Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I have always made clear that I consider military action against Iraq to be morally, legally and politically justified. Morally justified because no one can dispute the unmitigated evil of the ruthless reign of terror which the Saddam regime practised in Iraq and was able to continue to do so after 1991 because the coalition made the cardinal error of halting military action too soon. It was legally justified because if defiant refusal to comply with 16 Chapter 7 resolutions of the UN Security Council is not a legal basis for action, then I do not know what is. It was politically justified because this unpredictable, dangerous, rogue regime was a menace to its volatile region and, through
7 Sept 2004 : Column 467
that, a menace to the world—a menace all the more threatening in the light of new dangers that we all face from new forms of international terrorism.

I know that others start from a different premise. One cannot but be troubled at the moment at the present state of affairs in Iraq. But let some things be said clearly. Military action was brilliantly successful, unexpectedly swift and meticulously planned and executed by the alliance forces, who deserve great credit for that. Many problems predicted did not materialise—the expected flood of refugees, and so on. But the awful problems with which we are all now living are enormous although, I believe, not insurmountable, given time, patience and sustained effort.

Of course, we all wish that some things had been done differently. The abrupt disbanding of the Iraqi army struck many at the time as unwise and fraught with danger, although I understand the thinking behind that, as well as for not acting immediately against Moqtada al-Sadr when the moderate young Shia cleric leader al-Kooie was murdered when, without armed protection, he visited the holy Imam Ali shrine in Najaf on his return to Iraq from the UK and exile. It was no doubt considered more politic to wait until an Iraqi judiciary could deal with it, but one must wonder if swift action on that murder would have caused more bloodshed than the two uprisings that al-Sadr has now led.

We can all hope that the efforts of the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani will continue to keep Najaf in some kind of peace, but Moqtada al-Sadr remains a viciously dangerous force and I, for one, hope that the murder of the talented moderate al-Kooie will not be forgotten. All people of good will have to hope that the provisional government of Iyad Allawi succeeds in holding his country together and restoring some kind of normality to a society that has not been normal since Saddam took power in 1979.

Listening to people who were currently knowledgeable about Iraq, such as my honourable friend Ann Clwyd, it is clear that there are some good news stories among the unmitigated black reports from the media. I agree with my noble friend Lady Symons and the noble Lord, Lord Howell, about that. No one with any sense or experience underestimates the problems, but they can be dealt with, given time, patience and careful investment of resources. The murder of Iraqis trying to reconstruct their society is evidence of the determination of those ex-Baathists, as well as extremists, Iraqi and foreign, who do not want that reconstruction, as my noble friend Lady Symons said.

But let us try to look clearly at the overall picture. There are specific problems with some of the Shia community, especially those connected to al-Sadr, but, with the assistance of the respected leadership of the majority of the Shia, those can be resolved. There are security problems among the Sunni community, especially in the Sunni triangle—readily understandable from ex-Baathists, aided by foreign volunteers, but also from a community accustomed to being in control and fearing the Shia majority. They need reassurance.
7 Sept 2004 : Column 468

Meanwhile, Kurdistan, while not a complete haven of peace, continues to administer itself. Its leaders are so far displaying maturity in playing their part in an integral Iraq and not being tempted into a dangerous move to secession, with all the perils that that would unleash in Iraq, as well as in Syria and Turkey.

There is now an interim government and a national conference has been held, which was concluded on 18 August. That was never intended to be fully democratic or any kind of substitute for the general election scheduled for January, but it did hammer out an agreement on an interim parliament—a new national council—described by my noble friend Lady Symons. As the Economist commented at the time,

Perhaps it is, as some have said, going to be, for a time, "a rough democracy for a rough country", but let us admit that many did not think that we would be even this far by now.

I conclude with a comment on something that has featured so prominently in Iraq debates: intelligence, its acquisition and processing—a field in which I spent some 22 years. I firmly believe that secret intelligence should never be put into the public domain. I know that that is not in the spirit of the times and I well recall the clamour from the media and others to show us the intelligence. But whatever the fashionable pressures, I think they have to be resisted. If there was one thing that dismayed me about the otherwise excellent Butler report, it was the implication that the next time that intelligence was published, procedures should be different. That dismayed me because I fervently believe that there should be no next time.

