Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Roy.]
In the next hour and a half we will debate whether it is time to bring our troops home from Iraq. I am grateful for this opportunity to raise such an important matter that is of grave concern to my constituents and their families, and I am grateful that the Minister will be responding.
This is surely a debate that we should be having not in this ante-Chamber, but on the Floor of the House on a Government motion that sets out their strategy. We have had a vote on the commencement of military action and after three and a half years surely we should have a vote on whether it is time to end it. In the next few weeks or months, Prime Minister al-Maliki will put the question of an extension to the coalition’s mandate, which runs out on 31 December this year, to a vote in the Iraqi National Assembly. Some Iraqi politicians argue for a two-year extension and some for a year with an option for renewal. The UN Security Council will be invited to support an extension to the mandate. The Iraqi politicians will vote, diplomats will vote and it seems only right and proper that the elected representatives of the people whose fate is being decided should also be allowed to vote.
On that important point, does the hon. Gentleman know that when challenged to provide such a debate, the Leader of the House said that there was no time before Prorogation and that he hoped the Opposition would choose foreign affairs as the subject for a debate on the Queen’s Speech? That would mean we would not have a vote on a motion and the subject would range widely. Surely, between now and Prorogation it would be easy to schedule some Lords amendments for after the moment of interruption on a Wednesday and free up a Tuesday to have this debate on the Floor of the House in Government time and with a proper motion.
Absolutely. That is a strong point. It is surely not incumbent on the Opposition to provide the opportunity for us to have this vital debate—it should be on the initiative of the Government. The House has not had a full debate with a vote on Government policy on Iraq since the war began. Congress had a debate as recently as June, which led to the creation of the Iraq Survey Group under the chairmanship of James Baker, about which we have read so much recently. Here, we are simply told by the Prime Minister that there is no shift in the policy or change in the strategy. What policy? What strategy? If the Government have a timetable with concrete objectives, it is time they presented it to Parliament so that we can debate it.
The sad state of affairs is that our political leaders are hostages to American policy and are too frightened to say anything that might pre-empt what President Bush might say or do.
I am listening to the hon. Gentleman’s arguments with great interest. Does he not think that it is revealing that on 10 July last year, The Mail on Sunday published what was essentially the operational order for the withdrawal by last Christmas of British troops almost in their entirety? One can only assume that American pressure did not allow that to happen.
Indeed. Unfortunately we learn more through leaks to the papers and odd, unscripted, off-the-cuff remarks from certain senior military figures than we ever do from the Government speaking on the Floor of the House. That is the sad reality. The hon. Gentleman also makes a wider point that unfortunately we have ceded our autonomy on policy on the Iraq war to the US almost entirely. Surely that has to change.
I am listening to the hon. Gentleman carefully. He is a little political in his speech so far. I am sure that he will want to address carefully the thing that has actually changed: how a withdrawal of troops can help minimise the loss of military and civilian lives in Iraq, secure a longer-term, more secure democracy in Iraq, and help to return trust and faith in this Parliament.
On the charge of bringing politics into this Chamber, I plead guilty, but let us turn to the core issue. My principal view is that the invasion was illegal and the fact that we “kicked in the door”, to use General Dannatt’s phrase, robbed us of the moral legitimacy and the practical capacity to rebuild the country we had destroyed. In those circumstances, the only sensible option is to withdraw our troops and find other more constructive ways of meeting our obligations to the Iraqi people.
There are those, including people who opposed the war, who have argued that we have a responsibility to stay in Iraq to clear up the mess we have created. Although I disagree with that analysis, I accept that it is an entirely honourable position.
My hon. Friend will recall that some 14 months ago I went out to Iraq and came back believing that a withdrawal should be events-led. Since then, we have seen no events to give a firm indication that things are improving. Therefore, I agree with his arguments and have changed my view.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s candour. There has been a debate in our party and a range of views was expressed. As I said, it is an entirely honourable position to argue that we should stay to clear up the mess we created, as long as the occupation has any realistic or conceivable chance of success, but that opportunity is long gone.
John Humphrys on the radio this morning said that if British troops were to leave, there would almost certainly be civil war and the country would split up into several different parts. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the integrity of Iraq is an important principle, or would he be happy to see the country segregated?
As the Foreign Secretary has said: it is ultimately a matter for the people of Iraq, and they must have self-determination in that. I will return to the issue of civil war, but I think that it has already arrived. Sadly, that is the daily reality on the ground in Iraq. On partition, it is in no one’s interests to see a bloody partition in Iraq. That is clear. In the constitution, a three-state model is in effect already emerging. Unfortunately, the Shi’a political leadership has alienated the Sunni minority by unilaterally announcing the creation of a super Shi’ite region in the south-east, so partition is already happening.
Does my hon. Friend also accept that the Iraq Study Group seems to be moving towards discussing the break-up of Iraq and the involvement of Turkey, Iran and Syria in its affairs? That is in some ways very dangerous, especially for the Kurdish region with its history between the Kurds and the Turks. Does he agree that for political reasons the Americans are already moving towards that?
There is a case for a regional security conference involving the major powers in the region, but that would clearly also be fraught with geo-political difficulty, not least for the US because it would be forced to speak to the former members of the axis of evil. Certainly, anything that can address border security along the western and eastern borders is welcome. The southern and northern borders are secure. The Saudis have built a 550-mile electric fence along the border to the south. Sadly, that is not the case to the west and east.
My view is that whether we stay or go, it is clear, unfortunately, that Iraq will remain at war with itself for some time to come. The question is whether extricating ourselves now would lead to further escalation of the violence. None of us can say for sure what would happen, but if we are no longer sure whether British servicemen and women putting their lives at risk day in, day out, does more harm than good, we have to ask ourselves seriously whether we should be there at all.
One thing is certain in my mind: the war is no longer winnable in any meaningful sense of the word. Of course, that is difficult for Bush and the Prime Minister, because it means admitting that their policy has failed. That is why, to use Bob Woodward’s phrase, they have been in a “state of denial”. Staying the course has been a policy based on self-deception. The policy prescription has been based on paralysis and an inability to face uncomfortable facts. The first thing that we need in this discussion, therefore, is some honesty and humility from the Government—an admission that the policy to date has failed and the strategy has been disastrous.
The Government said that we were in Iraq to prevent civil war, but if what is happening now is not civil war, I do not know what is. The number of bodies processed in the central Baghdad morgue in May 2006 was double that for May 2005, and the May figure has been surpassed by the figures for July, August and September. The figure for October will probably be even worse again. The number of daily strikes against Americans doubled in the first six months of this year and has increased even further in the months since. The latest information, for this month, is that the average number of reported Iraqi deaths is 41 a day. However, the United Nations says that, because of under-reporting, the actual number is probably closer to 100 a day.
