rose to call attention to the issues which Her Majesty’s Government face in Iraq; and to move for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I do not apologise to the House for bringing its attention back to the problems of Iraq. I believe that we are living through one of the worst setbacks for British foreign policy for many years. We are still living with that story, and we cannot be sure how it will end. There are two questions before us—when I say “before us”, I do not mean just before the Government, because these are matters for Parliament and for everybody. The first question is how we can bring this war to an end that is tolerable for us, our servicemen and, above all, the people of Iraq. The Prime Minister made a start down this new road yesterday. The second question is how we can learn the lessons from our mistakes so that we do not repeat them. In the time available to me, I shall concentrate on the second question about learning lessons. I shall develop the case for a proper inquiry into the preparation for and conduct of this war.
I would like to say a word or two first about the present situation as I see it. We are faced with the collapse of a state, Iraq, which has been rickety for many years, partly because of the brutality and corruption of its dictator, and made more rickety when undermined by the process of sanctions. In April 2003 we brought that rickety structure down to the ground. We shook it to pieces and then we stamped on the pieces. That structure, that state, has not been reconstructed, now three and a half years after the invasion. The test is simple; it is posed in the Baker-Hamilton report and bluntly answered. The report wrote:
“The Iraqi Government is not effectively providing its people with basic services: electricity, drinking water, sewerage, healthcare and education”.
The elements of a new state lie around. As the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, constantly tells us and will tell us again today, there are good people trying to do good things. An assembly has been elected, a constitution has been drafted, although it is agreed that it should be revised, and there have been elections—though I must say that the elections have been used by the people of Iraq rather, it seems to me, to register the tribe or sect to which they belong. Certainly they have not been able as a result of those elections to provide themselves with a valid Government, because the Ministers huddled in the green zone up until now have not shown themselves capable—maybe they have not been able—to administer a state.
So the country is fragmenting all the time. The biggest fragment, the Shia fragment, is fragmenting within itself. Only the Kurds in the north enjoy a reasonably peaceful autonomy, which of course was not created by the invasion of Iraq in 2003 but by arrangements made after the Gulf War of 1991. Elsewhere, into the gap where there ought to be orderly government have poured the forces of disorder: militias, criminals, terrorists and corruption. Saddam Hussein ran a corrupt state, but last year corruption was estimated at between $5 billion and $7 billion a year, and 150,000 to 200,000 barrels of oil are stolen every day. Some estimates are that half a million barrels of oil are stolen every day. These are not wild figures. Some of the Baker-Hamilton report’s recommendations have been disputed or ignored, but I have seen no one dispute the actual analysis; and the figures I have given come from that report.
Al-Qaeda is now established in Iraq for the first time. It was not there in 2003; it is there today. The death toll is formidable. We concentrate—and this is perfectly natural—on our own service casualties, at just over 100, and the Americans do the same. The estimates for the number of Iraqi civilian dead vary hugely because there are no valid figures, but the number killed since the invasion is in the wide bracket of 50,000 to 150,000. The United Nations figure for last year alone is 34,000 Iraqi civilians killed. They were not killed, of course, by American and British troops but in the presence of American and British troops, who have been helpless to save them, although they were dispatched to rescue Iraq from its problems.
In these circumstances the number of Iraqis who leave the country is not surprising. Two million have left and others leave as soon as they can find somewhere to go. We are talking of course overwhelmingly of professional people, who can get out and find something to do elsewhere. A total of 1.8 million are displaced within their own country as a result of different kinds of ethnic cleansing.
Are those the signs of a country slowly reviving under our care? Are they not rather proofs of a country still losing blood? That is why the critics and opponents of that war, that invasion, are now in the majority in this country, as in the United States. It does not follow that those of us who have always opposed the war believe in immediate withdrawal. We are where we are. We should not, in my view, have joined the Americans in the invasion, but we did and we cannot leave them in the lurch. That is why I welcome what the Prime Minister announced yesterday about the drawdown of British troops, of which Ministers have spoken in this House and elsewhere for some time.
The Government should not deceive themselves. They should not be unrealistic or try to persuade us of something that is unreal about what we will be leaving behind, whether in Basra or in Iraq as a whole, as the American and British troops in the end withdraw. We shall not be handing over cities and provinces to stable institutions based on democracy and the rule of law. With luck—I underline, “with luck”—we shall leave behind in Iraq something like a larger Lebanon, maybe just holding together, though subject to outbursts of sectarian violence, maybe just avoiding a civil war, though very far from reconciliation. That is an Iraq totally removed from the country that we aimed to create through our invasion. It is an Iraq that now, so far from serving as a model and inspiration to the Middle East, is regarded by its neighbours and everyone in the Middle East as a dark warning.
Against that background the case for an inquiry into these matters seems overwhelming. Two sets of arguments were used initially to support and justify the war. One set was based on the threat to our security. That set of arguments broadly collapsed when it was found that there were no weapons of mass destruction. The second set of arguments was that it was our duty to rescue the people of Iraq from their brutal dictator. If we look at the results of that attempted rescue, they do not justify the invasion.
How was that double miscalculation arrived at? The first set of arguments about weapons of mass destruction has been investigated and analysed to a considerable extent. We have the Hutton report and the report by the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, on the use of intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. The noble Lord said, prudently, in his report that he and his colleagues did not regard his report on the question of the use of intelligence as the last word. An inquiry will need to look again at his serious, though soberly stated, criticism of the use of intelligence.
However, in a way, the noble Lord urged us further. The paragraph in his report on the machinery of government perhaps lay a little outside his terms of reference, and he did not pursue it, but he blazed a trail for us. Very significantly, he criticised what he called,
“the informality and circumscribed character of the government’s procedures”,
which make informed collective judgment more difficult. That is the noble Lord’s language; it is the kind of language which we are used to in our polite discussions in this House, but the crude profession of journalism very reasonably summed up his criticism as the criticism of sofa government. That aspect—what has gone wrong with the machinery of government—should be at the heart of an inquiry. The centralised direction of foreign policy, the sidelining of the Foreign Office and the consequent ignoring of experience inside and outside the Foreign Office, the tendency to listen to messages that those who are listening wish to hear and to sideline the others, and the tendency to take decisions informally without full and proper consultation are all allegations that need to be tested in an inquiry. Something went dangerously wrong at the heart of the decision-taking processes of our country.
American democracy has now woken up and is more vigorous in these things than our own. We now have across the Atlantic an outpouring of books and interviews, and we are only at the beginning of it. Now that we have a Democratic Congress, this process will continue. None of us could have mastered it all, but I have tried at any rate to follow some of the key things that have been published. One thing is common to them all: little or no attention is paid to British views or the British contribution to planning. I am not talking about our armed services and what they do, because I think that their contribution is understood; I am talking about the planning, the assumptions made at the beginning, and the thoughts on which the whole thing rested.
There is almost universal silence on any contribution made by the British side. Can one imagine an American history of the American part played in the Second World War that did not pay attention to the views of Winston Churchill, or an American history of the Reagan presidency that ignored, for example, the contributions made at the Reykjavik summit, which I remember, by my noble friend Lady Thatcher? We are junior partners to the United States. Both Churchill and my noble friend were junior partners, and knew it. We seem to have lost that art, which is not an easy one, of being a junior partner, and we must somehow recover it.
