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Last week, unnamed US intelligence sources held a briefing in Baghdad where they gave evidence about the role of Iran and the Revolutionary Guards in planting roadside bombs, IEDs included. I do not doubt for a moment that those weapons came from Iran, but whether they came with the approval of the Iranian Government is a different matter. However, if the Revolutionary Guards were involved, they do in theory answer to the supreme ruler. There have also been cases of Austrian rifles exported from Austria to Iran which have ended up in Iraq. I do not doubt the connections, although they are sometimes somewhat ambiguous, between the Shia militia and Iran. It would be strange if there were not a connection. The Shia militia are engaged in infighting in an internal struggle for power and influence. They have become an instrument for ethnic cleansing and for retaliation against Sunni attacks on Shias. They might be compared to Protestant paramilitaries and their retaliatory violence against Catholic communities. Further, the Shia militia are seen by some members of the community as actually providing protection for them. It is worth noting that the supreme ruler of Iran, Ayatollah Khameni, has issued several statements reminding people that in Islam it is totally forbidden for people to retaliate against fellow Muslims because of violence inflicted on them.

I notice that the new US Secretary of Defense, Mr Gates, has been careful in what he has said about Iranian involvement in Iraq, but when reading American newspapers while I was over there recently, I noted that some people are going much further and talking about Iranian support for the insurgents in Iraq. There have even been suggestions that in return for this, America should support the Mujaheddin in retaliatory attacks against Iran.

Iran, of course, has its own terrorist problems, as evidenced by a bombing recently in which 19 people were killed. It seems highly improbable—it would be remarkable—that Iran is giving help to the Sunni insurgents. If such support were being given, it would go very close to undermining the natural relationship that Iran has with the Shia community. It would also

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go totally against the close relationship that exists between Iran and the Iraqi Government.

It would be remarkable if such a thing was happening but I notice that the Daily Telegraph, which has been supporting these accusations, uses the phrase “Shia insurgents”. Most of the insurgents are, of course, thought to be Sunnis from the Yemen, Algeria and countries which are meant to be friendly towards us such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Shias, of course, are engaged in infighting, and I am sure that some of the militia engaged in that have connections with people in Iran, but it seems most improbable that the accusation of help going from Iran to the insurgents has force. Of course, strange things do go on. People say that the Iranians are sophisticated and clever enough to pursue a dual strategy in foreign policy, but perhaps certain things reflect the chaos in that deeply divided country.

We should note that the Iraqi Government take a rather different view of the Iranian influence in Iraq from that of the United States. Mr Malaki, the Prime Minister, has made that clear on several occasions. He issued his own protest when a number of Iranians who had been invited into Iraq at the behest of the Iraqi Government were then arrested by United States forces. When the Iraqi Government wanted to hold a joint meeting with Iranian Ministers, this again incurred the displeasure of the United States Government.

As to relations with al-Qaeda, in an article last week, Iran’s ambassador to the UN referred to forming common cause with the West against al-Qaeda. A number of al-Qaeda operatives are supposed to be in detention in Iran. America is displeased that these people have not been released and not handed over to the United States. It is hardly surprising that Iran should not want to hand over to the United States people it has put in detention. We should not forget that at the time of 9/11, the then President of Iran condemned the attack on New York as an act of nihilism that was totally incompatible with Islam. The Iranian Government also gave logistical help and intelligence to the northern alliance during the invasion of Afghanistan.

The accusations about Iran and terrorism in Iraq seemed sometimes to lack precision. The other day, in an article in the Sunday Times, theformidable Dr Kissinger referred to Iran interfering wherever Muslims were in a minority. With great respect to Dr Kissinger, I doubt that statement could be justified. It could perhaps be justified or argued about if he had said wherever Shia Muslims were in a minority, but that is not what he said. There seems to be a certain vagueness in many of the accusations that have been made.

When the coalition invasion of Iraq occurred, it altered the whole balance between Shiadom and Sunnidom. It also altered the balance of power within the Shia community in the world and increased the influence of Iraqi clerics. But I do not think that anything that has happened should obscure the legitimate and natural interest that Iran has in Iraq. After the allied invasion of Iraq, there was

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considerable American alarm about hundreds of thousands of Iranians coming across the border. But this was surely natural. For decades, Iranians had not been able to get to the religious communities of Karbala and Najaf, and when the Government of Saddam Hussein was overthrown religious pilgrimages increased massively and religious tourism became a growth industry. But, at the time, this raised great American suspicions

Iran is accused of seeking hegemony over Iraq and I am sure there may be some justification in that. But the relationship between Iran and Iraq is complicated and there are reasons why Iraq would resist the domination of Iran. They are both Shia countries but the Shias in Iraq have a different view of the role of the clergy. Many of the senior clergy in Iraq are refugees from Iran and take a different view about the position of the clergy and the legitimacy of the position of the supreme ruler in Iran. The Iranians, of course, are Persian and the Iraqis are Arabs. The Iraqis have a sense of identity and nationality. Shia Iraqis fought against Iran in the war—many of them, of course, were compelled to do so, just as young people in Iran were compelled to fight on its side—but there is a sense of Iraqi identity and nationality.

