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Nowguess what?the Iraqi Government are very enthusiastic to help us with that agenda. The status of forces agreement that will get us out of Iraq will leave us with fewer than 400 military personnel there. The Prime Minister will get the laurels for getting us out of Iraq, and Prime Minister al-Maliki can claim that he kicked the British out and that there is no further need for British forces in Basra. So from 30 June, apart from the
people at our large embassy and in the provincial reconstruction teams, we will have only these servicemen and women: those at the naval training team at Umm Qasr, those training officer cadets at Sandhurst in the sandal-Rustamiyahand logistics and other advisers in the Iraqi MOD. That is down from nearly 5,000 personnel. We will also lose the deputy commanding generals in the multinational force and the multinational corps.
Since 2002, no one has really articulated our strategic relationship with Iraq. What is it? Despite all the good words over the years, it has always seemed as though the stories that we were told about what was happening on the ground were geared towards only one thinggetting us out of Iraq and away from the decision made by Tony Blair in Crawford. Right now, it seems that our strategy is to get out of Iraq before a UK general election, thereby removing a rather awkward election issue. While I agree that it is high time that we left, the manner of our departure and our conduct over the past five years sacrifice a strategic relationship with the second-biggest oil producer in the world and a people who, despite everything that has happened, still hold us in high regard and great affection.
The minuscule footprint that we are leaving behind does not include our highly successful mentoring role with the Iraqi armed forces. We are blowing an opportunity for an Oman-like loan service arrangement. In fairness, the Secretary of State said that the Basra Development Commission, under Sir Michael Wareing, is going well, but will British contracts be so welcomed, relevant or assured without British troops there? As my right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot) said, others will seem to reap the benefits. Then, of course, our many friends in the Gulf remain nervous of Iraq and its history. We now have a great opportunity to try to break down that mistrust and set up Iraq as a bulwark against Irans continued export of terror.
The Governments narrative is that the job is done in southern Iraq, but they choose to ignore some of the worrying reports of evolving terror networks, of which the Minister will be aware. Our troops and commanders on the ground have indeed done an extraordinary job. The trouble, throughout, has been a lack of strategy from London. Since our strategy was only ever to get out, we are left with nothing apart from a rather damaged reputation. We have no serious strategy for Iraq, we have no serious strategy for Afghanistan either, and we have no serious strategy for winning the war on terror that I, like everyone else in this House, am quite keen to win.
The truth is that Iraq remains a disaster for the United Kingdom, whatever the long-term benefits to the Iraqi people. As well as all the lives lost, the decision made at that ranch in Texas has acted only as a massive driver of radicalisation across the Muslim world. We are not leaving Iraq or Basra with the job done; we are leaving Iraq with the job made very much harder.
Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab):
This is an opportunity to voice a parliamentary verdict on the excursion into Iraq. The Archbishop of Canterbury, in his modest way, called the Iraq war wrong. It was
more than thatit was illegal. The whole idea of regime change is illegal under international law. It was said by very many international jurists and experts that it was illegal. Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations at the time, described it as illegal. It was also amoralit was mass murder for a huge robbery.
During the current recession and the banking crisis, we have heard the phrase, Small crooks rob banks and large ones own them. The really big boysthe US corporate gangsterssteal countries, and that was the intention in Iraq and how the occupation was pursued. It brought about the deaths of more than 1 million Iraqis, and the deaths of 178 British troops and more than 4,000 US troops, as well as many others, on top of a further 1 million who died in the 10 years leading up to the war on account of sanctions. Five million Iraqi refugees were forced to flee their homes. It was and remains a humanitarian catastrophe.
This time last year, there was a World Health Organisation conference in Geneva, at which it was reported that the Iraqi Government estimated that 70 per cent. of critically injured people die due to the shortage of competent staff, lack of drugs and equipment. The Iraqi Medical Association and Medact said that Iraq did not have a functioning and reliable health service. The situation was so bad that scissors and needles were the only equipment that some hospitals had. There were no chairs or paper, and hospitals were left to decay. There was a lack of ambulances, with stretchers made from cloth and a shortage of medication. Medical training was non-existent or insufficient. Electrical supply to hospitals averaged an hour a day, and could come and go at any time. Access to a hospital or a doctor was a huge problem because there was no security. It was the Iraqi Medical Association that pointed that out.
