Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 107-119)




  107. Welcome, gentlemen. We have just had an interesting difference of views between the expansionist and the more restrictive view of international law as it applies to the problem of Iraq. Whether there will be any wafer-thin difference between two distinguished diplomats in this area I do not know but we look forward to that with anticipation. Can I welcome you both, Lord Wright, a former Permanent Under Secretary and Sir Harold Walker, a very distinguished diplomat still very involved in the Middle East. Lord Wright you said on 21 August, "that implications of an attack against Iraq would be absolutely devastating, and I do not personally believe that the case has yet been made." Since when an amendment has been moved in that we have both the IISS dossier, we have had the Foreign Office dossier, do you believe that is sufficient to change your own view?

  (Lord Wright of Richmond) Chairman, first of all, thank you very much for inviting me to appear. It is 11 years since I last appeared before the Foreign Affairs Committee and it is very nice to be here again. If I can take your second point first. I do not actually yet believe that the case has been made for a military invasion of Iraq. Mr Mackinlay said in the previous session that we were no longer talking about regime change but, with respect, a lot of people are still talking about regime change. The first point I would like to make is that, to me at least, the objectives of the United States administration are still very unclear. I hope it is right to say that their first objective is disarming Iraq of dangerous weapons. I personally believe that that should be the absolute priority. There are still a lot of noises coming out of Washington, not necessarily from the President himself, but suggesting that there are people still in the administration who think that the aim should be to remove Saddam Hussein. I think a very clear case has to be made if the Americans and their allies, including the British government, are going down that route and I do not actually believe that case has yet been made.

  108. What would be necessary to convince you.
  (Lord Wright of Richmond) I would regard any evidence of an attack, imminent or otherwise, against Britain or the United States or our allies, our western allies, as a good case for it. The dossier produced by the British Government gave me no evidence whatsoever that there was such likelihood of an attack. I think I am right in saying the dossier showed no evidence at all of links between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda. I know there has been talk, and this was mentioned in the IISS interview, there has been talk from the United States of various activities by Al-Qaeda in Iraq; interestingly in the north of Iraq, an area over which Saddam Hussein has no control and contacts with people for whom Saddam Hussein has very little sympathy. I think it is unlikely, it is possible but I think it is unlikely, that Saddam Hussein would want to enter into a collaboration with Islamic extremists over whom he has no control. Perhaps the greatest internal threat to Saddam Hussein is precisely from that sort of Islamic extremist. I think it is very unlikely—Sir Harold Walker is a former Ambassador to Baghdad and I would defer to his views—that Saddam Hussein is willing to enter into collaboration with Al-Qaeda. I also think that the dossier did not produce any evidence that Saddam Hussein has collaborated with or supported, let alone armed, extremist Palestinian groups. I notice that the Foreign Secretary made a slightly different point in his last evidence to you; but the dossier itself, I think, produces no evidence that Saddam Hussein has supported "terrorists" in Palestine.

  109. Bounties to suicide bombers is not support?
  (Lord Wright of Richmond) I do not think it is. Of course it is offensive that he should behave like that. But there is a very widely felt feeling in the Arab world that the Palestinians are being severely discriminated against and ill-treated. Perhaps you may not approve of it, but it is an entirely understandable public relations exercise on Saddam Hussein's part.
  (Sir Harold Walker) I agree with all of that. I think it is worth stressing that it seemed to me at the time extremely unlikely that the Iraqi regime would be behind 9/11 because at the time the Iraqis were doing rather well by their lights in seeing sanctions crumble, in getting on better terms with regional people, including the Syrians, so why on earth should Saddam risk everything by being caught out in an operation like that. As Lord Wright said, Saddam is seen by Al-Qaeda and the Muslim world as a totally bogus Muslim, if I may say so. He has led a secular regime in a secular way and he raises the Islamic flag purely for PR reasons. I do not like to say things that could be interpreted as in favour of this regime, which is a really wicked regime, but I do think the claim that there are significant contacts between Al-Qaeda and the regime in Iraq is a very murky area. The Ansar Islam, or whoever they are, as I think Lord Wright said, are in northen Iraq, they are not under Baghdad's control, and senior Iraqi spokesmen have twice claimed—and I do not know whether anybody has disputed it—that the Iraqi regime have actually helped the Kurds defeat the incursions of Ansar Islam. Despite what Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld has said, one needs to be a bit careful about associating Saddam's regime with this particular bunch of terrorists, although there is plenty of historical evidence of links with terrorists.

