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The Government said that the ISG report closely resembled their thinking, but what influence has that report, or indeed the Government, had on the United States Administration? As the hon. Member for Ilford, South, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said, only those parts of the ISG report that were consistent with the existing strategy were accepted. Anything about dialogue with Iran or Syria was rejected. Anything about trying to regionalise support for Iraq was also rejected. It is not only people here who oppose what is being done. Listen to what was said after the State of the Union address. Listen to what the Democrats said on an occasion that is normally known for being more bipartisan than partisan. Listen to what senior Republicans are saying. They are opposed to the strategy. So here we are, part of a coalition implementing a strategy that is not even universally accepted in the United States. One is left with the conclusion that the United States
Administration changed its course to some extent, but failed to accept the recommendations of the ISG either with no consultation with the UK or with a consultation that had no influence.
It is always said on these occasions that we are where we are. Let us ask ourselves where we are indeed. We are with a coalition partner pursuing a strategy that we should not support in a country on the verge of civil warif it is not already engaged in one. How else should one describe incidents that result in 60 or 75 deaths at a time? According to the United Nations, 34,000 people were killed last year. There are continuing casualties, including Private Michael Tench, aged 18. Our foreign policy is being acted out by young men of 18. Does not that make us all pause and wonder if we are doing the right thing?
There is also the drain on resources, both military and financial, and the prejudice to other priorities, especially Afghanistan. A few days ago General Richards, one of the most cerebral commanders of recent times, argued the case for more troops if he is to fulfil his responsibilities in Afghanistan. There is the continuing, long-term adverse effect on our influence in the region and elsewhere.
Against that background, it would need overwhelming justification to remain, and I do not believe that that justification is present. Will the situation improve? There is no evidence. Will it be safer for our troops? There is no evidence. Are our interests being served? There is no evidence. The determining factor that changed my thinking was the way in which the US Administration responded to the terms of the Iraq Study Group. That is why my conclusions are that it is no longer in the United Kingdoms national interest to maintain a military presence in Iraq. The divergence between our strategy and the US strategy, and between our interests and the US interests, supports that view. The deepening sectarian conflict and the antipathy of the Iraqi people all lead me to the conclusion that is time to plan a controlled exit.
Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire) (Con): I am listening with respect and admiration to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but I am genuinely bewildered by his call to bring our troops back in October. What would he do if we knew that they would be needed to back up Iraqi forces for a specific event in November?
Sir Menzies Campbell: I would have more sympathy for that question if we were not already causing our troops in Afghanistan to prepare and be responsible for specific events for which they do not have the resources, either in men or equipment.
Of course, any such exit would have to be carried out in ways that minimise the risks to our troops and other coalition forces, and we must continue to fulfil our obligations to the UN to assist reconstruction and promote regional engagement.
Sir Menzies Campbell: In a moment. We must also look at the issues to do with Syria and Iran. The risk attached to Iranian military nuclear capability is the potential for proliferation, and the fact that Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey might feel determined to respond. We do not know to how many countries the Pakistani physicist A.Q. Khan sold the nuclear secrets. Concentrating on Iran is so important because we do not know the effect that its acquisition of military nuclear technology might have.
It is important to remember that Mr. Ahmadinejads party did rather badly in the recent local elections. There are signs from inside Iran that there is great anxiety about the isolation imposed on that country by its presidents over-robust policy. There is therefore an opening, and that is why the former Foreign Secretary, now the Leader of the House, deserves great credit for the efforts that he made with his French and German counterparts.
Syria, of course, is a different country, as the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks said. It poses different problems, but they will never be resolved until we find a way to deal with the Golan Heights. The return of the Golan Heights may not be as significant strategically as it was once, but it is of enormous political significance and it is right at the heart of any negotiation. For President Assad, getting the Golan Heights back is an overwhelming burden, because his father was the Minister of Defence who lost them.
When James Baker said that it is not appeasement to talk to ones enemies, he was uttering a well known truth that has been established for hundreds of years in foreign affairs. That is why the failure of the USor, perhaps more correctly, the White Houseto accept that part of the ISG report is so fundamentally flawed.
Mr. Jenkin: I am most grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who is making a strong pitch for his case. However, I cannot understand how he can call for British troops to be withdrawn according to a timetable that is significantly tighter than the one recommended in the ISG report. I put it to him that his position has a whiff of political opportunism about it. It is designed to appeal to a domestic political audience, and does not have the best interests of the Iraqi people and British troops at heart.
Sir Menzies Campbell: I shall not respond to that charge. I shall leave others to form a judgment about my attitudes and approach to foreign affairs over the nearly 20 years that I have been in this House of Commons.
At the heart of the middle east question lies the issue of Israel and the Palestinians, and at the heart of that is the fact that, on both sides of the aisle in the US Congress, there is almost uncritical support for Israel. Unless and until it is understood that the legitimate rights of the people of Israel to live in peace within secure and recognised borders will never be satisfied until there is a settlement with the Palestinians, that problem will never be resolved. It will continue to be a sore that will inevitably affect every other opportunity for stability in the middle east.
Jane Kennedy: I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. His response to the two earlier interventions surprised and disappointed me, because he completely failed to answer what is a serious and proper question. Notwithstanding his long service in the House, is he seriously saying that he would proceed with the withdrawal of British troops from the south of Iraq even if there were clear indications that that would have a serious and negative impact on security in the region? If so, that is incredible.
Sir Menzies Campbell: If that is the right hon. Ladys approach [ Interruption. ] Let us examine the basis of her question. It is based on an assumption that our commitment is unlimited, and that we must stay in Iraq as long as there is any threat of disturbance or instability. That is simply not feasible or sustainable, either in terms of resources or of the lives that we put at risk when we send people to the region.
