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I support the inquiry, but I would like it to include the question of why nobody took the indictment of the regime seriously at that time. I chaired an organisation called Indict, which had collected evidence of Iraqi war crimes over a period of seven years. We had three researchers who went to 15 countries all over the world and collected that evidence in case anybody forgot about it. Some of the evidence went back further back than seven years; it went back for more than 30 years,
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because it was for 30 years that that regime persecuted its own people. We employed researchers and lawyers to take testimony from Iraqis all over the world. We gathered evidence, carried out interviews and prepared legal briefs detailing the monstrosity of the Saddam regime as told to us by individual Iraqis. We took many more testimonies than we were able to use; some of them, unfortunately, would not have stood up in a court of law. The crimes committed by the regime were truly appalling.

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): The right hon. Lady argued for military action on humanitarian grounds, but would she agree that one of the disasters of the Iraq war is that—without an inquiry—it makes military action for humanitarian purposes in future even less likely?

Ann Clwyd: I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman is completely missing my point, which is that there was an alternative to war, but nobody took it seriously enough. At that time, it was possible under international law to indict leading members of the regime, particularly Tariq Aziz, on the taking of hostages. We presented evidence to the then Attorney-General, who passed it to Scotland Yard. I remember saying to him, “You’re kicking it into the long grass,” and in the long grass it remained, because, as far as I know, Scotland Yard took no action at all. In fact, we were ridiculed in the press for wasting police time. There were very few people in this House who supported alternative action; I have mentioned the 201 who did.

On the board of Indict—much to people’s surprise, I am sure—were leading members of the Iraqi opposition. They also believed that indictment was the way to remove leading members of the regime, and they believed that the regime would fall as the result of that action. Those members included Latif Rashid, who is now the Iraqi Water Resources Minister, Ahmad Chalabi, who now chairs a committee on reconstruction in Baghdad, and Hamid Al-Bayati, who is now Iraqi permanent representative to the UN in New York. By 2003 we had enough evidence to indict Tariq Aziz. I personally attempted to get the indictment in Belgium, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. We were funded by the Americans because, at that time, their statute of limitations did not enable prosecutions or indictments to take place in the United States, but they were possible in Europe.

Alan Simpson: My right hon. Friend makes an important point, but does she regret—as those who shared her concern but still voted against war do—that when the trial of Saddam Hussein finally took place, it was framed in such narrow terms that none of the charges about which she had collected evidence were allowed to be addressed? The British and American Governments felt that evidence of our own complicit involvement in supporting and perpetrating those atrocities would be unearthed .

Ann Clwyd: My hon. Friend makes a good point. I would have liked a full-scale indictment where all the charges against Saddam Hussein could have been heard. I hope that they will be heard in other cases; do not forget that the trials are still going on. My point
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does not concern those trials, however, but the opportunity that we missed in this place for an alternative to war. I was not somebody who supported war; I did so only on rare occasions. I was active in the peace movement. I supported war as a last resort because we failed to get those indictments. I hoped that in the United Kingdom most of all, we would have seen how to use international law to avert a war, but we failed to do so. I would like to see that dealt with in an inquiry.

Some of those on the other side of the House are asking for an apology from those of us who voted for military action in 2003. I do not apologise, because I still think that it was the right thing to do to remove that regime. However, it is quite right to ask what went wrong. Unlike many Foreign Office officials, I have not yet put my memoirs on paper. However, I have been closely involved with Iraq for more than 30 years. I have my own criticisms of how things progressed after the war— [ Interruption. ] I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) wants to intervene. I do not need him pointing out, thank you; I am not deaf. We should have examined certain possibilities to the full, and we did not do so.

Jeremy Corbyn: Does my right hon. Friend consider that any inquiry held should also look at the role of the Foreign Office and Ministers in relation to the refusal to allow weapons inspectors to return to Iraq just after Christmas 2002? The inspectors had clearly made enormous progress in disarming the regime. As she knows, I supported the idea of indicting the regime before that. The inspectors were not allowed to return, and instead we rushed into war, with all the consequences that followed.

Ann Clwyd: My hon. Friend was one of those few people who, in 1988, came with me to the Foreign Office to complain about the actions of the Conservative party in its dealings with Iraq. In particular, when the events at Halabja occurred, the then Foreign Office Minister said that there was no evidence. We said at that time, “We insist that you get the evidence, because it is there.” My hon. Friend has played an honourable role in pursuing these matters for a long period.