There are more bombs, and the bombs are bigger and more sophisticated, killing more people than ever. It is not just me saying that. According to a senior US Department of Defence official quoted in The New York Times:
“The insurgency has more public support and is demonstrably more capable in numbers of people active and in its ability to direct violence than at any point in time.”
It is no wonder that many Iraqis now say that life is worse for them than it was under Saddam. We will listen carefully to the Minister’s words for an acknowledgement that the situation in Iraq is nothing less than terrible.
Does the hon. Gentleman recall that the reason for going to Iraq was not to remove a dictator, but because weapons of mass destruction were going to be sent within 45 minutes and potentially would hit British interests in Cyprus or wherever? Will he also reflect on the fact that the General Officer Commanding suggested recently that the presence of British troops was a factor causing the violence that is now taking place? That being the case, does it not strengthen the argument for withdrawal?
Absolutely. That is the critical point. I accept that statement. The original delusion or deception, depending on one’s interpretation, that was at the heart of the Government’s war policy has followed through into self-delusion and deception in their description of how the occupation has proceeded. What we need now is clarity and honesty from the Government about how terrible the situation is.
There have been so many turning points. We have been given promises about the occupation. We were told that the violent opposition would end as soon as Saddam was captured. We were told that the situation would improve once there were elections, then once there was a constitution, then once there was a Government and then once Zarqawi was killed. All those things have happened, yet the situation has only deteriorated. The longer we stay, the worse it gets. The lesson is clear. As the hon. Gentleman said, we cannot become the cure if we are the source of the problem, and every day we stay we make a bad situation worse. General Dannatt is not alone in those views.
In January 2004, when I first went to Iraq, to a relatively peaceful part of Maysan province, the Shi’a people there said to me, “Things are fine and they will improve as long as you, the allies, can guarantee security. If you can’t, we will face what amounts to a civil war.” In a very good piece on the radio this morning, which has been mentioned, John Humphrys said exactly that. Security has not been guaranteed and the situation is deteriorating. Without troops, how do people have security?
The hon. Gentleman is right. However, it is in the nature of military occupation that there is a time-limited window of opportunity, beyond which, even if people were welcomed at first, the relationship between occupier and occupied begins to sour. My reading of General Dannatt’s thesis is that we have gone beyond that point, and at some point the situation becomes irredeemable.
As I said, General Dannatt is not alone in his view. The Los Angeles Times reported in October last year that some US generals believed that
“US troops are increasingly part of the problem…the presence of US forces was fuelling the insurgency, fostering an undesirable dependency on American troops among the nascent Iraqi armed forces and energizing terrorists across the Middle East.”
The most recent demonstration of that has been the massive two-month sweep in Baghdad, Operation Together Forward, which even US General William Caldwell acknowledges to have been a failure, with a 43 per cent. increase in attacks against the US since midsummer. Where we retreat—in Amarah or, for the Americans, in Balad—violence erupts, but where we return to the streets, even worse violence erupts, because our presence provides the insurgents with a target and a reason for increasing their attacks.
Polls from the US State Department show decisively that a majority of Iraqis, whether Sunni or Shi’a, want US and coalition troops to leave Iraq immediately; that they feel less safe as a result of the occupation; and that they think the occupation is spurring, not suppressing, sectarian strife. In short, if the decision were up to ordinary Iraqis, the occupation would end. As we saw from the opinion polls yesterday, if it were up to ordinary people in this country, the occupation would end. For a war allegedly fought in the name of democracy, the willingness of the Government to frustrate the will of the people, whether in Iraq or in this country, is breathtaking.
We are part of the problem. We are not the whole problem, because the Iraqi security forces meant to replace us are, unfortunately, part of the problem, too.
In recognising the bravery and distinction of the troops who have been sent to Iraq in our name, an ever-growing number of them, many of whom I represent, feel that they have been put in an invidious situation and wish for proper political leadership, rather than the donkeys who sent them into an illegal conflict in the first place.
I have to agree, having spoken to servicemen and women and their families in my constituency. I am not a military man, but it is not sustainable at a human level, when we talk about people on their third deployment, to think about the occupation continuing for years.
On the Iraqi security forces, new reports from about 2004 onwards have suggested that the US trained and supported Iraqi commando brigades—the Wolf Brigade and the special police commandos being the pre-eminent examples—and that elements of those brigades operated as death squads by abducting and assassinating thousands of Iraqis in extra-judicial killings.
Earlier this month, we read that the 8th Iraqi police unit was responsible for the kidnapping on 1 October of 26 Sunni food factory workers in the Amil quarter of south-west Baghdad, of whom seven were shot dead. Ministry of Interior vehicles were used in that kidnapping, and most of the men wore Iraqi police uniforms. Minister Al-Bolani has suspended the police unit from official duties and confined its members to base for the time being, but instead of facing punishment, according to Adnan Thabit, the director-general of the Iraqi police, they are
“going to be rehabilitated and brought back to service”.
It was UK policy to train and recruit the militia into the security forces. There was no infiltration: we invited them in. The evidence of the Ministry of Defence to the Select Committee on Defence in 2004 was:
“The Coalition’s policy is to encourage individual members, from the Badr Corps in particular, to join the New Iraqi Army or another official organisation.”
We know that the United States trained the special forces within the Ministry of Interior under the Salvador option, which was so called because they were trained up by Colonel James Steele, commander of the US military advisory group when the CIA trained the death squads in central America. In the light of that, how did the Minister come to tell the Defence Committee last year:
“There is no indication that private armies are developing under the control of one powerful minister to be used in the way in which Saddam Hussein would have used his security forces.”?
How much of an indication of that does he need? People have been found tortured in secret Ministry of Interior jails, and half of the police in Sadr city have pictures of Moqtada al-Sadr on their patrol cars. Almost every time a Sunni gets abducted it is by people in uniform. Far from acting as a brake on sectarian violence, the policies that we have pursued have helped to ferment it. I will be interested to hear the Minister’s response on that.
The national reconciliation conference has been cancelled four times, incredibly, by the Iraqi Government. They have refused to ban militia in the security forces and refused to deal fairly with the Sunnis when sharing out the oil wealth. Why have they taken that stance? Because we have given them the blank cheque of unconditional support. If the UK Government are not prepared to consider the option of immediate withdrawal, then a firm and finite timetable for withdrawal would at least provide some leverage through which political progress on the ground could at last begin to flow, but it may already be too late for that.
