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Volume 689: debated on Thursday 22 February 2007

Debate resumed.

My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, for introducing this extremely important debate on Iraq. That Iraq is in a total mess needs no repetition from me. No one in that country feels safe. Militias and armed gangs roam the streets, and schools and universities function only intermittently. Shias and Sunnis, who despite their differences had lived together for centuries, fear and hate each other, and the entire social fabric is unravelling. Since the war on Iraq 100,000 civilians have died, five times as many have been badly wounded, 1.8 million have been internally displaced, and about 200,000—most of whom are professionals—have left the country. No less important is that corruption is rampant and people are developing habits of doing business relating to government which will last a long time and will leave a very dangerous legacy. Even after so many years, the coalition is completely clueless. Increasingly, we are losing faith in Prime Minister Maliki and we are trying to set up people who might be able to replace him one day who do not have much weight in the country and are unlikely to deliver. The question I want to address is: how did we end up creating a Hobbesian state of nature?

It is important to know what mistakes are made—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd—but it is more important to know what lessons we can learn. Here again we need to ask ourselves what kinds of lessons we want to learn. We do not want to learn simply about how decisions on going to war were taken. We need to learn even more important lessons about limits of power; lessons about the goals of our foreign policy in this increasingly changing and volatile world; and lessons about our relations with the United States, our ability to shape the events of the world and what it means to be a junior partner without being a poodle. Equally importantly from my point of view, the war on Iraq has damaged not only that country but our own democracy. We should ask ourselves: how is it possible for us to avoid being bounced into another misconceived adventure in future?

My suggestion is that, rather than simply thinking in terms of an inquiry, we should think in terms of a national commission to explore the kinds of issues that I have raised about the nature of our democracy, democratic control on war-making, our foreign policy goals and our place in the world at large. We should debate these issues publicly; it is not just a matter of a small committee of inquiry.

It is also very striking that those who have been associated with the war are now beginning to look for a moral fig-leaf which can allow honourable men to assuage their troubled consciences, and I am struck by the arguments being advanced. We are told that Saddam Hussein was evil; and should we not be glad that he is gone? My answer to that is that you do not reply to one evil by doing another which is just as evil. Even more importantly, with all the tyranny imposed by Saddam Hussein, we are in the process of not merely dismantling the state but of destroying the bonds of social cohesion which have existed between different communities.

We were also told that, given the intelligence at the time about weapons of mass destruction, war was the only course of action and that no honourable person could have voted differently. I am not persuaded by this argument. The kind of intelligence that was available and the arguments that were made were put forward to many of us, and several of us on these Benches and elsewhere strongly opposed the war. I think that the intelligence was ambiguous, as was pointed out by our own people and the CIA. It was also widely known that it came from tainted sources and therefore needed to be scrutinised more carefully. Since the United States was determined to go to war under one pretext or another, we should have been more sceptical of the kind of intelligence proposed to us. Hans Blix was in Iraq and we should have allowed him to complete his mission and tell us conclusively one way or the other. We did not do that.

Those who want to assuage their conscience also tell us that mistakes were made and that it is only human to make mistakes. My answer to that is that our mistakes follow a pattern. They are not isolated mistakes arising out of human fallibility. They reflect, as the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, rightly pointed out, a particular mindset—a mood of arrogance—and a simple and rather foolish assumption that once Saddam was toppled, people would embrace us most enthusiastically and would welcome us for going in.

We should have known that no tyranny functions like that. It is a system and a tyrant is always supported by small tyrants in different walks of life. Therefore, chopping off his head would not remove the system. We were also so determined to go to war that we did not plan carefully and even tended to suppress critical reports that were coming to us from all directions. Since we went to war without the support of the United Nations, we denied ourselves access to the wealth and experience of various United Nations agencies and networks.

What are the important lessons that we can learn from what has gone wrong? I want to highlight six important lessons, some of which are rather tentative because I am not entirely sure how they would work, but we need to ask ourselves some very important questions. First, what kind of democratic, institutionalised check can be introduced on the Government’s capability to go to war? Wars can be very attractive to politicians. They make ordinary politicians look like statesmen and national political figures rather than party-political ones. They also generate in the country at large, and certainly in political circles, a heightened sense of existence.

Precisely because of the attraction of war, it is very important to have certain checks. The Prime Minister, rightly and courageously, put the matter to a vote in the House of Commons. That is not enough. It is quite possible for people of a particular political party to have their arm twisted into voting this way or that. I believe that it would be a good idea, if a war is really in the national interest, to insist that there must be a two-thirds majority. After all, if the matter is of that importance and the country is to go to war and to sacrifice lives and property, it should carry national cross-party support. Therefore, a minimum two-thirds majority should be necessary. It is also important that your Lordships’ House should not be marginalised, as if going to war was entirely the business of the other place. I therefore suggest that the House of Lords should be involved and that decisions relating to going to war should be debated and voted on here.

The second important lesson concerns intelligence. Everyone involved knew—they say so now—that, given the intelligence, there was no alternative course of action open to them. If intelligence is so important, which it is, we should ask ourselves some very searching questions. Intelligence can be doctored and misinterpreted. Sometimes, even the way in which intelligence from various sources comes up the system causes many dissenting voices and reports to be sanitised or eliminated, and a kind of consensus is created. That is what happened here. It is also quite possible that the head of the Joint Committee and the Government or the Prime Minister might have prejudged what the other was going to say, and thus certain probing questions about the intelligence do not get asked. Given that intelligence is so crucial and that it has to remain confidential, is there any way in which we might be able to introduce some new procedures?

A further thought occurs to me. I am new to your Lordships’ House, having been here for only six years. Nevertheless, I should have thought that there were certain innovative ideas in one or two other jurisdictions that we might care to think about. One possibility might be to have two or three senior privy counsellors accustomed to handling evidence of this kind, utterly reliable men of honour who could be asked to look at the evidence and advise the Prime Minister on whether they are satisfied that the intelligence is reliable and takes into account all the floating bits of information that might have come from a variety of sources but became sanitised on their way through the system.

The third lesson we might learn concerns the Attorney-General’s legal advice. If the whole nation is to be committed to war and to make sacrifices of lives and property, it should be reassured and its conscience allowed to be quite clear that the war is lawful and right. I suggest that the Attorney-General’s advice should be published in full and debated among the pundits in the area so that we are reassured that the available expert legal advice really is agreed.

The fourth important lesson has to do with our relations with the United States. The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, made an extremely important point when he said that we cannot be a senior partner to the US, but can be a junior one. But junior partners do not have to be obsequious or behave like poodles. What does it mean to be a junior partner? Junior, yes, but nevertheless a partner. It is therefore important that we are able to speak our mind freely and bring to the Americans the wisdom that has grown out of our 300 years of political experience in all walks of life. I was struck during my time as a professor there when many of my friends in the Democratic Party would say, “Look, the whole thing is wrong. Why is the British Prime Minister not speaking up? If he did, it would give us the kind of strength we need”. Many of them either felt strongly or were convinced that if we had taken a more open and courageous stand, perhaps the course of war might have been different. If we are going to measure up to the Americans, we ought to link up with other important units of power. They could be the European Union, India, China or other countries. When we work with them it will become possible for us to carry a lot of weight.

The fifth lesson concerns the fact that the idea of imposing democracy and justifying imperialism in terms of democracy is not at all new to the neo-cons. Those of us who know American history will know that unlike European colonialism, which was legitimised in terms of spreading liberty and civilisation, for nearly 150 years the Americans have legitimised what they have done in terms of spreading democracy. I cite Cuba in the 19th century. It was occupied and “liberated” by the Americans from Spanish despotism. The same sort of story was told of the Philippines. The project of spreading democracy was suspended during the Cold War for obvious reasons. It was resumed on 9 November, or 9/11 according to the European calendar, when the Berlin Wall came down, and it was resumed with more ferocity according to the American calendar after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. We need to use our wisdom and power to try to persuade the United States that this is not the way to go.

The sixth lesson is that it is likely that we may fall into the trap of thinking that because democracy cannot be imposed, we have no duty to propagate it abroad or to promote it in other countries. That would be a mistake. We do have a duty to promote democracy, but we can learn important lessons from the European Union and how it has gone about it: through incentives, expert advice, making money available, encouragement, joint seminars, training experts, and making sure that democratic ideas are spread in the accession and candidate countries. We know also from painful experience that democracy cannot survive in a country if its neighbours are hostile, because they will see that society is fragmented. If we are to promote democracy in countries where it is badly needed, there will have to be a regional solution because there cannot be a single-country one.

My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Interests in that I am an adviser to a company that has advised the Iraqi Government. I am also a director of a company with investments in Iran. I thank my noble friend Lord Hurd for introducing this Motion for debate and for a speech that was devastating in its balance and moderation. I certainly strongly support his arguments for an inquiry.

I welcome the decision that there should be a reduction of British troops in Iraq, but I note that that has caused some concern in public opinion in the United States. The Democrats have seized on it, of course, and it has underlined US isolation. However, Government spokesmen have rightly been quick, and right, to point out that the situation faced by American troops is very different from that faced by British troops. But there is no getting away from it: this is a defeat for us, not for our troops who have performed brilliantly, but the whole episode is a defeat for our country and for the Government. That is shown by the fact that until recently British troops were actually fighting the Iraqi police, who are meant to be on the same side as them. This was highlighted by the Economist which reported that opinion polls in Iraq show that a significant proportion of public opinion believes that attacks on coalition forces are justified.

I want to talk about the influence of Iran on the internal situation in Iraq. I apologise for wearying the House by talking about Iran yet again when I did so just before Christmas, but there have been some alarming developments in opinion as it is articulated on the other side of the Atlantic about Iran and its influence in Iraq. It is important that we have full knowledge and that our knowledge is based on facts. Our relations with Iran are already tense for good reasons. I support entirely the Government’s desire to put pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme, but we have to be careful not simply to open up another front of disagreement with Iran. Above all, as has been said in this debate, we do not want to repeat the error of being drawn into another armed conflict based on faulty analysis.

Last week, unnamed US intelligence sources held a briefing in Baghdad where they gave evidence about the role of Iran and the Revolutionary Guards in planting roadside bombs, IEDs included. I do not doubt for a moment that those weapons came from Iran, but whether they came with the approval of the Iranian Government is a different matter. However, if the Revolutionary Guards were involved, they do in theory answer to the supreme ruler. There have also been cases of Austrian rifles exported from Austria to Iran which have ended up in Iraq. I do not doubt the connections, although they are sometimes somewhat ambiguous, between the Shia militia and Iran. It would be strange if there were not a connection. The Shia militia are engaged in infighting in an internal struggle for power and influence. They have become an instrument for ethnic cleansing and for retaliation against Sunni attacks on Shias. They might be compared to Protestant paramilitaries and their retaliatory violence against Catholic communities. Further, the Shia militia are seen by some members of the community as actually providing protection for them. It is worth noting that the supreme ruler of Iran, Ayatollah Khameni, has issued several statements reminding people that in Islam it is totally forbidden for people to retaliate against fellow Muslims because of violence inflicted on them.

I notice that the new US Secretary of Defense, Mr Gates, has been careful in what he has said about Iranian involvement in Iraq, but when reading American newspapers while I was over there recently, I noted that some people are going much further and talking about Iranian support for the insurgents in Iraq. There have even been suggestions that in return for this, America should support the Mujaheddin in retaliatory attacks against Iran.

Iran, of course, has its own terrorist problems, as evidenced by a bombing recently in which 19 people were killed. It seems highly improbable—it would be remarkable—that Iran is giving help to the Sunni insurgents. If such support were being given, it would go very close to undermining the natural relationship that Iran has with the Shia community. It would also go totally against the close relationship that exists between Iran and the Iraqi Government.

It would be remarkable if such a thing was happening but I notice that the Daily Telegraph, which has been supporting these accusations, uses the phrase “Shia insurgents”. Most of the insurgents are, of course, thought to be Sunnis from the Yemen, Algeria and countries which are meant to be friendly towards us such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Shias, of course, are engaged in infighting, and I am sure that some of the militia engaged in that have connections with people in Iran, but it seems most improbable that the accusation of help going from Iran to the insurgents has force. Of course, strange things do go on. People say that the Iranians are sophisticated and clever enough to pursue a dual strategy in foreign policy, but perhaps certain things reflect the chaos in that deeply divided country.

We should note that the Iraqi Government take a rather different view of the Iranian influence in Iraq from that of the United States. Mr Malaki, the Prime Minister, has made that clear on several occasions. He issued his own protest when a number of Iranians who had been invited into Iraq at the behest of the Iraqi Government were then arrested by United States forces. When the Iraqi Government wanted to hold a joint meeting with Iranian Ministers, this again incurred the displeasure of the United States Government.

