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Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for her opening remarks. This debate has attracted an extraordinarily high level of interest in this House. I agree particularly with the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that we much look forward to the maiden speech by the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, and to the undoubtedly expert contribution that will be made by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and others in your Lordships' House.

Before I plunge into the debate itself, perhaps I should say first how much we welcome the new ambassador to this country from Iraq and we hope that he will follow carefully the proceedings of this House and the other House—we are sure that he will. Secondly, I should like to follow the noble Lord, Lord Howell, in saying a word about the unspeakably awful happenings in Russia at the weekend. There are some occasions when the very values upon which humanity itself stands begin to be washed away. That was such an occasion. All of us feel totally inadequate in being able only to offer our profoundest sympathy to the parents and families so bereaved as a result of that terrible occasion.

Perhaps I may add one more word. I hope and pray that in responding to such terrible outrages we understand that if we ourselves destroy those same humanitarian values there will be nothing left to hope for. This is a moral as well as a political challenge, and it should be seen in that light.

Fourteen months ago, when the Prime Minister advocated the invasion of Iraq in his speech to the other place, he set out objectives that he asked us to bear in mind and to consider embracing them in a new United Nations resolution. It seems appropriate 14 months on to remind the House of those objectives: an international reconstruction programme; the use of all oil revenues for the benefit of the Iraqi people on a transparent basis; an appropriate post-conflict administration in Iraq that would be dedicated to the concepts of human rights and the rule of law without distinction between the peoples of Iraq. The speech had all the oratorical brilliance of which the Prime Minister is so capable. It was the basis of a humanitarian crusade and the basis of the argument that we were absolutely right to go ahead with the invasion of Iraq.
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In May, the military victory was complete and President Bush could have said that the military mission was accomplished. However, he did not add that qualifying adjective, but said only that the mission was accomplished.

Since that time we have had four inquiries in this country, culminating in the brilliant report of the noble Lord, Lord Butler. In the United States there have been innumerable congressional investigations, many of which are still continuing. What has come out already is that Iraq was invaded on the basis of misleading intelligence, misleading individuals, such as Mr Chalabi, and on a set of assumptions that have not been borne out in fact or in history. Those include the strongly held belief that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and moreover, was developing further such weapons. That was based on the belief that there was a close link between Al'Qaeda and the Government of Iraq. Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, all the evidence is that there was no such link, and even the United States Administration have recognised that.

In addition, we had the confident claims of the neo-conservative elements in the American Administration that military victory in Iraq would be followed by a great welcome by the Iraqi people for the incoming invading forces, and that establishing a new regime would be relatively straightforward and easy. Sadly, the promise of that stable and democratic Iraq has turned into a grim and deeply dispiriting irony.

So far, for all those events that I have outlined—I shall not repeat them—not a single senior person has been found accountable; not one. From the atrocities in Abu Ghraib prison through to the maladministration of the Iraq development agency, which I shall discuss shortly, no senior person been made accountable either by the British Parliament or the United States Congress, even though there are clear indications that at the most senior level there must have been some recognition of the atrocities against prisoners both in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, and even though there is clearly official recognition in the report of the inspector general of the CPA on how financial development has been conducted that there must be senior people who, at the very least, are answerable for serious mismanagement. It is not much of a lesson to a country, which we have said we wish to bring to democracy, that we ourselves are utterly incapable of finding anybody accountable for what has gone wrong.

That is an issue not only in Iraq. I draw attention again to the Butler report. It is not only a matter of shaky intelligence being exaggerated, but what the noble Lord, Lord Butler, had to say in his report—and my colleague and noble friend Lord Holme of Cheltenham will have more to say in this regard—about how government business was conducted. There were no minutes at meetings; decisions were not registered; the Cabinet was excluded from a good deal of information that it should have known. There was clearly a misunderstanding, or at least a failure to recognise that experts were risking their careers to give desperate warnings. Dr Jones was only one of those
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experts who were either simply ignored or had their recommendations and evidence dismissed or set on one side. It was not a happy period for our Government and their proper machinery.