The most extraordinary and damaging question, into which an inquiry is needed, lay outside the inquiry of the noble Lord, Lord Butler. How did we proceed to war? How did we send our servicemen to kill and be killed without any serious planning of what would follow the immediate overthrow of Saddam Hussein? How did we take that decision on the basis of expectations that the Iraqis would generally welcome invasion and an army of occupation, contrary to the lessons of our own history, in Iraq and elsewhere, and indeed to common sense? I am genuinely amazed at how that can have happened, having had a little experience, as many noble Lords have, of this particular bit of our decision-taking process.
This was well summarised in the recent Brookings Institution report, which said:
“It was arrogance in the face of history that led us to blithely assume we could invade without preparing for an occupation, and we would do well to show greater humility when assimilating its lessons”.
That, in a way, is my text. Did we query that arrogance in the face of history when there was time to do so? Did we bring our own experience to bear? Apparently not. One commentator wrote about the “blind spot” in planning. Another wrote:
“It remains astounding that the coalition had no idea how to run the country they had just conquered”.
These are quotations not from captious commentators outside the event but from Sir Christopher Meyer, Her Majesty’s ambassador in Washington, and Mr Robin Cook, Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, both of whom were closely involved in the matters of which they wrote. Today in the newspapers we read of a similar statement by Sir Jeremy Greenstock, again an able and wholly dedicated public servant with precisely the experience that should have been brought to bear.
The Prime Minister urges us to look forward and not back, but you can make better decisions in the future only if you know how you made your mistakes in the past. Somewhere in our system, fences were broken and walls were breached, and we need to repair them before the system is put to the test again.
Some argue—I hope that Ministers will not shelter behind this argument, because it seems quite wrong—that we would be in some way prejudicing and upsetting our Armed Forces if an inquiry were announced. We are extraordinarily fortunate in our armed services, which are quite different from the services in which some of us served briefly after the war. They are better trained, more intelligent and much more aware of the world. They know perfectly well that the Iraq war is now questioned and opposed by many—indeed, most—people. It is not a happy position for them to be in, but it is not created by the prospect of an inquiry. Of course they know it and it is patronising to suppose that they do not. The reassurance that we can give them is that what they are doing is praised and supported wholeheartedly by the overwhelming majority, even among those of us who are angry that they were led into this position.
The Chief of the General Staff, Sir Richard Dannatt, in his rather remarkable outburst/statement some weeks ago, spoke from the heart of a covenant between servicemen and our Government. That covenant is now shaky for many reasons. I am glad that your Lordships will have an opportunity to discuss this next month in a debate to be introduced by my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater. I believe that our servicemen are entitled to an inquiry on these matters and to ask that the mistakes be identified so that they are not repeated.
It is not a rush, but the matter should not be left so long that memories fade and the trail of evidence goes cold. I therefore support what Mr William Hague said in another place; I support the suggestion that the Government should say now that they will establish an inquiry and that it should be set up by the end of the year. The precedents are there—Crimea, Dardanelles and Falklands. The Dardanelles inquiry was set up during a war, with strong support from the man who was chiefly pointed at—Mr Winston Churchill—so that is a good precedent. The case is stronger than the case for setting up the Franks inquiry into the Falklands war, which we did, after all, win. But, in all those cases, Parliament took its responsibility, which I believe we must do.
This should be an inquiry not in anger. Some of us are angry, but the inquiry should be cool and sober. It should not be a trial; it should not be pointing to impeachment or criminal proceedings; it should be chaired by a judge; it should not be thronged by lawyers; and it should not be like the Bloody Sunday inquiry, which drags on. These were enormously difficult decisions for Ministers to take. However lamentable and, in my view, predictable their mistakes, they were decisions taken in good faith by those concerned—I do not doubt that—which should be part of the background. I would suggest an inquiry of privy counsellors, including individuals outside the present Privy Council who would be well qualified to serve on the inquiry and would become privy counsellors for the purpose of receiving information. The inquiry should be appointed by and answer to Parliament; it should have full access to all papers; and it should meet in public, except occasionally where that may not be right for intelligence reasons. But the report should be in full to the public through Parliament.
The aim should not be to punish, or for X and Y to say, “We were right”, and so on; that is secondary. The aim should be to learn. I believe that this is a necessary undertaking because there is much to be learnt. I hope that the Government will tell us now that at the right time and in the right way they will come to Parliament and set such an inquiry in hand. I beg to move for Papers.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, for tabling this debate and for giving the House the opportunity to discuss what it is hoped is a broader picture of Iraq than the concentration on the negative that inevitably dominates the current media coverage. Whether one agreed or disagreed with taking military action against the Saddam regime in 2003, no one can be completely satisfied with the way things have developed since then. It is, however, important to look not only at 2003 onwards when considering Iraq today, as if the horrors of Saddam’s tyranny did not brutalise and exacerbate tensions between Sunni, Shia and Kurd, fracturing Iraqi society. His removal was almost bound to lead to an explosion of pent-up resentment and hatreds. We know from the Balkans and elsewhere that such violence almost inevitably results from the removal of a dictatorial regime, and Iraq was a society held in the grip of a fearsomely efficient terror machine that was breathtaking in its brutality. These conflicts have now come into the open and it is important to realise that it was not the military intervention that created them.
As the House knows, because I have expressed my views on Iraq often over the past couple of years, I consider our military action in 2003 to have been legally, politically and morally correct. Indeed, I would have wanted such action much earlier, and there were specific situations after 1991 when we could and, in my opinion, should have acted. I do not think that we should have stopped when we did in 1991. Let us not go into that, but it is part of the reason for the reaction of the Iraqi population to the invasion, an issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd. They did not trust us, and why should they after we let the Shia down in 1991 so badly that they were massacred in their thousands?
Whether others think as I do or think the exact opposite, we have all expressed disquiet in this House about some of the decisions taken after the invasion, such as the disbandment of the Iraqi army and the failure to tackle Moqtada al-Sadr back in April 2003 when he was clearly responsible for the murder in Najaf of the respected 42 year-old Shia cleric leader, al-Khoei, who had just returned to Iraq from exile in London after the invasion. And not least it has to be regretted that the detailed planning in the US State Department for handling the civil situation after the invasion and overthrow of Saddam, all of which is detailed in Bob Woodward’s excellent book, Plan of Attack, was never put into action. However, history is full of “ifs” and as the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, said, we are where we are and we have to address the current situation.
I say with the greatest of respect to the distinguished members of the Iraq Study Group that I found the Baker-Hamilton report rather disappointing—long on worthy ends and objectives but short on practical suggestions for the means to achieve them. I also sympathise with President Talabani, who expressed disappointment at what he termed the “colonial” tone of the report. Of course that is not to say that there is not some worth in it, but above all I think that it showed only what was already known: that it was a very complex picture and the solution had to lie in the hands of the Iraqis; that it would be good to involve other countries in the area, especially neighbours; and above all, attempts to bring about conciliation would decide the success or failure of the future of Iraq.
