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2.35 pm

Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) (Lab): Sometimes debates on foreign affairs get involved in so much detail that we lose sight of the fact that the paramount object of British foreign policy should be the safety and security of Britain and British people, whether they are at home or abroad. Against that criterion, the invasion and occupation of Iraq have been a failure. As a result of the invasion and occupation, Britain is less safe and British people are less secure.

All that was predictable when the Prime Minister, egged on by the Tories—they were not dragged along behind—recklessly tied Britain to the coat tails of the Americans. Indeed, it was not just predictable, it was actually predicted by those of us who were against the war. Almost four years ago, on 26 February, we questioned the haste of letting loose “Shock and Awe”
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on Iraq. We pointed out that Iraq was not a source of terrorism and urged that more time be given to the UN weapons inspectors, although it turned out that they had an impossible task, because there were no weapons for them to find. However, we were ignored when we gave those warnings.

In the same debate, we warned of the problems of ruling Iraq after the invasion. Who would rule and how would they manage to rule that state? We warned that neighbouring Governments and peoples would get involved in Iraq’s internal affairs and, even more importantly for the people of the UK, we warned that military action against Iraq would be a principal recruiting sergeant for terrorism and that al-Qaeda would be delighted if we invaded because more people would be provoked into supporting terrorism. Our Government ignored those warnings.

Ours were not the only warnings to be ignored. We now know that the British intelligence service had told the Government that, until that time, Iraq had not been a source of international terrorism, but that an invasion of Iraq would turn the country into such a source and that it would become a cause exploited by terrorists elsewhere. Somehow that warning did not creep into any of the dossiers that were published.

Where are we now? Murderous chaos prevails over large parts of Iraq. Senior British military commanders believe that our presence is, if anything, making matters worse. I cannot believe that anyone in the House could possibly expect anything other than protracted chaos, misery, death and injury for the people of Iraq whenever the occupation forces withdraw. There will be no fairy tale ending to the occupation, whether this year, next year or in five years’ time. That being the case, my sad conclusion is that the sooner we withdraw, the better.

What we should be doing now is concentrating on the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton report, in trying to make sure that Syria and Iran co-operate and do not massively get involved in the internal affairs of Iraq. Ending this reckless folly will be a humiliation for the British and American Governments, but I do not believe that we should sacrifice any more lives of the gallant British and American and other forces on the altar of vanity of the Bush family.

After all this time and trouble, we might have hoped that our Government would have at least learned some lessons from the Iraq debacle, but what happened in Lebanon shows that no lessons have been learned at all. In line with their destruction of much of Palestine, the Israelis invaded, bombed and shelled Lebanon, probably—we do not know, but probably—urged on by the United States. Although virtually the whole of the rest of the world called for a ceasefire, our Government continued to peddle the American line that a long-term lasting settlement was what was needed. They treated anyone’s calls for an immediate ceasefire as some naivety to be rejected by the sophisticates who dominate British and American foreign policy.

So what happened? The Israelis wrought widespread destruction and were then forced to withdraw. The democratically elected Government of Lebanon looked enfeebled and incapable of defending their people or their territory, while Hezbollah was made to look like
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heroes in the eyes of many in Lebanon and many more outside that benighted country. As we speak, Lebanon has been destabilised and is in danger of descending yet again into murderous communal strife. That is another disaster for US-UK foreign policy.

Meanwhile, the situation in Palestine has got worse. Decent Muslims and many others are absolutely disgusted by the failure of the United States to use its power and influence over the Israelis. According to an Israeli human rights group—I pay tribute to the fact that it is an Israeli human rights group and that Israel is a place where human rights groups exist—in 2006, Israeli forces killed 660 Palestinians, including 141 children. Palestinians killed 17 Israeli civilians and six Israeli soldiers. Like everyone else in the House, I deplore all those deaths, but I share the view of many in the middle east and further afield that if those figures were the other way round, the United States would not tolerate it for a minute. The Americans would step in and stop it.

I also believe that the concentration on Iraq has distracted attention and resources from Afghanistan, so that a situation which might have been a lot better now had we put resources into Afghanistan, is worse than it would otherwise have been. I believe that problems arising from the invasion of Iraq have also damaged our ability—and that of all sorts of allies—to bring influence to bear on Iran, because some people feel that it is just the Americans having yet another go at someone in the middle east. All that is part of the problems that spring from our foolish, stupid invasion of Iraq.

The present situation in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine is simply dreadful for the local populations, but its portrayal—

Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Frank Dobson: No, I shall not.

Its portrayal across the world has let loose a tide of enmity against Britain and British people, which could well endanger us and our children and grandchildren for at least a generation.

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), who is no longer in his place, that we are at a most vital point in the history of the middle east. We need to take stock; we need to start again; we need to break ourselves away from the thrall of believing that everything that Washington does is right. Above all, if we cannot get an ethical element into our foreign policy—as recommended by my late good friend, Robin Cook—we can at least go back to the proper position that the first interests of Britain’s foreign policy are the safety and security of this country and its people, and not cosying up to anybody else for whatever reason.

