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Terrorism is a murky world. There are overlaps and distinctions are not precise, but history has shown that, in certain circumstances, we can do business with organisations that fall into the latter category. In that connection, we think of our contact with people such as Jomo Kenyatta or Archbishop Makarios. However,
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even if a settlement were achieved between Palestine and Israel, I fear that the tension would not diffuse for many years, because countries such as Iran use Israel as a whipping boy for their own ambitions.

I mentioned the new foreign policy approach that says that countries should not talk to people whom they dislike, but another confusion arises when countries are bracketed and cemented together as some sort of axis of evil even when that is not appropriate. An example of that is the way in which Iran and Syria have been bracketed together. Their societies are very different, even though they have given their joint support to Hezbollah. They grew together only because of their clear dislike of Saddam Hussein.

When the late President Assad went to Geneva in 2001, he was convinced that he had a deal that would lead to the normalisation of relations between Syria and Israel in return for the Golan Heights and some limited access to the sea of Galilee. There are different interpretations as to what went wrong, but the Syrians believed that it was due to some act of Israeli involvement. The result is the situation that faces us today.

Syria is a constitutionally secular society. Although I would not for a moment want to defend its actions, especially in Lebanon, it holds a totally hostile view of Islamic religious fanaticism, and membership of the Muslim brotherhood is illegal. Moreover, it protects its Christian minority, and it has taken in tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians and given them protection and safety. However, the Syrians’ attitude to Israel is very much governed by the fact that they believe that by supporting Hezbollah they can continue to punish Israel for what they consider to be occupation of Syrian territory. That is the heart of the difficulty.

There is a lively debate in Israel about how that country should react. The Syrians have said that they are prepared to talk without preconditions, and that they want to exchange ambassadors. Problems remain, such as Syria’s support for Hezbollah, but it must be in Israel’s interest at least to explore the possibilities for constructive involvement, given Syria’s links with Hezbollah, its long-standing relationship with Iran, its good relations with the Iraqi Government, and its total rejection of Islamic fundamentalism. That involvement would at least supply one element of the jigsaw puzzle that needs to be put together if order and stability are to resume in that part of the world. Foreign Ministers from Spain, Germany and other countries have gone to Damascus to discuss the possibility that I have set out, and I welcome the fact that they have brokered a meeting between the Hamas leader in Damascus and Abu Mazen.

How should we proceed? The Beirut declaration exists, of course, and we have talked about the Quartet, but I draw the House’s attention to the Neighbourhood Forum—an initiative started in 1998 by the Turks and the Jordanians that involves all the countries surrounding Iraq. Their Foreign Ministers hold regular meetings, which include EU and UN representatives. Of course, we in the west want the involvement of moderate Arab countries—as happens in that group—such as Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The forum is desperately needed to break the logjam and make a breakthrough. The role of Turkey is important as part
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of the forum and as a great ally of ours. Turkey has an excellent relationship with Israel and with the Arab world, which could be hugely beneficial.

When we consider the history of the middle east, we find that grand designs for solutions to its problems never work. Patient hard work and negotiations are the solution, but we need a starting point. We need to get the United States involved, but we have to persuade the Americans that the dialogue must extend beyond the limits of the course of action they have chosen.

This is a truly depressing time. In 1956, Lady Eden said she felt as though the Suez canal was flowing through the drawing room of No. 10 Downing street. Today, it must feel as though the Tigris, the Euphrates and the River Jordan are flowing through that self same room. The terrible thing for us is that, as a result of the circumstances of the past few years, our reputation in the region has been very much degraded—although of course we still have good friends in the area and we need to maintain those relationships.

We have the most skilled diplomats of any country, but they have been rather sidetracked over the past few years. Our skilled diplomats, with their unique historical understanding of the middle east, should come together and work with people in organisations such as the Neighbourhood Forum to try to break the logjam and start a dialogue. We really need to do that.

Unfortunately, since the invasion of Iraq, human rights and democratic underpinnings in many parts of the Arab world have deteriorated. The time has come for the British Government to act more persuasively and independently, as they always used to do in the region, and to work with our friends in some sort of forum to move the process on. The Government should not give the impression that we are always beholden to others in our approach to resolving the terrible problems in the region.

5.42 pm

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): The war and the occupation have been a catastrophe in many ways—no wonder the Prime Minister has been desperately searching for a different legacy.

