Skip to main content


Volume 670: debated on Wednesday 16 March 2005

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

5.36 p.m.

rose to call attention to the economic, political and security developments in Iraq since the intervention in 2003 by United Kingdom Armed Forces; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this weekend it will be two years since the United Kingdom joined the United States. Australia and Poland in a large-scale military intervention in Iraq. Ignoring the question of the legality or legitimacy, the coalition powers, after the short war, were in an extraordinarily strong position to help build a new democratic, economically viable and stable Iraq. Unfortunately, the speed and efficiency of the combat phase of the operation has not been replicated over the past two years in the reconstruction phase.

I have not called for this debate to repeat the concerns that many of us have over the process by which we went to war in Iraq. Nor do I want to spend time attributing blame for mistakes made in the planning, or the lack of it, for the aftermath. Rather I hope that we can review progress in the economic, political and security aspects with a view to tackling the many serious challenges ahead.

One of the difficulties that those of us who study these matters have is the lack of usable objective data. It is particularly difficult to plot trends in the economy, quality of life or physical security when different baselines and indicators are continually used. The assessment that I will make will be no more than a distillation of many sources. I shall be interested to see how far it accords with the British Government's assessments. The debate is about three interrelated aspects: economic development is urgently needed but it requires better security and a stable prospect for governance.

On the economy, lack of progress in infrastructure projects can contribute to lawlessness and insurgency. We are now two years on from the intervention, yet it appears that electricity in some urban areas remains as unreliable now as it was then. The measures of progress, whether in improving fresh water supplies, sanitation, transport, functioning health and education facilities, still remain unclear. Of the population of 26 million in Iraq, around 8 million ought to be in employment, but we now know that unemployment is running somewhere between 30 and 40 per cent.

We still have an aid programme based largely on American decisions. That, in turn, means that foreign contractors are doing the rebuilding, and therefore much of the money is going to non-Iraqis. Maladministration, not to say corruption, is a further worry, with the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction reporting at the end of January that $8·8 billion of Iraqi funds handed out by American administrators to Iraq ministries was "unaccounted for".

On top of that, the security situation is diverting too much of the effort away from infrastructure rebuilding work. Only $2·5 billion out of the $18·4 billion that the Americans allocated for 2004 was actually spent on rebuilding. Recent reports suggest, rather worryingly, that the number of Iraqis who are employed on the rebuilding projects is falling rather than rising.

I will be interested to learn what the Minister believes the British Government can do to get Iraqis more involved in rebuilding their country, both to ensure that individual Iraqi citizens can see that things are getting better month by month and to ensure that unemployed young men do not turn to crime and terrorism in even greater numbers. Perhaps the Minister will tell us a little more about the conference that was discussed earlier this week that will look at this matter later this year.

I turn to political developments. We all welcome the extraordinarily impressive turnout for the elections in January. Many brave Iraqis ignored threats in order to cast their vote. However, the euphoria over that excellent exercise in democracy should not obscure the real political challenges that still lie ahead. The 275-Member National Assembly is charged with drafting the country's new constitution as well as with choosing a president and two deputies from among its Members. Those three leaders will in turn nominate a Prime Minister who will go before the Assembly for approval.

We meet on the very day that the Assembly has gathered in Baghdad for the first time, but it was a gathering just for ceremonial purposes, as agreement between the main groupings, the United Iraqi Alliance, the Kurdish Alliance and the Iraqi List, has still not been reached. We keep on being told that they are close to agreement, although I hear from Baghdad today that they are asking for probably another couple of weeks. An agreement on those Cabinet posts must be reached before the new government can be named. It has already taken more than six weeks from that 30 January election to make even that much progress.

Another clock is running in the political process. The new constitution needs to be agreed by 15 August to make the plebiscite deadline of 15 October, although it is allowed one—only one—delay of up to six months. That is an extraordinarily challenging timetable, particularly given the real differences of view between the groups. Keeping the Kurds aboard during this process may be difficult. It is not going to be easy to agree what status should be accorded to Islam in the constitution. There will be difficulties over the Kurds' desire to include Kirkuk, with its oil, in their controlled area, as well as over demands that the region's autonomous status should be laid down in the constitution.

If running the country and formulating a consensus on the constitution were not enough, the full democratic elections under the new constitution are due by the end of the year. These are all positive, welcome moves, but they carry with them turbulent times, as Ministers change with each change of government. When predicting the future governance is so difficult, for those inside the country and those outside, we need to invest in Iraq.

While the process may need more time than is allowed in this tight schedule, keeping the momentum going is important, particularly to reduce the dangers of turbulence in the transitional period. 1 will be interested to hear whether the British Government feel that the timetable is achievable. What could we do to help achieve it?

The security situation is the most difficult of all on which to make objective assessments. I was struck by the difficulty when I received a phone call from an American journalist in Baghdad two weeks ago. She asked what my assessment was of the security situation in Iraq. I thought that she might have been better placed to do it, but she explained that she was unable to leave her hotel and that when she did, when fully covered, she could not speak because an American accent made her a target. I thought that she might have known from all of that what the security situation was.

Another journalist who is a regular in Iraq told me last week that he found the most reliable source for information to be Iraqi lorry drivers, who have to negotiate their way through insurgents, bandits and criminals. He was absolutely dismissive of the intelligence of the multinational force, "bunkered in the Green Zone", as he said. As he pointed out, it is not able even to secure the road from the international airport to the town.

My sources are journalists, academics who interview Iraqis, the Pentagon, which is so much freer with its information than our own Ministry of Defence, and the various hearings that take place in the United States. The picture that is painted is not entirely encouraging, despite reassurances by Mr Hoon during defence Questions in the other place on Monday.

I start with the threat assessment. For this, I draw heavily on the work of Professor Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. His interviews with Iraqi intelligence officers and senior officials and data from the Pentagon and the multinational force's headquarters, identify four main threat sources. The first is al-Zarqawi and other outside Islamist extremist organisation fighters. They are mostly foreign Arabs, but their numbers are quite small and are assessed as being well under 1,000. But, as we know, when they attack, they have enormous impact.

The second threat source is the former regime elements—a mix of supporters of the Ba'ath Party, alienated Sunnis, paid volunteers, temporary recruits and other disenchanted Iraqis. An estimate of their numbers is even more difficult to make, but the median figure is somewhere between 15,000 and 30,000 fighters.

Thirdly, we are seeing a new phenomenon of homegrown Iraqi Islamist extremists. They are very few, but their numbers seem to be growing and they can have a similar impact with their suicide attacks. The fourth, and biggest, threat is organised crime. It is the major source of violence and insecurity in at least 12 of the 18 governorates. The criminals, who are out to make money more than anything else, seem to co-operate with terrorists and insurgents. Numbers are very high, and the effect on the overall feeling of insecurity also is very high.

We must ask whether our current approach is dealing with, and reducing, the threats, or whether some of them are still increasing. Following the daily fluctuations through media reports is particularly difficult, with the threshold for reporting steadily rising. These days, a bomb outrage with more than 100 dead will make the front page, probably; and explosions where 25 are killed make the inside pages. The many individual deaths, serious injuries, hostage-taking, armed crimes and extortion just do not get in the news, unless our citizens are involved.

The Pentagon e-mails me every day, as it can anyone who asks, with reports of deaths of US servicemen. That gives you some sense of the high level of violence across their area of responsibility. Sadly, such reports continue to arrive in my inbox virtually every day. As we know, the total of American service people killed passed the 1,500 milestone recently.

Through Questions in your Lordships' House, I have tried to discover a consistent measure For Iraqi casualties over time. We need to know how many Iraqis are being killed and injured, as far as we can; where it happens; and who is likely to be responsible. How can we judge our strategy without the collation of this sort of data? The editorial in last week's British Medical Journal stated:
"Counting casualties accurately can help to save lives both currently and in the future".
I urge the Government to look again at what is a counterproductive policy of not collecting and collating such data. It will not be precise or absolutely accurate, but we have got to do the best we can, and we can do an awful lot better than is being done.

Our Armed Forces and those of our allies serving in Iraq have a difficult and challenging problem. There is widespread agreement that the only way forward is to provide the training and equipment necessary for Iraqi security forces progressively to take over the responsibility for national security. How do we keep that process on track while the trainees have become ever more targeted? Iraqi officials and officers readily acknowledge that Iraqi forces have a long way to go and still lack proper training and equipment. They acknowledge too that the transition to two new Iraqi governments, the current Government and the government that we hope will be elected at the end of the year, will create turbulence in the best of circumstances. They make it clear that they cannot predict how the new government will behave or how the constitutional process and efforts at inclusion will change Iraqi security policy. They acknowledge the limits to their ability to plan and manage Iraq's force development in any orderly way. Even if the course of the insurgency were predictable, Iraqi military and security developments are very much a matter of improvisation and uncertainty. Iraqi officials and officers also have no clear budget or force planning, and no way to predict the level of American and other multinational aid.

Some of the Iraqi officials interviewed by Cordesman are reported as saying they see the need for three changes. The first is the need to develop and implement plans to create Iraqi forces more quickly, which are equipped and deployed to stand on their own. The second is the need to develop common plans with the United States and the multinational forces to phase down the role of these coalition forces according to common criteria and in ways where both sides have the same expectations, allowing Iraqis to predict the future level of the coalition aid, and thus determine their own needs in terms of capability. The third need is to develop mid-term plans to create Iraqi forces with enough support and heavy land and air weapons eventually to replace all of the coalition forces.

Do the British Government recognise this as a possible way forward? If so, are there discussions between the coalition members aimed at co-ordinating this approach? Does the Minister agree that more specific timetabling of targets and milestones, and a build-up of trained Iraqi forces with parallel reductions in the coalition forces, would generate a more focused strategy? If she does not, what is the strategy? This approach is even more urgent now that Italy has announced it has decided to start a phased withdrawal.

There are many challenges, and I have attempted to outline some of them. Some are beyond the UK's ability to influence or affect. We will need to work with other alliance contributors, particularly the United States, and, increasingly, in a supportive role to the emerging Iraqi government. However, we do have some levers, which we must use carefully, and we must do so with allies. If we fail to turn Iraq into a proper, viable state, it will be much more costly in the long term. I beg to move for Papers.

5.51 p.m.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Garden, for initiating this debate. I shall talk about the future of democracy in Iraq.

No one could fail to be moved, indeed inspired, by the sight of over 8 million people turning out to vote in adverse, and often dangerous, conditions. The Iraqi people have plainly given a mandate for the expansion of democracy in their country. Those of us sitting here should be humbled by the experience, living in a country where some of our citizens seem indifferent to their own democratic rights, and sometimes even openly cynical about them.

At first blush, the problems of establishing democracy in Iraq seem almost insuperable. The noble Lord, Lord Garden, alluded to some of the problems. There are the massive security difficulties, and the possible segmentation of the country. Well over 40 per cent of Iraq's labour force is unemployed, and its median age is 19 years. A lot of young people with no jobs is not exactly a recipe for social stability, as ordinarily understood.

In addition, I should mention the deteriorating position of women in Iraq. Over the past decade or so of Saddam's rule, the position of women deteriorated significantly. Some people have estimated that female literacy in Iraq fell by 50 per cent over that period. I want to suggest, however, that there is more cause for optimism than one might imagine.