As to relations with al-Qaeda, in an article last week, Iran’s ambassador to the UN referred to forming common cause with the West against al-Qaeda. A number of al-Qaeda operatives are supposed to be in detention in Iran. America is displeased that these people have not been released and not handed over to the United States. It is hardly surprising that Iran should not want to hand over to the United States people it has put in detention. We should not forget that at the time of 9/11, the then President of Iran condemned the attack on New York as an act of nihilism that was totally incompatible with Islam. The Iranian Government also gave logistical help and intelligence to the northern alliance during the invasion of Afghanistan.

The accusations about Iran and terrorism in Iraq seemed sometimes to lack precision. The other day, in an article in the Sunday Times, the formidable Dr Kissinger referred to Iran interfering wherever Muslims were in a minority. With great respect to Dr Kissinger, I doubt that statement could be justified. It could perhaps be justified or argued about if he had said wherever Shia Muslims were in a minority, but that is not what he said. There seems to be a certain vagueness in many of the accusations that have been made.

When the coalition invasion of Iraq occurred, it altered the whole balance between Shiadom and Sunnidom. It also altered the balance of power within the Shia community in the world and increased the influence of Iraqi clerics. But I do not think that anything that has happened should obscure the legitimate and natural interest that Iran has in Iraq. After the allied invasion of Iraq, there was considerable American alarm about hundreds of thousands of Iranians coming across the border. But this was surely natural. For decades, Iranians had not been able to get to the religious communities of Karbala and Najaf, and when the Government of Saddam Hussein was overthrown religious pilgrimages increased massively and religious tourism became a growth industry. But, at the time, this raised great American suspicions

Iran is accused of seeking hegemony over Iraq and I am sure there may be some justification in that. But the relationship between Iran and Iraq is complicated and there are reasons why Iraq would resist the domination of Iran. They are both Shia countries but the Shias in Iraq have a different view of the role of the clergy. Many of the senior clergy in Iraq are refugees from Iran and take a different view about the position of the clergy and the legitimacy of the position of the supreme ruler in Iran. The Iranians, of course, are Persian and the Iraqis are Arabs. The Iraqis have a sense of identity and nationality. Shia Iraqis fought against Iran in the war—many of them, of course, were compelled to do so, just as young people in Iran were compelled to fight on its side—but there is a sense of Iraqi identity and nationality.

I suspect that, above all, Iran wants Iraq to be stable and united. In that sense, Iran shares the same objective as America in that it wants Iraq to remain as one country. There is a very good reason for this: Iran has its own problems of separatism. In Iran, only 50 per cent of the population are Persian and there are many other minorities such as Azeris, Kurds and Arabs. Iran has its problems of separatism and therefore wants Iraq to remain as one country. It is for that reason that it supported the idea of a Sunni as president and gave help for the organisation of elections. I do not believe the Iranians are afraid of democracy as it is now being practised in Iraq.

I make these points simply because a lot of alarming rhetoric is coming out of the United States on this subject. We have had enough wrong analyses and mistakes. We do not want another war or military action based on wrong assumptions. Above all, we should resist the temptation to blame others for the mistakes that we have made.

My Lords, it seems to me that there are two elements to be considered in discussing Iraq. The first is nothing short of the worst diplomatic and political débâcle—certainly in my lifetime. This is far worse than Suez and the consequences will be far more profound. The other element is the military operation. I notice that the word “defeat” has been used. If we genuinely think we have been defeated in Iraq, we should take our troops out straightaway. In his maiden speech, the former Chief of the Defence Staff, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker, referred to the covenant. He is right: this is the deeper issue to which we will have to return. But part of that covenant surely is that you do not ask servicemen to lay down their lives for their country unless you believe it is of vital national interest. At this juncture, I am not prepared to concede defeat. Whatever else we are facing, the situation is dire in Baghdad and if that goes wrong the country will either undergo partition or be in such a dreadful break-up situation over the next decade, perhaps, that we would never forgive ourselves.

I have spent almost my whole time on the Iraq war since I supported it in arguing that it should have more troops, not fewer. My criticism mirrored that of General Shinseki, the Chief of the Army, who made it quite clear in February 2003 that he thought there should be 200,000 troops. He was knocked down by Paul Wolfowitz, who said he could not conceive of how you would need more people to handle the aftermath of a war than you would put in for the war itself. British politicians have had only recent experience of that. The whole situation in the Balkans is about the need, when you get peace and you begin nation-building, to have substantially more troops. General Shalikashvili, when he was SACEUR in 1993 on the first peace plan, in which I had some part, was ready to put in 60,000 troops—nearly three times as many UN troops as had been on the ground during the actual war. It was an essential element in Dayton that we put in more troops once we had the agreement. We have had to keep them there for year after year, and I believe we will have to keep doing so.

I have no doubt that there has to be a serious inquiry into the Iraq débâcle. I discussed that in this House on 29 June last year, when I likened it to the Dardanelles inquiry. Governance and ministerial and departmental issues could well be discussed while the war was going on. I regret that it looks as if we are going to have a change of Prime Minister with the British Parliament and people never having a chance to comment on the quite disastrous changes by Government that have been made in foreign and defence policy by our present Prime Minister. He did not do that with malice aforethought, but the basic fact is that that structure has dismally failed. It is important, before a new Labour Prime Minister takes office, that they are given some guidance that that structure will not suffice, and that there has to be a return to the well tried Cabinet system of government, where the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary listen to the voices of their advisers and bring that to Cabinet—maybe a war cabinet—and there is a discussion and a general, serious decision-making structure. All that has been torn out. It is not acceptable for us that this new structure should be adopted by the next Prime Minister.

I am not a military strategist—few of us are—but it seems sensible on the face of it to consolidate around the air base in Basra. I ask myself, however, whether we are contributing enough to the problem in Baghdad. I am not saying we should put troops in now. However, when John Sawyers reported on 11 May 2003 on the chaos and anarchy in Baghdad, he suggested that Britain should make a contribution to Baghdad, and he was supported by General Whitley in that. That report went to the Prime Minister, and we have never heard why that proposition was not acted upon.

American Defense Secretary Rumsfeld stood down the 1st Cavalry Division, and it was decided that this large number of American troops should not go in. Now we have this surge of 21,000 troops. It is too late, and, some would say, still insufficient. But to write it off, to say to ourselves, “This is all over now; we are just withdrawing British troops in stages and getting casualties in the process; we have given up”—I am not prepared to accept that. We have a deep-seated obligation, having got this foully wrong, to try to retrieve the situation so that the Iraqi people can live once again with some form of security.

I thought the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, was very wise when she said, and I think she was quoting, “our role in their strategy”. It is no longer our operation, but it is perfectly clear, as the Iraqis are saying to us, that they need stiffening. They need our troops working with them. There is the idea of embedding the troops in the Iraqi Army, as the Americans are doing.

It has already been mentioned that General Petraeus, who is now in charge of that, has a first-class record of doing all the things that, if they had been done throughout the whole of Iraq from the start, would have meant we would now probably be discussing a great success. He learnt the lessons of the Balkans. He realised that he had to carry the Iraqi people with him; he ensured that his troops had a liaison with them. They tied in aid and development as they were dealing with the security situation. This general has been appointed, and he has these troops. I, for one, profoundly hope that the operation is successful. So long as any British troops are in Iraq, I want a British Government contributing to this in a serious and sensible way.

Leading on from the wise speech about Iran to which we have just listened, I ask myself: why are we not putting some of our troops on the border? It is extremely important that we try to help police that Iran/Iraq border, and stop some of the stuff that is coming over. There is a real question about how much the Iranian Government are genuinely trying to destabilise their fellow Shiites in an Iraqi Government.

I personally think that the diplomacy on Iran is now the most essential issue. I am genuinely worried that America still has certainly a vice-president and probably a president who believe that they can settle this issue with massive air assaults on Iran to deal with the enrichment plants. In the same action, I am sure the military would say to them, “You can’t just leave it like that. We’re in Iraq; you have to deal with some of Iran’s armed forces as well”. The decision-making structures in Washington are such at the moment that you cannot be certain that such a folly might not be carried out.

Yet, in a funny, strange way, America is just possibly having one of its considerable successes—the Korean negotiations, which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, mentioned. How many people, particularly Democrats, were critical of the Administration’s determination not to be locked into bilateral talks with North Korea but to insist that it was a regional problem, above all for the Chinese— although they also got the South Koreans, the Japanese and everyone in the region involved? The negotiation may or may not be successful, but it was the right framework. That must now be followed with regard to Iran.

In the group that is dealing with the question of enrichment, we have got Russia and China involved, as well as three EU countries and the United States. Regardless of arguments with Putin or others, we must try to put together united actions and say to the Americans, “We are ready to do this diplomacy, and we will obviously give you a major role in it, possibly even a lead role, but it cannot be on the basis that suddenly, at a whim, you walk away from negotiations and take pre-emptive military action against Iran”. I hoped I would never have to say that. I would have believed that relations between us and the United States were such that you would never have to enter into that sort of debate. I would have said that we were genuine allies, we understood the tolerances of each other’s political systems, and if we were working on the ground in a diplomatic mission we would work together as friends and colleagues, and there would be no such pre-emption. But I cannot be sure of that, and we need to have set out clearly the sort of diplomatic role are we playing in Iran.

I still believe it is essential to persuade the Iranian Government that the pursuit of a nuclear armament programme is extremely damaging in the region—but, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, said, we have to recognise why they are feeling so threatened. Pakistan has a nuclear bomb. Who was supporting the Taliban for years, right on Iran’s border? It was Pakistan. Who was building up nuclear weapons while Britain and America were doing precious little about it? It was Saddam Hussein on the other side of their border. They have Israel in the region, with its nuclear weapon. They also know that Saudi Arabia has helped in the financing of the Pakistan nuclear weapon, and could get nuclear weapons extremely quickly if it decided it wanted them. In that situation, Iran has a genuine security fear, and we have to face that and try to arrange for it.

When the Shah was going for nuclear weapons, he was eventually persuaded that he could have a serious role in the region with very sophisticated military technology, and did not need nuclear weapons. The nuclear programme that had started was, I think, genuinely put on one side. Of course there was a change of regime, but Iranian interests do not change fundamentally just because the country has a new regime. It is perfectly possible that the Ayatollah and others are beginning to see that they need to rein in their new president; that his provocative actions, his inability to negotiate, the lack of diplomatic endeavour and some of the things he has said about Israel are utterly unacceptable to the world. I believe the Russians are starting to make that clear to the Iranians. However, no serious Government are going to launch into that long and detailed form of diplomacy unless they have more confidence that their president and vice-president are committed to a serious diplomatic negotiation that will have to go on for at least a year.

You cannot ever ask anybody to take away the option of using military force; I have never believed in removing the threat. When Secretary of State Warren Christopher removed the threat of any military action against the Serbs, at one stroke any form of negotiation was dealt a mortal blow. He did that in February 1993, with no consultation with any of his allies and friends. However, you can order negotiation; you can order priorities; you can put the emphasis on the diplomacy first and then, if you have to, take different military action. But there is certainly a year’s worth of diplomacy in the Iranian situation, and I think it is slightly promising at the moment.

Great mistakes have been made; I made some in underestimating the sheer incompetence of Washington and London. I would never have believed it possible that we could have been so incompetent. I say to my noble friend Lord Jay that I do not believe a review to be necessary. This has to be very authoritative, and I accept all the suggestions the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, has made for this inquiry. My only belief is that it should take place sooner rather than later because the sooner we all learn from our mistakes, the better.

My Lords, I am glad that we now have an opportunity to debate Iraq; it has been quite a long time since we have done so. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, for introducing the debate.

I opposed the war from the beginning. I said so in the debates that we had prior to the invasion. I did not believe in the so-called dossiers—it did not seem likely that a regime that had suffered a catastrophic defeat in 1991, followed by punitive sanctions and bombing attacks, would be able to offer much of a threat to the rest of the world. Indeed, that proved to be the case. The Iraqi regime at the time protested that it had no WMD and submitted a lengthy statement to the UN, but our Government said that no one could possibly believe it. A great deal of effort went into persuading the public and MPs to support the case for war. Nevertheless, many were not persuaded and the war has never been popular. It is even less so now, and public opinion appears to be turning against it, even in the United States.

Many who supported the war claim to have been misled by the so-called intelligence. Others say that while it was right to go to war, it was wrong not to have planned for what would happen afterwards. Those who were responsible for starting the war appeared to have very little knowledge of what was likely to follow a coalition victory. I have often been told by my noble friends who supported the war that otherwise Saddam Hussein would still be in power, and that is a justification. Many Iraqis, faced with the present awful situation, might feel that even that would be preferable.

In any event, my noble friends’ argument underestimates the feeling of revulsion that many of us have about the war and about what it has meant to thousands of ordinary citizens of Iraq. We are concerned at the apparent failure of those responsible for starting it to appreciate what modern warfare does to the people unwittingly caught up in it. Some of us, like me, are old enough to remember what bombing is like for civilians on the ground. It was absolutely terrifying, and I can still recall it.

