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In conclusion, I can add little to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) said about Israel. He is an expert on that country, as well as on many other things. I concur with everything he said. I would add only that it is
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risible to suggest, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Jane Kennedy) did, that the wall was a security measure. It is not a security measure—it is a prison for Palestinians. The logic of her argument is that the Berlin wall should have been retained as a security measure for 17 million East Germans, which was patently not the case.

Sir Gerald Kaufman: My hon. Friend is right to say that the wall is a prison for the Palestinians, but it is also a prison for Israelis.

Mr. Kilfoyle: I accept that, but

The other important point made by my right hon. Friend was the unfairness of the situation, in that we rightly upbraid the Iranians over their potential for developing nuclear weapons—we do not want to see them anywhere—yet do not extend the same strictures either to Israel or Pakistan. Most importantly, we—the nuclear armed countries—do not fulfil our part of the non-proliferation treaty. When it comes to making meaningful moves towards disarmament of our own armed forces, frankly, we do not make them. Current military thinking both in the US and—presumably following on—the UK is further to develop and refine more sophisticated nuclear weapons. That cannot be the way forward. Again, along with my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton, I worry greatly about what might happen in Iran in the coming months.

Mr. MacNeil: Does the hon. Gentleman agree with the assessment of Hans Blix that the further development of a next generation of nuclear weapons by countries such as the UK make it more difficult to convince countries such as Iran not to develop their own set of nuclear weapons?

Mr. Kilfoyle: That is absolutely the case. Countries around the world are looking at what we are proposing to do with Trident, for example. What does that have to do with reducing nuclear armaments? Some years ago, I was speaking to a defence Minister in China. I told him that I had seen an alleged CIA report, stating that on the back of progress in the American missile defence programme, China had quintupled the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles being deployed, and the warheads. His response was to stand up and walk out without a comment. Perhaps I was wrong, but I took that as confirmation of how the Chinese were reacting to what was happening in the US. The moral of the story is that there is a quid pro quo in these issues all around the world—they are not restricted to the existing nuclear-armed countries. After all, if I were an Iranian of such an inclination, I might well look at North Korea and see how its development of a nuclear weapon seems to give it some kind of immunity from the threat of attack—because the results would be so horrendous.

To conclude, I fear that among the neo-con thinkers are those who still believe that the muscular approach to international diplomacy and international relations is the only way forward. They may well try to conjure up a pretext under which an attack of some sort could
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be launched—possibly by the US or through an ally such as Israel. We have read that Israel is training people for that contingency; it is what happens with military forces. The question is, however, whether it would be put into effect and what would be the outcome if such an attack were to take place. As with my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton, such an attack would get no support from me—not in my name.

4.28 pm

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): A year ago, I called for the withdrawal of our troops from Iraq. I did so because I believed that we had achieved everything that we positively could there. We had already been there for almost three years and therefore—with respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir Peter Tapsell)—we could not be accused of cutting and running, and things were going to get worse.

Now, after almost four years, I have to say that nothing has happened to make me change that view. What I described then as effective civil war is now open sectarian conflict, yet the Government—I listened to the Foreign Secretary today—seem unable to comprehend the implications of the death and devastation that is Iraq today. About 34,000 Iraqi civilians have died over the past 12 months. If that level of attrition is not civil war, I do not know what is. How long will it take before the Prime Minister faces up to the realities and realises that we have no place in a civil war and that there is nothing left to be gained by the UK continuing in this tragedy?

I have total admiration for what our armed forces in Iraq have, in the direst of circumstances, achieved, but we owe them more than admiration. We must now confront what we are asking them to continue to fight for and die for—130 have already given their lives—in that troubled land. We, along with the Americans, are increasingly perceived to be complicit in the deteriorating situation. That was noticeable at the time of the execution of Saddam Hussein—nothing to do with us—but the horror of that lapped against our door as well as that of the Iraqi Government. The stark fact is that Iraq has always been a flawed state—indeed, it was an artificially constructed state in the first place—and its tribal and sectarian fault lines have been held together historically only by superior and often external power. The idea that western-style democracy or, even in such an Islamic country, western force could do so was, looking at it now, naive.

