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2.48 pm

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): I agree with a great deal of what the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) said, including on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but I want to concentrate on Iraq. My view—and it was reflected in the way that I voted in 2003—is that if Saddam could satisfy the UN weapons inspectors that the regime had
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no weapons of mass destruction, there could be no basis for war whatever. We know that he had no such weapons, but clearly the weapons inspectors were not fully satisfied, and I am aware that they wanted more time. They could not say that they were satisfied with what the regime said, or that what the regime said was true. Very few people, including Members of the House, believed Saddam when he said that he had no WMD.

Many of us took the view that if the invasion went ahead, as it did eventually, it would destroy one of the most murderous dictatorships around. There have been many evil dictatorships since 1945, and Saddam’s was undoubtedly one of the worst. The other evening, on a Channel 4 programme, we saw corpses that were located after the mass murder that had been conducted by the regime in the 1980s. Many other murders have been committed by that regime. Who does not welcome the fact that the regime has gone? Surely, no one can question the fact if there had been no invasion Saddam would still be in power, his sons would follow him and, for all we know, once the international pressure was off the regime would have again started to manufacture weapons of mass destruction. Why not? He certainly had such weapons previously.

Some positive things have occurred, as has been acknowledged. Free elections have taken place in Iraq and a Government were duly elected. Other measures have been initiated, trade unions have been legalised, and there were the beginnings of a society with civil liberties and the rule of law. However, we all have to acknowledge that things have not turned out that way. Far from it.

As has been said, hardly a day goes by without the brutal murder of a large number of civilians. Time and again, bombs go off in marketplaces with the aim of causing maximum death and suffering to wholly innocent people going about their daily business—shopping or going to and from work. Those are the people who are being murdered. It is an unusual day if we do not hear news of further terrible executions and mass murder. The occupation troops cannot prevent that; if they could, they would obviously do so. Our troops have enough difficulty trying to protect themselves. Nor can the elected Government do anything about the situation. They are impotent; there is no way that they can undertake the necessary security precautions for their people. Indeed, it is suspected that some of the police—and, perhaps, some Iraqi troops—are involved in sectarian murders.

There is a tendency to tell us how many Iraqis have died over the past three years. We could argue about the numbers, although I do not particularly want to do so, but those who talk about the number of people who have died should point out how they died. Since the end of the invasion, in the main, people have died as a result of terrorist action—it was not due to the occupation troops, but was outright murder by terrorists. The last thing those terrorists want is a democratic society in Iraq.

As I said in my intervention during the Prime Minister’s speech last Wednesday, we need an urgent reassessment of whether British troops should remain in Iraq. I make no apology for how I voted on Iraq. I do not say, as some are alleged to have said, that I trusted the Prime Minister—we are all adult in this
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place and we can make up our own minds. I certainly did, for the reasons that I stated. If I felt that British troops staying on in Iraq could bring about anything that approached a decent democratic society, I should not have the slightest hesitation in saying so. However, I do not believe that the British or any occupation troops can bring about any such solution; it is up to the Iraqis themselves and we should recognise that.

I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig) and others that it is no longer any use to say that we must wait until the job is finished. What do we mean by that, for heaven’s sake? Another argument is that we will have to stay until the Iraqi Government ask us to go, but obviously a Government who have no real power and cannot rule in any meaningful sense will not say to British, American or any other troops, “Please go”. It would not make sense. We have to recognise the situation as it is and not as we want it to be.

It is argued that if we leave now or in the near future it will make the situation worse, but that could be said at any time in the future—for example, next year, the year after or in 2009. At what stage will we realise that we need a continued reduction of British troops leading to their leaving Iraq entirely? I do not imagine that anyone agrees that we should leave immediately, but it should certainly be our aim for the very near future.

Majority opinion went along with the war, and even when no weapons of mass destruction were found most people in Britain understood the nature of the regime that had been destroyed. All the indications now are that most people in this country and the United States—reference has been made to the congressional elections—can see no purpose in the troops staying in Iraq for much longer. It would indeed be a mistake to maintain the current position indefinitely. We need to make preparations to leave. Public support for our troops remaining in Iraq is draining away and the Government need to recognise that.