There has been an unwillingness throughout to count Iraqi deaths and casualties. Various estimates have been made; there was a much publicised one of around 650,000. I was incensed at what happened in Fallujah. A town roughly the size of Cardiff was rendered into rubble as a result of a couple of attacks. No information was available at the time on the number of civilian casualties or about what happened to the civilians who lost their home. I believe that to have been a war crime.

The current insurgency is obviously adding to casualties among Iraqis, although there are mounting casualties among coalition troops, including our own. Perhaps it was really believed that the Iraqi population would welcome the coalition forces as liberators, but clearly that has not happened. Hearts and minds have not been won. Instead, there has been a strengthening of fundamentalism. Saddam Hussein was a tyrant, but a secular one. Women had rights, unusual in other Arab states. The 70,000-strong Christian community was left undisturbed.

There have now been elections. We saw on television queues of people lining up to vote, which was reported as a great advance. But there were two separate queues—one for women and the other for men. The women were all dressed in black from head to foot and many were completely veiled. They were there because their clerics told them to be; surely we realised what that meant.

In a very short time, women were having to struggle to retain the personal status law that they had had under Saddam, which gave women rights in relation to divorce and inheritance, denied to them under Sharia law. Women who received professional training and employment under the previous regime are leaving in large numbers for Jordan, where they will be comparatively free.

Members of the Christian community are also leaving because they face threats from religious fundamentalists. Homosexuals are facing threats, too. Gangs of religious fundamentalists are tracking them down and killing them, and getting away with it. Those groups have certainly not benefited from the demise of the previous regime. From many points of view, the Iraq war has been a disaster.

So what should be done now? We have the “surge” of the president of the United States, although this may not be sufficient to end the so-called insurgency. Of course, there is opposition to it in the House of Representatives, while the declining public support for the war in our country has meant that the Government have had to consider withdrawing our troops. Involving the United Nations might seem appropriate, although it does not seem likely that other countries would be willing to send their troops on peacekeeping duties at the present time.

The present Iraqi Government do not seem able to provide stability, which is what most Iraqis want. The United States Government seem to be attributing much of the unrest to the influence of Iran. While there are clearly religious connections with the Shia clerics in the south, there certainly does not appear to be a case for military action against the Iranian regime. It is a repressive regime, but there are signs of internal opposition, particularly among young people, to the heavy-handed rule of the mullahs. We should do whatever we can to assist the democratically inclined internal opposition. For that reason, I am surprised that our Government continue to proscribe the PMOI—the People’s Mujaheddin Organisation of Iran—a peaceable organisation supported by many women. A threat of military action against Iran, however, is more likely to strengthen the present fanatical regime than weaken it.

As far as Iraq is concerned, we should bring our troops home. We should not expose these young men and women to the dangers that they are facing for what seems to be an increasingly dubious outcome. In fact, if we were able to admit that the whole adventure had been a mistake and offer to compensate the Iraqis for what our intervention has done to their people and their country, it might well go some way to restoring our collapsed reputation throughout the Middle East. That, of course, is unlikely to happen, although it should. In the mean time, I support the idea of an inquiry. It might help us to avoid similar mistakes in the future.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, for initiating this debate, and echo the congratulations to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker of Aldringham, on his maiden speech. It would have been apt in any circumstances, but it is particularly apt at the present time.

I should like to address my remarks principally to what has been said by the noble Lord, by opposition spokesmen in another place and by other noble Lords about a further privy counsellor review of the decision to go to war. I agree that there are further lessons to be learnt from our experience of the war. I also agree that the learning of those lessons may well require access to the confidential papers of government, which inquiry by a group of privy counsellors allows. But with great respect to the noble Lord, I must say that I doubt whether the scope for an inquiry goes as wide as he suggested. The lessons to be learnt concern the way in which plans were made—or, as everybody now acknowledges, not adequately made—for the situation in Iraq after the defeat of Saddam Hussein.

I doubt whether any further inquiry is needed into the reasons why the United States and the United Kingdom went to war or even into the machinery of government questions referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Owen. Like the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, I think that we, and increasingly the British public, know what happened about that. I have always believed that our Prime Minister had good reason for wishing to support the Americans in removing Saddam Hussein. But he had a problem. He had the clearest legal advice that military intervention solely for the purpose of regime change could not be justified in international law. The only justification for military intervention was to enforce the Security Council resolutions at the end of the first Gulf War prohibiting Iraq’s possession or acquisition of weapons of mass destruction.

I have also always accepted and continue to accept that the Prime Minister sincerely believed that Saddam possessed such weapons and was bent on acquiring more. Our intelligence community believed that, as did other countries’ intelligence communities, as well as Hans Blix when he first took UN observers back into Iraq. But here was the rub: neither the United Kingdom nor the United States had the intelligence that proved conclusively that Iraq had those weapons. The Prime Minister was disingenuous about that. The United Kingdom intelligence community told him on 23 August 2002 that,

“we … know little about Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons work since late 1988”.

The Prime Minister did not tell us that. Indeed, he told Parliament only just over a month later that the picture painted by our intelligence services was “extensive, detailed and authoritative”. Those words could simply not have been justified by the material that the intelligence community provided to him.

I remark in passing that the Prime Minister has come close to admitting that his reasons for continuing to support the war were reasons for which there was no legal justification. He has said that he apologises for the mistakes that were made, but he does not apologise for removing Saddam Hussein. But, absent WMD, there was no legal justification for military intervention to remove Saddam Hussein.

There can be no doubt that mistakes were also made in designing and carrying through the post-war strategy. Why were those mistakes made? First, it should be acknowledged that they were primarily American mistakes. The United States’ decisions on the post-war strategy in Iraq were flawed by what can only be described as naivety, ignorance and arrogance.

Why was Britain not more influential in influencing that strategy? Did we try to change it and fail or were we as naive and ignorant as the United States? Maybe that is the area where there is a case for further inquiry, but I suspect that, in this case too, we know the answer. We know that two factors contributed to our ineffectiveness. One was that the British Government were so focused on justifying the war and trying to secure Security Council agreement that they did not focus sufficiently on the post-war strategy. Even today, we have the evidence of Sir Jeremy Greenstock that the Government did not have their eye on that particular ball.

The second factor was the Prime Minister’s centrist and informal approach to running the Government, which prevented all the resources available in departments on this aspect from being brought into play. We know that the Secretary of State for International Development at the time, Clare Short, tried repeatedly to get the Cabinet to focus on post-war Iraq and got short shrift for it. Even so, no doubt there are lessons to be learnt from this. But like the noble Lord, Lord Jay, I am less certain about the timing suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd. It would be a mistake at this moment if we were to allow a preoccupation with the past to divert us from the present and the future. The main thrust of our energy must be forward-looking. We have to decide now what strategy will make the terrible situation in Iraq better and not worse.

As many other noble Lords have said, we must also ensure that inattention does not cause us to make the same sort of mistakes in relation to Iran as were made in Iraq. As I saw from the review that I conducted, as the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, will remember from the Scott inquiry and as I remember from the Falklands inquiry, which took place after the completion of the war, inquiries of this sort are hugely demanding on the resources of the very people in government who are also deeply involved in handling the current situation. Even in a non-partisan inquiry of the sort advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, the reputations of those concerned are closely at stake and they are bound to be concerned about that. The situation in the Middle East is so dangerous that the world cannot afford another blunder. In a no doubt well intentioned effort to learn from the past, let us not allow our attention to be diverted from the perils that lie before us.

My Lords, I start by complimenting the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker of Aldringham. At times like this, it is particularly appropriate to remind us that when war comes to an end the experience that people suffer in them continues. He has great knowledge of that and it is something that we should never let ourselves forget.

I congratulate again the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, for bringing forward this debate. It is an important one. I agree with him about the inquiry. I took the view early after the conflict that we ought to have an inquiry of the Falklands type and I dropped a note to the Prime Minister to that effect. However, it is too late now. This is not the right time for it in any event and I am not sure that the topic is right. I agree very much with the noble Lord, Lord Butler, that the areas have been well covered in the media and elsewhere, which enables us to know what the key mistakes were. I will return to those, but the core issue for me and for many of us—this was put well by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson—is that Iraq is not the beginning and end of this problem. It is part of a wider problem that has been growing and confronting us, particularly since the end of the Cold War: when and how we should intervene.

The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, who is not here today, made an excellent speech at the International Institute for Strategic Studies yesterday. It really bears reading by noble Lords. It addresses the issue that troubles some of my friends on this side—my noble friend Lady Turner would have been impressed by it. The issue is not whether it was a good idea to remove Saddam Hussein, although I understand what the noble Lord, Lord Butler, said about the legality of that. My view has always been that there is a case for regime change. We need to make that case. The problem is not just one for Britain and America: it is a problem for the European Union and also the United Nations.

Why is it a problem for the European Union? The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, will remember well that at the time of Bosnia, when he was a distinguished Foreign Secretary, many of us including myself called for intervention. I remember him saying very clearly, “I understand those people who are calling for something to be done, but the problem is they never say what”. I understand that—but let us recognise what was happening there. White European Muslims were being murdered, massacred and tortured by white European Christians and the white European Christians sat back and wrung their hands but did nothing. Then came Kosovo, where the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, worked very hard to get the United States involved.

Europe, with all the soft power that it exercises, which is very important and effective soft power, has neither the will nor the ability to deliver hard power. So we could not actually deal with Kosovo—we wanted the United States to come in and do it for us. We have to ask the question that if the United States is asked to come and sort out some of Europe’s problems, which we cannot deal with ourselves, where is the position of Europe in relation to the United States? That question goes beyond the present Administration in the United States. It is not impossible that we will have other Kosovo-type problems around the borders of Europe, so we really do need to think about this issue of intervention.

The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, yesterday made the point that intervention involves a plan before, a plan during the military operation and a plan after it. I do not think that it is true to say that the United States or the British Government did not have a plan for post-conflict—they did. The trouble is—and the noble Lord, Lord Jay, made this point very well—that there was not enough focus on it here, for reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Butler, has given. But, more importantly, two key mistakes were made.

The first mistake, to which a number of noble Lords have referred, was that there were not sufficient troops on the ground to police the situation. The other mistake was profoundly important. If you are going to make the assumption that we have lost Iraq, although I do not think we necessarily have, the period in which we lost it was between 16 and 23 May 2003. Why? Because on 16 May Paul Bremer, who was put in charge very suddenly by the United States, took the decision to get rid of the whole civil service in Iraq just because it was Ba’athist. Before that, of course, you could not get a job in the civil service in Iraq unless you were a member of the Ba’ath party—so there were good and bad people in that civil service structure. Then, on 23 May, the truly disastrous decision was to get rid of the Iraqi army, sending all those people with training and knowledge of weapons and who knew where the weapons were into long-term unemployment without any pay. At that stage, we lost control on the ground.

My answer to the question whether we should have intervened is yes. But if you are going to intervene you make sure that you have a pre-conflict plan, a plan for during the conflict and a post-conflict plan. We had a lot of that but the mistakes were of the type that I outlined. I do not think that any of this was done with bad intent—which was a point that was made by a number of noble Lords. All of it was done with good intent, but we are still struggling with the issue of how and when to intervene.

I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, will like this or not, but I have always seen him as one of the post-Treaty of Westphalia Foreign Secretaries. That treaty made the point, 400 years ago, that you should not intervene in the internal affairs of the nation state. That treaty was really at an early stage of the development of international relations. If you think about it, that treaty, which was held to for many years, was thrown out in 1944-45, because if we had held to it then we would have stopped attacking Nazi Germany when we reached its borders, having excluded it from all the countries that it had invaded. We would have let Hitler get on with governing the rest.

That is precisely what we did with Saddam Hussein in 1991—and at that stage we had Muslim countries on board with us. I understand why at that stage we made the decision not to carry on and remove him, because there was a fear of civil war—of what we have now, which is something very close to civil war. The words here are not important; we know that the killing is appalling and nobody wants to see it continue. But the issue then was that we had an opportunity to remove a despotic leader.

Another aspect of that argument is that we always underestimate how disastrous a long period of brutality is on a nation, although we got it right in Germany and, largely, with Japan, where again it is worth remembering that far from disbanding the Japanese army the British used it to police Vietnam and parts of Indonesia with British officers in charge. We administered it for six months to a year before the French came in again to take over. We knew what needed to be done in broad terms—but now things are infinitely more difficult.

