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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wright, on tabling this Motion for debate today. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, on his excellent maiden speech. I have no doubt that we shall hear more from him.
I shall confine my remarks to Iraq. As one disaster follows another and a new outrage against the Iraqi people is revealed almost daily, I become more than ever convinced that the illegal invasion of Iraq should never have been embarked upon. I also become exasperated when I hear history being rewritten by the Prime Minister and President Bush.
Support for the invasion of Iraq was secured in Britain on the basis that Iraq possessed large quantities of weapons of mass destruction ready for use against British targets within 45 minutes. Let us get that on record as often as we possibly can. Since no such weapons have been found, Mr Blair has shifted his ground and is attempting now to con people into believing that the war was to liberate Iraqis from a vicious dictatorial regimea regime, incidentally, that we supported when it suited us.
President Bush has convinced the Americans that the Iraq adventure was part of the war on terror; but there were no terrorists in Iraq before the warSaddam Hussein had cleared them out. But now, according to the United States' and British Governments, Iraq is full of terrorists fighting coalition troops. Indeed, official spokesmen insist that those involved in the fighting and suicide bombings are not freedom fighters against the coalition but foreign terrorists. So, by their own admission, Britain and the United States have created in Iraq a hotbed of terrorism in a country that before the invasion was a terrorist-free zone.
There certainly has been terrorterror wreaked on Iraq over the past 14 months by coalition forces. According to independent reports, between 10,000 and 15,000 Iraqis, many of them women and children, have been killed and many more injured. Large-scale damage has been caused to property, including religious buildings, while services that were previously working are still defunct due to the coalition assault on Iraq and the failure to have a post-war plan of reconstruction. Some 8,000 Iraqi men are still held in prison without trial or charge.
We now know that the United States with unbelievable insensitivity used the very same infamous Abu Ghraib torture prison used by Saddam against his political opponents to inflict torture and humiliation on Iraqi people. To their credit, many Americans, probably a majority, were horrified and sickened by
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what was being done in their name by United States occupation forces. But not, apparently, Mr Rumsfeld. He had the gall to visit the prison not to protest at the horrors perpetrated by some of his forces on Iraqis, but to tell those forces that "they were doing a grand job". That was a monstrous and offensive thing to do. No wonder he felt comfortable shaking hands with Saddam during the period of the Iraq/Iran war when poison gas was being used against the Iranians and the Kurds.
I want now to return to the matter of Iraqi casualties because I am concerned and, indeed, disappointed at the attitude of our Government to the suffering of Iraqi civilians at the hands of coalition forces. We know exactly how many American and British troops have been killed since the war began. Indeed, the last figure I saw was 777 Americans and 67 Britons. We all feel sorry for them and their relatives and friends. However, when we ask for the number of Iraqis who have been killed, we are told that there are no official figures available. Apparently, little effort has been made to find out. We have to rely on independent organisations such as Iraq Body Count and the Red Cross to collect the figures. The latest figures from Iraq Body Count are 11,005 killed, although that did not include 800 killed in Najaf, 235 in Baghdad and 20 in the Basra region. The British Government can give us no official figures, because they have not bothered to count the dead Iraqis. People, especially in the Middle East, can be forgiven for believing that the British and American Governments consider Arab lives far less important than those of westerners. That smacks of blatant and disgusting racism of the worst kind.
The great pity is that the horrors inflicted on Iraq, and the deaths of United States and British soldiers, could have been avoided. The best thing that could happen is for the whole matter to be handed quickly over to the United Nations, with British and coalition troops withdrawn as soon as possible.
Lord St John of Bletso: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Wright of Richmond for introducing this very topical debate, at a time when foreign policy stands at the top of the political agenda. I should like to focus my remarks on Africa, a continent that our Prime Minister recently described as,
For much of the past century, Africa has been a place of paradoxesof hope and despair, of good news and bad newsand so it remains. However, Her Majesty's Government deserve credit for their proactive approach to Africa. In addition to our support for NePAD, the G8 Africa Action Plan and the Africa Partners Forum, I fully support the recently launched Commission for Africa. I also welcome the increase in British aid to Africa, which is reported will reach in excess of £1 billion next year. That is almost three times what we were giving in aid three years ago.
Our Government's initiatives have, in part, also resulted in many of the success stories in Africa, such as Kenya, Mozambique and Sierra Leone among the
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many others. On the AIDS awareness campaign, although the pandemic in many areas of Africa goes from bad to worse, it is encouraging that through our efforts the spread of HIV/AIDS, particularly in Uganda, has to a large degree been halted.
However, a lot of the positive progress is undermined by events bringing despair in countries such as Zimbabwe. The recently broadcast interview with Robert Mugabe on Sky News a few days ago, where he insulted our Prime Minister and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, typified his contempt for the voice of reason and showed how detached he was from reality. However, slow progress is being made to resolve the disastrous situation in Zimbabwe, and high-level discussions are still in progress.
It is becoming increasingly clear that Robert Mugabe pays more attention to the words of President Obasanjo of Nigeria and President Chissano of Mozambique than to the words of President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, whom he considers his junior. I spoke to President Mbeki last year, and he gave me assuranceseyeball to eyeballthat there would be change this year. I should be corrected; it will certainly not happen in that time.
What measures are Her Majesty's Government taking to seek the support of Presidents Obasanjo and Chissano to expedite the timetable to achieve a government of national unity with the powers to rescue Zimbabwe from disaster? Britain's recent policy of assisting negotiations discreetly from the sidelines has been criticised as ineffective, yet it is working. I understand from several senior members of ZANU-PF that they would be in favour of Her Majesty's Government taking a more proactive role in brokering high-level negotiations between the MDC and ZANU-PF, to talk about their differences and explore what can be achieved. Even in the midst of despair, there is some hope.
President Mbeki's vision of an African renaissance is attractive, and his leadership role within NePAD is praised, but his central themethat there should be African solutions to African problemshas been spoiled by his own ineffective approach to the tyranny raging across his northern border. Inside South Africa, a sound economy keeps the country on an even keel and, with the free distribution of anti-retroviral drugs, at long last there are signs that the government are slowly addressing the devastating spread of HIV/AIDS. Her Majesty's Government continue to play a highly constructive role within South Africa at many levels, which is to be welcomed.
We have also played a pivotal role in restoring peace and stability in Sierra Leone. However, peace and stability in Sierra Leone largely depend on similar conditions being maintained in Liberia, to which my noble friend Lord Wright of Richmond referred in his "forgotten" list. Outside agencies should consistently bear that in mind.
I want to draw your Lordships' attention to the situation in Equatorial Guinea, a small west African nation that has become one of Africa's largest oil producers, but is ruled by a brutal dictator. Human
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rights organisations have been expressing grave concerns about the levels of abuse in Equatorial Guinea for some time. The recent news that President Obiang Nguema is preparing to supply oil to Zimbabwe should set alarm bells ringing around the world.
I cannot remember a time when so many bold initiatives and programmes were being launched in Africa, yet the situation in Zimbabwe is a handbrake on so much of that progress. I strongly urge Her Majesty's Government to focus their greatest efforts, both in private and public, on resolving the problem, to the benefit of every country in Africa.
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