rose to call attention to the position in Iraq and the lessons to be drawn; and to move for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, in a few weeks’ time, in March, we will come to the fifth anniversary of the start of the conflict in Iraq. It is also just short of 12 months since my noble friend Lord Hurd set out in this House the case for an inquiry into some of the most important questions arising from that decision to go to war. I know that another former Foreign Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Owen, who is in his place, has also called for an inquiry. I want to renew that call for an inquiry because I know of no other way that the lessons from this conflict can be learnt. Perhaps I can explain why I asked my noble friends on the Front Bench whether I should raise the subject of this debate.
Three events in the Middle East have had particular significance for me. In 1956, at the time of Suez, I had just joined the Army. I was opposed to the invasion, and in my officers’ mess being a national service second lieutenant and opposed to Suez was not a notably popular position. It was not a popular position, but, as it happens, it was right. In 1967, I was a correspondent for the Times in the Middle East war reporting from Beirut and Amman. I returned to Britain saying and writing that the dominating issue was Palestine, but in the wake of the massive Israeli victory, that was also not a message that everybody wanted to hear. It was not popular, but again it was conceivably right.
In the Iraq conflict my connection was rather different. I did not report it but my stepson did. His name is Oliver Poole and some of your Lordships with long memories may recognise he has the unique disadvantage of having both his grandfather and his stepfather as chairmen of the Conservative Party. At the start of the conflict I listened to him from Iraq—these days communications are so much easier than through the old cable offices—as he made his way with a tank unit from the Kuwait border to Baghdad among American soldiers who had been told that they would be welcomed as liberators. I followed the position as it deteriorated. Where once at the beginning a journalist could go on to the streets of Baghdad to collect material, the position rapidly changed. Travelling security became essential and interviews were constrained to 20 minutes in case news should spread that there was a western journalist in the area. I read of the tragedies: of his hotel blown up, killing not western journalists but Iraqis living nearby; of the destruction in 2006 of one of Shia Islam’s holiest shrines, the Golden Mosque in Samarra, and the retaliation in Baghdad against Sunni mosques there; of neighbours who had lived side by side for generations turning on each other; of militia growing up both to defend and to attack; and of course of the indiscriminate murder and torture practised on both sides, leading to plans announced in Baghdad for the construction of two new morgues to cope with the influx of bodies.
For me there was a major question. Unlike my noble friend Lord Hurd who opposed the invasion from the outset, I, like so many people in this country, had supported the Government’s decision. I had even written to both the Prime Minister and the then Foreign Secretary, supporting them in their efforts to persuade Parliament and the United Nations. I had never done that before and probably will never do it again. It can of course be said, “What right have you, someone who initially supported the invasion, to ask questions now?”. My reply is that in some ways people like me have even more right. Not unreasonably, we trusted the information we were given by the Government. We expected, and had to every right to expect, that proper plans would be made not just for the war but for what would follow. We assumed that Ministers had taken account of the skilled Foreign Office advice available and that decisions were made having proper regard to this advice. We now know that some of those conditions were not met and that, at least in some respects, the public were misled. We know that the weapons of mass destruction proffered as one of the reasons for the invasion did not exist. We also know that the Prime Minister, Mr Blair, substantially overstated his case. On 23 August 2002 the United Kingdom intelligence community told the Prime Minister that,
“we … know little about Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons work since late 1998”.
Just over a month later the Prime Minister told the Commons that the picture painted by our intelligence services was,
“extensive, detailed and authoritative”.
As the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, who I see in his place, said in our debate in February 2007:
“Those words could simply not have been justified by the material that the intelligence community provided to him”.—[Official Report, 22/2/07; col. 1231.]
I certainly acknowledge the improvement in the security position recently in Baghdad. I also acknowledge that some benefits have resulted from the invasion. The position in Kurdistan is much improved and above all there is the removal of Saddam Hussein, who not only murdered his own people but had already been responsible for the conflict over Kuwait in 1991 and much more. I weep no tears for him but his overthrow alone does not provide legal justification for military intervention and certainly it does not cancel out the massive consequences of the invasion which in my view makes out the case for an inquiry.
First and foremost, there have been the casualties of this conflict—the British troops who have been killed and injured. Regiments such as the Royal Anglians, of which my old regiment is now part, have suffered badly. I pay tribute to their courage and that of all the forces that have fought in Iraq over the past five years. But of course the chief casualties have been among the Iraqis themselves. Some have died in the fighting, some have died in the sectarian murders that have accompanied the fighting, and some have died in the criminality which we have been unable to control. No one knows exactly how many have died. A conservative estimate is 100,000, but there may well be many thousands more; I doubt that there have been fewer. We do know that death has often been accompanied by torture, and that fear has taken hold to such an extent that 2 million Iraqis have been displaced in their own country. Even worse, more than 2 million have fled to surrounding countries such as Syria, Jordan and the Lebanon. The refugees have gained a degree of safety, but at a price. Families have been uprooted and have struggled to survive without jobs and with dwindling or non-existent savings.
In short, the conflict has created the worst refugee crisis in the Middle East since 1948. Against this background, the public in this country, whatever their original stance, are entitled to ask a number of questions which an inquiry is best placed to put. They are entitled to ask for more detail on how the decision to invade was reached. I was a member of the Cabinet at the time of the Falklands. Events moved very quickly after the Argentine invasion, but not so quickly that it was impossible to arrange a full Cabinet meeting at which the Prime Minister asked each of us in turn whether we agreed to the task force being sent. The issue was debated and an alternative view was put.
Recently, Mr Blair gave a lengthy television interview in which his impatience with the checks and balances of the Cabinet system of government came over loud and clear. In essence, his case was that it could get in the way of action. Of course it is true that it can, but equally it is true that it can act as a corrective to prevent unwise action. Governments usually get into trouble when collective judgment is replaced by the informal meeting of small groups.
At the same time, I would like to know about the nature of the Foreign Office advice. I do not claim for a moment that Ministers should automatically take that advice, although in the policies of the Middle East they would well advised to give it some weight, but the public should be reassured that the full advice reached Ministers and was discussed by them. I hope that, as has been suggested, the Foreign Office was not simply sidelined in this decision. Secondly, the public are entitled to ask what planning took place for the aftermath. It is all very well saying that this was all down to the Americans, but that casts doubt on the whole nature of the alliance.
Britain has an obvious history in Iraq, and some knowledge based on that experience and experience elsewhere. Surely that knowledge should have been put to some use, or did we believe that our troops would be welcomed as liberating forces and not forces of occupation? I assume not, but I acknowledge that there is conflicting evidence here and that a former British ambassador, Christopher Segar, told the Guardian this week that British officials underestimated the prospect of insurgency and that British Ministers failed to ask for detailed analysis of the consequences of an invasion. For whatever reason, the planning for this stage seems to have been woefully inadequate, and although the security position in Baghdad has now improved, it is still a long way from what we want. Marie Colvin, a very brave reporter for the Sunday Times who was in Basra without military protection a month ago, reported that she found Islamic militias now waging a brutal campaign for control.
Thirdly, an inquiry should examine the British response to the massive refugee problem caused by the conflict. We owe a particular duty here. Has our response has been sufficient, or have we relied too heavily on the resources of a country such as Jordan, which already has existing refugee problems to tackle, as I saw a few months ago when I was there?
I say to the Minister that the reassurances we heard at Question Time in this House on Monday do not sit altogether easily with the response of the United Nations refugee agency. A few days ago, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees told me that the UNHCR would welcome greater support from donor Governments, including the United Kingdom, for its operations in the region, and that it would like further direct bilateral support for the two main countries of asylum, Syria and Jordan. Looking back on 2007, the UN refugee agency said that it received £3.51 million from the United Kingdom, against its £62 million Iraq region budget, while no United Kingdom funds were forthcoming towards the agency’s health and education programmes, jointly implemented with WHO and UNICEF.
Another part of the refugee problem is the future of the interpreters and other staff who have helped the British and have consequently put themselves and their families in danger. As the House will know, I have raised this issue on a number of occasions, first in April 2007. The problem is limited in size, but seems symbolic of our attitude. It took until last October for the Government to announce a scheme, but it is carefully limited and constrained. So far, it has helped very few and all the guidance appears to be worded to deter applications to come to this country, rather than help some very brave people. Not all the interpreters who work for the British work for the British Government. For example, there are the interpreters working for the correspondents of British media organisations. Shamefully, their best prospect of resettlement is in the United States under a scheme run by the Americans. The question remains of whether, even now, five years later, we are facing up to our responsibilities.
Finally, the public are certainly entitled to ask whether our troops have always been properly equipped and supported for the conflict. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Walker of Aldringham, when he said in our February debate that there must be a covenant between Government and the Armed Forces—an unwritten contract that, in return for the sacrifice made by those in the forces, the Government ensure that they are equipped properly, given the best possible care and treated fairly. There are, in this House, far greater experts than me in this area; one of them is sitting next to me. I hope that this contract has been honoured.
Like my noble friend Lord Hurd, I believe that issues such as this should be investigated by a committee of privy counsellors together with others with expert knowledge. It is right that it should be a committee answerable to Parliament. It is certainly not the occasion for a lengthy judicial inquiry, such as that into Bloody Sunday, or, for that matter, the marathon of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott. The focus of such an inquiry should not be on blame, but on learning the lessons—lessons which might help us in formulating policy elsewhere.
To be fair to the Government, they have not set their face totally against an inquiry. Rather, they have sought to smother the call by setting out a range of less demanding options. In the debate last February the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, gave the response 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”.—[Official Report, 22/02/07; col. 1255. ]
I do not find that reassuring and I hope the message of this House will be that only an inquiry will do, and that the Government will give a more solid reply today.
I also hope that the Government will not take refuge in the argument that nothing can happen until all our troops come home. Among the precedents is the inquiry into the operations of the war in the Dardanelles. It was set up in July 1916 in the middle of the First World War, with Britain directly threatened, under a Bill introduced in the Commons by the then Prime Minister, Mr Asquith. Our troop numbers in Iraq are now reduced to about 4,500, which is radically fewer than three, four and five years ago. I in no way devalue their role but I simply reject the argument that they will be demoralised by such an inquiry. Conceivably, an inquiry could help for the future and aid those troops who follow. But if nothing is done until the very last soldier returns, action could be deferred for years to come.
We are almost at the fifth anniversary of the start of this conflict. Many of the players have already given their accounts—Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell and Sir Michael Jackson. We have also had investigations, such as that of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, which have shone a light on particular issues. Surely, the time has come for a comprehensive inquiry, while memories are reasonably fresh, so that the lessons from these momentous events can be learnt. I see no reason for further delay. The time for an inquiry is now. I beg to move for Papers.
My Lords, the noble Lord gave a characteristically honest and clear speech, the key theme of which is the case for an inquiry. There have been many debates in the House calling for such an inquiry, which have been defeated. One may not like the results, but there have been those discussions. I concede also that the response of the Government has been, as the noble Lord said, somewhat unclear. At one time we were told that there would be an inquiry, but only when the time was right and the troops have been withdrawn—but how many troops and when? It begs many questions.
I am very doubtful about the wisdom of an inquiry. The precedents are not good. The Falklands commission was a rather unhappy commission of about six months and the results were not particularly valuable. It is obviously difficult to limit the time. The noble Lord has ruled out a Saville-type Bloody Sunday inquiry, but probably only the lawyers benefited, save of course that it was of benefit to the public in that it was part of that process which led to the ultimate settlement in Northern Ireland.