The nature of modern weapons means—and the Prime Minister is absolutely right on this—that you cannot ignore problems elsewhere in the world. That is where the Treaty of Westphalia approach fails. That process, which held for 400 years, broke down in the 20th century and is certainly not appropriate now. We need ways in which to decide how and when to intervene. We should ask ourselves what would have happened if instead of just saying no to Britain and the United States having made a decision to go into Iraq the United Nations and the European Union had said, “Yes, but we want to make sure that we manage the post-conflict situation”. I venture to suggest that the situation would be significantly different and better, had that happened, because the European Union particularly is very good at post-conflict situations, as is the United Nations. By doing it without them we had the dreadful position of Europe being divided—and when people ask, as a couple of noble Lords have done today, whether the influence that the Prime Minister had in the United States could have been greater, the answer is that yes, it certainly could have been if Europe had been speaking with one voice. But it was speaking with two voices; it was weak and ineffectual—yet it is only 10 years after we pleaded with the United States to come in and use military force on our behalf in Europe. We have fallen into a double standard in that regard.

As someone who supported the war, I accept that it has not gone as planned, to put it mildly, but I actually believe that it could have done. The question is not whether you would have voted for it if you had known the outcome; the answer to that is no, because the loss of blood and life is too great. The real question is whether the intervention could have been done in a more unified and effective way, especially with regard to the post-conflict planning. The answer to that must be that it not only could and should have been done in that way, but we need to do it more effectively in future.

I am always struck that when people say that we should not have intervened in Iraq, in another conversation sometimes the same people—particularly if they come from a Conservative perspective—say that we should do something about Zimbabwe and take action to put Mugabe out of office. Other people, particularly on the left, will say that we have to do something about Darfur, remove the Janjaweed and stop the massacres and ethnic cleansing that are going on there. That goes back to what the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, would say when he was Foreign Secretary—people say that something should be done, but what should be done? The “what should be done” bit is the issue not so much for an inquiry but for an inspired and ongoing policy debate about when and how we intervene. That is the key question; the issue is not whether it was right or wrong to intervene to remove Saddam Hussein—as far as I am concerned, it was right. The issue is essentially how you manage that process.

The United Nations has to come away from the idea that you should never remove a despot. We should remember that most despots who have been removed have been removed without the consent of the United Nations. Pol Pot, Idi Amin and the East Pakistan Government before that region became Bangladesh were all removed by neighbouring states with force without the consent of the United Nations. That is also true of Kosovo. One of my primary reasons for supporting the action was not that of weapons of mass destruction. If you read the debate of 18 March 2003 in the House of Commons, in which I took part, you will see that most of us did not argue about the issue of WMD—the noble Lord, Lord Butler, was right about that; we argued about the United Nations becoming increasingly like the League of Nations, where it could not and would not act, the problem of bringing stability to the Middle East while you had someone like Saddam Hussein sitting in the middle of it all, and other issues. I do not pretend that WMD were not part of it, but they were not the key part of the debate. The debate now needs to move on to the crucial issue of when and how we intervene.

I am not in the business of plugging other people’s books, but if the book of the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, is anything like what he described yesterday, he is right. He comes to this matter with the experience of Bosnia and Kosovo. It is a matter that we all ought to consider carefully because this issue of intervention in failed and despotic states will not go away and will become profoundly more dangerous the easier it is to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

My Lords, this House has an extremely good record for mounting excellent debates about Iraq and this one has been no exception. I recall the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, which was of a magisterial nature and appealed for an inquiry, and the moving speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker, which we shall remember for a long time. The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, was particularly interesting when he talked about government motives and preconceptions at the beginning of the war.

I do not think that I make special pleading if I say that if Her Majesty’s Government had listened more carefully, or read more carefully the report of the debates on Iraq on 28 November 2002 and 26 February 2003, we might not be in quite such a bad position as we are today. Those debates and this one are one more good reason to suppose that this Chamber does a very good job. Perhaps that is what my noble friend Lord Jay referred to when he thought that the role of Parliament in these matters should be discussed more carefully.

The fine speeches made by my noble and gallant friend Lord Bramall and my noble friend Lord Skidelsky on 28 November 2002 provide an ample justification for a Cross-Bench peerage. I also recall, if I am not making a mistake, a speech by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, in which, just before the war, he said that if we were looking for monsters to destroy perhaps we should look—this is echoed in what the noble Lord, Lord Soley, said a few minutes ago—towards Zimbabwe rather than to Iraq. The phrase “monsters to destroy” is a quotation from the fifth president of the United States, John Quincy Adams, when he was Secretary of State, in which he advised the United States not to look for enemies and to be careful about entangling alliances—to use a phrase of the second president, President Jefferson.

However satisfactory it is to recall how wise we were in the past, we have to deal with the present situation. In thinking what to say on this subject, I was tempted to recall the previous time when this country was deeply involved in Iraq in the occupation from 1917 to 1921, as a mandatory power from 1917 to 1929 and as the paramount power from 1929 to 1958. I thought that I ought to talk about that since a Member of this House revealed to me that the present United States Secretary of State did not seem to know that we had been in that position in Iraq before. That was the time when, in the words of a book by Christopher Catherwood, Winston’s Folly, we were creating modern Iraq. That was the time when Mr Churchill, then Colonial Secretary, said that we were the greatest Mohammedan power. I suppose that was probably true after 1919, recalling our role in what was then India.

I was tempted to talk about the question of regime change, as touched on, interestingly, by the noble Lord, Lord Soley, recalling that President Theodore Roosevelt, in what was known as the corollary to the Monroe doctrine, thought that brutal wrong-doing was a justification for United States intervention in Latin America. Then I thought that perhaps this war in Iraq represents the Latin Americanisation of American foreign policy. I was tempted, too, to dwell on a point mentioned yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, in the discussion on Iraq when he referred to Mr Peter Galbraith’s suggestion for the partition of Iraq. However, I thought better of all this. I decided that the best contribution I could make would be to talk about what we should do and what we are doing about the ancient history of Iraq and the ancient culture that made such a major contribution to all our lives. I say this because what we know of what is happening at ancient sites in Iraq disquiets me. Many sites appear to have been damaged recently. I say “appear” because the facts are not known. Much has been stolen from all places since the guards have been removed.

The great museum in Baghdad appears to be secure, but that security has been achieved, it seems, by closing the museum completely, even to its own staff. The director of the museum, Dr George, having been threatened, is now in exile in the United States. A British embassy official who was in Baghdad for three years until recently, and to whom I spoke, told me that the idea of visiting Babylon or Ur was quite out of the question, even though Ur is in the United States airbase of Tallil. It is true that Mr MacGregor, the director of the British Museum, went to Baghdad soon after the fall of the old regime. It is worth while pointing out to the House that the British Museum has since then taken a brave and persistent attitude of interest at least in what has been happening in respect of ancient Iraqi or Mesopotamian culture. The curator of Iraqi studies at the British Museum, Dr Curtis, went to Babylon two years ago and discussed his findings, which were extremely disquieting, in the Guardian at that time.

We in the western community, this Government and the United States Government, will have to take into account that this era will be judged on how we have carried out our mandate, which perhaps is the wrong word, to try to ensure that it will always be possible in the future for people—scholars, archaeologists and historians, not to speak of mere cultivated tourists—who want or need to be able to visit what remains of these ancient cultures. They inspired in their time things so important as the invention of bronze, the invention of the plough, even probably the invention of the wheel, not to speak of writing, which was first to be found on cuneiform in Sumerian script in what is now Iraq. Her Majesty’s Government therefore should take care as a priority to ensure that the British Museum in particular, among other institutions, as a leader in the world museum community, has all the support, both financial and logistical, that it may need to influence on the spot our allies, our forces and the Iraqi authorities to ensure that whatever can be is guarded and preserved for the long-term benefits of humanity.

After all, Britain played an immense part in discovering and preserving Iraq’s antiquities in the era of the mandate and in the era of Britain as a paramount power. The great name in this respect is Sir Leonard Woolley who, between 1922 and 1935—bad old days no doubt Iraqi nationalists would consider them—carried through an astonishing series of discoveries, which he summed up in his magnificent book Ur of the Chaldees. Those considerations should be an absolute priority of the United States and Britain, who have taken on themselves responsibility for trying to create democracy in the country.

To assist maintaining or creating such a concern or interest, Her Majesty’s Government might seek or might persuade some of their well-wishers to establish a series of lectures. I hope this does not inspire derision, but they might be described as the Hammurabi lectures, in honour of the king of Babylon who, in 1800 BC or so, inspired the first code of law. The lectures would be delivered by scholars who know not only about Hammurabi but know that democracy, such as the Prime Minister and the President of the United States seek to leave behind them in this territory, needs the rule of law as much as it does the art of counting votes.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, for the opportunity to look at the position of women in Iraq. It is a subject that we skim over but very rarely talk about in any detail. I will show that theirs has been a turbulent journey, both before and after the fall of Baghdad on 10 April 2003.

In December of that year, the Iraqi governing council, with almost no debate, quietly passed Resolution 137, which transferred key provisions of personal and family law from civil authority to traditional law—a resolution that threatened women’s rights in marriage, divorce and inheritance. Iraqi women’s groups mobilised public protests and private negotiations calling for the repeal of the resolution. They succeeded and the resolution was subsequently repealed. The consequence of this attempt to reduce women’s rights was that it motivated Iraqi women to organise, to demonstrate and successfully to represent themselves. In the words of Nasreen Berwari, who became Minister of Municipalities and Public Works, it brought Iraqi women together for a common cause. Co-operation and organisation crossed religious and ethnic lines—Shia, Sunni, Christian, Arab, Kurd and Turkmen all worked together.

However, to really appreciate that achievement, it is necessary to look briefly at the life of women under Saddam Hussein. Iraqi women had been historically among the best educated and professionally equipped in the region but, by the end of Saddam’s rule, there had been a dramatic reduction in women’s rights with respect to divorce, child custody and inheritance. More than two-thirds of Iraqi women were illiterate and men were allowed to marry additional wives. Each year at least 400 women were murdered in so-called honour killings under Article 111 of the Iraqi penal code, introduced by Saddam in 1990. Thousands of women were subject to imprisonment, torture, rape and execution because either they or their family members spoke out against the regime or were suspected of disloyalty.

Having seen their rights eroded by Saddam, it is clear that Iraqi women were and are going to attempt to ensure that their future is based on equality and freedom. A start to achieving that aim has been made. Three years ago, the interim constitution guaranteed women 25 per cent of seats in the national assembly, despite the fact that there were no women on the drafting committee. The target was not reached, with only 18 per cent of women representatives being appointed—but that was put right. In the elections in January 2005, women surpassed the quota— 87 women, 31 per cent, were elected. This was achieved by mandating that one in every three candidates on each party’s ballot was a woman. Six women were made Ministers and many serve on district, local and municipal councils throughout Iraq. A great deal of that success was due to the activity of women’s organisations and by women encouraging women to participate in the election, despite the threat of insurgent violence.

This rapid increase in activity has also seen Iraqi women becoming involved internationally, for instance, at the UN 48th annual Commission on the Status of Women, held in New York, and the Global Summit of Women, held in Seoul. But for many women, participation in such activity was a new experience; to provide support, women’s conferences were held and women’s centres were established throughout Iraq to promote the empowerment of women. The centres offer computer, financial and literacy classes, along with access to information on healthcare, legal services and women’s rights.

One of the UK Government’s key contributions in helping to build that democracy was to appoint two gender advisers to the Coalition Provisional Authority, one in Baghdad and one in Basra. Both experienced advisers were commissioners from the Women’s National Commission, which advises the UK Government on women’s issues. A group of Iraqi women were then invited to the UK by the commission and funded by the British Council. The internship programme was a journey of discovery for those women. They were able to see how devolution worked in Scotland and Wales; and in Northern Ireland, they talked with women with direct experience of living with the threat of terrorism over many years and of shaping peace initiatives. They had the opportunity also to shadow women MPs here at Westminster, including women Ministers, past and present. Those experiences gave them an invaluable insight into the role that women play in a developed democracy.

Since their return to Iraq, they have between them trained more than 600 women in leadership skills that they learnt here in the UK—a small number, but a significant step. As one of the women said,

“terrorism cannot and will not take away the knowledge and skills we have learned and cascaded through the internship programme; they will outlive the present atrocities”.

We welcome that optimism and must support it. But, as my noble friend Lady Ramsay said, it is a very complex picture. Many challenges remained, and the life of Iraqi women is still far from easy. Millions of women have lost their husbands, have become destitute and are at the same time the sole breadwinner. While men make up the majority of the victims of the escalating violence, it has had a distinct and debilitating impact on women’s daily lives.

Only recently, reports from women’s groups show that throughout Iraq, even in the north, women are harassed if they attempt to mobilise and lobby for their rights under the constitution. In the south and other parts, women are now forced to wear the hijab and adopt conservative dress. Millions of women and girls dare not leave their homes to go to school, university or work, or to go to the market to be able to support their families. Female genital mutilation is still an issue in the Kurdish provinces. Early and enforced marriage and honour crimes still threaten women’s lives.

Only yesterday the Daily Telegraph reported a claim by a woman that she had been raped by members of security forces who had entered her home in central Baghdad. The Prime Minister rejected her claim. However, for me, the issue is not whether she was telling the truth but, rather, that the potential outcome is that she may be killed to salvage the family honour—the victim of an honour killing.

