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On the cost of the war, and therefore the need for an inquiry, I was disappointed that the Secretary of State was yet again unwilling to give the number of people
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who have been killed since 2003. He said that that is not the Government’s responsibility, but there are many sources for such figures. As we try to learn the lessons, we must understand the sheer scale of the human cost. I also want to dwell on the cost to the British military, not just the lives lost but the wounded and those who will be left scarred for the rest of their lives, and the impact on their families. Charities such as Combat Stress, which are looking after almost 3,500 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, report that ex-troops, who previously waited 13 years before asking for help, are doing so after just 11 months because of the stress and trauma that they have suffered. The suffering among our veterans is huge, and I hope that the Secretary of State will say more about what the Government are doing to redouble their efforts to help our troops.

The hon. Member for Woodspring told us about the financial cost, which has been more than £6.5 billion, and is still £4 million a day. Will the Secretary of State comment on Professor Stiglitz’s estimates? He examined the cost to US taxpayers and came up with a figure of $3 trillion. Estimates for the UK, not just of money paid out for the war and its aftermath, but of the social and economic cost of dealing with veterans and providing future support for Iraq, are up to £20 billion. Will the Secretary of State say whether that figure of £20 billion is valid, because my reading of Professor Stiglitz’s report suggests that it was based on sound economic analysis? He is, after all, an economics professor of real standing.

Mr. MacNeil: The Stiglitz figure of $3 trillion represents 30 per cent. of the US national debt for a foreign policy adventure by neo-conservatives. At a time of a credit crunch, we can see the folly of that adventure undertaken in 2003.

Mr. Davey: The hon. Gentleman will expect me to agree with him yet again.

The cost of the war will rightly be audited in terms of lives lost, the impact on families and the actual money spent, but—I think the hon. Member for Woodspring got this wrong—it must also be audited in terms of this country’s foreign policy objectives and our influence going forward. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith) said in an intervention on the hon. Member for Woodspring, the cost in Afghanistan alone has been huge, and the military overstretch means that we have been unable to be as effective in Afghanistan as we could have been.

There has also been an impact throughout the middle east, including Iran. Hon. Members on both sides of the House are rightly worried about Iran and how emboldened it has become, but I submit that without the Iraq war, Iran would be far weaker than it is today and be far less able to throw its weight around. It is rubbing its hands in glee about how power has shifted across the middle east. Tony Blair promised us that with the war would come a major effort to obtain a middle east peace settlement. He said that time and again from the Dispatch Box. Nearly six years on, what do we have? We have seen little progress. Mr. Blair’s great friend, President Bush, turned his attention to a peace process in the middle east only in the final year of his presidency—so much for the promises that we were given in this House by Prime Minister Blair. That has been a massive failure in foreign policy.

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One hopes that the Annapolis process will not be completely damaged by the appalling situation in Gaza. When I went to Israel last November, I heard that there had been some progress with the peace talks. I am happy to acknowledge that. However, it has taken some time and the development is still very fragile.

Let us look at the impact on terror and on terrorist movements across the world. In an exchange with the Secretary of State—again, he was unfortunately unable to answer me—I made the point that the Government were warned at the time that if they went into Iraq that would feed international terrorism. I think that it is a fairly objective judgment to say that world terrorism has been strengthened by the war in Iraq. I deeply regret that. It was a huge mistake that has fed jihadists around the world and is still a huge weapon to them in recruiting people to their cause.

The most ironic factor is the cost to our relationship with the United States. If there was one secret justification for what happened, it was Tony Blair’s desire to stand shoulder to shoulder with President Bush. He wanted this country to be friendly and powerful, cementing the special relationship. Now we have a President-elect who was against the war and who described it as a “dumb war”. That is one of the major lessons that we should learn: Presidents of America change and politics change. Yes, the Americans are our friends. They should be our greatest friends. We share so much with them and we share their values, but the true friend speaks candidly, is frank and tells the truth. Our failure to be honest and truthful with President Bush has not strengthened our relationship, but undermined it. What I fear most is that President Obama will look at this country and say, “I’m afraid you made the wrong judgment. You could have helped to stop this war or have prevented it in the first place, but you failed to do that.” That means that we are not in a strong position with the new President, and I deeply regret that.

There are many other costs that I could talk about, such as the impact on security in this country with respect to Muslim communities and the damage done to British politics by the way the Labour and Conservative parties seem to ignore public opinion. However, I want to conclude by making the case for an inquiry. The Government have said that there will be an inquiry, but their refusals to say when it will happen or what the criteria will be for setting it up do them no credit whatsoever. It is time that the Government came clean about when an inquiry will be held. The Secretary of State’s failure to say even what level of troops we need to have left in Iraq before an inquiry will be triggered is quite shocking. I hope that he will go back to the Prime Minister and say, “Parliament wants to know when an inquiry will be set up.” Until we get an answer, we will continue to harry him and his colleagues in this House.

3.23 pm

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): I found the speeches made by the two Front Benchers to be very comprehensive and fair, and I want to congratulate them both. I also want to congratulate my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells). He has been liberated by coming to the Back Benches; he might not think so, but I believe that he has. He has been trenchant and passionate in his views for as long as I have known
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him, but he was somewhat constrained during his period on the Front Bench. I look forward to hearing many more speeches from him.

