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Jeremy Corbyn: The Soviet Union found to its cost that invasion is quick and simple with an efficient and well-equipped army, as my hon. Friend says. The problem arises in the longer term, and no doubt the situation was a major factor in bringing about the fall and demise of the Soviet Union.
Surely we need to look at the world in a rather different way from one involving a series of wars and conflicts during which we align ourselves politically with the United States Administration. We should instead examine the causes of war: injustice, poverty and the grasping of natural resources. When I hear the speeches of Bush and Cheney in which they talk about North Korea and other such places, I am horrified that what has happened in Iraq could well be repeated in other places. I ask the Government to think seriously about the need for a real break with the American strategy and about some intelligent approach to achieve peace and justice in the world, which would save us from wars in the future.
Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset): The debate is important and it is appropriate that we should have it after our two-month recess during which the situation in Iraq has deteriorated and we have seen the circumstances surrounding the outbreak of the conflict exposed in the Hutton inquiry. I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) and for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) on not exposing, or gloating about, what has happened during the inquiry but concentrating on what has happened on the ground in Iraq. The situation has deteriorated and they have especially examined the role played by the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development. It is important to preface my remarks with congratulations to our troops on their efforts.
Mr. Jon Owen Jones: Will the hon. Gentleman comment on how it is consistent and reasonable to criticise the British Government's lack of planning in Iraq as the situation deteriorates, with which I have a fair degree of agreement, yet to make no criticism whatsoever of the American role, which is far more important?
I want to say a few words about the role that our troops have played in the conflict. I congratulate them on their efforts, skill and courage. I have spoken to many of my constituents who have come back from IraqI have a substantial Ministry of Defence establishment in my constituencyand I am proud to be associated with the attitude that the troops have taken on the ground. If I may say something to satisfy the comments of the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones), I am impressed by the attitude of the British
Mr. Walter: Whatever the tactics adopted by various troops, every occupying power has a duty to respect the human rights of those whom they are present to protect. There have been instances when United States troops have done things that I would frankly not wish to defend, but that is beyond the scope of the debate, which is about the military situation in Iraq as it affects this Government and our troops.
I have taken a close interest in the situation in Iraq both in the run-up to the conflict and during it. I am a member of the Select Committee on International Development, which has published several reports about the preparations for the conflict. The Committee has taken evidence from two Secretaries of State and other Ministers and officials. It has taken an interest that sometimes has gone beyond the role of the Department for International Development by examining other agencies, including those that act for the Ministry of Defence.
It is no secret that I spoke during the debate in the Chamber on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction on 26 February and that I voted for the amendment and against military action. What I said has been vindicated by the events that have taken place and the evidence presented to the Hutton inquiry. I said:
Mr. Walter: I would not wish to speculate too much on that, but the conflict has not improved the terrorist situation. As we have seen on the ground in Iraq and in other parts of the world, the situation has deteriorated.
The Hutton inquiry has shown that the Government massaged some of the flimsy evidence on Saddam's capabilities. The evidence of the UN weapons inspectors was that they could find no weapons of mass destruction.
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): As the hon. Gentleman said, he was not taken in by the document and voted against it, as I did. The truth is that we are in the position that we are in today because we lost that vote on the war, not because of what the Government said at the time.
Mr. Walter: The hon. Gentleman is right, but the background to the current military situation is that the UN weapons inspectors could find no weapons of mass destruction. There were no chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, yet the Prime Minister told the House that Saddam Hussein had them and they could be deployed in 45 minutes. That is the longest 45 minutes in history.
Mr. Salmond: The Prime Minister may not have managed to persuade the hon. Gentleman, the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) or me, but the point is that some of the Prime Minister's more gullible colleagues were persuaded by the variety of dodgy dossiers with which we were presented.
Mr. Walter: The British people were taken in by dodgy dossiers and other things. I think that Hans Blix was too convincing in the view that he presented to the UN and that the military situation was precipitated by the possible disappearance of a window of opportunity, but that is all history, as hon. Members have said. We need to consider how we deal with the awful situation in Iraq now.
From those whom I have spoken to who have been on the ground in Iraq, it is clear that the life of ordinary Iraqis in many parts of that country is not, as the Secretary of State said, better than it was. There are severe problems with electricity and water supplies and other basic essentials of normal life. Crime and killings are commonplace. Any occupying power should be truly ashamed of the breakdown of law and order in that country.
In my constituency last week, I attended a meeting at which a number of people who had recently been in Baghdad and Basra told stories that are a fair reflection of what is going on, although I cannot corroborate them. We were told that a son was kidnapped in Basra. The family knew where to go to deal with the problem because the gang that had kidnapped him had set up a shop in the centre of town. It was clearly marked and everyone knew it was there. All one had to do was go to the shop with the name of the person who was sought and, after ferreting through files and so on, someone would come up with a piece of paper stating the ransom to be paid for the person to be returned. That is appalling and it is just one example of what is going on.
There are many such stories: electricity transmission lines have been pulled down in broad daylight under the gaze of coalition forces who appear to the local population to be either unwilling or powerless to do
The International Development Committee spent a long time considering the humanitarian consequences before, during and after the conflict. As I said, we published several reports on that. We took evidence from the United States Administration in Washington, the UN in New York, numerous other international organisations and non-governmental organisations. We took evidence a number of times from both Secretaries of State for International Development. When asked the general question of what planning had taken place or whether there had been any, Baroness Amos said on 30 June that plans had been made but that they were for a different outcome. That sums up some of the lack of preparedness of our Government.
There is no doubt that we have removed an evil dictator who was oppressing the people of Iraq. I have every sympathy with those inside and outside Iraq who sought his removal. However, the case should have been made to the international community and executed under the auspices of the international institutions that we have spent half a century building up. Let us now restore the confidence and legitimacy of the United Nations. Let the United Kingdom and the United States put their strength and resources at the disposal of the UN for the benefit of the Iraqi people and for peace in the middle east.