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The great museum in Baghdad appears to be secure, but that security has been achieved, it seems, by closing the museum completely, even to its own staff. The director of the museum, Dr George, having been threatened, is now in exile in the United States. A British embassy official who was in Baghdad for three years until recently, and to whom I spoke, told me that the idea of visiting Babylon or Ur was quite out of the question, even though Ur is in the United States airbase of Tallil. It is true that Mr MacGregor, the director of the British Museum, went to Baghdad soon after the fall of the old regime. It is worth while pointing out to the House that the British Museum has since then taken a brave and persistent attitude of interest at least in what has been happening in respect of ancient Iraqi or Mesopotamian culture. The curator of Iraqi studies at the British Museum, Dr Curtis, went to Babylon two years ago and discussed his findings, which were extremely disquieting, in the Guardian at that time.

We in the western community, this Government and the United States Government, will have to take into account that this era will be judged on how we have carried out our mandate, which perhaps is the wrong word, to try to ensure that it will always be possible in the future for people—scholars, archaeologists and historians, not to speak of mere cultivated tourists—who want or need to be able to visit what remains of these ancient cultures. They inspired in their time things so important as the invention of bronze, the invention of the plough, even probably the invention of the wheel, not to speak of writing, which was first to be found on cuneiform in Sumerian script in what is now Iraq. Her Majesty’s Government therefore should take care as a priority

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to ensure that the British Museum in particular, among other institutions, as a leader in the world museum community, has all the support, both financial and logistical, that it may need to influence on the spot our allies, our forces and the Iraqi authorities to ensure that whatever can be is guarded and preserved for the long-term benefits of humanity.

After all, Britain played an immense part in discovering and preserving Iraq’s antiquities in the era of the mandate and in the era of Britain as a paramount power. The great name in this respect is Sir Leonard Woolley who, between 1922 and 1935—bad old days no doubt Iraqi nationalists would consider them—carried through an astonishing series of discoveries, which he summed up in his magnificent book Ur of the Chaldees. Those considerations should be an absolute priority of the United States and Britain, who have taken on themselves responsibility for trying to create democracy in the country.

To assist maintaining or creating such a concern or interest, Her Majesty’s Government might seek or might persuade some of their well-wishers to establish a series of lectures. I hope this does not inspire derision, but they might be described as the Hammurabi lectures, in honour of the king of Babylon who, in 1800 BC or so, inspired the first code of law. The lectures would be delivered by scholars who know not only about Hammurabi but know that democracy, such as the Prime Minister and the President of the United States seek to leave behind them in this territory, needs the rule of law as much as it does the art of counting votes.

3.22 pm

Baroness Gould of Potternewton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, for the opportunity to look at the position of women in Iraq. It is a subject that we skim over but very rarely talk about in any detail. I will show that theirs has been a turbulent journey, both before and after the fall of Baghdad on 10 April 2003.

In December of that year, the Iraqi governing council, with almost no debate, quietly passed Resolution 137, which transferred key provisions of personal and family law from civil authority to traditional law—a resolution that threatened women’s rights in marriage, divorce and inheritance. Iraqi women’s groups mobilised public protests and private negotiations calling for the repeal of the resolution. They succeeded and the resolution was subsequently repealed. The consequence of this attempt to reduce women’s rights was that it motivated Iraqi women to organise, to demonstrate and successfully to represent themselves. In the words of Nasreen Berwari, who became Minister of Municipalities and Public Works, it brought Iraqi women together for a common cause. Co-operation and organisation crossed religious and ethnic lines—Shia, Sunni, Christian, Arab, Kurd and Turkmen all worked together.

However, to really appreciate that achievement, it is necessary to look briefly at the life of women under Saddam Hussein. Iraqi women had been historically among the best educated and professionally equipped

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in the region but, by the end of Saddam’s rule, there had been a dramatic reduction in women’s rights with respect to divorce, child custody and inheritance. More than two-thirds of Iraqi women were illiterate and men were allowed to marry additional wives. Each year at least 400 women were murdered in so-called honour killings under Article 111 of the Iraqi penal code, introduced by Saddam in 1990. Thousands of women were subject to imprisonment, torture, rape and execution because either they or their family members spoke out against the regime or were suspected of disloyalty.