I want to pay tribute not only to our military, who have done a tremendous job in Iraq, and to the American military, but to all the officials who have had to go Iraq as part of their job. Many have volunteered to go back to Iraq for a second or third time. They have been very brave, because things have been difficult since 2003. It has been dangerous and risky and the officials from all the Departments involved have done and continue to do an excellent job in Iraq.

I have obviously been involved for a very long time and I have visited Iraq 18 times since 2003, when I was made the special envoy on human rights in Iraq by the then Prime Minister. I continue to be the special envoy and to visit Iraq regularly. I want to set out my views on the situation in Iraq now. Whether we were for or against the war, we all have to move on. We need to look at the best ways—

Mr. MacNeil: Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Ann Clwyd: May I finish the sentence? We need to look at the best ways of helping the people of Iraq rather than continually harking back to the past. I, too, would like to go back to the past at various times, and to as far back as 1988. We remember well what happened at that time, and when we have an inquiry, perhaps those circumstances might also be considered, including the bad policy decisions that were made then to support the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Mr. MacNeil: The right hon. Lady just talked about moving on, but does she think that we should move on without an inquiry? Surely we need an inquiry into the war and into the reasons given to us for the war.

Ann Clwyd: It has been made clear by everybody concerned on the Government Benches that there will be an inquiry.

Mr. MacNeil: When?

Ann Clwyd: The Prime Minister has also answered that question. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has not been in the House very often, but the Prime Minister has answered that question several times. As soon as our troops are totally withdrawn, there will be an inquiry. I do not think that there is an issue, so I do not know why the hon. Gentleman is making one.

My involvement with, and interest in, the human rights of the Iraqi people goes back three decades. I led the non-governmental organisation the Campaign Against Repression and for Democratic Rights in Iraq—CARDRI—in the 1980s and I chaired the non-governmental organisation INDICT for seven years until 2003 as it gathered evidence of the crimes committed by Saddam Hussein’s appalling regime. We hoped to be able to get indictments against leading members of that regime and to bring them in front of the world’s courts. We made every effort to do that at the time and thus to avoid armed conflict. That did not happen and we were thwarted in various ways that I do not want to go into today.

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As other Members have pointed out this afternoon, we must not forget how vile Saddam Hussein’s regime was, or the brutal way in which it used violence, rape, torture and the threat of violence as everyday tools of the state to keep the population in check and to deal with those who disagreed with him. I had an Iraqi friend who volunteered for CARDRI when he was a student in London in the 1980s. Every fortnight, he used to bring me a list of the names of those who had been executed at the Abu Ghraib prison. At times, I challenged him about the accuracy of those reports, but I am sorry to say that they were indeed accurate. Since the war, we have been able to establish that everything that was alleged to have taken place during that awful period actually happened.

In 2002-03, when the prospect of intervention in Iraq arose, it appeared that all other options had been exhausted. They included UN resolutions and sanctions, although, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd said, the sanctions regime might have worked if people had been serious about it and if it had not been directed at the regime and away from the people it was meant to help. We even attempted indictments against leading members of the regime. I went to several countries, including Switzerland, Norway and Belgium, to get those indictments and I tried in the UK. For people who argue for the strengthening of international law, that attempt was a case in point; those indictments could have been made—they could have been made in this place—but they were not made at the time because people were afraid to use international law to bring members of that regime to justice.

I was never in any doubt—and never will be—about the morality of ridding Iraq and the world of Saddam’s regime. Since 2003, I agree that Iraq has gone through some terrible times. Insurgent groups have used violence and terrorism to try to stop democratic progress and to drag Iraq into the abyss of sectarian hatred and bloodshed. I have always believed, however, that the wisdom and ingenuity of the Iraqi people would win out and that Iraq could and would become a functioning democracy. Iraq has come a long way since 2003 and it has made real progress.

I should like to give pen portraits of all the people I know who are contributing to the future of Iraq, in which I hope we all feel engaged. One of them is the man I mentioned—a young Iraqi student in the mid-1980s. He made quite a lot of money in the UK, but as soon as 2003 came he sold his manufacturing businesses and went back to Iraq. He is still there. He invested all his money in setting up a broadcasting station, which is now one of the most successful operating in Iraq. There are many such heroic stories of young Iraqis, forced to go to other countries during the Saddam regime, who have chosen to return to their country and contribute to its future.

Last week, I was in Cambodia visiting various organisations, one of which was the Cambodia Trust. It was set up in the UK by Dr. Peter Carey and others to help provide services for the limbless in Cambodia—the result of land mines, which I am sorry to say we helped to plant, and other activities. However, the Cambodia Trust and other organisations are helping some of those people. I met three young Iraqi men who had come from Iraq to learn how to do that work. I spoke to each of them individually; they all said they were glad that
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the Saddam Hussein regime was no more. They were pleased that some countries had intervened on their behalf. People tend to forget that.

