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That is just one of the issues to be tackled. Other hon. Members have set out many more. We should be grateful for the Minister’s recognition of at least that point, but that one concession does not amount to a strategy, and we need one fast.

The mid-term elections in the United States next week will set the scene for the report of the Iraq study group, which is expected between then and the end of the year. Are we just to accept the position passively, or will there be a proper debate here as well? The shadow Foreign Secretary has already indicated that there will be the traditional international affairs debate following the Queen’s Speech in a couple of weeks. That debate will offer some scope for hearing more from the Government, but given that so many other issues are pressing at the moment—the middle east, Darfur, North Korea, Iran and Afghanistan—it will surely not be enough. The Government should thus either set aside an extra day for debate after the Queen’s Speech, or provide time for a separate debate on a substantive motion in the very near future.

General Dannatt put it in bald terms. He said that we should

He also said:

His comments acknowledge that whatever our substantial obligations to the Iraqi people to sort out the mess that we helped to create in their country, ultimately our responsibilities are to our armed forces, who put their lives on the line. We need to be able to show that in doing so they are following a strategy that is clear and deliverable. We need to take account of what is happening in the USA and prepare an appropriate British strategy. That strategy has to recognise the worsening realities in Iraq; it has to appreciate the situation of our armed forces as described by General Dannatt and supported by many ex-Chiefs of the Defence Staff; and it has to amount to a plan for a phased withdrawal of British troops in months, not years.

5.50 pm

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): I enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore), who was speaking for the Liberal Democrats, save that in not a single
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sentence did it address the motion. He read out what General Dannatt said and told us that we need a phased withdrawal, but the motion under debate tonight has only one thing at its core: a sectarian proposition by the Scottish National party inviting this House to do, not what the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) suggested and examine over the next 12 months the desirability of having such an inquiry, but to resolve tonight to set up an inquiry involving seven Privy Councillors of this House. I am not making a job application for one of those slots because I agree with the shadow Foreign Secretary that there are other Privy Councillors, outside the House, who could make a useful contribution.

I also agree that we need a debate on our policy in Iraq and the broader middle east. I would have been happy to see Parliament recalled in September. I would have been happy if last Monday, when we had some trivial Opposition day debate that attracted about four or five dozen Opposition Members, had been devoted to Iraq. The principal Opposition party could give a whole day to the subject, not just the three brief hours that the Scottish National party has obtained today. I appeal to my Front-Bench colleagues to make that time available.

We have had a great deal of debate, however. What we have not had is agreement in this House that the position—toppling Saddam Hussein and going in to help the Iraqi people hold elections for a democratic Government—involved a decision with which some in the House fundamentally disagree.

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. MacShane: With the time limits that have been set, I would rather not.

We had a vote at the time on that policy, and we then had a general election, so we have had the democratic mandate of both this House and the people on the question of intervening in Iraq.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. MacShane: Will hon. Members forgive me if do not give way because of the time limits?

We now have a very odd position in which the Members who tabled the motion—not the amendment that was not selected—have invited Members to forget party affiliation and vote across party lines. I am fairly sure that some of my right hon. and hon. Friends will accept that invitation. I put it to Opposition parties that they consider my invitation not to indulge the Scottish National party by voting for the substantive motion, the only one before us tonight.

I agree that Iraq poses an enormous challenge and great difficulties. At times, the present Secretary of Defence in America may be to President Bush what Senator Varus was to the Emperor Augustus. I invite the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) to interpret that bit of Roman history, but he is too busy writing articles explaining why Iran should have nuclear weapons—whether that is the official Conservative policy I do not know.

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Tonight we face a serious parliamentary decision. Do hon. Members who dislike this Government and believe that the duty of Her Majesty’s Opposition is simply to oppose go into the Lobby, lock, stock and barrel, with the party that opposed our intervention in Kosovo and would have left Milosevic in power, and opposed our intervention in Iraq and would have left Saddam in power—the party that has not found any tyrant or despot around the world that it is not willing to support as long as he is anti-American and anti-western?

We are combating a new axis. It is an axis of insurgency, of jihadi fundamentalism—what Joschka Fischer has called the new totalitarianism—and, of course, of terrorism. I invite some hon. Members not to join the axis of opportunism offered by the Scottish nationalists this evening.

We need a broader debate, one in which many voices can be heard in this House. I read with admiration contributions on this matter from the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind). I read last week in The Guardian a very good contribution from the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring). I read the wise statements of the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram). There are people making serious contributions on the need for a whole new approach to Iraq and the middle east region.

