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Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I am sure that we are all immensely grateful to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating this enormously full Statement of intention and roundup of the Middle East situation generally.
Obviously, it is welcome news that some of our brave troops are coming home. It will be particularly welcome to the families of those who are serving and have served there, and to the Armed Forces generally in their present state of chronic overstretch. It is equally obvious that the drawdown raises a set of vital questions, of which the first must be about the
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We all hope and trust that that assessment is right, when so many assessments about Iraq have proved wrong. I trust that there is nothing artificial or wishful about the discovery of improvements in Basra which allow the withdrawal. I hope and trust that our troops left there will be able to carry out their new duties of supporting Iraqi army training, border supervision and securing supply routes with reasonable, although obviously not complete, safety. We would value assurances on that. Above all, I hope and trustwe all need reassurance on thisthat our troops will be properly equipped and not left, in the words of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, yesterday, when addressing the Global Strategy Forum,
Turning to the overall situation, which the Prime Minister covered, can the noble Baroness explain exactly how we see our plans fitting in with current American intentions? We had the Baker-Hamilton report in Washington the other day, which called for much more involvement with neighbours and other powers in coping with the Iraq situation and for the more intensive use of diplomacy on all fronts. We agree with that approach. Yet the next moment we had the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary applauding the US Administrations decision not to follow that route but to send in 21,500 more troops to the Iraq maelstrom and to ignore the proposals for seeking closer linkages with neighbours such as Iran and Syria, as well as with other regional and world powers.
We recognise the difficulty of dealing with Iran when its leader makes such wild and aggressive statements and it is right that if Iran is encouraging mischief-making in Iraq, as it certainly has been, that should be sharply and effectively confronted. Today is the UN deadline for Iran to suspend its unauthorised uranium enrichment activities. Will the noble Baroness confirm that we continue to put diplomacy and negotiation first in engaging with Iran? Will she confirm the UKs agreement reached last week with US Under-Secretary Burns, who took a very wise approach, that while using sanctions against Iran, the exit door should be kept open, everything done to keep contact with the people of Iran and diplomatic solutions sought?
Speaking of sanctions, the one sort that seems to work in putting pressure on the Iranian leadership is the financial sort imposed particularly through the American banking system. What steps have we taken
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The Prime Minister also spoke of the Israel-Palestine situation, on which of course we all hope for progress, especially if Al Fatah and Hamas can sort out their differences. Are the Government still focusing, however, as much as I believe they should, on the critical situation in Lebanon, where Israeli, Iranian and Syrian pressures and ambitions all dangerously collide? Do the Government regret being quite so unequivocal in supporting the misguided Israeli strategy of smashing Lebanon to get at Hezbollah? What steps are we taking now to see that the legitimate Lebanese Government of Mr Siniora are not undermined by extremists and street violence, egged on by Iranian and Syrian resources, and carried through by the apparently undefeated Hezbollah movement?
The Prime Minister talks in his Statement of an epochal struggle in the Middle East. These generalisations sound good, but in fact there are numerous complex and different struggles in the region, which need to be understood and dealt with in a whole variety of ways, mixing hard-power and soft-power methods. We on this side supported the decision to overthrow Saddamalthough we were given faulty intelligence on Iraqbut the string of errors since then confirms our view that subsequent events have not been well handled; that strategy has not been clear, steady, or well thought out; and that very serious mistakes and omissions have occurred in the shaping of Cabinet decisions and of government policy at the highest level.
That is why we think the time is coming for a full-scale inquiry into the conduct of the whole war operation. We note that in the USA several such inquiries are being held, uncovering new evidence, and going wider and deeper than the various reports we have been given, for example, by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hutton, the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and others. We believe that we owe it to our brave Armed Forces, who are so dedicated and professional, to look frankly and honestly at the way in which things have gone wrong, so as to learn and apply the lessons swiftly. Your Lordships will debate this very issue tomorrow, when I hope this viewpoint will be endorsed and pressed home firmly.
The vision of a peaceful, prosperous, western-model, democratic Middle East is, frankly, today as far away as ever. Perhaps it was too naïve a vision in the first place. We should certainly fight for our values and our securitywe should fight not with slogans, but with subtlety, experience, understanding and dexterity. These are the qualities that have been missing in government policy.
It is good that some of our brave troops should now be progressively withdrawn from a dire situation, in a dangerous region, which, frankly, will never be solved entirely by military force alone. It is bad, however, that there have been so many faults and impulsive errors along the way. The sooner we learn the full story, the full lessons from what has gone wrong, and how, even now, to help set it all on a more promising and constructive path, the better.
Lord McNally: My Lords, I, too, thank the Lord President of the Council for repeating this Statement made by the Prime Minister, giving his personal résumé of the history of Iraq over the past four years. I am not a marcher by nature, but I took part in the march against the war. I have to say that the Iraq adventure has produced chaos on a grand scale. On these Benches, we have no regret for condemning the policy four years ago, and for condemning it as a blot which will never be erased from the Blair record or the Blair legacy. However, on the Prime Ministers commitment to peace in Israel and Palestine, we fully support his commitment to establish a,
keeps recurring. Will not the reduction in numbers, while leaving the remaining forces with a considerable task, continue to lead to the danger of overstretch? Let me remind the House of those tasks: training and supporting the Iraqi forces; securing the Iraq/Iran border; and securing supply routes. Those are the tasks listed by the Prime Minister in his Statement.
