Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Garden, for this debate on such an important subject. Clearly, getting the economic, political and security aspects right over the next months is absolutely crucial. People need to move about safely, they need political stability, and the economy needs to develop.

I suggest that in addition to those essentials there is something more. There are some deep-seated historical antagonisms in Iraq, which are partly ethnic and tribal. Kurds and Marsh Arabs, for example, are the most obvious ones. There are long-standing religious differences, as we are all well aware, with the Shia and the Sunni and the small Christian communities. It was good to hear mention of the Assyrian Christians—the residue, as it were, of what was once the heartlands of the great Byzantine civilisation.

We all know that religion is now a major player on the public stage of the world in a way that was scarcely conceivable 20 or 30 years ago for a variety of reasons.
 
16 Mar 2005 : Column 1399
 
Religion is sometimes accused of being the cause of conflict, but in fact it is probably truer in the modern world to say that religion is a marker of identity in a conflict which has usually been brought about for other reasons. But, for whatever range of reasons, and whatever responsibility religious leaders might or might not have, it is quite clear that it is very important to take the religious dimension fully into account because it can work for ill and it can work for good.

It is good, therefore, to know that there is within Iraq an institute such as the Iraqi Institute of Peace, associated particularly with Canon Andrew White, which is working to bring together religious leaders to ensure that the religious contribution to the future of Iraq is positive and not negative. It is also encouraging to know that Her Majesty's Government are fully supportive of this and I very much hope that they will continue to be so.

In addition to these historical antagonisms within Iraq there is also a no-less-serious antagonism between many people in Iraq and the United States and her allies. It is true and not surprising that the advent of democracy has been warmly welcomed by so many in Iraq. But there remain many who are deeply hostile to the United States and her allies and they think that this is just one more expression of American imperialism.

What can we do to address these two different kinds of antagonism? I am thinking particularly of the second antagonism. One of the most creative initiatives in the past couple of years was the establishment after the ending of apartheid in South Africa of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Some very painful truths had to be faced; this was no easy option. But I think all dispassionate observers would say that it played an absolutely key role in healing some of the historic antagonism and bitterness in that country.

I wonder whether it might be possible to have something equivalent to a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Iraq, because in addition to the crucially important political, economic and security aspects, there is this something more if we are going to achieve genuine reconciliation and a flourishing in Iraq that is not just an uneasy holding of the status quo which might erupt at any moment into further conflict.

If we had something like that, painful truths would indeed need to be faced on both sides. There is the fact that this country, along with the United States, supported Saddam Hussein for so many years. We turned a blind eye to his atrocities not only against his own people with ordinary weapons but to his use of chemical weapons in the terrible war with Iran and against the Kurds. We sold him weapons and indeed I believe that the 1994 Riegle report to the United States Senate is correct in identifying the fact that components for weapons of mass destruction were sold to Saddam Hussein.

In addition, there are the civilian casualties, which a number of noble Lords have already mentioned. We have to face the fact that if there is a war there will be casualties and it is no good avoiding that very unpalatable fact. But, as we know, health experts from
 
16 Mar 2005 : Column 1400
 
around the world have recently called for this monitoring on humanitarian grounds. The recent article in the Lancet said that counting the dead is intrinsic to civilised society. But in addition to those two reasons, I suggest that there is another reason, because part of the moral calculus of going to war involves assessing what the cost would be—the cost not just to one's own side but to the other side as well.

If a US or British soldier is killed or wounded we feel that immediately and deeply—that is only natural. But we need to remind ourselves that every death, whether it is an Iraqi or anybody else in that country, is also the death of a human being. In the moral calculus these deaths also need to be taken into account for the sake of truth as well as humanity.

The very great Spanish theologian and jurist in the 16th century, Fransisco de Vitoria, who was such a powerful influence in trying to engage the Spanish people in the moral abhorrence of what was happening in the Indies, and who is one of the great definers of a moral approach to warfare, wrote:

What he is suggesting is that you have to take into account not just the good of your own nation or your own side, but the good of that much wider whole. That would mean taking into account the number of civilian deaths and wounded on the Iraqi side as well as on our own.

Of course there are many unpalatable truths to be faced on the other side as well. I certainly do not want to fall into the trap of what the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, once suggested I might be falling into, of making a moral equivalence between democracy and its alternatives. I entirely share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, in his most interesting and powerful speech about the importance of democracy. Democracy is better than other systems in the world. One can say that quite unequivocally. Or if one wants to say it rather more theologically and pessimistically, it is the worst possible system in all the world, except for all the others.

Democracy is better, but nevertheless some people have approached democracy as I think Woodrow Wilson approached democracy in relation to the First World War—that this is a war to end all wars and make the world safe for democracy. One of the features of the "just war" tradition, as opposed to the Crusade tradition, is that you have a sense of the tragedy of war and of wars as a sad last necessity, which was the Duke of Wellington's attitude to war. A Crusade mentality means that you think you have right on your side against the enemies of right. The "just war" tradition has a much more nuanced view than that and is able at one and the same time to say yes—some things are better than others, nevertheless we are all flawed and there are unpalatable truths to be faced on our side as well as on the other.
 