We have scores of thousands of troops of the western democracies engaged from the shores of Lebanon to the frontier mountains of Pakistan, trying to confront a situation that tactically and strategically we have not, I accept, got right. None the less, they are there at the invitation of Governments and under the authority of the United Nations.

Mr. Baron rose—

Mr. MacShane: I will not give way.

I do not understand why the United States will not talk to Iran. I do not understand why France will not talk to Syria. I do not understand why Syria will not have an embassy in Beirut. I do not understand why very few Arab Governments will have diplomatic relations with Israel or why Israel will not talk to the elected leaders of the Palestinian people. But when there is complete refusal, on our part as much as on that of some of the actors in the region, to indulge in jaw-jaw, alas there is an alternative. That is why I want to see my Government leading a political and diplomatic offensive to start talking to the people whom we do not like. In the end, one makes peace with one’s enemies, not one’s friends.

I conclude by inviting some fellow Members—not the Scottish nationalists, who have never supported any attempt to liberate people from tyranny and despotism for as long as I have been in this House—to have the honour of saying that they did not join this cheap anti-American crusade. I invite them not to call today for the Scottish nationalists’ committee of inquiry. The Member who moved the motion has already referred to this war as illegal and immoral; he has decided what the outcome of the committee of inquiry will be before it has even met.

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I invite some Members to say that this House does not have to follow the cheap partisan lines on offer tonight. I invite them to vote with their conscience for further debates and, some time in the next Parliament, when our men are out, for a full inquiry. We should not tonight lower the honour of the House, which has sent its men to support a democratically elected Government, now under full UN authorisation. We should say to the world that the British House of Commons knows the meaning of honour. Members should not go into the Lobby to vote for this cheap, sectarian motion of which the Scottish National party should be ashamed.

5.58 pm

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): The invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq was, in my view, a strategic, political and humanitarian blunder of historic magnitude. It was a strategic blunder because the traditional aim of British foreign policy over the centuries, the maintenance of a balance of power in each region where we have a national interest, has been destroyed in the middle east. It rested on the balancing of the triangular animosities of Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Iran—respectively secular, Sunni and Shi’a—each hostile to the other two. That is why when Iraq invaded Iran in the 1980s, and it looked as though Iran would win the war, Britain and the United States gave much support to Saddam Hussein, despite his being already a proven warmonger abroad and a murderous tyrant at home.

The major beneficiary of the overthrow of Saddam and his secular tyranny has been Shi’a, theocratic, nuclear Iran, a far greater threat to western interests today than Saddam was in 2003, with his by then non-existent weapons of mass destruction—the excuse for the invasion so shamefully advanced in the House by our Prime Minister, to his everlasting disgrace. I did not believe him then, and I voted against the invasion.

The occupation of Iraq by foreigners has made Iran the most potent political force in the middle east, as Hezbollah recently demonstrated in Lebanon, so the neo-cons, who had long been plotting an attack on Iraq, in the event achieved nothing for Israel, and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are more than ever fearful of Iran.

The invasion was a political blunder because the attack on Iraq divided the United Nations, divided NATO, divided the European Union, inflamed Islamic opinion against Britain at home and abroad, constrained British diplomatic influence and commercial success in the middle east and beyond, increased the influence of President Putin’s Russia, weakened the world economy by forcing up the price of oil and, at a significantly lower level of importance, has largely destroyed the political reputation of our Prime Minister.

The war was a humanitarian blunder because of the tragic deaths of so many British and American soldiers and the many more whose bodies have been maimed and whose lives have been ruined, and the sadness and suffering that that has brought to their families, which will stay with them for the rest of their lives. It was a humanitarian blunder also because of the countless and largely uncounted tens of thousands of wholly
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innocent non-combatant Iraqis—Shi’a, Sunni and Kurds—who have been slaughtered, mutilated, orphaned or robbed of their homes and livelihoods by reason of the chaos into which the invasion has plunged the country that was Iraq, but can never be Iraq again.

As a result of his tragic misjudgments in the middle east, our Prime Minister is, figuratively speaking, more deeply steeped in blood than any Scottish politician since Macbeth. We need an inquiry to tell us how he led us into this disaster, and to make sure that no vainglorious and ignorant Prime Minister can ever do so again.

6.3 pm

Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East) (Lab): Having asked the Leader of the House for a debate on the situation in Iraq, and having been disappointed at the time with his reply, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in today’s debate.