We were given two further promises. First, we were told that there would be a more stable and secure Iraq. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, has already said some of the things that I wanted to say, so I shall limit my speech as much as I can. The chaos, deaths and attacks continue. The largest number of US servicemen and women ever injured occurred last month—August 2004. So much for a reduction in the levels of tension. Sixty-six American soldiers lost their lives, as did four British soldiers. Since then there has been the further attack on American marines near Fallujah. We are very far away from achieving security in Iraq.

In attempting to try to build some kind of security, the new interim Iraqi Administration has already fallen into some of the ways of coercion. They have tried to silence elements of the press and to use coercive measures to get the better of the desperate situation.

The Foreign Affairs Committee of another place, in a brilliant report, said:

Al'Qaeda was not a serious threat in Iraq two years ago, but it is a serious threat today. That is at the heart of the Liberal Democrat objection to the war. It has not addressed, weakened and undermined terrorism, but tragically—although nobody intended it that way—it has led to the development and expansion of terrorism in the Middle East.

We do not know how many Iraqi casualties there have been because we do not count them. It might have been a good thing if we had done so. Independent reports suggest that there are many thousands, and those many thousands are being added to every week that passes.

Secondly, we promised to reconstruct Iraq's battered economy. The Prime Minister, in our name, pledged the use of Iraqi oil revenue for that purpose, and for the benefit of the Iraqi people. The truth has been different. Even though the US Congress voted for $18.5 billion in addition to the sums from the Iraqi oil revenue, only 2 per cent of the money spent on Iraqi reconstruction has come from those US bilateral funds. Almost all of them remain unspent. Almost all the money came from the Iraqi development agency's funds, which were subject to far less tight controls and regulation than those of the bilateral arrangements of the United States.

The easiest thing for the Coalition Provisional Authority was to switch contracts from one source of money to the other, which it did in case after case. Of some 37 contracts worth $5 million or more assigned for the reconstruction of Iraq, 85 per cent went to American companies, and two thirds of that 85 per cent went to one major company, called Halliburton and its associated subsidiaries.

Halliburton is currently under investigation for allegedly charging more than $1.5 a gallon to Iraqi civilians for oil supplied, as distinct from the 98 cents a gallon that the Iraqi oil company would have
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charged. If that is true, what an extraordinary thing to do. Not only would the Iraqi oil agency have needed the revenues and used them for Iraqis, it would have provided more employment for a country in which some 60 per cent of people are currently unemployed.

Worse than that, questions about those Halliburton contracts and about the general administration of the Iraqi development agency which were raised by the United Nations international advisory and monitoring body, set up last spring, were not answered. The United Nations is still seeking answers to many of its auditors' questions.

The Coalition Provisional Authority, towards the end of its life, withdrew 1 billion dollars from the remaining funds which, we must not forget, were meant to be for the benefit of the Iraqi people. We do not know where that 1 billion dollars went nor what it was to be spent on. It would be helpful if at the end of the debate the Minister could comment on the CPA's administration of the money.

Even the general accounting office of the US Congress said that the CPA had failed to meet its targets for water, transport and electricity; that all production amounts to only two thirds of the target set for December this year; and that oil exports from Iraq are today at their lowest level since well before the Iraq war.

On every criterion of success, whether that be security, economic recovery or the grounding of democracy in Iraq, we cannot claim success. The evidence points to failure. I agree with what the Prime Minister said in his press conference today—and he said it directly—that the battle now is between the terrorists and the ordinary, decent people of Iraq. Of course, in that battle none of us—none of us—can shrink from supporting the battle against terrorism. But we cannot even pretend that the decisions made by our Government, committed both to the invasion and the implementation of the post-war recovery, and the terrible misjudgments associated with them—admittedly, some of them made primarily by an extraordinarily arrogant American Administration—have nothing to answer for in respect of the outcome in Iraq.

The conclusion was not inevitable. There were alternatives. Looking back, would it not have been much better to have kept Iraq under the control of the UN inspectors rather than embark, as we did, on an outcome which we could not imagine and cannot even now calculate?

In conclusion, we are entitled to ask the Prime Minister: was it for this outcome that so many lives have been sacrificed? Was it for this outcome that so much destruction was permitted? Was it for this that we have now brought about an even more difficult situation vis-à-vis the terrorist threat so movingly described by both the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Howell? Have we any reason to believe that all that price was paid for a better outcome?
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4.23 p.m.

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