We cannot understand the prospects for democracy in Iraq without also looking at the massive expansion of democracy and democratic states across the world. If we look back at the past 30 or so years, there are three times as many democratic states in the world now as there were 30 years ago, even using a narrow and demanding definition of democracy. The so-called "third wave" of democratisation—not "Third Way"—began in April 1974 with the overthrowing in a military coup of the dictatorial government in Portugal.

Portugal had never been a democracy. It had had several decades of quasi-fascist rule. Believe it or not, I was working as a social scientist in those days. Many political scientists believed that Portugal's kind of Mediterranean Catholic culture was not propitious ground either for economic development or democracy. After the coup there were several counter-coups, and a period of unstable provisional government. Yet Portugal is now a stable democratic country, as are Spain and Greece.

We can see in recent studies of the expansion of democracy that there is something new in the world. It was often thought that democracy was a rather unstable set of institutions, and that there could easily be a reversal when a democratic system was set in operation, such as in Latin America, with its history of constant movement from periods of democracy hack to autocracy and populist rule. However, this is no longer the case. Something has shifted in the structural conditions of world society that makes democracy a much more feasible enterprise for all countries than it ever was before.

Professor Larry Diamond, professor of political science at Stanford University in California, has done an interesting study on the 125 countries that have experienced democracy over the past 30 years. Of those countries, only 14 have experienced a relapse—that is, a reversal of democracy—over that period. Of those 14, nine have subsequently experienced a rereversal back into democracy. So of the 125 countries, only five—including, in Professor Diamond's list, Russia—have not returned to democratic rule. That suggests a massive transformation in the purchase of democracy on the contemporary world.

It used to be thought that democracy and economic development went hand in hand. That was the thesis of the celebrated political scientist, Seymour Martin Lipset. A certain level of economic development had to be reached before democracy was possible. This is no longer true. Some 20 per cent of the poorest countries in the world are now democracies and 25 per cent of non-Arab Muslim countries are democracies. There is no region in the world, save one, where at least one-third of states are not democracies. Where is that region? It is, of course, the Middle East.

In surveys of attitudes towards democracy, there is no sign of Huntington's famous "clash of civilisations". The Afrobarometer survey carried out in sub-Saharan African countries in 2002 showed interesting results: 69 per cent of Africans believe that democracy is always preferable to any kind of authoritarian system. The proportion of Muslim Africans believing this is almost the same as the proportion of non-Muslim Africans. We do not know, because we do not have effective surveys, what the situation is in middle-eastern countries, but there is no reason to doubt that people in those countries want democracy, individual freedom, equal rights and democratic liberties. It is patronising to think anything else.

If one asks why democracy has spread across the world in such a way, I would simply draw a symbol to explain why. It would look like this—not a male fertility symbol, but a satellite dish. We live in a global information society. Fewer and fewer people are outside that society, and increasingly the middle-eastern countries, like other states in the world, will not be outside it either. A global information society is one where people become much more active and informed citizens than they ever were before, no matter how poor or rich they may be, and I see it as an irresistible force.

Professor Diamond, whom I quoted earlier, has some intriguing things to say about this, which I agree with. He says we could be entering the era of universal democracy: that democracy as a form of legitimacy could become as universal across the world as the nation state form has become over the past several decades. I believe this to he an assessment of fact, and also a statement of purpose that we should embrace.

What are the implications of this for democracy in Iraq? I want to make several points. First, democracy in Iraq is possible. While I do not want to demean it in any way, if democracy in the sense of regular, fair and free elections held over a 10-year period can grow in a country such as Mali, where half of the population is illiterate, which suffers from high levels of primary poverty and which has a history of conflict, then we can certainly have democracy in Iraq.

We all know that Iraq is poised on a knife-edge, but it should be recognised that democracy in Iraq will be made by the Iraqis. By and large, I feel that the British media have not recognised the massive contribution already made by the Iraqi people themselves to the evolution of democracy in their country. By that I do not mean just the introduction of the vote, but the actions and the influence, for example, of the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. He insisted that early elections should be held when it looked as though the Americans were about to put them off and he has rebutted Shia extremism. Iraqis will create democracy in their country.

Secondly, the lessons of democratisation across the world teach us that democracy does not flourish in only one country, just as economic development does not take place in one country. The development of democracy is regional. In Europe, Portugal was followed by Spain and Greece. The success of democracy in Iraq is therefore bound to be affected by how far the flowering of democracy in other Arab and middle eastern countries can take hold. We should be encouraging democratic movements in those countries. Indeed, a dialogue between Iraq and emergent democracies in other middle eastern countries is key to the success of the process of democratisation in Iraq.

Thirdly, people tend to ask whether democracy can flourish at the point of a gun. As the writer Michael lgnatieff has pointed out, we should now be asking whether democracy can be stopped at the point of a gun. The international community should respond by saying no, it will not allow the mandate of the Iraqi people to be stopped at the point of a gun. No matter how difficult the security situation, we must insist that this is an indigenous democratic process which the international community—no matter what its views on the war—should now get behind and support.

Fourthly, we must support the role of women. Women are everywhere crucial to the democratic process. It was heartening to see so many women candidates standing for the assembly in Iraq. There is a flowering of women's groups in civil society, as there is a flowering of civil society generally in Iraq despite the horribly oppressive circumstances of the security situation. We should support these trends.

My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt my noble friend's fascinating contribution, but this is a timed debate.

My Lords, I am just about to finish. In conclusion, we on the progressive Left should support the policy of universal democracy. We should not leave it to the political Right; it should be a fundamental part of our own political project. I apologise to my Front Bench for having spoken for slightly too long.

6.3 p.m.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Garden, for introducing this debate. In a different way I want to pick up on some of the issues just raised by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens.

It is well known that I was opposed to the war and I have not changed my mind on those issues, but I am very conscious that, two years on, we have to think ahead to the future. I want to talk about some principles in all this, two of them in particular. There has been a muddle around these issues which needs to be sorted out. We can do that by getting the language right in terms of how to handle them.

The first concerns military action. It is time, in our post-Cold War world, to reassert the principle that military action is an absolute last resort and that war, at best, is an unnecessary evil. After the Cold War, there has been a tendency for us to use military action rather quickly in a number of circumstances, and I am not sure that that has always been helpful. In the world we are living in, we need a new language that puts a boundary around the role and activity of the military side of our political processes.

Secondly, we have to recover some sense of corporate moral and ethical responsibility in the international field and in our political processes, something that we in the Christian Churches have not been very good at of late.

The leads me to the basic point I want to make, one which I think is still not entirely clear in everyone's mind. It is this: there are no military solutions in Iraq, there are only political ones. That picks up in a different way the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens. I believe that it has been true throughout these events. So talk on the lines of, "If only we had sent 200,000 Americans troops, we would have been able to pacify the country", is not true because pacification requires the consent of the people to what is going on. What is more serious in terms of the history is that the dismantling of the structures of Iraqi society, government and defence at the time of the military action has had a disastrous effect on our capacity to rebuild its political life. In other words, we need a clear political vision and judgment if we are to move the situation forward. We have to see the presence of our troops and those of the coalition as servants of the people of Iraq, including those who find their presence a corruption of their country's values and a humiliation of what the history of Iraq is about.

The confusion at the heart of this matter lies in how we overcome disorder. That confusion started with the aims: were they regime change or enforcing international United Nations resolutions? That went right to the heart of the American Government, who are very much the key to all this; namely, who is running the show? Is it the Pentagon or the State Department? When that is rolled on to our own political processes, we must ask: what is the muddle in government between the Prime Minister's Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office in terms of how we respond to these issues? The confusion in government both in Washington and, I suspect, to a certain degree over here, has been a consequence of the muddle over the principle of what we are doing militarily and politically in Iraq.

In such a confusion, what happens on the ground? Perhaps I may remind noble Lords of what happened in Fallujah. Do we not know of that from the border areas of Northern Ireland and parts of Belfast which have their own systems of law and order that are not acceptable to the people? The large number of insurgents in Fallujah existed outside the structures of law and order. What did we do? Troops went in in vast numbers with an aim to ending the insurgency. Significant sections of the town were trashed in the process. The insurgents went elsewhere, the disorder continues and we have a trashed town in the middle of the Sunni triangle. We have to stop behaving in that way if we are to move on the situation in Iraq.

I suspect that noble Lords will be surprised at what I say next. Something has happened which is a sign of real encouragement: the arrival of the new Secretary of State in the United States of America. It is not that I think we are all going to agree with the policies about to be pursued, but the new Secretary of State has set out an absolutely key principle. She has nailed her colours to the mast of the diplomatic task and she has indicated that she has no intention of having the tanks of other departments in the American government system on her lawn. There is a shift taking place from the Pentagon to the State Department in the driving motor of policy in Washington, and we ought to welcome that unreservedly. We must take heed of the messages that are now coming out. One hears rumours that, with American support, conversations are being opened up with the Sunni leadership in the Sunni triangle, even with some of those connected with the insurgency. The game has moved into the diplomatic and the political field, and it is essential that it goes on doing so if there is to be reconstruction.

Do we not know, from our own history in regard to the difficulties in recent years in Ireland, that when insurgents and military forces engage in action in civil communities, that there are in reality no winners? The IRA could not win and neither could the British forces. Every so often, we were tempted to think that if we put a hit more in, we could win. The outcome of such a battle is that the country itself, and its people, lose—because there is no possibility of political resolution. That is why the diplomatic task is so essential to the peace of Iraq.

To add to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, diplomacy is not a process of us imposing on people a western version of democracy. What it is about is rebuilding the processes and orders of government in Iraq which win the consent of its people. We know that there are all sorts of fault lines running though the country: Sunni/Shia/Kurd; secular/religious; Christian/Muslim; marsh Arabs/others. That is a delicate history which we are dealing with politically, so the politics must come to terms with the potential fault lines. It seems to me that there will be no progress until we recognise that Baghdad, and the Sunni triangle at the heart of Iraq, are absolutely key to ending this disorder.

It is the capacity to draw these communities progressively into the political debate and structure that holds hope for the future. Yes, Saddam has gone. We all rejoice that a terrible tyranny is over. Yet huge damage has been done, not only to the physical infrastructure—as has been pointed out—but also to the political infrastructure of that country. We must now build on the initiatives that we have, from Washington and elsewhere, which underpin the political task. We must re-establish a language, and a moral conversation, to make that a primary task in the political endeavour of rebuilding this country in the future.

6.13 p.m.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Garden, for introducing this important debate, and for the measured way in which he did so. As I have said before in this House, I opposed the war in Iraq. It was based on a false premise; there were no weapons of mass destruction. Many of us doubted that there were any at the outset. Nor does what has happened since the invasion, including the election held recently, in any way justify what I believe to have been an unprovoked attack on a weak and relatively defenceless country. What has happened since has certainly not improved life for a large proportion of Iraqis.

According to recent reports, daily life for most Iraqis is still a struggle for survival. Simply venturing into the streets brings the possibility of attack; there are violent attacks, kidnappings and killings. Much of this is unreported, unless one of the victims happens to be a foreign reporter or aid worker. This is largely due to the continuing insurgency, but Iraqis with no insurgency links are killed or injured by soldiers in the mistaken belief that they are trying to attack US forces. Any deaths are classed as deaths in combat—and the victims receive no compensation.

