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24 Sept 2002 : Column 120—continued

7.36 pm

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford): I thank my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary for so clearly stating today the case for the rule of international law, the return of the UN weapons inspectors and the necessity of destroying the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

I too believe that doing nothing is not an option. But as the Prime Minister said today, we have not been doing nothing. Our right hon. Friends have said that the policy of containment has not worked. Well, perhaps not. But we need to ask, could we have done more and differently? Could the threat of war have been avoided, and can actual war now be averted? I believe that the answer to all three questions is yes.

Last year my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spoke movingly of a new world order—the primacy of multilateral agreements, not just in tackling terrorism but in poverty alleviation, development and reconstruction. Since that time, by contrast with the exemplary behaviour of our own Government, the United States has opted out of effective multilateral co-operation and developed an increasingly unilateralist and pre-emptive military stance. Furthermore, I believe that President Bush has sought to use international support for the war against terrorism to justify regime change in Iraq. That connection deserves examination.

A year ago, the United Kingdom was committed to military action against al-Qaeda. I supported that action, as I did the military action in the Gulf. I accepted the justification of self-defence under international law, but I do not believe that at present we have the same justification of self-defence in respect of the Iraqi regime. I do believe that the risks involved in war against Iraq are greater than the risks of pursuing the alternative strategy of diplomacy and UN inspections, and I do not underestimate how difficult, time-consuming and frustrating that will be.

I have just returned from a conference in Egypt, hosted by the first lady, Suzanne Mubarak. Immediately before that I was in Afghanistan. I believe that both experiences are relevant to today's debate.

The year-long war against terrorism in Afghanistan has been waged by 10,000 combat and support troops but, despite the disruption of the al-Qaeda operation in that country, very few al-Qaeda militia have been captured and US intelligence believes that their leadership largely remains intact. It is commonly acknowledged that al-Qaeda's threat to the west derives from its primary aim

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of replacing the house of Saud, establishing an Islamist state and ridding Saudi Arabia and the middle east of American bases and influence. Nothing, I suggest, could provide al-Qaeda with more ready recruits and the pretext for further attacks on the west than Saudi support for a US strike on Baghdad.

Even more of a paradox in the prosecution of this war against terrorism is the deterioration in the security situation in Israel and the occupied territories. Despite the constant cycle of violence, the suicide bombings, assassinations, detention, punishments and the horrific events of the past few days, the US Administration continues to arm and support Israel unconditionally. So where is the justice? Where is the security? Where is the new world order?

We have to ask ourselves whether a military attack on Iraq would enhance or undermine justice and security in the middle east and whether a military attack would increase or decrease the threat of terrorist attack against the west. I believe that such a war risks huge loss of life, massive environmental damage and the possible destabilisation of the very states in the middle east that the US says it seeks to protect from Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. Surely a strategy of regime change by military means, as other hon. Members have said today, risks Saddam using the very weapons of mass destruction that we so fear.

During the past few days in Egypt, I have talked extensively to women from a number of Arab states. Without exception, they are opposed to the Iraqi regime and, without exception, they are opposed to military action. Each confessed to being afraid—afraid for their own countries, for their economies and for their environments, and deeply angry at the prospect of the Iraqi people having to suffer more pain. Being there in Egypt gave me a profound sense of being one of them, looking at us and wondering how we could contemplate such a war—a feeling which is further reinforced by talking to women from the United Nations, who are quietly preparing the camps, transport and food sources for the anticipated humanitarian crisis.

That brings me to Afghanistan. I was there on 11 September. Just before I arrived, 25 people had been killed in the street and President Karzai had just escaped an assassination attempt. I went to see how the international community was fulfilling its promises to the Afghan people, and I saw much that was very positive. I was proud of the role that the UK Government have played and are playing in support of reconstruction, but in the context of Iraq and the new world order, we should consider not what has been achieved since regime change, but what remains to be done.

The transitional Government are vulnerable, with a serious ethnic imbalance. There is as yet no trained police force and no army loyal to the central Government. Nearly 2 million refugees have returned to Kabul, yet not a single home has been built by the transitional authority. All calls for an extension of ISAF have failed to get results, and warlords continue to rampage through the rest of the country. Many of the financial promises made in Tokyo have yet to materialise, and the World Food Programme has just put out an appeal for funds because it does not have the money to buy the wheat for the essential winter feeding programmes.