Attempts to justify that illegal war have fallen away one by one. We were told that there were weapons of mass destruction: none was found. The war would help to deliver a middle east solution: not done. It would promote human rights: numerous atrocities have been committed by the occupiers—Falluja, Haditha, the official and unofficial death squads, Abu Ghraib and the secret prisoners. Last March, Amnesty International said that 14,000 people were being held without charge or trial, in breach of international law.

We were told that the war would deliver freedom: freedom to flee. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says that 12 per cent. of Iraqis—approximately 4 million people—have fled their homes since the 2003 invasion due to violence. We were told there would be a chance for Iraqis to prosper; instead, there is impoverishment and millions still depend on food rations. Only 30 per cent. of eligible children attend primary schools, and 33 per cent. of children suffer malnutrition. No wonder the latest poll shows that 91 per cent. of Iraqis believe that their country is
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worse off now than before the 2003 war, and that 95 per cent. think that the security situation has deteriorated since the arrival of US forces.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for eloquently painting that depressing picture. The state of the health care system in Iraq has not been highlighted in the debate so far. I have a constituent who corresponds with an anaesthetist at Baghdad hospital who was one of eight doctors in that job—he is now one of only two because his colleagues have been killed or have fled. He is receiving death threats, so he has to consider leaving his patients. That is not the picture we are receiving from the Government.

Harry Cohen: That point is well made, and it was well put on the front page of The Independent last Friday in an article on the crisis in the Iraqi health service.

The only fig leaf left is the claim to be promoting democracy. The elections held were deeply flawed and would not be recognised as democratic elsewhere in the world. Many Iraqis were disfranchised because they were murdered, under threat, under assault—as in Falluja at the time—or rendered homeless. If the US and the UK hold those elections dear, why have they not acceded to the main causes promoted by the parties at the election—an end to the occupation or a sovereign unified Iraq? The biggest threat to that still comes from the US, which could choose an option—the option to break up Iraq—on a whim or out of desperation. What about Iraqi resources for Iraqis? A platform briefing on oil law yesterday said:

The new contract with the multinationals would

The western occupiers have also shown that the so-called democracy that they have unleashed can also be barbaric—for example, the grotesque hanging under taunt of Saddam Hussein and the decapitation of his brother-in-law. Indeed, hundreds of other executions have taken place. There are death squads and militias, among others, in the governing parties. Free rein is given to the US occupiers.

On the subject of the surge of US troops, The Economist on 11 January this year stated that

Or worse? That just shows that the troops are part of the killing. Then there is corruption. On 22 January, The Independent reported that of

The lack of development and social progress is another factor. Again, The Economist said that

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fat chance of that. Democracy is incompatible with insecurity and I take the view that it is also incompatible with occupation. They are a contradiction in terms.

To add a little philosophical basis to my argument, the Ugandan historian, Mahmoud Mamdani, said of the claims of colonialism to impose democracy that “colonialism is intrinsically despotic”. He described the political system that results in a “decentralised despotism”, which is what we have in Iraq. His words can be bolstered by those of Abe Lincoln, who said:

A more current writer, Sam Vaknin, said:

I believe that democracy is incompatible with occupation. Just look at it in Iraq. The power lies with the occupier and the democratically elected Government have very limited powers and are easily bullied by the occupying power. The police are not trusted and are ineffective. The army, which, ridiculously, was disbanded, is inadequate, and the occupying forces, despite their overwhelmingly powerful presence, are very limited in what they are prepared to take responsibility for and what they are prepared to secure. Protecting the oil wells rather than the population has had predictable results.

The population does not live under a beneficent or even an efficient democracy, they live in terror—terror of being killed and of their loved ones being killed or being injured and finding that there are no medical supplies at the hospital. The occupiers are not a solution to the terror—they are contributors to it—and their presence provides the raison d’ĂȘtre for the violence of the insurgents, many of whom, both Shi’a and Sunni, see themselves as nationalist resistance freedom fighters.

As Dr. Glen Rangwala said in the meeting that we held in Parliament yesterday:

In those circumstances, the emerging new attitude of humility in the Government in the country—it was expressed by the Chancellor—is appropriate in acknowledging errors and the fact that the Government cannot do it all.

In Iraq, the UK Government, as part of the occupying forces, have failed, and failed miserably. So humility is right, but it is not enough—bravery is needed—the courage to leave and to let Iraq heal itself without the occupying forces. Whatever the opposing factions in Iraq, it is in our power to take out the causal factor, namely, the military occupation. Democracy is best served by the occupying forces leaving, and I say that they should leave quickly.