How to go about all this is the question. Those of us who had the opportunity a few weeks ago of speaking to the vice-president of Iraq, Tariq al-Hashimi, a courageous anti-Ba’athist Sunni, were impressed by his dedication to the cause of trying to make a democratic Iraq succeed and his determination to try to do that with Shia Prime Minister Maliki and Kurdish President Talabani, and to work with them on a programme of mutual reconciliation to which Prime Minister Maliki has pledged himself to give the highest priority. There are some encouraging signs that in the Sunni insurgency, even in al-Anbar, Sunnis are turning against the al-Qaeda element, whose brutality is helping to expose their opportunism in pretending to support the Sunni cause. Al-Qaeda cares no more for the mainstream Iraqi Sunnis than it does for mainstream Palestinians or for any other group not sharing its extreme views but providing them with an opportunity to exploit local grievances. By the way, al-Qaeda was present before 2003 in Iraq. It was very active in Kurdistan, operating as a group there to try to bring down the Kurdish Administration.
It must also never be forgotten that a major obstacle to reconciliation is the many years of poison that Saddam’s regime spread between the majority and brutally oppressed Shia and the minority and favoured Sunni, reinforcing and exploiting historical differences. Of course it takes time to heal these wounds and we should remember that the Maliki elected Government have been in power only for nine months. It is clear that the Iraqi Government want coalition troops to leave Iraq, but only when, and not before, the security situation means that Iraqis have a chance to succeed in running their country themselves without outside interference from any quarter, including their neighbours.
There are parts of Iraq, especially Baghdad, where the reality is a long way from the coalition being able to hand over control. But Baghdad is not Iraq, and 14 out of the 18 provinces are relatively peaceful. Let us see how the Baghdad strategy just being launched by the Iraqi and American forces unfolds. If it goes according to plan, it represents the best chance for resolving the problems of terrorism, sectarianism, power struggles and criminality that have produced such misery for Baghdad’s inhabitants. Under the leadership of the new commander of the American forces, General Petraeus, who is credited with a very successful campaign in Mosul some three years ago that won hearts and minds, there is reason for cautious optimism.
It would take too long here today to give anything like a full account of the positive developments in today’s Iraq, such as the burgeoning of civil society, with thousands of NGOs registered, or the achievements of many courageous Iraqis who are struggling to make a success of a democratic Iraq. Some have given up comfortable lives abroad in exile to return to serve their country, such as the water Minister.
I should like, however, to take a moment to draw the attention of the House to the current visit to the UK of 11 representatives of the new Iraqi Teachers’ Union. All of them are teachers or school inspectors working in dangerous conditions and risking their lives to educate the young. Their views were summed up by a school inspector who had suffered under Saddam as optimistic that in two to three years the current problems will be ended and a new and better life expected. If they are optimistic, then so can we be, and we have a duty to help them to realise their hopes.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State, Des Browne, recently outlined the three main elements of HMG’s security strategy. He said:
“First we are helping the Iraqis build up their own security forces. Second, as these forces develop we are handing them control province-by-province, city-by-city, and moving to the point where they have complete responsibility. Third, we are underwriting that hand-over process by leaving in place quick-response forces—not to do front-line security work but ready to support the Iraqis if the situation gets out of control”.
That clearly has to be the right strategy and its pace has to be dictated by the reality on the ground, not by setting arbitrary dates such as the end of October as Sir Menzies Campbell has done.
Of the four provinces under British leadership in the south, two were handed over to Iraqi control last summer and the security situation is said to be stable, with the Iraqi police and army working together and accountable to civil authority—not in ways, perhaps, that we are used to, but in ways appropriate to local needs. Yesterday’s very welcome Statement by the Prime Minister expressed the hope that,
“Maysan province can be transferred to full Iraqi control in the next few months, and Basra in the second half of the year”.—[Official Report, Commons, 21/2/07; col. 264.]
But, of course, the speed of developments will always be dependent on the reality on the ground.
Basra is the most difficult province mainly because of rival Shia power blocs, but last October, Operation Sinbad started and, as we know from the Prime Minister’s Statement yesterday, it has been a considerable success. The British Armed Forces deserve our congratulations on what they, along with the Iraqis, have achieved. Operation Sinbad was to re-establish security in Basra using confidence-building measures and following up with civic programmes such as laying water pipes and refurbishing primary health centres and schools and so on. Governor al-Waili has supported and praised Operation Sinbad for its positive impact on Basra’s future. Much has been achieved, but handover processes have to be handled carefully, both in Iraq and in the UK. Handover must not be presented as retreat and it has to be followed by a period of support with training and mentoring.
Still, there is a long list of impressive statistics arising from Operation Sinbad. Here are some examples. Last September, 20 per cent of police stations in Basra were judged of acceptable standard; now 55 per cent are, with 78 per cent of cases completed in investigative courts. Some 92 per cent of Basrawis now say that they feel secure in their neighbourhoods. Around 24,500 short-term jobs were created on the building and refurbishment projects.
I finish with another quotation from my right honourable friend Des Browne. He said that,
“we must get used to thinking in terms not just of our strategy but of our role in their strategy”.—[Official Report, Commons, 12/12/06; col. 726.]
That has to be the only way forward for us and the Iraqis. With the welcome developments in Basra that were announced yesterday, we are on our way.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, started with an apology for drawing our attention to this matter again. It is not he who should be giving any apology at all. It is only right that we should return to consider, in a sober and sombre way, the grave situation in which we find ourselves and the even more grave situation in which the people of Iraq find themselves. Make no mistake about it—and I know noble Lords do not—not only is it a failing state that is splintering, with people set against each other, but many of those who have given support and assistance to us may be the ones who will suffer most in the days to come. For that, we bear responsibility, particularly those who took us into this ill advised war.
The noble Lord has directed our attention to the need for a serious inquiry—not a legal or political question, but a sober reflection on what has gone wrong and why. I and my colleagues fully support that. It is a matter that should be addressed, and he has described well today how we might begin our thinking towards that. Much of what that inquiry needs to address, however, is already perfectly plain to all of us. We do not need to wait for an inquiry to be clear about many of those issues.
The state in Iraq is collapsed. Why? Because we brought it down. It is not enough to say that we did not create the terrorists, that they were there in any case. Anyone who goes into a divided country and removes the structures and institutions of the state has to bear responsibility for the fact that the existing fractures, with nothing to hold them together, will appear in a gross way. That is an inevitable consequence, and if one does not understand that, with all the experience of history and military intervention that this country has had, one simply has not been paying attention to history. Maybe that is indeed one of the issues our minds were being drawn to.
In any situation where there are deep fractures and fissures—and we have seen it more recently on our own continent; I live in a part of the world where that is the case—they are held together not just by the bonds of personal relationships, but by governmental structures and institutions. If those are wiped to the side and all of those who had power and responsibility are set to the side in the way that was done in Iraq, without any serious contribution to law and order being put in their place, what can one expect?
It is also clear that we must be a great deal more careful, reflective and honest about the handling of our own intelligence. It is clear that both here and in the United States of America, considering the material coming forward in an objective and reflective way would not have led us into making the interventions that were made. There is a tendency to bend information and material in the direction one finds attractive or supportive of the decisions one has already made. I remember asking in this House whether decisions had been made well in advance of the invasion. I was told that the answer was no. It turned out that that was not the whole truth. Decisions had clearly been made, and intelligence and material were being pressed to support them. That is a clear lesson we can learn right now and begin to put into operation.