An inquiry can go on for a very long time. Indeed, the noble Lord has given it a vast agenda—from refugees to the preparedness of our troops to the advice given to the Prime Minister beforehand and so on, which could take a long time. The noble Lord seems to have ruled out a judicial inquiry. Even a parliamentary inquiry could take some time. There have already been at least two parliamentary inquiries: namely, that of the Foreign Affairs Committee, which I had the privilege to chair—we said, quite properly, that we were deprived of many of the sources of information and, therefore, were not able to give conclusions as clearly as we would have liked; and that of the Intelligence and Security Committee. The intelligence side was covered by the noble Lord, Lord Butler. One may not like the conclusions, but they largely exonerated the Government.
Clearly, the question is whether it was right to invade. The Government decided that it was. The Security Council and the important countries of the European Union said otherwise. This is a political matter, and it is the job of Parliament and the Select Committees appointed by Parliament to do their job. We were also in many ways—and we remain—the junior partner of the United States. An inquiry could also look at our relationship with the United States. There clearly was a plan. The question was whether its execution was faulty. What is the position as regards reconstruction? The noble Lord said that there is currently evidence of some improvement in the military and security situation and in the economic situation there. The danger is that any inquiry would not add to our store of knowledge and would give more heat than light.
We know of the problems today that have arisen from the invasion. We do not know, and cannot by definition know, what would have happened if there had been no action. Were there no invasion, that also would have had certain consequences. It may only have been deferring the conflict. The containment policy was certainly unravelling by 2002 and 2003. There was increasing defiance of the international community and oil sanctions. Oil smuggling was increasing. Had there not been an invasion, Saddam Hussein would probably still be there, torturing his people and preparing the way for one of his nasty sons to succeed him. We might now be dealing with an Iraq possessing nuclear weapons, rather than an Iran potentially seeking them.
The temptation is for us all to refight those old battles, the debates of 2002 and 2003, but we are where we are. There is a real danger of a diversion of time and talent in an inquiry. The criticisms of the United States are clear. The first two orders of the CPA were the de-Baathification that led to taking so many trained administrators from the scene and the disbandment of the army that let loose many hundreds and thousands of armed men into the community. With the civil service, the pensions policy that has just been voted in will at least go some way to address the faults there.
There was, as we know, a plan in the US—the 13-volume Future of Iraq project—that was apparently overruled by political appointees in the Pentagon, relying on Chalabi and other exiles. I recall meeting Richard Perle, who some thought of as the puppet-master of the neocons in the Department of Defense. He told me that there would be enormous joy at liberation—perhaps not church bells, this being Iraq, but flowers and greetings. Everything would happen thereafter without any serious planning. Certainly, the State Department had been overruled. There is clearly considerable criticism of the early days of the CPA.
Equally, we failed to appreciate the rundown nature of the physical infrastructure in Iraq—the electricity, the sewerage, the transport, petroleum—after many years of sanctions. There were many unintended consequences of the invasion, not least the way in which Iran has attained regional dominance. If many of us made misjudgments at the time, we can comfort ourselves in part that many of the opponents of the war made equally massive misjudgments in terms of the scale of refugee flows. As the noble Lord said, the scale of the refugee problem has been awful. Yet internal civil war, the division of Iraq and regional war were forecast by a number of opponents.
Of the lessons for the British Government, just a few headlines include having a greater sense of history and local knowledge, and not imagining that a country is a tabula rasa. Cabinet government is important, as the noble Lord has said, with checks and balances, not least those parliamentary. European Union colleagues were jealous of what our Foreign Affairs Committee and other committees in the other place were able to accomplish compared to the opportunities that they had. Then, certainly, there is intelligence. Clearly, the Prime Minister had much intelligence. It is a matter of public knowledge that I was given that same intelligence, and perhaps the only fault was in not asking sufficient questions of it, as we were clearly deficient in human intelligence.
There were other major questions about pre-emptive strikes and relations between this country and the United States. Clearly, there have been withering criticisms, but there are now some improvements—certainly in the military—after the surge and the so-called “Anbar awakening”. There has been very limited success politically; there is still a winner-takes-all ethos, and major questions are unresolved. We need to have dialogue with the regional players and particularly not to go for regime change in Iran as part of policy but have dialogue with that country, as we have done with North Korea. There are positive developments on the ground but the plea is that one should look forward on the basis of the current realities rather than turn over stones of what we failed to do in the past.
My Lords, ones hopes that we are slowly approaching the endgame in Iraq—certainly in a military sense. It is very apposite that we are having this debate today on the lessons learnt, and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, on securing it. I very much support so much of what he said and these Benches certainly support his call for an inquiry, as we have done in the past.
The minority view is that military action, despite the death of 150,000 civilians in the 40 months following the coalition invasion in March 2003 and the destruction and misery heaped on Iraq, with 2 million refugees, was justified as it removed an evil, tyrannical regime. Clearly that was the opinion of our former Prime Minister, and appears to remain so. But the majority view, admittedly with the benefit of hindsight, is that the invasion was a huge mistake for Iraq and the United Kingdom.
To this day, we do not really know what Bush’s motivation was—finishing a job for father, revenge for 9/11, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, oil, Middle East domination or some combination. However, it is accepted that Tony Blair gave a very early commitment to back the United States invasion, a combination of supporting our major ally and a rather simplistic belief, perhaps, that Saddam Hussein had to be deposed and that once removed our forces would be welcomed with open arms.
Three fundamental mistakes were made. First, too few troops were committed initially, with Rumsfeld seemingly overruling so many of his military advisers. Secondly, post-invasion, the Iraqi army was disbanded, thereby removing the means to provide some form of discipline and control over the population. Thirdly, as has been mentioned, very little thought was given to the post-invasion needs of the country and the means of delivery and reconstruction.
It is not clear how much knowledge the US and the United Kingdom have of the Iraqi religious groupings or the likely effect of an invasion on Islamist thinking. After all, we had no embassy in Baghdad in Saddam’s final 12 years of rule. What has become apparent is how little interest our then political leaders took in trying to find any of this out. As the famous letter—from 52 of our former senior British diplomats on 27 April 2004—sent to Tony Blair said:
“The conduct of the war in Iraq has made it clear that there was no effective plan for the post-Saddam settlement.
“All those with experience of the area predicted that the occupation of Iraq by the Coalition forces would meet serious and stubborn resistance, as has proved to be the case.
“To describe the resistance as led by terrorists, fanatics and foreigners is neither convincing nor helpful.
“Policy must take account of the nature and history of Iraq, the most complex country in the region”.
If we got it wrong, the French got it right. Dominic de Villepin, the French Foreign Minister, declared in a speech to the United Nations Security Council two weeks before the invasion:
“We believe that the use of force can arouse rancour and hatred, fuel a clash of identities and cultures”.
Jacques Chirac argued in an article in Time magazine:
“A war of this kind cannot help giving a big lift to terrorism. It would create a large number of little bin Ladens”.
It seems extraordinary that Britain and France—two major, sophisticated allies, only 20 miles apart, in the 21st century and both with colonial histories—could reach such fundamentally different conclusions on the advisability of military action. Those on these Benches broadly took the French position. Not only did the conflict cause such misery in Iraq, it also has put a heavy strain on our Armed Forces, causing many deaths and serious injuries. To put it bluntly, the British public were conned into going to war and now a further wedge has been driven between them and their political leaders in terms of trust, with all parliamentarians the losers.
Much has been said about overstretch and the pressures on the defence budget. There seems little possibility of any significant increase in defence expenditure—none of our political parties is advocating this. Given our ongoing commitments, particularly in Afghanistan, and with a very unsettled world, we have to eschew unilateral military action in future, other than perhaps in very limited circumstances. We have to work more closely with our allies, particularly the French, to avoid another Iraq-type schism. I accept that in the de Gaulle era and beyond, military co-operation with the French was difficult—even now, protectionism prevails in their defence procurement. But a new French president presents a new opportunity. With an Anglo-French summit in March, and with France assuming the EU presidency in July, it is time to hold out the hand of military co-operation. Let us bring France into the integrated military structure. We never want a repeat of the Iraqi fallout and there are huge gains to be had if we can co-operate militarily with France.
In Iraq, military conflict and insurgent attacks on coalition forces seem to be subsiding. It appears that the US military surge, and the strategy of General Petraeus, have been successful, particularly in turning some of the factions—and all credit for that. However, it is questionable what our limited forces, based at Basra airport, are achieving, and we would like to see them home sooner rather than later. Although the military scene offers some hope, the job of reconstruction and democratic nation rebuilding will clearly take years, set against the background of deep tribal and religious differences, and of adjacent nations pursuing their own agendas. Military action is relatively easy to start—the consequences can last for generations.
My Lords, the Prime Minister has been under considerable attack recently. Some criticism has been justified, but much has not. He deserves congratulation on the measured way in which he has dealt with the crisis in Iraq since becoming Prime Minister. It is not easy to run your forces down, to reassess and consolidate. But we have done this and now have a better balance in our relationship with the United States. We now face the difficult question of how much further to go. America’s ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, is a very sensible man. He was quoted in last Saturday’s Times as saying:
“We are in an immeasurably better place in January 2008 than in January 2007”.
I share that judgment. He went on to say:
“My personal hope is that the UK will decide to maintain a division headquarters beyond 2008 as the Iraqi Government”—
and I stress that phrase—
“works to extend its authority”.
Unlike the previous speaker, I do not believe that this is the endgame. We have made grievous errors and we cannot walk away from them. We have to try our best to reverse the effects. There is no doubt that outside military assistance is no longer the primary mechanism for stabilising Iraq. But it is too soon for the UK to pull out all its forces. I am not aware of all the arguments, but I would be very cautious, now that we have come down to a small number of troops, about going to the next stage and pulling out completely.
I come to the real question of the debate, which is whether there should be an inquiry. I argued for one on 29 June 2006 and again in the debate on 22 February 2007, and I argue for it today. The issue will not go away. Just look at today’s newspapers. The Times has the headline, “Publish the secret document on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, ministers are told”. They are told it by the Information Tribunal, which says:
“We do not accept that we should, in effect, treat the Hutton report as the final word on the subject … Information has been placed before us which was not before Lord Hutton which may lead to questions as to whether the”,
FCO head of information’s,
“draft in fact played a greater part in influencing the drafting of the [Iraq] dossier than has previously been supposed”.
You cannot just dismiss these questions. There is more in the Guardian. Jonathan Steele is, as anyone who knows him will confirm, a serious foreign correspondent. He has just written a book, Defeat: Why They Lost Iraq. He concludes in an article in today’s paper:
“My interviews with diplomats produced no evidence that accurate analysis even reached the foreign secretary”.
I do not know whether that is true, but we need to know. We know the analysis that was made in 1991 about whether to go to Baghdad. All of us who supported that war—I take my share of the responsibility—knew full well that there would be serious problems with the stability of Iraq if, as I believed was necessary, one toppled Saddam Hussein.
One lesson has surely already been learnt. The surge has been successful. The head of the US army, who warned the United States in, I think, January 2003 that it would need 200,000 troops in Iraq, has been proven right. If we had increased the number of troops earlier, things might have been very different. When John Sawers, the British ambassador in Egypt, who had previously worked in No. 10, went into Iraq, he made a report, which we have seen. We know that he recommended—he was supported in this by Major General Albert Whitley, the most senior British officer with the US land forces—that because of the chaos that he found in Baghdad at the time serious consideration should be given in Downing Street and Whitehall generally to sending the British 16 Air Assault Brigade, which was in Iraq but due to return home, to Baghdad. There is little doubt that, if the British Prime Minister had followed John Sawers’s advice, the American Administration would not have been allowed to “off-ramp” the 16,000 soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division. This was the chance for Britain to make an individual decision. A serious report from a well balanced and knowledgeable diplomat recommended increasing the number of troops in Iraq to deal with the looting and the chaos, but it was overridden. This is not just about the politicians. We have to face the fact that senior diplomats in the Foreign Office have to be held to account, as do the senior generals and other senior members of the Armed Forces. We cannot just go on ignoring what they have done.