Mr Olner

  110. That is extremely enlightening from someone who has lived and been in Baghdad under Saddam. If what you just said is right, why is all this pressure now being put on Saddam Hussein to disarm when for five years he has been dormant?
  (Sir Harold Walker) My position is really rather a simple one, that the record of the Iraqi regime in actually developing weapons of mass destruction, in actually using them and actually going on developing them (using incredible devices to deceive the inspectors and so on) demonstrates that in the long term, as the IISS witnesses indicated, Saddam regards developing weapons of mass destruction as an integral part of his regime, for prestige and for imposing his will on the area as he would like. President Bush has said that we are "faced with a grave and growing danger"—I think those were the words. I entirely agree it is growing but I do not agree it is grave at this moment. I think it is a medium-term problem, not an immediate problem, but one can readily see why the world, the American world in particular, faced with 9/11, should suddenly realise that there are new threats out there, and one of the good things, surely, that the American response has done is to force the Security Council to face up to responsibilities it ought to have addressed five or more years ago.

  111. That is given the UN come behind the resolution and there is the backbone to do something. The corollary is if the UN do not do anything this time then they themselves will be extremely discredited in the future. Do you think Saddam will ever comply with UN resolutions?
  (Lord Wright of Richmond) Can I answer a slightly different question first because, going back to the Security Council resolutions, I also heard that very interesting exchange with the lawyers? But leaving aside the legal arguments, perhaps I do not need to remind the Committee that today is United Nations Day. I do think it is very important, whatever the legal arguments and justifications, that there is a Security Council resolution which explicitly authorises military action against Iraq, if that is what the United States and her allies decide to do ultimately. Although there clearly are some lawyers who argue that the existing Security Council resolutions are enough, I do not believe that politically or in terms of public credibility that is adequate.


  112. Would you like to comment more directly on the question, Sir Harold?
  (Sir Harold Walker) I might add to that—it is no doubt something that you will come on to, Chairman—that a firm Security Council backing for any action could have a significant effect on the reactions in the region, amongst governments perhaps, not amongst people. I think that is another important realpolitik reason why we should have another Security Council resolution, regardless of the law.

Sir John Stanley

  113. As we all know, the business of going to war is surrounded with monumental uncertainty. Predictions in advance of hostilities commencing, as to their length and as to the loss of life that will ensue subsequently, are notoriously difficult to make and historically have been the subject of massive miscalculation, that is to say massive miscalculation in both directions. If one looks back at some of the comment before the Kosovan war and the war against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, most of the comment was that the loss of life and the difficulties would be very much greater than was actually shown, but of course when we come to the 1914-18 War the miscalculation was massive the other way. It would not be reasonable with your background to ask you to make a judgment to the Committee as to the ease and likely cost in life of this particular military operation, but what we would be very interested to hear from you is your judgment if military operations do take place (and they must take place if they do, presumably, with a view to removing the Saddam Hussein regime and thereby going into Baghdad) as to what you think would be the repercussions for Britain and its allies—obviously we focus particularly on Britain—in terms of its own relations with other countries in the Middle East and in the wider world?
  (Lord Wright of Richmond) The first point I would like to make is that this very much depends on the public perception, and the perception in the Middle East and in the Islamic world, of what the objective of military action is. With great respect to Mr Mackinlay, I do not believe that is yet clear. It is certainly not clear to me what the Americans expect to follow military action. There has been rather wild talk about General Tommy Franks becoming Governor of Iraq. One can dismiss that perhaps, but it is very unclear to me how the Americans expect to settle Iraq, as they say, as a democratic country as a result of a military operation. I think the perception in the Middle East of what the Americans, and with Security Council authority what the Americans and the rest of us are going to do, depends very much on what the objective is and how clearly that objective is set out.


