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In the Foreign Affairs Committee, I asked the Secretary of State whether she thought that that was an aggressive gesture and whether she thought that that implied that those attacks could be taken on to Syrian or Iranian territory. Of course, she said that she did not believe that was the case, and most people would have said so in her position. However, President Bush’s words stand in their own right, and it is reasonable to interpret them as a threat against Syrian and Iranian bases and support. I do not believe that such language is helpful either to our attempts to make progress
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towards peace or to the American effort, so I am grateful for the fact that far saner and sober voices are beginning to be heard in the United States. They are our friends—America is our friend—and it is only the neo-con leadership and its supporters in Parliament and in other parts of the world that have delivered us into the almighty mess that we are in.

Finally, may I turn briefly to Afghanistan? It has been said that Afghanistan is like Iraq, but that is not the case. I visited the country with the Foreign Affairs Committee two or three weeks ago, and we found reasons to be hopeful. There were pleas for our troops to stay, not just from the Government but from across the board. Afghanistan has problems, and President Karzai has to face up to great difficulties, including corruption and poor governance. We have a role to play both in Afghanistan itself and in efforts to reduce the number of insurgents entering the country from neighbouring Pakistan. Afghanistan is not helping itself, because Pakistan proposes to establish a barrier, and it refuses to co-operate for the worst of all reasons, as it does not recognise the border between the two countries. We must make every effort to use our resources and embassies to knock heads together, as Pakistan and Afghanistan have a common cause in wishing to tackle the insurgency.

As I said, the situation is not without hope, but it requires a long-term commitment. It took five to 10 years to eradicate drugs from some countries in the far east. Heroin and opiates constituted a small percentage of those countries’ gross domestic product, but in Afghanistan they constitute 50 per cent. Eradicating drugs from Afghanistan is of crucial interest to the west, and we must come up with innovative solutions that provide support for the Afghan people. We must remember, too, that Pakistan and Iran have a direct interest in dealing with the drugs problem in Afghanistan, because they have the highest percentage of opiate addicts in the world.

6.3 pm

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): Like many of my hon. Friends, I have had Iraqi friends all my adult life, and I always opposed Saddam Hussein. However, I could not translate support for my friends into support for the war, and they did not seek to persuade me to do so.

I have not spoken about Iraq in the House since I voted against the invasion, because I continue to be angry about the original decision and I am sickened by the terrible loss of life, both civilian and military. I take no consolation from the fact that I knew that I was right in thinking that no significant weapons of mass destruction would be found, that chaos would ensue, and that unilateral action would be disastrous for our standing in the world. I was prompted to contribute today, as was the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), by the Prime Minister’s speech on foreign policy and defence on 12 January.

The Prime Minister spoke of hard and soft power. On Iraq, he simply said:

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He then immediately moved on to a discourse on Islamic terrorism. There was no analysis of what that exercise of hard power had cost. There was no acknowledgment that al-Qaeda had never been active in Iraq before the invasion, and no mention of the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have died as a result of the sectarian violence that we have unleashed. There was no mention of the millions—yes, millions—of Iraqis who have fled the country, although retrospectively we said that we invaded the country in order to liberate them. There was no mention of the fact that the country’s infrastructure lies in ruins, and the whole region faces destabilisation.

The Prime Minister warned Britain against retreating from embracing both war fighting and peacekeeping, and instead embracing peacekeeping alone. He thinks that that might be a popular option, and he could be right. If he is right, it is because of Iraq, but he is wrong to counterpose war fighting and peacekeeping; there is also peace building, a more subtle art that may prevent conflict and heal wounds. Peace building has to be founded in international law, and it requires us to see the world from more complicated perspectives, not simply through the prism of US global interests. Many of us hoped that that would be part of the ethical foreign policy that we promised. That ethical foreign policy is still there in our superb international development work, in our support for Africa, in our leading on climate change, and in our positive role in helping to reform the international institutions. However, those huge international endeavours have been fundamentally undermined by our invasion of Iraq.

Harry Cohen: My hon. Friend is right to question the Prime Minister’s distinction between hard and soft power—between war fighting and peacekeeping—but is there not also a difference between going to war in one’s own defence, or as a last resort against a pre-emptive strike, and going to war by choice?

Joan Ruddock: I thank my hon. Friend for that point. As I am sure he knows, the one is legal and the other is entirely illegal. As I say, our huge endeavours have been undermined by our invasion of Iraq. Most importantly, the invasion has rendered us a far less effective interlocutor in the now possibly fatally flawed middle east peace process.

I am not a fundamentalist, and I do not oppose all military interventions, but we have to learn from our history. Ali Allawi, the former Iraqi Defence Minister, recently wrote in The Independent that

Britain is part of that history; it first occupied Basra in 1914, it ruled Iraq in the 1920s, and it invaded a sovereign Iraq to establish a pro-British Government in the 1940s. Our involvement in Iran followed a similar pattern, so our support for regime change and the defence of western oil interests is nothing new.

