced, we will be in a situation I have often described. A Belfast housewife is annoyed because she sees her child misbehaving in front of people in the street and says, "Wait until I get you home—I'll murder you." The youngster just smiles because he knows that getting home is all that will happen—there will not even be a rebuke.

None of us should therefore pride ourselves on the use of force. The nub of the argument is who will use it. When the UN makes such a declaration, it relies to a large extent on the British-United States axis and allies to form an enforcement body. We would be delighted if others joined us, but the hard core will be composed of those of us who espouse and enjoy democracy. Yes, we have made mistakes. Early in the debate, the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir Brian Mawhinney) said that we who believe in the force of evil may take a certain line. There was some laughter, as if it was strange to discuss that concept in a political arena. The tragedy is that because the evil in all of us is not under control at times, the Saddams of the world arise. Frankly, I cannot understand how we can attain moral authority if we shilly-shally about the way in which world Governments work together to deal with that problem.

In that context, let me pose a question. Perhaps because I am a child of the 1930s, I remember the debates in the old Chamber which was destroyed by Hitler's bombing. I remember British statesmen and politicians travelling the world saying that we should not deal with him—some even took that line during the war. We should be honest. Some of our American friends say that they declared war on Germany, but they did not. Certainly, some of them helped us freely and voluntarily at the outset, but the United States only entered the conflict when Germany declared war on it after Pearl Harbour.

When do the members of the free world, with their undertakings to help one another, begin to act? Do we wait until another 1 million people perish, as happened in Poland, before we accept that we have international obligations? None of us want war—only fools do—but sooner or later we may have to face that possibility. The House should at least give the Government its blessing as they co-operate with their allies in the UN and elsewhere to try to do something positive to free the world from the menace of weapons of mass destruction and, perhaps, the madman who will use them.

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3.37 pm

Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury): There are two things that we know for certain in our debate. First, a common theme in many speeches has been that Saddam Hussein is a repressive, inhumane dictator dedicated to retaining and expanding his own power. Secondly, we know that he has been, and may well still be, developing chemical, biological and possibly nuclear weapons.

Precisely at what stage that development is remains unclear. Today's dossier helps a little, but it does not resolve the issue. We should, however, accept that there is a desire to attain such weapons. It is undoubtedly true that the world would be a safer place—we would all be safer—if we could ensure that Saddam Hussein, with his history, track record, ambitions and grip on internal power, did not have access to weapons of mass destruction. That much is incontestable, but how best do we, the international community, secure that aim? That is the question that we need to address and discuss, and it should be the focus of our debate.

Two choices immediately follow that question. First, is our aim the eradication and decommissioning of weapons of mass destruction, or is it what has become known as regime change? One thing that has emerged from today's discussions—probably the most valuable thing to emerge so far—has been a crystal clear statement from the Prime Minister that the focus of our activity is weapons of mass destruction, not regime change. I very much welcome that statement.

The second choice is whether the process of securing the decommissioning and destruction of weapons of mass destruction will be carried out through the United Nations and with international agreement, or will be a United States-led exercise alone.

It has been absolutely right to take the issue to the UN, and for any role that our Prime Minister has played—as I believe that he almost certainly has—in persuading the United States to do so he deserves the gratitude of us all. But do not we hear many voices in the United States Administration saying that they will take military action anyway? Here lies the great danger.

Going to the UN means doing this properly. It means building step by step, with care but with determination, an international consensus, using that to bring pressure, drawing support from the Arab states across the region—not assuming the right to take action, announcing the intention to do so and then seeking UN approval as a cipher for something already decided.

America is a great nation. Its willingness to use force at times in the past 100 years, not just in its own defence but in the cause of humanity, has served us all across the globe. Where would the people of Bosnia, the people of Kosovo, or, now, the people of Afghanistan be without it? But that does not mean that every decision made by this American President, and every goal announced by his Secretary of Defence, is necessarily right.

Let us grieve with the people of the United States for the losses that it suffered just over a year ago. Let us thank the United States for its engagement with causes of justice around the world, let us be resolute with it to bring an end to terrorism wherever it may be, but let us test this proposition about Iraq against the evidence, against the shared aims of the international community, and against the need for a stable world.

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I say to my own Government, in all candour, if, as it may well do, it comes down to a choice between a UN-led, UN-decided process and a decision to deploy force inspired by the US President alone, our cause must surely lie with the international community and the UN.

Let us remember what the consequences might be of a US-led, US-inspired attack on Iraq with perhaps only Britain and one or two others alongside. First, there is the sheer military difficulty of the operation. This is not an easy "drop a few bombs and then walk away" exercise. It is difficult, dangerous and risky.

Secondly, there are the humanitarian consequences. The loss of innocent civilian life in any serious conflict is likely to be huge. Indeed, it may be deliberately engineered to be so by Saddam Hussein himself, but that does not negate the point.

Thirdly, there are the real dangers of regional instability, what might happen in such an event—an attack on Israel by Saddam Hussein followed by reprisals; an end to any remnants of hope for a new peace process between Israel and Palestine; uprisings in other Arab states where Governments are perceived to be too pro-American in their attitude; new repression in others; the turning of Saddam Hussein, bizarrely, into a hero for millions across the Arab world; the fracturing—undoubtedly—of the coalition against terrorism so painstakingly built up a year ago, including by our own Prime Minister?

All of those are potential—indeed probable—consequences of an American go-it-alone decision to attack without the broadest possible international agreement and specific endorsement of the UN.

Again, I say to my own Government, with all the sincerity that I can:

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