The constitution of Iraq is under review, but there is some confusion about the process of that review and when the review committee will complete its work. Perhaps my noble friend can shed some light on how this constitutional review is being carried out and when it will be ratified. That is crucial as, once again, the women’s organisations are having to campaign in increasingly difficult environments to repeal the intensely discriminatory Article 41 in the draft constitution.

Article 41, if passed, would erode women’s rights. It would replace current family laws with ones pertaining to specific religious and ethnic communities. It would erode women’s rights in respect of marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance far more dramatically than the original Resolution 137. So it is crucial that we in the UK continue to engage and keep faith with the women of Iraq and work with them to have the confidence to challenge any attempt to make Article 41 law.

I also ask for a further intervention by the UK Government. They are, as I understand it, working with the Iraqi Minister of Finance on the distribution of the development fund. While it is crucial that we continue to build on social and health improvements, I hope that, within that, account will be taken of the specific and special problems of the women and children of Iraq.

In conclusion, I reiterate that we must continue to support those brave women who are striving not only for women’s advancement and liberation but for a peaceful democracy in Iraq.

My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, for giving us this opportunity. I agree very much with what the noble Baroness has just said. I hope that the Minister will send a message of condolence to Iraq from this debate, not only as a tribute to our troops in the field but in recognition of the thousands of deaths and injuries sustained every month by Iraqi civilians, whom we also mourn, and of the millions who are still suffering daily from the effects of civil war.

Among so many atrocities, one of the saddest that I have read about this month concerns a baby girl called Shams, who has half a face. Some weeks ago, she was with her parents in Sadr City, the mainly Shia area of Baghdad, when three cars exploded. Her mother died and half the baby’s face was blown away, leaving her eyes buried under skin.

“Blood and destruction shall be so in use,

And dreadful objects so familiar,

That mothers shall but smile when they behold

Their infants quartered with the hands of war”.

Those words from Mark Antony seem to me all too familiar today. I agree with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker, that, sitting here, we can scarcely imagine the realities of war. I hope that over the past two weeks some noble Lords have seen the production of the Baghdad “Richard III”, which I saw at Stratford. It was quite something.

That little girl was lucky from one point of view: her father, Hisham, survived and they have been evacuated to the Red Cross hospital in Amman, where doctors from Médecins sans Frontières are trying to treat her with plastic surgery. She is, as we have heard, one of almost 4 million Iraqis who have left their homes. The total number in Jordan, Syria and other countries is approaching 2 million, but nearly as many are already displaced inside Iraq. The UN agencies and NGOs are preparing for even bigger numbers in what the International Rescue Committee calls,

“a refugee crisis of historic proportions”.

I think that we underestimate what is happening. By the end of this year, at least another half a million people will have been internally displaced, making roughly one in five or six Iraqis who are on the move. Two out of five Iraqi Christians have already left the country. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker, also mentioned the psychological effects. I have received an e-mail from an Iraqi friend about her mother-in-law. She says:

“The vibrant optimistic positive woman I knew has withdrawn into a shell of despair and total disbelief at how a life can change so drastically in one lifetime. She has lost almost everything she loves or cares for including a son who was killed by the Baathists … can you image the humiliation and the emotional state that helpless woman and thousands like her have to go through now as a normal state of affairs?”.

Syria and Jordan have been the most welcoming of countries, but they have had little international assistance so far. Social services are stretched to breaking point. Iraqi refugees now have to apply for residence within a fortnight. They are only getting temporary visas, if that, and are asked to pay for their own healthcare. NGOs are finding that even their own staff are held up at borders. Offers of help from the UK to Syria and Jordan would now be timely, either direct to the non-governmental organisations or through the UNHCR.

On the IDPs, the recent report that thousands of Shia in Kirkuk, resettled in Kurdish and Assyrian Christian areas under Saddam Hussein, may now officially return home will cause further ethnic tension. As for a referendum on the control of oil supplies in the north, the existing violence between Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen communities could easily worsen. One effect of migration into cities is that empty houses are not being reallocated. They are often taken over by armed groups trying to cleanse an area of another sect. Ethnic cleansing makes an area secure, but much more dangerous. Even the Red Crescent has recently suspended its operations owing to the kidnapping of eight of its staff. Doctors and their families have become a prime target of kidnappers. Most senior doctors have now left Iraq, and there is immense pressure on junior doctors. Hospitals have to suffer regular intrusion from militia or coalition forces, some of them demanding priority treatment. Even ambulances and medical conveys are being fired on.

Fortunately, the informal networks have been coping when health services break down, but this situation cannot continue indefinitely. Everyone dreads a further deterioration. They know that a lot of aid has been wasted. I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, for pointing out our responsibility for not auditing all the funds that went through the coalition.

The straight question before us is whether foreign occupation is making peace in Iraq or exacerbating the war, as suggested by General Dannatt last year. I agree with my noble friend Lord Jay that there must be more accountability to Parliament. I say to my noble friend Lord Thomas that it is going to require more than debates. I was a member of the Constitution Committee, which recommended a convention that would apply not just to Iraq, but to situations like the four-figure deployment of additional troops to Afghanistan without any reference to Parliament.

General Dannatt’s comment must have led directly to the Prime Minister’s Statement yesterday, and leaves me wondering whether this latest announcement is not a feint to satisfy critics rather than a genuine withdrawal. I agree with those on the Liberal Benches who are looking for more clarity, difficult as it is, because that is what the public demand. Whatever our views on the invasion, no one doubts what our troops were there for, or that they have fought gallantly. We must not talk up collapse and fragmentation, but we must have doubts about our troops’ effectiveness in the long run. What I have read of the recent US national intelligence estimate and have since heard from NGOs suggests that security is deteriorating faster than ever and that political and diplomatic action, rather than troop deployment, is the only way to reverse this process.

President Bush has drawn the opposite conclusion. He may have executive power, but he no longer carries enough weight in Congress. There is no longer a clear lead from the top. Inertia in diplomacy is dangerous for any state tied down in war, especially for a superpower, because of its consequences for us all. This is a different situation; there can be no comparison with 9/11 or 2003. The uncertainty surrounding the US Administration at present is in sharp contrast with the firmness of the original decision to invade four years ago. The coalition against terrorism included several European and Arab states whose presence has since melted away, leaving us high and dry.

The Baker-Hamilton plan was encouraging and useful at the time, but I cannot see any actions arising from it. William Polk, the US analyst, was surely right when he said last month that it was naive to expect Iran and Syria to co-operate with the United States, which has been attacking and denouncing them for five or six years.

We all hope that the latest security measures will work, at least for a time, and that they will contain some of the fighting, but history shows that they can only be temporary and cannot be regarded as a solution. I believe that our forces should be given a clear date for withdrawal, and we need to persuade the US of the same. There is a widespread view in the Middle East that, whatever the case was for invasion, there is no longer a case for occupation. By setting a timetable, we have a greater chance of reconnecting diplomatically with the neighbouring Arab states that should be our natural allies because of history and the record of the Foreign Office in this region. If we remember our debate on the Serious Fraud Office, we cannot simply expect automatic co-operation on intelligence from countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt if we are not on their wavelength on the Iraq war.

What efforts are being made to improve our contacts with the neighbouring Arab states and to revive the original coalition against terrorism of countries that had a shared objective after 9/11 and may still feel a responsibility for the ending of the war after the occupying forces have left? The Saudi Government, in particular, are taking considerable interest in a peaceful settlement throughout the region. What expectations does the Minister have of the Arab summit in Riyadh in March, which could see the launch of a strong initiative to reactivate the role of Arab states in Iraq? Iraq’s Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, has invited Iraq’s neighbours to a prior conference in Baghdad. These are surely opportunities to be seized by the UK, perhaps alongside the European Union this time, because if nothing else we are going to need to make more friends in the Middle East.

Finally, there are the threats against Iran. The United States argues that they will reinforce sanctions, but I see them as a deliberate diversion away from Iraq. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, who made a strong case against US rhetoric. Such threats belong to a dangerous foreign policy. They reopen the discredited axis of evil and provide more fuel for Arab and world criticism. It is an unrealistic course of action, which we should reject by speaking out clearly at once.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, who made a first-class speech setting out in as objective a way as possible the argument for an inquiry. However, I am not sure that the inquiry’s conclusions would necessarily reflect all the concerns that he harbours about the Iraqi conflict. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, for his contribution that put clothing on the remit for the inquiry called for by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell. However, I am concerned that an early inquiry would be unhelpful because we need to have the benefit of the evidence given in the United States to the further inquiries that the new legislatures in Washington will inevitably undertake. I cannot believe that US witnesses would bare their souls to a UK inquiry before there are similar inquiries in the United States of America. We also need to have the benefit of the freedom of information inquiries, which we will all no doubt feast on at some stage in the future.

I believe that an inquiry is inevitable, and as I understand the position the Government have committed themselves to one at some future stage. Such a statement was made to the media last year during an early morning interview on the “Today” programme. It is not as though we have set our faces against an inquiry; it is just that in my view it should not take place at this stage. I support the Government's position. However, there was an omission in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme. When he set out his remit for an inquiry, which would provide a very good template for any future inquiry, he omitted the issue of sanctions and their link to subsequent military action. I want to focus my comments today on the sanctions policy.

The argument on sanctions is not over. Why? First, many in Iraq are sore over the failure of the United Nations to properly manage them. Indeed, they were the source of the seeds of distrust sown which now pervade throughout Iraq in Iraqis’ attitudes to the UN. Secondly, most of the companies that breached sanctions have got away with it. The policy of sanctions was introduced to bring Saddam Hussein’s regime to heel—a regime which it was felt at the time if ignored would ultimately destabilise the whole region through military interventions, and destabilise the international economy through threats to oil supply and the oil price. It came in the form of a whole series of resolutions—661, 687, 778, 986, 1051, 1175, 1284 and 1409.

I supported the policy on sanctions right through, as did many in this House. I supported sanctions on the basis that they would be enforced. They were not. In 1998 I changed my mind on the sanctions policy and argued openly for military intervention. Why? I had arranged a visit by a member of my staff in the Commons to check on reports that there were large-scale trades in illegal oil exports by truck from northern Iraq into southern Turkey. He confirmed the report after a visit. There were also reports from SCIRI representatives in London of substantial shipments by barge of illegal oil traffic through ports in southern Iraq. The INC in London and Washington was regularly reporting corruption in the UN Oil for Food programme through the manipulation of currency transactions.

The Kurdish political party, PUK, was reporting kickbacks on illicit oil sales. It had picked up this information while monitoring KDP revenue-raising operations in northern Iraq. Finally, the sanctions policy was not hurting the people it was intended to hurt; it was actually hurting the people of Iraq. The truth is that the lack of proper enforcement of the sanctions regime was propping up Saddam Hussein’s regime with illegal revenues.

I went on two separate occasions to Washington to argue for enforcement, on the first occasion to Congress and on the second to the State Department. Sanctions for me were always an alternative to war. I raised the issue through the Intelligence and Security Committee on delegations we had to Washington. I raised the issue when I led an Anglo-American parliamentary group delegation to Washington in the late 1990s. I raised the issue repeatedly on the Floor of the House of Commons in Questions and in debate. I argued for a Commons Select Committee inquiry to consider sanctions, which it subsequently did. It confirmed abuse of the sanctions policy. The problem was that everyone who could do anything about it turned a blind eye. The most that we could secure was an assurance in Congress that, at some stage, an inquiry would be set up. Indeed, that has happened in the form of the Volcker inquiry, but very late in the whole process.

I then started arguing in the Commons and elsewhere for military intervention. I blame the war on those who breached sanctions. I blame Kofi Annan and his failure to stand up to the international community and demand enforcement of sanctions. I also blame the Governments of France, Russia and, in particular, the Clinton White House, who turned a complete blind eye and did not even want to know about the problem. A decision had obviously been taken in Washington: “We will just let them get on with it”. People in the State Department were arguing that that was providing revenue through an illegal tax-take to the KDP in northern Europe.

In my view, they will bear responsibility because it is they who propped up the Saddam Hussein regime. If we need proof of this, all we need to do is read Volcker. It linked 2,400 companies to breaches of sanctions. It linked 11 British companies to bribery allegations. The roll of dishonour included thousands of companies with global interests, notably Daimler, Chrysler, Siemens, Volvo, Glencore and a host of other international operations. They were all implicated in undermining the sanctions policy.

The truth is that many of those companies by their actions, along with a freeze-framed UN, prolonged the policy of sanctions and made it unenforceable. They bear responsibility for the agony of Iraq and the major loss of life. However, the major powers are still dragging their feet by failing to pursue many of the companies involved.