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What ought we to learn from the history of the middle east? First, we should learn that we cannot impose foreign solutions on the area. We should also learn that arming one dictatorship to fight another, as we did in the case of Iraq and Iran, only increases oppression and bitterness, and it will do so again if the US attacks Iran. I echo all the warnings given on that subject today; there will be huge opposition if our Government support such an action. As Ali Allawi says,

Allawi offers Iraq and the international community a blueprint for moving forward, for beginning to make the peace, with an acknowledgement—he is a Shi’a—of the fundamental shift from Sunni to Shi’a domination. He argues for the involvement of threatened neighbours, and for Iran and Turkey to be introduced into a new security structure for the middle east that would recognise legitimate concerns, fears and interests. In essence, Allawi’s blueprint moves to a multilateralist, multi-ethnic approach to the future, away from the simplistic unilateralist approach of the Bush Administration.

Britain should do the same. Our use of “hard” power must be linked to a foreign policy that identifies the links between human rights, human security and counter-terrorism. Humanitarian intervention, which I support, needs to be rooted in internationally accepted humanitarian principles, not in geopolitical self-interest, as was the case in Iraq.

The Foreign Secretary today gave us many reasons to hope that the elected Iraqi Government may in the foreseeable future be able to take over their own security and begin the rebuilding of their state. Like everyone who heard her words, I welcome them and I hope from the bottom of my heart that she is correct, but learning from our mistakes and thinking outside the Bush box will be essential if we are to be there supporting that Government and enabling them to move forward in their own direction.

We must support a regional security conference and the involvement of Iran and Syria, as many others have said today, without preconditions. We must help to secure a viable Palestinian state. Like others who have spoken, I cannot understand how we have been prepared to talk to all manner of regimes around the world, but not to the democratically elected Hamas Government. I understand the position of Israel. I understand the position with respect to transfers of money, but there can be no case for isolating Hamas and failing to talk to them in the critical situation that we face.

We have an important role to play in the world, but we must learn to see and to define that role through British eyes, to engage more positively with our European allies, to follow the United States less slavishly, and to advance our progressive agenda of justice and poverty alleviation. Unless we do that—unless we re-embrace our fundamental values—we will not be able to give to the desperate Iraqi people the
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kind of support that might enable them to secure a better future for themselves in the way that they choose.

6.13 pm

Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): I shall confine my remarks to Iraq. I add my voice to those who believe that the absence of the Prime Minister from the debate is shameful. It is wrong because it was the Prime Minister who led the country to war and who made the strongest case for war in this place. It is also wrong because the main justification for war—that of WMD—has since proved false, and the justification for our continued presence since that war—that life for the ordinary Iraqi is, or will be, so much better—is proving increasingly tenuous.

In October last year the Prime Minister responded to my question at Prime Minister’s questions by saying that he would be

His absence today is an insult to the lives that have been lost, particularly to our own military. For there can be little doubt that the situation is deteriorating. We have heard many figures discussed, which I do not intend to repeat. The fact that 9,000 civilians are being driven out of their homes every week, with families fleeing to their ethnic groups as sectarian violence intensifies, adds weight to Kofi Annan’s claim that life for the ordinary Iraqi is now worse than it was under Saddam Hussein.

If the intention was to put in place a western-style liberal democracy, we have clearly failed because of mistakes in the immediate aftermath of the war. That view was supported by our Chief of the General Staff, who stated that we should lower our ambitions for what we hoped to achieve. It is therefore not surprising that there is no shortage of alternative strategies from different policy makers.

However, the latest announcement by President Bush about sending 20,000 extra troops into Baghdad, in what is being called the surge, is doomed to failure, as several hon. Members pointed out. There are essentially two reasons for that.

First, inadequate numbers of troops are being sent in. The ratio of troops to citizens is clearly inadequate for counter-insurgency operations. That was reinforced by General David Petraeus, the new American commander, who co-authored an American counter-insurgency field manual. He believes that the ratio must be 20 to 25 soldiers for every 1,000 civilians. Given that the population of Baghdad is 6 million, there is no way that the troop numbers can match that ratio. It is no wonder that General John Abizaid, head of central command, which oversees US strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan, told a Senate hearing last November that increasing troops by 20,000 would have only a temporary effect on security, and delay the day when Iraqi forces could take over. It is no surprise that he was dismissed.

Secondly, it could be argued that the presence of coalition forces in some areas of Iraq fuels or exacerbates the insurgency. The Foreign Secretary is fond of citing surveys. In September, one survey found that 61 per cent. of Iraqis, including a majority of Shi’as and almost all Sunnis, approved of attacks on
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coalition forces. That view appeared to be confirmed by General Sir Richard Dannatt, who made the point that in some parts of the country, the presence of British troops exacerbates the situation.

