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Britain has an obvious history in Iraq, and some knowledge based on that experience and experience elsewhere. Surely that knowledge should have been put to some use, or did we believe that our troops would be welcomed as liberating forces and not forces of occupation? I assume not, but I acknowledge that there is conflicting evidence here and that a former British ambassador, Christopher Segar, told the Guardian this week that British officials underestimated the prospect of insurgency and that British Ministers failed to ask for detailed analysis of the consequences of an invasion. For whatever reason, the planning for this stage seems to have been woefully inadequate, and although the security position in Baghdad has now improved, it is still a long way from what we want. Marie Colvin, a very brave reporter for the Sunday Times who was in Basra without military protection a month ago, reported that she found Islamic militias now waging a brutal campaign for control.

Thirdly, an inquiry should examine the British response to the massive refugee problem caused by the conflict. We owe a particular duty here. Has our response has been sufficient, or have we relied too heavily on the resources of a country such as Jordan, which already has existing refugee problems to tackle, as I saw a few months ago when I was there?

I say to the Minister that the reassurances we heard at Question Time in this House on Monday do not sit altogether easily with the response of the United Nations refugee agency. A few days ago, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees told me that the UNHCR would welcome greater support from donor Governments, including the United Kingdom, for its operations in the region, and that it would like further direct bilateral support for the two main countries of asylum, Syria and Jordan. Looking back on 2007, the UN refugee agency said that it received £3.51 million from the United Kingdom, against its £62 million Iraq region budget, while no United Kingdom funds were forthcoming towards the agency’s health and education programmes, jointly implemented with WHO and UNICEF.

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Another part of the refugee problem is the future of the interpreters and other staff who have helped the British and have consequently put themselves and their families in danger. As the House will know, I have raised this issue on a number of occasions, first in April 2007. The problem is limited in size, but seems symbolic of our attitude. It took until last October for the Government to announce a scheme, but it is carefully limited and constrained. So far, it has helped very few and all the guidance appears to be worded to deter applications to come to this country, rather than help some very brave people. Not all the interpreters who work for the British work for the British Government. For example, there are the interpreters working for the correspondents of British media organisations. Shamefully, their best prospect of resettlement is in the United States under a scheme run by the Americans. The question remains of whether, even now, five years later, we are facing up to our responsibilities.

Finally, the public are certainly entitled to ask whether our troops have always been properly equipped and supported for the conflict. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Walker of Aldringham, when he said in our February debate that there must be a covenant between Government and the Armed Forces—an unwritten contract that, in return for the sacrifice made by those in the forces, the Government ensure that they are equipped properly, given the best possible care and treated fairly. There are, in this House, far greater experts than me in this area; one of them is sitting next to me. I hope that this contract has been honoured.

Like my noble friend Lord Hurd, I believe that issues such as this should be investigated by a committee of privy counsellors together with others with expert knowledge. It is right that it should be a committee answerable to Parliament. It is certainly not the occasion for a lengthy judicial inquiry, such as that into Bloody Sunday, or, for that matter, the marathon of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott. The focus of such an inquiry should not be on blame, but on learning the lessons—lessons which might help us in formulating policy elsewhere.

To be fair to the Government, they have not set their face totally against an inquiry. Rather, they have sought to smother the call by setting out a range of less demanding options. In the debate last February the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, gave the response that,

I do not find that reassuring and I hope the message of this House will be that only an inquiry will do, and that the Government will give a more solid reply today.

I also hope that the Government will not take refuge in the argument that nothing can happen until all our troops come home. Among the precedents is the inquiry into the operations of the war in the Dardanelles. It was set up in July 1916 in the middle of the First World War, with Britain directly threatened, under a Bill introduced in the Commons by the then

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Prime Minister, Mr Asquith. Our troop numbers in Iraq are now reduced to about 4,500, which is radically fewer than three, four and five years ago. I in no way devalue their role but I simply reject the argument that they will be demoralised by such an inquiry. Conceivably, an inquiry could help for the future and aid those troops who follow. But if nothing is done until the very last soldier returns, action could be deferred for years to come.

We are almost at the fifth anniversary of the start of this conflict. Many of the players have already given their accounts—Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell and Sir Michael Jackson. We have also had investigations, such as that of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, which have shone a light on particular issues. Surely, the time has come for a comprehensive inquiry, while memories are reasonably fresh, so that the lessons from these momentous events can be learnt. I see no reason for further delay. The time for an inquiry is now. I beg to move for Papers.

11.56 am

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, the noble Lord gave a characteristically honest and clear speech, the key theme of which is the case for an inquiry. There have been many debates in the House calling for such an inquiry, which have been defeated. One may not like the results, but there have been those discussions. I concede also that the response of the Government has been, as the noble Lord said, somewhat unclear. At one time we were told that there would be an inquiry, but only when the time was right and the troops have been withdrawn—but how many troops and when? It begs many questions.

I am very doubtful about the wisdom of an inquiry. The precedents are not good. The Falklands commission was a rather unhappy commission of about six months and the results were not particularly valuable. It is obviously difficult to limit the time. The noble Lord has ruled out a Saville-type Bloody Sunday inquiry, but probably only the lawyers benefited, save of course that it was of benefit to the public in that it was part of that process which led to the ultimate settlement in Northern Ireland.