Having seen their rights eroded by Saddam, it is clear that Iraqi women were and are going to attempt to ensure that their future is based on equality and freedom. A start to achieving that aim has been made. Three years ago, the interim constitution guaranteed women 25 per cent of seats in the national assembly, despite the fact that there were no women on the drafting committee. The target was not reached, with only 18 per cent of women representatives being appointed—but that was put right. In the elections in January 2005, women surpassed the quota— 87 women, 31 per cent, were elected. This was achieved by mandating that one in every three candidates on each party’s ballot was a woman. Six women were made Ministers and many serve on district, local and municipal councils throughout Iraq. A great deal of that success was due to the activity of women’s organisations and by women encouraging women to participate in the election, despite the threat of insurgent violence.

This rapid increase in activity has also seen Iraqi women becoming involved internationally, for instance, at the UN 48th annual Commission on the Status of Women, held in New York, and the Global Summit of Women, held in Seoul. But for many women, participation in such activity was a new experience; to provide support, women’s conferences were held and women’s centres were established throughout Iraq to promote the empowerment of women. The centres offer computer, financial and literacy classes, along with access to information on healthcare, legal services and women’s rights.

One of the UK Government’s key contributions in helping to build that democracy was to appoint two gender advisers to the Coalition Provisional Authority, one in Baghdad and one in Basra. Both experienced advisers were commissioners from the Women’s National Commission, which advises the UK Government on women’s issues. A group of Iraqi women were then invited to the UK by the commission and funded by the British Council. The internship programme was a journey of discovery for those women. They were able to see how devolution worked in Scotland and Wales; and in Northern Ireland, they talked with women with direct experience of living with the threat of terrorism over many years and of shaping peace initiatives. They had the opportunity also to shadow women MPs here at Westminster, including women Ministers, past and present. Those experiences gave them an invaluable insight into the role that women play in a developed democracy.

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Since their return to Iraq, they have between them trained more than 600 women in leadership skills that they learnt here in the UK—a small number, but a significant step. As one of the women said,

We welcome that optimism and must support it. But, as my noble friend Lady Ramsay said, it is a very complex picture. Many challenges remained, and the life of Iraqi women is still far from easy. Millions of women have lost their husbands, have become destitute and are at the same time the sole breadwinner. While men make up the majority of the victims of the escalating violence, it has had a distinct and debilitating impact on women’s daily lives.

Only recently, reports from women’s groups show that throughout Iraq, even in the north, women are harassed if they attempt to mobilise and lobby for their rights under the constitution. In the south and other parts, women are now forced to wear the hijab and adopt conservative dress. Millions of women and girls dare not leave their homes to go to school, university or work, or to go to the market to be able to support their families. Female genital mutilation is still an issue in the Kurdish provinces. Early and enforced marriage and honour crimes still threaten women’s lives.

Only yesterday the Daily Telegraph reported a claim by a woman that she had been raped by members of security forces who had entered her home in central Baghdad. The Prime Minister rejected her claim. However, for me, the issue is not whether she was telling the truth but, rather, that the potential outcome is that she may be killed to salvage the family honour—the victim of an honour killing.

The constitution of Iraq is under review, but there is some confusion about the process of that review and when the review committee will complete its work. Perhaps my noble friend can shed some light on how this constitutional review is being carried out and when it will be ratified. That is crucial as, once again, the women’s organisations are having to campaign in increasingly difficult environments to repeal the intensely discriminatory Article 41 in the draft constitution.

Article 41, if passed, would erode women’s rights. It would replace current family laws with ones pertaining to specific religious and ethnic communities. It would erode women’s rights in respect of marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance far more dramatically than the original Resolution 137. So it is crucial that we in the UK continue to engage and keep faith with the women of Iraq and work with them to have the confidence to challenge any attempt to make Article 41 law.

I also ask for a further intervention by the UK Government. They are, as I understand it, working with the Iraqi Minister of Finance on the distribution of the development fund. While it is crucial that we continue to build on social and health improvements, I hope that, within that, account will be taken of the specific and special problems of the women and children of Iraq.

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In conclusion, I reiterate that we must continue to support those brave women who are striving not only for women’s advancement and liberation but for a peaceful democracy in Iraq.