Hon. Members: Hear, hear.

2.46 pm

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con): I start by expressing my warmest regards and thanks to British troops now operating in many spheres—particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan. My
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thoughts and prayers are with the families who have lost loved ones in pursuit of Government policy. I believe that it was right to go into Iraq at the time, but regardless of our views in this House, we owe a debt of gratitude to the British troops.

Speaking as someone who supported the enterprise in Iraq, I say to the Government that it is a mistake that the Prime Minister is not on the Treasury Bench for this debate. This is such a serious debate that it should really be led by the Prime Minister, who could have laid out his personal view as well as that of the Government on how the situation should have been engineered. It is a matter of regret that he has chosen to be absent from this important debate.

I support the view that there should be an inquiry at some point—sooner rather than later, I hope—into the reasons for going to war and the conduct of it. We have nothing to fear from such an inquiry. Democracy in this country to carry the British people along with these decisions requires at some point a check on those reasons, so that people are able to see clearly and independently what those reasons were. I make it clear, in case anyone wanted to intervene on me, that I back the whole idea of an inquiry.

This is my first opportunity for some time to speak on this subject, and I want to make it absolutely clear that I backed the original invasion and that I do not resile from that position. I think that it was right for a number of reasons. It was right because, although we were never absolutely certain whether Iraq was in possession of weapons of mass destruction—the Government made a strong case that it was—we knew all along that Saddam Hussein had made it absolutely clear that if sanctions were lifted he would always pursue those programmes with vigour. He gave way to nobody on that.

More importantly, the UK had a particular—almost moral—responsibility for dealing with Saddam Hussein in Iraq. It was to some degree unfinished business for us. I believed all along that we should have dealt with Saddam Hussein in the original Iraq Gulf war. We should not have finished on the borders. The world would have been a safer and a better place if we had not.

I also felt very strongly that it was quite desperate at the end of that war for us and the Americans to encourage the southern Iraqis—particularly the Shi’ites, the Marsh Arabs and the Kurds—to rise up and depose Saddam Hussein. When they rose up, we did two terrible things to them. First, we gave them next to no support whatever, except for the occasional speech or a few words of congratulation. More particularly, we signed an agreement with Saddam Hussein that allowed him to use his helicopters to transport his troops down to southern Iraq. The massacre of the southern Iraqis was, I think, a moment of shame for this country and a moment of shame for the Americans as well.

When people say to me, “But, you can’t go all over the world dealing with problems in that way. You can’t just get rid of people because they are wrong and bad men”, I agree with them, but I think that there was a difference with Iraq. We had a responsibility for the condition of Iraq and we had a responsibility to the Iraqi people to resolve the matter as soon as possible. The whole idea that somehow we could have just
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carried on after 12 years of sanctions was also total nonsense. A UN report at the time made it absolutely clear that between 5,000 and 10,000 Iraqi children were dying every month—I emphasise, every month—as a direct consequence of the sanctions regime that we had imposed.

What was worse was that members of the UN colluded in a process to debauch Iraqis over food and medical aid. In other words, they gave Saddam Hussein and his cohorts an opportunity to trade illicitly by using the oil-for-food programme, which was also meant to produce medical aid, in order to put that money into the republican guard and other supporters. We watched while that happened, and we watched while France, Russia, China and many other countries deliberately flouted the sanctions regime and delivered to Saddam Hussein and into Baghdad goods and services, but Basra and the rest of the Shi’ite majority received nothing.

Those who were in power in those countries have a serious point to consider: on the one hand, they were against the Iraq war, but on the other, they were happy to deal with Saddam Hussein and to provide him with what he needed. So there were many issues that we had to settle at the time, but some people have the idea—it is not reality—that there was a golden time in Iraq before the war when people did not die and that, somehow, they die in droves today.

The situation is desperate today—I would not pretend otherwise—but it was desperate before we went into Iraq. The difference is that now there is hope—hope that, through the process of a democratic Government, for all their faults, we can deliver to the Iraqi people eventually and in due course some form of stability that allows them to live with some form of justice and peace.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Of course my right hon. Friend is right to say that there is a general recognition that we cannot intervene everywhere. However, given the adoption by the United Nations of the responsibility to protect, does he agree that the international community must decide whether that responsibility is to be a serious attempt to avert genocide or simply a rather futile exercise in vacuous moral posturing?

Mr. Duncan Smith: My hon. Friend and I agree on the fact that, since the ending of the cold war, there has been time for a rethink of our responsibilities to others who may not directly impact on our daily lives. If we ask people in this country whether they care and want to intervene in such areas, their answer will be absolutely no for the most part, because they do not see what it has to do with them. However, we have a responsibility to try to stabilise areas—I am thinking of many countries—so the idea that there is an absolute, sole and singular British interest that involves only the direct effect on British citizens is wholly incorrect and very damaging to our long-term interests.

