Previous Section Index Home Page

25 Mar 2009 : Column 357

How far from the truth is it possible to be? I believe that not since Suez have we had such cause to hang our heads in shame and also to scratch our heads over the political failure—not a military one. It was a political failure, in which we cut troop numbers too fast, reconstructed too slowly and eventually lost control completely.

I am not saying that war was avoidable, but I am saying that there was no planning for the peace. The truth came out when Colin Powell admitted in his Adlai Stevenson moment that when he went to the United Nations on 5 February to explain why the invasion was justified, it was one of the lowest points in his career—he had to defend the indefensible at that point.

The atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein might well have meant an eventual invasion, but as a military person, I say to the House that there are many ways of getting rid of a tyrant other than a full invasion. If we choose a full invasion, we should make sure that we have a second wave of reconstruction and so forth backing up the Army to take advantage of that invasion. The 7 Armoured Brigade went in there, looked over their shoulders and said, “Where is everybody else? My God, we’re stuck here on our own.” I am afraid that that is exactly what is happening in Afghanistan.

I am grateful that Richard Holbrooke, now a responsible special adviser on Afghanistan, is about to announce a civilian surge, finally to catch up with the military one and help the people on the ground. It is important to win over hearts and minds on the ground so that people do not turn against us. I appeal to the Government to listen and relieve the military of the blame being placed on it for the length of time it has taken for us to get to where we are today.

I question whether where we are today is where the Government wanted us to be six years ago. Did we really want to be handing Iraq over to the United States armed forces rather than to the Iraqis? That cannot be the objective that we set six years ago—absolutely not. This word “overwatch” is one that I never heard during my long military career. This is another example of the Foreign Secretary proving how out of touch he is with what is actually happening on the ground. I believe that General Andy Salmon is in charge now and he is doing a fantastic job: he is doing a bit of training with the Iraqis, but the emphasis is on going home. The forces have consolidated themselves at the airport and they are doing absolutely nothing else. They are doing no patrolling whatever.

I hope that the Government will wake up and not wait—this is what I believe their tactics to be—until we are so close to a general election before allowing a full inquiry that none of the current Ministers will be in office or probably even in Parliament to hear the results of such an important inquiry.

The 7 Armoured Brigade through to my battalion—the 2nd Battalion The Rifles—had to retreat from Basra palace to Basra airport with their tails between their legs. That is not the way our military forces should be leaving Iraq. It came to the point when the Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki actually said that Basra was being left to the mercy of the militiamen, because we were not providing the necessary assets for the military to do its job properly and a civilian force to back it up.

25 Mar 2009 : Column 358

I conclude by stating my belief that in our long history of military engagement, Iraq was certainly not our finest hour. That is absolutely no fault of our military; it is wholly the fault of those who work and operate in Whitehall, who failed to plan for the peace. Consequently, the UK’s reputation as a reliable and competent country, willing to step forward when others are unable to do so, has actually suffered.

An inquiry into the war in Iraq will show that the way we fought the war was not the fault of our military but due to the incompetence of this Government in managing the peace. That is why the Government continue to find excuses to delay this important review of what went wrong. I believe there are many lessons to be learned and I am horrified to see that we are repeating the same mistakes in Afghanistan. Until we wake up to that, I am afraid that we are going to be asking questions about what went wrong in Afghanistan in five years’ time. That is going to be a horrible place to be.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. I inform hon. Members that the winding-up speeches will commence at 3.40 pm, but in the remaining minutes, Members will still be able to catch my eye.

3.25 pm

Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): We could not have stopped the war in Iraq, as it was predetermined, but what we could and should have done is stopped Britain’s involvement in it. I believe that we, as Members of Parliament, should now confront that dreadful mistaken decision.

The most insistent voices calling for an inquiry are those of the loved ones of the fallen. They want to believe that their loved ones died in a noble cause. Many of them are haunted by the possibility that their loved ones died in vain.

