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Mr. Joyce: I thank my hon. Friend for those wise remarks. It behoves us to remember that these are difficult times. I am sure that there will be a positive outcome in due course, but it will take time. This is not the time for political opportunism, but I sometimes detect a bit too much of it from the Opposition Benches.

It is not difficult to see that the Opposition tend to criticise what is happening on the ground in Iraq while desperately avoiding being critical of a Republican Administration. They want to criticise the situation in Iraq, but not a Republican Administration for whose policies they no doubt have a great regard. Frankly, that approach does not stack up. The situation in the British sector is considerably better than elsewhere. That is not to say that the US is not doing a very good job in the light of the different difficulties that it faces. However, the fact of the matter is that it does not stack up constantly to gainsay the effect that this country is having in Iraq without being critical of the Republican Administration. As it happens, in large terms, I would not be critical of America's efforts, as I think that it is making a pretty good effort. It takes a bit more than a generally negative tone in the short term with a hint at a positive tone in the longer term, along with the idea that the Opposition would have had some sort of cunning plan that they will not tell us anything about, to add up to a useful and coherent debate.

3.47 pm

Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater): I should like to pull up the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn), who made some very interesting comments, but suggested that there was a vast anti-war movement in America. I have just returned from a holiday in America and I can tell him that, although there is an anti-war movement, it is not large and certainly not vast. I was in America at the time of the UN bombing, and the concern there is that it is not getting the job done quickly enough. That is exactly what we are saying in this House. As the Americans see it, their role is to try to turn the country back into a democratic state as quickly as possible. Their concern is the time for which their troops will have to be committed in the country. They are already talking about overstretch, and they have 140,000 troops there.

On arriving in America, it was interesting to hear what people were saying on the streets. Obviously, when a bomb goes off and 100 people are killed, there will be much comment. It was extremely difficult to understand the Americans' long-term game plan. The local people saw a country called "Ayraq" that was somewhere the other side of Britain. They do not understand exactly what they are going to do with the long-term

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commitment that they are going to put in. We in this country would not understand the control and information coming down from President Bush. It is not getting home to the American people this message: "We have to go through with this now, no matter what, because we have to finish off what we have started."

The role of the United Nations, whether in Korea, Bosnia, Beirut or anywhere else, has always been to go into a country to stand between two sides to try to sort out a situation. However, that can be done only when there is some form of military stability in that nation. On 19 August, when a bomb was driven up to the UN building and an enormous number of people were killed, it was shown that that was not the case. Unfortunately, I do not think that it will happen in the foreseeable future. The longer that we are in Iraq, the more time there will be for opposing forces to build up.

There are great open borders in Iraq with Iran, Jordan, Syria and the Palestinians. In a way, it is a new Cuba. People go there because they can be seen to make a difference. The UN has a vital role to play, but it has to be under the auspices of some form of military force. It is not possible to train a nation's policemen and soldiers without the help of the policemen and soldiers of other nations. We learned that in Rhodesia—Zimbabwe—and in Kenya and Malaya. We, as a nation, are not doing enough, quickly enough, to help those forces to build up. We learned a lesson in Zimbabwe in 1980 when we quickly got British policemen and soldiers out there to train the forces. It may not be a pretty sight 20 years later, but at the time the operation worked well, and it was the speed that counted.

An increasingly prominent question—I certainly see it in my postbag—is: "Why haven't we found the weapons of mass destruction?" I supported the Government. Perhaps I am gullible and I was led astray by the Prime Minister, but—partly because I was in the services—I believe that one should support the troops when they are going in. We need to resolve the problem. It is all right for the Liberals to go on about it: they can change sides as many times as they want, but in the end nobody will believe them. At least we have the morals to stand by what we believe, unlike—I shall not say it.

Mr. Keetch: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Liddell-Grainger: Oh, go on then.

Mr. Keetch: If the hon. Gentleman will not believe the Liberal Democrats, does he believe his own leader, who said that he believed that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, and could build up an arsenal that he could use against Britain? He said:

Does the hon. Gentleman believe his leader?

Mr. Liddell-Grainger: I really must learn not to grant interventions to Liberal Democrats. I am not going to answer that. The Liberals need to learn when to be quiet.

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I want to move on to reserve forces and overstretch. The hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Joyce) made some interesting comments, although I do not agree with him. If we are to continue to have a long-term commitment to Iraq, we must not allow our forces to become overstretched. The British military work on a three-year training cycle. The first year is operational, the second is for training, and the third is for recuperating and resting. We are unable to recruit enough people to join our volunteer forces, so there is bound to be overstretch. The situation will continue for a long time to come. Our experience in Northern Ireland shows that it takes much longer to help people than is anticipated when one first goes in.

If we are to use our forces wisely, that must include our reserve forces, some of whom are hon. Members who are in Iraq or who may yet go there. We need a much better way of mobilising those forces. The cold war is long gone. A situation such as this never arose in the 1990s, at the time of the strategic defence review. We did not anticipate a long-term commitment to a country such as Iraq. If the situation is allowed to continue, we will find that troops are away so much that people will not join the military because their families will not see them or get the back-up that they need at home. The Royal Marines are based just outside my constituency in Taunton. Having just returned, they are about to be redeployed in another situation. That is fine—it is what they signed up for—but they find it very tough never to be off-duty. My hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) asked the Secretary of State about the possible loss of battalions, or even regiments. I hope that that is not to be the case, because we can ill afford it.

About 1.5 million refugees were chased out of Iraq over a long period. Those people should be brought back. Many of them—professional people who were chased out by the Saddam Hussein regime—are the kind of people who are needed back in Iraq to help to rebuild it. Many are in Jordan, Syria and Iran. We need to bring them back before they get the idea of coming back as armed insurgents. They must be brought back and assimilated into society but we must also do much more.

Congress has been asked for another $87 billion. That is an enormous amount of money to have to put up to lead such a programme, but it will be needed. It is all very well claiming that things will get better; the time that they take to do so means that more goes wrong. One cannot expect 47 per cent. of the rural population to do without water for a long period. We must ensure that 100 per cent. of people have clean water.

Why should anyone have faith in the supposedly developed world if we do not give a lead to people who need to be returned to the country and assimilated? Iraqis will continue to disbelieve what we are about. Why should they believe us? Actions speak louder than words. We must make progress; if we do not, we let those people down. The House should therefore completely support our role.

3.55 pm

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): Today's debate is timely, but I am sorry that the Government did not provide a full debate on the subject. I support the amendment that

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the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) tabled. If it had been selected, I would have voted for it because

I would add that political power must be handed over to the Iraqi people as soon as possible. Some dreadful mistakes have been made, not least the total disbanding of the Iraqi army. That has made the situation far worse.

We are right to focus on the misleading devices that were employed to get the country to go to war. Like everybody else, I await with bated breath the outcome of the Iraq survey group's report on weapons of mass destruction and the Hutton report. However, now is not the time for that.

It is timely to remind hon. Members of the genuine consequences of the illegal and immoral war for the people of Iraq. It is proper to examine the way in which millions of ordinary Iraqi people are suffering now. We should also consider the destabilisation of the middle east. There is no comparison between that and the impact on a few political careers and no question about what should receive priority.

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