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): My right hon. Friend has always been consistent in his approach, but does it not reflect very badly on the House and is it not a matter of great regret that the difference between the case for war in the United States and this country
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has been so stark? In the United States, the case was taken through both the House of Representatives and the Senate. It was a coherent and principled case, based on the concept of regime change. In this country, under this Prime Minister, what we saw was a flawed prospectus, obfuscation and a case built on weapons of mass destruction that never existed. Is that not a stain on the reputation of the House?

Mr. Duncan Smith: Yes, there were differences, and I guess that any inquiry later on will deal with them. Some of those differences relate to the governing party’s need to get its own people through the Lobby and the narrowing of the argument. We have discussed that. If I have one regret, it is that we did not press harder and harder for a much wider stretching of the terms of that debate. However, there were specific and direct concerns about weapons of mass destruction—I do not resile from that—and it was right for us to ensure that they were debated.

I wish to tell the House in the second phase of my speech that the issue is not that there was a lack of plans for what would happen in Iraq after the invasion. In fact, there was a surfeit of plans. That was the problem. In America—this is where I condemn what went on—there was an almost childish argument between the State Department and the Pentagon about what they should do afterwards. The Pentagon had made up its mind that Chalabi would go into power and that, very quickly, it would draw down troops and get out of there, leaving the Iraqis with their police and armed forces in place to get on and sort it out. The State Department was for nation building, and it pushed that case very strongly.

The truth is that the planning should have been finished and finalised before we went anywhere near there. When my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) and I came back from Kuwait, it was clear to us then that there was still a real lack of planning here and in the United States and a sense that the United States would come up with something almost at the last moment. The real nightmare occurred seven or eight months after the invasion, because into that vacuum—we know that power abhors a vacuum—came the insurgents and terrorist organisations that were allowed to galvanise and organise others in Iraq. I wish that that had not been the case, but we are where we are now.

I have to tell the Liberal Democrats and the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) that we are all for troop withdrawal. There is no wonderful idea that only the Liberal Democrats are for troop withdrawal. We are all for troop withdrawal—the only question is when and how . [ Interruption. ] They laugh, because they do almost anything: they see a wagon rolling and they will jump on it. [ Interruption. ] I wish that they would shut up for a second and listen.

The Liberal Democrats have come up with the arbitrary date of October solely because they sense and smell that the Government are heading towards a general withdrawal of troops in that time and they want to be first to give some idea that they have put a date on it. One can almost read the circulars going out
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on to the doorsteps saying, “Liberals call for October withdrawal—Government did what they called for.” It is so shallow as almost to be unworthy of any debate or discussion.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Duncan Smith: No, I will not give way.

We want our troops out, but we want them out when Iraq is secure and stable, as far as we can deliver it. Those who want to cut and run, saying, “Devil take them; we don’t give a damn about them”, are the real problem.

Sir Robert Smith rose—

Mr. Duncan Smith: The hon. Gentleman can sit down; he will get his own chance in due course.

I was a little depressed by the failure of the Iraq Study Group to tackle some of the issues. I recognise that we have to grab on to something, but I am not sure whether there is that much to grab on to. The group seems to have gone in almost every direction at the same time. We want to stabilise Iraq—I agree with it on that—but I put it to right hon. and hon. Members that, if they wish to withdraw troops and to stabilise Iraq, first it requires a military presence. Right now, there is massive violence on the streets.

I support President Bush’s desire to put in more troops. Yet I differ with him—this is where I line up with Senator McCain—in that I think that he should have done so earlier, and he should have put in many more troops. I am not sure whether 20,000 troops will be enough. We should be talking about nearer to 50,000 troops if we even want to begin to stabilise Baghdad. That is a real policy: an idea to try to stabilise while giving the Iraqis —[ Interruption. ] Again, I hear a lot of chuntering from the Liberal Democrats. I must tell them that, whether or not they like it, what the Iraqi Government have asked us is, “Please give us time.” If we cut and run before they have time to build up their forces, it is shame on us.

I do not think that a British Government worthy of the name should possibly be allowed to cut and run. I ask the Government, when they think this through, to remember some of the words that were said to me when I was in Iraq by many of those who are now in government. They said, “Despite the odds, we think it was right for you to help us, to free us and to give us a chance. Please don’t leave us alone.”

2.58 pm

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): After 23 years as a Member, I never thought that I would stand here and say that I agreed with almost every word spoken by the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith). It was a very thoughtful speech, and I agree with the main points that he made.

As chair of the Campaign Against Repression of Democratic Rights in Iraq and chair of Indict, I have, of course, received thousands of letters about Iraq over the years. Recently, a number of Iraqi medical doctors wrote to me. One suggested that I should resign as the special envoy on human rights. Several letters from
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other doctors followed. I want to read just one of them because it sums up for me what the war was all about. It is from Dr. Leonard Jacob. He wrote:

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