I crave the indulgence of the House, as I should like to go back in history. The poem “Mesopotamia”—what is now Iraq—subtitled “1917”, was written by Rudyard Kipling. I thought that I would cut it but, as I think I have time, I will read it all:
“They shall not return to us, the resolute, the young,
The eager and whole-hearted whom we gave;
But the men who left them thriftily to die in their own dung,
Shall they come with years and honour to the grave?
They shall not return to us, the strong men coldly slain
In sight of help denied from day to day:
But the men who edged their agonies and chid them in their pain,
Are they too strong and wise to put away?
Our dead shall not return to us while Day and Night divide—
Never while the bars of sunset hold.
But the idle-minded overlings who quibbled while they died,
Shall they thrust for high employments as of old?
Shall we only threaten and be angry for an hour?
When the storm is ended shall we find
How softly but how swiftly they have sidled back to power
By the favour and contrivance of their kind?
Even while they soothe us, while they promise large amends,
Even while they make a show of fear,
Do they call upon their debtors, and take council with their friends,
To confirm and re-establish each career?
Their lives cannot repay us—their death could not undo—
The shame that they have laid upon our race.
But the slothfulness that wasted and the arrogance that slew,
Shall we leave it unabated in its place?”
I beg this House of Lords, over the next few months, to make a decision and force an inquiry. In contradiction to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, whom I greatly respect, I believe that the Falklands commission did have value. The Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence learnt some important lessons, as did the politicians.
In my profession, there is a tradition that, when you make a mistake, you have a post-mortem. It is a great tradition. Sometimes there is an actual examination of the body, but often a case conference examines where mistakes were made. I have made mistakes. Many of us have made mistakes. We should face up to them. I tried in a recent book, the Hubris Syndrome, to draw attention to some of these things, but I am really a participant. We need a dispassionate look and to learn from our mistakes.
My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Fowler not only for introducing this debate but for his balanced, eloquent and persuasive speech. I also agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said. My noble friend Lord Fowler and I go back a long way: we first met as young officers in the Essex Regiment at the time of Suez. On the merits of that escapade, he was right and I was wrong. He was quickly proved to be right. That was more than 50 years ago. It was a great disaster. It is fair to say that what has happened in Iraq is the biggest disaster that has occurred to British foreign and strategic policy since that time. It is of the first importance and of great significance and we must learn lessons from it.
I will not speak about how we got into the war. I agree with my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Owen, that it has been extensively inquired into, but not comprehensively. If there is no inquiry, more and more information will leak out and more are more will be known, but in a disordered fashion and in a manner from which it is difficult to draw conclusions. Nor will I speak about the war itself. That was short, sharp and successful. I want to address myself to what has happened post war—what has happened since President Bush stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier in front of a sign proclaiming “mission accomplished”. If only it had been: if only all that has happened since that hubristic and theatrical act could have been avoided.
Although I agree with what has already been said on the need to know more about how we got into this war and what information Ministers, officials, generals and so forth had, we need an inquiry into what has happened post war, whether as part of a broader inquiry or on its own. We specifically need answers to the following questions. First, to what extent did Her Majesty's Government share in the decision making? What was Her Majesty's Government’s input into the policy that has been followed since the end of the fighting? Secondly, to what extent were Her Majesty's Government overruled by our great ally, the United States, and to what extent was the advice of Her Majesty's Government simply ignored? Thirdly, to what extent did Her Majesty's Government simply leave it all to the Americans as the senior partner in the adventure—let them take the big decisions and confine our actions to our own limited area of responsibility?
I suspect that there will not be any such inquiry because the findings would be too humiliating for the Government. I suspect, too, that to a very large degree we simply left it to the Americans. I hope that the Minister can assure me that I am wrong and that however badly the situation turned out, Her Majesty’s Government fully participated in all the big decisions. Meanwhile, I draw two preliminary conclusions from what has happened, on which I hope he may feel able to comment.
First, whenever British troops are committed we must be sure to have an adequate say in all strategic and political decisions before, during and after the fighting. If that is not possible in a particular operation because of the imbalance of power between the United States and ourselves, we should stay out. Secondly, the corollary of involving Parliament in decisions to commit troops—I applaud the change introduced by the Prime Minister soon after he took office—is that the Government should be held accountable to Parliament for the outcome, not only for the military operation and how we got into that but for the occupation, the reconstruction, and the fulfilment—or not, as the case may be—of our war aims.
As we all know, the Suez debacle led the British Government to decide not only always to stick as closely as possible to the United States but never again to embark on a military operation that the United States could thwart. But that did not mean having to follow the United States wherever it led. Here I think the Labour Government could take a look at their predecessor, Harold Wilson—I know that he is not a popular man in Labour circles—who showed that it is perfectly possible to remain on very close and good terms with the United States, but he did not follow it into Vietnam, although President Johnson put a great deal of pressure on him to do so, and although other American allies, notably the Australians, did indeed follow the United States down that path.
Therefore, it is not just a question of whether we agree with what the United States wants to do in a given situation, nor is it a question of not wanting to leave the United States isolated in a particular situation, although I can understand the previous Prime Minister’s concerns on that point.
It must also be a question of whether and to what extent a British Government can have an influence on the formation and conduct of policy when British troops are involved. We may have been the junior partner in Iraq but we were and are a partner and therefore we are responsible for what happened in Iraq. We share the responsibility with the United States and others for what happened in Iraq and we must draw lessons from it. The final lesson I draw from it is that, as a result of the decisions taken by this Government, we find ourselves in a position where we have responsibility without power, where we share in the responsibility for what happened but were not able to influence the big strategic decisions, and that is a very humiliating position for this country to be in.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for tabling this debate and giving us the opportunity to discuss Iraq without the fevered concentration on the negative, which is usual in the media. First, I shall deal with the question of an inquiry. We debated this at great length last February in a debate on Iraq tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd. Then, as now, I completely agreed with the Government’s position stated in that debate, when the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, said,
“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”.
As the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, reminded us, the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, went on to say 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”.
As I understand it, that is still the position and I certainly go along with it.
The Minister on that occasion also said:
“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”.—[Official Report, 22/2/07; col. 1255.]
I agree completely with all of that, and I do not consider that discussion of an inquiry is either sensible or appropriate while there are British forces in theatre.
When looking at Iraq, it is important not to start only at 2003. As I have often told the House, I spent the last 12 months of my government service—which ended in August 1991—wholly immersed in Iraq.
There are two very important lessons to be learnt from 1991. First, do not leave decisions about crucial ceasefire timing and conditions to soldiers, even those as distinguished as Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf; because they got it wrong. Secondly, do not allow a very long, detailed Chapter 7 resolution—that chapter enables you to take military action—such as United Nations Security Council Resolution 687 of April 1991, to lie for some 12 years before taking decisive military action to enforce it.
Time does not allow expansion on these two lessons, which are part of the reason I consider—and have always considered—our military action in 2003 politically, morally and legally completely justified. Whether one agrees with me about that or not, no one can be satisfied with the way in which things developed after the successful 2003 military action; and, indeed, lessons can and should be learnt.
One mistake which was made was not the commonly levelled criticism that there was no post-military action planning, but that the very detailed planning in the US State Department for handling the civil situation after the invasion and overthrow of Saddam—all of which was meticulously reported in Bob Woodward’s excellent book, Plan of Attack—was never put into action. The State Department was prevented by the Pentagon from implementing it, as my noble friend Lord Anderson said. We have all expressed disquiet in this House about some of the decisions taken after the invasion. An outstanding example was the disbandment of the Iraqi army. As is reported in another Bob Woodward book, State of Denial, General Jay Garner told Donald Rumsfeld that three terrible mistakes had been made. The said that they were,
“the extent of de Ba’athification, getting rid of the army and summarily dumping the Iraq Leadership, Group. Disbanding the military was the biggest mistake—hundreds of thousands of disorganised, armed, unemployed Iraqis running around. It will take years to rebuild the army. They’d taken 30,000 to 40,000 Ba’athists and sent them underground and they’d gotten rid of the Iraq Leadership Group”.
It was not for want of some of the people on the ground seeing the dire consequences of some of the mistakes that had been made. These are certainly lessons that need to be learnt.
Not enough recognition was given to how the horrors of Saddam’s regime brutalised and exacerbated tensions between Sunni, Shia and Kurd, fracturing Iraqi society. We know, from the Balkans and elsewhere, the violence that erupts from the removal of a dictatorial regime, and Iraq had been held in the grip of a fearsomely efficient terror machine of incredible brutality. Again, this was recognised by Jay Garner, who at a press conference at the time said:
“There’s always problems when you’ve been brutalised for 30 years and you take people out of absolute darkness and put them in sunshine”.
I argued in April 2003 that it was a mistake not to tackle Moqtada Sadr then, when he was clearly responsible for the murder in Najaf of the respected 42 year-old Shia cleric leader, al-Khoei, who had just returned to Iraq from exile in London after the invasion. To have dealt with Moqtada then could have avoided many subsequent problems.
We should all learn from the success of General Petraeus’s tactics of the surge, which is leading to a return, however modest, of some of the 2 million Iraqis who fled abroad and to attempts of some Mahdi army militants to bring back some displaced Sunni neighbours to Shia districts. A major aim of the surge was to give Iraqi politicians breathing space to pass legislation to try to bring about some reconciliation. Now, at last, a law has been passed—the Accountability and Justice Act—to give former, not top-level, Ba’ath members some chance of pensions or even reinstatement in their former jobs. Other positive developments are the Sunni Awakening movement, which is acting against the insurgents linked to al-Qaeda, and the main Sunni alliance in the Parliament, the Iraqi Accord Front, indicating that it will rejoin the Maliki Government.
Control of the oil industry and provincial elections remain elements in the national reconciliation package, but in both there are interesting and encouraging developments, which unfortunately there is no time to expand on now. There are some grounds for at least a glimmer of hope for national reconciliation, which everyone—Iraqis and others—has learnt is the only hope for any peaceful progress for Iraq.
My Lords, I warmly welcome this important debate, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for giving us this vital opportunity. The timing is excellent, for the recent gains in security in the region and Iraq’s gains in political stability and cohesion achieved in recent months give a unique opportunity to the European Union and its member states to forge the closer permanent relationship that is our policy.
There are now most important new opportunities for trade and investment that others are taking on. I spoke in October at the Al Thiqa economic development conference held in Nasiriyah. This was the first ever development conference held in southern Iraq. It was impressive to hear the Ministers for oil, security, housing, roads, water and the Marshes, among others, set out their current expenditure and roll out future plans. The Deputy President, the Deputy Prime Minister and the local governor also spoke. Council members, tribal leaders, other local notables and Members of Parliament took part in the debate.