We also know that in any of these situations, the fight for hearts and minds brings results in the long run. I recall watching the news and seeing planes meting out destruction on a regime which all of us abominated and which weapons and military interventions can destroy. That is all they can do—weapons cannot create something new. Only the commitment of people on the ground will achieve that.
Anyone who had thought about it in advance must surely have realised that the notion that we would simply be welcomed in the streets and that everything would turn out well was at best naive and at worst intellectually dishonest. In that whole region, the wealth of this country’s influence and respect has been frittered away—no, cast away—over the years so that it is extraordinarily difficult for this country to exert the influence that it properly did in the past in a positive way because of this recent adventure and other related adventures.
Something else that we know very well, because we have contributed to its creation, is the importance of the institutions and structures of the international community. These cannot be thrown to the side without deep fractures appearing in the global community. When, sometimes, our colleagues around the world take a different view, our approach should be not to disregard it but engage in diplomacy and to persuade people by the force of law, not the law of force. These are not new things; these are things we all know well in our heart. It is time for us to return to them.
There are some small indications that this may be the case. We now have an indication of a drawdown of British soldiers from Iraq, and I hope that that presages a commitment to do it within a reasonable time. It will not be sufficient for them to stay there, to be a target for attack, giving an opportunity for insurgent groups to show their manhood by who can kill the most British soldiers. I hope that we will properly withdraw our soldiers in an orderly fashion and then begin the task of repairing their resourcing, morale and capability for the responsibilities they will continue to have.
We must also seek to repair our own infrastructure in terms of diplomacy and foreign affairs. Much of our wealth and resource in that area has been dismissed and disregarded. Indeed, some have left of their own accord because they could not, with all integrity, continue to serve when they knew what they had been saying truthfully was being disregarded and they could not in all honesty continue to follow the instructions they were being given. It is time for us to pay attention to the repair of those diplomatic resources as well.
This is not a time for us to engage in any kind of party political play, because our whole country has lost its place in that region. We must start to repair that. We must be prepared to be more critical of our long-standing friends. Again, there is an element of that when we see an indication from the Prime Minister that he is prepared to give the national unity Government who are to be established in the Palestinian Authority more of a chance and the possibility of engagement rather than immediately dismissing them, as appears to be the position of our allies in the United States of America. I hope very much that that indicates a preparedness to take our counsel from our own experience and to share it with our friends and colleagues rather than to follow them into foolishness and danger.
I have two or three matters that are very much to the fore in my mind which I wish to put to the Minister. First, on the question of withdrawal, we see some indication that British soldiers could be there for many more years. I appeal to the Minister to tell us that there is a definitive timescale for withdrawal—that we are not committed to stay there in some ephemeral “there for as long as we’re needed” way, but that there is a real commitment to precisely when we will go.
Secondly, we must support the development of some kind of inclusive, semi-permanent conference for the region that will bring people together. I say “inclusive”, because it is not sufficient for outsiders to be saying what should happen to the region. We should be engaging with Syria and Iran, not with a finger-pointing diplomacy that warns them of the consequences if they do not do what we say, but with a proper diplomatic engagement that listens to their views and then tries to explain ours, without the inappropriate and early threat of the use of force.
On that question of the use of force, I ask for some reassurance for your Lordships' House that we will not be following into any kind of attack on Iran, whether by air or otherwise. We must learn the lessons of the mistakes that have been made. Our American colleagues did not learn the lessons of Vietnam and they are repeating them. It is not clear to me that our friends in Israel have learnt the lessons of the recent war in south Lebanon, and I very much hope that they are not in danger of repeating them. Whatever our friends and allies do, we must not follow them into another mistake. Perhaps if we give them a clear indication that we would not follow them in the event of any kind of military attack on Iran, that might help to prevent another disaster.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to address the House and your Lordships on this first occasion, and I am immensely grateful to all those who have given me unstinting help in my arrival period here.
Iraq, indeed, is a world theatre and it has a stage on which the British Armed Forces have played a consistently high-profile role during the past four years. In doing so, they have faced a degree of public scrutiny and analysis not experienced in recent years. They have been and they continue to be asked to operate along the roughest edges of humanity while observing the civilised norms of the society from which they are drawn. That is no easy task, and it has put an unusual strain on the relationship between soldier and nation. It is on this relationship that I would like to address your Lordships today.
We of course are all extremely lucky. We enjoy an exceptional standard of living in a secure environment. Although there have been some appalling terrorist incidents during the past 30 years, the vast majority of British citizens have lived in peace and are able to go about their daily business without concern for their safety or that of their families. Indeed, society has rarely been so far removed from war. Periodically its effects come crashing in on our sensibilities, but even post-September 11 New York is far removed from the unrelenting social consequences of war. For many people, war and its instruments may as well be on another planet. They have no experience of the horrors of war or of the poverty and trauma that flow from insecurity and conflict.
For most of us, of course, this is a very happy situation, but it has not come about by chance. It has been achieved only by constant vigilance; by actively identifying and dealing with threats; countering instability; and, when necessary, using force to impose peace. Fortunately, too, there are those who understand that there is less discretion available in wars of choice than they might have believed—that failing to counter evil on its own ground merely brings it closer to home. Ultimately, whatever has been achieved has been through the sacrifice made in our Armed Forces. This sacrifice has been paid in blood by successive generations of service men and women who have served their country, not just those who fought in the two great wars of the 20th century. Every year since 1945, with the sole exception of 1968, British service men and women have been killed on operations. Indeed, over that period some 5,500 have been killed in action. Today those same folk continue to defend our freedoms.
Of course, it is not just those who die who make a sacrifice. All who serve on operations put their lives at risk for our benefit. Countless numbers have been wounded, while many others have been psychologically damaged, something that frequently emerges only later in life. These are the hidden costs of freedom, and all too often they go unrecognised.
Over recent months, as the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, has said, your Lordships will have heard much talk of the covenant that must exist between a Government and the Armed Forces—an unwritten but essential contract that, in return for the sacrifice made by those in the forces, the Government will ensure that they are equipped properly, given the best possible care if they become casualties, and treated fairly. On the one hand, the ethos of the Armed Forces is sustained by all service men and women doing their duty with an implacable will to succeed, accepting their grave responsibility and legal right to fight and kill according to their orders and their unlimited liability to give their lives for others. On the other hand, they must be confident that in return the nation will look after them and their families.
Moreover, because these people are called upon to put the needs of the nation and the forces before their own, they forgo some of the rights enjoyed by those outside the Armed Forces. In the same way, the unique nature of military operations means that the Armed Forces differ from all other institutions, and must be sustained and provided for accordingly by the nation.
Your Lordships will know that I am the governor of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, which is in effect a self-contained village centred on its own chapel, its communal dining hall, its infirmary and its social club. It is a community of old and infirm veterans with similar backgrounds and like experiences. They are a present and constant link with the past, and the veterans of Mons, Malaya, Korea and Northern Ireland worship in the same chapel, sit at the same dining tables and take their ease in the same colonnade as the ghosts of Ramillies and Fontenoy, Plassey and Inkerman. Indeed, it will not be long before we see our Falklands veterans filling the wards. The battle honours inscribed on the panels of their great dining hall tell the enduring story of the British Army, but the institution is a living memorial to the sacrifices made and the very embodiment of the covenant about which we have spoken—which must continue to be there for our future veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, whether men or women.
