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12.45 pm

Lord Goodlad: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lord Fowler on introducing this debate and on the eloquent and authoritative way in which he has done so. The lessons to be drawn from the recent history of Iraq are of profound importance, not just to Iraq, but to ourselves and others. I believe it to be a counsel of despair to say that the only thing to be learnt from history is that no one has ever learnt anything from history. Nor am I impressed by the canard that it is easy to be wise after the event. It is surely better to be wise after the event than to be unwise or to pass by on the other side. As the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said in his eloquent speech, this matter is not going to go away. I join my noble friend in paying tribute to the gallantry of British service men and women and those of other nations who have served in Iraq, together with the many foreign civilians who have served there, and in expressing sympathy for the sufferings of the Iraqi people.

Despite the reductions in violence following the troop surge, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, referred, the situation is very grave. As has been mentioned, the number of people driven from their homes has apparently quadrupled to more than 2 million. Since the occupation began, more than 2 million people have fled the country, although some are trickling back, largely because of visa problems. Electricity in Baghdad is available for only eight hours a day—half the level before the invasion. Unemployment is more than 60 per cent. More than 40 per cent of the population lives on less than a dollar a day. Focus group surveys carried out for General Petraeus in five Iraqi cities recently are reported to have found that all sectarian and ethnic groups believe that the US invasion is the primary cause of violence in the country and regard the withdrawal of all occupying forces as the key to national reconciliation.

Next Thursday, your Lordships will hold a debate to be introduced by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, on the Government’s consultation document on war powers and treaties. I venture to guess that Parliament will in future be more sympathetic to any government call for support in overseas deployment of troops if there has been complete candour and openness about Iraq. So I add my voice to those who say that it is timely that, in accordance with longstanding tradition, an independent inquiry should be set up as soon as is practicable, not in any sense to seek scapegoats but in order to learn lessons for the future while those who have been involved in the recent history of Iraq are

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still around and memories are fresh. I do not accept the argument that this cannot happen when troops are still in theatre. Their morale would be unaffected and they will do their duty, as they have on previous occasions. They could be there for a long time—our people are still in the Falklands.

A large number of interrelated questions remain to be answered. Were the wholly inadequate plans for the stabilisation and reconstruction effort after the April 2003 invasion the result of avoidable ignorance or divided counsels within the American Administration and the British Government? Was the lack of a UN mandate a fatal weakness in securing necessary resources and expertise? No one will know the answer to that better than the Minister. Was the decision to adopt a model of direct governance a hindrance to the chances of addressing the issues of transition and reform? Was the widespread criminality, the international terrorism and the massive insurgency, which has bedevilled reconstruction efforts, predicted? If not, could it have been? Could greater initial force have averted the murderous chaos?

Why was there an assumption that the coalition would quickly be able to transfer civil governance to Iraqis when it was clear that the process of de-Ba’athification, the purge of the top layer of the Civil Service and removal of its institutional memory, and the disbanding of the Iraqi army—in fact the destruction of all Iraqi institutions—would leave a vacuum making political development, internal security and reconstruction infinitely more difficult? What was the basis for the belief that the Iraqis would welcome foreign occupation? How long did the Government believe at the time of the invasion, and indeed now, that the international forces—themselves a cause of and target for insurgency activity—would be required to prevent a descent into anarchy and civil war?

There has been a disjuncture between political discussion and the realities on the ground in Iraq. In the limited time when foreign occupation is tolerable to the great majority of Iraqis, if it still is, and if security and the rule of law, political progress and reconstruction are to be achieved, can the Government assure us that the massive cuts in senior personnel at the Foreign Office—one in four—have not and will not affect its future capability to deliver what was once regarded as the finest advice on middle eastern affairs available to any government in the world, delivered by men and women trusted and respected as no other in the region?

These are urgent questions that can be answered only by a full, independent inquiry. I hope that the Government will not continue to shelter behind the principle of the unripe time. Parliament will not tolerate that, and I believe that the Government have less to fear from openness than the reverse.