Sir Menzies Campbell: In a moment. Is the stability of Iraq to be guaranteed? Should we say that we will remain there for an unlimited time? President Bush does not say that. He says that there is no unlimited commitment
Sir Menzies Campbell: That is why I say that, to concentrate peoples minds and ensure that we meet our domestic responsibilities and especially our responsibilities to our armed forces, it is perfectly legitimate to establish a framework for withdrawal.
Mr. Duncan Smith:
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. He has not quite answered the question that was put to him, so perhaps he can find a
better way to respond. Does he realise that a policy that puts in place an absolute timetable for withdrawal, regardless of the circumstances, could be viewed as a policy of cut and run? If, as Prime Minister, he were to vary that timetable and stay on for a couple of extra months, would he not be sending a huge signal to the terrorists and insurgents that a British Government could be pushed around and made to change their mind by the exertion of force? Is he not advocating an incredibly dangerous policy and gambling with the lives of British troops?
Sir Menzies Campbell: How can a country be accused of cut and run when it has spent the best part of four years endeavouring to bring about the solution that the right hon. Gentleman favours? How could anyone suggest that we have done anything other than fulfil our moral obligation to the people of Iraq?
Daniel Kawczynski: I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. It is generally acknowledged that his predecessor was very much against going to war in Iraq, but he himself gave rather mixed messages to the House in the autumn of 2002 when he said:
It may well be true that, legally, no new resolution is required for the use of force to implement resolution 687.[ Official Report, 24 September 2002; Vol. 390, c. 43.]
Sir Menzies Campbell: If I may say so, the Prime Minister was not looking to me for support for his policies. However, I shall tell the hon. Gentleman about that occasion, as I do not think that he was in the House then. The House was specially recalled during the summer recess, and all hon. Members were given a document that morning. It was a dossier that gave the impression, among other things, that nuclear weapons in the possession of Saddam Hussein could be launched within 45 minutes. If I am guilty of anything it was of accepting that document because it issued from the Prime Ministers office. As we learned subsequently from various inquiries, the provenance of that document can hardly be regarded as impeccable. If the hon. Gentleman reads the whole of my speech, he will see that I pointed out that international law is not based on UN resolutions alone and that one also has to take account of customary international law. Customary international law provides clearly that armed force is not legitimate unless it is used as a last resort, when all other diplomatic and political considerations have been exhausted. Among other reasons that is why, when Dr. Blix and Dr. al-Baradei were still engaged in their investigations and were saying that they were receiving sufficient co-operation to justify continuing, the decision to take military action against Iraq was fundamentally illegal.
Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con):
I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman on that point, and I agree with 99 per cent. of what he has said in his speech so far, but has not he put himself in unnecessary difficulty by putting a precise dateOctober 2007on
withdrawal? None the less, I prefer that approach to that of the Government, which is to set out a hopeful timetable, all based on the achievement of a level of stability and agreement with the Iraqi Government, which I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman is unlikely to be achieved, certainly not in the course of the coming calendar year. Would not it be preferable to insist, which is a strong position, that the earliest possible withdrawal of British troops, consistent with their safety and with the minimising of risk and further disruption, should now be an objective of British policy? To put a date on it dramatises it
In due course, there will have to be a time line. If the right hon. and learned Gentlemans proposition were accepted, and his statement of how we should proceed were to be implemented, there will come a time when we shall have to say when we are leaving. We cannot take 7,500 men and women and their equipment out of a country overnight. It is not possible to cut and run in the sense of leaving overnight; according to some advice I have been given, it will take six or even eight weeks. We cannot possibly imagine that the terrorists would be unaware of the fact that we were about to go. My argument is that unless we introduce a degree of precision and of compulsion, the Government will continue with the very policy that the right hon. and learned Gentleman finds so objectionable.
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman were simply urging the Government to withdraw in the near future, or something like that, he would probably have much sympathy on both sides of the House, but what would he do if the chiefs of staff said that a specific date was impossible?
Sir Menzies Campbell:
Let me make it clear. I believe that the debatenot just our debate today, but the debate in the countryhas to be brought to a head,
and that the Governments policy is unsustainable. That is why it is necessary to set what I have described as a framework for withdrawal. I shall tell the House what it is.
The fourth anniversary of the end of the combat phase is 1 May. We should begin the process of reduction on that date, using the period between now and then to make the necessary arrangementsI cannot imagine that the Ministry of Defence does not already have skeletal arrangementsand conduct the necessary negotiations with the Iraqi Government, our allies in the coalition and other allies in the region. We are told that by the spring three of the four provinces in which the UK has interest and influence will have been handed over, leaving Basra. The handover of that city could take place between May and July. The Tornado GR4 aircraft operating from Qatar should be withdrawn during that period. After all, they are not confined to acting on behalf of British forces but act on behalf of the coalition in general
Sir Menzies Campbell: Nothing. The point is that the aircraft are part of the overall air effort and if we are withdrawing on the ground it is legitimate to withdraw from the air as well. We should hand over the supply route to Kuwait between August and September. Final withdrawal could be completed in October.
No one can accuse the United Kingdom of cutting and running after four years in which we have tried, to the best of our ability, to fulfil the objectives of the United Nations resolution. For four years, we have endured the stresses and strains of occupation, which are more directly borne by our armed forces than anyone else, but whichif truth be toldhave had an effect on domestic political considerations, too. It is no longer reasonable or legitimate to ask our armed forces to bear that burden, which is why I believe that the process of withdrawal should begin on 1 May and end in October. In truth, it is time to go.
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