This covenant is more than just a deal between the Government and the Armed Forces. That the Government have a grave responsibility in this respect is irrefutable, but there must also be a covenant between the rest of our nation and those who defend it and fight for its interests. Every citizen should recognise the price that has been and continues to be paid by others to sustain the freedoms they enjoy.
We see very clear indicators that our people are less willing to make sacrifices for our Armed Forces. The South Atlantic Fund after the Falkland Islands conflict in the 1980s raised some £11.5 million; the first Gulf War of the early 1990s raised some £3.5 million. We have raised less than £300,000 for the current conflict. The British affinity between soldier and people is diluting. There are many reasons: the immunisation of our citizens to the horrors of conflict through saturation with media images, none more stark than those we see from Iraq; the resentment at our involvement there; and the damage done to the Armed Forces’ reputation through allegations of war crimes, even though nearly all have been ill founded, are but some.
We know that elections are won on public services—education, health, law and order, and transport—but public submission, or even consent, to underinvestment in defence, arguably the greatest public service of them all, is as physically and politically painful, and potentially far more catastrophic, than underinvestment in hospitals and railways. If we, as a nation, are going to honour those who have served their country, if we are going to deliver on our part of the covenant, then I put it to your Lordships that every citizen of this country has a part to play, a debt to honour, a personal sacrifice to make and that those who have benefited most from the freedoms we enjoy have the greatest debt.
Once a year we proclaim, “We will remember them”, but how many actually give expression to that beyond having a moment’s silence and buying a poppy? Surely that is not sufficient. To adapt a well known phrase, as relevant today as ever it has been: “Their yesterday was given for our today”. None of us should forget that.
My Lords, it is a real pleasure as well as a privilege to congratulate the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker of Aldringham, on his illuminating and moving maiden speech. We are fortunate to have, again, a very distinguished former Chief of the General Staff. He has been a cold warrior, a commander in Northern Ireland and head of NATO’s Allied Rapid Reaction Corps in the hotter war of Bosnia, implementing the Dayton agreement. In spite of the fact that he was head of the Army and then head of the Armed Forces, I am told that he might not have been in the Army at all but for a disagreement with his headmaster. That was our luck. As he was born and brought up in southern Africa, I am sure that we all look forward also to hearing more about his wider interests, such as the Desmond Tutu Foundation. We welcome that.
In this debate, for which we should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, I would like to call attention to another group in the struggle for Iraq, but one without arms—the British reconstruction and development workers and their colleagues. This small group has been in Basra and Baghdad since 2003, although the usual span for each individual is less than a year because of the danger, difficulty and stress of this environment. They will be there when the soldiers have left.
Any one of them, too, can be injured or blown up. Their working lives are framed by procedures to protect their own safety or that of their Iraqi colleagues or the infrastructure that they are helping to repair. They work in an environment without safe public transport, without reliable power or water delivery, without access to banking and credit systems and without much of the ordinary day-to-day ingredients of law and order. Indeed, their task is precisely to help to restore this environment for the people of Iraq.
So far they have achieved £78 million-worth of electricity and water supplies. By the summer, 24-hour electricity will be available to a million Iraqis. The great 90-metre chimney of the Al Hartha power station in the south was about to collapse, which would have lost half of Basra’s power. DfID’s local Iraqi engineers were able to get it repaired, with great personal courage, dedication and professionalism, thus securing 24-hour electricity to 85,000 households. This also provided jobs for 100 local people. These people, too, work under continual threat of violence from armed militias, in temperatures often of 50 degrees Celsius. DfID supervision of the project meant a dangerous boat trip, on a route where lives have been lost, in heavy body armour, under armed protection.
That heat makes a water supply even more important. DfID is improving access to water for about a million Basrawis, again providing them with jobs on the way, and funding clean drinking water as well as the building of a water training centre to teach maintenance skills. Roads and sewerage infrastructure are being rebuilt; there will soon be a new gas pumping station, using £9 million of our funds, which will add 60 megawatts to the national grid. Millions of people have better health and better capacity to go about their lives because of our help. Most of this is achieved by the UK-led provincial reconstruction team, which includes military and civilian members from several countries.
It is not only the physical infrastructure that DfID is helping so hugely to rebuild. Its expertise in enabling and training Governments themselves to govern better has funded budget preparation, proper public expenditure processes, the only civilian capacity-building effort in the crucial Ministry of the Interior, police training, the development of truly independent television and radio studios, support for civil society groups to take part in political processes, the conduct of elections, including voter education for 300,000 people in remote areas, and the encouragement of the necessary private sector growth.
This is apart from on-the-ground co-ordination with the World Bank, whose trust funds have used our contribution to rehabilitate 500 schools, train 3,700 health staff and provide learning materials for 10 million children. And DfID has just given £4 million to the International Committee of the Red Cross for its humanitarian work for the one in eight Iraqis who are refugees—displaced people—in their own country. Altogether, our total commitment will reach £644 million; and we have supported the Iraqi Government’s major debt reduction deal, which will release more reconstruction funds. But the brave people who carry out British development policy on the ground have made a very great difference. We should acknowledge with gratitude and humility this unremitting effort and its achievements, carried out in perhaps the most difficult and dangerous circumstances in the world.
The pity is that it cannot be more effective. Daily violence can sabotage all our and other aid organisations’ efforts. As one DfID official said drily, “The current security environment in Iraq poses obstacles to carrying out ‘normal’ development work”. When the headlong sectarian violence is curbed, and those forces outside Iraq which encourage it are dissuaded, Iraq will have a solid chance to return to its potential of 20 years ago. Human security is, therefore, the foremost development need. Its integration with the reconstruction so gallantly being carried out will create the space for legitimate political authority to thrive.
There is another side to funding Iraq’s recovery to which I suggest we need to pay more attention. The expenditure of DfID funds is very tightly controlled. This has not happened with a much larger tranche. The American Government shipped $12 billion in cash to Iraq in 2003 to be administered by the Coalition Provisional Authority, as the Guardian uncovered a couple of weeks ago. Its disbursement was, scandalously, wholly inadequately monitored. But there is more to it than that. On the formation of the CPA, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1483, which handed over to the CPA three kinds of fund: the Oil for Food money held by the UN; Iraqi assets frozen on the invasion of Kuwait; and further proceeds of oil sold prior to the handover to the CPA. The resolution required all those funds, in total $23 billion, to be administered transparently, to meet the needs of the Iraqi people and subject to international oversight.
When the CPA was formed, the UK as well as the US ambassador to the UN undertook to conduct the government and reconstruction of Iraq in a transparent manner. Where is the audit of that expenditure? What has that very large sum of money been spent on? What is its relation to the huge expansion of corruption which followed the setting up of the CPA administration and which has further catastrophically undermined the reconstruction of Iraq and the development of its polity? Although disbursement of those funds on the ground will have been carried out by American appointees to the CPA, the UK retains joint accountability to the UN, and Parliament has a right to know what has been done in our name. Equally important, what are the procedures to prevent this looting of Iraqi people’s money? I hope that my noble friend can reassure us.