12.51 pm

Lord Chidgey: My Lords, a vast amount has already been written, said, hypothesised and argued about over the latest war in Iraq, and its consequences. This debate is no exception in adding to it. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, on securing it today.

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If we could summarise the political military analysis—for example, that given by Mr Wilkinson at Chatham House last October—we would stress that governments must learn that when you intervene in someone else’s country, for whatever reason, you have to allow that some of the consequences will entail nation building. If you intervene in someone else’s country you must have and act on a political and economic reconstruction plan that delivers improvement to the quality of life or face the consequences or the prospect of nurturing insurgents. Having intervened in someone else’s country, in any post-conflict environment, the essential priorities must be to establish security, the rule of law and to deliver access to justice, if I may echo the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad.

It is fairly easy to list the lessons to be drawn and noble Lords who have spoken have given us a very good insight into the key questions that we should address. I do not wish to repeat them, but they include the question of whether there was too great a rush to war in 2003. Were enough forces deployed? Were they properly resourced and prepared? Did the overwhelming desire to find weapons of mass destruction cause stockpiles of conventional weapons and lead them to be disregarded, but which later armed the insurgency? Should the Iraqi army have been disabled? Was the comprehensive de-Ba’athification process really necessary? There are more than enough questions to put a case for a further and deep inquiry into the intervention in Iraq.

Written evidence submitted to the Foreign Affairs Committee in another place by organisations such as the Council for Arab-British Understanding, among others, bring home the outcome of failures to follow the simple lessons of pre-emptive military intervention. Iraq went almost overnight from a heavily government-controlled state, headed by a despot, to anarchy with no state control. With the state effectively dismantled Iraqis turned to their own tribal and sectarian groupings for security and support. Sectarian divisions were aggravated and deteriorated. Iraq’s future potential has also been undermined. Brutal, targeted attacks on academics, journalists and doctors have added to and accelerated a huge brain drain that dates from the sanctions era. It will take a lengthy period of calm, safety and security to attract this key talent back in sufficient numbers to give Iraq a viable future.

Perhaps the most sombre lesson to be drawn is the degree to which the population of the region has been destabilised. According to the UNHCR, Iraq’s displaced are the world’s largest group of urban refugees and the largest refugee crisis in the Middle East since 1948. The UNHCR estimates that there are 2.2 million IDPs in Iraq and that a further 2 million have fled from Iraq—mainly to Syria and Jordan—whose health, education and social support systems have buckled under the strain.

Syria’s 1.4 million Iraqi refugees are increasingly running out of resources, with a third now on the verge of destitution. Poverty is making inroads into the refugee population’s health, with a fifth of the chronically ill unable to purchase medication. Tens of thousands of Iraqis will need food support over the coming months, with more than 250,000 expected to need food assistance by the end of the year.

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In Syria alone, some 100 new cases of refugees living in extreme poverty are identified every week. Women and children are particularly vulnerable to exploitation. Nearly half the families report that their children have dropped out of school, with one in 10 working to help support their families. Overall, the number of Iraqis uprooted by sectarian violence and human rights abuses is surpassed globally only by the 6.4 million Sudanese internally displaced persons and refugees. That is something that your Lordships might reflect on when recognising that by far the greater part of the Iraqi refugee crisis results from the US/UK-led intervention.

The Minister will be aware that such is the enormity of Iraq’s displacement crisis that this year the UNHCR needs to raise more than £130 million for its Middle East region operations—its largest single relief operation. Targets have been set that include doubling to 200,000 the number of Iraqi refugee children attending school; supporting 15,000 families who decide to return home; and assisting 400,000 displaced persons living in insecure and dangerous conditions.

Those programmes deliver shelter, healthcare, education, general support and food to uprooted Iraqis throughout the region. They are at risk unless the UNHCR appeal is met with strong support, which sadly has not been forthcoming from the UK Government. Given the Minister’s experience in the UN, he is uniquely placed to explain why our Government do not support the UNHCR targeting of immediate relief programmes at refugees in and outside Iraq. What basis is there for considering that UK investment in reconstruction and infrastructure, aimed at rebuilding the basic services in the longer term, can be a substitute for the immediate support urgently needed by hundreds of thousands of refugee victims of a war that we helped to initiate?