I go to Iraq frequently—I was there in December—and at the moment there are green shoots of optimism. There is no doubt about that; even the sternest critic of the war would have to admit that there is progress and optimism. There are positive developments, but what is happening in Basra at the moment is very unfortunate. It is a pity that we could not hear from my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary about the events that are taking place there as we speak. I understand that British jets are involved in some sort of surveillance and in giving information to Iraqi forces fighting on the ground. We are not quite as detached from what is going on there as some people may suggest, which is why it would not be helpful to have an inquiry now, next week or the month afterwards, although I do think it essential to have one at some stage. In particular, I would like the inquiry to ask why we did not make more of an effort to get an indictment when we had the evidence to do so.

Paul Holmes (Chesterfield) (LD): The right hon. Lady says that she voted for the invasion reluctantly, because we could not get the indictment. However,
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would she accept that invading a country for regime change is illegal under international law, and that that was not the reason given for the vote in this House? On 25 February 2003, the Prime Minister told us:

In other words, if Saddam Hussein had given up the non-existent weapons of mass destruction that Hans Blix could not find, he would have been allowed to stay in power, and it was not about regime change.

Ann Clwyd: That may be the case, but it is not my case. My point is that for more than 25 years, senior Iraqi officials committed genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The list is long, and people need reminding of it; I sometimes think that people have conveniently wiped it from their memory. It was important to get regime change; I have not changed my mind one little bit.

Mike Gapes: My right hon. Friend knows, because she has been involved in the campaign longer than I have, that we have just marked the 20th anniversary of the terrible Anfal atrocities that Saddam carried out, but where has that appeared on the BBC? Where has the “Today” programme been? When did John Humphrys talk about that yesterday? There has not been a word.

Ann Clwyd: I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. He is absolutely right. I tried to talk about it last week on a BBC programme and I was continuously told, “It’s Basra we’re talking about. Basra.” We need to assemble all the facts; we cannot take something in isolation and talk about only one specific case. The genocidal Anfal campaign against Iraqi Kurds in 1987-88, the invasion of Kuwait, the killing of more than 1,000 Kuwaiti civilians and the violent suppression of the 1991 Kurdish uprising led to 30,000 or more civilian deaths. I am interested to know what the Conservative party’s solution would have been. Would it have allowed Saddam to continue to persecute his own people?

Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): The right hon. Lady makes the case for regime change and says that the war in Iraq was all about that as far as she was concerned. Why was the case for regime change different in Iraq from the case that could be made against dictators and despots the world over? What is the difference between the position in Iraq that she has outlined and the position in Zimbabwe, where there is the most awful dictator, Robert Mugabe? Why is it right to invade one country to change the regime and not another?

Ann Clwyd: Because Iraq had ignored 17 UN Security Resolutions— [Interruption.] I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has ever sat in the UN and listened, as I did for several years running, to the report of the UN rapporteur on human rights in Iraq, who detailed all the things that I have mentioned today. The UN Security Council sat there and did nothing. If the UN is to mean something, surely ignoring 17 UN Security Council resolutions is important.

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Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): The right hon. Lady has been a tireless campaigner and I respect the fact that she has been consistent in her arguments. However, does she accept that the humanitarian reasons were not those given to the House or the country to justify going to war with Iraq? That is why we urgently need an inquiry into the Iraq war now.

Ann Clwyd: I agree that humanitarian arguments were not presented. I think that they should have been, and that we should ask why they were not. I know the slick answer to that question, but some of us, including many of my hon. Friends who opposed the war, presented the arguments for regime change for many years. We consistently said that something should be done about the Iraqi regime. I believed that the regime should have been indicted under international law. It was possible in the case of Milosevic, so why not in the case of Saddam Hussein, Tariq Aziz and many others on our list who are in jail awaiting trial?

To take up the point that the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee made, it is important to remind people why the regime was so bad. The people of Iraq deserve to hear that themselves, and the people who lost family during those years need to hear the people who perpetrated those crimes answering for them.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. I remind hon. Members that Mr. Speaker has imposed a 15-minute time limit on Back-Bench contributions.

6.24 pm

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), who speaks with such experience and knowledge of Iraq. I am sure that the points that she made could be accommodated in the terms of reference of the sort of inquiry that the motion envisages, and I hope that she will perhaps reconsider her intention to vote against the motion, because the logic of her speech is that such an inquiry should be held and that the best time for it is now.

I agree with many speakers, including the Foreign Secretary, that we should pay tribute to the way in which our forces have performed in Iraq. That unites us all. Many of them were trained at Lydd and Hythe in my constituency, and several were trained in Shorncliffe, also in my constituency, before they went to Iraq. They have performed superbly and we owe them a deep debt of gratitude.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary on a powerful, compelling and, in my view, unanswerable speech. I sympathise, in his absence, with the Foreign Secretary for the task with which he was saddled. I was a practising barrister for 21 years and during that time I had to argue some pretty thin cases. I had the privilege of being a Minister for 12 years and I readily confess that there were one or two occasions—very few—when I found myself defending from the Dispatch Box one or two positions that were perhaps a little thinner than I would have liked. However, I am happy to say that I have never had
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the experience of attempting to advance such threadbare arguments as the Foreign Secretary was obliged to present today.