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My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister rightly reminded the House today that the international community made a solemn promise not to walk away. I have no doubt about his sincerity, but I tell the House that in Afghanistan people believe that the United States is about to move on. We cannot make promises to the people of Iraq unless we are absolutely certain that we will honour those that we have already made elsewhere.

In conclusion, I urge my right hon. Friends to continue vigorously to pursue their efforts to secure the peaceful re-entry of the UN inspectors, to build more effective alliances in the region and to reinvigorate the middle east peace process. Only with greater justice do I believe that war can be avoided and that the goal that unites us all—the destruction of the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction—can be realised.

7.44 pm

Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset): The decision to go to war is not one taken lightly by any democratic Government. I believe that the job of a Member of Parliament is often to question that decision, preferably before British troops have been committed. Neither I nor, as I know from today's debate, anyone else in the Chamber has any sympathy with Saddam Hussein or with the excesses of Islamic fundamentalism, or any other kind of fundamentalist or oppressive dictator for that matter. I do not believe that responsible nations should stand idly by while others suffer or die from oppression, invasion or hunger.

I will be the first to support, albeit reluctantly, the pursuit of evil dictators who pose a threat to my own people and to others who should otherwise live in freedom, but I will not blindly concur with decisions to commit the lives of British service men and women, unless I am convinced of both the justice and the sense of that action.

The United States seems determined to force a regime change on the people of Iraq, and we all know, given the current state of Iraqi politics, that that cannot happen democratically. We all know that the devastation of the Gulf war, the imposition of no-fly zones, the economic sanctions and the general hatred of Saddam have done nothing to weaken his regime.

The Iraqi regime has a record of human rights abuse and genocide that would be defended by no one. Its record is, however, by no means unique; other nations in history have perpetrated equally indefensible acts that have gone unchecked.

The real question now is about Saddam Hussein's current capabilities and his future intentions. The question is not just whether Saddam Hussein has chemical, biological and nuclear technology, for that is all in the dossier that we saw this morning, but whether he has the weapons, the delivery mechanism and, most importantly, the intention of using that capability in an aggressive manner. If I were particularly inward-looking, I could further ask: if he has all that, is he likely to use it against Britain or British interests?

As an elected representative of the British people, the question that I ask our Government is simple: does Saddam Hussein present such a threat that I should be prepared to sanction and support military action that would lead to the loss of British service men and women? Such action would also lead to the deaths of many

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hundreds of innocent Iraqi men, women and children. Such action might lead to the destabilisation of the near and middle east, including ethnic conflict in our NATO ally, Turkey, and an escalation of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

This is not a debate about pacifism, as was so bravely put by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), and many of his sentiments were also expressed by my hon. Friends the Members for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) and for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor). Nor is this a question of nimbyism. This is a simple question about political and military right.

Can George Bush convince the United Nations, including the Arab world, that Saddam Hussein has the capability and the intention to destroy the world order? Can the Prime Minister convince me and other hon. Members that that man poses a threat to Britain of such magnitude that we have to go to war?

The dossier that we saw today still has many unanswered questions in it and much speculation. Saddam's record is not in question, but as of today, he is not at war with Iran and he is not in occupation of Kuwait. There is a peace, however imperfect, which has been secured by UN resolutions, no-fly zones and economic sanctions. If we launch an attack, we will destroy that peace. We will have launched the first strike.

The second question, if the catalogue of weapons of mass destruction in the dossier is correct—I have no reason to doubt it—and if such capability can be put into action in just 45 minutes, is: what steps can we take to protect our troops, the people of Iraq and our friends in the region from that horror?

There are many other questions, but my final one in this debate is: what will the region look like after Saddam Hussein? I talk not just of Iraq, but of Jordan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and our NATO ally Turkey—not to mention Israel and Palestine. For this is not Afghanistan; this is a much more complex ethnic and political jigsaw.

We must have an endgame before we start. If in the end I can be convinced that this crusade is justified, I will with all my might seek to convince my electors that their sons and daughters should join the crusade so that we can rid the world of this evil regime. I will do that with great reluctance—my own children could see action in that conflict—but I will do it because I believe that, once the decision is taken, we must give our wholehearted support to the thousands of British service men and women who will risk their lives for what will be the most just of causes.

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