My Lords, I begin with pleasure by endorsing the tribute quite rightly paid by the noble Baroness to the maiden speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker of Aldringham. I join others in thanking my noble friend Lord Hurd for having introduced this debate today with such a measured and powerful speech. Equally, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, for the way in which her speech, as so often, emphasised that the decisions over which we differ were no doubt taken, as the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, said, in good faith. The fact remains that the decisions that were taken have had a catastrophic effect on so many features. Grave damage has been done to the stability of the Middle East and, in many ways, of the world. As the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, pointed out, grave damage has been done to the standing and reputation not just of this country but—perhaps equally important if not more so—of the United States, which will take a very long time to recover.
My noble friend said that there were two aspects for us to consider: first, how we tackle the problems that remain on the agenda; and, secondly, what lessons we can learn from what has happened to ensure that such things will never happen again. I will begin with that, because it is of enormous importance at this time to reflect on the fact that within the next two or three years we are certain to have the arrival of one new Prime Minister and possibly a couple of new Foreign Secretaries. Indeed, we are quite likely to receive the arrival of a second Prime Minister and a further new Foreign Secretary within that time. It is of the utmost practical importance that, when those people arrive in those offices of great distinction and responsibility, they should be supported by the wisdom of our experience from the past.
The relationship in particular between the Prime Minister and each of the three Secretaries of State who hold the great offices of state—the Home Office, the Exchequer and the Foreign Office—is of enormous importance. In this context, there is the need for continuous close collaboration between No. 10 Downing Street and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Some people will recall the rather mischievous comment of Sir Nicholas Henderson when he said that he had noted the customary ill humour of the Foreign Secretary when accompanying the Prime Minister on visits abroad, which is nevertheless nothing to compare to their mood if there is any suggestion of their being left behind. That indicates the nature of the relationship that should exist.
In modern times, that relationship is much more difficult to maintain, because each of the two characters concerned can fly around the world several times a week scarcely seeing each other from one day to the next. Moreover, there is a tendency, certainly under the present Administration, for the appointment of personal envoys to double or overlap the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. One final feature is the extent to which the Prime Minister, if alone on missions of great importance, can receive adulation and adoration that can impair his or her judgment. It is worth recalling that our present Prime Minister was in Washington within 10 days of 9/11 and attended the joint session of both Houses of Congress. Without making a speech, he received two standing ovations. That kind of thing can seriously impair the judgment even of a British Prime Minister.
Certainly, as others have pointed out, it is clear that from the outset of this dismal story wholly insufficient attention was paid to the wisdom, the experience and the expertise available in our Diplomatic Service. Likewise, the intelligence services were treated with less respect than they ought to have been. To make matters worse, since then the resources available to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have been almost continuously reduced. Just as the People’s Republic of China is opening embassies and missions throughout the world and, as was pointed out in the debate the week before last, throughout Africa, we are closing the equivalent places. It is crucial that that kind of attitude towards the specialist services, whose services we need to take advantage of, should no longer be sustained or repeated.
As my noble friend pointed out, the United States has already held many inquiries into what has gone wrong. One that was not very well publicised was conducted by Ambassador Freeman for the purpose of instructing the newly elected Congressmen at a special seminar after the recent elections. We shall not need to have the same thing for new Prime Ministers, but nevertheless the advice is important. Ambassador Freeman pointed out that the world today is not more dangerous than it was in the Cold War, but it is a good deal less orderly, less predictable and more complex. In those circumstances, he pointed out that the defence budget of the United States last year was just over $440 billion, which is more than the defence expenditure of 192 other countries combined. That in itself guarantees nothing. He said:
“What we lack is not military might but political acumen. Our failings are not those of muscle but of the mind”.
The National Security Council, which steered the United States through the hazards of the Cold War, was unable to make the same impact on recent events. The result of that faces us today in Iran.
It is certainly not an easy task to handle that republic. I had a limited experience of it. We had broken off relations with it in 1979, at the same time as the United States, and years of rupture followed thereafter. I was able to bring that detachment to an end first by meeting the Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati at the United Nations and then by bringing him here to London in February 1989. We actually reached the point of re-establishing relations, for them to be shattered less than a fortnight later on Valentine’s Day by the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. That kind of hazard indicates the sensitivity of the problems that we face.
The background today is much less auspicious than it was then, because one could argue that in the name of fighting terrorism—in that broadest of definitions and unhelpful description of the “war against terror”—the United States and perhaps we, to some extent, have actually increased the power of Iran. The removal of the Taliban from Afghanistan diminished the threat from the east to Iran. The removal of Saddam Hussein, Iran’s deadly enemy to the west, had the same effect. The arrival in Baghdad of an Iran-friendly Shia Government for the first time in history was a third factor that has virtually ensured the emergence of Iran as a major power centre in the region, rivalled probably only by Israel. Iran appears all the more hostile as a result of the extravagant populist rhetoric of Mr Ahmadinejad, but I have to say, alas, that some of the remarks that come from Washington in response often have the same effect. The statement by Vice-President Cheney the other day that we are in the “year of Iran” was not a helpful comment on the handling of the future. It was an uncomfortable reminder of the exchanges of rhetoric that preceded the conflict in and attack upon Iraq.
There is a risk that even now, among some of our American friends, military action is no longer regarded as absolutely the last resort, needing the clearest possible justification in accordance with the United Nations charter. The doctrine of pre-emptive strikes and preventive conflict has certainly not been formally abandoned. The distinguished American commentator William Pfaff warned in the New York Review of Books a couple of weeks ago against “world hegemonistic thinking” as being a real “disservice to American interests”.
We must be pretty humble about that as well, because it was once our own habit. There is still a picture at the top of the stairs in the Foreign Office—one of those put up in about 1916—depicting Britannia Bellatrix, which is not the kind of picture that any of us would put on show there today. It took us half a century to learn the lessons of the limitations of empire, starting in South Africa and going on to Suez. I am afraid that the same kind of learning is necessary today.
Finally, where do we go next on the outstanding problems, in particular on Iran? Whether we are addressing the problem of handling Iran or the Israel-Palestine problem, the multilateral approach must be regarded as fundamental. The handling of North Korea, leading to the recent agreement, as far as it goes, points the way. It was anything but reassuring to hear the reaction of the former ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, saying that the agreement,
“sends exactly the wrong signal to would-be proliferators around the world”.
I must say, on the contrary, that the constructive involvement of China in particular in those negotiations has had a very positive impact.
The growing importance of China is symbolised by the fact that its current currency reserves, a mountain of gold growing by $200 billion a year, is $1.1 trillion. China’s growing maturity is demonstrated by its support for the United Nations resolution. I summarise the significance of being close to China, as well as Russia, our European partners and the United States, in a phrase that I borrow from my noble friend who seldom, if ever, frequents this House—my noble friend Lord Heseltine. The other day, he said this:
“The growing interdependence of our several self-interests is the glue of future world security”.
It is important to recognise that in respect of every possible partner. That is the way in which to approach the Iran problem. What is needed now, in the words of Dr Ian Davis, the co-executive director of the British American Security Information Council, is,
“smart, tough-minded multilateral diplomacy—of the kind that has just been applied to North Korea”.
