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Lord Rea: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Garden, for initiating the debate and opening it with such a well-informed speech. I shall concentrate on the health of the Iraqi people, but if there is time, I shall also touch on the situation of the Assyrians in Iraq.
To assess the health of a nation, statistics on births, deaths and the nature of morbidity need to be collected systematically. Until at least the mid-1980s Iraq was developing a reasonably accurate and complete system of collecting and analysing such data. Since the war there have been huge problems in collecting and processing those statistics, not least because of the looting and partial destruction of the Ministry of Health that was permitted and even encouraged in the early stages of the occupation. Now there is the continuing insecurity.
Nevertheless, I would like to ask my noble friend what information she has on the basic state of health of the Iraqi people: for example, the infant mortality rate, the nutritional state of children and the numbers of health personnel and available hospital beds; and on progress in restoring the system of public health data collection, which is very important.
One extremely important public health statistic that has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Garden, and others, and which remains uncertain, is the number of Iraqi civilians and military who have been killed or wounded as a result of the war and the continuing violence , with incidents resulting in death and mutilation occurring daily. These go largely unreported apart from major episodes.
In February, for example, the month after the election, the organisation Iraq Body Count lists 35 episodes resulting in 96 deaths apart from the major episode in Hilla on 28 February in which 135 people were killed. In March the carnage is continuing: 16 deaths in 13 incidents up to 15 March. There are probably more that Iraq Body Count has not heard of.
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Official figures that are given are based on hospital statistics, a method which any epidemiologist would dismiss as unrepresentative and inaccurate. Iraq Body Count's estimated total of between 16,000 and 18,000 includes only the documented deaths of civilians and is probably an underestimate.
The 100,000 deaths estimated by the survey published in the Lancet last autumn refers to total excess deaths, both military and civilian, during the war and afterwards. The method used, of interviewing a true random sample of the population and extrapolating from that, is a well-known method when national statistics are not available. MORI and YouGov, for instance, use similar techniques in opinion polls.
This type of survey does not claim total accuracy, but the margin of error is known. Findings from population surveys are important and frequently-used guides to policy, as all politicians know, as Professor McPherson pointed out in the BMJ last week. The MORI polls are seldom out by more than a few percentage points. Political opinions are fickle and behaviour at the polling booth may not be the same as the reply to the interviewer, but information give to an interviewer about the deaths of relatives is unlikely to vary. If they wish to refute the Lancet's estimate the Government should commission another study with a bigger sample population.
In fact, 100,000 deaths among a population of 26 million is not excessively high compared to casualties in other conflicts of similar intensity. The difficulty for the Government comes because of the claim before the war that no effort would be spared to minimise civilian casualties; that this would be a "clean" war in some way, using smart bombs. That of course is an absurdity considering the overwhelming firepower used, including weapons such as cluster bombs and shells tipped with depleted uranium.
The security situation in Basra, while better than that of Baghdad, is however very far from perfect. In preparing for this debate I asked for an on-the-spot report from an Iraqi friend, a senior surgeon at the Basra teaching hospital. I received this e-mail reply from him this morning, using the Global Network cited by my noble friend Lord Giddens:
"Basra is relatively safer than other cities but still security is the main problem. Kidnapping is still there besides killing for no reason. Just yesterday they kidnapped 2 daughters of a doctor in the medical college from their school. You can say there is no government, our problem now is that the people don't respect any orders as if living in a jungle. Besides the City is filled with foreigners mainly from Iran.
Lack of services is the other problem, electricity in the best conditions is no more than 9hrs every day. Water supply: if you are lucky you can get it at night time. The other main services I can say are forgotten.
That is what happens when a brutal but effective centrally-controlled state dictatorship is overthrown by force with virtually no informed planning of how it is to be replaced: in particular, as the right reverend Prelate pointed out, the mistake of dismissing the whole police force because it was led by Ba'athist members. It is now going to be immensely more difficult for a new Iraqi Government to restore the country to its former prosperity. We can and should assist them in that task but I am wondering whether the continued presence of the international forces is now relevant; it may, as my noble friend Lady Turner suggested, be counterproductive. As she says, we should be working towards a plan for their withdrawal.
I will turn now to the Assyriansmy noble friend knows the problem. They are an ancient civilization with a history even older than Sumeria and Mesopotamia and were one of the first nations to convert to Christianity. During the period of British rule they were helpful to us and even assisted in our military operations against so-called "rebellious" Kurds. Under Saddam they were tolerated as a religious group, though many left Iraq because of his generally oppressive rule.
Those that remain are now subject to harassment and low level ethnic cleansing, mainly by the Kurds. An article in the Guardian, "No votes in Nineveh" on 23 February, describes how between 200,000 and 400,000 people in six mainly Assyrian towns were prevented from voting by Kurdish militia and as a result have no political representation in the central or regional assembly. The Assyrians in Iraq and their extensive diaspora are pleading for support from the United Kingdom and the United States for fair elections and a form of safe haven in the area where they are most numerous in northern Iraq.
In view of our past close association with the Assyrians this would seem a very justifiable request. Can my noble friend give them any indication that this request is being received sympathetically by the Government and that the UK will use its influence to ensure that the Assyrians can continue to live in peace in the new Iraq?
Lord Dykes: My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Garden, for his initiative in giving us such a meticulous and detailed analysis of the situation. I wish we could all be optimistic, but the tone struck by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, alas may fit the bill. It is sad to say that the situation looks very ominous indeed.