One of the organisations that particularly interests me is the Australian Wheat Board, with its alleged payment of £125 million to the Saddam Hussein regime. Another allegation, perhaps smaller, which I have been following is one made against a Mr John Irving, a British oil trader—that he and others, through a company called Bayoil, corruptly paid commissions to the regime. I support John Irving's call for a Serious Fraud Office inquiry into the allegations.

However, my real interest is in the Weir Group. It has reportedly admitted that it paid millions in irregular payments through a Swiss bank account. It claims that it made the payments through an agent, for whom it did not have responsibility. Volcker says that a man called Andrew Macleod negotiated the deal. Macleod was questioned and stated:

“I work for the company and I did as I was told. I did what was required in Baghdad”.

An agent giving evidence to Volcker corroborated his account by providing copies of two e-mails from Mr Macleod in January 2002 that,

“requested the agent’s assistance with kickback payment arrangements. In one of these e-mails, WEMCO Envirotech’s Financial Manager advised Mr. Macleod of ‘this “10% AFTER SALES TAX”’ and the need to make sure that the shipping company had proof of payment, before ‘Iraqi Authorities’ will ‘let the vessel discharge the goods’. Mr. Macleod forwarded the e-mail to the agent with a list of all contract numbers and asked the agent to ‘supply’ the payment information for these contracts: ‘Trust you will action accordingly’”,

he added.

On that matter, the Volcker report states:

“Weir declined the Committee’s request to meet with employees who were involved in Weir's business in Iraq. Most significantly, the Committee requested to speak with Andrew Macleod, a current Weir employee who appears as the contract signatory ... Instead, Weir responded to inquiries through Alan Mitchelson ... Mr. Mitchelson stated that Weir’s own investigation has not revealed evidence of any agreement ... Despite Weir's insistence that its agent was to blame and that there was no agreement by its own employees to pay any kickbacks to Iraq, documents obtained by the Committee from Iraq reveal that Mr. Macleod signed several agreements to pay kickbacks on Weir’s behalf”.

I shall not go on quoting from the Volcker report, but the reality is that such companies have blood on their hands, because they are the ones that undermine the policy of sanctions that would have worked. This war would have been avoided if we had properly enforced the sanctions policy. It is now 15 months since Strathclyde Police visited the United Nations in New York to interview the Volcker staff on the Weir allegations. What has happened? Nothing. These inquiries are being driven into the long grass all over the world, and now we talk of introducing sanctions against other states in the region. What nonsense. Exactly the same will happen in the future. That is why I will oppose whatever sanction regimes are proposed by whatever British Government in the future—because I know, on the basis of our experience of Iraq, that they are unenforceable.

I will welcome the inquiry of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, when it is finally set up, although, as I said, it is premature at the moment. But I hope, as the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, says, that lessons will be learnt from the period leading up to the war when a sanctions policy was supposed to be in operation. That should be at the heart of any inquiry set up in the future.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker of Aldringham, on a powerful maiden speech. It is a particular pleasure to welcome him; we were colleagues as fellow assistant chiefs of our services 15 years ago in the Ministry of Defence. He made a particularly powerful speech about the dedication of our servicemen. We tragically lost a Royal Marine in Helmand province yesterday to an anti-personnel mine, and we on these Benches offer our condolences to the families.

I also thank the Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, for giving us this opportunity to focus on so many issues about Iraq. His call for an inquiry is important and, as my noble friend Lord Alderdice said, we on these Benches support the call. We have had some discussion about the appropriateness of the timing of such an inquiry, but we need to learn lessons from our mistakes, both in the run-up to the conflict and after the war fighting period had finished, because if we do not learn those lessons, we shall repeat the mistakes. I argue that we are already in the process of repeating them; we are looking at benign outcomes when they may not be benign, and we are kidding ourselves about how easy the security situation is, even as we speak.

Noble Lords should be grateful to the United States, which publishes such comprehensive information for us all to read; a lesson in open government. The most significant document recently was the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which was approved by the US National Intelligence Board on 29 January. I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm in his speech that the United Kingdom intelligence community shares the assessments of all its US colleagues who signed up. We have talked about whether a civil war is going on in Iraq. The key judgment in the estimate was: “The Intelligence Community”—that is, the US intelligence community,

“judges that the term ‘civil war’ does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict in Iraq, which includes extensive Shia-on-Shia violence, al-Qa’ida and Sunni insurgent attacks on Coalition forces, and widespread criminally motivated violence. Nonetheless, the term ‘civil war’ accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict, including the hardening of ethno-sectarian identities, a sea change in the character of the violence, ethno-sectarian mobilization, and population displacements”.

The recommendation in this assessment of the problem of the population displacements, both internal and external, about which the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, spoke, is important. What are the Government doing in terms of taking our share of the international refugee burden that has resulted from these displacements?

The National Intelligence Estimate concludes that if the security situation does not improve in Iraq—it is fairly pessimistic about that possibility—there are three possible outcomes. First, we may get chaos leading to partition; secondly, there may be the emergence of the Shia strongman to take control of Iraq; or thirdly, there may be anarchic fragmentation of power. Those are the United States intelligence estimates about the way Iraq is going and those thoughts should govern us when we look at our strategy.

As other noble Lords have said, we look at commentators—official, academic and journalists—from the region, from Europe and from the United States. I have found that, of those, the most consistently reliable one has been Anthony Cordesman who holds the chair in strategy at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. He has been particularly reliable at laying out options and their implications over the past four years. Earlier this month, he gave a very sombre assessment of the options and the likely outcomes in the light of President Bush’s new approach with the surge operation into Baghdad. I want to concentrate on one aspect of his analysis which plays into this question of whether the British Government and, indeed, the United States Government, are repeating previous mistakes by being overly complacent or optimistic about the situation.

We have been told time and again that the situation in Iraq is not uniformly bad; namely, that 14 out of 18 provinces are in reasonable shape, that the UK area of responsibility is progressively being handed over to Iraqi forces as it is so much less difficult than elsewhere, and so on. Yesterday, the Lord President told us that 80 per cent of the violence was around Baghdad. Last night, on “Newsnight”, the Defence Secretary said that 80 to 90 per cent of the violence was around Baghdad and the Prime Minister this morning on “Today” coincidentally used the figure 80 to 90 per cent of the violence being in Baghdad.

Cordesman identifies this assessment as a misapprehension. He notes that the Iraq Study Group was correct when it said that,

“official US reporting on the patterns of violence in Iraq may reflect less than a 10th of the actual struggle, and much of this violence is outside Baghdad”.

That is why looking beyond the headline suicide bomber deaths and the death squad murders in the capital is so important. Even if the United States strategy to gain control of Baghdad were to succeed, which the assessment considers to be fairly difficult, there is no plan for what to do beyond that to secure the remainder of the country. As Cordesman says:

“So far, however, the US has not shown that it has a clear plan for taking control of Baghdad with the US and Iraqi resources it has available, or described a credible operational plan for moving from ‘win’ to ‘hold’ and ‘build.’ It has completely failed to set forth a strategy and meaningful operational plan for dealing with Iraq as a country even if it succeeds in Baghdad”.

Cordesman does what we call in military circles a “red team” analysis of the options open to the insurgents and militants. I trust that similar studies are going on in the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office. Among the various options open to them is the possibility that during this surge operation in Baghdad, they move their action away from the capital, which may of course have a direct effect on the UK region in the south. He also suggests that the Shiite militias may stand down temporarily, while the Sunni insurgents will have to continue operations, which will of course result in the United States and Iraqi security forces effectively fighting on the Shiite side. There is an outcome then which divides the spoils between the Shias and Kurds, and the worst chaos is averted. But it is a far cry from the democratic aspirations that we trumpeted originally and might give rise to the Shia strongman predicted by the National Intelligence Estimate. I wonder what the Government’s view is on that. Is that a least worst option as we see things now?

When we come to the British sector, just how well under control is it? We have been assured repeatedly that the handing over of our four provinces was on course. Maysan was the next to go, and indeed as recently as 22 November the Foreign Secretary said in the other place that she expected it to be transferred to Iraq authority in January. Yet as the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, told us on Tuesday, Maysan province is now so dangerous that we cannot recover a C-130 Hercules aircraft after a landing incident and instead must destroy it at a loss of £45 million. This does not seem to bode well for the security situation. So I ask the question again: are we not being too complacent? Indeed, today’s Los Angeles Times identifies a report from the Pentagon to Congress about American concerns about the state of play down in the south.

I turn now to what this means for the United Kingdom’s contribution in Iraq. Yesterday the Prime Minister outlined an indicative timetable for a partial withdrawal. The question is whether this is the right strategy. If the United States approach is yet again too short term and lacking the follow-through plan, a repeat of the mistakes we talked about back in May 2003, we need to consider where that leaves us for the UK forces. I share the deep concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Owen, that abandoning Iraq to absolute chaos is not on, and it would probably mean that the neighbouring states would have to get involved with unknown consequences for conflict in the region. Yet I disagree with him about what that means for the UK forces. It does not mean that the UK forces are locked there for ever; they are not the essential linchpin to security in Iraq. They make up just 5 per cent of the multinational forces deployed and they will be even less after the forthcoming reduction. If they were totally withdrawn, as we have argued, their tasks would be absorbed by other forces, predominantly those of the United States, which has already indicated that given our drawdown it intends to provide a reserve and perhaps go into our area if it looks as though it is getting out of control. The United States would enjoy unity of command and be able to apply its strategy for good or ill across the whole of the country, and we would not risk the 5,000 or so remaining UK soldiers being held hostage on a single base in a worsening security situation, perhaps triggered by any military offensive against Iran, about which a number of noble Lords have spoken. Our coalition partners are obviously coming to similar conclusions. Just as the Statement was being repeated here in the House yesterday, the Danes announced that they will all be out by August. Our small force at Basra air station is going to find itself very vulnerable and an attractive target to insurgents.

This is not an abandonment of our ally, the United States, because we have a second challenging operation in which we are working together—in Afghanistan. We have today a relatively small but very professional military, and we all know what tremendous work they do. Dividing our assets between two campaigns is not a recipe for success in either. We have to supply two theatres and the valuable enabling assets such as airlift, both strategic and tactical, is in short supply. I do not expect the Minister, from his Foreign Office portfolio, to comment on the military wisdom of concentrating our forces on one campaign, but I trust he recognises that operating for so many years beyond our planned requirements is a matter of deep concern to those who value the capability of our Armed Forces. They have spent four years in Iraq doing difficult and dangerous work with their customary great skill, but it has taken a long-term toll on our capability. We are no longer sure what outcome the United States is aiming for in Iraq. It is time to concentrate our effort on that other difficult and important task in Afghanistan. As the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said, the Government would be wise to plan now for the early withdrawal of all Armed Forces from Iraq.

My Lords, it is our custom to say that the debates we hold in your Lordships’ House are very timely, although we do not always mean it. However, if ever there was a debate which landed right on schedule, on the right runway at the right time, this is it. I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Hurd for introducing it with such a superb presentation of his case, to which I will come in a minute.

The debate has been greatly enhanced by the maiden speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker of Aldringham, who brought enormous expertise and wisdom to it. He reminded us of the crucial covenant between servicemen in the Armed Forces, the people of this country and the representatives of the people of this country, a covenant which must hold and must never be allowed to break. We obviously want to hear more of the noble and gallant Lord’s wisdom in the future.

Time has passed since the debate in the other place on 31 October last year on a possible inquiry into the whole Iraq affair. Since it started, 132 British soldiers have died on active service in Iraq; between £4 and £5 billion has been spent, although it may be much more than that; and hundreds, if not thousands, more Iraqi lives continue to be lost in the unending bloodshed. On top of that, the number of deaths continues to rise in Afghanistan. I join others in offering condolences and expressing sadness at the death of the Royal Marine yesterday and send sympathy to his grieving family.

Also, since the debate in the other place in October, there have been a number of crucial developments. The whole saga of Iraq and its associated problems is, in effect, entering an entirely new phase. First, as noble Lords have pointed out, there has been the Baker-Hamilton report, with its emphasis on diplomacy and on the need for regional co-operation. Many of us agreed with that report, even though to my mind it suffered from a big defect in that it contained the central belief that the USA still has the power to impose its template on the Middle East region and be the dominant power, and that it still has the capacity to extract itself from its own errors. I believe that is a flawed view and that America will need help from many others, not only Europe and the regional powers, including, I am afraid, Iran, but the rising Asian powers—although that raises broader issues.

Secondly, the so-called surge strategy has begun to unfold, with 21,500 extra US troops now filing into Baghdad to somehow, we hope, pacify a situation that 130,000 troops could not pacify.

Thirdly, there has been the UK decision, announced yesterday, to wind down troop levels, combined with what most people now recognise as a depressing loss of direction in policy. I cannot think of any better example of that than the simultaneous welcome for the Baker-Hamilton report, which urged talks not troops, and for the Bush initiative that followed it, which urged troops not talks. Both were ticked and supported by the British Government. Truly Britain’s reputation for clarity and purpose in international policy has never been weaker nor our influence more tarnished.