2.56 pm

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): Many Members have spoken about the situation in the middle east. I want to concentrate on the Government’s overall foreign policy record over the past nine years. Although I said the Government’s foreign policy, it has actually been the Prime Minister’s foreign policy because, more than any Prime Minister since Neville Chamberlain, he has imposed his own will, probably disregarded the views of his own party and persisted in whatever view he has taken.

The comparisons with Neville Chamberlain may be even more appropriate than either he or the Prime Minister would be comfortable with: both started from a position of great dogmatic certainty; both adopted a position of great moral rectitude; both had a touching belief that, as a result of their personal efforts, cruel tyrants could be persuaded to change their policies; and both have seen their foreign policy end in failure. Of course, Margaret Thatcher often intervened in foreign policy, but there was a considerable difference compared with this Prime Minister. She was always more concerned with the realities of power than with the rhetoric, and was wise enough to appoint as her
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Foreign Secretaries people such as Lord Carrington, Geoffrey Howe and Douglas Hurd, who could speak with great weight and authority and often curbed some of her enthusiasms.

The Prime Minister has pursued a proactive foreign policy over the past nine years, often involving the use of our armed forces. It has been a sort of modern gunboat diplomacy policy but, unfortunately, at a time when we are severely short of gunboats. That is part of the difficulty, because there was a failure to realise that defence is the handmaiden of foreign policy. As Frederick the Great once said:

Many of the Prime Minister’s speeches adopt a high ethical tone and as a consequence his foreign policy has been one of humanitarian interventionism, starting with Sierra Leone, then Kosovo and now, for all practical purposes, Iraq, where it is no longer defended on any grounds other than the ending of Iraqi tyranny. The problem that the Prime Minister faces is that he has approached those matters with a combination of Atlanticist fervour, muscular Christianity and political vanity. With the possible exception of Sierra Leone, a relatively minor intervention that was widely endorsed around the world, the other approaches have been severely defective.

Mr. Winnick: What about Kosovo?

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: The House should be reminded of Kosovo, because it was an unfortunate precedent that led directly to what we now see in Iraq. I remind the hon. Gentleman that Kosovo was an example of NATO declaring war when it had suffered no provocation and had the support of neither the United Nations nor the Security Council. It declared war on Serbia as a result of perfectly honourable concern about Serbia’s internal policy towards the province of Kosovo. Milosevic’s policy towards Kosovo was deplorable, but no more so than President Putin’s policy towards Chechnya, or the Chinese policy towards Tibet. However, in the case of Kosovo, NATO decided effectively to declare war and pursued that for some three long months.

Mr. Winnick: The right hon. and learned Gentleman will know that during his period as Foreign Secretary there was a great deal of criticism for inaction over Bosnia. I, for one, am pleased that as a result of the intervention, which unfortunately took place outside the Security Council of the United Nations, for reasons that we recognise, the ethnic cleansing of Muslims came to an end. The House of Commons should be very pleased about that.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: I come straight to the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. The whole point about not going to war at the time of the Bosnian crisis—not intervening in someone else’s war, which we have done in the case of Kosovo and Iraq—was that doing such a thing opens up a Pandora’s box, after which one cannot control the consequences that flow from that. The hon. Gentleman referred quite understandably to ethnic cleansing. The war created a situation in which a
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contribution was made towards reducing the ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians. However, we have now seen the ethnic cleansing of the Kosovar Serbs. The original purpose of the intervention was to ensure autonomy for Kosovo in Serbia, but we now know that that is non-deliverable. Kosovo is going to become an independent state and, probably, a centre of criminality. There will be further fragmentation of the region, but that was no part of the policy of the Prime Minister or NATO. The situation will lead to further dangers not only in the Balkans, but in other territorial disputes in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and elsewhere. Indeed, the Bosnian Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina will be asking why they cannot also have the independence that Kosovo is going to achieve.

One would have hoped that the Prime Minister would have learned from the experience of Kosovo. When one intervenes in a war, one changes the dynamics of that war. The Kosovar Albanians, who, until then, had been yearning for autonomy and accepting that as the only realistic possibility, abandoned that aspiration when they saw that they had NATO behind them, even if NATO did not share their objectives.

