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Lord Skidelsky: My Lords, it is not my intention to go over old ground. The war in Iraq was a mistake. The reasons given for it did not stand up at the time and stand up even less well today. Nevertheless, we are there and we have to make the best of it.

To do so it is important that we face up honestly to the challenges and be clear about what we want to do and the resources that we need to do it. I am glad that the Minister admitted mistakes and did not shirk the difficulties ahead.

The fact that dominates the situation is the general insecurity of the non-Kurdish parts of Iraq. This security situation is not being adequately reported because journalists stick close to compounds for fear of being kidnapped or murdered. Thus the general impression that the security situation has improved since the handover of power on 28 June is seriously misleading.

The facts on the ground are that radical Shia militias control most of the cities. Coalition forces have failed to protect public property. Government buildings are routinely seized and their vehicles destroyed. Our forces have failed to protect the Iraqi security forces from violence or intimidation. The main road from Basra to Baghdad is unsafe, with vehicles regularly being hijacked or blown up, with all the consequences of that for the movement of goods. In Nasiriyah, Italian forces rarely leave their barracks and I am told that this is also true of the Poles and Ukrainians: they thought they were being sent as peace-keepers and discover that there is no peace to be kept.

Making up numbers with coalition forces may have been politically necessary, but it creates the illusion that all the coalition forces are available for establishing security when this is palpably not the case.

British forces have also been withdrawing from security operations. In the last seven weeks they have ceded control of the streets in Basra not to the forces of the new government, but to groups led by the Sadr miltia. A few days ago the Daily Telegraph reported that Basra's civilian administration is holed up in one of Saddam's palaces under almost daily mortar fire.

It goes on. The recent bomb explosion in Kirkuk is a symptom of the fact that ethnic tensions are rising in mixed Kurd and Arab cities. With contentious issues of land and representation unresolved, it seems to be only a matter of time before serious violence breaks out there.

The stand-off with the Shia cleric Muqtadr al Sadr in Najaf, brokered by the Ayatollah Sistani, can be deemed a success, but temporary peace was only attained with enormous concessions and after great loss of life. Sadr, who has demanded the expulsion of all foreign forces, is very far from being a broken force.

The consequences of pervasive insecurity are obvious and they were spelled out by the Minister in her opening remarks. Without security there can be no political or economic reconstruction. What does that mean? At present it is too dangerous to hold provincial elections. Have we got any real assurance that it will be
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possible to hold a general election in January to elect the successor to the interim government? Iraq's civilian administration cannot be set up because of the level of intimidation. And that means that reconstruction money cannot be spent.

The US Congress has allocated over 18 billion dollars—roughly 750 dollars per person—in additional reconstruction money, but reconstruction projects cannot be started because administrative infrastructure is not in place to develop them.

The oil position is better. Oil production has recovered to about 2 million barrels a day from its low of 1.3 million barrels in 2003. However, Iraq is capable of producing 6 million barrels a day and, under the UN Oil for Food programme of the late 1990s, it averaged about 3 million. So, after 15 months, output is still much lower than it would be in a stable situation. That is the measure of the instability that still exists. Insecurity still dogs the attempt to reconstruct essential services—health, education, electricity, water transport, communications, and so on. Electricity transmission lines have continued to be torn down.

What we have is, quite simply a crisis of legitimacy. The coalition has failed either to establish its own authority or to allow Iraqi authority to be asserted in an appealing and convincing fashion. Many of our troops feel that they are doing nothing useful and want to get out.

In appraising what needs to be done, we have to face a number of important questions. First, do we have enough troops in Iraq to secure the minimum level of security needed for the transition period? Are we willing to give our troops the necessary mandate to keep order? It was reported that the Prime Minister wanted to send more troops to Iraq. What stopped that from happening? Apparently, he was convinced of that need.

This review has to be taken jointly with the Americans, because they are mainly responsible for the security situation in Iraq, where we are very junior partners. I understand that that cannot happen until after the presidential election is over, as no one is prepared to take any major decisions.

Having embarked on this adventure, we must recognise that we cannot restore Iraq on the cheap. If indeed it is true that the majority of Iraqis want to live in freedom and peace—and I have no doubt that they do—then it is our duty to ensure that the security without which nothing solid can be built comes into existence. You cannot go into a country, destroy every structure of its ordered life and then leave before you have put something better, much better, in its place. We have not got there yet. So we have to stay, but we must also think very carefully about what we can do to achieve the fine words that we speak.

Lord Rea: My Lords, my noble friend Lady Symons knows of my long interest in Iraq, and I am sure that she has warned my noble friend Lord Triesman of this dangerous tendency. It arises initially from concern about the humanitarian plight of children suffering
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from the disastrous economic effects of the sanctions regime and the possible effects of depleted uranium. My noble friend also knows that I strongly opposed the war. I should be grateful if, in her reply, she could give us, as far as she is able, a brief and up-to-date report on the nutritional and health status of the people of Iraq, with the accent on children, including the current state of Iraq's public health infrastructure and health facilities.

Clean water, sewage disposal, reliable electricity supplies and adequate nutrition are the basis of public health, as the Minister knows full well. There have been many reports indicating that progress in reinstating this infrastructure has been agonisingly slow.

In her speech, the Minister gave us a rather more hopeful and upbeat picture than we get from the media of the unnecessary and expensive quagmire that our Prime Minister led us into on the coat tails of President George W Bush and his coterie. Our forces are behaving with much more restraint than the Americans, and making better relations with Iraqis because of this and because of some of the rebuilding activities that my noble friend described. However, it is perfectly clear that, even in the British zone, the coalition forces are resented and opposed. As the noble Lord, Lord Howell, has pointed out, there has recently been a flare-up of resistance in Basra.