I have been going to the Kurdish area of Iraq since the early 1990s. I was on the mountains between Iran and Iraq when Saddam Hussein’s helicopter gunships were bombing the Kurds. It was a horrific sight. Those of us who saw pictures at the time will remember seeing Kurds fleeing across the mountains in terrible weather conditions. I shall never forget meeting some of them—I was the only woman there and people holding babies in their arms pushed the babies at me. Of course, the babies were already dead. We never forget things like that.

I was with the Kurds regularly during the ’90s when they were camped out in the mountains and Saddam Hussein was attacking them. At various times before 2003, they tried to overthrow the regime but each time they were brutally repressed. The same is true of the Shi’a; when they tried to overthrow the regime, there were terrible consequences. There is, for example, a mass grave in the south of the country in which 15,000 people, who are likely to have been Shi’a, are said to be buried. The excavations are still going on. Those people tried to overthrow the regime, but they failed. That is when they asked us to help.

I remain concerned, as I am sure many others do, about the humanitarian situation in Iraq and the region. I think that a co-ordinated international effort, with the Government of Iraq in the lead, is the best response. In 2008, we contributed £17 million to help displaced Iraqis. Our total humanitarian contribution since 2003 has been more than £149 million.

As we know, there is a large number of internally displaced people, and many refugees in Syria and Jordan. Some of them have returned, but not all. I have been to visit refugees in Syria. I must pay tribute again to the Syrian Government for their support for those refugees. It is easy for everybody to welcome refugees in the first instance, but it is difficult to continue that support when it puts strain on a country’s housing, employment and education systems. Having seen what happened there and having talked to the UN, I think it is important that the Government of Iraq continue to recognise that they have a responsibility to those refugees who unfortunately had to flee to other countries and to the internally displaced people in Iraq, some of whom are in a very difficult situation.

Organisations such as the UN are providing assistance to the most vulnerable people, whether displaced inside or outside Iraq. Those organisations give support in the provision of food, water, shelter and medicine. The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) mentioned the lack of electricity, water and so on. One of the problems for the people trying to repair that situation is that the infrastructure had been neglected for years. It was crumbling, even before the war. Obviously, the people trying to put that right are proceeding as fast as they can, but because of the security situation, they have not been able to do it as quickly as they would like. More than 4 million people have been displaced; probably 2.8 million of them are inside Iraq and about 2 million are in neighbouring countries.

The number of Iraqi Government Ministers who are doing a tremendous job is clear to all of us who visit Iraq regularly. The decision to create a Human Rights Minister was important, as the role has endured. I know
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the present and the previous Minister well. Both are conscientious and dedicated to human rights. I met the current Human Rights Minister, Wijdan Mikhail Salim, in October in Geneva. She used to be a planner in Sadr City before the war. She is a very brave woman, and she spoke frankly about the limitations on the work of the Ministry of Human Rights, but also its successes.

For example, the Ministry responded very quickly to the threats made against minorities, including Christians, in Mosul last autumn. Of course, not only Christians are affected; I wish that people who are lobbying on behalf of persecuted people would also mention the other minorities, of which there are a number. The Human Rights Minister sent blankets and food aid, as well as an inspection team. The newly trained Iraqi army, sent by Prime Minister al-Maliki, also responded quickly to what was going on in Mosul.

Mr. Pelling: I congratulate the right hon. Lady on mentioning that a number of minorities exist in Kurdistan. On the basis of her experience, what is her view of the ability of those minorities to show tolerance to one another? There are sometimes accusations that Kurds have behaved unreasonably towards Assyrians and Christian groups generally.

Ann Clwyd: I was not talking specifically about the Kurds, but about the persecution of minorities in other parts of Iraq as well. The Iraqi Government are well aware of that and have been attempting, through rapid response, to protect those minorities as quickly as possible when they are made aware of situations.

I want to mention the subject of detention. Since I started going to Iraq in 2003, it is one of the issues on which I have particularly been working. Detention is a crucial human rights issue anywhere in the world. Over the past five years, in association with the Americans, I have kept a close eye on detention in Iraq. As the American troop surge reached its peak last year, the number of Iraqis, mostly young Sunni men, in US detention reached 27,000—far too many. Many of those people were detained during the wide security sweeps and had done little or nothing wrong.

I agree that the surge has been incredibly successful in reducing violence in Iraq. Some of us who were present at a meeting last month organised by the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) heard more about it from a young US army captain. Along with the so-called Sons of Iraq, the armed local Sunni groups who have pushed al-Qaeda out of their provinces transformed the security situation in 2007-08, as I have seen for myself. The number of detainees held by the Americans in Iraq has fallen to about 16,500. That is a good reduction from 27,000, but 16,500 is still a very large number.

Even after the change in the status of US forces, the detainees will remain in the control of the United States for some time to come. Let me say right away that I think that that is a good thing. The Iraqi Government do not at present have the capacity to look after 16,500 detainees adequately and without the risk of mistreatment. I hope that we will support the United States authorities in that, and I hope they understand the importance of handing that group of people over to the Iraqi Government slowly and carefully. Those against whom there is no evidence should be released, and the rest should be charged and face a fair trial in the Iraqi justice system.

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