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Mr. Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con): How did we stumble into this war without understanding how it would evolve, without a strategy for success and without the resources necessary to achieve that success? The Government narrative claims success in Basra—and it is a success, despite everything. However, the Government claim that it is due to some sort of British master plan
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and is a triumph for British strategy. Some amazing things have happened, including those involving my constituent Colonel Richard Iron, who was recently described as the saviour of Basra, but that Government claim is just not true.

The vast majority of our population are not as stupid as the Government think. Every time the Chief of the Defence Staff or another senior officer stands up and reads out the Government-approved narrative, the reputation of our armed forces suffers, we further damage the reputation of the UK, and we drive radicalisation across the Muslim world. Huge questions arise in all sorts of important areas. Furthermore, and importantly, while we continue the delusion that we got things right, we repeat some of the mistakes made in Afghanistan, where British troops are still being killed and many more maimed for life.

Those who claim that we should not expose things that went wrong while we are in the midst of war say that to do so would undermine the morale of our armed forces, who are committed to battle. Nothing could be further from the truth. Take the example of the United States, which was virtually beaten in Iraq in 2006. By 2008 its armed forces had been radically reformed and it had turned what had looked like defeat in Iraq into near-victory. The Americans engaged in open debate, encouraged criticism and involved the American public, media and academia.

I understand that bits of any inquiry might have to remain private, but its purpose would not be to embarrass the Government, although it probably would. With a new President in the White House, we have a gigantic opportunity to remould what has become known as the “war on terror”.

Mr. Ellwood: My hon. Friend mentioned President Obama. General David Petraeus is one of the most influential generals speaking to President Obama, and his big statement has been that it is no longer acceptable simply to defeat the enemy; we also have to enable the local. Do we not need an inquiry into the Iraq war because we have failed so badly to enable the local? Our military did a fantastic job in defeating the enemy, but Government Departments failed to enable the local and to reconstruct the post-conflict environment.

Mr. Holloway: I totally agree. This is an opportunity to reset the conditions needed to win our struggle against political Islam. We will not be able to do that if we do not try to understand what happened. If we had sat down on 12 September 2001, written on the back of a cigarette packet a plan called “How to lose the war on terror” and acted on it, we would have done many of the things that Britain and America have done. The invasion of Afghanistan, of course, was brilliantly executed and our troops and intelligence services have done an amazing job. However, overall there has been no grand plan or strategy. We started okay: we invaded Afghanistan and quickly achieved our primary objective of getting rid of al-Qaeda and pleasing the Afghan people by removing the Taliban from power.

Then, however, our focus switched to Iraq. The decision to offer UK support to a US invasion was made pretty much alone by the then Prime Minister at the so-called
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Crawford summit in April 2002. The only thing on Tony Blair’s mind at the time seems to have been to win influence over the United States. There is no evidence that at that point the Prime Minister sought or received any guidance from the Ministry of Defence, so he was unable to set military conditions over US war plans. Remember the pictures of Churchill and Roosevelt with the chiefs of staff standing behind them during the second world war? I do not think that any such picture exists of Mr. Blair and President Bush.

Mr. Blair is reported to have returned to the UK and asked the Ministry of Defence to come up with a plan to support an American invasion. On the day of the invasion, we still had no agreement with the US on a political end-state for Iraq. In fact, as I have said before in the House, we ended up in Basra only because of a decision by the Turkish Parliament, not the British one. The Turks voted not to allow us to use their territory as a launching pad for entry into Iraq. So we involved ourselves in a US invasion through a decision by our Prime Minister at a ranch in Texas without reference to the people who would have to carry it out, and we ended up taking responsibility for southern Iraq almost by accident.

Once we got ourselves in, our objective was to get out, initially by reducing our force numbers as soon as possible from 40,000 to 15,000. At the same time, we were wandering around telling anyone who would listen that the UK were the best at counter-insurgency warfare. What of that so-called comprehensive approach, or elements of it? Our focus was not on the development and restoration of security in Basra, although that was required of us under the Geneva convention, but on cutting down force numbers.