An inquiry can go on for a very long time. Indeed, the noble Lord has given it a vast agenda—from refugees to the preparedness of our troops to the advice given to the Prime Minister beforehand and so on, which could take a long time. The noble Lord seems to have ruled out a judicial inquiry. Even a parliamentary inquiry could take some time. There have already been at least two parliamentary inquiries: namely, that of the Foreign Affairs Committee, which I had the privilege to chair—we said, quite properly, that we were deprived of many of the sources of information and, therefore, were not able to give conclusions as clearly as we would have liked; and that of the Intelligence and Security Committee. The intelligence side was covered by the noble Lord, Lord Butler. One may not like the conclusions, but they largely exonerated the Government.

Clearly, the question is whether it was right to invade. The Government decided that it was. The Security Council and the important countries of the

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European Union said otherwise. This is a political matter, and it is the job of Parliament and the Select Committees appointed by Parliament to do their job. We were also in many ways—and we remain—the junior partner of the United States. An inquiry could also look at our relationship with the United States. There clearly was a plan. The question was whether its execution was faulty. What is the position as regards reconstruction? The noble Lord said that there is currently evidence of some improvement in the military and security situation and in the economic situation there. The danger is that any inquiry would not add to our store of knowledge and would give more heat than light.

We know of the problems today that have arisen from the invasion. We do not know, and cannot by definition know, what would have happened if there had been no action. Were there no invasion, that also would have had certain consequences. It may only have been deferring the conflict. The containment policy was certainly unravelling by 2002 and 2003. There was increasing defiance of the international community and oil sanctions. Oil smuggling was increasing. Had there not been an invasion, Saddam Hussein would probably still be there, torturing his people and preparing the way for one of his nasty sons to succeed him. We might now be dealing with an Iraq possessing nuclear weapons, rather than an Iran potentially seeking them.

The temptation is for us all to refight those old battles, the debates of 2002 and 2003, but we are where we are. There is a real danger of a diversion of time and talent in an inquiry. The criticisms of the United States are clear. The first two orders of the CPA were the de-Baathification that led to taking so many trained administrators from the scene and the disbandment of the army that let loose many hundreds and thousands of armed men into the community. With the civil service, the pensions policy that has just been voted in will at least go some way to address the faults there.

There was, as we know, a plan in the US—the 13-volume Future of Iraq project—that was apparently overruled by political appointees in the Pentagon, relying on Chalabi and other exiles. I recall meeting Richard Perle, who some thought of as the puppet-master of the neocons in the Department of Defense. He told me that there would be enormous joy at liberation—perhaps not church bells, this being Iraq, but flowers and greetings. Everything would happen thereafter without any serious planning. Certainly, the State Department had been overruled. There is clearly considerable criticism of the early days of the CPA.

Equally, we failed to appreciate the rundown nature of the physical infrastructure in Iraq—the electricity, the sewerage, the transport, petroleum—after many years of sanctions. There were many unintended consequences of the invasion, not least the way in which Iran has attained regional dominance. If many of us made misjudgments at the time, we can comfort ourselves in part that many of the opponents of the war made equally massive misjudgments in terms of the scale of refugee flows. As the noble Lord said, the scale of the refugee problem has been awful. Yet internal civil war, the division of Iraq and regional war were forecast by a number of opponents.

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Of the lessons for the British Government, just a few headlines include having a greater sense of history and local knowledge, and not imagining that a country is a tabula rasa. Cabinet government is important, as the noble Lord has said, with checks and balances, not least those parliamentary. European Union colleagues were jealous of what our Foreign Affairs Committee and other committees in the other place were able to accomplish compared to the opportunities that they had. Then, certainly, there is intelligence. Clearly, the Prime Minister had much intelligence. It is a matter of public knowledge that I was given that same intelligence, and perhaps the only fault was in not asking sufficient questions of it, as we were clearly deficient in human intelligence.

There were other major questions about pre-emptive strikes and relations between this country and the United States. Clearly, there have been withering criticisms, but there are now some improvements—certainly in the military—after the surge and the so-called “Anbar awakening”. There has been very limited success politically; there is still a winner-takes-all ethos, and major questions are unresolved. We need to have dialogue with the regional players and particularly not to go for regime change in Iran as part of policy but have dialogue with that country, as we have done with North Korea. There are positive developments on the ground but the plea is that one should look forward on the basis of the current realities rather than turn over stones of what we failed to do in the past.

12.05 pm

Lord Lee of Trafford: My Lords, ones hopes that we are slowly approaching the endgame in Iraq—certainly in a military sense. It is very apposite that we are having this debate today on the lessons learnt, and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, on securing it. I very much support so much of what he said and these Benches certainly support his call for an inquiry, as we have done in the past.

The minority view is that military action, despite the death of 150,000 civilians in the 40 months following the coalition invasion in March 2003 and the destruction and misery heaped on Iraq, with 2 million refugees, was justified as it removed an evil, tyrannical regime. Clearly that was the opinion of our former Prime Minister, and appears to remain so. But the majority view, admittedly with the benefit of hindsight, is that the invasion was a huge mistake for Iraq and the United Kingdom.

