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5.10 pm

Mr. George Galloway (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Respect): When I was his warm-up act, I used to describe the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) as the best Foreign Secretary we never had, and his speech this evening showed why. Indeed, an alternative Administration of all the talents became clear on the Labour Benches, including the right hon. Gentleman’s friends the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson), and the hon. Members for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) and for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle). How much stronger the Labour party’s position would be in the opinion polls today if those were the men sitting around the Cabinet table, rather than the men and women who are.

What a contrast there was between those shafts of light and the myopia displayed by the Foreign Secretary. So rose-tinted were her glasses that she had even spotted the first elections in Saudi Arabia. As one who follows events in the Arab world closely, I must tell the House that I missed the first elections in Saudi Arabia, probably
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the un-freest, most undemocratic and most anti-democratic country on earth. So keen was the Foreign Secretary to describe the success of Anglo-American policy in the Arab world that she prayed in aid a grant to the youth parliament in Bahrain.

But those were not the most foolish of the things that the Foreign Secretary said in her long speech. She talked about supporting the Government and people of Lebanon. Well, let us split that proposition. She was not much help to the Government of Lebanon when its Prime Minister was weeping on television and begging for a ceasefire, and when the British and American Governments alone in the world were refusing, indeed blocking, any attempts to demand an immediate cessation of the Israeli bombardment. Worse, she was not much help to the Government or the people of Lebanon when British airports were being used for the trans-shipment of American weapons to Israel that were raining down death and destruction on the very people of Lebanon whom she now claims to stand beside. But, of course, that was code for saying that she does not support the 1 million demonstrators in the square in Beirut who are demanding democracy.

The Foreign Secretary describes the Government of Lebanon as a democratic Government. If the Minister will listen, I can educate him. There is no democratic Government in Lebanon. The Minister should know that. If there were a democracy in Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah would be the President, because he would get the most votes. But of course he cannot be the President, because you have to be a Christian to be the President, and you have to be a Sunni to be the Prime Minister, and you have to be a Shi’ite to be the Speaker. What they have in Lebanon is precisely the opposite of democracy. It is a sectarian building-block Government that they have in Lebanon, and moreover one based on a census that is more than 50 years out of date. If those 1 million demonstrators had been in Ukraine or Belarus or Georgia, they would be described as the orange revolution, or given some other epithet—perhaps even “the cedar revolution”.

So myopic was the Foreign Secretary that she talked about the peace process in Palestine and refused to condemn the theft, as the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton put it—he used the word—of $900 million, stolen from the Palestinian Authority. The right hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Jane Kennedy), without a hint of irony, advanced the extraordinary proposition that we are fighting for democracy in Iraq, while we can steal the money of the Palestinian Administration in the occupied territories because the people voted for a Government whom Olmert, Bush and Blair did not like. So myopic was the Foreign Secretary's view that she prayed in aid an opinion poll from Basra which told us that the people had every confidence in the police—we had to send the British in to blow up a police station and kill umpteen Iraqi policemen because we said that they were about to massacre the prisoners in their jails.

The Foreign Secretary prayed in aid the Iraqi Government—a virtual Government—saying that, more importantly, the Iraqi Government do not consider that they have a civil war. Of course they do not, because there is no Iraqi Government. As the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton put it, we have installed a gang of warlords in power in Baghdad, the
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heads of competing militias, some of them at war with our own soldiers in the south of Iraq. It is not a Government, but Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York” that we have put in charge in Baghdad. That is not my concept. That is the concept of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton.

So myopic was the Foreign Secretary that she had her finger out and wagging at Iran, warning it of what it must do, or must not do in terms of nuclear weapons. She is the Foreign Secretary of a Government who are about to spend £75 billion on our own nuclear weapons, who declare themselves the best friend of Israel, which has hundreds of nuclear weapons and refuses to sign the non-proliferation treaty, and who say nothing about Pakistan, a military dictatorship acquiring nuclear weapons. It would make you laugh if it did not make you cry.

Most serious of all was the extent to which the Foreign Secretary sought to lull us to sleep walk into a coming conflict with Iran. Invited by one of her colleagues to describe, as the former Foreign Secretary had, an attack on Iran as inconceivable, she refused, preferring instead the formulation that no one is contemplating it. But they are contemplating it. Israel has a war plan carefully worked out to do it. As we know from the journalism of Seymour Hersh, the greatest of all American journalists, who brought us the stories from Vietnam, American generals have to the nth degree worked out an attack upon Iran.

The Foreign Secretary says that we stand by our soldiers. We stand by them so much that we pay them so little. We had to give them a Christmas bonus to make up their wages. Their families are claiming means-tested benefits and living in houses that you would not put a dangerous dog in. We send them, ill clad, ill equipped, ill armed, without armour, on a pack of lies into war after war after war.

Let me invite the House to contemplate this and see if I am as right about this as I was about Iraq four years ago. If a finger is raised against Iran by Israel or the United States, the first people to pay the price will be the 7,000 young men and women of the British armed forces whom we have stationed in the south of Iraq, where Iran, thanks to us, is now top dog. If Members want to know what that will look like, think about the film "Zulu", but without the happy ending. That is how irresponsible our Government are. They are part of an axis that is contemplating a war against a country that we have made powerful in a place where we have our soldiers standing in a thin red line in the sand.