The situation in which we find ourselves in Iraq is serious and worsening, and the House of Commons has not given the matter adequate consideration. I was one of the Members of the House who voted against the war before it was launched in March 2003. We were wrong to go to war when we did. To be justified, military action must be absolutely the last resort, when all other options have been exhausted. The military action was launched in the name of ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, but the alternatives to war to achieve that aim had not been exhausted. The House will remember that the United Nations weapons inspectors were forced to leave Iraq before they had had the opportunity to complete their work.

Not only was the war unjustified, but it lacked the support of the international community. Having failed to get the support of the UN Security Council for a resolution authorising war, the US and UK went ahead and invaded anyway.

Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Central) (Lab): Since the invasion of Iraq, 2,800 American soldiers, 120 British soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed in this unnecessary, unjustified and illegal war. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the families of the victims in the United Kingdom and Iraq deserve to know what went wrong and what lessons should be learned from this tragic conflict?

Dr. Strang: I have no doubt that my hon. Friend is speaking for his constituents when he makes that statement, and I agree.

It was clear to me that launching this unjust and unauthorised war in the middle east would damage the coalition against international terrorism that had been put together since the atrocities of September 2001. I was also very concerned that invading Iraq could only help those violent extremists to turn new volunteers to their cause.

In September 2003 the Intelligence and Security Committee, of which I was then a member, published a report on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. We were
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able to make public that the Joint Intelligence Committee had said in February 2003 that al-Qaeda and associated groups continued to represent by far the greatest threat to western interests, and that that threat would be heightened by military action against Iraq.

As time has passed, those who support the invasion and occupation of Iraq have developed new and intriguing justifications for doing so, but none of them hold water. In recent months proponents of the war have argued that al-Qaeda was a force in Iraq prior to invasion, and that one of the justifications for invasion was to take on al-Qaeda in Iraq. That is just not true. In recent months it has been suggested that we had to go into Iraq because the US went in. That reflects an unsatisfactory analysis of the role of the UK in the world today. I am not sure whether the proponents of that argument think that being alongside the US in Iraq somehow gives us greater influence over US policy. Given the widespread recognition of the huge blunders that have been made following the invasion, surely that argument is also discredited.

To those of us who argued that the situation in Iraq has been fanning the flames of terrorism in Iraq and world wide, Ministers have countered that we are making an excuse for terrorist outrages. I know of no Member of Parliament who would ever excuse such atrocities, but the evidence is increasingly decisive that the action in Iraq is fuelling terror. The current reality is that the war in Iraq is not a war against international terrorism; it is a war that is feeding international terrorism.

The amendment tabled by the Government refers to improving conditions in Iraq. I have no doubt that my right hon. and hon. Friends sincerely want to see improved conditions in Iraq, but we must look at where we are after three and a half years—thousands and thousands of Iraqis killed in the escalating post-war violence, terrorist attacks and kidnappings proliferating, basic utilities unavailable or unreliable. The situation faced by the troops in Iraq is increasingly harsh. Over 3,000 have died in Iraq, 120 of them British. Rightly, much attention has been directed at the sectarian killings between Sunnis and Shi’as, and there are also rival Shi’a groups fighting each other, but we should not lose sight of the fact that much violence is directed against the foreign occupying forces, especially in Sunni areas such as Falluja.

I am concerned about the conditions of our service people. A constituent who came to my surgery to express her profound distress at Government policy in Iraq pointed out to me that soldiers went to the shops in Edinburgh to get decent footwear to take out to Iraq. The head of the Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, expressed his own concerns two weeks ago and warned that we must not break the Army on the operation in Iraq.

It is possible, as has been said, that some movement is taking place in the United States. Popular support for the US presence in Iraq is very low. The Vice-President, Dick Cheney, said yesterday that al-Qaeda is timing attacks to influence the mid-term elections. To me the fact that he said such a thing is an indication of the desperation in the pro-war leadership of the Republican party. Obviously, it is my profound hope that the outcome of the elections will lead to a real reappraisal of the situation in Iraq.

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General Sir Richard Dannatt gave a most illuminating insight a fortnight ago, when he advised that we should

After all the damage that we are responsible for in Iraq, I would not suggest that we can wash our hands of the future of the Iraqi people, but we must address the question of the extent to which the presence of British forces is part of the problem, and the change of policy that we clearly need to adopt in Iraq must reflect that assessment.

In conclusion, we were wrong to go to war in Iraq, and we cannot wash our hands of the harm that we have done. However, we must not allow ourselves to be influenced by simplistic slogans such as “cut and run” or “stay the course”. Instead, we must make an honest assessment of what we can achieve in Iraq that is in the best interests of the Iraqi people and our own service personnel.

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