The appalling attack on Fallujah—which US forces appear to have largely destroyed—does not seem to have lessened the insurgency. What has happened to the thousands of people who, in the course of the attack on this city, have lost homes and, probably, jobs? The US command says that there were 600 civilians killed. That is probably an underestimate, given the scale of the destruction. How many were injured? What has happened to the people driven out of their homes? Are they simply refugees in their own country? Does no one care what happens to the civilians caught up and damaged in this conflict? There are, apparently, no reliable statistics of Iraqis killed or injured as a result of the invasion by coalition troops. The noble Lord, Lord Garden, was right to say that it is necessary for us to know what the statistics are in that connection.

We are, of course, told that although there were no WMD, the war was justified because Saddam Hussein was so awful—and because it has brought democracy and freedom to Iraq. President Bush has been claiming that the war in Iraq was justified because it was already bringing democracy to the Middle East. He told President Assad of Syria that freedom and democracy could not be brought to a country by occupying it with foreign troops. As a very apposite cartoon in one newspaper indicated, he should know. The elections in Iraq—which, anywhere else, would have been regarded as deeply flawed—have been represented as a triumph for democracy, and a vindication of the decision to go to war. Yet enormous problems remain, particularly in the field of human rights.

Most newspapers reported enthusiastically that there had been a huge turnout, which was true—in some areas. In the south, there were two long separate queues to vote: one for men, the other for women. The women all wore the jilbab, covering each of them in black from head to foot, and many were completely veiled. That does not augur well for women's rights. It is always possible to find token women to say that it is what they have always wanted. Two elderly women appeared on television saying that they wanted a return to Sharia law. Another much younger woman, said to represent a large group of women, was interviewed—also clad head to foot in black. The interviewer asked whether she agreed that husbands should not beat their wives. She agreed, then said "But we teach women to be nice to their husbands; then their husbands will not have reason to beat them". So is this women's lib, Iraqi style? There have, however, been interviews with women who do not accept this repressive lifestyle; many of them are very concerned. There have been acts of violence against women who will not submit to this repression; they are frightened. Yet there is an organisation of "women for freedom" in Iraq. They do not intend to be pushed into an acceptance of Sharia law, with all that means for women's rights and the actual condoning of violence against women.

Saddam Hussein was certainly a tyrant. However, unlike most Arab rulers, he did not apply Sharia law and his regime was relatively secular. As a result, many Iraqi women had access to education, healthcare and jobs—and could play a part in public life. Indeed, it was acknowledged that they were among the most educated of Arab women. Incidentally, two women—both scientists—who played a part in the former regime are still in American custody. Do we know why this is? They cannot have been involved in the production of WMD, since there were not any. Have they been charged? What are they supposed to have done? Moreover, apart from people actively involved with the previous regime, the US seems to have thousands of civilians in custody. The abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib shocked the world yet—according to some reports—it was not just down to a few rotten apples. There was a culture of cruelty. Do we know how many civilians have been detained, and what is to be done with them?

On the issue of women, I need hardly remind the Minister that women's rights are human rights. Everything possible must be done to assist the women who are fighting for them—in very difficult conditions. There are, of course, other groups in Iraq who lived unharmed under the previous regime yet now face violence and intimidation. These include the Christian community, many of whom have been forced to flee the country because of violence and attempted repression from newly emboldened fundamentalists. There are also Assyrians who face intimidation and violence from some Kurds—and the sizeable Sunni population is still obviously alienated. It is a little early to talk boldly about having brought democracy to Iraq, let alone the whole Middle East.

In any case, what does President Bush mean by democracy? It means the opportunity to vote, as long as the result produces a US-friendly administration. It also involves the imposition of the free market, with privatisation of state assets which can then be acquired by foreign investors—mostly US corporate investors, of course—at knockdown prices. Perhaps there would be less insurgency if there was more investment in people. There is very high unemployment among young men—as was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Garden—but we hear little about job creation schemes, except for the development of a police force. What about plans for the oil industry? The Prime Minister once said that it would be held in trust for the Iraqi people. Many people—particularly in the Middle East, believe that the oil industry and its control constituted the main reason for the war.

Most of us, including those who opposed the war, want the insurgency to end. We want our troops back home, but we know that while the insurgency continues, the Government will not bring them back. But there is a problem. If the insurgency is mainly nationalistic in character, and for that reason has support among sections of the people, it will continue until the coalition troops leave. In other words, the presence of the coalition forces is the cause rather than the solution to the situation.

It therefore seems very necessary to develop an exit strategy perhaps with the assistance of the UN. Italy and Bulgaria have already announced the withdrawal of troops. Troops have also been withdrawn by Spain, Poland and Ukraine.

We have brought nothing but further suffering to the Iraqi people. The whole venture in my view was an enormous and brutal mistake which we must try to rectify as soon as possible. We should avoid becoming involved in further military interventions at the behest of President Bush and in defiance of the UN and of much international opinion.

6.20 p.m.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, will be glad to hear that I shall not raise the issue of weapons trailers this evening. I would rather deal with the social and economic consequences referred to in the title of this debate.

The success of the occupation is linked to the welfare of the people of Iraq. That will be the yardstick against which history will judge us. It would be wrong not to start by praising the professionalism of our troops operating in the south and their achievements in establishing a generally high degree of peace and normality there. The problems in the north and the increasing brutality suffered by the Iraqi security forces and civilians as a result of the insurgency will cause deep scars in Iraqi society. That, combined with the fact that there is no accurate overview of the total civilian death toll—a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner—will ultimately threaten the stability and probably viability of any future Iraqi sovereign state.

However, it would be wrong to concentrate entirely on the negative without recognising the achievements of the elections held on 30 January. I wish to join other noble Lords in wishing every success to the new Iraqi Government in their task of rebuilding their nation, starting with their being sworn into their new parliament today.

The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, assured us in April last year, in response to the Question of my noble friend Lord Wallace, that while executing our duties as occupying powers our relationship with the United States had,
"functioned well at a variety of levels".
Moreover, in the same speech the noble Baroness highlighted the success that British companies had experienced in becoming involved in,
"contract awards worth more than 1.65 billion US dollars".—[Official Report, 20/4/04; col. 155.]
The noble Baroness's comments support the Government's claim that we were deeply involved in the functioning of the CPA and were not dominated by the United States Administration. Therefore, as well as taking a share of the praise for what has gone on in Iraq, our decision makers must also shoulder some of any blame that arises.

The administration of post-war Iraq was carried out by the Coalition Provisional Authority. Reviews of its financial dealings have not been encouraging. The International Advisory and Monitoring Board was set up to oversee and audit the Development Fund for Iraq established by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1483. After it came into existence it had four major concerns that the CPA failed to address up to the handover to the interim government at the end of June 2004. These were the absence of oil metering; the use of barter transactions for certain oil sales; the failure of the CPA to give the International Advisory and Monitoring Board access to its review of the controls in place on the State Oil Marketing Organisation and the use of non-competitive bidding measures for some contracts paid for through the Development Fund for Iraq.

The absence of oil metering is contrary to normal practice for an oil exporting nation. Put simply, it makes it impossible to find out definitively how much oil is being extracted and to say where that oil goes. This is an especially serious problem in an unstable, post-conflict Iraq where there was evidence of significant quantities of oil and petro-chemical products being smuggled out of the country. The IAMB noted in a press release in July of last year that,
"contrary to earlier representations by the CPA, the award of metering contracts has been delayed and it is therefore impossible to ascertain that all oil extraction is properly accounted for".
The CPA had failed to tackle even this fundamental problem during its life span.

The DFI is a cash fund. In bartering oil, by definition cash is not received in return. Thus a contribution to the DFI was not made as required by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1483. Moreover, the barter system made it difficult for the IAMB to establish whether the Iraqi people were getting good value from the trade. As early as February 2004 the CPA commissioned a review of controls in the State Oil Marketing Organisation in Iraq to assess what was happening in the oil industry. Despite the review being largely complete by May of that year, as late as July the IAMB had,
"neither been briefed nor received the draft report, despite requests to the CPA".
Thus it was necessary for it to focus its own audits on this area due to an apparent lack of co-operation from our coalition.

The fourth concern is at least as serious as the others and sadly a matter in which the CPA had a degree of choice. The sole source system ensured that there was no competitive bidding process for the majority of contracts handed out in the immediate aftermath of the war. This problem was compounded by the fact that many of the subsequent agreements were drawn up as cost-plus contracts. These involve companies being reimbursed whatever they spend plus a percentage guaranteed profit. This situation is far from ideal from a point of view of securing value for money for the Iraqi people. The IAMB was concerned about this state of affairs along with a number of NGOs.

Halliburton is one of the companies discharging some of these contracts. Its record of delivering value for money has been criticised in a number of areas a number of times. As recently as Monday, a leaked copy of a Defence Contract Audit Agency's report has once again criticised Halliburton. The report contains a number of queries among them a bill of $27·5 million for transporting $82,000 worth of propane.

Corruption from all sides has been a serious problem in Iraq. The International Crisis Group report notes that the problem is apparently so bad that,
"large contractors such as Bechtel have introduced business ethics courses".
Dr Reinoud Leenders, the author of the report, in an interview with the BBC's "File on 4" expressed fears that due to the way in which the difficult circumstances in Iraq were being handled,
"corruption will be huge and Iraq reconstruction will turn into one of the biggest corruption scandals in history".
This is a sentiment echoed by Transparency International in its annual report which has called for urgent action.

There is also in evidence "a lax attitude" (as described by Dr Leenders) to the financial wealth and property of the Iraqi people. There is anecdotal evidence of money in the early stages of the war being captured and then handed out to US commanders without it being counted or even logged in any way. The Ba'athist regime members' ill gotten private wealth is still in large part unaccounted for. The thriving trade in stolen medicines and medical equipment at the central Ghazil market in Baghdad is further testament to failings in the procurement and rationing systems put in place after the war.

The figures appearing in our media suggest that around 40 per cent of the total moneys of the Development Fund for Iraq have gone missing—a figure equal to about $8·8 billion. This is money that belongs to the Iraqi people and was supposed to be used for their benefit. One could suggest that the quality of the CPA's economic stewardship of the Iraqi people's wealth is at least partially to blame for this loss.

As I said before, we have received reassurances from the Minister that British decision makers were listened to and contributed to the running of the CPA. Therefore, those decision makers, we must now conclude, should share some of the responsibility for the apparent mismanagement which has cost the Iraqi people a significant portion of their wealth during the period when we took over the running of their country. In this respect it could be argued that we have in part failed in our duty of care which we implicitly took on when making a "moral case" for the war in Iraq.

Topically, this week the Commission for Africa's report—I know that many noble Lords have read that report which comprises only a small document—highlighted the need for corruption and poor governance to be addressed. These are intertwined issues on which the developed world is often only too happy to lecture the developing world. While accepting the need for changes to tackle this problem in Africa, what has occurred in post-conflict Iraq would suggest that perhaps we in the developed world do not have our own house entirely in order in this respect.

6.30 p.m.

My Lords, we must all be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Garden, for gibing us this timely opportunity on the very day that the new Iraqi Assembly meets.