  114. How do you distinguish Afghanistan; was that a successful regime change?
  (Lord Wright of Richmond) I think it is very different. There was widespread opposition to the Taliban, it was authorised by a Security Council resolution, and it had wide international support. Whatever other Arab states may feel privately about Saddam Hussein, they have all expressed openly opposition to military action. If I could go to Sir John's second point on what are the implications of this. I think that if military action takes place (and I should have said in parenthesis that I believe that the immediate objective and the sole objective at this moment is to get the weapons inspectors back into Iraq and I think that should be the overriding aim of any Security Council resolution, as indeed we have seen in the press today in the text of the resolution tabled yesterday) the response in the region will depend very much on the "success" of any operation to remove weapons of mass destruction from Iraq or to neutralise them and it will depend most particularly on the speed, because I think that if it is a quick, clean action—and I have no idea how that can be achieved—then I believe that the regional response can probably be held under control; but I think there is a serious danger of real problems on the streets of the Middle East and perhaps more widely. You may have seen Mahathir Mohammed of Malaysia quoted as saying that war against Iraq would lengthen the anti-terrorist campaign and that it would cause anger in the Muslim world where there would be more willing recruits to the terrorist ranks. I think that is a danger and I think it is a danger that the United States need to take very carefully into account before any launch of military action. Can I just make a few points about this? We need to remind ourselves that there is a widespread view in the Arab world that the first priority should be to tackle the Arab/Israel problem. When I say the Arab/Israel problem, I am not just talking about the Palestinian problem, I am talking about the occupied Golan and Syria and Southern Lebanon. There is an almost universal feeling in the Arab world, both on the streets and among Arab governments, that the priority is wrong. They are really asking the question you asked Mr Olner, "Why are the Americans focusing on Iraq when in the view of the Arab world, and I am bound to say the view of the British Government, much more priority ought to be put on trying to solve the Arab-Israel problem?" I must say I very much welcomed the passage in the Prime Minister's speech in the House of Commons on the day of the emergency debate and what he said about Arab/Israel; compared with that, I am afraid I found the few lines in President Bush's speech in the General Assembly rather inadequate. I would like to see the United States putting much more effort at a high level into the Arab/Israel problem. Secondly, I think there are fears in the Arab world and among Arab governments about this talk of "democratising" the region. It may be an admirable aim; but I am blowed if I know how the United States is going to achieve that by occupying Iraq. I am sorry, Mr Mackinlay, I am probably going into fantasies which I believe you think do not exist, but I actually believe that in the Arab world they are paying attention to these various speculations in Washington about what the purpose of military action would be.

Sir John Stanley

  115. Could Sir Harold just respond as well.
  (Sir Harold Walker) Of course, you are not going to find a cigarette paper between us, Chairman!