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I remember vividly as an MP, many years ago in 1972 and 1973, going to Vietnam twice, and being entertained on the second occasion by the US commander-in-chief. After clouds of cigar smoke, and a long lunch at the mission in Saigon, we were taken out to see "H and I", which means harassment and interdiction. That was 25 Howitzers lined up on the edge of a jungle firing into the jungle for two hours in the afternoon, although presumably there were no Vietcong, and certainly no North Vietnamese, in that jungle.
You do not have to be a military expert to feel that the blundering around by the Americans then was the hallmark of their activity. After the Vietnam tragedy, America calmed down about such foreign military adventures, although there were a number of subsequent examplesI do not have time to go into them. I hope very much that Iraq will not be like that. There are many differences, and I think that the Americans must have learnt lessons with the passage of time.
The signs are really disturbing, except that, as the noble Lord, Lord Garden, and others said, we do not know much about what is happening in Iraq. We get lots of comment back from journalists. I pay tribute, for example, to some of the independent-minded reporting in the newspaper of the same name by Robert Fisk and others, who stick their necks out more and, like a number of other brave journalists, go beyond the green zone. A number of others do not, and the pooling system limits the amount of information given. I would not suggest that it is always a deliberate cover-up by the US and other members of the coalition forces, but there must be some element of that to put an unusually optimistic gloss on the whole matter.
I am worried about the corruption that is developing into a huge level of activity, according to the people who, for example, come back here or to the United States, who have been working with NGOs, working with the Haliburton-isation of the Iraqi economy. All the lurid stories that come out of their accounts presumably cannot be made up. The spivs that there are in that activity; millions of dollars are wasted, and still we know nothing about it. Alas, in comparison with Afghanistan we know even less, but our focus in this debate is Iraq. The absence of information properly given by both the military and governmental US authorities and the Iraqi Interim Government is really nothing short of a disgrace.
The second disgrace, and in this I echo the thoughts of some previous speakers, is the absence of civilian casualty figures. That is absolutely horrible, and it should not happen in the so-called civilised world. I hope that the Government will liaise with the Red Crescent to insist that proper figures are produced somehow, despite the enormous operational difficulties of conducting surveys in a country of that size with a population of that size. The International Red Cross and the Red Crescent can surely get together with the various governments in the coalition and the Iraqi interim government to deal with this problem. It may be, ominously, that they do not want to because the figures are larger than have been suggested. Personally, I am disappointed that the noble Baroness was not able to return to that theme last
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October and November of getting some good figures produced and giving us a further report. There may be special reasons for that, but it would be nice to hear some more convincing arguments.
It seems to me that the word "sham" would not be too strong a word for the Iraqi Parliament opening today, and I take no pleasure in saying that. It may be a sham so far because it was only a ceremonial opening. The interim Prime Minister Mr Allawi said that the impasse in the negotiations was paralysing life in the country. He said:
I have not been to Baghdad since 1988, when the city was full of British and American officials and businessmen saying that the Saddam regime was a wonderful government, much better than anything else, and that the real villain was Iran, and we should support Saddam as we had done by giving so much equipment, military equipment, arms and weapons. We are still living in the aftermath of the massive mistakes made by Paul Bremer, who was a personal disaster. The coalition provisional authority was a truly ghastly organisation in the way in which it operated, as a sort of neo-post-imperialistic implantation in a highly sophisticated and sensitive country. The Republicans really are lucky to control both Houses on Capitol Hill, otherwise there would be more inquiries into those thingsalthough there have been some so far, and one pays tribute to those American politicians who are insisting on getting the facts even if it is very difficult.
Italy has now announced its withdrawal, as one of many, and if the UN mandate is renewed at the end of this year who will be left? US casualties will soon be approaching 2,000 dead and 20,000 wounded, but again it is difficult to get exact figures. Incidentally, will the Government give us an interim report on what will happen to Saddam Hussein, who is imprisoned and facing trial, once the governmental and judicial processes allow that trial to start? Already it has been some time since we heard any recent information on that.
I say with no pleasure that this remains intrinsically an "illegal" invasion and an "illegal" occupation, despite the forced ex-post UN certification, over which Kofi Annan had literally no choice. Never again must the United Kingdom supinely follow American mistakes of this kind. The American, European and British relationship should be one of full equality. Incidentally, I tabled a Question for Written Answer from the noble Baroness from the Foreign Office, when President Bush visited the European Union institutions and heads of government in Brussels, whether the geo-strategic relationship between the EU and the US would now be on the basis of full equality. In her Written Answer, the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, said:
That did not actually confirm that the relationship would now be on the basis of true equality; but that is essential because otherwise the situation will gradually get worse, despite the beginnings of democracy being implanted there, with some encouragement in the election turn-out in some areas.
I would like to put it higher than that. It is easy to assume that it will all be plain sailing from now on, but it depends very much on the nature of the government that will emerge in time and the plebiscite that is due to be held. I hope that the Americans have learnt some lessons from this; I hope that if they can they will put in order some of the corruption that is occurring. The American withdrawal must be done as soon as possible, as soon as may bewhenever that formula of words will allow for. So many of the other coalition forces will have gone by then that presumably it will only be the United States and Britain left, with possibly a part of the Polish contingent, but that might have gone completely as well by the end of this year or beyond.
"American withdrawal will be represented as a reward for a job well done. The rest of the world will recognise it as a humiliating defeat, and it is here that the analogy of Vietnam is inadequate. The Iraq war has been lost far more quickly than that in South-east Asia, and the impact on the world is potentially much greater . . . The full implications of such a blow to American power cannot be foreseen. One consequence is clear enough, however. The world has seen the last of liberal imperialism. It died on the killing fields of Iraq".
It is a great loss to the Iraqi people. One hopes that their future will be brighter, but it will need the true multilateral United Nations in the future, husbanding and supervising this process, to make sure that it is properly done, not the way that it has been done so far.
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