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Glenda Jackson: It may be the free will of the people that they should live in a state that is ruled by Shi’a law, yet they are not in that state, or it may be the free will of the people that they should live in a state ruled by another form of religious law, but they are not in that state. Kurdistan is virtually independent and out of the picture already. We are considering the remaining two hotspots—the Sunni triangle and the south. There is no
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meeting of minds there, and people probably have an interpretation of democracy that is entirely different from mine and from the hon. Gentleman’s, but is it our job to tell them how to live? Surely they should be afforded the opportunity of another kind of election. Surely the possibility should be put on the table that the way forward for Iraq may be a federal state. I do not say that it is, or that that is the way that they would necessarily move forward—what I am saying is that what is being imposed from the outside upon Iraq is patently failing to work.

The right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea pointed out where power has shifted in that part of the world. That was not, I am prepared to believe, the intention when this sorry episode—it is too terrible to call it an adventure—was entered into, but that is the reality. The other point that should be taken on board, above all by my Prime Minister, is that we must think again. It seems that democracy does work, as the American electorate is bringing that message home to the President of the United States. The present situation in Iraq is not working. Brains better than ours and better than those at present engaged on the matter may have other ideas for a way forward.

One of the most fundamental flaws in British foreign policy is the belief that the worst threat facing the world is international terrorism. I do not see it like that. The world has been threatened by infinitely worse terrorists in the past. The basic principles that unite everyone in the House—democracy, freedom, free speech, the liberty of the individual—always, always triumph. The terrorists today will not defeat the world. It is not, in my view, a clash of cultures. It is an old-fashioned power struggle and we are paying far too much lip service to international terrorists. We give them a value that they do not warrant and do not deserve.

I pay great tribute to my Government and to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development. International development is one of the most positive ways to begin to eradicate the threat of terrorism and violence. We are doing extremely well in that our voice is listened to, but in many other hotspots in the world we have no credibility at all. It is to be hoped that the changes in America, which will undoubtedly be picked up by No. 10, will happen sooner rather than later.

3.19 pm

Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con): I find myself in a remarkable political situation. I have been called in the debate to follow my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) and the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson). I listened to both their speeches and found that I was in agreement with 90 per cent. of what both of them said—rather more than that in the case of my right hon. Friend. I think the hon. Lady would agree that there is scarcely any subject that one could imagine which would form a consensus between these three Members. I had doubts about parts of her speech, but the thrust of it I entirely supported.

Even more remarkably, I have listened to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) and the hon. Member for Walsall, North
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(Mr. Winnick), who both voted on the other side from me when the original invasion was declared. They spoke perfectly honourably and consistently with that decision, but shared my view that the present situation is one of failure for which the House now requires an explanation. We need to see how we move on.

I therefore begin by underlining, even more strongly than I intended, the point that others have made. It is really a disgrace that the House is not allowed to have a structured debate on the changing nature of our policy on Iraq, which is undoubtedly going to change in the very near future, and that we do not seem likely to have such a debate in the near future. Three weeks ago, we had a half-day debate contrived by the nationalists on an inquiry into the origins of the war, and the Foreign Secretary took a most extraordinary view in that debate. She developed a doctrine that it was somehow disloyal and unpatriotic to talk about the war while the war was under way. As several people pointed out, that was not the practice of the House in past rather violent conflicts.

Today, the Foreign Secretary has come before us and given at least a little more explanation of where we are now. I have to say that I found it surreal to listen to her description, which appeared to be that the plan is working and all is unfolding. She gave us a timetable, which was helpful, for those provinces that would be handed over to the Iraqi Government in the near future, but the bulk of Members who have been in the Chamber for this debate feel that that description is quite out of touch with reality. It almost certainly does not reflect what the Government really believe, and I am sure that it does not reflect the opinion of nearly everyone whom I have met in recent weeks and months who has had any contact at all with Iraq.

There is a consensus in the Chamber this afternoon that we ought soon to have a proper debate on the most important issue facing the Government and Parliament in this Session: the problems of Iraq and the continuing consequences of our failure there on the worsening situation in the middle east as a whole and on our ability to conduct a campaign in Afghanistan.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab): The right hon. and learned Gentleman may not have heard it, but I understand that the Government have granted a debate on 5 December in the other place. I agree with him that we should have a day or even two days to debate the disaster in Iraq.

