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Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): I would say to the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) that if there is a moral imperative on countries such as ours, where human rights are respected, to intervene in countries where they are not, there is an awfully long list of the latter—and that that was not the justification for the war. Saddam Hussein's was a particularly unpleasant regime, but there are many more unpleasant ones around the world—for example, in Sudan, where rather more people are being killed.

From the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) we heard something of an "I told you so" speech. I suppose he is entitled to make such a speech in the circumstances, but I am not sure that it was terribly helpful. From the Secretary of State, we heard an "It's all going according to plan" speech, but it clearly is not—if there was ever a plan in the first place. Those such as I who supported the war from the start—I still do—are deeply troubled by the fact that there seems to be no effective plan. We keep making the same mistakes and do not learn from them.

Now, we hope that on 30 June, Mr. Brahimi will somehow bail us out of the problems that we have encountered. Why it has taken us until 15 months after
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the end of the war to reach the point of handing over power to a more representative Iraqi Government—or transitional authority, or whatever it is to be called—I simply do not know. We persevered for more than a year with a group of people who were largely selected by the United States and who did not have the confidence and support of the Iraqi people. That caused problems, and the actions of some of the American forces, their interrogation techniques and some of the ways in which we have set about enforcing security, have exacerbated those problems.

However, we have to start from where we are. Whether or not one supported the war, there are two objectives that we should want to achieve. The first is to leave behind a reasonably peaceful Iraq where the rule of law is respected, at least to some extent, and which is starting down the road to democracy. We now have a duty to try to leave that behind us. The other policy objective is related to one of the reasons why I supported the war: I believed—perhaps "hoped" is a better word—that a reformed Iraq might act both as a beacon and as a rebuke to other countries in the region whose Governments are pretty awful.

None of the 22 Arab countries has anything resembling a working democracy; in none is the rule of law respected; and all are giving rise to a brand of Islamic terrorism that presents a serious danger to us. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism is connected with the nature of the regimes in those countries. I am not suggesting that we could set up Jeffersonian democracies in Egypt and Saudi Arabia tomorrow, because I suspect that the people would elect Mr. bin Laden and his lieutenants. That is a measure of the problem facing us. However, if we do not start down that road, the existing regimes will be overthrown by Mr. bin Laden and his lieutenants and we will face worse than the ayatollahs in Iran for a generation to come.

Reform in the middle east is desperately needed. If we can leave behind us an Iraq in which the rule of law and human rights are observed and which is something approaching a democracy, it might reinforce our efforts to secure reform in the region. That is the only way to get long-term stability in the region and long-term security of our interests.

Clare Short: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that democracy will not be achieved in the middle east until the Palestine-Israel situation is resolved? The reason why the US supports oppressive regimes in Egypt, Jordan and other countries is that their peoples are so angry about the suffering of the Palestinians that democracy would give rise to countries that are hostile. If we resolve the Palestine-Israel situation and get all weapons of mass destruction out of the region, a process of democratisation can start. Without such resolution, that process cannot start.

Mr. Maples: I have said a great deal in the House and elsewhere about the middle east peace process. I have strong views, which I have taken up with the Prime Minister in writing and in speeches. However, I have only eight minutes and cannot deal with the subject now, save to say in defence of the United States that nobody could have tried harder to bring about peace in the region than President Clinton did in the last year of his Administration.
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We have to try to leave behind us a stable and, hopefully, democratic Iraq. We are relying heavily on Mr. Brahimi to give some authority to the transitional administration and to ensure that it has a large measure of credibility and support among the population—more than the governing council, which was established by the provisional authority.

It is worth viewing the security threat in that light. The security threat comes in part from criminal gangs, in part from supporters of the old regime and in part from Islamic terrorism. The latter is, to some extent, sustained by Shi'ite clerics and by outsiders, but it also has overtones of nationalism—resentment of the presence of American troops. If the new authority has greater credibility and support, the security threat will diminish. Arabs, and Iraqis in particular, will deeply resent terrorists killing other Iraqis who have the support of the local population. Now the killers' excuse is that the governing council is the puppet of the United States and that its members are collaborators.

I do not buy that as a reason for killing them, but nevertheless I accept that it may have some political resonance. If the governing council, which clearly has the support of the people, is moving towards the implementation of a constitution and preparations for elections within a year or so, there is a chance that the security threat will diminish. Iraqi security forces will increasingly have the authority and political support to deal with the threat. If terrorism is seen as an attack on home-grown politicians, they will have the backing of the population of their home country in trying to deal with it.

It is difficult to see that happening without the presence of coalition forces beyond 1 July. We said that we would leave soon after that date, but I hope that we did not mean what we said, because there would be no chance of leaving behind us a stable Iraq. There are clearly forces bent on chaos or civil war, which is not in our interests and will certainly not send the right message to the region. As for sending more forces to Iraq, I would expect that to be done only if our military commanders wanted it. They should be sent only to the Iraqi region for which we are responsible and should be deployed in sufficient numbers to be commanded by a senior British officer, not parcelled out among other commands in Iraq.

If the threat is reduced, there is a chance of achieving stability in the region, which is a prize worth hanging on to for a bit longer. To those who say that we should abandon the enterprise because it reinforces failure, I would reply that the consequences of failure, whether reinforced or not, are terrible for the credibility of British and American foreign policy; for the credibility of our threat to use force; and for our long-term objectives. If we back off now, the message across the region will be, "Britain and the United States do not like this at all, but they are not going to do anything about it." That message, however, will suggest to people in those countries who are in favour of democracy and human rights that there is no support outside the region for what they want to do, thus handing the region over to two forces—the forces of the status quo, which are undemocratic, corrupt and nepotistic, and the forces of extreme revolution in the hands of Mr. bin Laden and his supporters.
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It is worth reflecting on the consequences of abandoning our policy, both for us and for our alliance with the United States. If we leave the US alone in its enterprise it will probably retreat into isolationism. Most of Mr. Bush's critics in the House feared that he would pursue that policy when he was elected, but now they are criticising him for pursuing an interventionist policy abroad. British foreign policy and defence are built on our strong alliance with the United States and to abandon that alliance will leave us floundering in the middle of the Atlantic without the security of European defence co-operation, about which the present Government, the previous one and I share some scepticism. We have no alternative but to try to see the enterprise through and I believe that the objectives are worth pursuing.

4.58 pm

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab/Co-op): In that fateful vote on 18 March 2003, I supported the Government's deployment of troops. That was the first time ever that the House of Commons was allowed to vote on the deployment of troops and the Government should receive credit for that. It is also important to remember that they won that vote with a very substantial majority. Given subsequent events, however, some people have asked me whether I would vote the same way again. Two or three newspapers have phoned me to ask that very question, but I have not seen the results in print because—I suspect—they did not get the answer that they wanted.

I would do exactly the same again—I told them that—because those of us who voted in favour thought very long, hard and carefully before doing so and we knew exactly what we were doing.

Like all hon. Members and everyone beyond the House, I abhor the torture and humiliation of the Iraqi prisoners and I say so, but I also abhor the execution of Nick Berg. Not everyone says that, by the way; not everyone who condemns the other torture condemns that as well. However, the torture—albeit awful—is of a totally different order and extent to the vicious murder of thousands and the torture of many more by the Saddam Hussein regime, to which the mass graves testify.

Of course the situation in Iraq is difficult. There is sabotage by external terrorists who do not want us to succeed. Criminals are inevitably exploiting the situation. Thankfully, Iraqi opinion is turning against extremists and terrorists, and we should be pleased about that. I got the impression that the Liberal spokesman wants everything to go wrong to prove that he was right and so that he can say, "I told you so."

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