Oxfam has said that 4 million people regularly cannot buy enough to eat, and 70 per cent. are without adequate water supplies, up from 50 per cent. in 2003 when we went in. Some 28 per cent. of children have malnutrition, up from 19 per cent. when we went in. Because of the climate of fear and the trauma that they have endured, 92 per cent. of children suffer learning problems. Oxfam has also said that there has been a global apathy about all of this, and nowhere more so than in the occupying countries.
Human rights abuses have reached a new low. An e-mail came today from Human Rights Watch, the United States organisation, which has just published its 2009 world report. It is worth quoting two bits from it:
The incoming Obama administration will need to put human rights at the heart of foreign, domestic, and security policy if it is to undo the enormous damage of the Bush years;
For the first time in nearly a decade, the US has a chance to regain its global credibility by turning the page on the abusive policies of the Bush administration...And not a moment too late.
We have reached a new low: Guantanamo Bay, Haditha, Abu Ghraib, Falluja, extraordinary rendition, phosphorous bombs. All that is damaging to us because our credibility in arguing for high standards of human rights around the world, which are very much needed, has been shatteredshot to ribbons.
It has been costly. The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) referred to the winner of the Nobel prize for economics, Joseph Stiglitz, and his book The Three Trillion Dollar War. I have here a review of this book in Tribune, which says:
Consider just a sprinkling of the Stiglitz-Bilmes catalogues of cost as they attempt to break down the Three Trillion Dollar War: The US spends $16 billion every month on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistanon top of regular defence spending; By the year 2017, the American taxpayer will have to finance $1 trillion in interest payments alone to cover the cost of borrowing that money; The total bill for the US will beand the authors insist that this is, deliberately, a conservative estimateat least $3 trillion; They add that the rest of the world, including Britain, will probably have to find about the same amount again to cope with their own losses.
The situation has damaged UK armed forces. I have served on the Defence Committee, and I have a lot of time and support for members of our armed forces. The majority of them are very brave, but I do not go along with the bluster that we hear in the Chamber about their being the best in the world. They have often been exposed in Iraq as impotent, and too often as venal, as in the cases of Baha Mousa, Camp Breadbasket and the killings at Amarah of people who had been captured.
More seriously, when the Labour Government came to poweragain, I refer to my time on the Defence Committeewe were told that our forces would be a force for good. That idea is in the same bin as the ethical foreign policy because of what has happened in Iraq, which is damaging to UK armed forces. The UK has been an active partner in the US ruling coalition.
Mr. Gray: I think that the hon. Gentleman is making a mistake. He is quite wrong in saying that our forces have not been a force for good. It may well be that the Government have done the wrong thing, but to allow the blame for that to be attached to our armed forces seems disgraceful.
Harry Cohen: The hon. Gentleman has misinterpreted my point. I pointed out the quality of the troops, but they have to do the job that the Government and Parliament tell them to do, which has been a disgraceful job. In that sense, they have become not a force for good in Iraq but the opposite of that, given the catalogue of cases that I mentioned.
The UK has been an active partner in the ruling coalition, but it has tried to evade its guilt for complicity in the atrocities of the war and the occupation. Repeatedly, Ministers have answered parliamentary questions by saying, The US answers for what the US does. Nothing to do with us. But the UK was up to its neck in the policy and the atrocities that followed from it, including the disbandment of the Iraqi Administration under the guise of de-Baathification. Many other appalling things also happened as a result of decisions that we made and things that we approved.
I always like to bring a bit of culture to the House, so I wish to quote a man who died recently, Harold Pinter, our Nobel prize winner for literature. He said in his speech when he accepted the prize:
We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East.
As every single person here knows, the justification for the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein possessed a highly dangerous body of weapons of mass destruction, some of which could be fired in 45 minutes, bringing about appalling devastation. We were assured that was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq had a relationship with al-Qaeda and shared responsibility for the atrocity in New York of 11 September 2001. We were assured that this was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq threatened the security of the world. We were assured it was true. It was not true.
The truth is something entirely different. The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it.
But my contention here is that the US crimes in the same period have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognised as crimes at all.
The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. Its a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.
Here they go again,
The Yanks in their armoured parade
Chanting their ballads of joy
As they gallop across the big world
Praising Americas God.
The gutters are clogged with the dead
The ones who couldnt join in
The others refusing to sing
The ones who are losing their voice
The ones whove forgotten the tune.
The riders have whips which cut.
Your head rolls onto the sand
Your head is a pool in the dirt
Your head is a stain in the dust
Your eyes have gone out and your nose
Sniffs only the pong of the dead
And all the dead air is alive
With the smell of Americas God.