We are fast becoming recruiting agents for those who parade themselves as the resistance to what they call the occupation. The Foreign Secretary said, “Ah, but we are there to fight terrorists.” It is worth reminding the House that before we went there, there were no al-Qaeda members and no terrorists in Iraq. It is time for us to tell our troops that they have, with immense professionalism and courage, done everything that we have asked of them, and more, and that it is now time to come home.

The only way to help bring long-term stability to Iraq, as the Baker-Hamilton commission identified, is to involve its neighbours—Iran and Syria, as we have heard today, but I would add Saudi Arabia and Turkey
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as well. Stubbornly refusing to talk to Iran and Syria or, worse still, threatening them with isolation if they do not comply with western demands is crass. History will judge harshly those world leaders who, for reasons of hubris, turn their faces against such engagement. It needs to be encouraged now—and if America will not do it, we should. What is certain is that the escape from today’s quagmire in Iraq will not be found in repeating the Vietnam war blunders of naively counting enemy casualties and pouring in more and more troops. That, as many hon. Members have said today, can only make matters worse.

I turn now to the middle east, which I have watched over many years. Today, it is like watching a dialogue of those who will not hear. Everyone is talking and no one is listening. The Iraqis and the Syrians are talking to each other—that is a good thing—but even though Syria holds the key to peace in the Israeli-Palestinian arena, the United States and the United Kingdom refuse to enter into open dialogue with her.

Voices in Israel call for dialogue with Damascus, but they, too, are apparently blocked by American displeasure. The leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshal, moves significantly towards a de facto, if not a de jure, recognition of Israel, but no one responds. Lebanon teeters on the brink of turmoil, her Prime Minister’s credibility destroyed by the refusal of our Prime Minister and the American President to accede to his tearful pleas to stop Israel’s bombing of his country last summer. Indeed, military action has served only further to polarise opinion and has made the problem more intractable.

The volatility of the whole region is higher than I can ever remember it, and it has the potential to engulf us all. I do not believe that that volatility can be reduced or solved by formula. At the moment, the situation is too grave for that; it is beyond road maps and intricate diplomatic processes. Confidence, which has been destroyed over the past months, needs to be rebuilt, and that, in my view—it may not be a particularly popular view—can be achieved only by dialogue—unthreatening dialogue, exploratory dialogue—across the board and at every level and through every available channel, and I know a bit about exploratory dialogue from my time in Northern Ireland.

Behind such dialogue, certain fundamentals must be recognised. Israel has an inalienable right to live within legitimate, universally recognised and secure borders. The Palestinian people have an inalienable right to a viable and—to add to what was said by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind)—a genuinely autonomous state. That cannot happen in practice without the participation of Hamas, which forms a major part of Palestine’s political structure and, indeed, was successful in the recent democratic elections—whatever we may think about that organisation. There can be no secure Israel without agreement with Syria and without a stable Lebanon, and we cannot have a stable Lebanon without the involvement of Hezbollah, which, as I have recently witnessed, forms such a major political element of the Lebanon political structure, as well.

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All those elements must be engaged, their grievances and aspirations aired, and their lines in the sand identified. There must be no undeliverable preconditions to dialogue. If I learned anything in Northern Ireland, it was that undeliverable preconditions bring peace processes very quickly to an end. Of course, Israel cannot open exploratory dialogue at this time. The security and political situation prevent that. She could, however, discreetly set out her own lines in the sand. That is something that could usefully be done now. If Israel cannot talk, the Quartet can, and if the Quartet cannot talk, the British Government can. For a start, the Foreign Secretary should go to Damascus, not in the offensive, hectoring spirit of the Prime Minister’s recent envoy, but genuinely to explore how to take forward the Baker-Hamilton report on the middle east. Were the Foreign Secretary to talk to her counterpart in Syria, I have reason to believe, from the conversation I recently had with him in Damascus, that she would be pleasantly surprised.

