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26 Feb 2003 : Column 341—continued

5.30 pm

Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Govan): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this very important debate.

It is important to re-emphasise that those of us who are opposed to war in this House and across our nation are not friends of Saddam Hussein. We were against him when he invaded Iran, we opposed him when he invaded Kuwait and we spoke out against him when he used chemical weapons against his own people. Unfortunately, the UK and US Governments supported and armed him in the 1980s. I am surprised that no apology was forthcoming from Conservative Front Benchers for supporting Saddam Hussein when he used chemical weapons against his own people. The American Administration is extremely well informed about Iraq's weaponry. As The Scotsman pointed out last Friday, Donald Rumsfeld probably still has the receipts. Like many opponents of military action, I am proud to say that we have been friends of the Iraqi people over two decades of Saddam's rule and we remain their friends today. We are concerned about the tens of thousands of lives at risk through an attack on Iraq. That is the real moral issue that we must all face.

The overwhelming majority of people in Britain support us in sharing that sceptical view. In my constituency, my party membership is unanimously opposed to war, including the former Member of Parliament for Govan and Cabinet Minister Bruce Millan. Among the general public, people from all walks of life are openly talking about opposition to war, including Govan's most famous son, Sir Alex Ferguson. Given that we have seen more than 70,000 people gather in Glasgow alongside 1 million in London to demonstrate their opposition to war, I must ask my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench if they are listening to the people of Scotland and of Britain. I have not found anyone outside this House—no one among the real people whom we seek to represent—who is in favour of war. People here and around the world are clearly against war. There is no groundswell of support for military action.

The 52 African Governments expressed their opposition at their recent summit. If Al Gore had been elected President by the Supreme Court Judges instead of George W. Bush, we would have an American Administration opposed to war. Our own policy on Iraq demonstrates that the Government are not at the heart of Europe, but in the heart of President George Bush. The policies of our key European allies, led by President Chirac and Chancellor Schröder, are more in line with British opinion than my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

The French President expressed that clearly when he said,

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I do not doubt my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's good intentions but I disagree profoundly with his support for President Bush. I am suspicious of the genuine motive for the American position. Saddam Hussein is as great a monster today as he was 20 years ago. The only difference is that he was our monster then.

Iraq has the largest oil reserves in the world today. The American Administration is brimming with oil interests. Almost every key member, from President Bush downwards, has been heavily involved in the oil industry. The United States should not try to buy support in the United Nations Security Council. The 15 nations should be given enough objective evidence to reach a fair and independent assessment of the situation in Iraq.

The international coalition is being built with bribery and by bullying smaller nations such as Chile and Cameroon. That starkly contrasts with the joining of forces to repel Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. The business press always gives the bottom line on what is really happening. Yesterday, the Financial Times reported that America was preparing to pay a high price for support in its bargaining with Turkey. The Financial Times stated that

and that the cost would be dear in "hard cash" and "IOUs".

It is sad to see America's loyal ally, Turkey, "haggling furiously". From a first US offer of $2 billion to $3 billion and an initial Turkish demand for $92 billion, it appears that a settlement of $16 billion has been reached. Is that any way to pull a stable international coalition together? Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, puts matters more starkly. He believes that it is

I recently spoke to Americans who opposed military action. They made it clear that their biggest problem is not President Bush but my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. If he did not support United States policy, any backing for war would collapse across the Atlantic. Those who argue that President Bush would go to war alone, without our Prime Minister's support, are wrong. President Bush needs Prime Minister Blair to sell the war in the United States. That is shown in the efforts to prove a tenuous link between al-Qaeda and Saddam, based on the presence of an al-Qaeda group in northern Iraq. It is disappointing that the fair-minded Colin Powell could present that to the United Nations as evidence.

We all know that al-Qaeda terrorists operate in Britain, the United States and many other nations. Clearly, that does not mean that our Government or any other support al-Qaeda. The claim has no credibility. Saddam and Osama bin Laden are implacable opponents. They oppose each other as much as President Bush opposes them both. We should not look for a spurious link to terrorism as an excuse for war against Iraq.