So to the Iraqis, the beneficiaries of our noble sacrifices. This week, Nahla Hussein, a left-wing, feminist Kurdish Iraqi was shot and beheaded for her campaigning zeal. Fifty-seven Iraqis were blown up in Kirkuk. Christians in Mosul are being savagely persecuted and sharia law has replaced the 1959 codified entitlements given to women in family disputes. Women in Iraq have fewer rights today than under Saddam. Yes, there is some normality in parts but tensions between Shias and Sunnis are explosive. When troops are withdrawn next year, expect more bloodshed. The resources of Iraq, meanwhile, are being plundered.
For these blessings, one million Iraqis had to die and their children still suffer from illnesses caused by our weapons and our war. Five million Iraqis are displaced and, of these, the US took in 1,700. It is easier for an Iraqi cat or dog to gain entry to the land of the free... we took in 300
We were not the second biggest army in Iraqi. Private mercenaries comprised the second biggest army by far. They immediately had immunity under the Bremer arrangements, which we supported, from the law and prosecution. A briefing from War on Want contains a heading UK companies are making a killing. Some have Members on their boards. Those companies have contracts worth hundreds of millions of pounds.
I want to put on the record the way in which the mercenaries operate. On 19 December, Tribune included a review of Big Boy Rules: Americas Mercenaries Fighting in Iraq, a book by Steve Fainaru. It states:
This moving book reveals the human cost of Bush and Blairs illegal war in Iraq. Written by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Steve Fainaru of the Washington Post, it follows a group of mercenaries, mainly American, as they roam across a war-torn country immune to any laws of decency, fighting a war by proxy and for profit.
As well as defining the fight, survive, get paid rules under which they operate, he describes the corruption and moral bankruptcy of the American-led, British-supported policies of so-called reconstruction. So-called because it is palpably clear the outcome is to line the pockets of the mercenariesand the American corporations which employ themat the expense of the Iraqis.
Iraq has proved a magnet for those war-like men from around the world, including Americans, Brits, Aussies, Kiwis, Fijians, South Africans, Peruvians, Chileans and many more, who find fulfilment at the end of a loaded weapon aimed at a fellow human being. Cover-ups are the norm in the shoot first and, if you can be bothered, ask questions later culture of this murky yet officially sanctioned world.
How can people sink to such levels of barbarity? And what does this say for the governments who condone their actions by employing them? Theres sadness, too, that Iraq, anxious for change after Saddam Hussein, was condemned to the chaos and pillage of these licensed bandits.
The militias of the various Iraqi groups mirror those mercenaries. Some are run by the Iraqi Government. Manyfor example, the facilities protection service, which has killed ordinary Iraqisdo the same job as the mercenaries.
Mr. Holloway: Although I agree with the hon. Gentleman about abuses on the part of some private security companies, the vast majority have been working in support of the reconstruction of Iraq, filling gaps that our militaries have been unable to fill, so I think that he is being a little hard on those companies.
Harry Cohen: They were doing a lot more than that, by the way. The situation was set up by Bush and Rumsfeld and we went along with it, in a privatised war in some waysI will say more about thatto make profits and fill the pockets of those American gangsters.
There are still unanswered questions about Britains role in Amarah, about Camp Breadbasket and about complicity in the air strikes. In January last year, 40,000 lb of explosives were dropped on southern Iraq in one day, with a rate of four bombings a day. Then there was the Hercules crash. Questions have been asked about the machinery being brought in. I agree with those asking such questions, but they hide a deeper question: what were those special forces troops who died doing? There had been an election, and it is believed that they had ballot boxes, but they were well outside their area. Just what were they doing? There should be an answer to that.
The news today, and there was a bit about it last night, is this absolutely sensational story of two SAS officers who were sent in to Basra, one dressed as a Muslim cleric, the other as a civilian, and they were arrested by the Iraqi police and put in prison. This news reached the British Government, or the military in Basra, so they sent tanks and a helicopter, and one of the tanks drove straight into the prison wall, broke it open, 150 prisoners escaped, and the Iraqis then handed over these two British prisoners. This led to a huge riot outside the prison. The tanks were set on fire with petrol bombs, and the people inside escaped with their lives. The Government simply said they were glad to rescue people. They didnt say what they were doing. But it told you that the Iraqi police now hate the British, and theyre supposed to have been set up by the British to deal with the insurgency. So its just an example.
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