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Ms Taylor: I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman says, but I am not prepared to say that such behaviour is part of the way of life or conduct of the British armed forces. I am dismayed by those serious allegations against the Americans.

Our forces know that al-Sadr and his militia are laying in wait for them and will ambush them. People outside understand that, but we need to say it in this place, too. Such militias will bomb our forces indiscriminately with rocket-propelled grenades. They whip up emotion and manipulate the poor to fight with them and die for "Moqtada". Our very young British forces have to fight against such people and win hearts and minds in their communities. We cannot hold discussions and negotiate with those insurgents; they will not even talk to moderate Shi'a clerics. They want only to deliver their own agenda—for them that is the only agenda.

Our armed forces are young, but they are extremely professional and competent and I hope that everyone in the House will make that statement again and again. I hope that on 30 June we shall see the establishment of an Iraqi governing force. I hope that reconstruction will take place with United Nations involvement. However, it is important to remind the House that we deployed a NATO force in the Balkans because the UN was unable to deliver peace in that region. When we talk about the value of the United Nations we should also acknowledge that there is no easy way to deliver peace in such countries; only a serious, careful and constructive force can deliver.

I believe that we were right to deploy and I hope that in years to come—perhaps in only a year—we shall see significant benefits. Our troops can see them now; let us acknowledge that fact.

5.59 pm

Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Lab): I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) that our debates on Iraq put a terribly optimistic gloss on the situation in that country—an interpretation that is quite different from what we hear at public meetings and in discussions with groups of citizens all over our country. People are extremely worried about the situation in Iraq; they understand that things are deteriorating and becoming more violent and that insurgency is spreading to the south and will endanger our troops. Yet, in this place, the discussion is complacent, as though we are talking about a few local difficulties and if we carry on as we are everything will be all right.

That is deeply worrying, because the situation is getting worse, and it is not all right. We need a responsible exit strategy in the interests of our troops and the people of Iraq.

I must say that the way in which the Secretary of State for Defence dealt with the question about the failure to make any calculations concerning the number of Iraqi civilian deaths was disgraceful. As everybody who takes a responsible view of these matters knows, Iraq Body Count is trying to make such an estimate and is looking
 
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at more than one published source to try to reach an accurate figure. Its estimate—it recognises that it cannot be totally accurate—is that as many as 11,000 Iraqi civilians have lost their lives, and the numbers go on rising. On top of that, 6,000 to 8,000 Iraqi soldiers died in the war, and many of them were young conscripts. More than 700 United States troops and civilian workers who worked in their support have died, as have 67 UK troops, including some civilians who were working in their support.

Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD): Does the right hon. Lady agree that the Secretary of State mischievously confused two things—making an assessment of Iraqi casualties, and making an assessment of Iraqi casualties in circumstances in which British officers would be put at risk? They are two quite different things, and not doing one is not a case for not doing the other.

Clare Short: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. To say that we can only go in to count the casualties after we have escaped from danger is to make a joke out of a very serious matter. The truth is that, when our political leaders speak, they too often express more distress when the person killed is from our armed forces, or an ally, appearing to belittle the loss of life among Iraqi civilians. That is quite wrong and very dangerous. The failure to count the number of civilian deaths is part of that. Obviously, it is possible to see how many people went to hospital, how many people lost their lives and how many people were buried. It is possible to make estimates which, while they would not be entirely accurate, would suggest that we were taking the situation seriously.

There is another aspect of the debate in the Chamber, but not in the country, that I find enormously worrying. In the country, there is an intense political mood and more interest in debating politics than I have seen for a very long time, but there is derision about Westminster. People are buying political books, having political discussions and attending meetings while despising what goes on in this Chamber. We in this Chamber should look at ourselves and listen more carefully to what people out in the country are saying.

