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Westminster Hall

Wednesday 25 October 2006

[Mrs. Janet Dean in the Chair]

Troop Withdrawal (Iraq)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Roy.]

9.30 am

Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): In the next hour and a half we will debate whether it is time to bring our troops home from Iraq. I am grateful for this opportunity to raise such an important matter that is of grave concern to my constituents and their families, and I am grateful that the Minister will be responding.

This is surely a debate that we should be having not in this ante-Chamber, but on the Floor of the House on a Government motion that sets out their strategy. We have had a vote on the commencement of military action and after three and a half years surely we should have a vote on whether it is time to end it. In the next few weeks or months, Prime Minister al-Maliki will put the question of an extension to the coalition’s mandate, which runs out on 31 December this year, to a vote in the Iraqi National Assembly. Some Iraqi politicians argue for a two-year extension and some for a year with an option for renewal. The UN Security Council will be invited to support an extension to the mandate. The Iraqi politicians will vote, diplomats will vote and it seems only right and proper that the elected representatives of the people whose fate is being decided should also be allowed to vote.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): On that important point, does the hon. Gentleman know that when challenged to provide such a debate, the Leader of the House said that there was no time before Prorogation and that he hoped the Opposition would choose foreign affairs as the subject for a debate on the Queen’s Speech? That would mean we would not have a vote on a motion and the subject would range widely. Surely, between now and Prorogation it would be easy to schedule some Lords amendments for after the moment of interruption on a Wednesday and free up a Tuesday to have this debate on the Floor of the House in Government time and with a proper motion.

Adam Price: Absolutely. That is a strong point. It is surely not incumbent on the Opposition to provide the opportunity for us to have this vital debate—it should be on the initiative of the Government. The House has not had a full debate with a vote on Government policy on Iraq since the war began. Congress had a debate as recently as June, which led to the creation of the Iraq Survey Group under the chairmanship of James Baker, about which we have read so much recently. Here, we are simply told by the Prime Minister that there is no shift in the policy or change in the strategy. What policy? What strategy? If the Government have a
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timetable with concrete objectives, it is time they presented it to Parliament so that we can debate it.

The sad state of affairs is that our political leaders are hostages to American policy and are too frightened to say anything that might pre-empt what President Bush might say or do.

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if the US Government decide to withdraw troops, the decision would effectively be made for the UK Government?

Adam Price: Absolutely. If President Bush says invade, we say invade; if he says withdraw, we say withdraw. It is about time that Ministers stopped playing follow the leader and started showing some moral courage.

Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): I am listening to the hon. Gentleman’s arguments with great interest. Does he not think that it is revealing that on 10 July last year, The Mail on Sunday published what was essentially the operational order for the withdrawal by last Christmas of British troops almost in their entirety? One can only assume that American pressure did not allow that to happen.

Adam Price: Indeed. Unfortunately we learn more through leaks to the papers and odd, unscripted, off-the-cuff remarks from certain senior military figures than we ever do from the Government speaking on the Floor of the House. That is the sad reality. The hon. Gentleman also makes a wider point that unfortunately we have ceded our autonomy on policy on the Iraq war to the US almost entirely. Surely that has to change.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): I am listening to the hon. Gentleman carefully. He is a little political in his speech so far. I am sure that he will want to address carefully the thing that has actually changed: how a withdrawal of troops can help minimise the loss of military and civilian lives in Iraq, secure a longer-term, more secure democracy in Iraq, and help to return trust and faith in this Parliament.

Adam Price: On the charge of bringing politics into this Chamber, I plead guilty, but let us turn to the core issue. My principal view is that the invasion was illegal and the fact that we “kicked in the door”, to use General Dannatt’s phrase, robbed us of the moral legitimacy and the practical capacity to rebuild the country we had destroyed. In those circumstances, the only sensible option is to withdraw our troops and find other more constructive ways of meeting our obligations to the Iraqi people.

There are those, including people who opposed the war, who have argued that we have a responsibility to stay in Iraq to clear up the mess we have created. Although I disagree with that analysis, I accept that it is an entirely honourable position.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): My hon. Friend will recall that some 14 months ago I went out to Iraq and came back believing that a withdrawal should be events-led. Since then, we have
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seen no events to give a firm indication that things are improving. Therefore, I agree with his arguments and have changed my view.