I endorse the tributes paid by the Lord President and the noble Lord, Lord Howell, to our Armed Forces, but I still have in mind a speech made right at the beginning of this tragedy by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. On the eve of invasion he said he hoped that the politicians were as sure about how they were going to get out of Iraq as they were about how to get in. I fear that this Statement makes us no clearer on that point.
I want to raise a side issue. Last night I was at the Royal Television Societys annual journalism awards ceremony. At the beginning they present a roll of honour of those reporters who have lost their lives during the previous year. It was chilling to note the number of journalists who have died in Iraq. This has been a war fought on our television screens and marks a contrast between what I can only say is the slightly rosy picture painted by the Prime Minister and the reality we see every night on our televisions. I have also watched the events at the other end of this place. When Sir Menzies Campbell called for a phased and timed withdrawal, he was hooted and howled at by the Labour Back-Benchers, and yet now the Prime Minister seems to be announcing his own phased and timed withdrawal. The Prime Minister pays tribute to the Baker-Hamilton report, but surely that report has to be taken as a whole and should not be cherry-picked. How you can pay tribute to that report while in the same breath pledge full support to the Bush surge just seems to defy reason.
I want to ask the Lord President about something that comes within her own particular area of expertise. The Prime Minister has spoken of a new and far more focused effort on reconciliation, reconstruction and
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We share the concerns expressed about policy towards Syria and Iran, and wonder whether there are any further Government initiatives towards either country. In the past, with the Prime Minister in Syria and the Foreign Secretary in Iran, they have taken to direct diplomacy, and we certainly urge the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, about soft diplomacy. We continue to worry that talk still comes out of the United States that part of the final Bush legacy might be a direct attack on Iran. However, the real worry is that this Statement is not a strategy, it is a wing and a prayer, often at odds with the reality we see each evening on our television screens.
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I will try to respond quickly to the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Howell of Guildford and Lord McNally. I first want to tell the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that the security of our remaining troops is our first concern; he will realise from the Statement that the decision made has been based on conditions on the ground. I can also tell the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that we are not working to a predetermined timetable. The transfer of security responsibilities to the Iraqis is the ultimate goal, but that is based on what happens on the ground. Following Operation Sinbad, we believe that we can best create the conditions for that by reducing our footprint on the ground and focusing our efforts on training the Iraqi police and security forces.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, mentioned the equipment available to our Armed Forces. We take the protection of our servicemen and servicewomen very seriously. We have rapidly procured a number of vehicles to enhance force protection, while substantial improvements have been made in recent years to the standard and quantity of body armour available to armed forces personnel; commanders in Iraq now have a range of that. There are also, of course, our military aircraft, which are fitted with defensive systems and other aids to mitigate threats present in the operational environments in which they are deployed.
On the Baker-Hamilton issue, and following down the diplomatic route, I constantly hear these arguments about the US and UK strategies being at odds with each other. We are at the point in Basra where we are able to talk about troop drawdown precisely because of Operation Sinbad and what it has been seeking to put in place. In Baghdad, the United States, with the Iraqi Government, is seeking to use the increased troop levels to secure and then to hold areas of the city to enable reconstruction to take place. These are not
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At the same time, there is of course a diplomatic route that we want to follow. Noble Lords will again know that the previous and present Foreign Secretaries, Jack Straw and Margaret Beckett, have been involved with EU colleagues in negotiating with the Iranians on their nuclear ambitions. In fact, EU foreign Ministers discussed Iran briefly at their meeting on 22 January, and with our full support they agreed that, in order to ensure effective implementation of the United Nations resolutions, the European Union,
Officials are drafting a common position to take that decision forward. I also want to assure the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that we support the Lebanese Government and the efforts that they are making, as the Statement made absolutely clear.
We have already had four independent inquiries into Iraq: the Butler inquiry, the Hutton inquiry, the ISC inquiry and the FAC inquiry. I remember that everyone was very pleased when we first announced the Hutton inquiry but, because they did not like the outcome, they immediately asked for another inquiry. In answer to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, I do not believe that we should divert the attention of those working on this critical issue by holding a further inquiry at this time. The time to make such a decision will be when all our troops have come home from Iraq. We are constantly learning the lessons of the conflict.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, raised a number of further questions and in particular said that the leader of the Liberal Democrats had developed his own plan for drawdown. In December 2005, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said:
It is our strategy to draw down forces and we dont want to leave people here longer than we need to. The whole process is to build up the Iraqi capability in the armed forces and police so we can draw down our own forces. The political aspect can only be buttressed by a strong security aspect increasingly taken over by the Iraqis themselves.
That was the position in December 2005 and is the position now. We have made some progress in that some of that drawdown will begin to happen. However, I can assure the noble Lord that we will retain a robust re-intervention capacity.
On Baker-Hamilton, the noble Lord may recall that, at what was seen as great personal political risk, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister invited the President of Syria to the United Kingdom in 2002. Indeed, he was criticised by many for seeking to engage through diplomatic channels with Syria. That
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We will continue to work closely with the Iraqi Government on reconstruction and development. Our total pledge for humanitarian and reconstruction aid for Iraq for 2003-06 was £544 million; a further pledge of £100 million was announced by the Chancellor in late 2006; and over the next year the Department for International Developments water and electricity projects will improve access to water for 1 million people living in southern Iraq and a further 328 megawatts of power will be added or secured to the Iraqi national grid. With the work already under way, this will help to supply almost 1 million people with 24-hour power.
We intend to continue to work in partnership with our colleagues in the multinational force and the Iraqi Government, but bringing our troops home when the conditions are right is also an important element of the strategy.
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