In parenthesis, perhaps I may say how much I welcome what the noble Lord, Lord Butler, said about John Scarlett. I think that it would have been outrageous if the due process of selection of the chief of the Secret Intelligence Service were to have been diverted from choosing the best person for the job. John Scarlett is someone whom I have known for a great number of years and whom I admire for both his professional ability and personal integrity. But the whole point was that the due process should take place without any external interference. The Butler report did exactly the right thing in what it pronounced on that point.

I say that I fervently believe that there should be no next time for the publication of intelligence not because I am not in favour of transparency and accountability, but because I know the enormity of the problems of producing the substance of intelligence reports for an audience unused to reading it and not given any on guidance on how to read it. Much has been written and said about "caveats", but it is much more complicated than it appears. The concept of caveats regarding an intelligence report encompasses a variety of quite different and specific signals designed to give the reader road signs at different, defined points—source description;
7 Sept 2004 : Column 469
introduction; field comment; desk comment—all to help the reader understand and evaluate the report without betraying the identity of the source.

Unfortunately, time prevents me from explaining that in any more detail, but all of those together are, if you like, what can be classified as caveats. But there is no way that you can incorporate them into a public exposure of your core intelligence. So-called caveats are just one of the reasons that it is well nigh impossible to put intelligence meaningfully into the public domain.

Another example of where some caveats are necessary, but difficult to spell out, is the chairmanship of the JIC, which has changed greatly over the years. There have been many misunderstandings attached to that title, which might have remained an esoteric subject except that the media have taken to parading it as a powerful credential for the pundits that they produce to criticise the Government on Iraq. For example, in one case, the lady held that office for a bare two months.

Also, until 1983, when the Franks report on the Falklands recommended that the practice be discontinued, the chair was taken automatically by the Foreign Office representative on the JIC—a career diplomat—whose day job was that of an FCO deputy under-secretary, which would include intelligence among its other responsibilities. So the chair of JIC can mean very different levels of experience in intelligence. It all depends on when and in what context people come to be in that position. In this—as in so much connected with intelligence—things are not always what they seem and they are rarely straightforward.

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, I welcome the fact that your Lordships' House chose to debate the issue of Iraq after our Summer Recess. It is essential that at the earliest moment we should send the message to our forces in Iraq that they are not the forgotten army; that they are facing an increasingly dangerous and difficult time; and that the thoughts of this House are with them in the difficult and important task that they are undertaking.

Those of us who wish them every possible success often find it very difficult to keep in touch with what actually is happening and the current situation. My noble friend Lord Howell gave some worrying figures about the amount of attacks that are alleged to have occurred against British forces in Basra and the region during a recent 10-day period. Will the Minister confirm that there is no truth in the rumour that there was a news blackout imposed by the Government during that time of great tension and attack? If that was so, it was wrong and contrary to the spirit that we try to follow in such matters. It would have been unfair to families and to the Armed Forces who are engaged in the situation. I hope that the Minister will be able to give a clear answer.
7 Sept 2004 : Column 470

I pay the warmest tribute to our forces and the way in which they have discharged themselves. Anyone who has had any involvement with them would not be surprised that they have discharged their duties as they have. I also pay tribute to the US forces in the very difficult challenge that they are undertaking. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, referred to "mission accomplished". Today, I think I saw a figure that, since "mission accomplished" was announced, there have been 1,000 fatalities in the US forces. I have no knowledge of the number injured and wounded, but that too will be very substantial.

We have paid tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and his report, from which we all learned quite a bit. I note that the Prime Minister learned something that he had never heard before; namely, that the crucial intelligence on which some of the main claims were based had been withdrawn. The Prime Minister was never informed and it was only when he read the Butler report that he learned of something that had occurred a year before.