  116. We are waiting for it!
  (Sir Harold Walker) It seemed to me that Sir John put his finger on a most significant point, which is that he said he could not expect us to tell you what is going to happen because there are multiple uncertainties in the contemplation of military action against Iraq—the level of resistance in Iraq, the level of casualties we will have to take, the form of a new regime, how do you introduce a new regime, what will be the effect on oil, what will be the economic cost, what will be the effect on the world economy, on which we all have views—but I think we should be honest and say that we do not know and anything we say should be regarded with an equal degree of scepticism according to our experience. It is important because you are contemplating sending young men and young women to die and it is not right that they should go if the situation is very uncertain. I noted down what Donald Rumsfeld said in an article in the Daily Telegraph on 25 February: "If . . . you are going to put people's lives at risk, you had better have a darned good reason." All these uncertainties are not an ultimate reason for putting war out of the window, but they are a reason for saying it should be a last resort and not a first resort. In amplification of what Lord Wright said about reaction in the Arab world, I think that there are a great many variables and if action were taken with a Security Council resolution the chances are that the Arab world, the governments, would actually breathe a huge sigh of relief (they would not say so but they would breathe a huge sigh of relief). I do not think that the people of the Arab world will like it whether it is with a Security Council resolution or not. They will see it, wrongly, as one of a series of American assaults on Muslim people, forgetting that the Americans have helped Muslim people in, for example, Kosovo. However, that is the way they see it. The big unknown is: so what will the famous Arab in the street do? Will he rise up and overthrow his government? He has not done anything about Afghanistan, he has not done anything about the current oppression of the Palestinians, so why should he rise up about this further assault on an Arab country, or would it be the straw that broke the camel's back? We do not know but we have to note that Arab leaders have used pretty powerful language in forecasting disaster. I noted that President Mubarak of Egypt on 27 August said: "If you strike Iraq . . . while Palestinians are being killed by Israel . . . not one Arab leader will be able to control the angry outburst of the masses." The Omani foreign minister talked of plunging the world into chaos. In public at least some responsible Arab leaders see a very bad situation. Many commentators think, and I think I am one of them, that the Arab man in the street in this context is a busted flush—that is not the right expression—and will not do anything significant. We can go into great detail about why. The only place I would really worry about would be Jordan, depending on what the King was perceived to have done in helping an American assault. If he just said search and rescue, fine, but if he was caught out, as it were, allowing his territory to be used for American and British Special Forces there could be serious trouble in the streets. As I say, this is one man's view.
  (Lord Wright of Richmond) Sir John Stanley very kindly said that he would not expect us to talk about military operations. Can I talk about military operations for a moment? I am not a military expert, but I have very strong doubts whether the Americans are likely to find an invasion of Iraq as smooth as the ejection of Iraqis from Kuwait was. Whatever their real feelings about Saddam even the Shia Iraqis would be defending their own homeland. None of us needs to be reminded of the difference between people defending their own homeland, however badly they think it is governed, and taking part in an operation to occupy their neighbour. Many of us have memories of the appalling brutality of the Iraqi Revolution of 1958. I think there is a real danger of street fighting in Iraqi cities and the likelihood of heavy casualties and presumably the risk of Saddam at last being provoked to use the weapons of mass destruction that he is believed to possess. On that point can I just remind you, I think the IISS were asked to look into the mind of Saddam Hussein as to why he has these weapons of mass destruction? One aspect which was not mentioned was deterrence. Remember that his main enemy Israel has all of the weapons of mass destruction that he is believed to possess or is developing and I think many Arabs would argue that it is reasonable for Saddam Hussein to supply himself with a deterrent.

Andrew Mackinlay

  117. I want to ask two questions. In a sense I am a little disappointed, I did not explain myself adequately. I think it is bonkers to suggest that you can go and create a democracy like that. I thought the whole thrust of what I was saying, I am really not disagreeing with you, is I think the United States are so intoxicated with power they miss the thing they should keep their eye on, compliance. Even you, Lord Wright, fall into the chasm of talking about disarmament. If you were advising the British government now both legally and from the point of view of spin you should be emphasising, and us politicians as well now want compliance with that armistice. It is a matter of rule of law. That is really what I was trying to say to the lawyers, and I think you agree with me.
  (Lord Wright of Richmond) Absolutely.

  118. It is good presentation but good in law and morality. The other thing I did want to ask both of you about, this is something new this afternoon, I have mentioned it in other meetings we have had, what frightens me is that Saddam may not actually understand the gravity of the situation in this sense. If you look at the 20th century tragically so often our adversaries have not understood we really mean to go down the road. I wonder if you think there is a danger, indeed ought there not to be some high level interlocutor, perhaps in a very private way going over there. You mentioned the Cuba crisis, a lot of things were not in the public domain but were done. One, spell it out to Saddam that this is going to happen. Also, and I return to this point, you are not going to have regime change. Lord Wright, whilst I think they have been saying all these things, Rumsfeld has been saying these things, there has been a major shift in the past four weeks in attitude by the United States. They are not going to go to war on regime changes. I want you to advise us on this, ought there to be people going to Saddam and saying, they do mean this, it is going to happen but you can survive. If you comply in a real sense we are not going to go for regime change.
  (Lord Wright of Richmond) In talking about the absolute priority to be given to disarmament and compliance, I nevertheless think that it is right to back that up with credible threats. Whether Saddam Hussein believes those credible threats is a very difficult question to answer; Sir Harold is much better placed to do that than I am. As he reminded me earlier today, Saddam Hussein has very little understanding of the great outside world. He has hardly travelled abroad at all, if at all, in his life. As diplomats you would expect us to sympathise with your suggestion that it is a pity that there is not diplomatic contact with Saddam Hussein if only to get messages across directly.