I begin by paying tribute to the late Margaret Hassan of Care International. She personified the common humanity of all who have been caught up in this conflict. Her commitment and gentle advocacy over many years enriched the lives of Iraqis and enlarged our understanding of their problems. Margaret may have been an innocent victim of terrorism but Care International was, until last year's tragedy, a key player in Iraq's reconstruction. It occupied that dangerous no-man's land between humanitarian and military terrain. Many NGOs and church organisations have to live and work in that space every day in countries such as Iraq, Israel, Palestine and Afghanistan. The question is not only whether our Government, where it has jurisdiction or influence, is doing enough to protect aid workers, but also whether it will respect their independence during the period of reconstruction.

My knowledge of NGOs in Iraq is chiefly through my work with Care International, Save the Children and Christian Aid, all of which have suffered losses or setbacks in Iraq and Afghanistan during past year alone. I hear a very muted story from them of limited post-conflict achievements as the country stumbles to its feet. As others have said, information is very hard to come by.

But as the Iraqis seek a more stable government and breathe life into their previous institutions, the confusion between humanitarian and military objectives appears as strong as ever. From time to time, the US military has invited NGOs to a series of workshops in Amman, in line with their commitment to rebuild civil society in Iraq. However, it is not clear whether the US has understood the position of NGOs. It is also questionable whether the military are qualified to run such workshops at all. Is the US still attempting to assume an international role in the absence of a United Nations team in Iraq? If so, it will be widely misunderstood. However, we must recognise that with more than 1,500 causalities, the US army is not yet in peacetime mode.

Some UK-based aid agencies feel very strongly that NGOs have to work independently alongside local communities, often through community-based organisations and in co-operation with government. They should not in any circumstances be identified with official bodies, secular or military. All this is set out in UN guidelines under General Assembly resolution 46/182:
"Humanitarian assistance must be provided in accordance with the principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality",
and led to the creation of the Department of Humanitarian Affairs, now called OCHA.

NGOs need protection in an emergency, but they seek military support only as a last resort and when there is no civilian alternative, for example, for aid convoys. These firm principles are upheld by leading bodies such as the UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee, the ICRC and the NGOs' own Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response.

What is the UK doing to implement these principles? There are some parallels with Afghanistan, where there are also blurred lines in the shape of the provincial reconstruction teams. The only answer that I have had from the Government is the reassurance that, whatever the US is doing, the UK-led teams are working well. That is not good enough. We are in a coalition. If the PRT in Mazar, for example, is regarded as a successful model, how has it influenced the US, German and other PRTs now within the NATO family? We are not told.

CIMIC is the US programme dealing with civil-military co-operation in Iraq. I ask the Minister whether the Government would consider it appropriate for the British Army to be running civil society capacity-building workshops as the US military is doing through the Iraqi assistance centres? How will the FCO and DfID—perhaps through the new post-conflict reconstruction unit—be able to make a clear distinction between the work of the Army and the nongovernmental organisations?

NGOs are a very broad church. This is where it would be interesting to debate further with the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, about what democracy means. Some NGOs are in the forefront of Iraq's reconstruction. They are actually small businesses, subcontracted to larger aid bodies such as USAID and DfID. Millions of pounds are being channelled through NGOs by DfID alone. The noble Baroness would call them "privatised". The recent reconstruction conference in Tikrit was facilitated by the US army and was partly designed to help smaller Iraqi organisations gain information and advice in order to develop their own economic strategies.

In the provision of essential services, NGOs are too often required to do the work of government in order to get things done. Again, there are parallels in Afghanistan. Iraq may be a post-conflict country, but it is certainly not a developing country. It has a tradition of strong central services0. Through a Christian Aid partner, I heard last week of a case in the south, which I am sure is quite typical, where the local water directorate is unable to reconnect village water supplies because there are no instructions from Baghdad. So the NGO has had to do it. I therefore applaud the objective, in DfID's February update, of encouraging NGOs to lobby to make local government responsive to people's needs, but that is much easier said than done.

While politicians jockey for position today, there is tension between the new ministries, which are anxious to regain patronage and authority, and the old local ethnic and regional elites, which we know are there and have been there all the time, but which were stifled by Saddam Hussein's central control.

Meanwhile, other non-governmental organisations are active in fields closer to politics—sometimes with UK support—in civic education and in asserting civil and human rights in Iraq. The rights of women is one example. NGOs were very closely involved in the recent elections, often at considerable risk. Some are monitoring the conditions of detainees, as was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, and the policies of the occupying powers, including, as the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, mentioned, accounting for the missing billions of reconstruction funds.

We all agree in general with the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, that some form of democracy is alive and well in Iraq, despite all the obstacles, but what is democracy? Iraqi NGOs being involved in writing the new constitution was a genuine step forward that was welcomed by many Iraqi democrats as a contrast to the bludgeoning of Kurdish, Shia and Sunni leaders that still threatens national unity. The Assembly meeting today could easily become the talking shop of the powerful tomorrow. It is important that the smaller organisations, NGOs and others, like the political minorities within the triumvirate, are involved in the rebuilding of Iraq from the very beginning.

Equally, in the pressure to spend reconstruction funds and to achieve early results, these organisations must not be forced by the occupying powers to become a substitute for government. The reconstruction of roads and services is one thing but, after the suffering of the past, the rebuilding of civil society organisations and their accountability will be a slow process that should not be accelerated by the natural desire of the occupying coalition forces to complete their task and go home.

In closing, I hope that the Minister will deny reports that she may be leaving her present responsibilities. If she did make that decision, this debate would not be the same.

6.40 p.m.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Garden, for initiating the debate and opening it with such a well-informed speech. I shall concentrate on the health of the Iraqi people, but if there is time, I shall also touch on the situation of the Assyrians in Iraq.

To assess the health of a nation, statistics on births, deaths and the nature of morbidity need to be collected systematically. Until at least the mid-1980s Iraq was developing a reasonably accurate and complete system of collecting and analysing such data. Since the war there have been huge problems in collecting and processing those statistics, not least because of the looting and partial destruction of the Ministry of Health that was permitted and even encouraged in the early stages of the occupation. Now there is the continuing insecurity.

Nevertheless, I would like to ask my noble friend what information she has on the basic state of health of the Iraqi people: for example, the infant mortality rate, the nutritional state of children and the numbers of health personnel and available hospital beds; and on progress in restoring the system of public health data collection, which is very important.

One extremely important public health statistic that has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Garden, and others, and which remains uncertain, is the number of Iraqi civilians and military who have been killed or wounded as a result of the war and the continuing violence, with incidents resulting in death and mutilation occurring daily. These go largely unreported apart from major episodes.

In February, for example, the month after the election, the organisation Iraq Body Count lists 35 episodes resulting in 96 deaths apart from the major episode in Hilla on 28 February in which 135 people were killed. In March the carnage is continuing: 16 deaths in 13 incidents up to 15 March. There are probably more that Iraq Body Count has not heard of. The coalition has been remarkably coy about the numbers of Iraqi dead during and just after the war, typified by the now-famous remark by General Tommy Franks:
"We don't do body counts".
Official figures that are given are based on hospital statistics, a method which any epidemiologist would dismiss as unrepresentative and inaccurate. Iraq Body Count's estimated total of between 16,000 and 18,000 includes only the documented deaths of civilians and is probably an underestimate.

The 100,000 deaths estimated by the survey published in the Lancet last autumn refers to total excess deaths, both military and civilian, during the war and afterwards. The method used, of interviewing a true random sample of the population and extrapolating from that, is a well-known method when national statistics are not available. MORI and YouGov, for instance, use similar techniques in opinion polls.

This type of survey does not claim total accuracy, but the margin of error is known. Findings from population surveys are important and frequently-used guides to policy, as all politicians know, as Professor McPherson pointed out in the BMJ last week. The MORI polls are seldom out by more than a few percentage points. Political opinions are fickle and behaviour at the polling booth may not be the same as the reply to the interviewer, but information give to an interviewer about the deaths of relatives is unlikely to vary. If they wish to refute the Lancet's estimate the Government should commission another study with a bigger sample population.

In fact, 100,000 deaths among a population of 26 million is not excessively high compared to casualties in other conflicts of similar intensity. The difficulty for the Government comes because of the claim before the war that no effort would be spared to minimise civilian casualties; that this would be a "clean" war in some way, using smart bombs. That of course is an absurdity considering the overwhelming firepower used, including weapons such as cluster bombs and shells tipped with depleted uranium.

The security situation in Basra, while better than that of Baghdad, is however very far from perfect. In preparing for this debate I asked for an on-the-spot report from an Iraqi friend, a senior surgeon at the Basra teaching hospital. I received this e-mail reply from him this morning, using the Global Network cited by my noble friend Lord Giddens:
"Basra is relatively safer than other cities but still security is the main problem. Kidnapping is still there besides killing for no reason. Just yesterday they kidnapped 2 daughters of a doctor in the medical college from their school. You can say there is no government, our problem now is that the people don't respect any orders as if living in a jungle. Besides the City is filled with foreigners mainly from Iran.
Lack of services is the other problem, electricity in the best conditions is no more than 9hrs every day. Water supply: if you are lucky you can get it at night time. The other main services I can say are forgotten.
Regarding medical care you won't believe me if I tell you we have lost the rules and systems in the hospitals and other medical care, like a ship in the sea without a captain. There has been improvement in the supply for the last three months but the problem is that they steal the drugs from the patients and the main medical stores to sell them in the streets for the people and take the bulk to Iran. In addition there is no training program as there used to be, no control, and the most important thing is the loss of medical ethics. No single new instrument has been received for the past 2 years; we are working with what was left. I can say that medical care was for sure much better before the war and that is what people feel here.
I don't know what to say or describe; it is something expected (as the outcome of) war but (it is still) unbelievable".

That is what happens when a brutal but effective centrally-controlled state dictatorship is overthrown by force with virtually no informed planning of how it is to be replaced: in particular, as the right reverend Prelate pointed out, the mistake of dismissing the whole police force because it was led by Ba'athist members. It is now going to be immensely more difficult for a new Iraqi Government to restore the country to its former prosperity. We can and should assist them in that task but I am wondering whether the continued presence of the international forces is now relevant; it may, as my noble friend Lady Turner suggested, be counterproductive. As she says, we should be working towards a plan for their withdrawal.

I will turn now to the Assyrians—my noble friend knows the problem. They are an ancient civilization with a history even older than Sumeria and Mesopotamia and were one of the first nations to convert to Christianity. During the period of British rule they were helpful to us and even assisted in our military operations against so-called "rebellious" Kurds. Under Saddam they were tolerated as a religious group, though many left Iraq because of his generally oppressive rule.

Those that remain are now subject to harassment and low level ethnic cleansing, mainly by the Kurds. An article in the Guardian, "No votes in Nineveh" on 23 February, describes how between 200,000 and 400,000 people in six mainly Assyrian towns were prevented from voting by Kurdish militia and as a result have no political representation in the central or regional assembly. The Assyrians in Iraq and their extensive diaspora are pleading for support from the United Kingdom and the United States for fair elections and a form of safe haven in the area where they are most numerous in northern Iraq.

In view of our past close association with the Assyrians this would seem a very justifiable request. Can my noble friend give them any indication that this request is being received sympathetically by the Government and that the UK will use its influence to ensure that the Assyrians can continue to live in peace in the new Iraq?

6.49 p.m.