I suspect that, above all, Iran wants Iraq to be stable and united. In that sense, Iran shares the same objective as America in that it wants Iraq to remain as one country. There is a very good reason for this: Iran has its own problems of separatism. In Iran, only 50 per cent of the population are Persian and there are many other minorities such as Azeris, Kurds and Arabs. Iran has its problems of separatism and therefore wants Iraq to remain as one country. It is for that reason that it supported the idea of a Sunni as president and gave help for the organisation of elections. I do not believe the Iranians are afraid of democracy as it is now being practised in Iraq.

I make these points simply because a lot of alarming rhetoric is coming out of the United States on this subject. We have had enough wrong analyses and mistakes. We do not want another war or military action based on wrong assumptions. Above all, we should resist the temptation to blame others for the mistakes that we have made.

2.28 pm

Lord Owen: My Lords, it seems to me that there are two elements to be considered in discussing Iraq. The first is nothing short of the worst diplomatic and political débâcle—certainly in my lifetime. This is far worse than Suez and the consequences will be far more profound. The other element is the military operation. I notice that the word “defeat” has been used. If we genuinely think we have been defeated in Iraq, we should take our troops out straightaway. In his maiden speech, the former Chief of the Defence Staff, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker, referred to the covenant. He is right: this is the deeper issue to which we will have to return. But part of that covenant surely is that you do not ask servicemen to lay down their lives for their country unless you believe it is of vital national interest. At this juncture,

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I am not prepared to concede defeat. Whatever else we are facing, the situation is dire in Baghdad and if that goes wrong the country will either undergo partition or be in such a dreadful break-up situation over the next decade, perhaps, that we would never forgive ourselves.

I have spent almost my whole time on the Iraq war since I supported it in arguing that it should have more troops, not fewer. My criticism mirrored that of General Shinseki, the Chief of the Army, who made it quite clear in February 2003 that he thought there should be 200,000 troops. He was knocked down by Paul Wolfowitz, who said he could not conceive of how you would need more people to handle the aftermath of a war than you would put in for the war itself. British politicians have had only recent experience of that. The whole situation in the Balkans is about the need, when you get peace and you begin nation-building, to have substantially more troops. General Shalikashvili, when he was SACEUR in 1993 on the first peace plan, in which I had some part, was ready to put in 60,000 troops—nearly three times as many UN troops as had been on the ground during the actual war. It was an essential element in Dayton that we put in more troops once we had the agreement. We have had to keep them there for year after year, and I believe we will have to keep doing so.

I have no doubt that there has to be a serious inquiry into the Iraq débâcle. I discussed that in this House on 29 June last year, when I likened it to the Dardanelles inquiry. Governance and ministerial and departmental issues could well be discussed while the war was going on. I regret that it looks as if we are going to have a change of Prime Minister with the British Parliament and people never having a chance to comment on the quite disastrous changes by Government that have been made in foreign and defence policy by our present Prime Minister. He did not do that with malice aforethought, but the basic fact is that that structure has dismally failed. It is important, before a new Labour Prime Minister takes office, that they are given some guidance that that structure will not suffice, and that there has to be a return to the well tried Cabinet system of government, where the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary listen to the voices of their advisers and bring that to Cabinet—maybe a war cabinet—and there is a discussion and a general, serious decision-making structure. All that has been torn out. It is not acceptable for us that this new structure should be adopted by the next Prime Minister.

I am not a military strategist—few of us are—but it seems sensible on the face of it to consolidate around the air base in Basra. I ask myself, however, whether we are contributing enough to the problem in Baghdad. I am not saying we should put troops in now. However, when John Sawyers reported on 11 May 2003 on the chaos and anarchy in Baghdad, he suggested that Britain should make a contribution to Baghdad, and he was supported by General Whitley in that. That report went to the Prime Minister, and we have never heard why that proposition was not acted upon.