  Chairman: Sir John Stanley will now take over to ensure that everyone has a good say.

  In the absence of the Chairman, Sir John Stanley was called to the Chair
  (Sir Harold Walker) It is a very good point raised by Mr Mackinlay. We all know that Saddam Hussein is not a travelled man and he is surrounded by sycophants. It is extremely difficult to know how he makes decisions. It does point to an important point about diplomacy, you need to get people he regards as in some sense friends to warn him. I think it is more important that the French, Russians and the Chinese speak to him and say you had better do this or else than it is to get a message over the airwaves from the Americans or the British. That is the stuff of diplomacy, you think how best to get your message across. If I can again add one man's view on the war, I think personally that the regular armed force of Iraq will crumble when they are invaded. But there are somewhere between 500,000 and one million people very dependent on Saddam for their standard of living in the security forces, in the republican guard and in the umpteen security services and I think that a considerable number of those people would see that they hang together or separately and there would be people who would fight with Saddam out of severe self-interest on top of the unknowable business of people rallying round a leader when your country is invaded. It should not be thought that the military victory will be a walkover, although undoubtedly it can be won.
  (Lord Wright of Richmond) That still leaves the question of "what afterwards"?
  (Sir Harold Walker) One more point I think is worth making for a Committee with this wide scope. IISS witnesses quite rightly said that Saddam has his weapons of mass destruction for prestige and for securing his regional ambitions and Lord Wright added that he lives in a dangerous world. It should be noted that in recent decades in modern history it is not possible to construct a security system in the Gulf area using solely local ingredients because you have a powerful Arab country, Iraq, always at loggerheads with a powerful Iranian country and underneath countries with strong social societies with lots of money but they are weak militarily and in terms of population. So you have needed an outside power, which since 1971 has really been the US or the US using the Shah as a policeman, to construct some kind of balance of power, and I do not see how in the long run you are going to have a security situation other than a regional one. In the long, long run you are going to have to have a regional security situation in which these powerful people are taken care of, otherwise you are always going to have to have intervention from, as it is now, a superpower.

Mr Maples

  119. We have had a very interesting conversation with you and with the two previous witnesses. Whether or not the United States' policy is correct or indeed whether or not it is legal, the fact is that these decisions will be made by them and not us. What I am really interested in is if we were collectively advising the British Prime Minister in circumstances without a United Nations Security Council resolution which explicitly mandated the use of force that perhaps a new resolution might imply, and the United States chose to take action, do we really have any alternative but to support them? Surely by not supporting them the damage we would do to our alliance with them and the extent we rely on them would far outweigh any damage it might do to us in supporting them? Secondly, if you look at the position that Chancellor Schroeder has got himself into, I doubt Bush is ever going to speak to him again. Relations between the United States and Germany might be repaired but I think Schroeder is just out of the game. France is playing its usual quite dangerous game and I would have thought if it pushes the United States too far it is likely to put itself in the same position.
  (Lord Wright of Richmond) I would not contest what you say at all about the effect on the relationship if we were to draw back. But the logic of what I have described and others have described as the absolutely essential point—that any operation is done through the United Nations and on the basis of a Security Council resolution—is a point which I would hope the Prime Minister has stressed again and again to President Bush. I would hope that President Bush has drawn the conclusion that without that—

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