Prime Minister al-Maliki’s grip on power is far from secure. As we read at the weekend, there is widespread discussion in political and intelligence circles in Baghdad about the creation of a five-man military commission—a junta, effectively—to replace the Government. There is talk about imposing martial law in Baghdad and dissolving Parliament. In the interests of British servicemen and women and their families, will the Minister give a categorical assurance that any move to military rule in Iraq would result in the immediate and unilateral evacuation of British troops, and that we will provide no support—tacit, express, direct or indirect—for such a move? Whatever happens in the next few months, there are no perfect or peaceful solutions for the people of Iraq in the short term. Iraq’s future can be decided only by Iraqis.
It is argued that withdrawal from Iraq would be a propaganda victory for the terrorists, but our intelligence and US intelligence suggests that the opposite is true, and that our continued presence in Iraq is the biggest recruiting sergeant for al-Qaeda throughout the entire world. It is important to place on record that those of us who are calling for troop withdrawal certainly are not saying that we should abandon the Iraqi people. The war has had terrible consequences for them and we have responsibilities as a result. We should make a commitment to make reparations for the suffering that we have caused—not just the invasion and the occupation, but the 12 years of sanctions that devastated millions but did nothing to harm the political elite, and all those years that we in the UK and the US supported and armed Saddam while he committed his worst atrocities. What we now need for Iraq is a Marshall plan, over decades, to which we can contribute, along with some of the oil-rich countries of the Gulf. We have an obligation to the Iraqi people, but we cannot meet that obligation through a military strategy that cannot succeed.
I think that it is fair to say that some kind of watershed has been reached in discussions when the head of the armed forces and the leader writer of The Daily Telegraph both call for the withdrawal of British troops. The Government must now realise that their policy of the last three and a half years is no longer sustainable. Stubbornly sticking to a flawed strategy will simply cost more lives without bringing us any closer to achieving our goals. It is time for us to leave.
Of course, we have been here before—literally. I have a letter from a certain Colonel T. E. Lawrence to The Times in July 1920. In his letter he says of the Iraqis:
“They waited and welcomed the news of our mandate, because they thought it meant…self-government for themselves. They are now losing hope in our good intentions. A remedy? I can see a cure only in immediate change of policy. The whole logic of the present thing looks wrong. Why should Englishmen…have to be killed to make the Arab Government in Mesopotamia, which is the considered intention of his Majesty’s Government?”
He went on to argue for complete withdrawal from Iraq in 12 months. They did not listen to him then and we stayed for another 12 bloody years. Let us not make the same mistake again.
In February 2003, I was happy to march against the imminent war, because I thought that the case had not been made and that Hans Blix had been stopped prematurely. I was also convinced that the timetable had more to do with the presidential elections than the situation on the ground. But, like a lot of people, I refuse to be frozen in time.
Back then, I was the president of Unison and a member of the TUC general council. We took the strategic decision to help to build a trade union movement in Iraq, and we invested members’ money in doing that. We organised training sessions for shop stewards from Iraq in the UK, then in Jordan, and ultimately in Kurdistan. We gave solidarity and financial support, helped to build their organisations and brought trade union representatives to the United Kingdom. Indeed, representatives have visited the Durham miners gala and spoken at schools in my constituency to explain what is really happening.
Before Saddam, there was a good, strong union base in Iraq. When Saddam came to power, he did his best to wipe out trade unions. Now that he has gone, there are 250,000 active trade unionists in Iraq. I am not happy that we went to war, but I am happy that a trade union movement exists in Iraq, and that would not have happened without our intervention. Whether we like it or not, our intervention is seen as a positive by many working people in Iraq, but they are concerned about some of the things that are going on there, particularly with decree 8750, which the Government brought in last year. The decree says that the relevant Government committee
“must take control of all monies belonging to the trade unions and prevent them from dispensing…such monies.”
In addition, a new paper is being proposed
“on how trade unions should function, operate and organise.”
That is absolutely out of order, and the decree has been condemned by the International Labour Organisation, the British Government and the TUC. If we can prevent the Iraqi Government from insisting that it is implemented, that might give people faith in our Government and bring some honour to Ministers.
The people I have been dealing with are not the political elites, but real people—the people who were hurt most by the war and by Saddam Hussein, who spent 20 years trying to wipe them off the face off the earth. Some 180,000 people were killed in Kurdistan, and 4,500 villages were wiped off the face of the earth. The people I spoke to asked not whether it was right or wrong for us to go to war in 2003, but where we were in 1985 when we could have stopped such things happening. Historians will certainly reflect on that question.
This year, I led a delegation to Kurdistan on behalf of Labour Friends of Iraq. The people there were clear that our intervention was positive and that we were giving them a chance to rebuild their country and their infrastructure and to develop an industrial base from which to grow. Although they ultimately want us out of their country, we were told by a group of 22 trade unionists from Baghdad and Basra that it was not safe for us to leave yet, and that was the view of most of the people we met, who included trade unionists, workers and representatives of local and regional government in Kurdistan. Yesterday, I checked with the international representative of some of those people in this country, and they still have that view.
I am aware of that situation, but I am also aware that the TUC and most trade unions in this country have recognised the Iraqi Federation of Workers Trade Unions, which is clear that it would not be helpful for us to withdraw unilaterally.
We should not be listening to armchair theorists, political opportunists or enemies of democracy, who would tell us to get out, because that would leave the Iraqi people and Iraqi workers in a vulnerable situation. We should listen to real people, such as Hangar Khan, the regional secretary of the Kurdistan Workers Union. Disgracefully, he was again refused admission into this country because of the visa situation. He was coming to speak at the TUC, but he was not allowed to. However, he sent us a message telling us that people in Iraq still need our support and the support of working people so that they can feel secure in their daily lives.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about Kurdistan, and the issue bothers me greatly in terms of the situation in Iraq. However, the Iraq study group appears to be suggesting that the Americans move towards a balkanisation of Iraq, with the possible involvement of Turkey. In those circumstances, does the hon. Gentleman worry about the state of Kurdistan? Will the continuing situation with the Americans help the Kurds?
I am very worried about the state that Kurdistan finds itself in. Although we met representatives from the whole country, the people I dealt with were mainly Kurds, and they would like their own country. As they said to me, however, they live in a tough neighbourhood and they realise the reality of the situation that they face. They are quite prepared to go along with the idea of developing a genuinely federal Iraq in which everyone’s voice is heard.