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American Defense Secretary Rumsfeld stood down the 1st Cavalry Division, and it was decided that this large number of American troops should not go in. Now we have this surge of 21,000 troops. It is too late, and, some would say, still insufficient. But to write it off, to say to ourselves, “This is all over now; we are just withdrawing British troops in stages and getting casualties in the process; we have given up”—I am not prepared to accept that. We have a deep-seated obligation, having got this foully wrong, to try to retrieve the situation so that the Iraqi people can live once again with some form of security.

I thought the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, was very wise when she said, and I think she was quoting, “our role in their strategy”. It is no longer our operation, but it is perfectly clear, as the Iraqis are saying to us, that they need stiffening. They need our troops working with them. There is the idea of embedding the troops in the Iraqi Army, as the Americans are doing.

It has already been mentioned that General Petraeus, who is now in charge of that, has a first-class record of doing all the things that, if they had been done throughout the whole of Iraq from the start, would have meant we would now probably be discussing a great success. He learnt the lessons of the Balkans. He realised that he had to carry the Iraqi people with him; he ensured that his troops had a liaison with them. They tied in aid and development as they were dealing with the security situation. This general has been appointed, and he has these troops. I, for one, profoundly hope that the operation is successful. So long as any British troops are in Iraq, I want a British Government contributing to this in a serious and sensible way.

Leading on from the wise speech about Iran to which we have just listened, I ask myself: why are we not putting some of our troops on the border? It is extremely important that we try to help police that Iran/Iraq border, and stop some of the stuff that is coming over. There is a real question about how much the Iranian Government are genuinely trying to destabilise their fellow Shiites in an Iraqi Government.

I personally think that the diplomacy on Iran is now the most essential issue. I am genuinely worried that America still has certainly a vice-president and probably a president who believe that they can settle this issue with massive air assaults on Iran to deal with the enrichment plants. In the same action, I am sure the military would say to them, “You can’t just leave it like that. We’re in Iraq; you have to deal with some of Iran’s armed forces as well”. The decision-making structures in Washington are such at the moment that you cannot be certain that such a folly might not be carried out.

Yet, in a funny, strange way, America is just possibly having one of its considerable successes—the Korean negotiations, which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, mentioned. How many people, particularly Democrats, were critical of the Administration’s determination not to be locked into bilateral talks with North Korea but to insist that it was a regional problem, above all for the Chinese—

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although they also got the South Koreans, the Japanese and everyone in the region involved? The negotiation may or may not be successful, but it was the right framework. That must now be followed with regard to Iran.

In the group that is dealing with the question of enrichment, we have got Russia and China involved, as well as three EU countries and the United States. Regardless of arguments with Putin or others, we must try to put together united actions and say to the Americans, “We are ready to do this diplomacy, and we will obviously give you a major role in it, possibly even a lead role, but it cannot be on the basis that suddenly, at a whim, you walk away from negotiations and take pre-emptive military action against Iran”. I hoped I would never have to say that. I would have believed that relations between us and the United States were such that you would never have to enter into that sort of debate. I would have said that we were genuine allies, we understood the tolerances of each other’s political systems, and if we were working on the ground in a diplomatic mission we would work together as friends and colleagues, and there would be no such pre-emption. But I cannot be sure of that, and we need to have set out clearly the sort of diplomatic role are we playing in Iran.

I still believe it is essential to persuade the Iranian Government that the pursuit of a nuclear armament programme is extremely damaging in the region—but, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, said, we have to recognise why they are feeling so threatened. Pakistan has a nuclear bomb. Who was supporting the Taliban for years, right on Iran’s border? It was Pakistan. Who was building up nuclear weapons while Britain and America were doing precious little about it? It was Saddam Hussein on the other side of their border. They have Israel in the region, with its nuclear weapon. They also know that Saudi Arabia has helped in the financing of the Pakistan nuclear weapon, and could get nuclear weapons extremely quickly if it decided it wanted them. In that situation, Iran has a genuine security fear, and we have to face that and try to arrange for it.

When the Shah was going for nuclear weapons, he was eventually persuaded that he could have a serious role in the region with very sophisticated military technology, and did not need nuclear weapons. The nuclear programme that had started was, I think, genuinely put on one side. Of course there was a change of regime, but Iranian interests do not change fundamentally just because the country has a new regime. It is perfectly possible that the Ayatollah and others are beginning to see that they need to rein in their new president; that his provocative actions, his inability to negotiate, the lack of diplomatic endeavour and some of the things he has said about Israel are utterly unacceptable to the world. I believe the Russians are starting to make that clear to the Iranians. However, no serious Government are going to launch into that long and detailed form of diplomacy unless they have more confidence that their president and vice-president are committed to a serious diplomatic negotiation that will have to go on for at least a year.