Perhaps the most appropriate way that we can face up to the results of our decisions would be now to recall and honour the names of the fallen: John Cecil, Llywelyn Evans, Philip Stuart Guy, Sholto Hedenskog, Les Hehir, Ian Seymour, Mark Stratford, Jason Ward, Philip Green, Antony King, Marc Lawrence, Philip West, James Williams, Andrew Wilson, Kevin Barry, David Rhys Williams, Luke Allsopp, Simon Cullingworth, Steven Roberts, Barry Stephen, Stephen Allbutt, David Clarke, Matty Hull, Steve Ballard, Christopher Maddison, Shaun Brierly, Chris Muir, Alexander Tweedie, Karl Shearer, Kelan Turrington, Ian Malone, Christopher Muzvuru, James McCue, Andrew Kelly, Duncan Pritchard, David Shepherd, Leonard Harvey, Simon Hamilton-Jewell, Russell Aston, Paul Long, Simon Miller, Benjamin Hyde, Thomas Keys, James Linton, Jason Smith, David Jones, Matthew Titchener, Colin Wall, Dewi Pritchard, Russell Beeston, John Nightingale, Ian Plank, Ryan Thomas, James Stenner, Norman Patterson, Andrew Craw, Vincent Windsor, Robert Thomson, Richard Ivell, Gordon Gentle, Kristian Gover, Christopher Rayment, Lee O’Callaghan, Marc Ferns, Paul Thomas, Stephen Jones, Marc Taylor, David Lawrence, Kevin McHale, Denise Michelle Rose, Stuart Gray, Paul Lowe, Scott McArdle, Pita Tukutukuwaqa, Paul Connolly, Patrick Marshall, David Stead, Andrew Smith, Paul Pardoel, Gary Nicholson, Richard Brown, Mark Gibson, Robert O’Connor, David Williams, Steven
25 Mar 2009 : Column 359
Jones, Mark Dobson, Anthony John Wakefield, Alan Brackenbury, Paul William Didsbury, Richard Shearer, Leon Spicer, Phillip Hewett, Donal Anthony Meade, Stephen Robert Manning, Matthew Bacon, Ken Masters, Chris Hickey, John Jones, Allan Douglas, Gordon Alexander Pritchard, Carl Smith, Richard Holmes, Lee Ellis, Richard Palmer, John Coxen, Darren Chapman, David Dobson, Sarah-Jayne Mulvihill, Paul Collins, Joseva Lewaicei, Adam Morris, Tom Mildinhall, Paul Farrelly, John Johnston Cosby, Matthew Cornish, Samuela Vanua, Stephen Robert Wright, Lee Thornton, Dennis Brady, Tom Tanswell, Jamie Lee Hancock, Lee Hopkins, Sharron Elliott, Ben Nowak, Jason Hylton, Jonathan Hollingsworth, Graham Hesketh, Wayne Rees, Alex Green, Michael Tench, Jonathan Carlos Bracho-Cooke, Luke Daniel Simpson, Daniel Lee Coffey, Johnathon Dany Wysoczan, Kingsman Wilson, Aaron Lincoln, Joanna Yorke Dyer, Kris O’Neill, Eleanor Dlugosz, Adam James Smith, M.L. Powell, Mark J. McLaren, Ben Leaning, Kristen Turton, Alan Joseph Jones, Paul Donnachie, Nick Bateson, Kevin Thompson, Jeremy Brookes, Rodney Wilson, James Cartwright, Paul Harding, John Rigby, Paul Joszko, Scott Kennedy, James Kerr, Edward Vakabua, Ryan Francis, Christopher Read, Matthew Caulwell, Christopher Dunsmore, Peter McFerran, Timothy Darren Flowers, Steve Edwards, Craig Barber, Martin Beard, Chris Casey, Kirk Redpath, Eddie Collins, Mark Stansfield, Sarah Holmes, Lee Fitzsimmons, John Battersby, Duane Barwood, David Kenneth Wilson, Lee Churcher and Ryan Wrathall.

May they rest in peace.

3.32 pm

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): One other person who has sadly passed away since the time of the decision to go to war and who would have made an eloquent contribution to the debate today is the late Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook. If he is looking down on us, he will be adding his voice to the argument for an inquiry on Iraq. Every speaker today has agreed that there ought to be an inquiry. The only question is exactly when it should be held. There have also been minor concerns expressed over the remit, but every single speaker has agreed that there should be an inquiry. I hope that the Government will take that on board.

When we listened to the Prime Minister at the time when he was making arguments that we should go to war, he always sounded as if he knew something that we did not. His answer to many questions was, “Trust me.” We heard at the time that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that 45 minutes’ warning was all that it would take before they could be launched.

There was a drive toward war in the media in the USA, by the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and, to a large degree, in the House, but many questions were unanswered. There was no United Nations mandate. The weapons inspector, Dr. Hans Blix, was asking for more time to conclude his search for those elusive weapons of mass destruction. When a million people marched in the streets, I was proud to be one of them, but in all honesty, at that time I did not believe that we would be listened to. We were not.