It is, he continued,
“not only less risky than military options but also more likely to produce real and long-lasting progress”.
For the United Kingdom, the best way to maximise our influence in that process, as much for the Arab-Israel problem as for the Iran problem, is through our participation in and leadership, as far as we can give it, of the European Union. In that way we are part of the quartet in the Arab-Israel problem and that is the way in which we and other Europeans, alongside the Americans, Russians and Chinese, are all now lined up on the right side of the argument as far as Iran is concerned. That concerted pressure certainly needs to be maintained, but the most useful and vital contribution that the United States can and should make to the conclusion of those negotiations—pace John Bolton—is an unambiguous promise on its part that if Iran returns to compliance with the nuclear rules, it will face no attempt by America to overthrow the regime. A clear assurance of that kind, as part of the process, is one of the components of progress if we are to make it in that respect.
My Lords, this timely debate, for which I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, most gratefully, gives us an opportunity to mourn the loss of so many lives since the invasion of 2003. It is hard to look at large numbers and feel the pain of families. I pay tribute to the bravery of the UK military, the US military, the other military who fought with the coalition forces and, above all, to those Iraqis who have lost their lives in the struggle for peace.
One small example is of just six families. In the little town of Majar al-Kabir, six military policemen were killed in the midsummer of 2003—Sergeant Simon Hamilton-Jewell, Corporals Russ Aston, Paul Long and Simon Miller, and Lance Corporals Tom Keys and Ben Hyde. Let us pay tribute to their loss, their bravery and the Iraqis who helped them in their struggle to survive. Their families are mourning now. We should remember them. I visited Majar al-Kabir a day after the massacre of those fine soldiers. I met with members of the town council. Their sorrow, their sadness, their deep regret was expressed immediately. They were shocked, appalled and dismayed. They told me, and have told me subsequently, that these were outsiders, not townspeople. Indeed, they were not Marsh people, because this small town is in the Marshes.
Those Marsh people fought mightily against Saddam’s invasive destruction of their world. They lost their families, their flocks, their herds, the ground they stood upon and the water they drank and used. Yes, they suffered from chemical and biological weapons used by that vile regime against them. I personally saw and witnessed their pain and suffering after weapons had been used against them.
The Red Caps fought mightily against those who tried to take, and succeeded in taking, their lives. They were there on a mission to bring peace, democracy and freedom to the Marsh people and to the wider Iraqi people. The Red Caps lost their lives. Their killers, who I truly believe were not local men, have not been captured yet; but I am sure that they will be in the near future, and, I sincerely hope, be brought to trial by the Iraqi legal services.
But the Red Caps’ legacy lives on. The British military peace mission has been at least partially successful. Democracy and the rule of law are widely perceived within Iraq as human rights that must be fulfilled. A recent survey in the Marshes gave the full data on this. Inevitably at the moment, the most important thing is the feeling of safety: 80 per cent; next, the availability of a health service: 74 per cent; the chance of education: 77 per cent; harmony between people of different religions: 72 per cent; and unemployment: 85 per cent. In Iraq, among the current major concerns and the perception of important events, by a huge majority the fall of Saddam Hussein is seen as an absolutely key event and a positive one. More than half of the respondents are against the presence of coalition troops in Iraq. The Prime Minister’s Statement yesterday was therefore timely and proper.
However, on the larger question of whether it is proper to give democracy to the people of Iraq or in the region, the argument that these people are not like us and that they do not deserve or want democracy falls flat when you ask the people themselves. Seventy per cent believe that democracy is fully in line with the Iraqi mentality, and two-thirds believe that political parties should be based on political doctrines and not on religious criteria. Indeed, when you look at the situation of the Marsh people under the previous regime in the wider Iraq, that must be so. The situation today, with some schools, some health and some water, can be rolled out all over Iraq. Despite the loss of lives, the legacy lives on.
I have given two statements to the criminal tribunal on the genocide against the Marsh people. I am about to offer a third and I hope to give evidence in court. Surely that is the reason that we invaded Iraq in the first place. It was to save the people—several groups of people in Halabja, the Marshes and elsewhere—against genocide. How can we stand here and talk about Darfur and Rwanda and not recognise genocide when we see it? How can we not have the guts to go in and do something about it? I shall be visiting Halabja shortly.
Of course, it is not easy to recreate a civilisation, particularly one that has been under such a horrific and awful rule for many years. Building democracy, as we know from enlarging the European Union, is a slow and difficult task. Let us recognise that rebuilding a state in our terms means the adoption and implementation of democracy, the rule of law, freedom of speech and the freedom to worship, travel and work. Our European Union, UK and global values, filtered and enhanced through the prism of internationally ratified UN conventions that celebrate our common humanity, tell us this. We cannot get away from that and say that it is acceptable for a civilisation to have a way of life in which women are degraded, there is no freedom of speech and there is sometimes genocide but that it is different for us and that we deserve democracy. The UN conventions do not allow us to do that, and they have been signed and ratified by all the member states of the UN globally and implemented continuously, although erratically.
Of course, the key issue at the moment for all Iraqis is security, but there are ways of gaining security and stability in Iraq. Baghdad is the key. As the capital city and emblem of Iraq, it is the principal target of the insurgents, as well as of hostile neighbouring states. I believe that it has therefore been imperative for the US to strengthen its troop numbers now in what I hope will be the very short term. I pay tribute here to General Corelli and General Petraeus and to the others whom I have seen working on the ground for the peace and safety of the Iraqi people, for that is their aim.
Once stability has been achieved, the rapid scaling-down below current levels must be the way forward. Why is that? It is because, despite all they have been through, the Iraqi people place maximum trust in their own police and army. Despite the previous bad experiences under the former regime, these are the key institutions in their society that they believe will, in time, protect them in the long term. We have the opportunity to help by strengthening the training and assisting with full equipment for these forces in the short, medium and long term. Surely that is an essential matter which will also be very popular with the Iraqi people.
Continuous polling over the whole of Iraq shows that most Iraqis, sometimes by an overwhelming majority, such as the one that I quoted for the Marsh people, believe that life is preferable now compared with that under the previous regime. To reinforce that reality, the local and national justice systems need immense and dedicated work so that the Iraqi people have access to justice with regard to former and present crimes. The training of judges and magistrates is therefore another focal point for us. This training should take place in-country rather than out-of-country; the latter has proved less effective because those who are trained do not pass on the knowledge when they return home.
As I have just said, alongside security, the greatest issue for the Iraqi people is the provision of basic services. Here, grass-roots level initiatives must surely be the way forward—not the massive projects that are easy to implement in stable western societies but, rather, the spread of small-scale efforts through the local elements of civil society. I refer, in particular, to the NGOs, trades unions, women’s groups, youth groups and so on. Basic-need provision is the key: health, education and water. Capacity-building and institution-building on a small scale everywhere throughout Iraq is possible today. It gives people a framework for their lives and enables them to cope with their difficulties more effectively. Peace education, as promoted by UNESCO, and conflict-resolution studies will also help.
We should take advantage of the peaceful zones of Iraq to proactively encourage inward investment and trading in the region and internationally, but perhaps particularly in northern Iraq, where 16 years of democracy have given ample opportunity for free trade.