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): I have never seen the senior Foreign Office official Nigel Sheinwald look combative and offensive. He went to see what room there was for real negotiation. He did not go to try to intimidate the Syrians.

Mr. Ancram: My understanding from the conversation that I had was that he said that there was a series of conditions and that if the Syrians met those conditions, they could become involved in dialogue. That is not the way to make friends or influence people.

As well as talking to Syria, talks with Fatah must continue and dialogue should be initiated with Hamas. We need to start to explore their understanding of the process of genuine ceasefire and the policing of it, of the recognition of Israel, and of their lines in the sand on prisoner release and negotiation. The concept of a reconstituted Palestine Liberation Organisation, including both Fatah and Hamas, jointly representing the Palestinian interests, including the camps and the prisoners, should be encouraged. We could usefully offer potential peace dividends in that regard, as well.

The current democratically offensive financial siege of the Palestinian Authority should be ended. Exploratory dialogue should also be opened with Hezbollah. Whatever we think about Hezbollah, we need to test the sincerity of its claim to be now exclusively interested in protecting south Lebanon and its community there and in securing a fair share in the power-sharing arrangements that are essential to any stable form of governance in Lebanon: and to be no longer interested, in its words, in the violent destruction of Israel. That process is something that could usefully be engaged in at this time.

There will be people in the House who say that we cannot and should not talk to terrorists, but we have in the past. Our history is littered with times when we have declared that we will not talk to terrorists, only to find ourselves years later inviting them to this country as the Governments of their countries. We have done it in the past, as I know in Northern Ireland, and we will do it in the future, and if we are to make progress in the middle east we need to do it there as well. We should not do it in a grandstanding manner, but discreetly, respecting confidences and painstakingly building mutual trust on both sides. I know that that takes
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infinite patience and great effort, but it can be done. Britain, for once, has a real opportunity to lead rather than just to follow, and I hope that the Foreign Secretary will not let that opportunity slip.

4.38 pm

Mr. Don Touhig (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): Once again in these past weeks, the continued violence in Iraq has dominated the news coverage from that unhappy and miserable land. Sectarian violence, murder, the killing of innocent civilians and the death of coalition troops have been reported daily. It must seem to the Iraqis and the people here at home who watch those images on their televisions each night that there is no end in sight. Adding to those scenes of utter brutality was the general feeling of revulsion at those awful grainy pictures of Saddam Hussein on the gallows. Although it is right that we should support the democratically elected Government of Iraq, I sincerely hope that those images will persuade them to step back from future and further executions.

The new year saw yet another US strategy in Iraq, as 20,000 extra troops are to be deployed to Baghdad. That was President Bush’s answer to the Iraq Study Group report that urged rather different solutions. It appears that for the US Government and the commanders on the ground, even more troops are crucial to bring the violence in Iraq to an end. I have my doubts about whether that is the right way forward, but I certainly welcome the extra help for reconstruction.

Ms Dawn Butler (Brent, South) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the expected reduction of the number of British troops in Iraq is a better way forward, and does he, like me, hope that the Minister for the Middle East will give the House an assurance that Britain will continue to support the reconstruction of Iraq by providing the Iraqi Government with non-military assistance?

Mr. Touhig: The reconstruction of Iraq is vital to its future, so our contribution is important, and I hope to develop that argument.

People in Baghdad live in fear of even more violence and bloodshed—a fact that was recently brought home to me by my constituents, Talib and Dianne Elam, who received news on Christmas day that their 72-year-old uncle had been shot and died from his wounds when American troops stormed his home in Baghdad. The family, who are of Kurdish descent, support our intervention and the new Iraqi Government, as they suffered brutally under Saddam. They have been unable to discover the circumstances that led to their uncle’s death, but they suspect that the American troops were acting on information provided by opponents of the Iraqi Government. Talib Elam’s brother-in-law, Adel Murad, who is the Iraqi ambassador to Romania, has written to President Bush seeking information so that the family can understand the situation better and come to terms with their grief. The family has written to the Prime Minister, too, and I hope that the Government will intervene to make sure that the Americans provide every possible piece of information about their uncle’s death. As I said in the
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House in November, the decision by the United States to disband the Iraqi security forces has proved to be a great error of judgment.

