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Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con):
I am grateful to the House for allowing me to participate in this important debate. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) has said, this is one of our first opportunities to assess some of the spending commitments that have taken place not only this year,
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but in the past few years. I take issue with some of the concerns that have been raised by Government Members that, somehow, we are involved in a process of simply ticking off the accounts. We must go further than simply looking at the financial aspectsthe numbersto the decisions that lie behind them. Were those decisions correct? Could the objectives have been achieved quicker or cheaper if other decisions had been made instead?
Today, as I am sure all hon. Members are aware, is the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. This is an appropriate time to take stock of what has happened in that countrya moment to consider what has been achieved or not achievedand to measure the social and political progress that has been made. There are more than 200 UK dead. More than 2,300 American soldiers have been killed. More than 4,000 British soldiers have been injured.
We now know that there were no weapons of mass destruction, no missiles with 45-minute readiness and certainly no links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. In my view, it was a mistake to ignore the calls for a broader coalition to deal with Saddam Hussein. It was a mistake to disband the Iraqi military. Certainly, it was a mistake to try to link 9/11 with what was going on in Iraq. In my view, the invasion of Iraq, with the objective of helping to defeat terrorism, has only encouraged more terrorism and made the world a more unsafe place. Today's debate is about the sums involved, but those poor decisions have driven up the cost of our operations.
I do not argue about whether Saddam Hussein had to be dealt with, but as someone who has spent many years in the militaryserving not only in Kuwait, but in Bosnia and other placesI have questions about the manner in which we went about getting rid of him. The inadequate assessment of the initial threat, the poor justification for an attack and the appalling management of peacekeeping have all led to the rising costs that we are debating today.
We heard only last week that 800 troops will be removed from the British forces in Iraq. The suggestion is that we are doing well and achieving our objective, but Iraq is in a very poor condition. Three months after the elections, there is still no proper Government. On average, electricity is available in Baghdad for only four hours every day, and there is no adequate water supply or sewage systemafter the Americans have spent about $20 billion on the infrastructure.
Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): I know that the hon. Gentleman was not in the House when the decision was taken to invade Iraq, but as someone who has been to Iraq four times, including a week ago, may I ask him not to take as gospel everything that he reads in the newspapers? Clearly, the situation in the south and the north is very different from that in and around Baghdad. I do not recognise his description as applying to southern Iraq. In the south, effective regional and local government have been working for two or three years.
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, but Basra is working in isolation from Baghdad.
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There is no link or co-ordination with national Government. I shall suggest a possible solution, if the hon. Gentleman will bear with me.
The term "civil war" is being mentioned more and more. We have been encouraged by Ministers not to talk about it, yet that is what we are heading towards. We should debate it in the House. What would be the financial consequences for our involvement in Iraq? The elections there were a positive step forward, but they galvanised the parties and the electorate along religious lines and into their ethnic groups. Consequently, the new National Assembly is unable to agree on a Prime Minister and fill the political vacuum. Granted, in certain areas, initiatives have been taken, but in Basra and other places political power rests not just with the local councils, but with the militias. They have taken advantage of the political vacuum. People seek refuge with the militias in Basra and in many major towns because they are scared and do not feel they are being looked after by the official authorities. The British Government say there is no civil war, yet 1,300 civilians were killed last month alone. There are 60 attacks a day, on average, and about 30 bodies are found on the streets every day in Baghdad. How high must the daily death toll rise before the Minister acknowledges that Iraq is in a state of civil war?
The Minister spoke about contingency planning. I should like to know what will happen if the current plan is not adhered to. A comparison can be made with Bosnia and what happened in that countrythree distinct ethnic groups, opinions and differences suppressed by a dictator whose authority was strengthened by outside threats, and when the dictator was removed, the lid came off, opinions could be expressed and the result was civil war.
I have said previously in the Chamber that there is another possible solution to the situation in Iraq that we have not considered or put to the people of Iraqthat is, the managed partition of Iraq. It already exists. The hon. Member for North Durham says he has visited Iraq. If he has visited the Kurds in the north, he will know that they have their own Prime Minister. They even have their own airline. They are entirely segregated from the rest of Iraq and they have no intention of developing any stronger ties. They are quite happy to run their own affairs.
The Yugoslav model that we are trying to promote should be abandoned in favour of the Czechoslovakian model. Some form of velvet revolution should be promoted to allow segregation and the development of regional areas, including Basra.
I understand the hon. Gentleman's argument and I do not doubt that his motives are good, but do not the things that he proposesa velvet revolution and managed partitionpre-suppose a level of control and security that do not exist? How can those
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be brought about without first providing a secure environment in which such a political debate can properly take place?
Mr. Ellwood: It is not for me to decide anything. That is for the Iraqi people to decide. When I put the argument to the Minister before, he found it amusing and suggested that I was some kind of imperialist who wanted to go in and sort out Iraq's problems. He might remember the debate, and he knew perfectly well that that is not what I was pushing for. It is something that the Iraqis need to decide, but the option that I have mentioned has not been debated to the full. If we speak to the Kurds, Shi'ites and Sunnis, we find that it is an option that has not been pursued. It provides the blueprint for another solution, other than the civil war towards which we are now heading.
Mr. Ellwood: First, the Kurds were never asked. If we look at the constitution, we see that the regions are given an awful lot of autonomy. I am suggesting that that needs to be developed even further and that, where there is no segregation, exactly what happened in Bosnia will occur. If we remove the troops or money that are going into Bosnia, I am sorry to say that the area would be likely to return to civil war. I believe that to stick blindly to the initial plans created many years ago, having learned what we now know and when they are obviously failing, is to risk the efforts and, indeed, the funding that we have put in, as other countries have done, including Iraq.
I should like to finish on Afghanistan, which I had the opportunity to visit a couple of months back, and refer to the report of my right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot) and the Select Committee on Defence. Page 11, paragraph 18 states:
I think that the response was wanting. I put it to the Minister that this House deserves more detail than simply saying, "We would like a cheque for £1 billion over the next five years." Where will the money go, how will it be spent, where will it be invested and how will it help Afghanistan?
There has been a US-led counter-insurgency operation on the one hand and NATO operations on the other. The two are not working together. There are completely different lines of responsibility. Now that we have moved into south-west Afghanistan, we have already seen evidence of mission creep. We are in the Helmand area, but no sooner did the Norwegians in the north get themselves into a spot of trouble than the
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British, who are supposed to be based in the south-west, were airlifted north to bail them out of trouble. There is nothing wrong with thatit is exactly how things should workbut straight away, we are seen as a rapid reaction force for the whole of Afghanistan. If that is the case, fine, but it should be stipulated and made clear. Those involved should not say that we are in charge of one region and then provide extra tasks.
Are there enough troops in Afghanistan to do the job? We all want to support our troops, but we have sent 5,000 into southern Afghanistan to patrol and look after an area twice the size of Wales and somehow deal with the narcotics production and terrorism that are taking place there. That is wholly inadequate for what we are trying to achieve, and it is another example of how mission creep will play into the situation.
My time is running out and I appreciate that others want to speak. There are an awful lot of answers here, however, and I encourage the MOD, Ministers and so on to reconsider what our true objective is in Iraq and to clarify what we are doing in Afghanistan, for the benefit not only of those of us here who are dealing with the finances, but of the troops on the ground.
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