Some of Iraq’s major new investors were present at the conference, including Japan, the principal investor in the south. Another example of successful investors is MTC Al-Atheer, the Kuwait-registered group working with Iraqi partners, which to date has made $2.5 billion worth of investment in Iraq’s mobile telephone network. I learnt too that the French company Lavage had just signed an agreement with the Iraqi Government for three major cement factories to be refurbished, sharing production 40 per cent to the Iraqi Government and 60 per cent Lavage. The possibilities for EU investors now throughout Iraq, not just in northern Kurdistan, are very large indeed. I look to Her Majesty’s Government and to member states to do all that is possible to encourage EU companies to take up the opportunities. Other nations are doing so and we are being left behind.
We in the European Union have high competence in building a public administration. Prime Minister Maliki and his Ministers are indeed hard-working and the Parliament is fully functioning. But to be effective, Ministers must be supported by a functioning and competent administration that is committed to serving the people. In Iraq, at all levels of the administration, there is a profound lack in skills in this most important area, but we can help. This crucial gap gives the European Union a chance to show our special skills in capacity and institution building as well as in training. Of course, creating a public service ethos in Iraq will require a complete reversal of the former position which the previous administration took. As we in the European Union know well from our work in central and eastern Europe throughout the enlargement process, dictatorship thrives on public control and turns away from serving the public interest.
To help Iraq reverse the dismal administrative situation it inherited we need to make close partnerships with the public service ministries, particularly health, which is a key priority for Prime Minister Maliki to help in building up a functioning and significantly less corrupt public sector. I hope that Prime Minister Maliki will visit the European Union soon. If he does, I would like us to be able to present him with the package of training and institution and capacity building in public health and education that Iraq so sorely needs. Public health is a key, essential element in stabilisation and association processes. Access to public health is a millennium development goal.
In October I had the opportunity, and again two weeks ago, to address the Iraqi Parliament in plenary session—not once but twice. I was their first official visitor and it was a great honour to address them. I learnt immediately how much assistance they need. We in the European Parliament, in consequence, are setting up a permanent ad hoc delegation to Iraq. We have a new rapporteur for an Iraq report—a close friend of mine, the socialist Portuguese Member of the European Parliament, Ana Gomes—and I am her shadow for the next report. We believe that strengthening Parliament’s ties is one of the key ways in which we can assist the democratic process.
Iraq has a permanent standing constitution committee, because there are still problems in the constitution. We can assist. Women’s issues are a key area in today’s Iraq. My colleague Ana Gomes is on the women’s committee in the European Parliament. We at once vowed that we would create those ties officially as well as informally. Then there are the issues of how to frame and progress laws and the essential links that are still missing between Ministers and their civil servants in drafting laws and for Parliament in progressing them. Proper parliamentary procedures are still not in place. Those needs are vital and we can help.
Iraq has a true parliament and a wholly secular constitution. It is one of the very few nations in the region to have such a constitution, despite its flaws. We should do all that we can to help the Iraqis to strengthen the democratic process. The rule of law is critical to a functioning democracy. I pay tribute to the Council of Ministers and the EUJUST LEX exercise which has trained so many judges and magistrates. I am proud that, through this mechanism, we have trained 24,000 election monitors, who I saw working so hard in the 2005 elections in January and December of that year.
However, there must be cohesion in the European Union institutional approach if we are to succeed. There must be closer co-ordination also between member states. It is now possible, at last, to have a unified EU approach. Past national divisions have healed and the way ahead is clear. It will require careful, dedicated and patient work to deliver what we have promised to the Iraqi people. Like us, the people of Iraq demand democracy and good governance. They demand and need the provision of basic rights, basic services and the full complement of those enjoyments of privileges that we have in our democracies in western Europe. We have come a long way towards delivering that goal, and with the EU newly united on the issue of Iraq, I believe that we can achieve much more in partnership and co-operation with the Government, the parliament, the administration and the people of Iraq.
I would suggest that the prize of a stable Iraq exercising a benign influence regionally and internationally is worth every effort to attain. I hope for and work towards the enlargement of the European Union to incorporate Turkey, when Iraq will become our next-door neighbour.
In conclusion, if there is a lesson to learn, I suggest that we should not allow past challenges to inhibit and cloud the future. We should not use yesterday’s problems to stop moving forward. We must move on.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lord Fowler on introducing this debate and on the eloquent and authoritative way in which he has done so. The lessons to be drawn from the recent history of Iraq are of profound importance, not just to Iraq, but to ourselves and others. I believe it to be a counsel of despair to say that the only thing to be learnt from history is that no one has ever learnt anything from history. Nor am I impressed by the canard that it is easy to be wise after the event. It is surely better to be wise after the event than to be unwise or to pass by on the other side. As the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said in his eloquent speech, this matter is not going to go away. I join my noble friend in paying tribute to the gallantry of British service men and women and those of other nations who have served in Iraq, together with the many foreign civilians who have served there, and in expressing sympathy for the sufferings of the Iraqi people.
Despite the reductions in violence following the troop surge, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, referred, the situation is very grave. As has been mentioned, the number of people driven from their homes has apparently quadrupled to more than 2 million. Since the occupation began, more than 2 million people have fled the country, although some are trickling back, largely because of visa problems. Electricity in Baghdad is available for only eight hours a day—half the level before the invasion. Unemployment is more than 60 per cent. More than 40 per cent of the population lives on less than a dollar a day. Focus group surveys carried out for General Petraeus in five Iraqi cities recently are reported to have found that all sectarian and ethnic groups believe that the US invasion is the primary cause of violence in the country and regard the withdrawal of all occupying forces as the key to national reconciliation.
Next Thursday, your Lordships will hold a debate to be introduced by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, on the Government’s consultation document on war powers and treaties. I venture to guess that Parliament will in future be more sympathetic to any government call for support in overseas deployment of troops if there has been complete candour and openness about Iraq. So I add my voice to those who say that it is timely that, in accordance with longstanding tradition, an independent inquiry should be set up as soon as is practicable, not in any sense to seek scapegoats but in order to learn lessons for the future while those who have been involved in the recent history of Iraq are still around and memories are fresh. I do not accept the argument that this cannot happen when troops are still in theatre. Their morale would be unaffected and they will do their duty, as they have on previous occasions. They could be there for a long time—our people are still in the Falklands.
A large number of interrelated questions remain to be answered. Were the wholly inadequate plans for the stabilisation and reconstruction effort after the April 2003 invasion the result of avoidable ignorance or divided counsels within the American Administration and the British Government? Was the lack of a UN mandate a fatal weakness in securing necessary resources and expertise? No one will know the answer to that better than the Minister. Was the decision to adopt a model of direct governance a hindrance to the chances of addressing the issues of transition and reform? Was the widespread criminality, the international terrorism and the massive insurgency, which has bedevilled reconstruction efforts, predicted? If not, could it have been? Could greater initial force have averted the murderous chaos?
Why was there an assumption that the coalition would quickly be able to transfer civil governance to Iraqis when it was clear that the process of de-Ba’athification, the purge of the top layer of the Civil Service and removal of its institutional memory, and the disbanding of the Iraqi army—in fact the destruction of all Iraqi institutions—would leave a vacuum making political development, internal security and reconstruction infinitely more difficult? What was the basis for the belief that the Iraqis would welcome foreign occupation? How long did the Government believe at the time of the invasion, and indeed now, that the international forces—themselves a cause of and target for insurgency activity—would be required to prevent a descent into anarchy and civil war?
There has been a disjuncture between political discussion and the realities on the ground in Iraq. In the limited time when foreign occupation is tolerable to the great majority of Iraqis, if it still is, and if security and the rule of law, political progress and reconstruction are to be achieved, can the Government assure us that the massive cuts in senior personnel at the Foreign Office—one in four—have not and will not affect its future capability to deliver what was once regarded as the finest advice on middle eastern affairs available to any government in the world, delivered by men and women trusted and respected as no other in the region?
These are urgent questions that can be answered only by a full, independent inquiry. I hope that the Government will not continue to shelter behind the principle of the unripe time. Parliament will not tolerate that, and I believe that the Government have less to fear from openness than the reverse.
My Lords, a vast amount has already been written, said, hypothesised and argued about over the latest war in Iraq, and its consequences. This debate is no exception in adding to it. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, on securing it today.
If we could summarise the political military analysis—for example, that given by Mr Wilkinson at Chatham House last October—we would stress that governments must learn that when you intervene in someone else’s country, for whatever reason, you have to allow that some of the consequences will entail nation building. If you intervene in someone else’s country you must have and act on a political and economic reconstruction plan that delivers improvement to the quality of life or face the consequences or the prospect of nurturing insurgents. Having intervened in someone else’s country, in any post-conflict environment, the essential priorities must be to establish security, the rule of law and to deliver access to justice, if I may echo the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad.
It is fairly easy to list the lessons to be drawn and noble Lords who have spoken have given us a very good insight into the key questions that we should address. I do not wish to repeat them, but they include the question of whether there was too great a rush to war in 2003. Were enough forces deployed? Were they properly resourced and prepared? Did the overwhelming desire to find weapons of mass destruction cause stockpiles of conventional weapons and lead them to be disregarded, but which later armed the insurgency? Should the Iraqi army have been disabled? Was the comprehensive de-Ba’athification process really necessary? There are more than enough questions to put a case for a further and deep inquiry into the intervention in Iraq.
Written evidence submitted to the Foreign Affairs Committee in another place by organisations such as the Council for Arab-British Understanding, among others, bring home the outcome of failures to follow the simple lessons of pre-emptive military intervention. Iraq went almost overnight from a heavily government-controlled state, headed by a despot, to anarchy with no state control. With the state effectively dismantled Iraqis turned to their own tribal and sectarian groupings for security and support. Sectarian divisions were aggravated and deteriorated. Iraq’s future potential has also been undermined. Brutal, targeted attacks on academics, journalists and doctors have added to and accelerated a huge brain drain that dates from the sanctions era. It will take a lengthy period of calm, safety and security to attract this key talent back in sufficient numbers to give Iraq a viable future.
Perhaps the most sombre lesson to be drawn is the degree to which the population of the region has been destabilised. According to the UNHCR, Iraq’s displaced are the world’s largest group of urban refugees and the largest refugee crisis in the Middle East since 1948. The UNHCR estimates that there are 2.2 million IDPs in Iraq and that a further 2 million have fled from Iraq—mainly to Syria and Jordan—whose health, education and social support systems have buckled under the strain.
Syria’s 1.4 million Iraqi refugees are increasingly running out of resources, with a third now on the verge of destitution. Poverty is making inroads into the refugee population’s health, with a fifth of the chronically ill unable to purchase medication. Tens of thousands of Iraqis will need food support over the coming months, with more than 250,000 expected to need food assistance by the end of the year.
In Syria alone, some 100 new cases of refugees living in extreme poverty are identified every week. Women and children are particularly vulnerable to exploitation. Nearly half the families report that their children have dropped out of school, with one in 10 working to help support their families. Overall, the number of Iraqis uprooted by sectarian violence and human rights abuses is surpassed globally only by the 6.4 million Sudanese internally displaced persons and refugees. That is something that your Lordships might reflect on when recognising that by far the greater part of the Iraqi refugee crisis results from the US/UK-led intervention.
The Minister will be aware that such is the enormity of Iraq’s displacement crisis that this year the UNHCR needs to raise more than £130 million for its Middle East region operations—its largest single relief operation. Targets have been set that include doubling to 200,000 the number of Iraqi refugee children attending school; supporting 15,000 families who decide to return home; and assisting 400,000 displaced persons living in insecure and dangerous conditions.
