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We hear what is said about the success, security and achievements of Basra, but it is necessary only to notice whence the trumpets of triumph and achievement come. They come from within the security of the British
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army base, miles from Basra. If a quarter of what we are told about Basra were true or reliable, British politicians would be making their speeches from within a liberated city and to a liberated people. They would not be arriving secretly at night at a base in order, as the world sees it, to posture in the safety of a British square. This is not a war that is anywhere near its termination, and that is why we cannot possibly wait until such time as that end occurs and by whose wish it occurs.

If it is to be said that we cannot have an inquiry because it imperils the military effectiveness and strategy of what we are doing in Iraq, that is a military judgment, not a political judgment. If our senior commanders, past or present, had said publicly that it would be ill-advised and dangerous for us to hold an inquiry, or if Ministers had said that the commanders had advised them in that way, I would respect what they said. If Generals Rose or Jackson said, “We must not have an inquiry now because of the danger that it will pose to our strategy and to our troops”, I would respect that and not vote for an inquiry. I shall not respect those who have interests in an inquiry, and those who are potential defendants in an inquiry, using the troops and strategy as an alibi in order to avoid one. That is precisely what we have seen.

The second reason why an inquiry is urgent is that we cannot rely on the British media and press properly to interrogate the responsibility for and causes of this war. One had looked forward on the fifth anniversary of the war to seeing a resurgence of activity and interest in the media. Many of us were horrified by what we saw in the past few weeks: a media obsessed not with what was happening in Iraq but with itself. People in the media were asking themselves, “Why did I support the war?” or “Why did I oppose it?” or looking at other members of the media and asking, “Why did he oppose it? Why did she support the war? What was wrong with us?” That exercise had scant relevance and showed no interest in the truth in Iraq.

Then came the worst part, the climax of that. I endorse what the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea said about interviews with Jonathan Powell. An even worse example was his interview with Jeremy Paxman on “Newsnight”. I am perfectly happy to make the resources of my chambers available to Mr. Jeremy Paxman if he wishes to brush up his skills in cross-examination, but I can inform him that the youngest pupil in my chambers knows very well that prosecuting counsel do not ask questions that approximate to “Are you really sure you’re not guilty?” When that is the question asked, one is a very long way away from the great pantheons of British advocacy, I can tell you that for nothing—particularly when it is followed by something like, “Do you have any regrets?” That, metaphorically, is very slow bowling outside the leg stump, particularly to somebody of the capacity of Mr. Jonathan Powell.

To make it even worse, one third of that interview was given up not to Iraq but to plugging Mr. Jonathan Powell’s book on Ireland. Baghdad is 2,805 miles from Belfast geographically, and a great deal further in culture and history and in terms of those who have died as a result of the military intervention. It is not in the same league.

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Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (LD): I am motivated by what the hon. and learned Gentleman is saying. If I say the words Tim Razzall, cricket and that “Newsnight” programme, to which I happened to be a contributor last week, he will understand why.

What I found most revealing—this is also probably barrister speak—was that Jonathan Powell, when questioned repeatedly by Paxman, simply said that he was glad that Saddam Hussein was down and gone. We all are—but that was not the issue, was it?

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: I respectfully agree. The right hon. Gentleman has conveniently taken my next words from my mouth, because I was about to report to the House that that was indeed what Jonathan Powell said. The apologia that he gave for the war was that Saddam Hussein had gone. It is an apologia that we hear time and time again, and as a litany it begins to bear an uncomfortable relationship to the words of Napoleon the pig in Orwell’s “Animal Farm”, who at the end of the book informs the animals that their suffering and distress is in fact a paradise, because the farmer has been removed. Let us have no more of this, particularly those of us who spent many years campaigning against Saddam Hussein. We do not want to hear any more the idea that the distress to the Iraqi people and the 600,000 of them who have died is blood that was worth paying for an illegal occupation in 2003.

It was possibly the diversion into Ireland that prevented any serious investigation in that interview, or at all, of the main issues upon which an inquiry must centre. I wish to bring to the House’s attention just two, which are, for me, the most important two. I mention them also because they may be investigated without the slightest inconvenience to any diplomat in Iraq—which is now apparently the reason why we cannot have an inquiry—without the intervention of a single member of the armed forces; and without inconveniencing a single member of the security services, if that is something that exercises the House. They can be investigated only through the cross-examination and interrogation of those who were involved.

The first is what was revealed in the Downing street memo of July 2002, reported by The Sunday Times in an unusual contribution to the debate. It was recorded that at that meeting in Downing street in July 2002 Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of secret intelligence, or “C”, as he was known, had reported from America to the War Cabinet, which included Jonathan Powell, that:

In the same minute, it is recorded that the then Foreign Secretary, now the Lord Chancellor, said that it was clear that

The then Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, to whom I shall return in just a moment, is recorded as warning that justifying the invasion on legal grounds would be difficult.