Even today, Baswaris ask what the UK has done for them; there is very little recognition of the UK’s effort. Although we were slow to get going and we lost millions through corruption, it is fair to say that most of Basra’s infrastructure, such as it is, is there as a result of British money. However, the Baswaris do not appreciate that. We had no clear strategy at that point in the transitional period, so things went over to Jaish al-Mahdi militia control. In much the same way, we are losing and have lost the consent of ordinary people in Helmand province. We need to learn the lessons of Iraq, not least in respect of the structural problems of the comprehensive approach.

We also need to consider equipment and overall defence procurement. Are the wars that we have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan the wars of the foreseeable future? Is state-on-state war now less likely? Will armoured divisions ever be fighting for their lives on the plains of north Germany? Do we need to look very hard at the whole structure of our armed forces in order to win this new war?

We must also consider what friends of mine who are at a senior level in the armed forces have described to me as the failure of generalship. As one member of our foreign intelligence service put it to me, “No one gets promoted for saying things are going badly.” We need to think carefully about the problem of officers providing what has become known as “politically aware military advice”. It is extremely dangerous when that starts to fit with the policy narrative. That has seriously hindered us in Afghanistan, and it is a major contributor to the very difficult situation that we now face there.

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The Government’s narrative is that the job is nearly done in southern Iraq, but they are choosing to ignore reports of new evolving terror networks. Our troops and commanders on the ground have done a great job, but the problem throughout has been a lack of strategy coming from London. We had no serious strategy for Iraq. We had no strategy for Afghanistan—although, to be fair, I believe that the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary do now “get it”. There are huge lessons from Iraq that we have not learned and are not applying. We have no serious strategy for how to win the so-called war on terror, which I personally would quite like us to win.

The truth is Iraq remains a disaster for us. As well as all the lives lost through the decision made at that ranch in Texas, it stands as a huge driver of radicalisation right across the Muslim world, and it is into this mix that dozens—possibly hundreds—of Britons of Pakistani origin have been gravitating. An Army friend said a couple of months ago that they had been tracking someone speaking into a Taliban radio set in Arabic, but with a Yorkshire accent. What are we to do? I think that we should declare a new war on the drivers of radicalisation, which my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) spoke about. One does not deal with a cancer by bombing it from 20,000 ft and distributing it across the globe, but by making the body as healthy as one can and cutting it out. We have to refocus and stop it dispersing its cells all around the world.

We have nothing to be afraid of in a wide-ranging inquiry. It is not about criticising the Government or an individual, whether a soldier or a civilian, and it is not about criticising the Army, which has done an incredible job despite a woeful lack of strategy. It is about learning lessons for the future: lessons for Afghanistan, and lessons on how we manage relationships between Ministers and the chiefs of staff, between the armed forces and the British people, and between the UK and our ally, the US. This is far too important to ignore; that is why we need to have an inquiry as soon as we can. We must give ourselves the best possible chance of winning the long war.

2.43 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Last week saw the sixth anniversary of the parliamentary debate that took us into the war in Iraq. Those of us who took part in that debate will never forget that day. Pressures were put on Members of Parliament on both sides of the House by their Whips, who told them that the case for war was overwhelming and that they should therefore support the Government’s proposals on that matter. The result was that 140 Labour MPs voted contrary to what the Government wanted, as did all the Liberal Democrats and Members from the nationalist parties, and a small number of Conservatives. Nevertheless, this Parliament voted to take us into war, and every MP who took part in that vote must bear some responsibility for the decision they took that day.

It is also important to remember that in putting the Government’s case, the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, made it very clear, among other things, that this was a war to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, not a war for regime change—but the situation turned out to be somewhat different. We need to have an inquiry not only into what has happened in Iraq since the war but into all the decision making that led up to that war.

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I reiterate the point that I made in an intervention on the Foreign Secretary: all the relevant papers—the Cabinet papers, the Cabinet papers that were not delivered to the Cabinet but prepared for it, the legal advice that was prepared but not given, and the legal advice that was given—must form a part of that inquiry. When the Information Commissioner ruled that those papers should be made public because that was overwhelmingly in the public interest, the Justice Secretary decided that there was an overwhelming national security case for their not being revealed.