For the moment, the trial of Tony Blair merely takes place on Channel 4 television. The day will come, and it is coming soon, when a real trial of Tony Blair will take place in a real court.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that he must refer to Members by their constituency or their office.

5.19 pm

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West and Royton) (Lab): This has been an important and poignant debate, not least because of the passionate speech that
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we have just listened to. However, I must say that the debate should not have been held on a motion to adjourn. The issue it addresses is crucial, and the Government should table a motion on it explaining their policy and pointing a way forward, for all parties and Members to take a position on. We will undoubtedly return to this issue in the near future, and I hope that when we do it will not be in an Adjournment debate, but that the issue will be treated with the utter seriousness that it deserves.

There has been a good deal of comment on the most recent twist in US policy, but the tragedy for Iraq in respect of the latest US troop surge is that extra troops are no answer to a crisis whose solution is political but for which there is currently no political solution in sight. That policy will certainly greatly increase American casualties, and there will be even more Iraqi civilian casualties, especially if Sadr city is barricaded off, but there is no reason to believe that it will fare any better than the last attempt to shore up authority in Baghdad—“Operation Forward Together”—which collapsed bloodily last year because extra troops did not make any difference. What is particularly horrifying about the new policy is that it is less about securing any realistic, positive, long-term solution than it is about avoiding the perceived humiliation of the Baker-Hamilton, Iraq Study Group proposals—and it is also, I suspect, about the desperate hope in the mind of President Bush of being able to hand on to the next President the final ignominy of defeat and withdrawal.

Once again, we seem to be following at least the spirit of President Bush’s line—judging by the pro-war foreign policy speech that the Prime Minister gave aboard HMS Albion in Plymouth a fortnight ago. I must say that one cannot have it both ways by making overtly bellicose speeches in support of an embattled US President while expecting to be treated seriously in trying to fulfil the role of peacemaker by kick-starting the long-suffering middle east peace plan.

It is not, however, only the military strategy that is misconceived. There are also questions to be asked about the infrastructure. Some people, including Kofi Annan recently, have said that the fundamentals of life, such as water, electricity, health, education and domestic security, are incomparably worse now than they were under Saddam Hussein.

It is also immensely important and significant that—my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) rightly drew attention to this—a new draft law is about to be pushed through the fledgling Iraqi Parliament by the United States that will set up contracts to allow major US and British oil companies to extract substantial parts of the oil profits for a period of up to 30 years. No other middle eastern producer-country has ever offered such hugely lucrative concessions to the big oil companies. OPEC—the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries—has, of course, always run its oil business on the basis of there being tightly controlled state companies. Only Iraq in its current dire situation, with US troops propping up its Government—without them the Government would not survive—lacks the bargaining capacity to be able to resist. If this new draft law is conceded by the Iraqis under the intense pressure that is being put on them, it will lock the country into a degree of weakness and dependence for decades ahead.
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The neo cons may have lost the war, but my goodness, they are still negotiating to win the biggest chunk of the peace, when and if it ever comes.

Ms Katy Clark: My right hon. Friend will be aware that the anti-war movement has been saying for a long time that this war was about oil. Does he agree with me that, if this oil law is put into effect, it will have a very serious long-term effect on the west? There will be a huge amount of resentment in Iraq if foreign multinational companies take the profits from—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Interventions must be brief; many Members are waiting to speak.

Mr. Meacher: I agree with my hon. Friend. This rearguard attempt to pre-empt the lion’s share of the remaining oil and the massive future profits over a 30-year period—there is no authority to extract it from another country without its agreement—can only intensify the insurgency. It is bound to foster much-increased resentment, as my hon. Friend says, and increase the violent resistance, even when the occupation has come to an end. Above all, this policy is utterly short-sighted, because it is diametrically opposed to the policy into which the whole world will ineluctably be forced by the accelerating onset of climate change.

It is not only in respect of Iraq that the United States is raising the stakes. In his speech in Dubai just before Christmas, the Prime Minister again denounced Iran. Anyone who read that speech will know that he took a far more belligerent line than other British or European representatives, or even than patient unofficial US representatives such as James Baker. There is already a huge US military build-up around Iran—in the eastern Mediterranean, the Arabian sea and the surrounding land area—and talk persists about an Israeli attack, perhaps even a nuclear attack, on Iranian nuclear facilities.

The truth is that Iran has done nothing illegal. It has demonstrated no territorial ambitions. It has not occupied any foreign country—unlike the United States or Israel—and it has hitherto complied with its obligation under the non-proliferation treaty to allow inspectors to “go anywhere and see anything”, as the phrase has it, unlike the United States and Israel, which have refused to do so. Indeed, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) said, Israel has refused to recognise the non-proliferation treaty and holds between 200 and 500 thermo-nuclear weapons, targeted at Iran and other middle east countries.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): What evidence does the right hon. Gentleman have to make such a strong assertion against Israel?