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You cannot ever ask anybody to take away the option of using military force; I have never believed in removing the threat. When Secretary of State Warren Christopher removed the threat of any military action against the Serbs, at one stroke any form of negotiation was dealt a mortal blow. He did that in February 1993, with no consultation with any of his allies and friends. However, you can order negotiation; you can order priorities; you can put the emphasis on the diplomacy first and then, if you have to, take different military action. But there is certainly a year’s worth of diplomacy in the Iranian situation, and I think it is slightly promising at the moment.

Great mistakes have been made; I made some in underestimating the sheer incompetence of Washington and London. I would never have believed it possible that we could have been so incompetent. I say to my noble friend Lord Jay that I do not believe a review to be necessary. This has to be very authoritative, and I accept all the suggestions the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, has made for this inquiry. My only belief is that it should take place sooner rather than later because the sooner we all learn from our mistakes, the better.

2.41 pm

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I am glad that we now have an opportunity to debate Iraq; it has been quite a long time since we have done so. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, for introducing the debate.

I opposed the war from the beginning. I said so in the debates that we had prior to the invasion. I did not believe in the so-called dossiers—it did not seem likely that a regime that had suffered a catastrophic defeat in 1991, followed by punitive sanctions and bombing attacks, would be able to offer much of a threat to the rest of the world. Indeed, that proved to be the case. The Iraqi regime at the time protested that it had no WMD and submitted a lengthy statement to the UN, but our Government said that no one could possibly believe it. A great deal of effort went into persuading the public and MPs to support the case for war. Nevertheless, many were not persuaded and the war has never been popular. It is even less so now, and public opinion appears to be turning against it, even in the United States.

Many who supported the war claim to have been misled by the so-called intelligence. Others say that while it was right to go to war, it was wrong not to have planned for what would happen afterwards. Those who were responsible for starting the war appeared to have very little knowledge of what was likely to follow a coalition victory. I have often been told by my noble friends who supported the war that otherwise Saddam Hussein would still be in power, and that is a justification. Many Iraqis, faced with the present awful situation, might feel that even that would be preferable.

In any event, my noble friends’ argument underestimates the feeling of revulsion that many of us have about the war and about what it has meant to thousands of ordinary citizens of Iraq. We are

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concerned at the apparent failure of those responsible for starting it to appreciate what modern warfare does to the people unwittingly caught up in it. Some of us, like me, are old enough to remember what bombing is like for civilians on the ground. It was absolutely terrifying, and I can still recall it.

There has been an unwillingness throughout to count Iraqi deaths and casualties. Various estimates have been made; there was a much publicised one of around 650,000. I was incensed at what happened in Fallujah. A town roughly the size of Cardiff was rendered into rubble as a result of a couple of attacks. No information was available at the time on the number of civilian casualties or about what happened to the civilians who lost their home. I believe that to have been a war crime.

The current insurgency is obviously adding to casualties among Iraqis, although there are mounting casualties among coalition troops, including our own. Perhaps it was really believed that the Iraqi population would welcome the coalition forces as liberators, but clearly that has not happened. Hearts and minds have not been won. Instead, there has been a strengthening of fundamentalism. Saddam Hussein was a tyrant, but a secular one. Women had rights, unusual in other Arab states. The 70,000-strong Christian community was left undisturbed.

There have now been elections. We saw on television queues of people lining up to vote, which was reported as a great advance. But there were two separate queues—one for women and the other for men. The women were all dressed in black from head to foot and many were completely veiled. They were there because their clerics told them to be; surely we realised what that meant.

In a very short time, women were having to struggle to retain the personal status law that they had had under Saddam, which gave women rights in relation to divorce and inheritance, denied to them under Sharia law. Women who received professional training and employment under the previous regime are leaving in large numbers for Jordan, where they will be comparatively free.

Members of the Christian community are also leaving because they face threats from religious fundamentalists. Homosexuals are facing threats, too. Gangs of religious fundamentalists are tracking them down and killing them, and getting away with it. Those groups have certainly not benefited from the demise of the previous regime. From many points of view, the Iraq war has been a disaster.

So what should be done now? We have the “surge” of the president of the United States, although this may not be sufficient to end the so-called insurgency. Of course, there is opposition to it in the House of Representatives, while the declining public support for the war in our country has meant that the Government have had to consider withdrawing our troops. Involving the United Nations might seem appropriate, although it does not seem likely that other countries would be willing to send their troops on peacekeeping duties at the present time.

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