We must accept that there is no purely military solution to Iraq’s problems. We need an internal political settlement between Arab and Kurd, Sunni and Shi’a. However, two key obstacles need to be overcome before we can claim any semblance of success in Iraq.

First, we all know that Iraq is driven by factions rooted in almost 1,000 years of history. The challenge of overcoming that must not be underestimated. The composition of the Iraqi Government is sectarian, with key players acting in the interest of their faction rather than that of the nation. Divisions and lack of progress nationally strengthen the role of militias, from which many of Iraq’s leaders draw their power. The Americans conducted a big operation at the end of last year in the north-east of the city, which involved sealing off what is known as the military canal to try to cut off insurgents. However, it had to be stopped after the Government applied political pressure because the operation was making life too difficult for their factions and militias in the area. The outgoing American general, General Casey, conveyed the clear message that no strategy can succeed unless that obstacle is properly overcome.

The second key obstacle to progress in Iraq is the United States’ simplistic view of the region. The concept of an axis of evil needs to be addressed, because its approach is too rigid. Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the former British ambassador to the United Nations, said that finding a solution would require a

involving Syria and Iran. It is therefore a shame that President Bush dismissed the Baker report out of hand. It was perceived as a triumph of the realists over the neocons.

The report embraced the key principle that one makes peace with one’s enemies, not one’s friends. Yet President Bush has turned to the neocons, who devised the latest surge policy, and is now pressing for confrontation with Iran. That must be the wrong approach. Engaging regional powers is already difficult for the US because of the perception, which was strengthened in the recent conflict in Lebanon last summer, of a bias towards Israel. Taking such a confrontational approach now can only make matters worse. Unless those obstacles are overcome, the mission in Iraq will either ultimately fail or result in a stalemate in which the US and UK will remain committed to the country at an ever-increasing cost, both in financial terms and in lives.

We should be setting strategic goals for withdrawal, including establishing the political and military milestones needed to promote reconciliation and stability. Our presence in Iraq cannot be justified indefinitely. I completely disagree, however, with the Liberal proposal that we set a fixed timetable for withdrawal. That would only act as a spur to the insurgents to “have a go”, which would put British lives at risk as well as adding to the mounting civilian casualties. We need to scale down our ambitions, however. We are no longer in a position, if ever we
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were, to establishment a functioning liberal democracy in Iraq, and we should now use whatever influence we have on the Americans to push for that strategy.

Meanwhile, we are left to ponder the legacies of this shambles. One cannot help but conclude that our involvement has brought about many of the threats that it was meant to prevent. The Prime Minister’s concept of a preventive war has been discredited. For example, one of the arguments for the war was that otherwise, at some point in the future the twin problems of Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda would come together, and that Iraq would become a training ground for international terrorism. We now know that al-Qaeda was not in Iraq before the invasion, but it is now. The Baker-Hamilton report has claimed that Iraq is now a

Recent reports on both sides of the Atlantic have confirmed this fact—a fact that, interestingly, has not been denied by the respective Governments.

Weapons of mass destruction were the main pretext for going to war. The signal sent to Iran and North Korea by this invasion is that they, too, might face invasion—but there is no incentive for them not to arm. Therefore, they might as well have weapons of mass destruction, if only to act as a deterrent. After all, Iraq had no such weapons, and look what happened there.

This episode highlights the moral bankruptcy at the heart of our foreign policy in the region. We must do more to distinguish between right and wrong in our foreign policy objectives. We cannot go goose-stepping round the world, invading countries because we think that they present a threat, and then, when we discover that they did not, trying to justify our actions by saying that life for their citizens is somehow better now. That is the law of the jungle. It is illegal: it is against article 2 of the United Nations charter. It cannot, and should not, be sustained in this day and age. By adhering to such a policy, we set dangerous precedents and examples to emerging powers such as China.

6.23 pm

Colin Burgon (Elmet) (Lab): I was brought up a Roman Catholic, and I am well aware of the power of confession. It is in the light of that that my contribution today should be judged, because I was one of those who voted for the war in Iraq, based on the issue of weapons of mass destruction.

I am aware of the time, so I shall get down to the bones of the argument. It is patently clear that horrendous mistakes were made by the US and UK forward planners in the immediate aftermath of the invasion, and many people have focused on that issue today. The real question that we should be focusing on, however, is the ideological underpinning for the decision to go to war and to invade Iraq. If von Clausewitz was right that war is the

we should be looking at the politics that drove that invasion. It is interesting to note that, now that all the other reasons for this disastrous invasion—be they connections to 9/11, links to al-Qaeda, or weapons of mass destruction—have been proven wrong, George
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Bush has simply fallen back on the idea that the Iraqis are free, and that that is all that really matters.

Bush has stated—and it is clear that we must follow what he says, as he is a significant player in all this—that

He added:

the United States, not the UK—

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