Mr. Meacher: I am not sure what the hon. Gentleman is referring to. There is no question but that Israel has a very substantial number—generally reckoned to be well in excess of 200—of thermo-nuclear weapons. Of course, we do not know the targeting of those weapons, but it can be strongly expected that they are targeted particularly against Iran, as well as some other countries in the middle east.

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Nor do any other of the west’s arguments for hostilities against Iran hold water. It is said repeatedly that Iran is about to produce a nuclear bomb and cannot be allowed to do so. In fact, all the evidence suggests—there is a lot of it, and it has been carefully trawled over—that Iran is not about to produce a bomb and is nowhere near doing so. It is believed to have enriched uranium to roughly the 3.5 per cent. level, which is certainly enough to make nuclear fuel, as it has said is the intention. However, enrichment of uranium to a 90 per cent. level, and in quantities of 50 kg to 100 kg, would be required in order to make a single bomb.

The argument is often made that Iran should not be allowed to have nuclear weapons. I have no brief for Iran. Much of the regime is appalling in terms of its suppression of progressive politics and its record on human rights, but that is not the issue. The issue is whether we are entitled to threaten a military intervention. On the question of whether Iran should have nuclear weapons, who actually decides that? What right does the US have to decide who should or should not have nuclear weapons? Iran is surrounded, to the west, north and east, by countries with nuclear weapons—the US in Iraq, in Afghanistan and in the Indian ocean, and Israel, China, Russia, India, Pakistan and now even Korea. It is hardly surprising that Iran wants similar protection.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher: No, my time is running out.

As for us, what moral authority do we have to say that Iran does not need nuclear weapons for self-protection when the UK Government are about to replace Trident with another round of nuclear weapons for exactly that quoted reason?

The truth is that there is no legal basis or military rationale for an attack on Iran. The UN Security Council would never authorise it, because Iran has not breached the terms of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Nor can the US or Israel claim that they have a right to a pre-emptive strike—a phrase that has been used. By long established law, a pre-emptive strike is justified only to defend against an imminent and certain attack. To claim the right of self-defence against an attack that might or might not emerge in five years’ time is to claim the right to wage war whenever one chooses. I remind the House that that was one of the two grounds on which the Nazi leaders were convicted and executed at Nuremberg.

In my opinion, it is unlikely that, militarily speaking, sustained air bombardment would destabilise, let alone overthrow, the regime. The policy would be counter-productive. The far more likely result is that such strikes would strengthen rather than weaken the clerical leadership and harden the resistance even of a recalcitrant nation behind it. Air blitzes never worked in the last world war. They did not work in Korea or Vietnam—or in Lebanon—and there is no reason to suppose that that would be any different in this case.

Even if all the military targets could be put out of action, which is highly unlikely, Iran has millions of Shi’a supporters in Iraq and Afghanistan and it is likely that they would rise in revolt. It must be very doubtful
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whether US forces in the region could contain such a heightened and widespread insurgency. I recall the words of an Iranian general to his counterpart—“You can start a war, but it won’t be you who finishes it.”

5.32 pm

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk) (Con): We have heard already this afternoon about the moving meeting that took place in the Palace of Westminster in November, at which King Abdullah spoke. He talked about the potential for three civil wars in the region and said that we were poised on a knife edge in each situation. The first is of course Lebanon, and the events of the past 48 hours have been truly horrific. There have been deaths and injuries, there are rumours of a coup d’état and real instability. At best, if the situation calms down, the economic impact on the country and the threat of further emigration is greater than ever. The situation in Iraq has been well rehearsed and, as far as Palestine and Israel are concerned, we know that there are still enormous tensions in the west bank between Fatah and Hamas.

We are in an unvirtuous circle, as King Abdullah described, with the potential for a domino effect leading to a conflagration in the whole region. Underpinning that depressing picture are the tensions between Sunni and Shi’a Islam well beyond the borders of Iraq in a way that has never happened before historically. Moreover, if Iraq is dismembered, Turkey has significant concerns about what will happen with the Kurds. We have also talked this afternoon about Iran and its nuclear ambitions, and the real fear that now exists in the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia.

I shall complete this depressing picture by talking about the situation in Israel, where there is something approaching political paralysis and a real crisis of confidence. What happened last summer means that the Israelis’ traditionally aggressive response to hostility may no longer work. All the elements that I have identified are interconnected, so how do we break what is a depressing cycle of events?

A new foreign policy development is that nations do not speak to other countries or bodies that they dislike. It could be argued that that approach was quite successful for the US in the cold war, although what happened in Cuba suggests otherwise. Unfortunately, that very black-and-white approach to the middle east has infected British thinking.

Terrorism is the scourge of our age: it destroys human life and pays no regard to civilians, but no terrorist group can compete with military powers. The ideological and religious terrorist activity, such as that pursued by al-Qaeda, is focused on a way of life rather than any given territory. In contrast, the impetus is territorial for groups such as the IRA, the Tamil Tigers, the Basque separatists—and even Hamas and Hezbollah.

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