We now come to the situation in the middle east. I will not comment on Iraq in detail today, but, again, initiating a conflict without being able to control its consequences and creating a power vacuum has led to the precise opposite of what President Bush and our Prime Minister actually sought. Everyone who knew the middle east was aware that the real threat to the region came not from Iraq, but from the growing power of Iran. Iraq was a busted flush, not because Saddam Hussein was any nicer a man than he had been, but because 10 years of sanctions, the defeat in the Gulf war and the imposition of the no-fly zone had emasculated his power. That was not just my view or that of some individuals—why else did Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria, which joined the coalition during the first Gulf war, decline to join the coalition of the willing in the invasion of Iraq? It was because they knew that they were not facing a threat.

Iran was already aspiring to become the power in the region, so it is an extraordinary irony that it has become the power in the region thanks to President Bush and our Prime Minister. It is a great irony that, having warned the world for the past few years against the growing power of Iran, it is now likely that the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom will have to go cap in hand to Iran to ask for assistance to get out of the mess that has been created in Iraq. The Iranians cannot believe their luck. They had two enemies—the Iraqi Government on one side and the Taliban on the other—and thanks to President Bush, they now have neither. That has been the most extraordinary consequence, although it was not unpredictable.

What should be done about Iran at this moment in time? There is only one serious way in which it is possible that progress might be made and, as so often, the key is the United States. No one knows whether Iran is seriously interested in a negotiated solution that will enable it to give up its nuclear aspirations. However, the opportunity has to be put forward. The shadow Foreign Secretary rightly referred to the carrot-and-stick approach, but I think that there needs
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to be a more attractive carrot and a more credible stick than those which currently exist.

I pay tribute to the potential dialogue with Iran that the United States has offered, but the one policy that might just deliver the right results would be a proposal from the United States that in exchange for Iran giving up in a credible way its nuclear aspirations and its support for terrorism, the United States would be prepared to consider not just dialogue, but a full normalisation of its relations with that country. That would represent an end to the axis of evil rhetoric, an end to calls for regime change—that is a matter for the Iranian people, not the American people—an end to the sanctions that the United States has imposed since 1979 and a willingness to treat Iran not as a friendly country, but as a country as friendly as the Venezuela of Hugo Chavez and many other countries throughout the world that are not the closest chums of the current Administration in Washington.

Of course, that would be difficult for the United States, but would it really be much more difficult than the case of Libya? Colonel Gaddafi had sponsored terrorism. Colonel Gaddafi was responsible for the Pan Am bombing that led to the deaths of many hundreds of Americans and for many other similarly monstrous acts, yet the United States swallowed hard and not only resolved the problem with Libya, but established diplomatic relations and dropped economic sanctions. The United States is now pursuing a more normal relationship with Libya, so why should not the effort be made with Iran? If such effort was made, it is possible that it might work, which would be a tremendous achievement for the benefit of all. However, if it did not work, how much stronger would the position of the United States be when it called for credible, real, tough and effective sanctions against Iran? Economic sanctions would then, hopefully, be endorsed by the Security Council. Pressure would be exerted on financial institutions to stop their assistance to the Iranian Government. Indeed, other measures could not be ruled out. Such an effort must be made.

I am conscious that many hon. Members wish to speak, so I will highlight only one final area in which the Prime Minister’s policy has been a total failure: Europe. The Prime Minister said that he would be at the heart of Europe, but he has been unable to deliver—I am delighted to say—our conversion to the single currency. He has been unable to see the European constitution that he supported materialise, because France and the Netherlands ruled that out for him. Indeed, through his policy on Iraq, he did more to divide all the new Europe than any single world statesman other than President Bush. The policy has been rotten. For the time being, British foreign policy is on hold. European policy is determined by Merkel, Chirac and Putin—the British Prime Minister has little of a role to play. The sooner we have a new Prime Minister to launch a new foreign policy, the better.