16 Mar 2005 : Column 1401
 

For me, that attitude is most wonderfully crystallised in the words and prayers of the great American thinker Reinhold Niebuhr. One of his prayers from World War Two goes:

So I suggest that in addition to the economic, political and security aspects, there is something more. We have to work for long-term reconciliation. Although I hope that the religious leaders will be able to play an important part in initiatives in this field, I also hope that the Government will be able to support whatever initiatives might be taken.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Garden, for initiating the debate and congratulate him on the measured way in which he introduced it.

We have to remind ourselves that only two years ago Iraq suffered under Saddam's ruthless dictatorship. Elections took place with a 95 per cent, even 100 per cent, turnout. There was a slight snag—there was only one candidate. Dissent led to torture if you were lucky, and death as the final outcome. An estimated 300,000 bodies are in mass graves, a figure that has not been disputed. There was the genocidal draining of the marshes to eliminate the Marsh Arabs. Perhaps beyond anyone else, the Kurdish population knows why Saddam could not be removed without assistance. Now the Shia population is free to worship, something that under Saddam was repressed.

I share the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Giddens. To put it slightly differently, the glass might not be half-full, but I certainly would not like to view it as half-empty. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford is absolutely right that war is the last resort; it should be. I like to think that it was, after 12 years of Saddam's repression and defiance of UN resolutions, although I accept that that is debatable.

I am less inclined to take the right reverend Prelate's view that the forces could simply ignore what was happening in places such as Fallujah and allow insurgents to take over swathes of the country. That was a very difficult decision, and it no doubt led to some damage. However, I was puzzled when he talked about the damage to the political infrastructure. Surely that was Saddam's role. There really was no political infrastructure during his reign of terror, certainly not as we would know it.

I was perhaps even more puzzled by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, saying that people were talking about a triumph for democracy. I would not want to be triumphalist about the elections, but you would be hard put not to have been moved by the pictures of people queuing to vote—in a situation in which not only had they been threatened with suicide bombings, but those bombings had actually taken place on the day. It is even more unfortunate that we caricature some of the women who participated.
 
16 Mar 2005 : Column 1402
 
Anyone who voted in those circumstances was exceedingly brave, and we should not in any way demean the process.

Some 8.45 million people voted in the 30 January elections, which is 58 per cent of the electorate. We will consider ourselves lucky in any forthcoming election if we can get that ourselves. Eight thousand candidates stood for the National Assembly, and 11,000 for regional and Kurdish elections. A third of the candidates in those elections were women. Figures from the independent electoral commission indicate that at least 86 women were elected to the transitional National Assembly, which is 31 per cent of the total seats. That is grounds for optimism.

The UK Government pledged a total of £544 million for reconstruction, which is good and necessary. More than 220,000 Iraqi security personnel are on the streets, which is amazing given the intimidation and killings that have taken place. Two hundred and forty hospitals and 1,200 primary health centres are functioning, perhaps not perfectly; I am sure that some of the concerns that the noble Lord, Lord Rea, expressed are right. Some 2,500 schools have been rehabilitated, with 20 new schools constructed and 355 under construction, in very difficult circumstances. Seventy million new text books have been distributed, which is not unimportant given the history that used to be perpetrated under Saddam's reign.

No one would underestimate the enormous problems faced in Iraq. I share some of the misgivings of the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, in his analysis of what happened to some of the reconstruction programmes. I do not know how you get a perfect situation in a country that is war-torn, but things could have been better.

I am not sure what the figures are for the civilian population deaths; there is certainly a lot of dispute about the Lancet figures, as there is dispute about any others. It will probably be difficult to obtain really accurate figures, but I support the view that we should try. Although there are clearly difficulties in medical facilities—they were amplified by the noble Lord, Lord Rea—we must not forget that under Saddam there was the same kind of terrible deprivation, even though it was centrally controlled.

It is unfortunate that the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, is not in the Chamber. I certainly would not want to put an optimistic gloss on what is happening, but we need a reasonable assessment rather than simply dwelling on what could be construed as the negatives. It is wrong to characterise those elections as a sham, as he did. Most objective people recognise that, in the circumstances, they were a great achievement.

I would like to think that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford is right about the possibility of a truth and reconciliation commission—that it need not apply uniquely to South Africa. Something along those lines would be worth trying. I was certainly interested in his phrase, "the moral calculus". It is difficult in the circumstances to say whether we were absolutely right, but the world is a better place with the removal of Saddam Hussein.
 
16 Mar 2005 : Column 1403
 

Can we extrapolate and say that the changes in the Middle East have resulted from Iraq? No, we cannot directly do so, but it is interesting to note that there have been fundamental changes. When you look at what has happened in Libya and Israel/Palestine and the amazing situation in Lebanon, the wind of change seems to be blowing. It will be fitful and inconsistent, and we need to do everything that we can to encourage that process of democracy. It is, as it has already been characterised, the least worst option.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page