It is clear that the Iraqi military is not up to the job. It is under-skilled, under-equipped, badly motivated and severely infiltrated by the militia. If we pull out, things will only get worse in the short term. I am not saying that we should stop in Iraq for ever, and we should listen to the study groups, but we should listen much more to the real people on the ground.
I welcome this debate and congratulate the hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr (Adam Price) on securing it.
I shall be brief because others want to speak, but we should just consider the Lancet report, which came out last week or the week before and which indicated that 650,000 people have died in Iraq since the invasion in 2003. The death rate is accelerating as a result of insurgencies and all the problems associated with the disruption of normal civilian life. There is no prospect of it falling while British and American forces remain there and, in the words of General Dannatt, become part of the problem, not part of the solution.
This morning, Radio 4’s “Today” programme came from Basra, but the most interesting thing was that those working on the programme had to fly in by helicopter at night because it was not safe to fly during the day. Similarly, the British diplomats who have been assigned to work there have never been out of the security zone in the months that they have been there. Government officials in Baghdad have never been outside the green zone in the months, if not years, that they have been there, and the situation is getting worse.
The Prime Minister tells us that we will stay until the job is done, but how does he define “job done”? How long will that be? I believe that the military would like to pull out, and General Dannatt is probably saying what a lot of military people are thinking. Having hitched ourselves to a US bandwagon in 2003, however, the problem is that we are stuck with the policies that the US chooses to follow in Iraq.
Some people say that we are stuck in the time warp of 2003, but it is worth recalling what happened that year and before. Britain and the US substantially supported Saddam Hussein during the 1970s and 1980s. He bought large numbers of arms from British, American and other companies and made himself very powerful on the basis of that. The war between Iran and Iraq was devastating for both countries, and it probably suited political leaders in both countries to have a war with each other at that time. We then had Saddam Hussein’s bizarre invasion of Kuwait, the 1991 Gulf war and the years of sanctions, with all the problems that they created. As the hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr said, those sanctions did little to damage the elite, but a great deal to damage the lives of ordinary people.
Bizarrely, George Bush then announced that the axis of evil included Iraq and that the country was the centre of terrorist activity, but there was no evidence whatever for that. Yes, Saddam Hussein was a brutal leader and a bad person, and it is absolutely true that Iraq was not a nice place, but it was not the centre of terrorist activity that George Bush claimed it was.
Then, there were the totally erroneous claims about weapons of mass destruction, on the basis of which troops were committed and a war took place. Iraq has now become a magnet for every kind of terrorist in the region and it will continue to be one as long as British and American forces remain there.
Weapons of mass destruction did not exist in Iraq. When the history books are written, they will show that January 2003 was one of the key turning points. They will ask what on earth Britain and the USA were doing in January 2003 preventing the weapons inspectors from returning to Iraq to prove finally whether there were weapons of mass destruction there. The die was cast with George Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq, which I believe was taken in April 2002. We are apparently incapable of saying no to the United States on anything, so we had to go into that war.
Where do we go from here? Politically, there have been elections in Iraq, and Saddam Hussein is no longer president. As someone who never supported him or apologised in any way for his actions, I am glad that he is no longer the president and that there has been some change in that respect—nobody who opposed the war supported dictatorship. However, we have to ask what British and American forces are doing now, other than making the situation worse, costing us a great deal and politically damaging not only George Bush—I am not particularly bothered about that—but the Labour party and the political process in this country.
The 1 million-plus people who marched against the war in February 2003 probably represent about 10 per cent. of all those who voted Labour in the previous general election. That is a very large figure. Opinion polls then were against the war, and now they are stronger than ever against it. Every Member of the House knows that the war is unpopular with all sections of our community. The occupying forces also know full well that the presence of British and American troops in Iraq is unpopular.
We must, therefore, take some hard decisions. Are we going to stay there, spending more money and losing more lives, with more civilians dying, more insurgents coming in and more destruction going on, with the country probably being broken up into warring zones, or are we going to take the political decision that the policy has not been successful and that it is necessary to leave Iraq as soon as practicable? I think that the results of the US elections in a few weeks will force the American political and military establishment to that conclusion. I would have thought that we were capable of thinking this through ourselves, and deciding that it is indeed time to get out of Iraq.
The public do not support the present situation; the military in this country are unhappy about it. The war was illegal in the first place and our continued presence in Iraq will not bring about peace or justice. It will just bring about an ever-worsening situation. I honestly believe that it is time to leave Iraq.
First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr (Adam Price) on obtaining the debate, and I apologise for not being here for the beginning of his remarks.
The title of the debate of course forces us to look forward rather than back. We could all discuss how we got into this position. I voted for the invasion in 2003, along with the majority of my colleagues, but I am at least on the record as saying in May 2004 that we had become part of the problem in Iraq, not part of the solution, and as having asked the Secretary of State for Defence in 2003 what on earth we thought we were doing disbanding the Iraqi army, which now looks to have been an utterly disastrous decision.
However, the objective of everyone taking part in the debate is the same: to achieve a satisfactory withdrawal of British forces as soon as practicable. That is the question that we have to address. My only concern is that much of the Government’s rhetoric of “until the job is done” implies that we shall be in Iraq for a very long time. Regrettably, in our current position we face a series of ugly choices, and we shall not be able to achieve the withdrawal in circumstances that we control.
The “until the job is done” approach is the wrong one now, and the nearest historical parallel would appear to be pre-partition India. The Labour Government faced a difficult decision, given the escalating violence between the various communities in India, and indeed they brought forward the date of partition to try to deal with it as quickly as possible, recognising that the situation over which they were presiding was rapidly going out of the control of the British authorities in India. That is a rather similar position to the one in which we find ourselves today.
I listened to the Secretary of State for Defence describing the operations that British troops are carrying out in Basra, and it sounded like a repeat of the record I heard in 2004. We were sweeping through Basra to try to create new security arrangements, block by block. We were attending to the training of the police. We were doing great work on the infrastructure and key services such as water and schools.
I went to Basra with the Select Committee on Defence in May 2004 and we were shown all those things happening. We were shown the Iraqi police undergoing riot training and the rest, but one had simply to scratch beneath the surface and talk not to the Iraqi police commander, who knew the rhetoric to use in addressing visiting foreign politicians, but to some of his subordinates in the more junior ranks to get a different perspective on what they thought they were about.