The justification for going to war changed from Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction to ridding the world of a tyrant and restoring democracy, but many in this
25 Mar 2009 : Column 360
place remember the Government saying that Saddam Hussein could stay in power if he gave up his weapons of mass destruction.

What we need to do now, however, is not just look back but find out the truth of what happened—find out what took us into that nightmare—so that we never repeat the mistake. Time may be a healer, but there was a long period of time during which if either President Bush or the Prime Minister had found their nations under threat and had had to say to the public, or the House of Commons, “We are in real danger and we need to go to war again”, people would not have believed them. They had lost the trust of their people that they would perform the most basic function of a Government: to keep their country safe. At the heart of the need for an inquiry into the war in Iraq is the need for an examination of the process whereby this country went to war in the first instance.

We have heard today the names of 179 UK soldiers; 4,260 US personnel have also lost their lives, along with a number of civilians. When I asked the Prime Minister—the current Prime Minister—at Prime Minister’s Question Time how many civilians had died, he said that it was not his job to count them. As has already been said, the financial cost has been estimated at up to £8 billion, and the United States has spent an estimated $3 trillion on this folly. The risks for the future are well known: the world is less safe now than it has ever been, and the middle east is a source of more terrorists and terrorism training.

The decision to invade Iraq ranks as one of the worst foreign policy errors in recent memory. Its impact on Britain—on its international standing and domestic security—has been more significant than that of any other military act since the second world war. That being the case, I should have thought that the need for a full inquiry was obvious. However, just as we were spun into the war in Iraq, it seems that we are now being spun into a reason for delaying the argument.

I suspect that both the Government and the Conservative party hope that the inquiry will absolve them of guilt and pin the guilt on the former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who will rightly be judged harshly by history for his role in the decision. However, members of the Cabinet who supported him and members of the Conservative party who backed him in the Lobby must all shoulder their share of the responsibility. While it is important to establish who did what, we do not need the inquiry just to apportion blame or responsibility; we need it to ensure that we learn lessons from the disastrous decisions that were made in the lead-up to the conflict. We committed tens of thousands of troops to the campaign, and 179 were killed. Many more were seriously injured. Thanks to the accounts of former officials and soldiers, we know that planning for a post-invasion Iraq was almost non-existent.

I have heard it argued that to hold an inquiry while our troops are stationed in Iraq would undermine our soldiers and the sacrifices that they make. The far greater tragedy would be to leave Iraq with nothing learnt from the experience, and their sacrifices. It is for that reason that an inquiry today is so important.

3.37 pm

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I am aware of the time constraint, so I shall be very brief.

25 Mar 2009 : Column 361

I spoke in the debate on the inquiry a year ago and gave my reasons for feeling that the Butler inquiry and the Intelligence and Security Committee inquiries were completely inadequate, so I shall not rehearse those arguments. What I want to do today is draw the House’s attention to an allegation by Ron Suskind, a United States investigative author, in his book “The Way of the World”.

Mr. Suskind’s information is based on conversations that he had with none other than Sir Richard Dearlove, head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, and his deputy Nigel Inkster. From those conversations, Mr. Suskind learned that one of the United Kingdom’s top agents, Michael Shipster, actually met—in Amman in 2003, just before the war—Tahir Jalil Habbush, who was Saddam Hussein’s head of intelligence. Apparently, Mr. Habbush was a well-established source of intelligence. I should be interested to know what has happened to him, because he is not one of the members of Saddam Hussein’s former regime who have been apprehended or brought to justice in any way. In fact, it has been suggested that he has been protected by western intelligence sources.

Mr. Habbush told Michael Shipster that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, and that far from seeking to conceal the presence of such weapons, he actually wanted to conceal their absence because he was more concerned about a possible invasion from Iran than about an invasion from the United States. The sources of that information—Richard Dearlove and Nigel Inkster—have queried the exact recollection of those conversations, but they have not denied the substance of the allegation that one of our top agents obtained information that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction. It would appear that that intelligence was ignored, and we also know from other sources—such as Brian Jones, the former branch head in the Defence Intelligence Staff, and more recently, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), Carne Ross, who was First Secretary at the United Nations for the Foreign Office until 2004—that there are lots of facts in the run-up to the Iraq war that have yet to come to light.