We have been complicit in starting a war in Iraq in which well over half a million people have died, including, tragically, many service people of all countries—and the instability continues. The ramifications of this war are absolutely enormous, and the case for an inquiry is overwhelming. I welcome the fact that the Foreign Secretary appears to have conceded that there will be an inquiry at some point, but I honestly do not see what the delay is all about. There is plenty of precedent for inquiries while troops are still on deployment; many examples have been given, so I will not go through them all again. I do not understand the idea that we should wait until the last British soldier is out of Iraq, if that is what the Foreign Secretary was saying. I suspect that some kind of training element will be there for a long time, and that will be used ever more as an excuse.

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): Let me remind my hon. Friend—I am not sure whether he was here at the time—of what the Foreign Secretary explicitly did not say. He did not say that we needed to wait until every single British soldier was out of Iraq. He said that we needed to wait until the combat operation had finished, and it is due to finish in the summer of this year.

Jeremy Corbyn: I accept that the issue is when the combat operation is finished; obviously, I hope that it finishes very soon, and that we get an inquiry as a result. However, I still do not see the necessity of delay in preparing for the inquiry.

Sir Peter Soulsby: Does my hon. Friend recall that in his introductory remarks the Foreign Secretary also explicitly did not say that the terms of reference of an inquiry would include the very matters that my hon. Friend is discussing: the events that led up to taking us into Iraq and the way in which the House and the nation were duped at that time?

Jeremy Corbyn: Absolutely. A series of dossiers and bits of information were produced for the benefit of Members of Parliament and the media. Who can forget the map produced by the Evening Standard, which indicated that just about everybody was under an immediate and ever-present threat of attack by Iraq? Who can ever forget that Hans Blix and Mohamed el-Baradei were withdrawn from Iraq in December 2002 and not allowed to return? Many Members of this House were present during a very interesting and lengthy meeting with Hans Blix upstairs in one of the Committee Rooms, in which he explained that he was 99 per cent. certain that all weapons of mass destruction, and all weapons with the capability of attacking other countries, had been removed and destroyed. The then Prime Minister apparently went with the 1 per cent. option; the President of France went with 99 per cent. and did not allow French participation in the invasion.

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Let me go back to the point made by the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Holloway) about the antecedents of the decision making surrounding the war. We went into Afghanistan in 2001; eight years later, we are still there, apparently about to win that particular conflict. Given the current rate of progress, I suspect that in another eight years we will still be in Afghanistan about to win that conflict. We have to think of something different in that respect.

The Iraq war came out of President Bush’s “axis of evil” speech of January 2002. Then there was the rather curious summit around a barbecue in Crawford, Texas, where the then Prime Minister and President Bush had a discussion about it. If minutes are kept of discussions that take place around barbecues, I would like to see at least some kind of report of what happened and what instructions were given by the then Prime Minister to the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office afterwards.

We then had the preparations for the deployment of forces, the build-up of forces, and the arguments in favour of Iraq’s posing a threat, and we ended up with the huge degree of public disquiet. Even if Members of this House are not capable of asking questions, the fact that 1 million people turned up in Hyde park on 15 February 2003—the biggest ever demonstration in British history—should have triggered some mode of inquiry in their minds. If 1 million people are prepared to give up a day to come to London to demonstrate, they probably feel strongly about the issue, so notice should be taken of the views that they put forward. Any inquiry has to go into the background of those matters.

The effects in Iraq must also be looked into. I have been in this House long enough to remember the days in the 1980s when Britain was happily selling arms to Iraq, and a very small number of us opposed those arms sales. Indeed, we were told in the corridors that it was important to support Iraq because it was against Iran, and therefore one of our allies, and we were told that the arms sales were good for British business and British jobs. Even after Halabjah in 1988, Britain still took part in the Baghdad arms fair a year later. An awful lot of background needs to be looked into.