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That secret memorandum, of limited circulation and ordered to be destroyed thereafter, will become, I predict, one of the seminal documents when the history of warfare comes to be discussed. Not one single word of that document reached this House; not one single word reached the British people. Indeed, this House was told precisely the opposite: until the end of 2002 and the beginning of 2003, the case was made that there was still time to avert war and catastrophe. That was a lie, and a black deception to this House and to the British people.

I do not entirely agree with the palliative statements in the excellent speech made by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) in opening the debate. The real point of the debate, and of any inquiry that may be held, is not to learn lessons so that we do not make mistakes again. That is one reason, but I want an inquiry to be held into the Iraq war because I want those responsible to be brought to book and to justice. If necessary, they should be brought to international justice, but I want us to be the ones who bring them to it.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): I support the hon. and learned Gentleman’s argument with all the strength that I can muster, but may I remind him gently that some Opposition Members at the time took the view that he is expressing? I was one of those who resigned as a shadow Minister because of the illegal war. Does he agree that, when we look back at our parliamentary lives, we may well regard the decision to go to war with Iraq as the worst and most horrible decision that this Parliament has made?

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: That is undoubtedly right. Indeed, beside that decision, all our other achievements and deficiencies—and there have been many of both—pale into insignificance. The circumstances and repercussions of what we did then have swept well past Iraq. As Tacitus noted, one victory can create a thousand enemies, and that is precisely what happened.

I shall dwell briefly on the second matter, which is the written advice given by the Attorney-General to the Prime Minister on 7 March 2003. We are able to look at that advice now, even though it was obtained only in the teeth of those at the time who wished to keep it secret. Those people produced every form of spurious argument, based on dubious or non-existent precedent, that such advice should never be shown.

When we saw it, we found out why they wanted to keep it hidden. The advice was hedged around with doubt: it said that it was possible to argue that the invasion of Iraq was illegal but, two paragraphs later, that it was equally possible to argue that it was not. The advice then pointed out the number of challenges that could be brought, and the people who would bring them, if it turned out to be wrong.

One week later, on 14 March, the Attorney-General went to the Cabinet and to the House of Lords. Not one word of those doubts was set out to either. The House of Lords and the Cabinet received a completely different opinion. Furthermore, and even worse, the Attorney-General’s written opinion was buried. It was never shown or volunteered to the Cabinet—of course, its members should have asked for it, but they did not—or to the House of Lords. The advice was not
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given to this Chamber or made available to the British people. That must be made the subject of an inquiry, although I suspect that no such inquiry will be held during my time in the House. However, if the inquiry that is eventually held concludes that deception and deceit led us into an illegal war, then I hope that Parliament will deliver up to justice those who are responsible. That is inescapable.

I am a humanist. I do not believe in a final judgment, when our sins and misdemeanours will be read out of a great book. I suggest that this is the place for such things. However, if I did believe in judgment day—and particularly if I was a Catholic—and if I had been responsible for the deceit and duplicity that led to the slaughter in Iraq, I would be saying my Ave Marias as fast as diction would allow. It may be a pity that I do not believe in the final judgment, as I should like to be there to see it. However, I believe that we here must arrive at a quicker judgment, and that we, the British people and those who have suffered as a result of our actions, are entitled to that judgment sooner—much sooner—than later.

8.5 pm

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford) (LD): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), who made a fine speech. There have been many fine speeches from those arguing in favour of the motions, although not so many from those who oppose them.

I shall begin as others have, by paying tribute to 175 British troops who have been killed in the Iraq war. I pay tribute, too, to the 4,000 US troops and the countless thousands of Iraqi civilians who have also died. The decisions that we made on 18 March 2003 are the most momentous that I have witnessed in my relatively short parliamentary career, but I am glad to say that I believe that, when history looks back, I and others will be found to have been on the right side.

I have always been interested in what Lady Macmillan said at the time of Suez. It was to the effect that, for several weeks, she felt as though the Suez canal went through her drawing room.

Mr. Keith Simpson: That was Lady Eden.

Mr. Keetch: The hon. Gentleman reminds me that it was Lady Eden who said that, and I am grateful to him for once again correcting an historical inaccuracy.

There was a time in the run-up to the war when I felt that Iraq was dominating my life. In the months leading up to the conflict, I made three visits to the Gulf, two to the US and one to NATO. Since the war, I have been privileged enough to visit Iraq on four occasions. I want to share with the House what happened on my visit to US Central Command in Tampa on 21 August 2002.

I was told by the then Defence Secretary that I was the only member of the Opposition who had asked—and been allowed—to go to Tampa to meet Tommy Franks and his team as they prepared the invasion. General “Rifle” P. DeLong gave me a medal that I still carry, and he told me in great detail what was about to unfold in the middle east.