We are told that this latest withdrawal is justified by improvements in Basra security. Indeed, the spin has been that it somehow fits with the concurrent American build-up of troops in Baghdad. As I mentioned yesterday, I hope and trust that this picture is accurate and that there is nothing artificial about this rather sudden judgment that Basra is peaceful and Iraqi forces can take over. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, also raised that question. It would be good to know how and when this decision was reached. Indeed, it would be good to know how any decisions have been reached over the past three years as we have found ourselves stuck deeper and deeper in the quagmire. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who aspires to be Prime Minister, keeps repeating to us, we must learn the lessons of Iraq. To learn the lessons, however, we need to know much more clearly than at present what went wrong and why. We need to examine the flawed assumptions, the misleading generalisations about the region, the warnings ignored, the situations misunderstood and the relationship with Washington in all its aspects.

My noble friend Lord Hurd asked whether that would damage troop morale. On the contrary: as we enter this next phase, the ideal time is approaching for a clear redirection of purpose and objectives in this nation. We owe that to our dedicated, professional troops operating in, at the very least, atrocious conditions. How right the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker, and others were to remind us of just what appalling conditions our troops have had to fight under. None of us can even imagine the business of going out and carrying a 50 kilo load in 50 degrees of heat, let alone having to fight and avoid an instant high risk of death.

It keeps being said that we have had enough inquiries. There have been the Foreign Affairs Committee in the other place, the Intelligence and Security Committee, the Hutton investigation into the death of Dr Kelly and the inquiry of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, into intelligence failures. With all due respect to all those undertakings, however, a host of major questions remain unexamined. The first is the puzzle of Cabinet procedures and how these decisions came to be taken. Why, asked the noble Lord, Lord Owen, in a very thoughtful speech in this House on 29 June last year, was there no war Cabinet to guide and shape policy as the hour of invasion approached? What part did we play in the timing of the invasion?

I hope that I am not breaching confidences or secrets to say that when I was very kindly called to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office at the time of the invasion and was about to ask in a puzzled way, “Why now?”, before I could speak the Minister in question—no names—turned to me and asked, “Why now?” That is where the question came from. From the start there was a feeling that policy was being made on the hoof and in response to events across the water in Washington. There was a feeling of what the Butler report described—my noble friend Lord Hurd reminded us of this—as the informality of policymaking. In response to that, the Prime Minister then dutifully promised, in the Government’s reply to the Butler report, that any small group brought together would in future operate formally as an ad hoc Cabinet committee. We have to ask: why was it not so operating from the start? Have things changed now? Are we sure these things are operating correctly now? We do not know.

As the noble Lord, Lord Owen, and my noble friend Lord Hurd have reminded us, inquiries while operations are in progress have a substantial precedent, notably the inquiry into the Dardanelles fiasco while the First World War was still raging, but also the Falklands inquiry—well, that was after the Falklands, but there are other precedents. That is the reality we must face.

Secondly, since the debate last autumn, a plethora of new evidence has been tumbling out in the United States, in books and inquiries, about the intelligence process and what went wrong. As the Butler report makes clear, SIS had a sorry tale to tell of unreliable sources, overworked staff, ill defined responsibilities and ineffective validation procedures—for which no one on this side of the Atlantic seems to have been held responsible, which is rather deplorable. Now it transpires that far too much weight was given to stories from a single agent called Curveball, whom German intelligence services knew to be a fabricator and an alcoholic, but whose information was regurgitated by our own intelligence services. The deeper that American inquiries, including congressional ones, go into these issues, the less confidence one has that we have learnt from our mistakes. There can be no confidence that the soothing official phrases about matters being attended to and procedures being reviewed or strengthened have been put into practice. If an inquiry diverts the attention of some of those who have been handling things so far, it is time their attention was diverted.

Thirdly, the role of Iran in Iraq is emerging centre stage. Once again, we seem to be groping around for information on Iran’s weapons capacities, its nuclear programme, its internal political dynamics and much more. We need much more airing of the expertise and differing views before we get dragged into the same mistakes again and the same ill judged actions as before.

The Prime Minister said on the radio this morning that he is not aware of any military action for Iran. That in itself is ominous. Not only should we be aware but we should explain to our Washington allies the need for co-operation from Iran on several fronts and the limits of military power rather than attacking the Iranians.

Fourthly, people simply want to know the truth about what went wrong. Why were there intelligence failures? Why did the PM say things he thought were true, but turned out to be untrue, about the Iraqi threat? Why did we let our American friends commit such mistakes? Why was the preparation for the post-invasion situation so poor? Why were the experts surprised when the blood-soaked split between the Sunnis and the Shias widened out? What input did we have in American decisions, many of which were appallingly misguided, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jay? Why could a Labour Prime Minister not learn from the wily Harold Wilson, who kept us carefully out of the Vietnam quagmire while none the less staying friendly with the Americans? Why could those lessons not be learnt?

The questions go on and on but the answers stop short. We are now at the reduced stage where our foreign policy consists of a wish list of unlikely hopes. It may be that everything will suddenly change for the better in the Middle East. It may be that Israel and Palestine will find a modus vivendi. It may be that Iran will start playing a positive role in preventing nuclear proliferation. It may be that the bloody civil war in Iraq will come to a halt. It may be that Shia and Sunni will live in harmony. It may be that democracy in various guises will spread, and sweetness and light will spread throughout the region as kingdoms and emirates convert to parliamentary government. It may be that in Saudi Arabia, opposition to the House of Ibn Saud will evaporate and the terrorists and extremists will fold their tents and depart. It may be that peace will descend on battered Lebanon, Hezbollah go back to their villages and hills and Beirut will rise again. All that is noble and possible, devoutly to be wished for and worked for; but we know perfectly well that it is all highly unlikely. Even for the short distance ahead, we can see that it cannot be. For those in authority to assume that any of these things will come about and that the world can glide from here to there over the months and years immediately ahead would be a total dereliction of duty and responsibility.

With our influence diminished, our resources stretched, our Armed Forces under almost impossible pressure, and with new dangers lurking just ahead, the British people are entitled to be let in on the scene in a frank and open way. We have asked, and we ask again, for a full inquiry, by privy counsellors, modelled on the Franks inquiry. We will keep asking for it. If the timing is not right at this second, it will be right soon. If the present Prime Minister will not agree to an inquiry, perhaps the next Prime Minister will; indeed, he may have already decided to set one up. Only then will we be able to say truly, as we should, that we have learnt no end of a lesson and it has done us no end of good. Until then, we live in hopes.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, for initiating this debate and other noble Lords for their contributions. I certainly join in welcoming the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker of Aldringham, and congratulating him on making such an exceptional maiden speech. I look forward to his further contributions.

As ever, the debate has brought together deep knowledge and reflection, and it is not surprising that the reading of the position is not the same on all parts. Least of all do I think that we are incapacitated in our foreign relations work, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, suggested; not because I think that we can glide from one position to another, to use the word he used, but because, in a difficult environment, all that you can do is to work as hard as you can on all of the problems to produce better results. On one point, I think that the House is broadly united and I welcome that: the defence of FCO budgets. I will convey those points to the Chancellor.

I start immediately with the central issue that has been raised about an inquiry of one kind or another. The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, called for a national commission and there have been variants on that. The noble Lords, Lord Alderdice, Lord Lamont, Lord Owen, Lord Garden and, just a moment ago, Lord Howell of Guildford, all added support to that thought. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, who inaugurated this thought in this afternoon's debate, that I can think of a number of occasions when it was also thought appropriate to consider where we were going and why—Rwanda, the dismemberment of Bosnia, a European country—but none was followed by a Butler or a Hutton because there was no taste for it. The Government have not taken that position. Since May 2003, there have been inquiries, including the two that I just mentioned.

There has also been a great deal of opportunity to debate Iraq, as we have done this afternoon and will continue to do. It has featured in more than 60 parliamentary debates since 2003. I say to my noble friend Lady Turner that it cannot be contended that there has been a shortage of opportunities to talk about this. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, recalled several of those debates for us this afternoon. The Prime Minister said yesterday that there were important lessons to learn but that an inquiry was not appropriate while our troops are engaged in combat in Iraq and facing extreme danger. The point was repeated by my noble friend the Lord President in her Statement to the House yesterday. She said:

“The time to make such a decision will be when all our troops have come home”.—[Official Report, 21/2/07; col. 1082.]

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, that the argument is not a shelter. The contention that has been put is that the war was so fundamentally wrong that, were we to conduct an inquiry that had the type of consequences in outcome and thinking that he has suggested, in a very balanced speech, troops would be asked to serve against a background that could hardly be described as legitimate. It is not likely to be a cerebral or academic discussion and learning process of that kind and in these circumstances. Now is not the time for investigating what might or might not have been, but for putting our energy—all of our energy—into helping the Iraqi Government bring an end to the violence.

Focusing energy is paramount now and in saying that, I say to the my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours that nobody has set their mind against an inquiry or some form of debate and discussion of these fundamental policy issues in the long term. The noble Lords, Lord Jay of Ewelme and Lord Butler of Brockwell, have both contributed, as did the noble Lord, Lord Howell, a few moments ago, to possible items on the agenda of such a discussion of fundamental policy.

As I said, Iraq has being the subject of debate in the House on a number of occasions. It is a subject that generates, quite understandably, real passion and great concern and this afternoon’s debate was no different in that regard. Views have been and will continue to be deeply divided about the rights and wrongs of the intervention, over the extent of the coalition's preparedness to assume control of the country, and over the strategy to contain sectarian violence which has gripped parts—not all, but significant parts—of Iraq. But on one issue I suspect that every Member of this House will be united. In our heart of hearts, every one of us will recognise that Iraq was always a deeply fractured country—fractured by differences of faith and tribal loyalty—and was held together only by the utter brutality and suppression exercised by Saddam Hussein. His dictatorship was the glue; my noble friend Lady Ramsay used that expression, and I concur with her. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, reported to the then Foreign Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, following a visit to Baghdad in 1980,

“murder continues to be one of the main techniques of government”.

He had no doubt of the reality then, and he was right.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, also described the breadth of this problem in 2003. He said:

“For too long, Saddam Hussein's unchecked situation has been an inspiration for ‘rogue states’ and terrorist groups. Any failure to call him to account will provide the influence they crave to sustain their destructive activities; a beacon to those who look upon deadly weapons as the only alternative”.—[Official Report, 3/2/03; col. 24.]

Saddam ruled by indiscriminate terror, torture and murder of Shias, Kurds, his fellow Sunnis, the Marsh Arabs, and pretty much every vestige of the socialist currents in his country, including every active trade unionist he could lay his hands on. He slaughtered hundreds of thousands of his own people, to say nothing of the millions who perished during the Iran-Iraq war. Saddam’s brutality knew no bounds. To take and slightly change an expression that I have heard used elsewhere, he was an indefatigable mass murderer.

In that light, the logic of the position taken by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, is that if this Leviathan had been left in place, no alternative structure being available below him because he had suppressed it, somehow that would have been better or all right. I cannot accept that; I am much closer to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson of Winterbourne, in this; it was a genocidal regime and nothing better could flower under its shadow. It is not easy to see how anything could be constructed relatively quickly by the Iraqi people who suffered under that shadow, in terms of new institutions. It does not matter whether the tyranny was secular or of any other kind; it appeals to me no more with one or other of those adjectives in front of it.

The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, reflected in his memoirs on Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait:

“In the West we hoped and expected that the ruin of his”—

that is, Saddam’s—

“policy in Kuwait would lead to his downfall”.

But it did not. We halted but he did not. The noble Lord, Lord Soley, is absolutely right about this; he continued to brutalise his people, entrenching the divisions and hatred still further. His eventual fall left any concept of a stable entity imposed under his regime in tatters. The deeply fractured Iraqi society split open; it had none of the stabilising unity created by democracy, the one legitimate force that could potentially hold Iraq together. Extremists on both sides rapidly moved in, sowing the seeds of the appalling sectarian violence we are witnessing today.

I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Garden, that I do not intend to discuss intelligence analyses; he did not expect me to. What I can say is what the Prime Minister was saying yesterday—that in the course of this reply, I will reflect our real estimate rather than look at all the possible estimations that can be gained as that would hardly be a responsible act of government.

For the completeness of information, it is true that the Danish battalion will be withdrawn, but they are also providing a detachment of four helicopters, for which we have been asking for some time. The Australians, Romanians and Czechs all plan to retain their current force levels for the time being. So let us get the whole of the picture, not part of it.

