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Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for bringing us up to date with the situation in Iraq and wider issues. I certainly look forward to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, as he expounds on and illuminates his fascinating report, and to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Sunningdale, who has enormous expertise in middle-eastern affairs.
A great deal has happened in Iraq, the wider Middle East and in the wider world of terrorism generally, since we last met here. It all seems to be part of a huge network of connections, examples and copycat activities. Foremost in our minds, as the Minister has reminded us, are the hideous events of the past few days at Beslan, west of Grozny, in the heart of the Caucasus and the continued slaughter in Darfur, about which my noble friend Lady Rawlings may have something to say at the end of the debate. We cannot forgetindeed, one is not allowed to forgetthe endless bombings of airplanes, buses, metro stations, the massacres and the shooting down of innocent workers which have filled the daily columns throughout August.
As to Beslanand I know it is not the main theme of our debateI have read some rambling comments and articles speculating about the connection, or lack of it, between this almost unspeakable atrocity in Number 1 School, and the Al'Qaeda and other terrorism in Iraq and elsewhere. I think that misses the point, in a way. People have criticised Mr Putin for claiming that Al'Qaeda is involved. I do not care how many or how few Islamic fanatics were involved in slaughtering children at Beslan. The point is that the new terrorist mentality which we are all up against has now infected extremism everywhere, so that beheadings, kidnapping, torture, the slaughter of women and children and maximum injury to innocent civilians has become the monstrous normnot just in Iraq, alas, but around the entire world.
I see that President Bush has now redefined what he originally called a "war on terrorism" as a struggle against totalitarian murders, people who cut off heads, bayonet children, shooting in cold blood, almost casually, randomly, to make their case. Terrorism combined with a suicidal mentalityfor that is what we are up againstis now a pattern of global crime which, if it is not checked, makes free and open civil society, and normal life, impossible. That was a point wisely made from these Benches right at the start of these events by my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon. He is not with us today, but I know we all wish him a speedy recovery from his recent illness and a rapid return, which will certainly take place. Until the people with such mentalities and methods, whether in Iraq or elsewhere, are crushed, we have no society and no security in Iraq or anywhere else.
I turn to the details of the situation in Iraq, where there have been many developments, some positiveto which the Minister has quite rightly alludedand quite a lot, I am afraid, negative. On the positive side,
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Moqtada al-Sadr and his rebels were successfully winkled out of the holy mosque at Najaf. Everyone was dreading what would have happened if that had not occurred. Incidentally, I cannot help noting that when Saddam's forces mercilessly bombarded that same mosque in 1991, there was scarcely a murmur from the wider world. This time, one bullet off the golden dome and everyone seems to be in uproar.
There is also the new sovereign government, to whom the Minister also referred, under Dr Iyad Allawi, whom stays firmly in place. They are brave men, all under threat to their lives. They act toughly and clearly. The Iraqi army and police are beginning to gather strength, and a credible national security force is emerging. The country has not yet fallen apart, and some areas are prospering and doing extremely well. Enterprise is flourishing and, of course, elections are in prospect.
On the negative side, the deal with al-Sadr and his Shia minoritybecause that is what it isis only temporary. His gunmen are still around and may regroup at the first opportunity, especially if the Iraqi Government try the tactic of wiping them out while Ayatollah Ali Sistani is trying the different approach of conciliation. I foresee many great dangers if that happens. Indeed, there is news even today of more killing in mosques and so on by the Iraqi official forces. Seven more US marines died only yesterday at Fallujah.
Meanwhile, my own reports from the front tell of a very big deterioration in Basra, with our consulate having been under siege. I hope that is better now. The Ba'athist thugs are back in position, wheeling their relatives and friends into all the jobs. There is very little rule of law. There is corruption. Sects and tribes are busy murdering each other. British troops now have less power, in the sense that they are part of the multilateral force, and I am afraid they are inevitably less respected. I believe they have in all instances been driven back from foot patrols into armoured vehicles, making their very difficult job more difficult still. At Al-Amarah, I am told, there have been 450 mortar attacks on British troops in a recent 10-day period. Under these conditions, it is an absolute marvel that our troops have managed to retain controljustof the Basra region. This reminds us of what a fantastic and brilliant job they are doing. But, I am afraid, there are still too many stories for comfort about inferior equipment and concerns that the armed forces of other countries have better tax treatment than ours and things like that. Meanwhile, there is a lot of rubbish everywhere, and open sewers. Services are better, as the Minister says, but they are still not working. We must be realistic and balanced about what is actually happening.
Are we further forward with our objective of a democratic Iraq as a source of Middle East stability, instead of turbulence and terrorism? Was there an imminent threat in the first place? Are the Saudis and others now pressing ahead with serious reform? It is very hard to give an answer to these questions. There
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are, inevitably, doubts all around, shared by many sincere people and, dare I say it, possibly even by the Minister herself.