Those programmes deliver shelter, healthcare, education, general support and food to uprooted Iraqis throughout the region. They are at risk unless the UNHCR appeal is met with strong support, which sadly has not been forthcoming from the UK Government. Given the Minister’s experience in the UN, he is uniquely placed to explain why our Government do not support the UNHCR targeting of immediate relief programmes at refugees in and outside Iraq. What basis is there for considering that UK investment in reconstruction and infrastructure, aimed at rebuilding the basic services in the longer term, can be a substitute for the immediate support urgently needed by hundreds of thousands of refugee victims of a war that we helped to initiate?
Finally, further to an Answer given to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, on 21 January, to which the noble Lord referred again today, on the resettlement of Iraqis at risk under the Gateway Protection Programme, the Minister will be aware that its success is dependent on a sufficient number of local authorities participating. There is considerable concern that this is not the case at present. Will he advise what steps the Government are taking to ensure that local authorities will come forward?
My Lords, I, too, welcome the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, tabled this debate—not least because Iraq remains a matter of huge and continuing importance in our domestic and international politics. As I understand it, the noble Lord has argued that, as a supporter of the war originally, he is convinced that too many questions remain unanswered about the way in which the decision to go into the conflict was taken and about what will happen in relation to planning for post-conflict Iraq. He argues that the time is right for an inquiry because we need to learn lessons.
Some lessons are already very clear and we could think about how to act upon them now. We need clearer, and more generally acknowledged principles about when it is right and legal to take military action that entails going into another country. I believed at the time—and believe now—that our action was legal; others honestly disagreed.
However, in the course of my time as a Minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the criteria for taking military action in other countries changed, most noticeably in relation to Kosovo, where we introduced the idea of overwhelming humanitarian disaster being a sufficient cause to take military action in another country. The rules by which the UN operates do need to be looked at dispassionately and a real effort made to get better international consensus.
There is another clear lesson about intelligence. Raw intelligence is not available either to the public or to Ministers, and should not be because, all, or most, intelligence reports are drawn from a wide variety of different sources, all are subject to judgment and open to different degrees of interpretation. To attempt to publish as much as the Government did, in the form that we did, raised more and more questions. It was done from the very best of motives.
However, we need to think about how we deal with that sort of intelligence in the future. How much should go into the public domain? How should that be presented and when? We need to take those decisions calmly and clearly—not in the heat of a huge argument about who was right and wrong and who knew what when. That is something that we could be considering now. Therefore, those are two lessons that are clear already.
On the question of an inquiry, let me say that, speaking as someone who was a Foreign Office Minister at the time, I would welcome one—but only when conditions in Iraq make that possible and right.
I now turn to “the position in Iraq”, as the title of the debate of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, asks us to do. I want to concentrate on two areas—security and economic development. On security, everyone acknowledges, even after yesterday’s bombing attacks, that there are many fewer incidents now than there were this time last year. The surge has been a real factor, certainly in security around Baghdad. I think that every commentator acknowledges that there has been a reduction in the level of day-to-day violence around Baghdad.
Engagement with the Sunni tribal leaders has led to real improvements. There are local citizens groups among the Sunni community. A decision to take real consultation initiatives with the Sunni tribesmen about the al-Qaeda threat has been successful. Areas that were virtually bandit country and the heartlands of al-Qaeda in Iraq, where only the US marines were able to operate last year, are becoming safer. Obviously, that is around Al-Aubar and Sala Hadeen. All commentators are noting changes in turnaround; from what I have heard from our observers on the ground, it has been dramatic and significant. That has meant that there has been a reduction in violence of about 60 to 70 per cent. We are back to the levels that pertained at the end of 2003—too high, but going down. Intra-Shia fighting—that is, fighting between Shia groups—has diminished. A ceasefire that was initially agreed temporarily seems to be holding. Last week, the attempts of Shia extremists failed to spark off a resumption of Shia violence.
The capability of the Iraqi security forces has also improved. Last night, they saw off the violence in Basra with only air cover from the British forces, but they took on everything that happened on the ground. Will it last? It has been acknowledged—by even the most critical parts of the media, albeit grudgingly—that there have been real improvements. The next few weeks will give us further indications.
The noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, spoke with great authority on the economy. There are a few facts that we need to bear in mind. The Iraqi economy is growing—by 6 per cent last year. That is in striking distance of a number of neighbouring Arab economies. Inflation is down from 60 per cent in 2006 to 16 per cent—the calculation of the now independent Central Bank of Iraq.
Employment was, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, said, running at about 60 per cent in 2006, but it was down to 19 per cent at the end of last year. These are important figures. The Iraqis are benefiting from the increase in oil prices. They are not squandering the money. It is being invested in physical and human infrastructure—in health and education.
Around Basra, we have seen the Iraqi-run and Iraqi-based Basra Inward Investment Agency, the Basra Development Fund—with start-up money for small and medium sized businesses—and the Basra Development Commission. All of these are important economic indicators and have led to a 54 per cent increase in British exports to Iraq in areas that are also important indicators of economic growth, such as industrial machinery and road vehicles.
Our trade associations are starting to go back into Iraq. The Middle East Association and British Expertise took trade missions towards the end of last year. The MEA is planning more this year. UK companies are active in electronic banking, medicine, wider healthcare and construction, including developing the Umm Qasr Port.
Another lesson is that judgments in these areas are still evolving. Finding sources of information that widen our perspective is enormously important. It is disappointing that, when Iraqi politicians come to this country and talk to us in Parliament, sometimes few active politicians turn up to hear them.
One last lesson I have learnt is that British foreign policy dictates our defence policy. We are never in any doubt that defence policy is dependent on and subordinate to wider foreign policy priorities. It is important to know how our allies will operate. It is disconcerting to find our close allies operating on the basis that defence policy leads foreign policy. However, the fact that Pentagon was in the lead, not only on operational prosecution of the fighting—which was right and proper—but also on post-conflict handling in Iraq, was in stark contrast to our own position. Speaking as someone who was a Minister at the time, that was a very difficult realisation. It was another hard and painful lesson and one from which I hope that we have all learnt.
My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Fowler for introducing this important debate and doing it so well and so clearly and in what I hope will be seen as a very much bipartisan approach to this very difficult issue. I am struck by the efforts that have been made in the United States’ approach to address issues of gravity for our country in a bipartisan manner. That is extremely important.
The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, is right to draw attention to some of the improvements that certainly seem to exist in Iraq at the moment. There seems to be a calmer atmosphere. One must guard against the fact that we tend to measure the situation in Iraq in terms of British casualties. The move to Basra airport has changed that situation but I understand that the number of attacks in Basra city—and of a particularly vicious and nasty kind—are continuing at the same level, but the targets are now different. Certainly, there is some optimism, expressed by the IMF and Ambassador Crocker. But the improvements have been achieved in some unusual ways. The Americans are now paying the militias $300 a month and providing them with arms, and we have currently sub-contracted significant areas of security in Iraq, in both Basra and Baghdad. There is a question about whether that will hold. There has been a welcome improvement in the Sunni expulsion of al-Qaeda from certain areas, suggesting, however, that once they get their own areas in order they will look to reassert their authority in some of the mixed areas. The threats of more ethnic cleansing are certainly worrying.
The worrying reports coming out of Basra suggest that we have settled for a balance of power between different militias. There have been significant illustrations in the form of attacks on women, with criticisms of their dress leading to physical assault, if not actual murder and execution. They suggest that we are presiding at a distance over a new Shia Taliban town being created. That gives some real concern to Kuwait and other neighbours about what may be developing there.
I certainly agree with the comment that the next six months are critical. Will the central government establish their authority? Will the Iraqi army really get a grip and be able to assert itself? Will it be able to sort out the police, get them working and the corrupt elements out? There are worrying reports about some of the problems in training the police. Can we see some real improvement and progress in reconstruction?
There are real concerns about the tensions and criticisms emerging between the Army and DfID. The feeling among many in the Army is that DfID has failed to take advantage of the work that the Army has had to do. A question to come out of this is whether we need some form of hardened DfID operational capability that can get into a less than ideal security situation and start reconstruction so that people on the ground can see the immediate benefit of a successful military operation.
I was struck by the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Symons. I am not sure where she is on the inquiry; I think she said that she favoured one. She went on to cite various lessons that could be learnt straight away, and I offer a few ideas for lessons that could be learnt. With the greatest respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, we cannot just depend on Bob Woodward’s book and what Jay Garner said to the president. These are all bits of evidence which need bringing together. It is important that we address this at an early stage.
To analyse what happened in our relationship with the United States, I look back at my personal involvement in the first Gulf War and the relationship then. There were different personalities. There was no doubt that Douglas Hurd and Jim Baker had a particularly good relationship, and in no sense did the Pentagon dominate the State Department. Dick Cheney was a more junior member of the Administration—an effective Defense Secretary, my opposite number—but the State Department was not by-passed. Our co-operation was close, with one exception: the decision to stop after the turkey shoot and the Mutla Ridge; some may remember those terrible pictures of the Iraqi army trying to escape out of Kuwait. The meeting at which the decision to stop was taken was held in the White House without any British representation. Until that point, co-operation had been close throughout. We played a major part in ensuring that we had the right rules of engagement before it started. Looking at what happened in the United States this time, we had—in Washington—a very inexperienced president with an exceptionally powerful vice-president who drew on his own experiences of the first Gulf War and his close relationship with another great Washington hand, Donald Rumsfeld. They undoubtedly very much sidelined Colin Powell and the State Department. We want to learn lessons on that.
We also want to learn lessons on intelligence. I do not think that it is unkind to say this as it is widely known: I chaired the Intelligence Security Committee, and we were critical of the lack of interest that the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, took in intelligence. We regularly encouraged him in successive reports to chair the ministerial Committee on Intelligence Services on a regular basis. It did not happen. He must bitterly regret that now. A closer involvement in intelligence of that kind would have helped him as a very inexperienced Prime Minister—that is no criticism; it was the inevitable consequence of 18 years of Conservative government. He came in with no ministerial experience at all. However, closer involvement would have helped him to know which questions to ask and which challenges to put to the intelligence services. He had our reports—although I always worried whether he really read them. We had already said on more that one occasion—as the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, knows very well—what a hard target Iraq was for human intelligence. The intelligence services told us, as was in our reports, that we knew very little about what was going on in Iraq. That should have been a red light to warn a Prime Minister that he had better ask some pretty tough questions before taking some fundamental decisions of that kind.
On the military side, it is interesting to think that when we set out to expel Saddam Hussein and his invading Iraqi army from somebody else’s country, 750,000 troops were involved. When we set out to undertake the much more difficult task of invading somebody else’s country and destroying their Government and president, we tried to do so with less than half that amount. If one is talking about the effect of “shock and awe”, and—that favourite phrase of the Americans—“having won the battle”, you must hold the ground, which means substantial forces. But you must do something when you are holding the ground. I offer the analogy of the SAS and their stun grenades. If you try to break into premises and chuck in a stun grenade, you do not just then wait for an hour for the dust to settle and people to gather their wits. The point of the stun grenade is that, having made the attack, you get in quick and change things fast. We did not come into Iraq fast with real plans; that was the great mistake.
Briefly, on an inquiry, I am critical of our Parliament. Congress is much more effective at holding the Executive to account. Parliament should show its determination and resolve, and insist upon an inquiry. The Iraq Study Group was, in a sense, an American committee of privy counsellors: Jim Baker, Lee Hamilton, Larry Eagleburger and Bill Perry; a range of distinguished American people. We must set up something similar. The clinching argument for that is there will never otherwise be a right time, but we may find ourselves in this situation again. We cannot be sure. I would not like to take responsibility for the deaths of our Armed Forces facing a new situation, if we made some of the same mistakes we have made this time but had not got around to studying them, learning the lessons, and ensuring that we never made those mistakes again.