The request from those people was simply, “Give us the weapons that you have all got here and push off, then we will be able to deal with it. We need heavy machine guns and armour, then we will be able to do our job properly.” We have taught the senior policemen the rhetoric, but two and a half years later we have seen that the police, as we heard from the hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr, are utterly infiltrated by the various warring factions.
We face an extremely ugly dilemma about how we get out. The fact is that the effect we are having in trying to train the police and build up the security infrastructure, which are thoroughly laudable, is being set against the other factors entailing the collapse of the security situation in front of us. I fear that throughout the past two and a half years at least, we have been losing the battle.
The factors that we have been trying to reinforce have been losing out, as is evidenced by the appalling number of casualties resulting from the collapse of security. Of course, it looks, therefore, as if a situation resembling that in Algeria or Lebanon will come about. The difficulty for our Government and the United States Government is the responsibility that we shall bear, and the attempt to set down the time lines and conditions for mitigating those circumstances as far as possible. We must find a way forward in which the firestorm of hate that is building up between the communities in Iraq burns itself out as rapidly as possible—not, I hope, with casualties at the appalling level of the conflict in Algeria or, in relative terms, the Lebanese civil war.
These are the rather ugly dilemmas that we face, and I hope that the Government can encourage the Government of the United States, in the debate that is now taking place there, to grasp the nettle of those decisions sooner rather than later. Delay in the past two and a half years has meant a worsening of the situation; the dilemmas have been made more difficult.
I am delighted by the unanimity of the feeling being expressed about the chaos in Iraq. I have tried to think of a comparable conflict, but I cannot think of any in which the threats have come from so many quarters, police have been fighting police and soldiers have fought other security forces, and there have been similar tribal and religious divisions, as well as the division between the three main communities.
The chaos is enormously complex, but it is chaos created by us—not just as an international force, but as a Parliament. If we look through the terrible decisions taken by Parliament over the years, this is the worst. Some such decisions were taken by Governments—for example, over Suez and the Boer war—but the decision on Iraq was taken by us, in this House, uniquely.
It was a decision within which 139 Labour MPs courageously voted against the three-line Whip, to their great credit. Fifty other Labour MPs who opposed the war, and had also signed early-day motions and various other proposals, were persuaded—bullied, I am afraid—bamboozled or deluded into believing that to vote with the Government would be a good thing. Many of them bitterly regret the fact that the Labour Whips persuaded them, and if those 50 had joined the 139 we should not have joined Bush’s war in Iraq. The issue was clear at the time; there was no question about it. The 16 Conservatives who voted against their party’s wishes also deserve credit, as do other hon. Members who voted against the war.
I think that the only difference between me and the hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr (Adam Price) on this matter is that I prefer to believe that the way the Prime Minister presented the issue to us was a delusion, rather than a deception. Delusion it was, however, and a terrible mistake. We should in no way be complacent about attitudes to such things. I recall fondly an answer that I received from Mr. William Waldegrave to a parliamentary question that I tabled five months before the first Iraq war, asking the Conservative Government to beef up the International Atomic Energy Agency inspections of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear programme. It was a dismissive reply that put me in my place. I was told that I should realise that Saddam Hussein had signed the international non-proliferation treaty, so the Government had full confidence that Iraq would abide by its international obligations and not work on the development of nuclear weapons. We had a shared deception at the time.
I make this brief contribution because I share the view of other hon. Members that, having created the mess, we have an obligation to sort it out. I have seen the recent developments, the most telling of which was perhaps an incident where a convoy containing military personnel took a wrong turning down a side road. No one had any idea that there was someone coming or that anything was planned. The convoy reached a dead end and turned round, and was then spontaneously attacked on the short return journey up the street. The attack resulted in deaths.
That incident shows that the main purpose in life of the troops in their stockades is to defend themselves. If they go out on patrol, they become targets. As has been rightly said by military people and others, their presence exacerbates the dangers. What do we do in that situation? There is no clear answer or simple decision that we can take. We need to debate the matter, and the most useful thing we can do is set a timetable.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the other reasons why we must move to the next stage is the reconstruction of Iraq? One subject that has not been touched on today is its water and electricity supply, and health and education services. They cannot be reconstructed until this phase ends.
That is true. Whichever way one looks at the situation in Iraq—as far as the provision of electricity and water is concerned, and the way that all the misery there is going—in so many ways things are worse than they were under Saddam Hussein. We all wanted him to go, but let us consider even the rate of deaths. The Lancet report suggests 600,000 deaths, and we know about the 119 British deaths. Did those people die in vain? We do not want to ask that question, but what on earth can we say that their courage and the sacrifice of their lives were about? The same applies in respect of 2,500 Americans.
Every other indication—for example, the way that the middle classes moved out to Syria and Jordan—shows the same thing: the country is in a dreadful state and we must take responsibility for it. What a shame that we cannot do so as a Parliament. We do not have the confidence to have our own inquiry into our reasons for going to war. We will be told that we have had four inquiries, two of which were done by Committees that were cheerleaders for the war anyway. The other two examined very small aspects of the conflict, so we have not had a full inquiry.
Can we really trust world leaders who were complicit in the war, and who originated it, to take decisions that need to be taken, free of any pressure to justify their actions? We need changes before those decisions can be taken. As has been said, once again our brave soldier lions are suffering because of the decisions of the ministerial donkeys.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr (Adam Price) on securing the debate and on the way in which he advanced his cause. Unfortunately, he is always a very eloquent speaker—I wish that were not the case.
I agree in substantial measure with many of the things that have been said today. I want all British troops to be home as soon as possible. The hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) asked when is “possible” and whether we should use the language of when the “job is done”. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) asked, what does such language mean? We must judge when the tipping point is at which it is possible for us to withdraw without creating further problems for the people of Iraq and for our own troops in the process of withdrawal.
That is a difficult point to judge. It is difficult to judge in the Balkans, where we have been trying to ensure that before we withdraw all our remaining troops, many of whom are feeling desultory doing their current work in Bosnia, the security services in that country will be able to deliver security in a non-partisan way for everyone. We face this process every time we are involved in activity beyond our borders.
The first key to the tipping point is a sense of profound responsibility for the people of Iraq. We went to Iraq, but at what point do we feel that our withdrawal aids their greater security and their opportunity of enhanced public services—health, education, water supply, electricity and the rest? I merely point out to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett), who mentioned water and electricity supplies, that if British and American troops were not protecting them, people would not have any access to water or electricity.
We can also judge the tipping point by assessing at what point the indigenous security forces can cope. It seems to me, for all the reasons that the hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr advanced, that now is not that time. They do not have the ability to deal either with corruption within their own forces or, in a non-partisan way, with all the peoples of that country. Consequently, it would be difficult for anyone with a logical mind to argue that the time has yet come.