Mr. Clarke: I am sure that we will all eagerly read Hansard to see what their lordships are allowed to hear about the unfolding nature of policy. However, I think I would guarantee that policy will be different in December from what it is today. I agree with the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate that events are moving in America where the whole issue is being extremely vigorously debated. Policy is shifting in the light of the results of the mid-term elections, which, on Iraqi grounds at least, I greatly welcomed. I also share the view of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes. I have no confidence that any British input into the process is being taken as seriously as it should be. Even I do not know what British foreign policy is so far as pending changes are concerned.

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The Prime Minister had one hour of video conferencing with the Baker Iraq study group. I suspect that he did that because he was conscious of the fact that it might appear at home that he had no influence on events if he did not do so. However, I suspect that his impact on the workings of the Baker group will be absolutely minimal. It is quite obvious that British policy at the moment is to wait for President Bush to explain to us how we are all going to get our troops out of the country. It also seems to me that President Bush is waiting for James Baker and his study group to come up with some new idea that might get the troops out in a way that minimises the President’s loss of face. That is the underlying situation that gives me no confidence at all that a satisfactory result will be achieved. I have the highest regard for James Baker; I am delighted to see him in the frame and Donald Rumsfeld out. However, James Baker is faced with an almost impossible task given the events of the past three and a half years.

The two things coming out most fashionably from the discussions going on are, first, that the way forward means a closer involvement of Syria and Iran and, secondly, that policy must now move to a phased withdrawal. Both sound attractive, but they are the haziest notions of an unworked-out policy, and I shall comment on both of them and express some of my doubts.

The involvement of Syria and Iran—and, I would add, a number of other middle eastern players who are looking anxiously at what is happening in Iraq—would have been a very good idea had we involved them at a very much earlier stage. When we first got involved with the problems of Iraq, it was obvious, as many people have said, that, once we had changed the regime, no future for that country on its own could be secured until it was on terms with its neighbours. Looking again to the future, it is absolutely essential that the accommodation between Iraq, Syria and Iran one day resumes some sort of normality.

I fear that it is very difficult to expect very much at the moment of Iran and Syria. That is not surprising when we look back and consider the original intention of the neoconservatives when the invasion took place. It was explained to me quite frequently by more than one of them that Syria would be forced to come into line with western policy because it would be subjected to shock and awe when it saw what had happened to its Ba’athist neighbour. I was also told that the Iranian regime would be changed in a matter of months as the brave students of Iran rose in response to an American show of power in the region and that they would put a new friendly regime in place.

To make the speech that the Prime Minister did a couple of weeks ago that encouraged hopes that we would now receive some help from those two regimes to assist us to get out of Iraq with dignity seems to me a triumph of hope over recent experience. Both regimes have been immensely strengthened by the events of the past three years, not least because the whole illusion of the unbeatable supremacy of the United States and its allies has unfortunately been swept away by what has happened in Iraq.

If those regimes are really asked for help, they will of course try to negotiate a price and some of the prices are obvious—a free hand for Syria in Lebanon and
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nuclear weapons for Iran. I am relieved to say that every American and every member of our Government whom I have ever heard deal with the issue has ruled those out as utterly unacceptable. They are prices that we cannot pay. However, Syria and Iran know that they are now going to play a great part anyway in future events in Iraq. They have been placed by our invasion in a situation in which they can do that. Syria will not resist intervening in the affairs of its neighbour, particularly given the Sunni contingent there, and Iran, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea has eloquently pointed out, is the real victor of the whole invasion. I cannot believe that anybody in Iran ever expected that the “great Satan” would crush and defeat Iran’s great rival in the area —Saddam Hussein in Iraq—and put Shi’a militias in a powerful role all over the southern half of Iraq with command over a great deal of its oil reserves. I am afraid that it will be very difficult to induce Iran to put on the top of its agenda in Iraq helping the Americans and the British to get out with dignity. That will not score high.

When the Prime Minister in his speech tried to explain how Iran would be given a stark choice, he threatened the Iranians with isolation. They are quite capable of living with that, and I do not think it is quite enough to induce them to become involved. My right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea tried to produce some carrots and sticks with a little more credibility, but they would both agree that we are trying to make bricks without straw. It is difficult to place too much hope in this approach.