My Lords, we owe a great debt to my noble friend Lord Fowler for this important debate.
As Rory Stewart has said, nowhere in 30 years has there been such a concentration of foreign money, manpower and determination as in Iraq. Nor has their failure, to some extent, been more dramatic. He adds:
“Our failures were due to incompetence rather than malice, but the population were not prepared to give us the benefit of the doubt. For 80 years the Iraqis have rejected colonialism. They have rejected non-Muslim government for much longer. They are the only people who can rebuild their nation”.
The lessons HMG should draw from Iraq are all relevant to the continuing military task in Afghanistan: the struggle for resources, whether helicopters, armoured vehicles or, not least, skilled manpower. The Government have remorselessly refused to provide the money to meet the ever-increasing demands they have placed on the Armed Forces ever since the strategic review, coupled with taking on not one but two wars simultaneously, in addition to our continuing commitment in the Balkans. We have moved from being told that not a shot would be fired in Afghanistan to being told that we are committed there for many years in what has proved to be a virtually full-scale war. We are not helped by the fact that it is a NATO operation in which some are fighting but others are not.
The Defence Committee in the other place has always been deeply concerned at what the Treasury’s resource accounting and budgeting—RAB—procedure has done to the MoD’s ability to meet defence priorities within its budget. The MoD once thought that it could,
“use its asset base of £86 billion and bear down on that to release resources”.
It did not think that meant cuts, just stretching the budget further. It reported, however, that the Treasury was unwilling,
“for wider reasons, to let the MoD have the flexibility it had sought”.
I repeat: we have problems with the Treasury.
Ever since the Iraq operation began—and before—the MoD has been contending with undermanning, the consequent breaching of harmony lines, a lack of vital equipment that has meant that there is not enough for training on it as it has to go straight to the operational forces on the ground, and permanent overstretch. Families at home are left in disgraceful accommodation, many have suffered from unpardonable stress because of breakdowns to the pay system, and the severely wounded who return to this country have had, in some cases, very shabby treatment. There is no money for training or servicing. The helicopter crash in Iraq some years ago was attributed to insufficient training of the crew. The inquiry into the more recent Nimrod crash in Afghanistan has reported that:
“A tautly managed engineering establishment and a recent outflow of skilled personnel led to an effective dilution of engineering skills”.
In other words, there is no money for training and skilled engineers are leaving the services, which is one of the vital pinch points identified by the NAO.
The FCO, which ought to be able to produce not only admirable advice but also skilled linguists with in-country skills, has an almost invisible budget. The MoD, which is responsible for the nation’s defence—the chief reason now why we can punch above our weight on the international scene—has been starved of funds for the past 15 to 20 years. We proudly claim that we give more in aid than any other country except one: the US. DfID’s budget is to rise by 11 per cent each year for the next three years. That and the major increases in education and health far outstrip defence. The MoD’s budget will rise by 1.5 per cent per annum for the foreseeable future, and it is looking at a shortfall of £1 billion over the next three years even now. Defence will get only 2 per cent of GDP by 2011, while the defence budgets of the Russians and the Chinese are rocketing up. If the Government use their defence forces as part of their international strategy, they must expect to pay. It is shaming that the Danes can take care of their interpreters in Iraq, but we cannot. It is shaming that at a time when shortage of manpower is a serious problem, the MoD is trying to find ways to make the Ghurkhas, worth their weight in gold in Iraq and Afghanistan, retire early in order to save on their pensions. Iraq should have taught us the value of our Armed Forces as our representatives in the world.
We are all only too familiar with the failure, until quite recently, to provide armoured vehicles and helicopters with lift. One lesson of Iraq must surely be not to leave the forces in Afghanistan in a similar situation, obliged at this stage to rely on the goodwill, on some occasions, of other NATO allies on the ground who are quite likely to withdraw or to have another agenda. We should also learn from Iraq not to repeat the gross lack of care for the operational efficiency and the human well-being of our Armed Forces, which is demonstrated by the Government’s readiness to enter into a commitment with no visible end in Afghanistan while our Armed Forces are still not disengaged from Iraq and are seriously undermanned. Without the Territorial Army, we would be in serious trouble. HMG cannot expect the TA to rotate again and again. We are rightly committed to retain the capability to re-intervene in south-eastern Iraq should the situation deteriorate. Shall we have enough men and matériel? The Armed Forces have a vital part to play in the defence of this country, and we cannot exclude the possibility of an attack from the sea by al-Qaeda. They are also regularly called upon for domestic emergencies: Operation Fresco, the floods, and so on. The lesson we should draw from Iraq and for Afghanistan is that it is in the national interest to ensure that we have forces trained and equipped to defend us adequately and, where appropriate, to intervene abroad; Serbia looms, and the situation in Pakistan is fragile. No Government should expect to commit their Armed Forces to military operations overseas without first ensuring the long-term funding. Not least, we are destroying a generation of our best young people. Recently, a witness to the Defence Select Committee said:
“I am very worried about … the problem of mental and physical sustainability of the piece of software that we call the human flesh of our soldiers … When you have young soldiers, fit, highly motivated from elite units, and they are all pretty good, 40 days under sustained fire, which is longer in the line than most infantry battalions had on the Western Front, you are asking for trouble. You are grinding them down. We are looking at tremendous physical and mental ageing of our soldier population”.
For too many people in this country, Iraq is simply the trigger for an anti-US reaction. It should be a wake-up call from the public telling the Government to ensure that the Armed Forces are given the support that they need and deserve. I add, in strong support of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Owen, that the most important lesson must surely be to end for ever the culture of sofa government and to return the proper powers of the Cabinet, the JIC and the ministries, so long ignored in favour of wholly unqualified special advisers. This is where the Treasury ought to be held to account by properly briefed Ministers.
We also need to remember that our influence in the world depends on how both enemies and friends perceive our diplomatic and military power. It is in our power to ensure that they continue to respect us. It is also in the power of the present Government—I fear perhaps of future Governments as well—to be so obsessed by the need to save money that they forget that we have a part to play in the world and that respect is tied up with how we are seen to perform diplomatically and militarily. We cannot do the other things unless we have that respect.
My Lords, the debate we are holding today is focusing to some extent on the need for a formal inquiry into the Iraq war. Such an inquiry has been championed by the Opposition parties and, so far, the Government have given only a dilatory response. I do not intend to dwell on that issue, except to make a plea that if and when such an inquiry is held, it should not simply become an occasion for settling accounts and partisan point-scoring. The terms of reference and the membership of such an inquiry would need to be designed to discourage that. Meanwhile, it is surely none too soon to begin to draw some lessons from what has been for all concerned—both protagonists and antagonists of the action taken in Iraq—a tragic and debilitating experience. For that reason, this debate is to be welcomed, and I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for obtaining it. I hope it will be put to good use. I shall concentrate on a somewhat eclectic mixture of some of the political and diplomatic aspects of the subject rather than the military and security ones.
The first is the intelligence and the uses to which it was put in the run-up to the invasion, which has been mentioned by several noble Lords. It seems now to be rather generally recognised that not only was the intelligence on Iraq’s WMD assets flawed but that the public use to which that intelligence was put was unwise and excessively prescriptive. Intelligence gathering, particularly from totalitarian regimes which will go to any lengths to protect their secrets, is not an exact science and it is never going to provide certainty about the assets and intentions of those regimes. It will often provide crucial parts of a jigsaw puzzle, but not the whole of it, and Governments should not believe or assert that it does. Have we learnt the negative and positive aspects of that lesson? I very much doubt it. The reactions to the United States’ recent national intelligence estimate on Iran’s nuclear programmes would seem to indicate quite the contrary. The same people who were most critical of the intelligence on Iraq and the uses to which it was put are now speaking of the intelligence on Iran as if it were Holy Writ. Would they be taking the same view if the estimate had indicated that Iran was close to acquiring nuclear weapons? I rather doubt it. Better surely, in the light of experience in Iraq, to be more cautious in analysing the implications of intelligence, whether it suits one’s purpose or not.
The second aspect is the role of the United Nations in the run-up to the war. It is pretty clear now that the campaign to get a second resolution during the first two months of 2003 was doomed to failure, not just because of the possibility of vetoes by France and Russia but because the necessary nine positive votes to get such a resolution were simply not there. I recall at the time, when the campaign for a second resolution began, saying, “They must know something I don’t”. It appears now that they did not. In the event, the campaign for a second resolution and the public confrontations in New York ended up inflicting far more damage on the United Nations and on the legitimacy of the action eventually taken than was the case over Kosovo a few years earlier when a quite different approach was followed. Is that an invitation to bypass the UN and to use force unilaterally? Certainly not, in my view. But it should be an invitation to avoid getting locked into a military timetable that is inconsistent from the outset with any realistic prospect of getting a second resolution. The logic of getting international inspectors back into Iraq was to give them sufficient time to do their work, and that logic was ignored.
The third aspect is post-war justice. The trials of Saddam Hussein and his principal henchmen and their execution can surely have satisfied no cause other than that of revenge, which should have no place in the administration of justice. Would it not have been far better if they had been brought before an international tribunal, as were those guilty of war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, and if world opinion had been able to appreciate fully the enormity of the crimes of which they were accused, while seeing that they were given a reasonable opportunity to defend themselves? No method of trial could have entirely avoided the risk of creating martyrs, but the one chosen was absolutely certain to fall into that trap. Now that we have a functioning international criminal court, even if not every country in the world yet accepts it, this must surely become the right and best way to challenge the doctrine of impunity.
Time does not permit me to go into the many bitter lessons to be drawn from the fundamental errors made since the end of the first military phase of the action against Iraq—the provision of inadequate manpower to achieve security in the collapsed state; the disbanding of the Iraqi army; the banning of all Baathists from public service; and the fatal combination of incompetence and hubris which characterised the US handling of Iraq in the first years after the invasion—but the failure to grasp and to come to terms with the regional dimension of Iraq’s problems deserves some mention. It should have been clear from the outset that all Iraq’s neighbours had a vital interest in that country’s future, policies and structure, and that each one of them had the capacity seriously to undermine the prospects for a stable and prosperous Iraq.
That ought to have led to an approach which created a dialogue with those neighbours and which built in the dimension of regional security, ideally through the establishment of sub-regional security guarantees and confidence-building measures, to any long-term perspectives for Iraq. Instead, the three crucial neighbours of Iraq—Turkey, Iran and Syria—were handled in ways which either marginalised them or treated them as pariahs with whom even dialogue was not possible. The reversal of that policy has come very late in the day and yet that same regional dimension arises when dealing with any number of the world’s most burning questions—Afghanistan, Burma, Zimbabwe and Darfur, to give a few examples. We ignore that dimension at our peril.
Perhaps the most important lesson to be drawn from Iraq is the complete bankruptcy of the policies which have been given the label in the United States of neo-conservatism, even if some of those who have practised these policies would reject that label. Not only have the policies not worked on the ground but it is now clear that the US people have no stomach to seek to pursue them and impose them on an unwilling world. The turning away from these policies is something which we in this country should welcome since the pursuit of them has damaged us, too, through our close alliance with the US. If neo-conservative policies were to be succeeded by a period of isolationism or of unwillingness by the United States to pull its full weight in handling the many global problems which face us all, then our last state would not be much better than our first.
That underlines the importance of this country and its European partners preparing carefully for the change of administration in Washington which is coming at the end of this year, and being ready to work hard for a new co-operative transatlantic approach, including one to deal with the unfinished business of stabilising Iraq and securing for its people a better future than the past, or the present, has provided.