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Garden, for his initiative in giving us such a meticulous and detailed analysis of the situation. I wish we could all be optimistic, but the tone struck by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, alas may fit the bill. It is sad to say that the situation looks very ominous indeed.

I remember vividly as an MP, many years ago in 1972 and 1973, going to Vietnam twice, and being entertained on the second occasion by the US commander-in-chief. After clouds of cigar smoke, and a long lunch at the mission in Saigon, we were taken out to see "H and I", which means harassment and interdiction. That was 25 Howitzers lined up on the edge of a jungle firing into the jungle for two hours in the afternoon, although presumably there were no Vietcong, and certainly no North Vietnamese, in that jungle.

You do not have to be a military expert to feel that the blundering around by the Americans then was the hallmark of their activity. After the Vietnam tragedy, America calmed down about such foreign military adventures, although there were a number of subsequent examples—I do not have time to go into them. I hope very much that Iraq will not be like that. There are many differences, and I think that the Americans must have learnt lessons with the passage of time.

The signs are really disturbing, except that, as the noble Lord, Lord Garden, and others said, we do not know much about what is happening in Iraq. We get lots of comment back from journalists. I pay tribute, for example, to some of the independent-minded reporting in the newspaper of the same name by Robert Fisk and others, who stick their necks out more and, like a number of other brave journalists, go beyond the green zone. A number of others do not, and the pooling system limits the amount of information given. I would not suggest that it is always a deliberate cover-up by the US and other members of the coalition forces, but there must be some element of that to put an unusually optimistic gloss on the whole matter.

I am worried about the corruption that is developing into a huge level of activity, according to the people who, for example, come back here or to the United States, who have been working with NGOs, working with the Haliburton-isation of the Iraqi economy. All the lurid stories that come out of their accounts presumably cannot be made up. The spivs that there are in that activity; millions of dollars are wasted, and still we know nothing about it. Alas, in comparison with Afghanistan we know even less, but our focus in this debate is Iraq. The absence of information properly given by both the military and governmental US authorities and the Iraqi Interim Government is really nothing short of a disgrace.

The second disgrace, and in this I echo the thoughts of some previous speakers, is the absence of civilian casualty figures. That is absolutely horrible, and it should not happen in the so-called civilised world. I hope that the Government will liaise with the Red Crescent to insist that proper figures are produced somehow, despite the enormous operational difficulties of conducting surveys in a country of that size with a population of that size. The International Red Cross and the Red Crescent can surely get together with the various governments in the coalition and the Iraqi interim government to deal with this problem. It may be, ominously, that they do not want to because the figures are larger than have been suggested. Personally, I am disappointed that the noble Baroness was not able to return to that theme last October and November of getting some good figures produced and giving us a further report. There may be special reasons for that, but it would be nice to hear some more convincing arguments.

It seems to me that the word "sham" would not be too strong a word for the Iraqi Parliament opening today, and I take no pleasure in saying that. It may be a sham so far because it was only a ceremonial opening. The interim Prime Minister Mr Allawi said that the impasse in the negotiations was paralysing life in the country. He said:
"The country cannot remain as it is now. There are things that need to be done and a decision needs to be arrived at".
Some of the Kurdish officials actually said that negotiations had hit a total dead end, so again we need far more information on that.

I have not been to Baghdad since 1988, when the city was full of British and American officials and businessmen saying that the Saddam regime was a wonderful government, much better than anything else, and that the real villain was Iran, and we should support Saddam as we had done by giving so much equipment, military equipment, arms and weapons. We are still living in the aftermath of the massive mistakes made by Paul Bremer, who was a personal disaster. The coalition provisional authority was a truly ghastly organisation in the way in which it operated, as a sort of neo-post-imperialistic implantation in a highly sophisticated and sensitive country. The Republicans really are lucky to control both Houses on Capitol Hill, otherwise there would be more inquiries into those things—although there have been some so far, and one pays tribute to those American politicians who are insisting on getting the facts even if it is very difficult.

Italy has now announced its withdrawal, as one of many, and if the UN mandate is renewed at the end of this year who will he left? US casualties will soon be approaching 2,000 dead and 20,000 wounded, but again it is difficult to get exact figures. Incidentally, will the Government give us an interim report on what will happen to Saddam Hussein, who is imprisoned and facing trial, once the governmental and judicial processes allow that trial to start? Already it has been some time since we heard any recent information on that.

I say with no pleasure that this remains intrinsically an "illegal" invasion and an "illegal" occupation, despite the forced ex-post UN certification, over which Kofi Annan had literally no choice. Never again must the United Kingdom supinely follow American mistakes of this kind. The American, European and British relationship should be one of full equality. Incidentally, I tabled a Question for Written Answer from the noble Baroness from the Foreign Office, when President Bush visited the European Union institutions and heads of government in Brussels, whether the geo-strategic relationship between the EU and the US would now be on the basis of full equality. In her Written Answer, the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, said:
"The visit of President Bush to Europe, so early in his second term, confirmed the importance he attaches to the transatlantic alliance. All leaders agreed on the need for the EU and US to continue to work in partnership on the challenges that face us in the twenty first century. As President Bush himself said in his speech in Brussels on 21 February, our strong friendship is essential to peace and prosperity across the globe".—[Official Report, 7/3/05; col. WS 72.]
That did not actually confirm that the relationship would now be on the basis of true equality; but that is essential because otherwise the situation will gradually get worse, despite the beginnings of democracy being implanted there, with some encouragement in the election turn-out in some areas.

I would like to put it higher than that. It is easy to assume that it will all be plain sailing from now on, but it depends very much on the nature of the government that will emerge in time and the plebiscite that is due to be held. I hope that the Americans have learnt some lessons from this; I hope that if they can they will put in order some of the corruption that is occurring. The American withdrawal must be done as soon as possible, as soon as may be—whenever that formula of words will allow for. So many of the other coalition forces will have gone by then that presumably it will only be the United States and Britain left, with possibly a part of the Polish contingent, but that might have gone completely as well by the end of this year or beyond.

Finally, I quote from John Gray, of the LSE, who said:
"American withdrawal will be represented as a reward far a job well done. The rest of the world will recognise it as a humiliating defeat, and it is here that the analogy of Vietnam is inadequate. The Iraq war has been lost far more quickly than that in Southeast Asia, and the impact on the world is potentially much greater … The full implications of such a blow to American power cannot be foreseen. One consequence is clear enough, however. The world has seen the last of liberal imperialism. It died on the killing fields of Iraq".
It is a great loss to the Iraqi people. One hopes that their future will be brighter, but it will need the true multilateral United Nations in the future, husbanding and supervising this process, to make sure that it is properly done, not the way that it has been done so far.

6.58 p.m.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Garden, for this debate on such an important subject. Clearly, getting the economic, political and security aspects right over the next months is absolutely crucial. People need to move about safely, they need political stability, and the economy needs to develop.

I suggest that in addition to those essentials there is something more. There are some deep-seated historical antagonisms in Iraq, which are partly ethnic and tribal. Kurds and Marsh Arabs, for example, are the most obvious ones. There are long-standing religious differences, as we are all well aware, with the Shia and the Sunni and the small Christian communities. It was good to hear mention of the Assyrian Christians—the residue, as it were, of what was once the heartlands of the great Byzantine civilisation.

We all know that religion is now a major player on the public stage of the world in a way that was scarcely conceivable 20 or 30 years ago for a variety of reasons. Religion is sometimes accused of being the cause of conflict, but in fact it is probably truer in the modern world to say that religion is a marker of identity in a conflict which has usually been brought about for other reasons. But, for whatever range of reasons, and whatever responsibility religious leaders might or might not have, it is quite clear that it is very important to take the religious dimension fully into account because it can work for ill and it can work for good.

It is good, therefore, to know that there is within Iraq an institute such as the Iraqi Institute of Peace, associated particularly with Canon Andrew White, which is working to bring together religious leaders to ensure that the religious contribution to the future of Iraq is positive and not negative. It is also encouraging to know that Her Majesty's Government are fully supportive of this and I very much hope that they will continue to be so.

In addition to these historical antagonisms within Iraq there is also a no-less-serious antagonism between many people in Iraq and the United States and her allies. It is true and not surprising that the advent of democracy has been warmly welcomed by so many in Iraq. But there remain many who are deeply hostile to the United States and her allies and they think that this is just one more expression of American imperialism.

What can we do to address these two different kinds of antagonism? I am thinking particularly of the second antagonism. One of the most creative initiatives in the past couple of years was the establishment after the ending of apartheid in South Africa of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Some very painful truths had to be faced; this was no easy option. But I think all dispassionate observers would say that it played an absolutely key role in healing some of the historic antagonism and bitterness in that country.

I wonder whether it might be possible to have something equivalent to a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Iraq, because in addition to the crucially important political, economic and security aspects, there is this something more if we are going to achieve genuine reconciliation and a flourishing in Iraq that is not just an Uneasy holding of the status quo which might erupt at any moment into further conflict.

If we had something like that, painful truths would indeed need to be faced on both sides. There is the fact that this country, along with the United States, supported Saddam Hussein for so many years. We turned a blind eye to his atrocities not only against his own people with ordinary weapons but to his use of chemical weapons in the terrible war with Iran and against the Kurds. We sold him weapons and indeed I believe that the 1994 Riegle report to the United States Senate is correct in identifying the fact that components for weapons of mass destruction were sold to Saddam Hussein.

In addition, there are the civilian casualties, which a number of noble Lords have already mentioned. We have to face the fact that if there is a war there will be casualties and it is no good avoiding that very unpalatable fact. But, as we know, health experts from around the world have recently called for this monitoring on humanitarian grounds. The recent article in the Lancet said that counting the dead is intrinsic to civilised society. But in addition to those two reasons, I suggest that there is another reason, because part of the moral calculus of going to war involves assessing what the cost would be—the cost not just to one's own side but to the other side as well.

If a US or British soldier is killed or wounded we feel that immediately and deeply—that is only natural. But we need to remind ourselves that every death, whether it is an Iraqi or anybody else in that country, is also the death of a human being. In the moral calculus these deaths also need to be taken into account for the sake of truth as well as humanity.

The very great Spanish theologian and jurist in the 16th century, Fransisco de Vitoria, who was such a powerful influence in trying to engage the Spanish people in the moral abhorrence of what was happening in the Indies, and who is one of the great definers of a moral approach to warfare, wrote:
"Since one nation is part of a whole world, and since the Christian province is a part of the whole Christian state, if any war should be advantageous to one province or nation but injurious to the world or to Christendom, it is my belief, that, for this very reason, that war is unjust".
What he is suggesting is that you have to take into account not just the good of your own nation or your own side, but the good of that much wider whole. That would mean taking into account the number of civilian deaths and wounded on the Iraqi side as well as on our own.

Of course there are many unpalatable truths to be faced on the other side as well. I certainly do not want to fall into the trap of what the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, once suggested I might be falling into, of making a moral equivalence between democracy and its alternatives. I entirely share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, in his most interesting and powerful speech about the importance of democracy. Democracy is better than other systems in the world. One can say that quite unequivocally. Or if one wants to say it rather more theologically and pessimistically, it is the worst possible system in all the world, except for all the others.