Adam Price: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s candour. There has been a debate in our party and a range of views was expressed. As I said, it is an entirely honourable position to argue that we should stay to clear up the mess we created, as long as the occupation has any realistic or conceivable chance of success, but that opportunity is long gone.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): John Humphrys on the radio this morning said that if British troops were to leave, there would almost certainly be civil war and the country would split up into several different parts. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the integrity of Iraq is an important principle, or would he be happy to see the country segregated?

Adam Price: As the Foreign Secretary has said: it is ultimately a matter for the people of Iraq, and they must have self-determination in that. I will return to the issue of civil war, but I think that it has already arrived. Sadly, that is the daily reality on the ground in Iraq. On partition, it is in no one’s interests to see a bloody partition in Iraq. That is clear. In the constitution, a three-state model is in effect already emerging. Unfortunately, the Shi’a political leadership has alienated the Sunni minority by unilaterally announcing the creation of a super Shi’ite region in the south-east, so partition is already happening.

Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): Does my hon. Friend also accept that the Iraq Study Group seems to be moving towards discussing the break-up of Iraq and the involvement of Turkey, Iran and Syria in its affairs? That is in some ways very dangerous, especially for the Kurdish region with its history between the Kurds and the Turks. Does he agree that for political reasons the Americans are already moving towards that?

Adam Price: There is a case for a regional security conference involving the major powers in the region, but that would clearly also be fraught with geo-political difficulty, not least for the US because it would be forced to speak to the former members of the axis of evil. Certainly, anything that can address border security along the western and eastern borders is welcome. The southern and northern borders are secure. The Saudis have built a 550-mile electric fence along the border to the south. Sadly, that is not the case to the west and east.

My view is that whether we stay or go, it is clear, unfortunately, that Iraq will remain at war with itself for some time to come. The question is whether extricating ourselves now would lead to further escalation of the violence. None of us can say for sure what would happen, but if we are no longer sure whether British servicemen and women putting their lives at risk day in, day out, does more harm than good, we have to ask ourselves seriously whether we should be there at all.

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One thing is certain in my mind: the war is no longer winnable in any meaningful sense of the word. Of course, that is difficult for Bush and the Prime Minister, because it means admitting that their policy has failed. That is why, to use Bob Woodward’s phrase, they have been in a “state of denial”. Staying the course has been a policy based on self-deception. The policy prescription has been based on paralysis and an inability to face uncomfortable facts. The first thing that we need in this discussion, therefore, is some honesty and humility from the Government—an admission that the policy to date has failed and the strategy has been disastrous.

The Government said that we were in Iraq to prevent civil war, but if what is happening now is not civil war, I do not know what is. The number of bodies processed in the central Baghdad morgue in May 2006 was double that for May 2005, and the May figure has been surpassed by the figures for July, August and September. The figure for October will probably be even worse again. The number of daily strikes against Americans doubled in the first six months of this year and has increased even further in the months since. The latest information, for this month, is that the average number of reported Iraqi deaths is 41 a day. However, the United Nations says that, because of under-reporting, the actual number is probably closer to 100 a day.

There are more bombs, and the bombs are bigger and more sophisticated, killing more people than ever. It is not just me saying that. According to a senior US Department of Defence official quoted in The New York Times:

It is no wonder that many Iraqis now say that life is worse for them than it was under Saddam. We will listen carefully to the Minister’s words for an acknowledgement that the situation in Iraq is nothing less than terrible.

Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman recall that the reason for going to Iraq was not to remove a dictator, but because weapons of mass destruction were going to be sent within 45 minutes and potentially would hit British interests in Cyprus or wherever? Will he also reflect on the fact that the General Officer Commanding suggested recently that the presence of British troops was a factor causing the violence that is now taking place? That being the case, does it not strengthen the argument for withdrawal?

Adam Price: Absolutely. That is the critical point. I accept that statement. The original delusion or deception, depending on one’s interpretation, that was at the heart of the Government’s war policy has followed through into self-delusion and deception in their description of how the occupation has proceeded. What we need now is clarity and honesty from the Government about how terrible the situation is.