A phased withdrawal is plainly what we must now move to with great urgency, but it is difficult to see what that means. I agree with everyone who has said that we cannot just pull out now. The present chaos would turn into a period of even more terrible bloodshed with a totally uncertain outcome, although unless we get back in control of events, there may eventually be no alternative. It is pointless to set a timetable that would become a timetable for terrorist activity, but phased withdrawal must mean quicker withdrawal on an altogether shorter time scale than we have been given. That means that we must brace ourselves for very much reduced expectations of what we will leave behind.

Stability is the most that we can achieve, but we will not control its exact nature. All those plans for imposing a friendly democracy are, alas, an illusion, because we have failed to achieve the principal objectives of our policy. Until we do have a quicker withdrawal, we are in serious danger in Afghanistan, where we cannot commit ourselves fully. We have gone into a dangerous area without our NATO allies. We do not have a clear strategy. What we need now is a debate on what the strategy is—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order.

3.30 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I am delighted that we are having this debate today. Never before have international affairs so dominated domestic politics.
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Certainly for all of the last five years it has been one of the major areas of debate, and the war in Iraq and the linked war in Afghanistan are part of that debate. We should be aware that the war in Afghanistan generated an enormous amount of opposition at the beginning and still does, and the war in Iraq generated the biggest ever demonstration in British history when more than a million people assembled in Hyde park to protest against it. Therefore, it would be pretty unwise of Parliament simply to ignore what is happening outside, and I find it astonishing that we still do not have a date for an extended serious debate about the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The statement made by the Prime Minister while visiting Afghanistan a few days ago was extraordinary. He told the British troops there that they were fighting the crucial battle of the 2lst century. What exactly does he mean by that? Does he suggest that this is some kind of 19th-century colonial last stand where the final message to the troops is, “You succeed here and the empire will be saved,” or is it an encouragement to yet more wars and conflicts of the type that we are seeing at the present time? We cannot go through the 21st century with the idea that there is a moral correctitude and a moral supremacy on both sides of the Atlantic that can be imposed on the rest of the world. We have seen the consequences of that in the current conflicts.

Colleagues might dispute some of the figures and some of the debate and information, but the reality of Iraq is that the Saddam regime was in many ways a product of western benevolence. It was armed by the west, it was strengthened by the west and to some extent sustained by the west, particularly during the Iran-Iraq war. We then had the Gulf war, followed by the period of sanctions, and we have now had the invasion, and according to The Lancet—no one has seriously disputed its figures—650,000 people have lost their lives in Iraq since that took place in 2003. That is one in 40 of the population.

We all know that at some point in the not-too-distant future British and American forces will withdraw, and, as many others have said, they are now part of the problem, not part of the solution. The British troops in Basra seem to spend most of their time in their barracks defending themselves, and ditto US troops in the central part of Iraq. In a debate on CNN last week, I said to an Iraqi Government official, “Look, you know that there will be a withdrawal. You know that at some point you will have to talk and negotiate with the insurgent forces and all the other groups,” and he confirmed that that was already being done. We know that that political process is already under way. It is time that we named a date and set about the withdrawal of those troops.

In an excellent speech earlier, my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) pointed out what was happening in Palestine and the product of the Israeli policy there. He was quite correct to point out that the situation in Palestine is a running sore throughout the entire region. Unless we are serious about forcing Israel to behave in a legal and decent manner, to stop the assassination attacks that take place and the construction of the illegal wall, and to stop starving the Palestinian people of their own money through taxation income, or through the British and American
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policy of donating money only through non-governmental organisations, we will create a worse situation of greater instability and poverty within Palestine. I hope that when the Minister replies he will at least recognise that we are fundamentally on the wrong course there. The Palestinian people elected a Government and Israel has arrested some of its elected politicians and Ministers. That is simply not an acceptable way of going on, and we should not continue the pretence that there is somehow or other a conflict of equals between Palestine and Israel. What we have is a very wealthy first-world country, heavily supported and subsidised by the US and to some extent western Europe, and the deeply impoverished Palestinian people.