I would give way to the hon. Gentleman, but there are very few minutes left and it is important that we hear from the Front-Bench spokespeople at decent length.
A material point was raised by several hon. Members: at what point does our continuing stay either exacerbate violence or prevent local security forces from taking full responsibility? This is still the question that we face in the Balkans: does our continuing presence in Bosnia mean that local security forces never fully take responsibility for the work in which they need to engage? That is the most difficult point to judge.
Other things that are important to remember have not been mentioned today. We are in Iraq under a new United Nations mandate. It is important that in any further considerations of what British troops should do and what our British responsibilities should be, we must co-operate with our allies. That does not just mean the Americans; it means others in the United Nations who have provided a substantial mandate for us to remain in Iraq.
Iraq now has a democratic Government, who, for all their problems and difficulties, have been in existence for just 156 days and have made it clear that they want us to remain. The hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr said that the shortest period of time that Iraqi politicians are arguing for our continued stay is one year beyond this December, so it seems difficult to argue for an immediate withdrawal on the basis of democracy in Iraq. Indeed, few Iraqi politicians are calling for any form of immediate withdrawal. That is why we must seriously consider whether that is a proper course of action for us.
The question of the integrity of Iraq is far more difficult than the hon. Gentleman would suggest. He seemed quite relaxed about whether partition took place in Iraq. The interference of other countries if there were partition would not lead to greater security in the region, greater benefits for any of the individual countries—
I must apologise to the hon. Gentleman. I have only two more minutes so I shall not give way.
The hon. Member for Reigate referred to the partition of India as the relevant analogy. In a sense, he gave away the game on this. Many would argue that partition was not the right process at that point, and bringing it forward in the way that we did was inappropriate. Sir Stafford Cripps made many mistakes.
The hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr also referred to the question of the process in Parliament. I agree that we should have a substantive debate in Parliament. I am critical of the fact that the vast majority of our debates on every issue under the sun happen on the Adjournment of the House, without any proper resolution. However, there is an Opposition day next Tuesday. If the Opposition believe that this is the single most important substantive issue that we should be debating, they could bring it forward then, and there would be a vote.
Mistakes have been made—that may seem to be the understatement of the year—one of the most profound of which was our enforcing the collapse of the Ba’athist security forces in Iraq. I understand that it was an area where we lost the argument with our other international allies, which is profoundly to be regretted. I also believe that, as I said at the time, George Bush’s axis-of-evil speech and the way in which he linked the three countries together was a profound mistake—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) was not here for the whole of this debate, but I am glad that he has now joined us.
Immediate withdrawal, regardless of the views of the United Nations, regardless of the views of the democratic Government of Iraq, regardless of the almost certain civil war and partition that would ensue, and regardless of the harm to the reputation of our armed forces, would be the height of irresponsibility. Of course, we must ensure that our British judgment is followed through, but a responsible decision must involve all our allies. We want our troops home as soon as possible, but that must be when the job is done.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr (Adam Price) who made an eloquent and knowledgeable speech, as has been recognised. There have been other excellent contributions and I am pleased to respond to this excellent debate on behalf of the Liberal Democrats.
It is a sad day when the mighty forces of Welsh nationalism instigate a debate on a subject as important as Iraq before the Government do so. It has been two and a half years since we had a debate in the House and it is important that the Minister, following this debate, tells the Prime Minister that we need a substantive debate in the House. During those two and a half years, tens of thousands of people have died and the country is on the edge of civil war, yet the Government have not come forward with a debate.
I shall set out the Liberal Democrats’ belief that the UK needs a new strategy and its own Baker-style inquiry. If the US can have an inquiry, why cannot we have one? One would have thought from listening to the Leader of the Opposition at last week’s Prime Minister’s questions that the Conservatives had opposed the war all along and questioned the Government closely every step of the way. They did not, and it was good to have an admission from the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) that he is now questioning the Government on their thinking on Iraq.
The Liberal Democrats opposed the war in Iraq. We believed that it was illegal, in defiance of the United Nations, and based on a flawed prospectus and a fabricated threat. It should never have happened. Forty thousand civilians—some say hundreds of thousands—and almost 3,000 coalition troops are dead. There has been increasing violence and hardship with an increased terrorist threat and huge resentment throughout the middle east and the rest of the world about the west and its involvement in Iraq.
We adopted a constructive approach. Now that we have invaded Iraq, we have a moral and strategic obligation to stabilise and reconstruct it. That may not be Plaid Cymru’s position, but it is important to accept that moral obligation now that we have invaded the country. We support the troops in their actions and as we approach Remembrance Sunday it is important to remember the sacrifices that they and their families have made in Iraq. The commitment is huge.
Why do we need a new strategy? The country is on the edge of civil war and sectarian violence has intensified. If it is allowed to become a failed state, the effects could be devastating. Iran, whose nuclear issue is next door, Palestine, Lebanon and Islamic extremism are all problems that are interconnected with Iraq and we should not ignore them. A new strategy is imperative and this may be the last chance. What should that strategy include? It should deal with the concerns of ordinary people on the ground, personal safety, security, jobs and essential services. If it fails or is rejected, it will be impossible to justify the continuing presence of troops in Iraq.
There seems to be confusion among Government ranks. The Foreign Secretary said that we could be out within a year, but the Secretary of State for Defence said no. The Foreign Secretary said that Iraq could be partitioned into three, but then changed her mind and said that the war might be judged to have been a disaster. The Prime Minister said that we should hold our nerve. The Minister should clear up that confusion this morning. Imagine what that confusion among Ministers must be doing to the troops on the ground.
I mentioned the James Baker inquiry by the former US Secretary of State. The US is reviewing its policy in Iraq. Why is this country not to have a review? Are we again waiting for the United States to take the lead? We should take charge of our own policy.
General Sir Richard Dannatt gave us a clear wake-up call with evidence from the Army. He said that we should get out soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems. Apparently, the Prime Minister agrees. He said that he agrees, but is he following that advice? I have not heard whether that is the case.
On the new strategy, Sir Richard presented a last and fleeting chance for a change, but the US and the UK still seem to be in denial. To continue without change is not an option. A Baker-style inquiry is required in this country, but we must internationalise the situation with the United Nations taking a central role and we must accept that the military are only one part of the solution. There must be a much broader strategy.