Apart from that terrible tragedy for the Elam family, Christmas day also saw the folly of rushing to recruit tens of thousands of Iraqis to the police force and train them without adequately checking their suitability and background. On the same day, British troops in Basra had to disband a police unit that they had helped to set up. In those circumstances, one can hardly blame Iraqi citizens for not trusting the police, and there are numerous examples of police committing crime rather than preventing it. I hope that when my hon. Friend the Minister responds to the debate, he can tell us more about British plans to train the Iraqi security forces thoroughly and improve recruitment and efficiency.

Many right hon. and hon. Members have expressed admiration for Britain’s brave servicemen and women, who put their lives on the line every day, working to bring peace and stability to Iraq. We wish them well, and we pray that they will be home soon. The deployment of another 20,000 US troops to police Baghdad—a city of nearly 6 million—provides, I fear, a vain hope of solution. That deployment is too low, as the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) said. My wish is that the American President will have got it right, but I have very grave doubts about whether that is the case.

Hostility between sectarian groups has only added to the swelling violence and bloodshed in Iraq. While those 20,000 extra troops may reduce the violence on the streets of Baghdad in the short term, they do not provide an answer to the long-term question of how to stabilise the region, bring peace and help the Iraqis to rebuild their lives and their economy.

The need to rebuild the economy is a factor that is often overlooked, especially as the country is tearing itself apart—a point to which my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Ms Butler) alluded. At a recent meeting with British parliamentarians, the Iraqi Vice-President Tariq al-Hashimi said that more than 70 per cent. of the eligible work force in Iraq was unemployed. The millions of Iraqi unemployed have found little refuge in an economy derailed by two years of relentless attacks by insurgents. Many have not had steady jobs since the United States disbanded the Iraqi army, and bad and dangerous developments began to take place. High unemployment is not just a waste of human resources; it also leads to trouble, as thousands of young, discontented Iraqi men find that they have little to do except confront the coalition forces and join those who seek to destabilise the country. If more people were working, the country would become more stable, living standards would rise, and the Iraqis would have at least the hope of peace, and of a future.

One true thing that can be said about Iraq is that until now, very little has gone to plan in the post-conflict situation. The key to a solution in Iraq and the wider middle east is a successful conclusion of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. If that conflict were resolved, it would encourage moderate Governments in the middle east. I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that Syria and Iran have to be given a strategic choice between being part of the solution and being isolated. I certainly endorse the points made by the right hon. and learned Member for
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Devizes (Mr. Ancram): we have to involve the Iranians and the Syrians, and possibly the Turkish Government, to find a solution to what is happening in Iraq.

Let us be clear: the coalition’s post-conflict strategy in Iraq has not worked. If it had made progress, many of those who criticise our intervention in Iraq would now be silenced. To focus on a military solution alone is no answer, because there is not a military solution to the situation in Iraq. However, the withdrawal of our troops, on the terms advocated by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), the leader of the Liberal Democrats, will not solve anything either. It would create a power vacuum and invite an unrestrained explosion of violence in Iraq. When withdrawal takes place, it must be carried out consistently, within an agreed time frame, and with the agreement and co-operation of the Iraqi Government and others. Alongside that process, a comprehensive scheme of diplomatic, economic and rebuilding measures must be implemented.

When we went into Iraq, I hoped that it would help to bring peace and stability to the country and the wider middle east, and end a tyrannous regime. If we left now, we would consign that country to chaos. Moreover, the Iraqis would be left without any hope whatever. We have to accept the consequences of our intervention in Iraq, and that means abandoning the idea that there is a military solution. A better way—the only way—is to engage with other powers in the region and seek to make them part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. For the millions of people living in Iraq, that is the only hope.

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