My Lords, I very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said about neo-conservatism. Of course, proper Conservatives do not have a hyphen in their conservatism. I should like to add my thanks to the many who have thanked my noble friend Lord Fowler for this debate and for his excellent speech in introducing it. He pointed out that it is nearly five years since the invasion of Iraq but it is also almost four years since Ministers from the Dispatch Box were telling us that it was time to move on; the war was over and therefore the debate was over. Sadly, the debate was no more over than the violence was over.
If a natural disaster, such as an earthquake, had produced deaths and injuries on the scale that we have seen in the Iraq war, there would have been an outpouring of sympathy, appeals for money on television, and endless debates in this House. I am somewhat staggered by the equanimity with which questions about the scale of casualties in Iraq have been received. My noble friend Lord Fowler referred to a figure of 100,000 dead since the invasion. There are many other estimates, many of them far higher. Johns Hopkins estimates more than half a million dead and the New England Journal of Medicine estimates between 100,000 to 200,000 dead with a mid-point of 150,000. There are many estimates but I would go along with my noble friend that a figure of 100,000 seems about right, judged on the wide range of different estimates there are. The vast majority of deaths have been at the hands of non-western forces but the West has considerable responsibility for the context in which those deaths happened. We need to recognise and acknowledge our role in creating the conditions for violence and instability. It is that reluctance to acknowledge that responsibility that has fuelled so much of the criticism and hatred of western action.
All this stems from a war that was based on a false premise. This was an optional war, a war we did not have to fight. If we had known the costs, both human and financial, surely we would have opted for a policy of continued containment of Saddam Hussein. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, that that policy had demonstrably failed. No one is entitled to make a mistake of this magnitude. It is no justification for these deaths to say that 100,000 people would probably have died anyway under Saddam Hussein. We simply do not know that. The Secretary-General of the UN described this war as an “illegal war”. The Minister speaking for the Government today was working for the Secretary-General at that time. It would be interesting to know what his view was on that pronouncement.
Whether or not the war was illegal, there can be no doubt that the intelligence was handled in a particularly shoddy way. I agree with what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, about the difficulty and the undesirability of publishing so much intelligence material, but what was astonishing was not the publication just of intelligence material but the publication of some material in support of the Government’s case that was not intelligence at all. I find it utterly bewildering that the Government should have thought it right to publish under the Government’s name a paper that had been written by an academic and publish it without his permission, without his acknowledgement and without his approval. It was like the conduct of a third-rate cheat during a university exam.
This Government, who led us into this war, were the same Government who passed the legislation in this House that set up the International Criminal Court, to which the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, referred. As those who participated in the debates on that legislation will remember, it provides that commanders, including politicians in charge of forces, can be prosecuted for what they did not know but which the court judged they should have known. There are plenty of things that the Government should have known about Iraq. They should have known that there was no firm evidence of WMD. They should have known that there were no significant links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. They should have known that it was naïve to think that democracy could take root quickly in a country such as Iraq. They should have known that the intelligence that it takes about 45 minutes to activate certain lethal weapons applied only to battlefield weapons and not to strategic weapons—a question that the Prime Minister never seems to have asked.
On the position in Iraq today, I agree with noble Lords who have pointed out that the surge seems to have brought some improvement in security. It would be churlish not to recognise that and to give praise to General Petraeus, but it is also right to point out that factors other than the extra 30,000 troops have also helped to produce this situation. There is first the ceasefire that Moqtada al-Sadr ordered his militia to implement. There is the ethnic cleansing, which means that fewer Shias and Sunnis are now living side by side in Baghdad. Then, as has been mentioned, there are the deals done in Anbar Province by the United States—the same country that refuses to deal with Hamas on the ground that it is a terrorist organisation but which has at the same time supplied arms and money to Sunni militia and vigilantes, many of whom have the blood of American soldiers and Iraqis on their hands. It has done a deal with them to stop them attacking US troops and to police their own zones. The position is an improvement, but Mr Maliki’s anxiety over this arrangement and his fears that these troops should not be incorporated into the main Iraqi forces show that it may be temporary and that we should not rely too strongly on it.
What are the lessons that we need to learn from this disastrous episode? First, we need to learn that the whole concepts of pre-emption, promotion of democracy and nation building need to be rethought. Our language in these matters also needs to be rethought. Democracy can be built only slowly in societies where family and tribe are the first loyalties. Secondly, this war has tragically encouraged the growth of al-Qaeda’s threat and influence. It has assisted extremist organisations in recruiting British Muslims even in this country, as was illustrated by the chilling import from Baghdad of the technique of packing petrol and gas canisters into cars. Thirdly, the phrase “the war on terror” should be completely banned. Greater emphasis should be placed on the police, intelligence and diplomatic efforts. We are facing not an ideological threat to our way of life or a global insurgency but criminal threats from a lot of disparate groups, many of them opportunistic groups that attach themselves to nationalistic movements, as al-Qaeda has done with the Sunni resistance movement in Iraq.
Lastly, we need to recognise that military occupations nearly always end up being unpopular. Opinion polls show that the occupation is strongly opposed by a majority of Iraqi citizens. A recent poll showed that 70 per cent of Iraqi forces want US forces to leave the country immediately. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, made a powerful case for not making a precipitous withdrawal, but the risks of a prolonged, large-scale occupation outweigh those of a gradual withdrawal of the sort that is being advocated by some of the candidates in the US presidential election. It is in our interests that the Iraqis should assume responsibility for their own destiny, and in that way make the accommodation that is necessary for political stability.
My Lords, I ask the noble Lord to reflect on his point that the Government claimed that there were links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. That point was actually made from the Front Bench of the Conservative Party and explicitly denied by the Front Bench on this side of the House using the intelligence available at the time.
My Lords, it was with a heavy heart nearly five years ago that I told my own Government and my own Prime Minister that I thought they were making a huge mistake in joining the American invasion of Iraq. I proposed the Motion in another place that brought 130 of my Labour colleagues into the Division Lobby against our own Government. I took no pleasure in doing that, and there are no prizes in politics for having been right at the time—nor would I wish to seek any—but I must observe that that decision to join in the American invasion of Iraq was the single most catastrophic foreign-policy decision taken by the UK in the past 20 or 30 years.
As a result of that invasion, thousands of people, many of whom are our own troops and many are Iraqis, are dead or injured. There are even higher numbers of refugees. Iraq has been in chaos for at least three and a half years. It is in less chaos now, but still the sustainability of society in Iraq is very much in question. Perhaps most crucially of all, the struggle against terrorism worldwide has undoubtedly been set back and hampered by the decisions that were taken then. We need to ask ourselves with care and seriousness how we came to make these mistakes and how they can be avoided in future. Here, for what it is worth, is my list.
First, we should not give open-ended commitments to allies, however important, and particularly to Presidents of the United States, long before military action is taken. We should always remember that the role of a candid friend is sometimes to tell an ally that we believe it is wrong. The United States has given huge sacrifice and service to the rest of the world in the past 100 years, but it is not always right. Sometimes, as an ally and a friend—as one of its most important friends in the world—we need to tell it that we believe that it is wrong.
Secondly, we should not seek to fit the facts around the story that we have already decided to tell. It appears that there were times in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq that that was precisely what was happening.
Thirdly, we should work exhaustively through international organisations and especially through the United Nations. It is an imperfect instrument of course, and always will be, but in working for change around the world we need to use the instruments that we have because if we do not seek to use them, and indeed do not seek to improve them, the resulting actions can bring much greater chaos. Yes, we need to think seriously about how the United Nations is composed, how it works, how it takes its decisions and how those things can be improved. The very important point made by my noble friend Lady Symons is that the international community needs seriously to think through the criteria for intervening in the affairs of a sovereign country, and the United Nations is absolutely the right body to do so.
Fourthly, we need to recognise that we will win against terrorism and terrorists only by engaging in dialogue, and deploying argument and example, rather than by seizing on force as the immediate way to win that argument. We must realise, in particular, that you cannot impose democracy on a country by force. Democracy has to be built from the bottom in a society; it cannot be delivered from above.
Fifthly, we must realise that in the Middle East, and the Islamic world in particular, the fate of the Palestinians is not a sideshow, nor an afterthought, but absolutely central to any understanding of the respect—or lack of respect—towards the West that is held across that entire region. The silence of many western Governments over what has been happening in the past few days in Gaza is something that we need, perhaps, to reflect upon.
Sixthly, if you do invade, you must have a clear plan for what to do next. Do not stand by as looters take over, the national museum is stripped of its treasures and the entire government service and army are removed from their posts, creating a lethal combination of chaos and readily mobilised armed insurgent groups.
Seventhly, you need to plan sensibly for peace and reconstruction. Perhaps we need to look at the role that our organisations, particularly DfID, can and should play in this process rather more closely than we have in the past.
Eighthly, perhaps above all, you must know that war is never, and never should be, the first resort of policy. Sometimes, of course, military force may be necessary. I was part of the Cabinet that took the decision to take action in Kosovo; it was the right decision then, but war is not always the right decision. We must not allow one successful mission to lead us into thinking that others will automatically be right or easy. War is never easy. It is nasty, brutish, and it may, very often, be far from short. It is also full of unintended consequences. Actions entered into with entirely honourable motives turn out rather differently from what those who entered into them expected.
These are some of the things that we need to consider for the future. There is a lot that we know and can do without having an inquiry. I happen to think that an inquiry would be useful, and would urge the Government to consider the call for an inquiry more readily and favourably than, perhaps, they have done until now. We know a lot about what went wrong and why. We need now, even before an inquiry takes place, to apply ourselves to not making the same mistakes again.
My Lords, following the noble Lord, I wish to say that, across the House, this is assuredly not a political debate. It is a pleasure to be able to agree with everything that he said. Indeed, there was only one speech that I did not understand and with which I do not agree—that of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea. He is not in his place, so I do not propose to say why.
The other speeches made the points in my speaking notes better than I could have put them myself. I think in particular of the noble Lords, Lord Owen and Lord Tugendhat, and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, with whom on other occasions I have often disagreed. There is a sense of the House at this stage that needs no elaboration from me. So, why am I here? I was asked to speak; but for that, I would not be here at all. Therefore, I am not going to impress on noble Lords my view of how to accentuate what has been said. My view on that is virtually irrelevant. I am not a diplomat, nor in that sphere of operations.
We are concerned about consequences. One of those post-war consequences, as one noble Lord put it, is the escalation in suicide bombing since the botched operations in occupying Iraq. That is one consequence that nobody has yet mentioned. It has escalated at the behest of al-Qaeda. Somehow, this has to be addressed. It is a most serious problem and a direct result of a botched invasion. Who is going to address it? It has to be dampened down and, somehow, the ashes of a holy war must be raked out of the hearth.
It is not a lay problem. It can be addressed only by the Arab world, which understands that Islamic law as a state religion, diversely applied throughout the states, means governance by God as the master of man and the universe. What these bombers are doing is a matter of belief; there is no lay resolution. They have to be helped in some way. There must be an effort to contain what is going on. That can be done only by acknowledged clerics who are cognisant of the divergent interpretations of the Koran. We have to accept that they are divergent; for example, the way in which Islamic law operates in north Yemen is wholly different from how it operates in south Yemen. This problem can be approached only by the Arab world. Perhaps Saudi Arabia could be persuaded by diplomacy to set up a form of global debriefing exercise, with access to such global intelligence as could be made available, while masking all sources. Pre-emptive, proactive action could undoubtedly be taken to alleviate the problem. Noble Lords may think that I am mad but I am not; this problem can be addressed only in this way. One has to take some notice of the problem, and if what I suggest is not appropriate, then what is?