I had made a deal with the then Defence Secretary that I have always honoured. It was that I would never
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discuss what I was told that day at CENTCOM, before the action started. I reported my experiences to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr. Kennedy), and I shall share with the House this evening my two overriding memories from my meeting with General DeLong. Also present was a British general who I know, because I have discussed this matter with him since, is known to the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson).

The meeting took place in August 2002, and two overriding points were made to me. The first was that there would be a war. It was made clear that the US would invade Iraq in March or April of 2003—of that there was no doubt. The US wanted British troops to be involved, and American planning assumed that they would be. I was shown in candid and considerable detail what the role of the British troops would be, and one element of it was that Royal Marines would lead assaults that included US marines—something almost unheard of then.

From that point, I had no doubts at all that war was coming, but I was also told something else that was equally interesting—that all the US planning was predicated on the assumption that it would be a US-UK war. No thought was given to the possibility that Saudi, French or Syrian troops, in the sort of alliance that was built up to liberate Kuwait, would be used. The view of the US military, supported by their political masters, was that they did not want other troops involved—and that the UN was therefore totally pointless.

What I find incredible is that all the talk of attempting to get another resolution from the UN was irrelevant to the US military in Tampa, Florida, planning that assault; the war was going to happen in March or April 2003, and it would include only British and American troops. That gives the lie to some of the things that we were told in the run-up to the war—that we could possibly somehow avoid the catastrophe, and that somehow we wanted the international community to be involved. That simply was not going to be the case. When I visited troops massing in Kuwait and Bahrain, and warships in the Gulf, there was a strong belief among our armed forces that war would happen in March or April 2003. Of course, as we all now know, that was indeed the case.

The first result of the war was to make another war, Afghanistan, much more difficult. It has not so far been mentioned tonight that in the run-up to the Iraq war, urgent operational requirement orders—the emergency purchasing of kit—all related to Iraq. I firmly believe that the attempt to bolster, for understandable reasons, our forces preparing to go to Iraq damaged our actions and performance in Afghanistan, and it has continued to damage our performance there ever since. The reality is that we could not take on two such engagements, as the strategic defence review suggested we ought. That is perhaps the reason why we have failed, or have not yet achieved success, in both those engagements.

The lasting legacy of the war was the fact that the great coalition of the international community, built up to fight international terrorism since 2001—when even the front page of Paris newspapers said, “We are all Americans now, after the tragic events of 2001”—was thrown asunder. Suddenly it was not the world versus
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terrorism; it was large parts of the world against America, and large parts of the world against Britain. Those two consequences of the war—first our continued failure in Afghanistan and secondly the rift in the international community that has still not yet been settled—are legacies of the vote that took place on 18 March.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): What was very apparent at the time, and what motivated many of us who voted against the war, was that it would inflame Muslim opinion. That was so obvious, and every single diplomatic source told us that. The tragedy of the event is that that advice was ignored.

Mr. Keetch: The hon. Gentleman is indeed right, and I was going to mention the fact that in the weeks after the attack on Iraq, in the ceremony in which children are named in Islam—forgive me for not knowing the term; in Christianity we call it the christening—the name Osama was given to more boys born in the Islamic world than any other name; I think that proves the hon. Gentleman’s point.

What should the inquiry cover? Well, there are a number of things that it must cover, if it happens, and I sincerely hope that it does. I hope that many Labour Members will again join us in the Division Lobby this evening to see that it does happen. The first thing that it should cover is the aftermath of the war. Anybody who believes that large parts of Iraq are better now than they were under Saddam Hussein certainly is not talking to some of the service people to whom I talk, and has not experienced some of the things that I have experienced in my four visits in the past five years.

The first time I went to Basra, we drove in soft-skinned vehicles with Royal Marines with berets on their heads, and we felt safe. We got out and talked to people on the streets. The last time I went to Iraq, we were holed up in armoured vehicles, flying by helicopter and living in reinforced bunkers on air bases because the Ministry of Defence was too scared to let us on to the streets. Unfortunately, as was excellently described by the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir Peter Tapsell), the lives of many ordinary people in Iraq are probably worse than they were under Saddam Hussein.

Mr. MacNeil: The Red Cross says so.

Mr. Keetch: As the hon. Gentleman mentions, that is exactly what the Red Cross says. I think that the aftermath of the war needs to be considered. We could have predicted it. People on the Liberal Democrat Benches, notable exceptions on the Conservative Benches, and very many notable exceptions on the Labour Benches— [Interruption.]—and the nationalists warned the Government that the consequences of the action would be appalling, yet, I am afraid, one Conservative Front-Bencher who is sitting in the Chamber described me as an appeaser, and described my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber as Charlie Chamberlain. That was the kind of abuse that was being thrown at us when we warned of the consequences.

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