What is the solution? We must engage more constructively with Iraq’s neighbours who can be usefully used to talk to insurgent groups, to maintain security of the border and to provide economic stability. We must professionalise the security forces, which is a huge challenge. The United Nations must be involved in a UN-led disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration strategy. We must have an end to systematic and indefinite detentions by the US and Iraq because they are having a huge effect on Iraqi opinion on the ground. The reconstruction must be legitimised. In various opinion polls, the Iraqis say that the UN must take the lead role. We need a phased transfer and withdrawal of our troops.
This is the last chance for a change in strategy. If it is rejected or fails, it will be impossible to justify our continued presence. We need a UK-style Baker inquiry in this country and we must internationalise the effort. The military are only part of the strategy; we must seize the opportunity for change for the benefit of our troops and Iraq.
Before turning to my main remarks, it is worth saying, given that this debate is about troop withdrawal from Iraq, that we should think about the sacrifice and courage of our troops in Iraq and other theatres around the world. They are the people on the front line and I know that everyone in the House wishes them and their families well.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr (Adam Price) on securing this debate. He was absolutely right to say at the beginning that it is not acceptable that we are having the debate in this Chamber. The Government should find time for a debate in the House, particularly because of the debate in the United States where there is a lot of movement and discussion, especially with the Iraq study group. One key date on the timetable will be 7 November when the US has its mid-term elections. If we do not have a substantive debate in Parliament prior to Prorogation, the danger is that by the time we return, the US mid-term elections will have taken place and we may have already seen a change in US policy without the House having had the opportunity to debate the matter or question Ministers properly.
Whether that is true or not, the hon. Gentleman has put his finger on something. Beyond doubt, the perception of many people in this country is that the Prime Minister just waits to be told what to do. It is a damaging perception, and it is important that the work taking place in Washington is mirrored by a careful reassessment in Whitehall, which we should then be able to debate fully in the House. Ministers should explain what work they are doing, and give Members the opportunity to question them, so that we can fully debate it.
My commitment is that even if the Government do not find time to debate the matter in the next two weeks, the Conservative party as the official Opposition will ensure that during the Queen’s Speech debate, we debate international affairs, giving us the opportunity to debate this matter among others. It is important that Parliament has a chance to debate it. The Government should make time in their time for the House to do so.
The Minister will want to have as much time as possible to answer the questions that he has been asked. First, however, several Members have alluded to our job in Iraq. There has been some confusion about it, even this week. General Sir Richard Dannatt said that the Government’s aim of creating a liberal democracy was “naïve” and would not be achieved. He said:
“I don’t think we are going to do that. I think we should aim for a lower ambition.”
The Prime Minister immediately said that he agreed with everything that Sir Richard had said.
However, just this week, the argument put to the Prime Minister’s official spokesman was that the job in 2004 included leaving Iraq as a peaceful, prosperous, unitary state, and a “beacon of democracy” to the whole middle east. He confirmed that that was still the aim of British Government policy. It would be helpful if the Minister could confirm which of those two interpretations is correct. They do not seem the same.
At the same time as the Prime Minister’s official spokesman was saying that, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs was acknowledging the difficulties that we have faced in Iraq, and, as several Members have already said, that Iraq could break up into three parts. She said that it was up to the Iraqis themselves to decide, adding:
“They have had enough of people from outside handing down arbitrary boundaries and arbitrary decisions.”
It would be helpful if the Minister explained whether the Government were neutral about the question of Iraq continuing as a unitary state or breaking up. A break-up into three states would have the most profound effect on Turkey and that country’s problems with its Kurdish minority. A NATO ally might be plunged into a difficult conflict, and that would be dangerous. As the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) said, the Government cannot be entirely neutral about the matter. A break-up would affect the stability of the middle east.
The second area worth touching on is whether the Government think Iraqi police and security forces will be able to take responsibility for security. The Minister for the Middle East seems confident that in about a year’s time, Iraqi forces will be able to take over. He told the BBC:
“I would have thought that certainly in a year or so there will be adequately trained Iraqi soldiers and security forces—police men and women and so on—in order to do the job.”
Press reports from United States forces suggest that in their assessment, the forces on the ground are not in as good a shape as that. It would be helpful to have an update from the Minister about our assessment of the progress that the Iraqi security forces have made.
In the Government’s response to the report on UK operations by the Select Committee on Defence, they said:
“The nature of some explosive devices being used, against British troops and elsewhere in Iraq, suggest the involvement of Iranian elements, including through Lebanese Hezbollah.”
We have heard only leaks from the Iraq study group, and we do not know what it will conclude, but it has put forward the idea that one US option is to ask Iraq’s neighbours, Iran and Syria, to become involved in the country. Given that the British Government accept that elements in Iran have supplied explosives that have killed British troops, it would be helpful to know whether the Minister felt that involving Iran and Syria in stabilising Iraq would work.
Many people think that Iran is already far too involved in Iraq, and that it fuels Shi’a violence. I am not sure that getting Iran and Syria more involved in Iraq is necessarily helpful. It would be interesting to know the Government’s view, because decisions may come from the US in fairly short order.
Given the unnecessary comments from the Liberal Democrats, it is worth noting that their leader, when he was their foreign affairs spokesman, supported the action taken against Saddam Hussein and, indeed, acknowledged in the House the likelihood that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. The Liberal Democrats need to be careful when putting forward their points. Their comments were unnecessary. Looking to the future is more helpful than looking to the past, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
I welcome the debate, and I echo the comments of the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) about the sacrifices made by all serving personnel in Iraq and elsewhere, and about the grief felt by their families. I am sure that the whole House would agree with his comments.
The debate gives me another opportunity to outline the Government’s position on Iraq in the wake of a considerable amount of unbalanced comment in the media. It is easy to attack the media, but there has been much unbalanced comment in the debate this morning, too.
The hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr (Adam Price) asked for honesty and integrity from Ministers. I ask him to do one thing: stop impugning the motives or intent of Ministers. People have very strong views, and I have been consistent in my view about the justification for what we did and are doing in Iraq. Over time, when we see a peaceful, stable and democratic Iraq in the years ahead, our actions will be justified. I cannot prove that that will happen; nor, however, can those who argue against it prove conclusively that it will not.
I shall come to those points. If the hon. Gentleman wants a debate, he must listen. I have listened studiously to all that has been said, and I ask for the same from him.
The reality is that the Secretary of State for Defence outlined the facts in a statement to the House earlier this month. Our position has not changed since then, so I can assume only that hon. Members have read and understood our position. It provides the answers to their questions.