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5.51 pm

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): I congratulate the shadow Foreign Secretary, who spoke for the Conservative party, on saying something very honest: he said that he would not go back on his decision when the vote was taken in the House to go to war. It is very important that, when we are trying to debate this issue, we do so remembering what we have said in the past, rather than trying to rewrite history. Those hon. Members from whichever side of the House or whatever persuasion who now start to say that we were hoodwinked somehow by what was said by the Prime Minister and those on the Treasury Bench are doing politics a disservice—it is either cheap politics, or they are very gullible. If they are that gullible, I suggest that they do not go out at night because someone will con them out of their money.

We need to move forward and to look at what the reality is now, not from a party loyalist standpoint, but from what is going on the ground in Iraq, in Basra and in Baghdad. My party leader has taken a very bold decision in the past few weeks. He has taken the decision that we need to move the policy on. Although we opposed their use in the first place, we have supported our forces while they are there. The circumstances are changing, so we must review our position. I fully support the stance that he has taken, and I do so for two principal reasons.

The British commander recently said that the presence of our forces was becoming part of the problem. He has not just become promoted to that position and said, “Oh, I’m going to look up a new policy.” He has done so that after a great deal of thought and after consulting our commanders on the ground in Basra. It should not come as a surprise to hear that our commanders have been saying for some time that there is a problem—not with the work that our forces are doing, which I have witnessed, and it is very good. They are very professional and dedicated to their work. But they now fear that their mere presence is provoking a response.

I was told over a year ago that the presence of British troops was becoming a problem. Some hon. Members doubt whether we should set a date, but if the presence of our troops is becoming part of the problem, we are possibly making matters worse. We cannot stick our heads in the sand and try to pretend that that is not the reality of what is happening on the ground. If we do so, we are doing a disservice to every British serviceman and woman in Iraq. We are putting their lives, and the lives of every Iraqi, at risk. We need to go forward.

There is a second reason why I believe that a change of policy is required. The governance system in Iraqi society is weak. It is prone to hide behind the coalition skirts. People will come here and say, “We don’t want you to leave Iraq yet. Please stay.” During the visits that I have made to Iraq, I have witnessed openness about saying, “Yes, we want you to stay,” but a lack of responsibility when it comes to taking charge and beginning to resolve their own problems. The British forces have always said that we are there to help the Iraqis find an Iraqi solution. If we continue to remain there and the Iraqis fail to take responsibility for their own security and fail to deal with the difficulties that they have, we are doing them a disservice.

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Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): The hon. Gentleman commented that if the Iraqis came here they would say that they want us to stay in Iraq, and that that means that they do not take responsibility, but how can we second guess what they really want if we do not listen to what they say? I come here as a new Member and I was not part of the original vote. We have to listen to what people say, and not second guess something between the lines. Does he accept that?

Richard Younger-Ross: When the hon. Lady has been here longer, she will realise that we often have to guess what people would say and look between the lines. We also have to look at what they do, not just at their words.

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): Does my hon. Friend accept that, generally, people publicly welcome occupation troops because of their fear of what might happen if they say that they do not want them?

Richard Younger-Ross: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Personally, I am extremely pessimistic about the situation in Iraq. Whatever is said in the Chamber, the Government and the coalition forces have to start planning for all eventualities. There will come a point at which we have to say that we are going to withdraw our forces. President Bush has said so. He has said that the commitment is not open-ended. I think that his additional forces will be a waste. I hope that I am wrong about that. I hope that they will make a difference. It is a shame and a bitter irony that when his commanders on the ground asked for additional forces immediately after May 2003 they were not given them, because the situation today might have been different if they had been given those forces. We might have been able to make things work. However, as I said, we have to deal with the reality of where we are.

We have to look at the eventualities and to have contingency plans. In particular, we have to talk to and engage with the neighbouring countries. That is not an option; it is a “must”. To do so, we have to temper our language. It is vital that we engage with Syria and Iran as far as we can. Both countries are a problem. They are not necessarily the good guys on the block. I accept that, but talking is far better than threatening military attacks on them. We have discussed the Iranian nuclear option a lot today. But other threats have already been made. On 10 January, President Bush said in his response to the Baker-Hamilton review, on the point about insurgents:

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