There have been so many turning points. We have been given promises about the occupation. We were told that the violent opposition would end as soon as Saddam was captured. We were told that the situation would improve once there were elections, then once
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there was a constitution, then once there was a Government and then once Zarqawi was killed. All those things have happened, yet the situation has only deteriorated. The longer we stay, the worse it gets. The lesson is clear. As the hon. Gentleman said, we cannot become the cure if we are the source of the problem, and every day we stay we make a bad situation worse. General Dannatt is not alone in those views.

Patrick Mercer: In January 2004, when I first went to Iraq, to a relatively peaceful part of Maysan province, the Shi’a people there said to me, “Things are fine and they will improve as long as you, the allies, can guarantee security. If you can’t, we will face what amounts to a civil war.” In a very good piece on the radio this morning, which has been mentioned, John Humphrys said exactly that. Security has not been guaranteed and the situation is deteriorating. Without troops, how do people have security?

Adam Price: The hon. Gentleman is right. However, it is in the nature of military occupation that there is a time-limited window of opportunity, beyond which, even if people were welcomed at first, the relationship between occupier and occupied begins to sour. My reading of General Dannatt’s thesis is that we have gone beyond that point, and at some point the situation becomes irredeemable.

As I said, General Dannatt is not alone in his view. The Los Angeles Times reported in October last year that some US generals believed that

The most recent demonstration of that has been the massive two-month sweep in Baghdad, Operation Together Forward, which even US General William Caldwell acknowledges to have been a failure, with a 43 per cent. increase in attacks against the US since midsummer. Where we retreat—in Amarah or, for the Americans, in Balad—violence erupts, but where we return to the streets, even worse violence erupts, because our presence provides the insurgents with a target and a reason for increasing their attacks.

Polls from the US State Department show decisively that a majority of Iraqis, whether Sunni or Shi’a, want US and coalition troops to leave Iraq immediately; that they feel less safe as a result of the occupation; and that they think the occupation is spurring, not suppressing, sectarian strife. In short, if the decision were up to ordinary Iraqis, the occupation would end. As we saw from the opinion polls yesterday, if it were up to ordinary people in this country, the occupation would end. For a war allegedly fought in the name of democracy, the willingness of the Government to frustrate the will of the people, whether in Iraq or in this country, is breathtaking.

We are part of the problem. We are not the whole problem, because the Iraqi security forces meant to replace us are, unfortunately, part of the problem, too.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): In recognising the bravery and distinction of the troops who have been sent to Iraq in our name, an ever-growing number of them, many of whom I represent, feel that they have
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been put in an invidious situation and wish for proper political leadership, rather than the donkeys who sent them into an illegal conflict in the first place.

Adam Price: I have to agree, having spoken to servicemen and women and their families in my constituency. I am not a military man, but it is not sustainable at a human level, when we talk about people on their third deployment, to think about the occupation continuing for years.

On the Iraqi security forces, new reports from about 2004 onwards have suggested that the US trained and supported Iraqi commando brigades—the Wolf Brigade and the special police commandos being the pre-eminent examples—and that elements of those brigades operated as death squads by abducting and assassinating thousands of Iraqis in extra-judicial killings.

Earlier this month, we read that the 8th Iraqi police unit was responsible for the kidnapping on 1 October of 26 Sunni food factory workers in the Amil quarter of south-west Baghdad, of whom seven were shot dead. Ministry of Interior vehicles were used in that kidnapping, and most of the men wore Iraqi police uniforms. Minister Al-Bolani has suspended the police unit from official duties and confined its members to base for the time being, but instead of facing punishment, according to Adnan Thabit, the director-general of the Iraqi police, they are

It was UK policy to train and recruit the militia into the security forces. There was no infiltration: we invited them in. The evidence of the Ministry of Defence to the Select Committee on Defence in 2004 was:

We know that the United States trained the special forces within the Ministry of Interior under the Salvador option, which was so called because they were trained up by Colonel James Steele, commander of the US military advisory group when the CIA trained the death squads in central America. In the light of that, how did the Minister come to tell the Defence Committee last year:

How much of an indication of that does he need? People have been found tortured in secret Ministry of Interior jails, and half of the police in Sadr city have pictures of Moqtada al-Sadr on their patrol cars. Almost every time a Sunni gets abducted it is by people in uniform. Far from acting as a brake on sectarian violence, the policies that we have pursued have helped to ferment it. I will be interested to hear the Minister’s response on that.

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