3.7 pm

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate) (Lab): It gives me no pleasure at all to agree in some part with the contribution of the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind). When my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary gave, as she always does, a most telling performance at the
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Dispatch Box—she is always in command of the House and her subject—the list of the areas in which there is a supposed British foreign policy was, I regret, a list of almost undiluted failure. That is no criticism of my right hon. Friend or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It is certainly no criticism of our troops, who are the most highly disciplined and highly trained, and probably the most effective, fighting force in the world. It causes me no small anger when my Government, in trying to deflect criticism from their failed foreign policy, attempt to use those troops as a kind of human shield by arguing that those who criticise quite deliberately undermine our troops’ morale. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The basic flaw with our foreign policy is that it does not exist. It does not exist because the Prime Minister is obsessed with the belief that there should not be a space between our foreign policy and that of President Bush and the neocons in Washington into which it would be possible to slip a cigarette paper. In the Prime Minister’s approach to foreign policy, he is also wrong to perceive the greatest threat to the world as international terrorism. Many years ago, before a single bullet was fired in Iraq, my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) said that the real weapons of mass destruction were poverty and AIDS. In my view, that list has been added to by environmental decay and destruction, but these do not seem to be areas that figure prominently in the Prime Minister’s thinking about how we approach the rest of the world.

I hope that the changes emanating from Washington will bring about marked changes in the disastrous situation that is Iraq. I do not call for the immediate withdrawal of our troops. I do not call for the immediate withdrawal of American troops, but I know, as everyone else in the House and in the country knows, that when it becomes of overriding importance for the Republican party to withdraw US troops—and not doing so would put the Republicans in serious danger of losing the next presidential election—those troops will be withdrawn and, as night follows day, so will ours.

Central to what has been leaked about Secretary of State Baker’s Iraq study group is the idea that there should be discussions that will engage Syria and Iran. I entirely agree. It was a very great Israeli Prime Minister—who, regrettably, was assassinated by one of his own citizens—who said that one does not create peace with one’s friends, one creates peace with one’s enemies. That is a lesson that seems to have been pushed drastically to one side, for reasons about which I could hazard an opinion concerning the White House in Washington, but I would not waste the time of the House. To give our Prime Minister credit and to be fair to him, he attempted, in a somewhat half-hearted way, to float that idea way before the Baker commission was formed, and he has touched on it again recently.

It is a deep, deep irony that the two great pillars, as they try to present themselves, of the United Kingdom and the United States are still following a policy that assumes that democracy can be imposed. I find that entirely paradoxical. Iraq was never a united country. We, in the shape of Winston Churchill, made it a country with a surrounding border many decades ago. It was never united then; it became united only as a
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result of a series of brutal dictatorships. That has now gone. Why can we not begin to consider the possibility that our Government’s desire, when they embarked on the war in Iraq—I know they will not admit it, because it would be tantamount to admitting illegality—was regime change? There is no way that they can avoid the fact that it was immoral and remains immoral.

Saddam Hussein has gone. Regime change has occurred. We are told that there is a democratic Government in Iraq, and I pay tribute to the millions of Iraqis who went out for the first time in their lives and engaged in an election. But it is a fantasy to think that the Iraqi Government have any power or any control in their own country. I understand that it is impossible for Government Ministers to move outside the green zone. They cannot even move into their own electorates, if they have them. It is an unmitigated disaster.

We are training an army. We are also, apparently, training a police force. There is sufficient evidence to prove that that police force is not loyal to the Government. It is not even loyal to the concept of a united Iraq. It is loyal to its tribal links. The most recent kidnapping was apparently conducted by people in uniforms that had been specially created in America so that they could not be taken by insurgents. They were to be given only to members of the supposed Iraqi police force. Hundreds of people were taken out of the highest academic offices in Iraq. Many of them are still missing and some have been found dead. It is therefore clear that there is no innate central security in Iraq. We are seeing the country splitting up into its tribal units. The best brains in Iraq are reported to be fleeing daily.

Is it absolutely outside the envelope to consider that perhaps the future of Iraq is as a federal state, made up of three independent but federated states? It is what happened before. I know that there will be terrible arguments about who has the oil and who has the preponderance of power in certain situations. The international community will become engaged only after the removal of the block imposed on Iraq by American foreign policy—“We will stick the course. We will not quit. We are there for as long as it takes”. How long is “long”?

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): The hon. Lady seems to be arguing against her own point. Is she suggesting that there should be federal states with dictators? All those federal states will come about as a result of democracy in Iraq, which she seems to question. Is it not the case that the problem is not with democracy, but with those who seek to undermine democracy? The universal principles of the freedom and the free will of the people still apply, whether Iraq is a federal state or a united country, as at present.

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