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Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): I appreciate that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was not a Member at the time, but will he confirm that the official view of the Conservative party was to support the Iraq war?

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: Yes, the hon. Gentleman is correct. Although that is not my view, it was the official view. However, even my right hon. and hon. Friends had reason to assume that the Prime Minister knew what he was talking about when he said that there was conclusive evidence of weapons of mass destruction and other threats, but that has been seen to be completely bogus.

One should go to war only in one of three circumstances: because one has been attacked, as we were in the Falklands; because one has a treaty obligation to another country, as was the case in 1939 when Poland was invaded; or in very rare circumstances when there is great international consensus, preferably, although not exclusively, expressed through the United Nations Security Council. Such circumstances arose at the time of the first Gulf war when we were able to put together a massive coalition.

I do not say that the United Nations must automatically give its approval. Nye Bevan, of all people, once said:

Of course, the United Nations is a fallible institution that is dependent on the will of its individual member states. However, we have gone to war at enormous cost to the Exchequer and more than 30,000 people have died, but we were not attacked, we were under no treaty obligation and there was not the proper degree of international legitimacy.

Now where do we go from here? I am conscious of the fact that we must look to the future if we are to reduce the huge burden, in terms of both manpower and cost. I do not argue that we should pull out right away because I was against the war. Indeed, in some respects, the opposite applies and I think that, having created this mess, we have a moral obligation to do our best to sort it out. But I have to say that the criterion that has to be applied is whether the continuing presence of British and US troops is making a useful and viable contribution, not only to today and tomorrow but to the eventual stability of that unhappy country.
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There is a fundamental flaw in one aspect of the approach by the British and US Governments. The Secretary of State for Defence confirmed recently that the approach was gradually to hand over to the Iraqi national forces, the police and the army, and then withdraw our troops. In that way, it is hoped, everything will be for the best in the best of all possible worlds. In a normal situation in which one is assisting a Government who are fighting an insurgency, that would be a logical approach. The more the national Government increase their authority and the more they train their own army and police, the more they can be expected to deal with the insurgency themselves. But in the case of Iraq at this moment, that argument misses a fundamental consideration. This is not just an insurgency: it is an increasingly sectarian battle. There are three communities—Sunni, Shi'a and Kurd—all of whom have different interests and none of whom is committed to the concept of a single Iraq. The army and the police force in Iraq are also overwhelmingly Shi'a and Kurd. Therefore, the more powerful the police and the army become in Iraq, the less they are seen as safeguards by the Sunni minority and the more they are seen as an increasing threat to their interests. That is the fundamental inconsistency and why people are increasingly saying that there is no military solution to the problem. The solution, if there is one, has to be found in political terms, not in military terms.

I said that the situation in Iraq was the worst disaster for Britain since Suez, but it is the worst geopolitical problem for the US since Vietnam—indeed, including Vietnam, which already had an insurgency. Vietnam was already involved in a civil war before the Americans ever arrived. The Americans were trying to stop that civil war in the interests of the then Government in Saigon. The current crisis is entirely of our own making, and so far we have had five horsemen of the apocalypse. First, more than 35,000 people—Iraqis, Americans, British and others—have died. According to Mr. Allawi, some 50 or 60 more are killed every day. Secondly, we have in Baghdad, the most pro-Iranian Government that Iraq has had for 70 years, which was not one of the prime objectives of US foreign policy. Thirdly, the situation in Iraq is deeply Islamist rather than secularist. Saddam Hussein was a ghastly, vicious tyrant, but he was a secular tyrant. The current situation was no part of the American strategic objective. Fourthly, on terrorism, we have within Iraq—be it for al-Qaeda or other organisations—the greatest recruiting territory for terrorism since the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Finally, we have the drift into civil war.

I noticed that the Secretary of State for Defence said last week that civil war was not inevitable or imminent—an important choice of words. He did not say that it was unlikely. He said that it was not happening today, and it was not certain that it would happen tomorrow. But he knows as well as I do that the facts increasingly suggest otherwise. Indeed, the former Iraqi Prime Minister has said that the situation has already reached the point of civil war, and it is difficult to disprove that argument.

So where do we go from here? I have said that it looks increasingly as if there is no military solution. British troops are doing a fabulous job, but they will not sort out the insurgency in the foreseeable future, and we all
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know that. The problem is that our Prime Minister and the President of the United States are in denial. It is almost impossible to imagine a combination of circumstances that would now persuade either to acknowledge that it was all a terrible mistake. Whatever happens, they say that it is all part of the great plan, that everything is getting better and that we should just trust them. But the world does not trust them and nor should it.