The hon. Member for Forest of Dean asked about Iran and Syria. We do not have much time to get into the geopolitics of that issue, other than to say that those people who are part of the problem must be part of the solution, otherwise they remain part of the problem. Given my experience of the whole peace process in Northern Ireland, I can tell him that John Major’s Government and Governments further back in history engaged with the republican movement while it was still slaughtering its own citizens and members of the British security forces. We must reach out and find a way to deal with the problem. Everything must be tentative in the early stages, but I repeat that those who are part of the problem must be part of the solution, or they will remain part of the problem. We must deal with the problem in terms of the geopolitics of that troubled region.
I ask the hon. Gentleman to hear what I say. I used the word “tentative.” I am not a Foreign Office Minister. [Laughter.] That is not a matter for humour, is it? It is a statement of fact. We shall have a serious debate and the comedians can have theirs.
At all times, discussions must take place, and other ways and avenues will open for us to participate in and develop. If that does not happen, we will not have a functioning foreign policy. It happens at all times. Even in the case of countries with which we have totally broken off relations, we must find points of contact and a way to bring them back into the community of nations. If we do not, we are failing the people of this country. I know that the hon. Gentleman understands that.
Chief of the General Staff, General Dannatt, does not advocate change. I shall give a quote, because he has been quoted out of context. He said:
“Currently Operation Sinbad is trying to make Basra better and a lot of British soldiers are doing a really good job. In that regard, their presence is helping but there are other parts where our mere presence does exacerbate and violence results.”
That is a statement of fact. He also said:
“But that is not a reason for us to leave. I am on record publicly saying we’re standing shoulder to shoulder with the Americans. I am on the record from a speech three weeks ago saying that I’m planning force packages in Iraq through 2007 in to 2008. I’m a soldier—we don’t do surrender, we don’t pull down white flags. We will remain in southern Iraq until the job is done—we’re going to see this through.”
Let us put that in context, beginning with our strategy for success in Iraq.
We are building the capability of the Iraqi security forces and progressively transferring responsibility to the Iraqi civilian authorities. That is a fact that cannot be denied. More than 312,000 members of the Iraqi security forces have been trained and equipped. I shall give a personal experience. In the United Kingdom, at our battle school in Brecon, we have delivered for our own people a high level of training and leadership. We have done that for Iraqi officers as well. I addressed a graduation parade there earlier this year and heard that Iraqi students have exceeded our initial expectations. Those officers return to Iraq as instructors of the highest calibre, able to train thousands more of a new generation of Iraqi soldiers. It is easy to say that, but I must always put it to the test: is what we are doing having an effect? One of the instructor sergeants said to me, “Those officers, with a bit more training, would be as good as the officers coming out of Sandhurst.” That was a soldier judging a soldier. Those who have experience know the quality of our instructor sergeants: they are hard taskmasters and hard judges of the quality of officers who will lead men into conflict.
The strategy of handing over responsibility for security to the Iraqis as and when their capability and capacity allow it is working. In the UK’s area of responsibility, the provinces of Al Muthanna and Dhi Qar have already satisfied the necessary conditions to allow their handover to Iraqi civilian control. Over the weekend, in the town of Al Amarah in the Maysan province, it was the Iraqi authorities that responded to unrest and Iraqi security forces that restored calm. Multinational forces were ready to provide assistance if required, but in the event they were not needed. I ask the critics of what is happening on the ground to consider why I argue that that is success and why they believe it is a measure of failure.
We can take encouragement from the conduct of the Iraqi security forces. Their reaction to and control of the situation that I have mentioned and others is a testament to their training and dedication and clearly demonstrates their increasing capabilities. However, we cannot achieve success by military means alone. The political and economic process must deliver results, and that is where the Iraqi Government have a central role. Prime Minister Maliki has undertaken to secure Baghdad, eliminate illegal armed groups, and promote national reconciliation and the rule of law. Does any hon. Member doubt his intent to do that? Is he not the democratically elected Prime Minister? Is it not right that we should seek to help him achieve those objectives? Stemming the violence in Baghdad is proving to be tremendously difficult, which underlines the importance of making political progress on matters such as reconciliation to draw Iraqi communities away from violence and into the political process. It is in everyone’s interest for the Iraqi Government to succeed, and it is crucial that we continue to support them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) said, if I heard him correctly, that Iraqis are worse off now than they were under Saddam. What utter nonsense. He talked about Ministerial donkeys; “political pygmies” is the phrase that comes to mind when I hear such comments. Access to water is now better than pre-conflict, with 4 million more people having access to it. Sewage and waste water treatment plants are operating again, whereas prior to the conflict none of them were. Health care spending is up to more than 30 times its pre-war level, and through extensive disease control programmes there has been a decline in the prevalence of polio, measles, mumps, rubella and malaria. The UK has pledged more than £544 million for reconstruction in the period 2003 to 2006, and more than £536 million has been disbursed to date.
The hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr mentioned the Marshall plan. To put in place such a plan and to be able to spend money on reconstruction requires security. He said, “Give us a Marshall plan,” but did not say how it should be delivered. Should it be delivered on the back of a stable, secure Iraq or on the back of the troubles caused by the militias and ethnic tensions? Phrases do not deliver success in troubled countries; hard action and hard decisions do.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) for his good contribution and for telling us his views. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson) made a thoughtful and considered speech. I have heard him express his opinion before, but not in so much detail.
All hon. Members and their constituents who have a view on the subject would benefit from taking some Iraqis to their constituency to hear what they say about the conflict. I remember public meetings in the run-up to the conflict in Iraq, and they were hostile as we tried to justified what we were trying to do. I was alongside Iraqis who had lost family members to Saddam and his brutal regime. One particularly stands out in my memory. He was an old Jew in his 90s who had lived under three dictators, one of whom was Saddam Hussein. He tried to explain why dictatorships had to be removed but was howled down by those who would call themselves the anti-war coalition, which some would call the pro-dictator coalition. [Interruption.] I said that some would say that, having lived under the yoke of the evil of Saddam Hussein.
You are right, Mrs. Dean. Those who wish to make strong criticisms have to take them as well. [Interruption.] Unfortunately, we do not have time for a debate on the Floor of the House, but there is an Opposition day debate next Tuesday, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda pointed out. [Hon. Members: “Apologise.”] I have listened to a much worse rabble than this.
On a point of order, Mrs. Dean. Is it in order for the Minister to claim that the Stop the War coalition is pro-Saddam Hussein, when he knows full well that the opposite is the case? He knows people in the coalition consistently opposed the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.