3.31 pm

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, for giving us this opportunity. I agree very much with what the noble Baroness has just said. I hope that the Minister will send a message of condolence to Iraq from this debate, not only as a tribute to our troops in the field but in recognition of the thousands of deaths and injuries sustained every month by Iraqi civilians, whom we also mourn, and of the millions who are still suffering daily from the effects of civil war.

Among so many atrocities, one of the saddest that I have read about this month concerns a baby girl called Shams, who has half a face. Some weeks ago, she was with her parents in Sadr City, the mainly Shia area of Baghdad, when three cars exploded. Her mother died and half the baby’s face was blown away, leaving her eyes buried under skin.

And dreadful objects so familiar, That mothers shall but smile when they behold Their infants quartered with the hands of war”.

Those words from Mark Antony seem to me all too familiar today. I agree with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker, that, sitting here, we can scarcely imagine the realities of war. I hope that over the past two weeks some noble Lords have seen the production of the Baghdad “Richard III”, which I saw at Stratford. It was quite something.

That little girl was lucky from one point of view: her father, Hisham, survived and they have been evacuated to the Red Cross hospital in Amman, where doctors from Médecins sans Frontières are trying to treat her with plastic surgery. She is, as we have heard, one of almost 4 million Iraqis who have left their homes. The total number in Jordan, Syria and other countries is approaching 2 million, but nearly as many are already displaced inside Iraq. The UN agencies and NGOs are preparing for even bigger numbers in what the International Rescue Committee calls,

I think that we underestimate what is happening. By the end of this year, at least another half a million people will have been internally displaced, making roughly one in five or six Iraqis who are on the move. Two out of five Iraqi Christians have already left the country. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker, also mentioned the psychological effects. I have received an e-mail from an Iraqi friend about her mother-in-law. She says:

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Syria and Jordan have been the most welcoming of countries, but they have had little international assistance so far. Social services are stretched to breaking point. Iraqi refugees now have to apply for residence within a fortnight. They are only getting temporary visas, if that, and are asked to pay for their own healthcare. NGOs are finding that even their own staff are held up at borders. Offers of help from the UK to Syria and Jordan would now be timely, either direct to the non-governmental organisations or through the UNHCR.

On the IDPs, the recent report that thousands of Shia in Kirkuk, resettled in Kurdish and Assyrian Christian areas under Saddam Hussein, may now officially return home will cause further ethnic tension. As for a referendum on the control of oil supplies in the north, the existing violence between Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen communities could easily worsen. One effect of migration into cities is that empty houses are not being reallocated. They are often taken over by armed groups trying to cleanse an area of another sect. Ethnic cleansing makes an area secure, but much more dangerous. Even the Red Crescent has recently suspended its operations owing to the kidnapping of eight of its staff. Doctors and their families have become a prime target of kidnappers. Most senior doctors have now left Iraq, and there is immense pressure on junior doctors. Hospitals have to suffer regular intrusion from militia or coalition forces, some of them demanding priority treatment. Even ambulances and medical conveys are being fired on.

Fortunately, the informal networks have been coping when health services break down, but this situation cannot continue indefinitely. Everyone dreads a further deterioration. They know that a lot of aid has been wasted. I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, for pointing out our responsibility for not auditing all the funds that went through the coalition.

The straight question before us is whether foreign occupation is making peace in Iraq or exacerbating the war, as suggested by General Dannatt last year. I agree with my noble friend Lord Jay that there must be more accountability to Parliament. I say to my noble friend Lord Thomas that it is going to require more than debates. I was a member of the Constitution Committee, which recommended a convention that would apply not just to Iraq, but to situations like the four-figure deployment of additional troops to Afghanistan without any reference to Parliament.

General Dannatt’s comment must have led directly to the Prime Minister’s Statement yesterday, and leaves me wondering whether this latest announcement is not a feint to satisfy critics rather than a genuine withdrawal. I agree with those on the Liberal Benches who are looking for more clarity, difficult as it is, because that is what the public demand. Whatever our views on the invasion, no one doubts what our troops were there for, or that they have fought gallantly. We must not talk up collapse and fragmentation, but we must have doubts about our troops’ effectiveness in the long run. What I have

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read of the recent US national intelligence estimate and have since heard from NGOs suggests that security is deteriorating faster than ever and that political and diplomatic action, rather than troop deployment, is the only way to reverse this process.