A political solution is required with, first, a more convincing form of power-sharing in Iraq, recognising that Sunni fears and concerns cannot be met simply by a 20 per cent. formulaic share in the structure of government. We went through that process in Northern Ireland, where eventually, after many painful years, we realised that power-sharing had to mean precisely that in a substantive sense, if it was gradually to resolve the kind of problems that we all want to address. Power-sharing has to have substance, not form.

Secondly, the United States and the United Kingdom have to appreciate gradually that, although their withdrawal from Iraq will cause serious problems for the Iraqi Government, it will also remove one of the recruiting agents for those who are creating the insurgency. Arab Governments in the region must do far more than they have done until now to be part of the process of rebuilding Iraq and assisting the work of the democratic Iraqi Government.

Finally, although we all want a democratic Iraq, that will work only if a President Putin-type figure is in charge of Iraq. I am no fan of Vladimir Putin; some of the things that he has done in Russia have been very bad, but he took over at a period of great instability and fragmentation in Russia, and one of the reasons why he has become so popular with the Russian people—even if not with the rest of us—is that he created a sense of stability and authority. If Iraq could identify an individual who could be given that sort of presidential power, he would not be a dictator in the Saddam sense, although he might be more authoritarian than we or the United States would like.

That kind of political approach is the last chance for preventing the disintegration of Iraq. Without it, British troops will either be sucked in for an increasingly desperate period or they, and we, will have to conclude that it is approaching the hour when they will have to be brought home.

4.56 pm

Mr. Dai Havard (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab): First, I want to talk about the reasons for the debate. As a member of the Defence Committee, I think that Parliament needs to be involved in such processes. Doubtless, the Minister will find some of our proceedings uncomfortable and may tell me in the Tea Room that we have given a platform for tenuous and sometimes gratuitous general comments about Iraq and Afghanistan, rather than the main issue. But my answer to that is that Parliament needs to be involved, so that it can ventilate the issues.

Although I share much of the assessment made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen) of how wrongly things have been done in Iraq, they are not being done wrongly by the British. I am not in control of that Iraqi money. I cannot spend it;
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other people are doing that. My hon. Friend raised interesting questions, but we are talking about the money that we spend and give. That is under our control, which is why we need to discuss it. We might consider how others could do things better, but we also need to be clear about our own position. That is what we should debate—not how other people spend their money. It is tempting to give a spanking to the argument about elected dictatorships, but I shall not go into that.

The money that is being spent is supporting our troops—people who are trying to do a job. I have heard no one say that they do not want to spend that money. There may be arguments on the margins that the amount should be a little more, but the Defence Committee says that we need to support our people in their job. The money is being spent, and there are important arguments about how it is spent and about accountability, but we must be clear about the fact that we are supporting people on the ground.

I have visited Iraq and Afghanistan, sometimes in uniform—with the armed forces parliamentary scheme, so the House need not panic—and sometimes not. Talking to people on the street—if we can actually get on to the street—or talking to a couple of young men on the back of a donkey cart, we hear a different story. Of course, there is ambivalence about our being in Iraq, what we are doing and so on, but when we witness the day-to-day relationship of our forces with people in both Iraq and Afghanistan, it is not as it is often described.

Our forces want support at their elbow to do their job properly. Their motivation is clear. They are frustrated about obvious things such as being able to phone home, boots and all the usual stuff, but what they really want are the tools to do the job. Part of their frustration is about being able to engage in the civil-military interface, to provide appropriate support for civilians and the proper agencies of an emerging Government and other agencies. The people I spoke to have their own concerns, which include airlift capacity, armoured vehicles and their own protection and equipment, and they are right to raise those matters. They want a manoeuvre capability: they want to be able to get to where they need to go quickly, to be able to do the job, to be protected and to protect others, and to get away, and they need the equipment to do that.

I shall concentrate my comments on how we spend our money. A lot of concern has, rightly, been expressed about equipment. The report's comments on accelerated capital investment and spending are interesting, because that relates to the capacity to repair, supply, provide, maintain and deliver the equipment that people require to do the job. I am worried that, although we have known for some time that there are problems in some of those areas and although we have continuing conflicts in two places, we have not been able to predict requirements. The Minister has had the opportunity to do this, so he knows that ordinary people doing the job on the ground will say that that is the problem: they need more certainty and better planning. The fact that there are not enough Warrior armoured vehicles—that is what is claimed—and that
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there are problems maintaining and supplying them should now be able to be predicted because the problems were identified some time ago.

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