Democracy is better, but nevertheless some people have approached democracy as I think Woodrow Wilson approached democracy in relation to the First World War—that this is a war to end all wars and make the world safe for democracy. One of the features of the "just war" tradition, as opposed to the Crusade tradition, is that you have a sense of the tragedy of war and of wars as a sad last necessity, which was the Duke of Wellington's attitude to war. A Crusade mentality means that you think you have right on your side against the enemies of right. The "just war" tradition has a much more nuanced view than that and is able at one and the same time to say yes—some things are better than others, nevertheless we are all flawed and there are unpalatable truths to be faced on our side as well as on the other. For me, that attitude is most wonderfully crystallised in the words and prayers of the great American thinker Reinhold Niebuhr. One of his prayers from World War Two goes:
"We pray for the victims of tyranny, that they may resist oppression with courage. We pray for wicked and cruel men, whose arrogance reveals to us what the sin of our own hearts is like when it is conceived and brought forth its final fruit".

So I suggest that in addition to the economic, political and security aspects, there is something more. We have to work for long-term reconciliation. Although I hope that the religious leaders will be able to play an important part in initiatives in this field, I also hope that the Government will be able to support whatever initiatives might be taken.

7.9 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Garden, for initiating the debate and congratulate him on the measured way in which he introduced it.

We have to remind ourselves that only two years ago Iraq suffered under Saddam's ruthless dictatorship. Elections took place with a 95 per cent, even 100 per cent, turnout. There was a slight snag—there was only one candidate. Dissent led to torture if you were lucky, and death as the final outcome. An estimated 300,000 bodies are in mass graves, a figure that has not been disputed. There was the genocidal draining of the marshes to eliminate the Marsh Arabs. Perhaps beyond anyone else, the Kurdish population knows why Saddam could not be removed without assistance. Now the Shia population is free to worship, something that under Saddam was repressed.

I share the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Giddens. To put it slightly differently, the glass might not be half-full, but I certainly would not like to view it as half-empty. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford is absolutely right that war is the last resort; it should be. I like to think that it was, after 12 years of Saddam's repression and defiance of UN resolutions, although I accept that that is debatable.

I am less inclined to take the right reverend Prelate's view that the forces could simply ignore what was happening in places such as Fallujah and allow insurgents to take over swathes of the country. That was a very difficult decision, and it no doubt led to some damage. However, I was puzzled when he talked about the damage to the political infrastructure. Surely that was Saddam's role. There really was no political infrastructure during his reign of terror, certainly not as we would know it.

I was perhaps even more puzzled by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, saying that people were talking about a triumph for democracy. I would not want to be triumphalist about the elections, but you would be hard put not to have been moved by the pictures of people queuing to vote—in a situation in which not only had they been threatened with suicide bombings, but those bombings had actually taken place on the day. It is even more unfortunate that we caricature some of the women who participated. Anyone who voted in those circumstances was exceedingly brave, and we should not in any way demean the process.

Some 8.45 million people voted in the 30 January elections, which is 58 per cent of the electorate. We will consider ourselves lucky in any forthcoming election if we can get that ourselves. Eight thousand candidates stood for the National Assembly, and 11,000 for regional and Kurdish elections. A third of the candidates in those elections were women. Figures from the independent electoral commission indicate that at least 86 women were elected to the transitional National Assembly, which is 31 per cent of the total seats. That is grounds for optimism.

The UK Government pledged a total of £544 million for reconstruction, which is good and necessary. More than 220,000 Iraqi security personnel are on the streets, which is amazing given the intimidation and killings that have taken place. Two hundred and forty hospitals and 1,200 primary health centres are functioning, perhaps not perfectly; I am sure that some of the concerns that the noble Lord, Lord Rea, expressed are right. Some 2,500 schools have been rehabilitated, with 20 new schools constructed arid 355 under construction, in very difficult circumstances. Seventy million new text books have been distributed, which is not unimportant given the history that used to he perpetrated under Saddam's reign.

No one would underestimate the enormous problems faced in Iraq. I share some of the misgivings of the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, in his analysis of what happened to some of the reconstruction programmes. I do not know how you get a perfect situation in a country that is war-torn, but things could have been better.

I am not sure what the figures are for the civilian population deaths; there is certainly a lot of dispute about the Lancet figures, as there is dispute about any others. It will probably be difficult to obtain really accurate figures, but I support the view that we should try. Although there are clearly difficulties in medical facilities—they were amplified by the noble Lord, Lord Rea—we must not forget that under Saddam there was the same kind of terrible deprivation, even though it was centrally controlled.

It is unfortunate that the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, is not in the Chamber. I certainly would not want to put an optimistic gloss on what is happening, but we need a reasonable assessment rather than simply dwelling on what could be construed as the negatives. It is wrong to characterise those elections as a sham, as he did. Most objective people recognise that, in the circumstances, they were a great achievement.

I would like to think that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford is right about the possibility of a truth and reconciliation commission—that it need not apply uniquely to South Africa. Something along those lines would be worth trying. I was certainly interested in his phrase, "the moral calculus". It is difficult in the circumstances to say whether we were absolutely right, but the world is a better place with the removal of Saddam Hussein. Can we extrapolate and say that the changes in the Middle East have resulted from Iraq? No, we cannot directly do so, but it is interesting to note that there have been fundamental changes. When you look at what has happened in Libya and Israel/Palestine and the amazing situation in Lebanon, the wind of change seems to be blowing. It will be fitful and inconsistent, and we need to do everything that we can to encourage that process of democracy. It is, as it has already been characterised, the least worst option.

7.17 p.m.

My Lords, it has been a useful debate. I thank the Minister for being here after getting off a plane at whatever time this morning she got off it. We appreciate that Ministers in the Foreign Office work extremely hard. One of the arguments for having Ministers from the Foreign Office in the Lords is that it cuts down on the amount of constituency business, but it encourages Foreign Secretaries to make Ministers travel even more than would otherwise be the case. We appreciate the Minister's commitment to the Lords, and have very much appreciated the number of useful Foreign Office ministerial and official briefings that we have had; I note that we will have another next week.

I have to comment on the absence of Conservatives in the debate. I have often thought that Conservative attitudes to foreign policy were primarily concerned with Gibraltar and Zimbabwe, but I had not realised that the level of importance that they give to Iraq is so limited. We on these Benches give the Conservatives notice that, after the election, we will ask for a greater share of the resources provided for the Opposition in this House—one that is rather more proportionate to the contribution that the different opposition parties make to business in this House than to the historic position of the Conservatives, given that too many Conservatives from this House appear to be elsewhere.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
(Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, I am terribly sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but does that mean that he acknowledges that the Labour Party will win the election? What he says seems to imply that. I am delighted in his comments.

My Lords, I certainly intended to imply that I did not expect the Conservatives to win the election.

We are not focusing on the run-up to the war, or its justification or legality; that has been discussed a great deal and will no doubt be discussed again. Our concern here is with the processes of rebuilding and of the return of control from foreign occupation to Iraqi sovereignty. As several noble Lords said, our biggest difficulty is in gaining effective information from the outside. We look forward very much to the Minister's speech, hoping that she will be able to answer a number of our questions.

The elections were a major step forward, but the delay in forming a government is extremely worrying. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, that my noble friend Lord Dykes did not say that the elections were a sham. However, he said that the parliament so far had not been able to conduct any substantive business. We welcome the Minister's assessment of how far we have got.

We are also conscious that the period immediately after the invasion saw a number of crucial and dreadful mistakes. We have Larry Diamond to thank for telling us, in detail, in his Foreign Affairs article and others, just how awful those mistakes were. As the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, knows well, Larry Diamond was seconded to the Coalition Provisional Authority as a senior advisor, and became very rapidly disillusioned with the chaos and confusion within the CPA. I remind the Minister that he wrote that it had a policy of "freezing out the Brits".

The destruction of the Iraqi middle class in the chaos of the election, the difficulties of rebuilding a solid middle class when insurgents target all those who shoulder responsibility and criminals target all those with money—which means most of those with enterprise—are part of the difficulties we now face. We long to hear more about what the Minister thinks is happening with economic reconstruction. My noble friends have talked about the problems of the dominance of external contractors. Domestic recovery is needed, which will bring domestic employment.

Most of all, of course, we are concerned about the current and future role, and the continuing responsibilities, of foreign forces in Iraq. What is now the relationship between foreign forces and the emerging Iraqi government? Who is now in charge of prisons and prisoners? Under whose rules? What is the British Government's assessment of the capacities of Iraqi forces? Do we have a timetable for withdrawal yet, as others dribble away, disillusioned with American rules of engagement? The noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, is quite right to argue that we have to avoid foreign forces becoming the focus for resistance and disorder, rather than part of the solution in rebuilding order, at all costs.

Many of us continue to have great doubt about the consistency and coherence of American policy, as we listen to and read about the noisy clamour in Washington of competing ideological factions. I agree with the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth that we may be happy that Condoleezza Rice is now the Secretary of State. We may be extremely unhappy that John Bolton is now the US ambassador to the United Nations. We are, after all, concerned about the re-establishment of an international order within the context of international law—not something which John Bolton has ever been able to bring himself to express admiration for.

We are also concerned that disorder in the Middle East should be contained rather than spread. The Trotskyite origins of neo-conservatism are evident in the attractions of permanent revolution, which one reads in some of their writings, through overthrowing as many regimes as possible in as many states as possible.

Many of us would love to see a return to democracy in Lebanon and evolution towards a more open society in Syria, and a reduction in the power and influence of the ayatollahs in Iran. We fear, however, the consequences of throwing everything up in the air without concern for what follows. We need the co-operation of neighbouring states in rebuilding a stable and prosperous Iraq, not their hostility.

We are conscious that the costs of Iraq are not only financial and reputational, but also include the distraction of the United States, Britain and our other allies from other international crises: the long and slow process of reconstruction in Afghanistan; the current crisis and potential genocide in Darfur; and the continuing crisis in central Africa, about which our Prime Minister spoke so vigorously in Chicago in 1999. promising that Britain would not again neglect disorder of this sort in central Africa.

I was struck by speech of the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, about democracy. I note that he speaks of the progressive left with approval, even though last week he spoke of the liberal left with disapproval. I assume that the progressive left is not liberal, but perhaps we can discuss that more informally.

The commitment to democracy and nation building which we all share is not just a matter of regime change—something the best academic literature is quite clear about. It is a long transition, which involves political, institutional, legal, administrative and economic transformation. Social conditions and structures matter. The evidence from Russia and Georgia—a country that I know moderately well—shows that simplistic advice, as the Russians had in 1990 from American social scientists about "just letting it all rip", does not provide the answer and leads to many mistakes. The slow approach which the European Union adopted, with conditionality and targets, looking at the gradual transformation of social and political institutions in Iberia and central and eastern Europe, was a necessary alternative.

I think that those who have written about social structure and structuration would agree that cultural change is part of what one has to go through. I mistrust the dominant current in American social science, which believes that we can impose one size on all. I deeply mistrust the way in which American policy makers have rubbished those who understand the social and tribal structures of the Middle East. Local conditions are extremely important. We have discovered in southeastern Europe that democratic transition—in Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Macedonia—is a long and painful process. We may well be discovering the same in Iraq.