The UN weapons inspectors are in Iraq for a reason. The international community sent Dr. Blix and the skilled inspectors to do a job. They should be allowed the time that they need to complete it.

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I end with a quote from the leader comment in The Guardian today:

I shall vote for the amendment.

5.39 pm

Bob Spink (Castle Point): Like the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty), I spent last week in Iraq. We visited the Iraqi Parliament, refugees and hospitals. The Iraqi Kurds asked us to speak for them when we returned. They support the Prime Minister's moral policy but they asked us to raise some key questions.

The first is that Turkish troops must, at all costs, be kept out of Iraqi Kurdish territories unless the Kurds invite them, which is extremely unlikely. Their incursion would be dangerous, destabilising and unnecessary. Secondly, the Kurdish people need more specific protection during the run-up to, and during the prosecution of any war. For instance, they need gas masks. Thirdly, we must keep the period of interim military governance of Iraq very short and hand over to Iraqi Opposition leaders as soon as Saddam's murderous and evil regime falls.

Jeremy Corbyn: I am aware that the hon. Gentleman was in Kurdistan last week. Did he get any sense of the fact that an agreement had been reached with Turkey to leave the Kurdish autonomous region alone, or is the opposite the case and the 20,000 Turkish troops on the border are poised to invade when the Americans invade from the south?

Bob Spink: The hon. Gentleman puts his finger on an important point. The Prime Minister of Iraqi Kurdistan is fearful that Turkish troops will go into Kurdistan, which he thinks will be extremely damaging and destabilising. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that.

The fourth key issue is that we need to keep supplies of food and medicine going into Iraqi Kurdistan during any conflict period to help the millions who depend on them. In particular, we must continue aid immediately after any conflict finishes. Fifthly, we must get the oil-for-food money flowing properly under UN resolution 986 and stop the hold ups and possible corruption of that programme. Sixthly, we must assist Iraq post-Saddam to establish a federal state that is based on a parliamentary democracy with an autonomous Kurdish region. The Kurdish people do not now seek independence. Instead, they want to operate within a federal Iraq, with the oil reserves managed at a federal level and shared equitably between the regions. Finally, they hope that our Government will encourage the Turkish authorities to allow the 150 international journalists who are on the border in Turkey to pass into north Iraq so that they can see what is going on. That is in keeping with European standards and Turkey is holding them up.

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We visited a refugee camp of 50,000 internally displaced people where thousands of families were still living in mud huts and tents. We met a family that had been thrown out of their home in Kirkuk by Saddam only two weeks earlier under his Arabisation ethnic cleansing programme. They suffered the sort of abuses that the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) so eloquently outlined. Anyone who thinks that Saddam is safe in his box should have been with me to hear the tale of that family and to see the horrendous harm and devastation reaped on them by Saddam.

We also visited the Salahaddin university, which is close to Saddam's front-line army, and held meetings with lecturers and many English-speaking students. When we asked the students whether they thought that Saddam had chemical weapons and would use them, they stood up and shouted, "Of course." They thought it naive of me even to ask. They said that some of them had not slept for five nights because they were worried that Saddam would retaliate by using chemicals against them. People were trying to make improvised gas masks from plastic bags and electrical insulation tape.

The students were in no doubt that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction and, given half the chance, would use them on the Kurds again, causing the unimaginably terrible consequences that they experienced before. They wanted our protection, but in a show of hands voted unanimously for Saddam's regime to be removed as quickly and cleanly as possible for their safety. They were entirely in step with the other Iraqi Kurds that we met. Other questions that we put to a formal vote to the students, who are the future of Iraq, revealed that they think that war to remove Saddam is justified because, on balance, it would save thousands of innocent lives. However, they need our protection during such a war.

We visited the Freedom hospital in Arbil, which has cut its operations to only 25 per cent. in preparation for the expected war casualties. We saw doctors and nurses standing by empty beds, waiting. The hospital is stockpiling medicines and surgical equipment as part of a co-ordinated plan to deal with the casualties of that war. Its staff know that casualties will be forthcoming, and accept that.

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