We should be grateful to Ron Suskind for beginning to shine a light on some of the sources of intelligence that were not drawn to the attention of the House, and were not mentioned in the Butler report or by the Intelligence and Security Committee. I wrote to the Chair of that Committee at the beginning of this month asking for an investigation into this evidence. I have received an acknowledgement. I spoke to one of the assistant Clerks today, who told me that I will receive a reply and gave various reasons why I have not received more than an acknowledgement so far despite the fact that other people have written to the Committee drawing attention to this information.

It is clear that there were people in the intelligence community who knew the truth: that Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction. Somehow, their views were suppressed and we were given a completely false view of what the intelligence said. For that reason, I believe we need a full inquiry under the kind of conditions that my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle outlined, with witnesses required to give evidence on oath.

25 Mar 2009 : Column 362
3.42 pm

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) (Con): Whether to send armed forces into combat is one of the most important and difficult decisions faced by any Government—and in the case of Iraq, by Parliament. Whether Members think the decision to go to war in Iraq was right or wrong, members of our armed forces fought, and in some cases died, believing that what they were doing was a just and noble cause. We must remain very sensitive to that, and to the feelings of their families, as we discuss these issues, and I think today’s debate has been conducted very much in those terms. Whatever else is in dispute today, the bravery and commitment of our armed forces is not.

In announcing in his opening speech that an inquiry will be undertaken as soon as practicable after 31 July, the Foreign Secretary admitted that the Government are now being dragged incrementally and unavoidably towards the inevitable will of the House, but the Government are doing this with the least possible grace and in a way that brings the least credit to themselves and reflects least well on the institution of Government. The House will not be sitting on 31 July, so will this inquiry be set up without an announcement to Parliament and without Members having the ability to question the Government, or will we have to wait until October, with the utterly unnecessary delay that that will entail? Tonight, Members have the chance to bring forward what now appears to be the Government’s own timetable, and to avoid an unjustifiable delay on this issue.

A number of matters will need to be considered, among them the scope and remit of the inquiry, which has been widely debated by Members today. If public and parliamentary concerns are to be met, there must be the fullest remit, including the run-up to the war, the conduct of the war, and the preparation for, and conduct of, the post-conflict period. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) said, if these matters have not been addressed when we reach the next general election, they will be subsequently.

I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) said in his speech, but I profoundly disagree on one point. He said that he did not wish to see any inquiry into the military. I understand what he meant by that, but I think the House and the country would want to know the military advice that was given and whether it was accepted—and, indeed, whether there was at any point any political interference in decisions made by the military. If that was what he meant, that is entirely fine. I hope that this would be within the scope of an inquiry, because not to consider it would leave a major piece of the jigsaw missing and a major piece of understanding lost to history.

There are two main reasons why we need to go ahead with this inquiry, the first of which relates to holding the Executive to account. We have heard a number of passionate speeches from hon. Members on both sides of the House, and one of the main charges that has been repeatedly made in this debate is that Tony Blair, as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, deliberately misled the British people in order to take them into a war that they otherwise would not have supported—there can be no more serious charge. I walked into the Division Lobby after Tony Blair that night and said to him, “That was a very impressive speech. I hope you are
25 Mar 2009 : Column 363
right.” He must also be given every opportunity to be vindicated by an inquiry. Although many people in this country still find it hard to believe that a British Prime Minister would ever behave in the way that has been suggested, we need to restore trust and integrity in our system. Seldom in this House, and certainly never in my 17 years here, has the integrity of a Prime Minister been attacked in the way that it has been today, and it is in everyone’s interest to have this cleared up. Several hon. Members, not all of whom are in their places, raised the issue of whether Parliament would have the chance to set up an inquiry of its own—well, in just a few minutes, that is exactly what this House of Commons will have the chance to do.

The other main reason we want an inquiry is to learn the lessons. The Foreign Secretary was right to say that we cannot draw a simple parallel between Iraq and Afghanistan, but that does not mean that there is not a huge read-across. On time scales, what have we learned from our experience in Iraq that we can apply to Afghanistan about the speed with which the reconstruction can take place? Iraq was about reconstruction, but Afghanistan is about construction. If Jeffersonian democracy cannot be applied to Iraq successfully in a decade, how long will this take in Afghanistan? Surely it is in everybody’s interests for us to be very clear about that.

What about the reconstruction plans? Was there indeed institutional resistance from the Department for International Development because of the then Secretary of State’s attitudes at that time? In a debate in this House, my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) said that


Next Section Index Home Page