The bishops who have contributed have talked about the wider moral debate—not just about limits on force, but also about obligations to intervene and the responsibility to protect: the sort of questions which the UN high level report has addressed. These issues are very sharply in my mind as I struggle to complete my paper for the Archbishop's Council conference in May on just war. They are all questions to which we need to return.

I remind the bishops that part of what we have to argue about is the obligation to use force under some circumstances and the necessity of intervening, rather than limitations on the use of force. I wish Iraq were as simple as Portugal. I fear it may be as complex as Kosovo, but with 12 times the population. I recognise Britain's political and moral responsibility. I suspect that that moral responsibility should now be exercised by moving to withdraw militarily, but to remain engaged in terms of political and educational assistance, and economic and social development.

7.27 p.m.

My Lords, my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Garden. I have listened to nearly all the speeches with great pleasure. I must say that the suggestion that the new parliament in Iraq was a sham was pretty awful. For the rest, I think there have been very valuable points indeed.

I take the optimistic view. We have seen a turning of the corner in Iraq. The coincidence of this debate with the first meeting of the new Baghdad parliament is very timely. Obviously, they have got some very hard pounding. The Kurds are going to push their luck as long as a two-thirds majority is needed to get the presidency council in place. They will push for greater control over the oil fields of Kirkuk, which is very difficult, and will raise all sorts of tensions there. There is the question of getting the Sunnis properly involved at every level in a most effective way. That is going to be difficult.

The presidency council has got to be put in place. I gather that the suggestion is Jalal Talbani for the president, and then two vice-presidents—maybe one a very senior Sunni, and perhaps the other Mr Ayad Allawi, who has done a very good job. Then, of course, in two weeks' time they have got to choose a Prime Minister and, in turn, a cabinet. It is all going to be very tough and crucial, and I do not think we should deride it in any way. We should give it our blessing, support and encouragement.

As for the optimistic side, I was going to read out the list of "bottle half full" achievements in Iraq.

My Lords, I intervene because the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, referred to my words "a sham". I did not mean the parliament itself was a sham. I was referring to the interim Prime Minister's own words, saying that they should by now be forming a government. He was very depressed that they were not.

My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord has chosen to make that clear because it did not come over very well.

I was going to mention the long list of achievements but the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, made an excellent speech, setting out the positive side of what has been achieved. I shall just add to his list the fact that power supplies are now, I am advised, well above the pre-conflict level, 4 million children have been vaccinated, and child mortality is down. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Rea, that there are difficulties in relation to the water supply, but that has improved. Canals, roads and ports have been opened and the marshlands have been restored, and so on. It is amazing what has been done, and one should not be too pessimistic about it.

As to whether the overall situation has improved, as the noble Lord, Lord Garden, said, information is difficult to gather. So perhaps we need the happiness indicator of the noble Lord, Lord Layard, in trying to measure whether or not things have improved in Iraq-it is very difficult to tell. As for the oil scene, I know that oil pipelines are still being blown up, but the system is gradually getting back to where it was before and, indeed, is moving upwards with current production at 2.4 million barrels a day.

So the picture is not all bad, and that raises the question of the debate. Does it mean, as some people have suggested, that democracy has arrived and is blooming not only in Iraq but in Egypt, Lebanon and even Saudi Arabia? The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, spoke very eloquently about the prospects of democracy spreading its wings and so on.

I think we must be very careful in throwing about the word "democracy". There is all the difference in the world between democracy and constitutional democracy. Democracy in its simple form of ballot boxes and elections can lead to stability but it can also lead to the most unstable and dangerous one-party rule and tyranny and all the paraphernalia of authoritarianism.

The constitution is the anchor that makes democracy work, and a constitutional structure means embracing all centres of power in society—the judiciary, the press, corporates, private enterprise and all the social and professional classes. It means bringing to all of them a sense of necessary restraint without which democracy is just a word in the wind and with which it is possible to operate a restrained society where minorities are respected and violence is not resorted to. When I hear our American friends in particular, and some academics, make speeches about democracy, I often have to ask whether it has perhaps slipped their minds that "democracy" is a very broad concept indeed and that it must be constitutionally based.

I also want to ask what influence we—the friends of America; I count myself as one—have succeeded in having on our American allies so far, and are having now, in the evolution of the situation in Iraq. We all admit that the Americans have made a number of mistakes, including some disastrous ones—particularly, as was pointed out, the disbanding of the Iraqi military.

What point have we reached now? As has been remarked, the Italians appear to be pulling out—at least, they will do so in the autumn—the French were never in; the Germans fought an entire election opposing the whole idea; and a number of other countries are pulling out. If we want to find influence and leverage on our American friends—it is right that we should, even though I broadly support their strategy—then, frankly, it is not much use looking to our European partners or to a common foreign and security policy to influence Washington. In fact, on the contrary, the general presumption in Washington seems to be that the EU structure is basically anti-American and therefore America will not listen very closely to the EU.

If we want to have good leverage on our friends, we have to look around to see who America's best friends are and work with them. America's best friends are: this country, under its present Prime Minister certainly; Japan, which is strongly supportive; Australia; New Zealand; and one or two others.

So my conclusion is that, if we want to be effective in our foreign policy as a country and effective in having an influence on the Americans as their friends and not as their enemies, we should work very closely with those countries and not rely on common foreign policy and other devices or leave poor Mr Solana to produce a view, which he can never co-ordinate because all the Europeans disagree. I hope that if there is to be an Iraqi conference, as I read in the papers, either here in London or in some other European capital, we shall include those countries—America's best friends, as it were—in the conference in discussing how to carry matters forward in Iraq.

My third question drops backwards slightly but I think that it is worth asking. Has this whole invasion business and the overthrowing of Saddam helped or hindered the war on terrorism? We have heard some very strong speeches either way on that matter and a great deal of ink has been spent analysing the whole question. The Butler report showed that the weapons of mass destruction story was quite seriously exaggerated by the politicians. Even the intelligence people had doubts, but somehow those vanished when the issue was presented to the two Houses of Parliament.

But, interestingly, the Butler report rather dismissed the other terrorist links of Saddam, and I think that that was based on a misunderstanding. Although there was little direct formal linkage between Al'Qaeda and Baghdad before the invasion, the truth is that Al'Qaeda is not a formal organisation. It is a copycat inspiration, and everyone who knows the Middle East—many in this House do—realises that before 2001 or 2002 Baghdad always was a friendly home for terrorism. It was a general encouragement centre for terrorist networks and, of course, was deeply involved in the 1993 World Trade Centre bomb.

So I think that one has to recognise, as the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, rightly said, that the removal of Saddam must have been a positive in the war on terrorism. Today, Hamas says that it will fight the elections in Palestine instead of killing everyone in sight. Even Hezbollah may help an independent Lebanon instead of trying to turn it into another civil war and bringing back the Syrians, which would be a terrible tragedy. I think it is also true that in the cafes and souks, in the editorials that one reads and in what is said by the Arab-language TV pundits, everywhere from Casablanca at one end to Kuwait City at the other, the tone has changed. The tone on constitutional reform, on women's rights and on the need for the rule of law has changed. It may not have changed to the point of saying that the Americans were right—that is going too far—but there has been, as one noble Lord rightly said, a wind of change. I believe that that could bring about more wisdom and understanding not just in relation to what has gone wrong in the past but also in relation to the very subtle nature of constitutional democracy and the dangers of simplifying it as a formula that can simply be taken off the shelf and imposed. It cannot.

None of that would have happened if Saddam had still been in power. Therefore, I have to side with those who believe that, despite the wrong presentation and misleading arguments, we are on the road to a better world, the Middle East is on the road to a better region and we are into a safer world now that Saddam has been removed and Iraq is struggling back to a better democratic future. There is a long way to go, but we are. if I may quote a phrase, "forward not backward" in Middle Eastern reform and, frankly, it is a long time since anyone could stand at any Dispatch Box and say that.

7.38 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Garden, for moving this debate this evening and I thank him for the way in which he approached it. He did so in a constructive manner and your Lordships have approached and participated in our discussions in a most constructive way—especially, if I may say so, the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, even if he has been a little lonely on his Benches in so doing.

Iraq is not an easy subject on which to have an objective discussion. Since the military action of 2003, it has aroused some of the most fiercely argued and passionately debated views in modern political life—nowhere more so than in your Lordships' House. But this debate has asked us to concentrate our discussion on the economic, political and security developments since the military intervention of 2003, and that is what I shall endeavour to do, huge though the sweep of subjects has been. I shall try to write to noble Lords where I am not able to answer some of the detailed points.

In concentrating on those points, I agree very strongly with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford that the issues are bigger, wider and more profound. The issues that underlie the debate are those of the moral responsibility to which the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, referred. In a wider sense, we owe ourselves that debate at some stage as well.

The security of any country lies at the heart of its capability to advance its political and economic life. That point was made very clear by the noble Lord, Lord Garden. It is clear that the security situation in Iraq is hugely challenging. The insurgent groups are disparate in nature and range from Ba'athist to religious extremists. However, despite what some might say, evidence does not suggest a popular insurgency rampant throughout the whole country. Indeed, most of the attacks have focused on just four of Iraq's 18 provinces; 83 per cent of attacks have occurred in Salah ad-Din, Anbar, Ninawa and Baghdad. By contrast, 10 provinces, mostly in the centre, south and north, have suffered only 1.2 per cent of the attacks.

As demonstrated by the car bomb outside a medical testing centre in Hillah on 28 February which killed over 115 people, the insurgents and terrorists continue to show their disregard for human life and their disregard for the wishes of the Iraqi people. They may continue their attempts to create an insecure environment to spread fear and intimidation and to prevent the development of the Iraqi security forces, and they may seek opportunities to create ethnic and religious friction, but—this is the crux of the argument—they fail to offer the Iraqi people an alternative to violence and destruction. The elections on 30 January showed how the Iraqi people have stood up and expressed their wish for a future of democracy and development, free from suppression.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford was very critical of the action taken in Fallujah, action which I remind him was instigated by the Iraqi Government under the then Prime Minister, Prime Minister Allawi. Denying the insurgents the use of towns and cities as safe havens for launching attacks elsewhere in Iraq has been, and remains, a key objective. Operations in Fallujah were called for by the Prime Minister for that very reason. Over 500 weapons caches containing ammunitions, small arms, rockets and mortars as well as some 600 improvised explosives were discovered. Buildings containing the insurgents' repugnant instruments of torture were also found.

The action in Fallujah denied the insurgents important parts of their capability to carry out even more terrorist acts. Importantly, Iraqi security forces have been involved in intensified operations to restore areas under the control of militants and terrorists to the authority of the Iraqi Interim Government. The operations, not only in Fallujah, but also in Najaf, Samarra, North Babil and Sadr City in Baghdad were all part of this effort. The aim is to raise the standard of the ISF to such a point that it can take the lead on countering the insurgency, thereby allowing the multinational forces to step back.

The insurgents have recognised the success of the development of the ISF and have tried to prevent it. That is why we have seen a fall in attacks on the MNF and a rise in those against the ISF and on civilians. That has been at the heart of their strategy. Attacks against infrastructure and kidnappings continue, but are much less frequent than the peak that both reached near the end of last year.