I am not here to defend the regime that existed in Iraq before—I was one of those privileged to be able to offer my opposition to it. However, the result of this invasion and the instability that has followed has been the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Some 4 million Iraqis have been forced into internal or external exile, and have had their lives ruined as a result. A large number of British soldiers have lost their lives and the grieving families continue to grieve. They ask, “Why were we sent there? What deception led to this war, and did our son or daughter die in vain because of it?”

I conclude with this thought. The other issue that I want an inquiry to deal with is the legality of the war. There were discussions at the United Nations, and a determination by the Foreign Secretary to get a second UN resolution. The second UN resolution never came, because there was so much opposition to it inside the Security Council, which would have to take that decision, and in the General Assembly. We went to war on a premise that had no legal basis, and on information that proved to be incorrect, and as a result we unleashed some horrible forces and some terrible effects on the
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people of Iraq. If we respect international law, we should abide by it. If we respect the decisions of the UN, we should abide by them. A war of aggression for regime change is illegal under the terms of the UN charter. The former UN Secretary-General said as much.

It is up to us, as Members of Parliament, to do two things. First, we should ensure that in future we have real war-making powers, so that Parliament makes such decisions. It should not be done by the Prime Minister using the royal prerogative on behalf of the Head of State. We got the debate in Parliament because of the enormous number of people opposed to the war. The Prime Minister felt pressurised into having that debate and wanted to drag us into that decision. Secondly, we have a duty to say, “Enough is enough. Now is the time to have an inquiry.” We must have a more open inquiry than the one described in this motion, but no matter—it is moving in the right direction. I hope that we make the decision today to have an inquiry, not in order to change what happened—we cannot do that—but at least to understand what happened. We need to understand the horrors that have come out of this war and try, above all else, to prevent the same thing from happening to some future Parliament and some other country.

2.54 pm

Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): I will not detain the House for long. I would like to deal with why we need an inquiry into the Iraq war, and why the issue is so important. As we know, and has been said by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) and many others, the war was based on a lie, propaganda and hype. Perhaps people watching outside this Chamber have bought into the idea that politicians lie perpetually. I know, and we know, that that is not so. There can be arguments on emphasis and shades of grey, but since I have come here in 2005, there have not been any big whopping factual lies. The claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that could reach us in 45 minutes was a big whopping factual lie. It was the lie on which the propaganda and hype was based. It was the first time that the UK went to war on the grounds of dodgy, unsound intelligence—and I hope that it will be the last. That alone is enough to justify an inquiry: for a state of 60 million people to be so utterly misled should be enough to justify an inquiry.

On 18 March 2003, the Prime Minister gave a speech to goad the country to war—that is also enough to justify an inquiry. I encourage Members to look back at that speech in Hansard, column 761, to see the linguistic gymnastics employed. The speech becomes more absurd in the reading with the passage of time. The Prime Minister made mention of “unreasonable vetoes”, which was a real Blair classic of true linguistic gymnastics. He was, of course, referring to France, which had opposed the war at the UN Security Council. In his actions and in his words, Blair made France right and he made the UK wrong.

On 18 March 2003, the Prime Minister stood at that Dispatch Box—I saw it on television; I was not a Member—with his macho, starry-eyed posturing, challenging the House of Commons to stand down British troops and turn back. The fact was that he had already marched them up to the top of the hill, and he was relying on the base, gut instincts that many in this House unfortunately had in order to carry on. People
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voted for war, feeling that they were already too far in. Of course, people should not have thought with their guts. Many people got shot in their guts as a result.

One of the reasons we should have an inquiry is that this House regularly pays homage to those who have had their lives damaged or have lost relatives in this war. Today I was given a letter by the military families who have lost people in the war. They want an inquiry, and I am grateful to Rose Gentle, Reg Keys and Chris Nineham for a copy of their letter. If the families want an inquiry, surely that should be enough for the Government, who regularly pay homage at the Dispatch Box to the families and their loved ones who have been lost in this war. In their letter to the Prime Minister they say:

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