It may be that in Iraq we have stopped Saddam's third try for nuclear dominance. After the first two attempts we may have stopped him building up again that which he appeared to have got rid of temporarilythe stock of chemical and biological weapons. But Iran will get its nuclear weapons inevitably. Proliferation is all too easy, given that people like AQ Khan in Pakistan provide the know-how and send round the catalogues of equipment. It is a very difficult task to stop proliferation. It needs to be brought under control and to have transparency, but it may be impossible to stop it.
The truth is that the new terrorism has its own agenda of which Iraqi developments are only part and which is being driven by a raft of considerationsnot least by the Palestine/Israel situation, about which I hope we shall hear more. That is one of the key issues that is still worsening further in a crazy tit-for-tat slaughter.
Turning to the bigger picture, we now have, as the noble Baroness reminded us, the interesting report of the noble Lord, Lord Butler. I know that we shall hear more from him but, for me, having had the time to read his report at leisure during August, it contains three main messages. The first is that the report, if read carefully, is a tough indictment of the intelligence services and of the JIC. Rather bravelyperhaps I should say, loyallythe report talks about intelligence "successes", but the text cannot disguise the obvious failures and urgent needs for repairs in our intelligence services.
What went wrong? The answer is, quite a lot. The SISthat is MI6and the JIC involvement in the disgraceful dossier episodes revealed "serious weaknesses" in the process, although Ministers carry much of the blame for that as well. The report makes clear that it was wrong that the key expert Dr Brian Jones was not shown the nonsense regarding the 45-minute arming of missiles. The key judgments of the JIC put up to Ministers were plain wrong all alongboth in March and September 2002about Iraq having a current CW and BW capability. The JIC,
which is deplorable if it is truewhich I am sure it is. One wonders where, if anywhere, these great experts had been and how much history they had read. As for intelligence sources and validation procedures, they were a sorry tale. The report confirms that "a high proportion" of sources were duds and key information from them had to be withdrawn later.
All of that is worrying and it is to be hoped that the reforms will put it right, but it takes second place to the extraordinary distortions imposed on us by the Prime Minister and others and the way in which they took already dodgy intelligence and converted it into apparently hard facts. We were indeed deceived, not deliberately, and that has tainted the whole enterprise. A good case for the original invasion, which many of us adhere to firmly, was messed up not by dishonesty,
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but by stupendous naivety and undoubted exaggeration. The world is waiting to hear and will go on waiting to hear why those fanciful and misleading distortions came to be uttered by the head of the British Government.
The third main messagewhich is a mild criticism of report and I am ready to be put down firmly by the noble Lord, Lord Butleris that the authors are curiously and almost cavalierly dismissive about the real case for getting rid of Saddam; not the one the Government rather clumsily put in the end, but the one about Iraq's promotional links with the rise of hyper-terrorism, for which there is growing evidence, and the glaring fact that Middle East stability matters because the region is still sitting on two-thirds of the world's oil reservesand the cheapest two-thirds at that. As some of us argued from the outset, before the invasionand it is not being wise after the eventand as I said at this Dispatch Box in February 2003, it would have been far better if the emphasis had been put from the start on the converging interest between Saddam's Iraq and international terrorism.
I realise that the remit of the Butler inquiry related to weapons of mass destruction and intelligence. But what is the most glaring fact about all the terrorist events since 9/11? It is that none of those horrors had much to do with WMDsnot 9/11, not Bali, not Madrid, not Moscow, not Beslan, not the embassy slaughters, not the sickening hostage taking and beheadings in Iraq or the bombs in Riyadh and Jiddah, or the endless barbarities against innocents through suicide explosions in crowded public places or in aeroplanes. This is the new form which terrorism has taken in the information age. It uses grisly old-style methods but is empowered by the mobile telephone, communications technology and by the mentality which the communications revolution has helped to stoke up and incentivise. The influence of Al-Jazeera TV, which now dominates Arab opinion, not to the exclusion but the downgrading of the BBC's Arab service, is a prime example. Iraq was in the forefront of all of that and I do not know why we have to shut our eyes to that fact. It was the main but largely unstated case for changing the regime there.
We need to see officials and intelligence agencies from all responsible countries working still more closely together on both homeland and international measures to protect us against that backdrop of the new terrorismwhether its sources are in the Middle East or elsewhere. The operations of those agencies are now closely interwovennational and international, "homeland" and international. In my view, stabilising Iraq is just one part of the larger jigsaw of containing the global and local terrorist virus. The kind of intelligence work to which we should now be giving priority is that carried out by the Joint Terrorist Analysis Centre, which gets an honourable mention in the Butler report, and similar organisations and agencies, and that is where intelligence reform, which is needed, should now be focusedtogether with the necessary resources.
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A free Iraq undoubtedly liesalthough some will argue otherwiseon the path to a safer, more stable, Middle East and to the more successful struggle against fanatical terror worldwide. Unfortunately, the Iraqi experience to datewhich we hope will turn positive and that the bottle is half full not half emptytells us, regrettably, that at several levels of government the necessary focus has been severely lacking and that the hand on the helm of our Government is not always as steady, trustworthy or reliable as we hope for and need. That is a matter of the deepest concern to every man, woman and child in this kingdom.
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