As the noble Lord, Lord Garden, said, the elections on 30 January were a historic moment for Iraq and the Iraqi people. The Iraqis' commitment to risking their lives to cast their vote, and to have a say in the future of their country, was humbling, as my noble friend Lord Giddens said. On election day itself, there were 285 insurgent attacks. There was a total of 44 fatalities. But although there were attempted attacks on some polling stations the security plan for the elections was a success, with suicide bombers intercepted by Iraqi police at the perimeters around the polling stations.

It is widely perceived that the Iraqi police did a good job in preventing further bloodshed promised by insurgents, and this, in its turn, has boosted their self-confidence on security. Indeed, police remained at their posts during and immediately after the election, and there were many individual acts of bravery by Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) personnel on the day. The terrorists said, "You vote, you die", but people voted. Many of us may ask ourselves whether we would have had such courage and conviction. As my noble friend Lord Giddens said, democracy cannot be stopped at the point of a gun.

That leads me to the points on the political developments. In what was a remarkable speech in its depth of analysis, my noble friend Lord Giddens said that the elections left many of us comparing our turnout at elections in a secure and free country with the election turnout in Iraq.

Of course, the elections were not perfect, but just over 8.5 million people participated. There were 8,000 candidates for the Transitional National Assembly (TNA), 11,000 for the regional and Kurdish elections, and a third of those candidates were women. We all know the outcome: some 140 seats to the United Iraqi Coalition; 75 to the Kurdistan Alliance and 40 seats to the Iraqi list. Eighty-six per cent of women were elected to 31 per cent of the TNA's seats. I remind my noble friend Lady Turner that that is a remarkable achievement in terms of women's development in Iraq.

Of course, there have been complaints, as my noble friend Lord Rea suggested. He noted the Assyrian committees. Those are being investigated by the IECI, which will publish a report and write to the complainants with its findings.

Turnout in some parts of the country, particularly in the Sunni provinces, was low but, taken all together, Sunni Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Turkomans account for 94 seats in the TNA. It is important to recognise that the principal reason for a low Sunni turnout was the insurgent intimidation of voters. Where violence was lower, for example, in the south, Sunnis participated. The challenge now is to ensure an inclusive constitutional process.

I strongly agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, said. Sometimes it is remarkable how much he and I tend to agree on some of these subjects. But since the elections there has been progress and there are grounds for optimism. Iraqi political and religious leaders have said that they want the Sunnis in government and as part of the constitutional process. The United Iraqi Coalition, the leading Shia list, has established a committee to take forward discussions with the Sunni groups, like the Iraqi Islamic Party, the Muslim Ulema Council and Sunni Waqf. I noted remarks of observers on the ground who believe that many of those who did not take part in the elections are now responding positively to an invitation to join in the debate on the coalition.

This morning Boris Johnson, self-avowed opponent of the war, indeed one of those who wishes to impeach the Prime Minister—I do not know whether that means that he is one of the independent observers mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Dykes; these days he seems to be pretty independent of his own party—when asked whether he had concluded that, despite the problems with intelligence and the lack of WMD, the war was right, he said: "Yes, I do". He went on to say: "The security situation here is not by any means perfect, but once the Iraqis get hold of it, once you know Iraqi security forces are running the show, I have every confidence that it will abate. It is quite inspiring, you know". There were many quotes from people in Iraq who had been telephoned to ask for comments, but I thought that that was a very telling remark indeed from Boris Johnson.

Now that the Transitional National Assembly is formed, it is tasked with drafting the permanent constitution. Key issues will be the role of religion in public life, the relationship between Baghdad and the regions, including the division of resources under a federal arrangement, and ensuring that the structure of government and the electoral system of Iraq will follow, ensuring that basic human rights of all Iraqis are met.

The transitional administrative law requires the TNA to consult widely, as it is doing and UN resolution 1546 allocates the UN a lead role in supporting the political and constitutional process. That is an important point. It was not focused on in the debate this evening, but let us not forget that the UN still has that role on the ground in Iraq.

Of course, the timetable is ambitious, but it is an achievable timetable. The TNA has until 15 August to produce a first draft on the constitution. That will be put out for public consultation and review, and if agreed, the constitution will be put to a referendum by 15 October. If adopted, it will be followed by full national elections in December 2005, at which point the transitional administrative law will expire and the transitional government will dissolve. The provision for the six-month extension was also mentioned in our discussion.

Political developments include developments with the international community. We were very pleased to see the way in which not only the international community as a whole, but also Iraq's neighbours in the region—and I have visited many of them; I think I have visited some 10 or 11 countries in the past five or six weeks—have rallied round in support of the Iraqis. We look forward to them doing so again at the forthcoming Arab League meeting.

I turn to the economic questions. This is the third part of the debate. I have dealt with security and the political process. The noble Lords, Lord Garden and Lord Redesdale, and my noble friend Lord Rea concentrated on this issue. Many of the conditions necessary for long-term economic prosperity in Iraq have been met. The generous debt settlement agreed by the Paris Club to write off 80 per cent of Iraq's debt—that amounts to some $31 billion—and the IMF assistance programme agreed in September will help put Iraq's economy on a sound footing.

Iraq also continues to benefit from high oil prices. The Iraqi exchequer received over $17 billion in 2004 which was used to finance reconstruction and spending by Iraqi ministries. The IMF estimates that the Iraqi economy will grow by nearly 17 per cent in 2005, on top of predicted growth of over 50 per cent in 2004. The WTO has also agreed to open membership talks with Iraq shortly.

The noble Lord, Lord Garden, raised points about electricity and facilities. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, for acknowledging the improvements that have undoubtedly taken place in much of the infrastructure. Baghdad has received around eight to 11 hours of power each day since the elections, which is a marked improvement on the December and January figures. The picture nationally is similar, although some southern governorates receive only five to eight hours of electricity. February's generation peak was 9 per cent higher than it was at the same period last year.

Water supplies are now better than before the conflict, especially in the south of the country, which was the part that suffered most under Saddam Hussein's regime.

My noble friend Lady Turner and the noble Lord, Lord Garden, also raised questions about unemployment. That is still high, but it is improving due to a stronger economy and growing agriculture and trade sectors. The United States, the United Nations and the UK reconstruction programmes have also had an impact. The US reports that on average 130,000 Iraqis are employed each week in US-funded projects. DfID programmes are significantly improving job opportunities in the south.

My noble friend Lord Young described what is happening in the 240 hospitals—1,200 primary healthcare centres are open and functioning. My noble friend Lord Rea asked about statistics on mortality. For children under five the mortality rate in 1999 was 131 per thousand and the regional average is currently 54 per thousand. Those figures are from UNICEF. The number of undernourished children in 2000 was 17.7 per cent. It is now down to 11.7 per cent. I could give many more statistics, but I hope that that will at least reassure my noble friend Lord Rea on some of those points.

Like the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, I applaud the extraordinary work, often under very dangerous and difficult conditions, of the NGOs working in Iraq. He raised the question of the CIMIC courses—the civilian, military co-operation seminars run by the United States on questions of civil society.

Our construction arrangements are similar but not identical to those of the United States. One difference is that the US has civilian affairs battalions, which we do not. The UK military have been involved in reconstruction, but development of civil society and governance is a DfID lead and an FCO lead in this country, not an MoD lead. I hope that gives him some of the answers to that point.

DfID is funding a great number of projects in Iraq: the BBC World Service Trust to strengthen independent broadcasting in southern Iraq—that should please the noble Lord, Lord Dykes; funding for a Christian Aid partnership with a Kurdish NGO to strengthen civil society groups in northern Iraq; funding for UNISON to train a new generation of Iraqi trade union leaders—I am sure my noble friend Lord Young will be pleased to hear that; and funding for the Women's National Commission to train Iraqi women leaders on how to engage with the national policy-making process on gender-related issues. I hope that my noble friend Lady Turner is at least pleased to hear that.

DfID has also funded the Marsh Arabs. Here I should like to acknowledge the truly outstanding, courageous and wonderful work undertaken by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, in respect of the Marsh Arabs. We all offer her great support in that.

The noble Lords, Lord Redesdale and Lord Dykes, asked about the coalition's difficulties in keeping track of $9 billion of Iraqi funds. We have to acknowledge that there are difficult operating conditions in Iraq and decisions have had to be taken quickly to get ministries up and running and reconstruction projects off the ground. There is an alternative. That would have been to institute a system that delayed expenditure for months. Progress made by the CPA in improving financial management was undertaken, introducing a transparent framework for management of the national budget and taking measures to improve reporting and record keeping. In addition, the IAMB concluded that all known oil proceeds have been properly and transparently accounted for in the DFI.

There is much more to say on that and I should be very happy to go into it further, but I fear that going into detail at the moment may not be possible, given that I still have other points to answer.

The noble Lord, Lord Garden, was concerned about the time it is taking to appoint a government. That does take time. Such timescales are not unusual in many countries. The quick turnaround that we have at a time of a general election is extraordinary. My experience in the Middle East is that many governments take time to go through the process. They take time for the sort of consultation which is crucial to the kinds of societies in which they operate, particularly when there is the question of trying to form alliances across different parties.

Perhaps I may again tackle the point raised by my noble friend Lady Turner about women. Throughout the Middle East women play a part in society in a huge variety of ways. Currently, a great deal is going on in Iraq in respect of women. More than 1,000 women have already received training in financial, fiscal, utilities and regulatory systems. Future programmes will include training and employment services for 1.5 million Iraqi women at 17 vocational technical and training centres. I do not think that by any standards that can be argued as going backwards for women; it is clearly moving forwards.

I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford for his remarks on the religious dimension and the work of the religious communities. He knows how much I have supported the efforts of Canon Andrew White and how much I admire the canon's courage and application. The point about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission commends itself and I hope that this year it can be discussed.

We have dealt at great length on the question of casualties. A report has been put forward by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. We have said that we believe it is important to look at the available figures from the Iraqi sources. That is not to brush that aside. We have, however, gone into this issue in great detail in the past. I will be able to give any more detailed briefing for all parties of both Houses at 6 p.m. next Wednesday, 23 March. I hope that the rest of the questions can be dealt with then.

Today, we mourn what happened 17 years ago in Halabja. How remarkable that 17 years later the TNA has met. Perhaps the TNA did not appoint a government and perhaps it did not take any historic decisions, but it met today as the elected voice of the Iraqi people. That is what we should be looking forward to.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, said that this is a wind of change. It is more than that; it is the real future that we are looking forward to now. I sense that, although there are many misgivings and many concerns, noble Lords wish the Iraqi people well and that we will all be working very hard for a future that is worthy of them.

8 p.m.

My Lords, I will not detain the House for long. I thank everybody who spoke with such depth of knowledge and having done so much research into their areas; it brought a great deal to our short debate. It was important that we looked at where we are going now rather than forever arguing about the past. I am delighted that we had such a valuable debate. We had a degree of consensus from the different perspectives: I saw it as being that noble Lords are all concerned about the future of the Iraqi people, and that that is what we must consider. I was delighted to hear the different views.

There seem to be optimists who read all the good statistics and others who talk to people who are having a pretty hard time out there. My own view is that we must take a realistic approach, because just being optimistic may not make it work, and it must work in the long term. I thank all noble Lords for their contributions.

A couple of speakers alluded to the possibility that we might not see the Minister responding in her wonderful, passionate way to all these subjects in the future. Should there be an election, and should she not be there, we would all be saddened, because she brings something, but we would look forward to hearing her real views from the Back Benches. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.