Previous Section Index Home Page

Now—guess 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
14 Jan 2009 : Column 286
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 sand”—al-Rustamiyah—and 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 thing—getting 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 Iran’s continued export of terror.

The Government’s 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.

5.13 pm

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
14 Jan 2009 : Column 287
more than that—it 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 amoral—it 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 boys—the US corporate gangsters—steal 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:

and Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch says:

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 shattered—shot to ribbons.


14 Jan 2009 : Column 288

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:

We will be paying the interest on the debt caused by it. The Liberal spokesman mentioned a figure of £20 billion, but I suspect that it will be more than that.

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 power—again, I refer to my time on the Defence Committee—we 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-Ba’athification. 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:


14 Jan 2009 : Column 289

He said:

That is what Harold Pinter said in his acceptance speech.

I also want to read a poem of Harold Pinter’s, called “God Bless America”:

Harold Pinter—worth quoting in the House. We were a coalition partner, who rode along with such policies.

I want to put a few things on the record. On 22 December, the brave journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown wrote in The Independent:

against a refugee count of 5 million. That shows a lack of commitment, which Oxfam pointed out.


14 Jan 2009 : Column 290

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: America’s Mercenaries Fighting in Iraq”, a book by Steve Fainaru. It states:

The article continues:

The militias of the various Iraqi groups mirror those mercenaries. Some are run by the Iraqi Government. Many—for example, the facilities protection service, which has killed ordinary Iraqis—do 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 ways—I will say more about that—to make profits and fill the pockets of those American gangsters.

There are still unanswered questions about Britain’s 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.


14 Jan 2009 : Column 291

Then there is the nest of vipers—the police station. Let me read from the latest book of Tony Benn’s diaries, “More Time for Politics”. This is from the entry for Tuesday 20 September 2005:

I raised the issue in the House at the time. The then Defence Secretary described those involved as murderous, saying:


Next Section Index Home Page