To this day, we do not really know what Bush’s motivation was—finishing a job for father, revenge for 9/11, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, oil, Middle East domination or some combination. However, it is accepted that Tony Blair gave a very early commitment to back the United States invasion, a combination of supporting our major ally and a rather simplistic belief, perhaps, that Saddam Hussein had to be deposed and that once removed our forces would be welcomed with open arms.

Three fundamental mistakes were made. First, too few troops were committed initially, with Rumsfeld seemingly overruling so many of his military advisers. Secondly, post-invasion, the Iraqi army was disbanded,

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thereby removing the means to provide some form of discipline and control over the population. Thirdly, as has been mentioned, very little thought was given to the post-invasion needs of the country and the means of delivery and reconstruction.

It is not clear how much knowledge the US and the United Kingdom have of the Iraqi religious groupings or the likely effect of an invasion on Islamist thinking. After all, we had no embassy in Baghdad in Saddam’s final 12 years of rule. What has become apparent is how little interest our then political leaders took in trying to find any of this out. As the famous letter—from 52 of our former senior British diplomats on 27 April 2004—sent to Tony Blair said:

If we got it wrong, the French got it right. Dominic de Villepin, the French Foreign Minister, declared in a speech to the United Nations Security Council two weeks before the invasion:

Jacques Chirac argued in an article in Time magazine:

It seems extraordinary that Britain and France—two major, sophisticated allies, only 20 miles apart, in the 21st century and both with colonial histories—could reach such fundamentally different conclusions on the advisability of military action. Those on these Benches broadly took the French position. Not only did the conflict cause such misery in Iraq, it also has put a heavy strain on our Armed Forces, causing many deaths and serious injuries. To put it bluntly, the British public were conned into going to war and now a further wedge has been driven between them and their political leaders in terms of trust, with all parliamentarians the losers.

Much has been said about overstretch and the pressures on the defence budget. There seems little possibility of any significant increase in defence expenditure—none of our political parties is advocating this. Given our ongoing commitments, particularly in Afghanistan, and with a very unsettled world, we have to eschew unilateral military action in future, other than perhaps in very limited circumstances. We have to work more closely with our allies, particularly the French, to avoid another Iraq-type schism. I accept that in the de Gaulle era and beyond, military co-operation with the French was difficult—even now, protectionism prevails in their defence procurement. But a new French president presents a new opportunity. With an Anglo-French summit in March, and with France assuming the EU presidency in July, it is time to hold out the hand of military co-operation. Let us bring France into the integrated military structure. We never want a repeat of the Iraqi fallout and there are huge gains to be had if we can co-operate militarily with France.

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In Iraq, military conflict and insurgent attacks on coalition forces seem to be subsiding. It appears that the US military surge, and the strategy of General Petraeus, have been successful, particularly in turning some of the factions—and all credit for that. However, it is questionable what our limited forces, based at Basra airport, are achieving, and we would like to see them home sooner rather than later. Although the military scene offers some hope, the job of reconstruction and democratic nation rebuilding will clearly take years, set against the background of deep tribal and religious differences, and of adjacent nations pursuing their own agendas. Military action is relatively easy to start—the consequences can last for generations.

12.12 pm

Lord Owen: My Lords, the Prime Minister has been under considerable attack recently. Some criticism has been justified, but much has not. He deserves congratulation on the measured way in which he has dealt with the crisis in Iraq since becoming Prime Minister. It is not easy to run your forces down, to reassess and consolidate. But we have done this and now have a better balance in our relationship with the United States. We now face the difficult question of how much further to go. America’s ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, is a very sensible man. He was quoted in last Saturday’s Timesas saying:

I share that judgment. He went on to say:

and I stress that phrase—

Unlike the previous speaker, I do not believe that this is the endgame. We have made grievous errors and we cannot walk away from them. We have to try our best to reverse the effects. There is no doubt that outside military assistance is no longer the primary mechanism for stabilising Iraq. But it is too soon for the UK to pull out all its forces. I am not aware of all the arguments, but I would be very cautious, now that we have come down to a small number of troops, about going to the next stage and pulling out completely.

I come to the real question of the debate, which is whether there should be an inquiry. I argued for one on 29 June 2006 and again in the debate on 22 February 2007, and I argue for it today. The issue will not go away. Just look at today’s newspapers. The Times has the headline, “Publish the secret document on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, ministers are told”. They are told it by the Information Tribunal, which says:

FCO head of information’s,

You cannot just dismiss these questions. There is more in the Guardian. Jonathan Steele is, as anyone who knows him will confirm, a serious foreign

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correspondent. He has just written a book, Defeat: Why They Lost Iraq. He concludes in an article in today’s paper:

I do not know whether that is true, but we need to know. We know the analysis that was made in 1991 about whether to go to Baghdad. All of us who supported that war—I take my share of the responsibility—knew full well that there would be serious problems with the stability of Iraq if, as I believed was necessary, one toppled Saddam Hussein.

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