Hon. Members repeatedly say that we must not turn away from the Iraqi people and go when the job is half done. But what are the Iraqi people telling us? They are making their views clear in poll after poll conducted by responsible American organisations. I should have thought that any poll taken in Iraq would have an urban bias and would not reflect the views of the poor who are not on the phone. The polls show that, while the overwhelming majority of people are glad that Saddam Hussein has gone, they think that the situation in their daily lives is worse than it was when he was there. We should be shamed by that and take it seriously, because that is what the Iraqi people are telling us. They are also now saying—it is a change in their position—that they want the coalition to leave immediately. That is what they say in response to polling undertaken by responsible American organisations. It is a little odd for Members of this place to say that we must behave responsibly towards the Iraqi people and stay when the people of Iraq say that they would like us to go. I do not mean that we should just walk away and leave chaos
 
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behind, but we should look for a rapid exit strategy. That is what the Iraqi people want us to do, and it is what we should do.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes): those of us who had strong views about the rush to war should not say that we have been vindicated by the mess that there is now in Iraq. We have to go forward from the situation we are in. In response to the cheap remarks from the shadow Foreign Secretary, let me say that although, as everyone knows, I was very critical of the rush to war, like the Liberal Democrats' spokesman on defence I was not against the threat of the use of force. I thought that it was necessary to threaten the use of force and to be willing to contemplate using it to back up the authority of the United Nations. However, under the doctrine of just war—both the legal teaching and the Christian teaching, which is very like Islamic teaching—we should have exhausted all other means. We did not exhaust all other means, so I was prepared to leave the Government. I said that I would leave the Government, but I was persuaded by the Prime Minister—he pleaded with me—to stay, in order to help with the reconstruction. We reached an agreement on the basis of three things.

The first of those things was publication of the road map, and the Prime Minister used the threat of resignations to get the road map published. We now know that the process was not sincere, but the position looked more hopeful at the time. I was also promised a UN mandate for reconstruction and that we would internationalise reconstruction. I left the Government when those promises were broken. I make the point now not so that I can talk about my position, but to make the House face the reasons for our difficulties with the UN's authority in Iraq.

The difficulties did not arise because the UN failed. When hon. Members talk of the UN failing because members of the Security Council cannot reach agreement, they distort reality. The UN Security Council is an instrument of its members and it cannot make decisions if its members will not come together and agree internationally on how to move forward.

The UN was ready and had made preparations to take the lead in helping the Iraqi people create an interim Government, as it had helped in Afghanistan, Mozambique, East Timor and Kosovo. That is the international system for post-conflict situations. However, the United States was not willing to give the UN the authority that it normally has—as, for example, in Afghanistan—in selecting the Iraqi interim Government. The UN was put in a subservient position, and the Security Council did not want another row because the UN's authority was already being diminished. The Security Council allowed the US to have another resolution, but it was told that it would not have international support on that basis.

The lesson is that there must be a sincere commitment to giving the UN the proper authority. Then we should say that we will leave as soon as possible, and whenever a legitimate Iraqi Government ask that of us. Under the auspices of the UN, we should be replaced in Iraq by international forces who will come in under a proper
 
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mandate. The Pakistanis have made it clear that they would accept that, and the Spanish withdrew because there was not a proper UN mandate.

We need a responsible exit strategy for the sake of the people of Iraq and for the sake of our soldiers. Instead of that strategy, what we have is vague talk about a "vital role" for the UN. Those words were given to us after President Bush visited Hillsborough, but meant nothing because we had a UN resolution for post-conflict Iraq that put the UN in a subservient position. Poor old Sergio Vieira de Mello went in against his better instincts to take on the role and lost his life.

We must mean it when we say that we will give the coalition's authority away, and we must make it clear that we want to leave. The Iraqis do not believe that that is our wish. They have read the work of the Project for the New American Century and seen that, before they took office, senior figures in the Bush Administration wanted permanent bases in Iraq. The situation is serious and deteriorating and our Government are not putting forward a responsible exit strategy. If we fail to get out and the quagmire gets ever worse, we will rue the day.

6.8 pm


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