Finally, further to an Answer given to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, on 21 January, to which the noble Lord referred again today, on the resettlement of Iraqis at risk under the Gateway Protection Programme, the Minister will be aware that its success is dependent on a sufficient number of local authorities participating. There is considerable concern that this is not the case at present. Will he advise what steps the Government are taking to ensure that local authorities will come forward?

12.59 pm

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I, too, welcome the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, tabled this debate—not least because Iraq remains a matter of huge and continuing importance in our domestic and international politics. As I understand it, the noble Lord has argued that, as a supporter of the war originally, he is convinced that too many questions remain unanswered about the way in which the decision to go into the conflict was taken and about what will happen in relation to planning for post-conflict Iraq. He argues that the time is right for an inquiry because we need to learn lessons.

Some lessons are already very clear and we could think about how to act upon them now. We need clearer, and more generally acknowledged principles

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about when it is right and legal to take military action that entails going into another country. I believed at the time—and believe now—that our action was legal; others honestly disagreed.

However, in the course of my time as a Minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the criteria for taking military action in other countries changed, most noticeably in relation to Kosovo, where we introduced the idea of overwhelming humanitarian disaster being a sufficient cause to take military action in another country. The rules by which the UN operates do need to be looked at dispassionately and a real effort made to get better international consensus.

There is another clear lesson about intelligence. Raw intelligence is not available either to the public or to Ministers, and should not be because, all, or most, intelligence reports are drawn from a wide variety of different sources, all are subject to judgment and open to different degrees of interpretation. To attempt to publish as much as the Government did, in the form that we did, raised more and more questions. It was done from the very best of motives.

However, we need to think about how we deal with that sort of intelligence in the future. How much should go into the public domain? How should that be presented and when? We need to take those decisions calmly and clearly—not in the heat of a huge argument about who was right and wrong and who knew what when. That is something that we could be considering now. Therefore, those are two lessons that are clear already.

On the question of an inquiry, let me say that, speaking as someone who was a Foreign Office Minister at the time, I would welcome one—but only when conditions in Iraq make that possible and right.

I now turn to “the position in Iraq”, as the title of the debate of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, asks us to do. I want to concentrate on two areas—security and economic development. On security, everyone acknowledges, even after yesterday’s bombing attacks, that there are many fewer incidents now than there were this time last year. The surge has been a real factor, certainly in security around Baghdad. I think that every commentator acknowledges that there has been a reduction in the level of day-to-day violence around Baghdad.

Engagement with the Sunni tribal leaders has led to real improvements. There are local citizens groups among the Sunni community. A decision to take real consultation initiatives with the Sunni tribesmen about the al-Qaeda threat has been successful. Areas that were virtually bandit country and the heartlands of al-Qaeda in Iraq, where only the US marines were able to operate last year, are becoming safer. Obviously, that is around Al-Aubar and Sala Hadeen. All commentators are noting changes in turnaround; from what I have heard from our observers on the ground, it has been dramatic and significant. That has meant that there has been a reduction in violence of about 60 to 70 per cent. We are back to the levels that pertained at the end of 2003—too high, but going down. Intra-Shia fighting—that is, fighting between Shia groups—has diminished. A ceasefire that was

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initially agreed temporarily seems to be holding. Last week, the attempts of Shia extremists failed to spark off a resumption of Shia violence.

The capability of the Iraqi security forces has also improved. Last night, they saw off the violence in Basra with only air cover from the British forces, but they took on everything that happened on the ground. Will it last? It has been acknowledged—by even the most critical parts of the media, albeit grudgingly—that there have been real improvements. The next few weeks will give us further indications.

The noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, spoke with great authority on the economy. There are a few facts that we need to bear in mind. The Iraqi economy is growing—by 6 per cent last year. That is in striking distance of a number of neighbouring Arab economies. Inflation is down from 60 per cent in 2006 to 16 per cent—the calculation of the now independent Central Bank of Iraq.