Malcolm Bruce: With regard to the arrest of the Hamas politicians, would the hon. Gentleman be interested to know that when the International Development Committee met Israeli Government authorities and we asked why they had arrested those that they had, they said, “Because we haven’t yet found the others, but we will arrest them all in due course.”?

Jeremy Corbyn: I am interested to hear that, and tragically not in the least bit surprised by such an approach. Imagine if it had been the other way round; if a Palestinian hit squad had gone into the Knesset and arrested a number of Israeli Members of Parliament. There would be uproar all around the world. That is the reality of what has happened. People complain that Palestine is turning into an extremist place, but poverty, unemployment, assassination, indiscriminate arrest and illegal behaviour create extreme behaviour. It is up to us to be much firmer with Israel on these matters, and it should recognise that there is a wish around the world for recognition of Palestine and for a long-term peace.

I have only a few moments left, so I want to address two other general areas. The Foreign Secretary talked about the existence and development of nuclear weapons and talked about the danger of proliferation. Yes, there is a danger of proliferation of nuclear weapons. Yes, nuclear weapons are a danger. Nuclear weapons are fundamentally immoral; they are a weapon of mass destruction. By their very nature they are indiscriminate in their use and who they affect. This country and the other four members of the Security Council, the five declared nuclear weapon states, all signed a non-proliferation treaty, under which any signatory nation must not develop its own nuclear weapons, but the existing declared nuclear weapon states must also disarm. It is true that there are fewer nuclear warheads on patrol and fewer available to this country than there were in the past, but we are still a nuclear weapon state, and the idea that we should expend £25 billion or £26 billion on developing a new generation of nuclear weapons, and a further £50 billion on deploying them over the next 25 years, is unthinkable. If we want to be taken seriously around the world in insisting on non-proliferation by North Korea, Iran or any other country, we must be serious ourselves about the obligation that we have set ourselves, of long-term nuclear disarmament. I hope that when the Minister replies he will tell us when the Government’s White Paper—I wish it were a Green Paper—will come out, and if he will produce a
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response to the white paper produced yesterday by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, “Safer Britain, Safer World: The decision not to replace Trident nuclear missiles”.

We are in danger in the 21st century of sleepwalking into one war after another, led largely by the United States, but also by our own increasingly militaristic ambitions. There is a different agenda around the world that is not one of war and neo-liberal economics, but is something slightly different; that is about sharing resources, about justice and about recognising human rights around the world. If anyone doubts that, they should start looking at social movements in south Asia and Latin America, and look at the thirst of those people, not for neo-liberal economics but for the economics of social justice. That is why great changes are happening in Bolivia and Venezuela, and that is why huge changes are afoot in central America and other parts of the world. We are a small island in one part of the world and we seem to think that our whole future is bound up solely with the policies of the neocons in Washington. The neocon policy has brought war, disaster and danger to the world. Surely we can do rather better than that by a more intelligent examination of the issues facing the world rather than the need to keep in with Washington at every turn.

3.39 pm

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): The Queen’s Speech specifically mentions peace in the middle east, which has been discussed and which I shall address, the situation in Darfur, securing an agreement on the Doha round and the climate change Bill. Those points all relate to the politics of international development—the poor will suffer most from the consequences of climate change.

The International Development Committee, which I have the honour to chair, is in the middle of an inquiry on aid and development in the occupied territories, and it visited Palestine, Jerusalem and Israel just two weeks ago. Because we are in the middle of that process, I must make it clear that I am not speaking on behalf of the Committee, but I will reflect what we have seen and heard so far. Regrettably, the Committee was unable to visit Gaza on security advice—although we were given that advice, a group of MEPs from the European Parliament were able to visit Gaza when we were told that it was unsafe.

The situation that the Committee saw in the west bank and heard reports about in Gaza is extremely serious—public services have effectively been choked off; the economy is in sharp decline; and poverty is rising. Since the election of Hamas, not only has donor aid been denied to the Palestinian Authority, but the tariff revenues collected by Israel on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, which amount to between $55 million and $65 million a month, have been withheld in their entirety. The consequence is that civil servants and key workers in health, education and public services across the west bank and Gaza have not been paid for nine months. Unsurprisingly, those people have now gone on strike.

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