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Mr. Keetch: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the alleged WMD containing sarin nerve gas was—according to General Kimmitt—found several days ago? It was a very small shell, it was ineffective and whoever rigged the round to explode appears not to have known that it contained a nerve agent. That is hardly the kind of weapon that we were warned about in the run-up to war.

Mr. Kilfoyle: No, it is not, but many of us argued not only about the definition of weapons of mass destruction, but the likelihood that any would be found anywhere in Iraq, given that we had been bombing them for so many years and had taken out any worthwhile defence and military facility. That is not to say, "I told you so"—it is a matter of record.

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend reflect on what the Foreign Secretary said about the fact that Saddam had a choice? He could either give up his weapons of mass destruction or be deposed. The logical conclusion is that if he had given up his weapons of mass destruction we would not have deposed him and he would still be there under the sufferance of the British Government. In those circumstances, how can it possibly be argued that WMD were our principal reason for going to war?

Mr. Kilfoyle: I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. Like the Foreign Secretary, he is a lawyer, and he is used to the contortions of that sort of legalistic argument, which does not hold any logic for reasonable people. More importantly, as is evidenced by poll after poll, it does not convince the people of this country, who are less confused than the Government appear to be.

The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) commented on the number of Iraqi dead. When I tabled questions about that to the Ministry of Defence, I received a rather brusque answer. We all get used to being told, in effect, to mind our own business. I was given the same dismissive response when I asked about liaisons with non-governmental organisations that attempt to gauge civilian casualties in such conflicts. I was left with the clear impression that the issue is an irrelevancy. I do not consider the death of anybody, civilian or soldier, an irrelevancy to be marked by that sort of answer.

As it stands, the perception of our own efforts in Iraq is inextricably linked with the impressions of the American military. I do not think for one moment that our soldiers are guilty of the systematic and systemic abuse that seems to be the case with American troops, but that is not how it will seem to people on the ground. We should dispense once and for all with the myth that people who point to such abuses are endangering our troops. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) said, the logic of that is that we should all keep quiet. People who knew about the holocaust kept quiet, and it went on regardless. When abuse takes place, it is one's duty as a citizen, an individual and an elected representative to speak out about it—it cannot be hidden.
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Where do we go from here, given that we are in this mess and have to deal with this shambles? I am not one of those who believe, as was suggested earlier, that my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) had called for an immediate withdrawal—he did not. His argument was clear and unequivocal, and I tend to agree with it. There should be a clear timetable for withdrawal. As the Government are so keen on targets, I do not see why we could not set a target for our withdrawal by saying that it would take place after the election of a Government in January.

Alongside that, we should take a firm view on engaging further troops in the field. As The Independent remarked today, putting troops in because commanders on the ground deem it necessary in order to conduct necessary operations within their current remit or to effect their withdrawal is different from an American commander asking for more troops to make up for shortfalls elsewhere. If the Americans want more troops, let them put them in. I hope to heaven that that is not needed, but we should not widen the remit of our soldiers' existing commitments in Iraq.

If we are to get any sense of where we need to go in this horrible situation in which we find ourselves, the most important prerequisite is for the Government to come out of denial and recognise that what they did was wrong. They might have done it for the best of reasons—their case involves a lot of post facto rationalisation which does not convince many in this House, and is not convincing the British people—but there is nothing wrong with saying, "We may have gone down a certain road with the best of intentions, but let's recognise that we got it wrong and need to go in a different direction." As long as they maintain the myths about weapons of mass destruction—as do Conservative Front Benchers—and keep trying to justify the unjustifiable, they will only find themselves deeper and deeper in the morass.

5.49 pm

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): My contribution will refer to the opinions of young soldiers who have just returned from Basra and to my beliefs about insurgents, militias and radical clerics, whether from outside or inside Iraq.

Last week, some of my daughter's former school friends returned from Basra on leave. I was privy to their conversations but did not take part as I was keen to listen to what the young people were saying. They were pleased to be home and said that although life in Basra was difficult, things had got significantly better during their tour of duty. They described the difficulties, but equally they talked about the other side of things—they said that they were winning hearts and minds and felt more and more involved with the ordinary, everyday life of the Basra community. They were known and welcomed by local people.

I found the conversation interesting because I rarely hear such comments either in the press or in the House. One of those young people was 21 and the other was 23; they showed no fear about returning to Iraq and said that they would be pleased to go back after their six-week leave. They made it clear that the children and
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young people would be waiting for them to take part in tournaments, football matches and all sorts of everyday community activities.

The British armed forces are exceptional in their involvement in the development of stable communities, with the Iraqis determining how that activity will be undertaken. Although I have not been to Iraq I have visited Bosnia, where ordinary folk told us again and again, "Please keep your armed forces here, they have given many of us the belief that our grandchildren will be able to grow up in our country."

In their conversation with my daughter, those young people were making it clear that they are developing peaceful relationships with ordinary people that will endure. They would appreciate it if that were recognised. Of course, they are not involved with the prison service; they are based in Basra and Umm Qasr, working with ordinary people. I was pleased to hear them say that they were looking forward to their return to Iraq.

It is not just young people who are making such statements. I have a close colleague in the Territorial Army, who is somewhat older than those young people. He, too, has served in Iraq, in a medical team, and he told me that on the whole the coalition forces and their activities were warmly welcomed. Although, obviously, there were inordinate difficulties, Britain was seen as a fair nation; when things went wrong they were investigated and appropriate action was taken. People did not talk about the creation of a sovereign state, but it was clear to him that Britain's involvement was helping them to believe that one day the rule of law would be established and their lives would be secure.

I have always been involved with the British armed forces and their deployment, so it saddens me to hear so much criticism yet so few references to the value that we give in so many countries in so many parts of the world. Of course, I do not underestimate the grave consequences of acts perpetrated by a few who, whether in communities or in prisons, carry out indecent and disgraceful acts. That is not just a dereliction of duty; those people bring disgrace to the armed forces and to our country. However, those disgusting and unauthorised acts are perpetrated by only a few and it is my belief that, ultimately, they will not undermine the ability of our coalition troops to create—as they did in the Balkans—an open, law-abiding society.

I also want to refer to the acts of the insurgents, some of whom have connections with al-Qaeda, radical Shi'a clerics or Islamist extremists. They are determined to scupper the introduction of the rule of law or an open democracy, because they know that, in such a society, they would have to pitch in and fight for the support of ordinary folk, and they would not get that support. Al-Sadr and his Jaish-al-Mahdi militia are a fierce fighting force, as everyone with military connections is aware.

Norman Lamb (North Norfolk) (LD): The hon. Lady refers to the rule of law, but is not the coalition's case for the importance of the rule of law undermined when the United States fails to respect the Geneva conventions in Guantanamo bay and when we hear reports that the
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abuse of prisoners may not have been isolated acts but part of a wider culture with links high in the US Administration?

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