President Bush has drawn the opposite conclusion. He may have executive power, but he no longer carries enough weight in Congress. There is no longer a clear lead from the top. Inertia in diplomacy is dangerous for any state tied down in war, especially for a superpower, because of its consequences for us all. This is a different situation; there can be no comparison with 9/11 or 2003. The uncertainty surrounding the US Administration at present is in sharp contrast with the firmness of the original decision to invade four years ago. The coalition against terrorism included several European and Arab states whose presence has since melted away, leaving us high and dry.

The Baker-Hamilton plan was encouraging and useful at the time, but I cannot see any actions arising from it. William Polk, the US analyst, was surely right when he said last month that it was naive to expect Iran and Syria to co-operate with the United States, which has been attacking and denouncing them for five or six years.

We all hope that the latest security measures will work, at least for a time, and that they will contain some of the fighting, but history shows that they can only be temporary and cannot be regarded as a solution. I believe that our forces should be given a clear date for withdrawal, and we need to persuade the US of the same. There is a widespread view in the Middle East that, whatever the case was for invasion, there is no longer a case for occupation. By setting a timetable, we have a greater chance of reconnecting diplomatically with the neighbouring Arab states that should be our natural allies because of history and the record of the Foreign Office in this region. If we remember our debate on the Serious Fraud Office, we cannot simply expect automatic co-operation on intelligence from countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt if we are not on their wavelength on the Iraq war.

What efforts are being made to improve our contacts with the neighbouring Arab states and to revive the original coalition against terrorism of countries that had a shared objective after 9/11 and may still feel a responsibility for the ending of the war after the occupying forces have left? The Saudi Government, in particular, are taking considerable interest in a peaceful settlement throughout the region. What expectations does the Minister have of the Arab summit in Riyadh in March, which could see the launch of a strong initiative to reactivate the role of Arab states in Iraq? Iraq’s Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, has invited Iraq’s neighbours to a prior conference in Baghdad. These are surely opportunities to be seized by the UK, perhaps alongside the European Union this time, because if nothing else we are going to need to make more friends in the Middle East.

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Finally, there are the threats against Iran. The United States argues that they will reinforce sanctions, but I see them as a deliberate diversion away from Iraq. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, who made a strong case against US rhetoric. Such threats belong to a dangerous foreign policy. They reopen the discredited axis of evil and provide more fuel for Arab and world criticism. It is an unrealistic course of action, which we should reject by speaking out clearly at once.

3.43 pm

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, who made a first-class speech setting out in as objective a way as possible the argument for an inquiry. However, I am not sure that the inquiry’s conclusions would necessarily reflect all the concerns that he harbours about the Iraqi conflict. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, for his contribution that put clothing on the remit for the inquiry called for by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell. However, I am concerned that an early inquiry would be unhelpful because we need to have the benefit of the evidence given in the United States to the further inquiries that the new legislatures in Washington will inevitably undertake. I cannot believe that US witnesses would bare their souls to a UK inquiry before there are similar inquiries in the United States of America. We also need to have the benefit of the freedom of information inquiries, which we will all no doubt feast on at some stage in the future.

I believe that an inquiry is inevitable, and as I understand the position the Government have committed themselves to one at some future stage. Such a statement was made to the media last year during an early morning interview on the “Today” programme. It is not as though we have set our faces against an inquiry; it is just that in my view it should not take place at this stage. I support the Government's position. However, there was an omission in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme. When he set out his remit for an inquiry, which would provide a very good template for any future inquiry, he omitted the issue of sanctions and their link to subsequent military action. I want to focus my comments today on the sanctions policy.

The argument on sanctions is not over. Why? First, many in Iraq are sore over the failure of the United Nations to properly manage them. Indeed, they were the source of the seeds of distrust sown which now pervade throughout Iraq in Iraqis’ attitudes to the UN. Secondly, most of the companies that breached sanctions have got away with it. The policy of sanctions was introduced to bring Saddam Hussein’s regime to heel—a regime which it was felt at the time if ignored would ultimately destabilise the whole region through military interventions, and destabilise the international economy through threats to oil supply and the oil price. It came in the form of a whole series of resolutions—661, 687, 778, 986, 1051, 1175, 1284 and 1409.

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