The noble Lord, Lord Butler, made a powerful defence of the position of Mr John Scarlett, for whom I—as does the noble Baroness—have considerable respect. But since the House rose, allegations have been made that Mr Scarlett sought to influence the Iraq Survey Group report. Apparently, he wrote to the Iraq Survey Group suggesting that 10 possible "nuggets" could be included in their report. I am not sure if the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and his colleagues were made aware of that or whether there is any truth in it; it was in a report by Mr Tom Mangold. Obviously, that is a serious matter because it suggests further involvement in what would appear to be the presentation of intelligence, which many might have thought was not appropriate action to undertake in that way. Perhaps the noble Baroness may clarify that.

While the noble Baroness said that the Butler report was carefully studied, is being followed up and acted on, one cannot help but notice that the Government have already acted in contradiction of one recommendation of the report as regards the chairmanship of the JIC. I accept that the Prime Minister has announced that this appointment is an interim appointment. But it is against the recommendation of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and his colleagues. The post of chairman is being held by someone who has experience of dealing with Ministers in a very senior role, who is demonstrably beyond influence and thus probably in his last post. Mr William Ehrman has now been appointed on an interim basis and is doing it on his way to his new ambassadorial appointment.

I have the highest regard for Mr Ehrman, but it is interesting that a key recommendation about the chairmanship of the JIC has been immediately ignored by the Government. The noble Lord, Lord Butler, used to see the reports of the Intelligence and Security Committee: this was a recommendation that we on that committee have made consistently since 1999. We were merely drawing on the advice of Lord Franks at the time, which the Government have consistently continued to ignore. I just make that point.
7 Sept 2004 : Column 471

I feel very much for the position of our troops. While I trust that no one in this House will do anything but offer the fullest support to our forces in their very difficult task, that does not mean we are embargoed from criticism of the Government. I think that the Government have served our forces very unhelpfully. It has been a PR disaster. Mr William Hague made a very good speech on 20 July in a House of Commons debate on Iraq. He said that he thought the policy was correct, but that the Government have ruined the case for doing so. He first coined the phrase "PR disaster".

Against that background, I note that the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Intelligence and Security Committee are now reopening their inquiries, which is right in the light of the further information that has come to light. It is against that background that I turn to the events in Iraq. We have all been observers of the tragic events—whether in Najaf or the heightened tension and the much greater violence in the Basra district. I noted that the noble Baroness used a carefully crafted phrase to say the situation was not universally grim. I understand why she said that. It is an understatement of the year for some of the people.

If I am being unkind or unfair about the position, again I say to the Government, and to the noble Baroness in particular, that it is extraordinarily difficult to have an accurate position of what is really going on in Iraq. What is the position about the reconstruction efforts? What is the position about electricity and water supply? What is the position that is faced in the rebuilding of the Iraqi security forces, the police and the Army?

The noble Baroness will know that I have raised that issue on a number of occasions. On the first occasion I was referred to the DfID website, which I did not think was the total answer to the request that I had made. If we are to have public support for what we are doing, it is important that we have proper information from the Government on the situation.

About the only cheerful note that I noted in preparing for the debate was the encouraging letter from the BBC World Service. The efforts of the BBC and its Arabic Service, and the way in which they are trying to communicate British values as well as accurate information, is important.

I have one further point. The current situation is putting great strain on our Armed Forces. In certain areas there is the risk of deterioration. Against that background, I think it extraordinary that the Government should choose this moment to introduce some difficult and damaging cuts to the defence programme, ones that will impact in particular on some of the regiments that may well be asked to face very difficult times. I draw the parallel that we produced Options for Change, but shortly after we announced it Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. We withdrew the programme at that point because we did not want there to be any conflict whatever.

I agree entirely with the right reverend Prelate that we must see this through to see order come out of chaos. However, the challenge is not simply that which
7 Sept 2004 : Column 472
the noble Baroness spoke of when she quoted the Prime Minister today: that it is a battle between decent Iraqis and terrorists. The problem is that decent Iraqis are not likely to form a cohesive force and that in trying to restore order out of chaos, we cannot get ourselves into a situation where we back individual factions. That, in the end, is something that the Iraqis will have to decide for themselves.

We face a very challenging situation and we have to stand together to see it through. I hope very much indeed that we can secure wider support in the world to help us to do so.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page