I do not pretend that the security situation in parts of Iraq—notably Baghdad—is anything but very grim. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and the noble Lord, Lord Owen, are absolutely right—and I am with the noble Lord, Lord Owen, in saying that “grim” is not the same word as “defeat”. But I remind the House that the current Iraqi Government have been in place for just nine months, as my noble friend Lady Ramsay reminded us. Their strategy is now to attempt to reshape things. Governing by coalition is not an easy job for them. Attempting it for the first time in a country riven by decades of terror and oppression where there is no tradition of democracy or government by consensus was never going to be easy and makes the process still harder. In my view a rush to judgment is premature and unhelpful. As the noble Lord, Lord Owen, rightly said, the work of constructing peace is laborious and needs a depth of resources. The noble Lord, Lord Soley, made the vital point about May 2003. It is also a question of Iraqi resources, not just coalition resources. National reconciliation is critical to ending the violence and building a stable future. For that, as we know only too well from the situation in Northern Ireland, which was mentioned, you need a lot of trust between communities. That takes time and we still have a long way to go there.

Iraq is facing a crisis of trust between faiths, communities, the security forces and the people. The challenge for Iraq is therefore huge. We and our international partners must give it all the support that we can. The choice is not between whether we should have lived with a vile dictatorship or whether we should tolerate the brutality of sectarian violence; the choice is to support the Iraqi people in a quest for democracy that they have voted for. Step one is to contain the violence. That is why the effort that the Iraqi Government have launched this month to bring security to Baghdad is so critical to the country’s future. However difficult the plan’s implementation may be—and I do not deny the difficulty for one moment—it is important to acknowledge that the support of the United States for the Baghdad security plan is essential. Prime Minister Maliki has made clear his determination to crack down on all those responsible for the current violence, regardless of sect, religion or political affiliation. The evidence for the start of this is the arrest of hundreds of militia members in recent months in joint Iraqi and coalition operations. That will need to continue and be shown to continue. The Iraqi Government have established a structure to try to ensure proper co-ordination of the political, security and economic dimensions of the plan, which has wide involvement and support right across the political spectrum in Iraq.

Our objectives need to be described. The scale of the task is daunting. We have assured the Iraqi Government of our full support, in partnership with the coalition. That was our sovereign choice, dictated by no one other than ourselves. In taking this stand we rely on the courage and dedication of the men and women of the British Armed Forces and the many British civilians working alongside Iraqis to help them build for the future. I again thank our Armed Forces for the incredible work that they are doing. That was underlined in what the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker, said. I join those on all sides of the House who expressed deep sadness at the loss of a royal marine from 45 Commando on routine patrol in Helmand yesterday. There are no further details now, as noble Lords will understand, but I thank everybody for the comments they made, which will be passed to the family and friends of that serving soldier.

Our objective remains to help increase the Iraqis’ capacity to maintain security so that they can assume responsibility as early as possible, and to promote national unity. In our own area of responsibility, in Basra, the challenges are distinct but just as important. Levels of violence are lower than elsewhere. The four southern provinces account for less than 5 per cent of the overall violence in Iraq. The principal challenges are the quality of governance, the capacity of the Iraqi security forces, crime, the role of the militias and political competition among Shia groups. Iraqi authorities must take the lead in these matters but we will continue to provide patient, committed support for as long as it is needed. Central to our efforts has been Operation Sinbad. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, British forces have been working systematically, with the Iraqi army and police, district by district, to improve security and kick-start economic activity throughout the city. This has helped give the 10th division of the Iraqi army, responsible for security in and around Basra, experience in planning and carrying out joint operations alongside the Iraqi police and coalition forces. Of course, we advise and mentor, and we can offer support if necessary, but Sinbad has shown that the Iraqi army is beginning to take the overall lead without direct coalition support.

Our work in Basra is laying the foundations for transition, and we hope to secure the transfer of security as soon as possible, but the process remains dependent on the capability of the Iraqi security forces and the conditions on the ground. We will continue our training and mentoring work both through hands-on support of our military transition teams and through formal leadership training at the new joint leadership academy.

As the Prime Minister said yesterday and the Defence Secretary said again today, we hope that Maysan province can be handed over to full Iraqi control over the next four months and that Basra can be handed over in the second half of the year. That will mean a reduction from the 7,100 British troops deployed today to around 5,500. The intention of the drawdown is clear. I will not indulge in any demand for a precise timetable or any statement that provides a tactical advantage to those who are simply hostile to all our goals. How would that serve any serving member of our forces?

The UK’s police training teams have been working closely with the Basra police to improve overall standards of policing. We have heard in the debate today about how police stations are moving to better standards. UK police officers and prison advisers are training and mentoring the Basra police and the Iraqi corrections service in Basra. British lawyers are building the capacity of the judiciary, which the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, rightly drew to our attention. To date, over 11,500 police officers, 700 prison officers and 100 judges have been trained in Basra. Respect for the rule of law is imperative if Basra, like the rest of Iraq, is to attract large-scale inward investment and if people are to conclude that crime does not pay.

A great deal still remains to be done, but there is a trend that we can recognise. We will focus on building the capacity of the permanent joint command centre in Basra to direct operations effectively throughout the city. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, that this is in no sense a sign of past defeats; it is a sign of taking out some of the issues that have been seriously problematic. For those reasons, we have abolished the corrupt Basra serious crimes unit, which was responsible for much of the crime in the city, and we are setting up a new crimes unit in its place. We will continue to support the internal affairs department that we set up last year to root out corruption and abuse. As with the army, we will offer specialist training for officers at a new joint leadership academy.

With its huge oil reserves, ports, agriculture and trading links, Basra is potentially an economic powerhouse. Developing all those sectors over time will bring real growth to the country as a whole. Basra was the first place to develop its own three-year provincial development strategy. The Basra provincial government are already using the strategy to plan and implement essential infrastructure repairs, supported by the UK, the United States and Denmark. My noble friend Lady Whitaker emphasised United Kingdom funding commitments, and I confirm all that she said. The Government of Iraq have sole control over how the money in the development fund for Iraq is spent. They have to be audited by an international accounting firm, and new anti-corruption procedures are being established.

As noble Lords have noted, we are working on infrastructure projects to improve water and power supplies and to train local engineers. By the summer of this year, we will have added or secured power equivalent to a 24-hour power supply for over 1 million people and improved access to water for 1 million people. The multinational forces led by us have also been directly involved in reconstruction. Work is being done on agricultural projects to regenerate Basra’s date palm plantations. There is no shortage of resources in Iraq; what is lacking is the capacity of Iraqi institutions to deliver. That is what we are trying to change.

Ten days ago, the Basra Development Forum met for the first time. It brought together in a nationally televised meeting Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh, the Governor of Basra, the Basra provincial council and a number of national Ministers to discuss the province’s development. For the first time, the people of Basra heard from their own Government how much money—$200 million—is to be invested in the area, when and on what. A new transparency, which has to be accompanied by anti-corruption methods, is very important. There are hopeful signs of new hydrocarbons legislation, which will add transparency to the potential wealth of the area.

But I accept that sustainable economic growth is not possible without security, so that must remain our primary objective. Large areas, including the north, are now relatively stable. While the outlook in other areas may appear very difficult, we should also note on these occasions what has been achieved: the first ever democratically elected Government, and the destruction of a brutal dictatorship, in which, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, torture and murder were state policy. A parliament and Government were elected by 76 per cent of the electorate—a massive vote of confidence in democracy. Hundreds of newspapers, magazines and radio and television stations have been launched. Many thousands of new NGOs are beginning to build civil society.

Perhaps I may say in respect of that that some of the critical work is being done with women. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Gould for raising this benchmark issue. The UK has been at the forefront of activity to promote women’s rights and to support a growing role for Iraqi women in public life by funding training, seminars, workshops and visits to this country by Iraqi women active in public life, including politics and the trade union movement. The review of the constitution is due to end on 15 May 2007, and I assure my noble friend that the removal of Article 41 indeed remains one of our objectives.

For the first time in recent Iraqi history, the seeds of democracy are there. For the first time, millions of Iraqis can look at the prospect of freedom, justice and choice—the basic human rights denied to them under a brutal regime. They want those rights and we should applaud that.

Yet a minority of extremists and fanatics, who represent no Iraqi community, are trying to hold that country to ransom and to destroy the fragile democracy. The stronger democracy becomes, the fiercer their assault against it. If the democratic process in Iraq succeeds, their cause—to subject the people to their own form of brutal repression—will be lost. Iraq’s neighbours and other countries in the region have a key interest in supporting efforts to improve this situation in Iraq and in ensuring that instability does not spread across the region.

In this debate, I greatly welcome the focus that there has been on exactly that issue. There has been focus on the role of Iran and Syria in Iraq. The noble Lord, Lord Jay, has argued for a better regional approach, and the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, asked about the international support group. We completely agree on the importance of unambiguous support for Iraq from its neighbours and of machinery that will assist in developing that kind of support. Everyone will have their own views and it is not for us as outsiders to impose what the form of that support should be, but it is plainly needed. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, made the same point on working with neighbouring states. In response to the noble Earl’s question, as just one example of the work being done, the Prime Minister’s adviser in these matters, Nigel Sheinwald, reactivated the links with Syria, and those links are beginning to be of vital importance throughout the region. The Riyadh conference is a matter about which we need to know a bit more before I could say anything particularly helpful.

As the Prime Minister and others have made clear on many occasions, we believe that these neighbours should play a constructive role in Iraq’s development. However, we must acknowledge that in the past they have chosen violence and terrorism in Iraq. Iran and Syria have a strategic choice to make. They can behave as responsible members of the international community—and I am eager that we should work with them to achieve that—or they can continue to support terrorism and instability in the region. If they do, there are consequences of such actions.

The Prime Minister answered the question this morning about any military threat to Iran. There is no threat. I shall say that in terms that I hope will be taken as more straightforward: we make no threat. I am with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, on the need for multilateral work on Iran, on the importance of the EU in this matter and on the importance of diplomacy, as well as in respect of the nuclear portfolio, doing what we can to deal with it through the appropriate United Nations methods.

Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, that it is imperative that we all act with accurate information on Iran and not on some sort of theatrical demonstration in the newspapers or elsewhere about what is really happening. It is vital to be accurate and objective; I could not agree with him more. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, that we need more information.

I was grateful for the historical perspective set out for us by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, because it helps us to see the context. My noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours was right to remind us of a particular part of that historical context: the failure of the sanctions regime, which might have had much more of an effect.

However, as we look at the whole situation, I think that we need to draw out one key lesson above all others today. For me, it is that democracy may be very hard to create but, once it is there—if it is achieved—it is very hard to destroy; it becomes the bedrock. We in the international community must be steadfast in our resolve to support the Government of Iraq and Prime Minister Maliki in their efforts to root out violence, to rebuild the economy and to give that democracy a chance. I see no alternative to that. When we deliberate on these matters and the lessons to be learnt, as I have no doubt we will, I believe that we will also want to deliberate on the ethics of the proposition that we supported as our fundamental basis.

My Lords, I think that under the rules of the House a little time is left, but your Lordships will be glad to hear that I do not intend to make use of it, other than very briefly. I thank all those who have taken part in the debate and, in particular, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker of Aldringham. We will all remember his maiden speech, not just for its elegance but for its genuine feeling on a subject that should be, and I think is, important and dear to us all.

I want to make one point of substance about one thrust of this debate—namely, an inquiry. I am grateful for the support for that idea from all sides of the House. The support was not unanimous and not unqualified but it was fairly general. I was particularly fascinated by the very careful comments of the two former senior civil servants—the former Permanent Secretary to the Foreign Office, who supported the idea with qualifications, and the former Secretary to the Cabinet, who opposed the idea but with qualifications. Their views were carefully set out and are worth study, but, on the whole, I am encouraged. The wagon is moving. It will take some time to move but it is on the way, and this is not a partisan matter; an inquiry is clearly widely supported.

The Minister’s reply was disappointing on that issue in particular—although not on others—but it was not unexpected. However, I do not see the logic of postponing even the start of an inquiry until all our troops are out. Our troops may be in Iraq for some years to come according to what he and, indeed, the Prime Minister said. We simply do not know how long they will be there, and rightly he has refused to give any dates. But there is no logic in saying that the whole question of an inquiry must wait until then. That would be true only if we were talking about the rights or wrongs of war, but we are not. The proposal is for an inquiry into the preparation and conduct, which is a different point. All kinds of questions arise under those headings and they need fairly urgent consideration and examination if the lessons are to be learnt.

However, this is the House of Lords and the debate has ranged widely and interestingly in a way that would not be possible in another place. The Minister has dealt in great detail, as he always does, with the points raised and the different interests. But particularly moving were the accounts given by noble Lords who basically support the war and base that support on what is being done for good in Iraq. That is part of the picture that we certainly should not forget, but it has to be weighed against all that has gone wrong, all the people who are dead but would otherwise be alive, and all the chaos that has ensued.

I thank the Minister in particular. It is his duty, which he always undertakes very skilfully, to set out the picture as a whole but to put touches of brightness into it to support his case. We have listened to that before and we have now listened to it again. It is in all our interests that his vision of the bright side, which he hopes for and is working for, will turn out to be correct. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.