In the US zone, the occupying forces are hated more than ours because of their trigger-happy behaviour. The choice of Saddam's infamous Abu Ghraib prison in which to hold detainees was, in itself, an act of extreme insensitivity, let alone the well publicised conditions under which thousands of often entirely innocent people were held there.

A long catalogue of mistakes has been made since the end of full hostilities in May, which many noble Lords have pointed out, starting with the decision to disband Iraq's army and police force instead of retaining and reforming them. Looters were allowed, even encouraged, to ransack government offices and steal or spoil records and equipment, thus destroying the basis of orderly government. Saddam's Iraq was despotic and corrupt, but it was by no means a failed state.

It is a truism to say that the US won the war in a brutal but mercifully short campaign but has fairly conspicuously lost the peace. Far from safeguarding Iraq's oil exports, they are now less than under Saddam, as the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, has pointed out, contributing to a record rise in world oil prices. There is no evidence that international terrorism has decreased since the war—rather the converse, as the recent tragic events indicate. There is no obvious connection with Iraq, but the whole tenor of militant Islam may well have been given a boost as a result of our activities in Iraq.

It was unlikely that there would have been a decrease in terrorism as a result of our attacking Iraq. There was never any evidence of international terrorist acts being organised from within Iraq. In fact,
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Saddam, with his secular regime, was no friend of Osama bin Laden, who, if he is still alive, could well be applauding Saddam's downfall.

The war has increased anti-American feelings in the Arab world, which may make it easier for Al'Qaeda to recruit followers. In Iraq, there has been a huge escalation of terrorism and crime, including suicide bombing and hostage-taking, resulting in death and misery for thousands of innocent people, let alone those killed in the war itself. This, tragically, included Sergio Vieira de Mello and 27 other UN staff last year, who were in Iraq with the most excellent motives and, more recently, the 12 innocent Nepali workers. They were all tarnished in the eyes of some militants because of their perceived association with the American-led CPA, now the multinational force. Completely innocent passers-by, who have had nothing to do with co-operating with the Americans, have been killed. The situation has been horrific.

It is uncertain how many acts of terror in Iraq have been committed by non-Iraqis, from Iran and elsewhere. In fact, it seems that there is a dearth of intelligence about the insurgents in Iraq and a lack of rapport between the appointed IGC and Iraqis on the street. I suppose that this lack of intelligence is not surprising, considering the quality of the intelligence that was misused and even manipulated by the US Administration and, sadly, by our Prime Minister. I am afraid that the report of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, does not, to my mind, contradict the assertion that this rather imperfect intelligence was used to justify the war.

It is very hard to believe that they did not know, as Robin Cook and many others did, that Iraq posed no military threat, even if it did have a small number of WMDs, as many of us thought it did. We were extremely surprised to find that there were no WMDs; even Hans Blix was—we have just been listening to him speak in another committee room in the House of Commons. In a sense, it is a failure of intelligence.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Judd and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, that it is hard to believe that no official attempt has been made to estimate the total number of Iraqi casualties, civilian or military, during the full-scale war or afterwards. Can my noble friend explain why that is the case? It is, of course, difficult to gather such information, but in previous conflicts in which we have been involved, an estimate of the number of "enemy" casualties has usually been published as well as our own. Now, the job seems to be left to non-governmental organisations such as Iraq Body Count. It has done a thorough job with its research, but its figures remain unofficial.

I am not alone in suggesting that there will be no peace in Iraq as long as the multinational force remains visibly present. Even many Iraqis who originally welcomed it now despise it and resent its continued presence. In evidence of that, I cite the remarkably courageous report by Sean Langan on BBC4 on 2 September. He managed to make contact with resistance fighters as well as to interview US
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troops and many ordinary Iraqis. On the strength of that evidence, I feel that, as long as the multinational force remains, Iraqi resistance is likely to continue in some form or other. Iraqis who serve in the police may be regarded as aiding the occupying forces and may also be targeted. In any case, they have difficulty taking part in counter-insurgency operations that involve killing their own countrymen.

Having said all that, I want to end on an optimistic note. I think that sanity will prevail. There are many highly intelligent and able Iraqis of moderate views who wish to see a united Iraq. They are proud of their country and they need a chance to put Iraq's house in order. The sooner the coalition forces withdraw from the front line and take a back seat, the more likely they are to succeed.

I consider that the continued presence of foreign troops is provoking violent disorder. It is hindering Iraq's progress towards independence and economic recovery. The funds that have been allocated for rehabilitation and recovery, which are, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, told us, still largely unspent, will be much more effective if obvious military presence is reduced. Security enforced by Iraqis is more likely to succeed if coalition forces move out of the limelight and, as soon as possible, out of the country altogether. Iraqis should play a much larger role in brokering and settling disputes.

Economic assistance, which is available, should not be necessary for long, although it should be given generously to begin with. Many other noble Lords have discussed this. Iraq is potentially a very wealthy country, fully capable of successfully standing on its own feet. However, the very large international debt, made worse by the absurdly high reparations claimed by Kuwait, must be faced. Some of it should be written off—the United States has suggested that—and the rest effectively rescheduled. We must all hope that wise counsel permits this to happen.

I believe, along with many other speakers, that Iraq's new Government must be allowed early full independence for which they will need temporary economic assistance. If a foreign military presence continues, the prospect will be for more stormy weather ahead.

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