Employment was, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, said, running at about 60 per cent in 2006, but it was down to 19 per cent at the end of last year. These are important figures. The Iraqis are benefiting from the increase in oil prices. They are not squandering the money. It is being invested in physical and human infrastructure—in health and education.

Around Basra, we have seen the Iraqi-run and Iraqi-based Basra Inward Investment Agency, the Basra Development Fund—with start-up money for small and medium sized businesses—and the Basra Development Commission. All of these are important economic indicators and have led to a 54 per cent increase in British exports to Iraq in areas that are also important indicators of economic growth, such as industrial machinery and road vehicles.

Our trade associations are starting to go back into Iraq. The Middle East Association and British Expertise took trade missions towards the end of last year. The MEA is planning more this year. UK companies are active in electronic banking, medicine, wider healthcare and construction, including developing the Umm Qasr Port.

Another lesson is that judgments in these areas are still evolving. Finding sources of information that widen our perspective is enormously important. It is disappointing that, when Iraqi politicians come to this country and talk to us in Parliament, sometimes few active politicians turn up to hear them.

One last lesson I have learnt is that British foreign policy dictates our defence policy. We are never in any doubt that defence policy is dependent on and subordinate to wider foreign policy priorities. It is important to know how our allies will operate. It is disconcerting to find our close allies operating on the basis that defence policy leads foreign policy. However, the fact that Pentagon was in the lead, not only on operational prosecution of the fighting—which was right and proper—but also on post-conflict handling in Iraq, was in stark contrast to our own position. Speaking as someone who was a Minister at the time, that was a very difficult realisation. It was another hard and painful lesson and one from which I hope that we have all learnt.

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1.08 pm

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Fowler for introducing this important debate and doing it so well and so clearly and in what I hope will be seen as a very much bipartisan approach to this very difficult issue. I am struck by the efforts that have been made in the United States’ approach to address issues of gravity for our country in a bipartisan manner. That is extremely important.

The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, is right to draw attention to some of the improvements that certainly seem to exist in Iraq at the moment. There seems to be a calmer atmosphere. One must guard against the fact that we tend to measure the situation in Iraq in terms of British casualties. The move to Basra airport has changed that situation but I understand that the number of attacks in Basra city—and of a particularly vicious and nasty kind—are continuing at the same level, but the targets are now different. Certainly, there is some optimism, expressed by the IMF and Ambassador Crocker. But the improvements have been achieved in some unusual ways. The Americans are now paying the militias $300 a month and providing them with arms, and we have currently sub-contracted significant areas of security in Iraq, in both Basra and Baghdad. There is a question about whether that will hold. There has been a welcome improvement in the Sunni expulsion of al-Qaeda from certain areas, suggesting, however, that once they get their own areas in order they will look to reassert their authority in some of the mixed areas. The threats of more ethnic cleansing are certainly worrying.

The worrying reports coming out of Basra suggest that we have settled for a balance of power between different militias. There have been significant illustrations in the form of attacks on women, with criticisms of their dress leading to physical assault, if not actual murder and execution. They suggest that we are presiding at a distance over a new Shia Taliban town being created. That gives some real concern to Kuwait and other neighbours about what may be developing there.

I certainly agree with the comment that the next six months are critical. Will the central government establish their authority? Will the Iraqi army really get a grip and be able to assert itself? Will it be able to sort out the police, get them working and the corrupt elements out? There are worrying reports about some of the problems in training the police. Can we see some real improvement and progress in reconstruction?

There are real concerns about the tensions and criticisms emerging between the Army and DfID. The feeling among many in the Army is that DfID has failed to take advantage of the work that the Army has had to do. A question to come out of this is whether we need some form of hardened DfID operational capability that can get into a less than ideal security situation and start reconstruction so that people on the ground can see the immediate benefit of a successful military operation.

I was struck by the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Symons. I am not sure where she is on the inquiry; I think she said that she favoured one. She went on to cite various lessons that could be learnt

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straight away, and I offer a few ideas for lessons that could be learnt. With the greatest respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, we cannot just depend on Bob Woodward’s book and what Jay Garner said to the president. These are all bits of evidence which need bringing together. It is important that we address this at an early stage.

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