Jeremy Corbyn: May I take the right hon. and learned Gentleman back to the late 1980s when he was a Minister? Since he supports an inquiry, as I do, does he accept that it should include a thorough investigation of those Ministers, civil servants and others who authorised selling arms to Iraq, even after the events at Halabja, and of British participation, which Ministers approved, in the Baghdad arms fair the following year?

Mr. Howard: That is exactly what the Scott inquiry examined at length. It was right to hold an inquiry into those matters. The previous Government set it up and it duly reported.

Our debates about the need for an inquiry into events surrounding the invasion of Iraq before and after it took place were clothed in a language that had an arcane theology of its own. That was when the former Prime Minister was still in office and before the Defence Secretary’s announcement in 2006, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) referred. The Government position then was that no full inquiry was needed because of those that had already taken place.

Those debates were punctuated with obscure arguments about the precise terms of reference of the previous inquiries and the extent to which they had been implemented. The Government’s position at that time and in the context of those arguments was not only inconsistent with that which the Foreign Secretary advanced today but directly contradicted it. Their argument then was, “We’ve had all these wide-ranging and comprehensive inquiries—there’s nothing left to inquire into.” Fortunately they realised—I suppose that they deserve some credit for it—that that position was untenable. They therefore changed it and accepted that the case for an inquiry was unanswerable. So far, so good.

Unfortunately, as we have heard today, the Government’s position is, “Yes, we’ll have an inquiry, but not yet. We won’t tell you when or precisely what circumstances must be satisfied. It’ll happen sometime, but not yet.” That exposed a vulnerability in the Government’s line, which, as we have witnessed this evening, was obvious, clear and wholly indefensible. There is no good reason for not holding an inquiry now, and everyone, including the Government, knows it.

It is interesting that when the Prime Minister responded to the case for holding an inquiry that the Fabian Society put forward, he limited himself to just one reason. He said that it is

That prompts the question, which has already arisen in this debate: whose attention would be diverted from that task? It would not be our troops on the ground in Iraq whose attention would be diverted. Indeed, it is difficult if not impossible to see how they would be involved in such an inquiry, so there is no cause for concern there. The Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary, who we hope are spearheading the United Kingdom’s support for Iraq’s development as a stable
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and secure country—they have the political responsibility for that task—were not involved in the events surrounding the invasion, so they are not likely to have their attention diverted from that important task, either.

The House is entitled to know whom the Prime Minister had in mind when he uttered those words. We are entitled to an answer. Who are the people whose attention would be diverted from that task? I hope that the Minister, who has the unenviable task of replying to this debate, will respond to that question. If the Prime Minister says that the reason for not holding an inquiry now is that we must not divert people’s attention from that task, we want to know whose attention would be diverted.

Mike Gapes: The right hon. and learned Gentleman has been around long enough to know that several serving members of the Government, some of whom were in other Departments before, were intimately involved in the events of 2003.

Mr. Howard: That is not what the Prime Minister said. He did not say, “We can’t have an inquiry because there are lots of Ministers who have important business to attend to and we mustn’t distract them.” He said, “We can’t have an inquiry, because we mustn’t divert people from the responsibility of what they need to do in Iraq.” That prompts the question that must be answered if we are to give any credence at all to the position advanced by the Government.

The truth, of course, is that there are lessons that could be learned from such an inquiry and from which we could benefit. Those lessons could benefit what we are doing in Iraq and in Afghanistan now. It is a disgrace that we should be deprived of those benefits for no good reason at all.

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that many military personnel would welcome an inquiry now? Many in the military feel that they were left with a huge burden, in moving into Iraq and creating a level of peace without back-up from other Departments—namely the Department for International Development, which did not undertake the reconstruction and redevelopment that was so needed. However, it is the military who receive the brunt of the complaints about what has gone wrong.

Mr. Howard: My hon. Friend is absolutely right: that is one of the many reasons why we need an inquiry.

Mr. Henderson: I did not intend to intervene on the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but following the point raised with him by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) does he not accept—I raised this point earlier with the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman—that were an inquiry to take place now or in the months ahead that indicted the Government and was critical of the conditions in which the troops had found themselves, and that was published while the troops were still there, the leadership of those troops would become almost impossible for the officers, because they would lack the political credibility enabling them to be there in the first place? Is that not the real reason why it is important not to hold an inquiry now?

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