What about interfaith initiatives? The insurgents in Iraq have succeeded to some extent in creating deep divisions between the different faiths. Why do we not put forward interfaith initiatives far more powerfully? Internationally respected academic, cultural and religious bodies could help with a view to analysing in a shared way the various strands that are driving interfaith hostility in Iraq and in the region.
The involvement of the international community should be considerably stronger. I recently saw Prime Minister Maliki, Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh and the Deputy President in Baghdad. These, our fellow politicians, are fighting for the common human values on which we build our European and global peace. They are fighting against international and domestic terrorists, who seek to destroy the peace both here and everywhere. Do not let us see Iraq in isolation, just as one country; it is a piece of the puzzle in the region and internationally. The terrorists are all the same: they are against civilisation. This is no fight of civilisation against civilisation; it is a fight of barbarians against civilisation. Iraq is at the heart of that.
My Lords, I join others in welcoming the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker of Aldringham, to the House, and congratulating him on an impressive and moving maiden speech. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, for initiating this debate, which is no less necessary today following yesterday’s welcome Statement by the Prime Minister. I shall focus on two issues: on the case for an inquiry or review and, briefly, on the broader political context for future policy in Iraq.
On the case for a review, my starting point is the need to learn the lessons from any major event, whether of domestic or foreign policy. I cite two very different examples from my own time at the Foreign Office. First, the inquiries into the response to the Asian tsunami—a matter of immense public interest and great tragedy—one internal and one by the National Audit Office, were invaluable in changing policies and procedures in the FCO, Whitehall and internationally. Secondly, in the past 18 months or so of my previous job at the Foreign Office, at a time of incipient tension with Argentina, the lessons drawn from the Franks inquiry on the prelude to the conflict in the Falklands were constantly in my mind and of use.
It therefore seems sensible and desirable that there should be some way of learning the lessons of the Iraq war—the lead-up to it, the conflict itself and its aftermath—with a view, I repeat, to ensuring that the lessons learnt are available to and used by future generations of policy-makers, whether Ministers or civil servants. I faltered in that opinion for a moment when I heard the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, say he thought that most of the lessons were already learnt. I still believe, however, that there is a case for learning the lessons. The issue is therefore what the scope, form and timing of any such review might be. I have been reflecting on those aspects of policy and practice on Iraq from which it seems that future policy-makers might draw lessons.
There are international and domestic angles. The international angles include, as other noble Lords have mentioned, the relationship with the United States. How do you translate access, which was unprecedented in the past few years, into influence, which was significant in some areas, such as the role of the United Nations and even in some aspects of preparing for the aftermath of conflict, but not in others, such as the key importance of US engagement in the Middle East, the mistakes of de-Ba’athification and disbanding the army after the war? What is the right stance vis-à-vis the United States? There are times when a robust approach with our closest ally is necessary, uncomfortable though that can be, as I know myself.
Noble Lords have not mentioned the European Union. Could the EU have played a more effective role if not split down the middle? Was the British stance, between the US and the EU, right? What lessons are there for the development of the EU’s foreign and security policy? The role of the UN is crucial, and there are lessons to be learnt there, in particular for the Security Council. Unanimous agreement on UNSCR 1441 in the autumn of 2002 was a huge achievement, as was the negotiation of UNSCR 502 after the invasion of the Falklands. They are both tributes to the continuing strength of our diplomatic efforts in the United Nations over the years. But what lessons do we learn from the failure to reach agreement on a second resolution in March 2003? Is the importance of operating within a multilateral framework so great that UN Security Council agreement should be a condition for such action in the future?
The focus should be wider than just the Security Council. We should look also at the importance of international support for reconstruction and development during and after conflict; and we should compare Afghanistan, fiendishly difficult but operating within a UN and NATO framework, to Iraq, at least until 2004. More generally, how do you move from crisis, through conflict, to post-conflict reconstruction, ensuring proper preparation at each stage? What lessons are there from Iraq, drawing also on Afghanistan and the Balkans? They are all matters which will shortly be the subject of a book by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, who is not in his seat today.
There is also a domestic angle. Is Whitehall joined up enough on conflict issues? How do you prepare for the aftermath of a conflict you are trying to avoid through diplomacy? I stress that the avoidance of conflict was indeed the aim of diplomacy in the second half of 2002 and the beginning of 2003. Changes have been made in Whitehall as a result of the Iraq conflict. Are they enough? There are of course other domestic angles: the use of intelligence in policy-making and its handling and testing, and the public use of intelligence when demand for transparency is constantly growing. These are hugely difficult issues.
The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, dwelt on ministerial co-ordination and the role of Cabinet government. There are issues surrounding military preparations and, as always, resources. There are issues around diplomacy. I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I move slightly up the curve from question to answer and express the hope that any review will agree with the importance of professional diplomats understanding local cultures and political systems, being fluent in their languages and being listened to, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, mentioned. I hope the Minister will forgive, and perhaps agree with, me when I say that further cuts in this resource would be extraordinarily short-sighted in today’s uncertain world. Finally, we need clarity about the role of Parliament before any future conflict. I am not sure that we yet have it.
That is a big agenda, and not all of it may be suitable for a review. Some of it has already been covered. I do not myself see a strong case for looking again at the use of intelligence in the light of the review by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, except, perhaps, to update it in the light of evidence subsequently discovered. I look forward to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, on that later in this debate.
It is a lot of ground to cover. How might that best be done? A full public inquiry would be long, complex and expensive. A Franks-type inquiry, with privy counsellors sitting in private, would be shorter and more focused, and it worked well 25 years ago, but would it be acceptable in an age that demands transparency? Is there perhaps a case for a hybrid: some independent review of privy counsellors with the ability to hear evidence in public and in private, and with a mandate to report quite quickly? I do not see huge advantage in a long, drawn-out review. Furthermore, the lessons which need to be learnt must be learnt quickly.
On timing, I am a little less clear than the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, about starting down this road straightaway, at a time when we are at a delicate stage in the process of troop withdrawal. There is a link between the substance of any review and the timing. For a review to look at relations with the existing Iraqi Government—or the one over the past year or so—would be a rather delicate exercise at present. I noted what the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, said about a review getting under way, perhaps by the end of the year.
Before I finish, I shall comment briefly on the broader policy content of Iraq for the future. I agree with the view of other noble Lords and the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, on the need for Iraq to be seen in a regional context. It is essential to engage Iran and Syria in the search for a stable Iraq. I know that it is not easy to combine that with the necessary policy of persuading both countries to cease sponsoring terrorists, persuading Syria to disengage from Lebanon and continuing to work to prevent Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. However, with the right kind of diplomacy, it is not impossible. I see a case for a regional conference to be held at some point, under the auspices of the United Nations, which would bring in those countries and the Gulf states and would focus on the economic and political future of Iraq in the context of a broader regional approach. That is not an impossible prospect, but it is more likely to succeed if it is accompanied by a serious attempt to make progress on Israel and Palestine and to continue to persuade the Americans that that must be their priority, too, because it is crucially in their interest. Progress can be made only if there is a viable Palestinian Authority as well as an Israeli Government, if they talk to each other and if the international community talks to them both. That must mean talking to the national unity Government, when established, and finding some way of talking to people other than Mahmoud Abbas.