Another step towards learning a lesson could be the recognition that, as more than one noble Lord mentioned, our Parliament should not give approval to the armed invasion or occupation of a sovereign state unless it was satisfied that proper steps have been taken on the restoration of damage and on training so that POWs and civilians are not ill treated, and so on. There is a myriad of requirements on Parliament. Parliament must assure our forces that what is being done is lawful, that an assurance was asked for and given—but that it was given on botched advice which muddled up self-defence of the realm against attack with the armed invasion and occupation of a sovereign state.
Surely there is more to be learnt, but, in the mean time, are those not two lessons?
My Lords, we may be underestimating the scale of the humanitarian crisis in Iraq today. This is because of the short-term results of the surge and a good deal of understandable propaganda. Like the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, I measure the crisis in terms of the number of refugees and the displaced. As the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, said, it is the largest number of urban refugees anywhere in the world today.
We and the US carry a major share of the responsibility. This exodus is the result of the war itself and the terrible and criminal mistakes of the coalition, such as de-Baathification, as well as, of course, the legacy of Saddam. More importantly, Iraq is not yet a country that its people wish to return to. We have heard that there are about 1.4 million Iraqi refugees in Syria, which has now closed its borders because the urban population has run out of resources.
My niece, Lulu Norman, was recently in Damascus interviewing refugees. She has kindly allowed me to quote freely from her diary, which takes us to the heart of the problems—the nightmares—faced by Iraqi families in exile. In one woman’s family, she says:
“The TV in the corner [showed] American soldiers surrounding an Arab house; explosions follow. If her son hears a car engine backfire, he screams, thinking it’s a car bomb … He can’t be left alone in the bedroom or have the light off. When she takes him to kindergarten he cannot play”.
Then there is the sectarian divide:
“One man [for example] had gone to the wrong district in Baghdad by mistake; a militia inspection found he was a Sunni in a Shia area. The family searched [for him] … then they received a phone call asking … for 20 million Iraqi dinars. Her sister sold all her jewellery … and friends gave money. The next call told them to pick up his body from the medical station. It was badly disfigured. His 12-year-old [daughter] is still in deep shock”.
One woman, a computer programmer, had recently come to Damascus for medical treatment:
“On her way to work she’d see terrible things: decapitated corpses … forbidden to be moved under pain of death … The soldiers had become increasingly brutal, there were more raids on homes and inspections, daily humiliations and theft of gold and mobile phones. ‘Now,’ she said, ‘people are even more determined to kill Americans’”.
We should take comments like those very seriously if any of us are still under the misapprehension that the US and the UK are seen as saviours in Iraq.
The diary continues:
“A labourer who’d left his wife and five children in northern Iraq … had returned to find things had deteriorated to a point he called inhuman or ‘without the minimum conditions for life’. He’d never liked Saddam, but like so many others he wished him back. ‘Now’ [he says] ‘in every district an official is appointed who doesn’t care about people’s electricity, water or survival but only his personal interest’”.
What about the future for those families? Will they ever return to Iraq? One woman said:
“We don’t know this government, we’ve never heard of them, we didn’t vote for them; how can we vote for a person we don’t know? … And even if we returned, my room at my parents’ house is ruined, my children’s toys were all burned. Even if we returned, we can’t return to our memories; they aren’t there any more”.
We must face the fact that our record in accepting Iraqis, despite our role in the war and our responsibility as the principal ally of the US, has been dismal. According to the International Rescue Committee, we have one of the lowest protection rates in the EU. Of the 1,305 Iraqis who applied for asylum here in 2006, only 3 per cent received refugee status and 8 per cent were granted subsidiary protection. Compare that with a protection rate of 90 per cent in Sweden in the same year.
The US has made a strong commitment, thanks to huge moral pressure on Congress from the NGOs, and has a resettlement target this year of 12,000 Iraqi refugee admissions. However, Human Rights Watch has pointed out that 12,000 is the number of Iraqis who typically entered Syria every week in 2006, and that the US reached only one-quarter of its target last year. It has also highlighted the intolerable conditions facing refugees in prisons in Lebanon, which treats them all as illegal immigrants. The Human Rights Watch report is entitled Rot Here or Die There. More than one in four refugees are Christians and the local Chaldean churches have tried to make up for their Government’s inadequacy.
The UK is almost alone in continuing to return asylum seekers to Iraq. Will the Minister confirm that the Home Office still believes its February 2007 operational guidance notes on Iraq which state that,
“there is generally freedom of movement within the country and it is unlikely that internal relocation would be unduly harsh for men, and women with partners or relatives”.
Surely those notes need to be reviewed. As we have heard, the UK has agreed in principle to resettle up to 500 Iraqis in Britain over the next fiscal year under the UK-UNHCR gateway protection programme, which will include many former interpreters and their dependants. However, the success of this programme is still in doubt. As we heard on Monday, it is dependent on a sufficient number of local authorities coming forward to participate.
The noble Lord, Lord Corbett, and I were involved in a campaign to accept refugees from Indochina nearly 30 years ago. There was huge public sympathy for those refugees and our churches, charities and local authorities went out of their way to receive thousands of them into temporary housing and private homes. Many noble Lords will remember that the same happened at the time of Hungary in 1956 and again more recently in the case of Bosnia, although on a smaller scale.
The noble Lord, Lord Lamont, has pointed out that Iraq is different for the reasons explained. But there is a lot of good will towards Iraq in the UK which is based on an extensive Iraqi community and many others who have relations or interests in Iraq. One glance at the Medical Aid for Iraqi Children newsletter shows how many charities, schools, churches and individuals are subscribing regularly, and have done throughout the war, to medical supplies for children in hospital in Iraq. It must be possible for the UK to accept a larger share of Iraqi refugees, many of whom will return when Iraq is safe. The Government’s present argument, that they are focusing resources on reconstruction, does not seem to me to admit the extent of the present crisis.
My Lords, I join others in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, on bringing forward this debate and the way he did it. I have never had a problem in principle with an inquiry, but have rather more difficulty with what that inquiry should focus on. My preference by far would be to focus on the post-conflict failure, because it is this which now makes it difficult to justify the initial decision, which I supported and would support again.
On the point of my noble—and very good—friend Lord Smith, we have to be careful about the balance we attribute to the United Nations here. Strong supporter of the UN as I am, a number of brutal dictators would still be in power if we had waited for it to act. Two of the most obvious examples are Idi Amin and Pol Pot, both of whom were removed not by western powers but by local ones. At the time I was strongly in favour of that.
My other problem with a wider-scale inquiry is that, frankly, it would need to go back to 1991. That is where one of the mistakes was made; we failed to remove Saddam Hussein then. I understand the argument against, but importantly we would have had far greater international support and—of particular importance—more regional support had we done it at that time. I know there was opposition to it, particularly in the region because of the uncertainty about the stability of Iraq afterwards, but there would have been far greater support than now and Iran would have been less of a problem. It is bizarre that we took no action then—a time when Saddam Hussein had used weapons of mass destruction against his own people. We would have had a far stronger position generally, and far greater help in dealing with the post-conflict situation.
A wider inquiry would also have to acknowledge the failure of the sanctions regime. People often forget that particularly brutal dictators will often use the sanctions regime to punish their own internal opposition. Kurds, Shias and others will suffer while those on the side of the dictator, those who live in his home town and so on, will be protected. I often remind people of the years when you saw demonstrations on the television set of well dressed, well fed Iraqis demonstrating in favour of Saddam Hussein and against the sanctions, and the same clip would show you a starving baby in a hospital. It is the curious power of propaganda that people do not ask why the baby is starving if the people doing the demonstrating are well fed and well clothed.
The post-conflict plan was severely flawed. Yet it is important that there was a plan and it was being worked on. A lot of it was being worked on here; there were frequent meetings at Wilton Park. There was a warning sign at Wilton Park in that it was getting difficult to get agreement between the Iraqis present about the future government of Iraq. That was a warning sign but, let us face it, we had had that situation before, going right back to the Second World War and what to do with Germany after the collapse of Hitler.
The real failure in this area involved the divisions within the United States Administration. This is important and often underestimated. It involved the struggle between Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz on the one side and Colin Powell on the other. Unfortunately—in my view—Donald Rumsfeld won that struggle and the Defense Department took over from the State Department on general post-war planning. Colin Powell, along with the generals, warned of the acute dangers of having too few troops in Iraq to maintain order after the removal of Saddam Hussein. That was absolutely right. It has always interested and struck me that Tony Blair’s influence on George Bush was great in a one-to-one relationship. The failing came because Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz’s influence on George Bush was greater than that of Colin Powell and Tony Blair put together. That is a painful reality, but it is the reality. They said that the issue involved the beliefs that “democracy will flower”, “everybody will be happy”, “they will greet us with flowers” and so on, which of course was not quite the case.
That disfunctionality at the heart of the US Administration was part of the problem, but we could not deal with it. That does not excuse us for our mistakes, nor does it excuse us for the general failure of the post-conflict plan, but it is a mistake to say that the post-conflict plan was not there. A lot of good people worked on it on both sides of the Atlantic, but it failed. There are other reasons why, as well as those I have just given.
I will not drag on for too long, but another reason has been referred to on a number of occasions: the decision by Paul Bremer to disband the police, army and other aspects of the state in May 2003, particularly the army. The army was of course the one organisation you could have used to maintain power; that is not dissimilar to the way in which we used Japanese armed forces to police areas with British or American officers and NCOs in 1945. It was not as though we had not done this before. For some reason that only Paul Bremer will know, the decision was made rapidly to abandon that. I often wonder how much influence we had on this, and it is one area where we could ask legitimate questions.
The other area touched on by a number of people, such as my noble friend Lord Smith, is that of promoting democracy. I am a great fan of promoting democracy but—this is important—you should normally promote security and the rule of law first, and it is often better to promote local democracy before you promote national democracy. That is not always the case but it is certainly true for Iraq. I was in Iraq a few weeks ago, and it is clear that the local democracy bid is working much better than national democracy, partly because of the tribal splits and a voting system that tends to reinforce those splits rather than heal or bridge them. The response by many political leaders in Iraq was one of cautious optimism, not least because it is working from the bottom upwards.
There will be other occasions when we have to intervene, and it is important in the new world, post-Cold War, that we cannot walk away from these brutal dictators; nor should we. I find it offensive when some rather academic lawyers say that this was against the law. They ought to stand in front of the mirror and say to themselves, “It is and ought to be unlawful to remove the Saddam Husseins, Adolf Hitlers”—or any of the others—“from power”. Of course it is not unlawful. The problem is whether you can do it, and whether you make the situation better or worse by doing it.
Finally, an important point on the failures is the hubris of the United States. The United States is in a similar position to that of Britain 100 years ago: it involves losing overall power and tending to over-estimate the power it has. That hubris—whether displayed on the aircraft carrier at the end of operations, as referred to previously, or when capturing Saddam Hussein and showing him having his teeth inspected on television—said to the Arab world generally that we were triumphant and they were defeated. The loss of support not just for the United States but the West generally, through that sort of image of hubris and dominance, is profoundly damaging. A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, referred to the feeling in the region of the dominance of the West. It is an important point, and the United States has got to address it as it comes to terms with the position that we came to terms with at the beginning of the 20th century.
My Lords, I join in congratulating my noble friend on securing this debate, and opening it with an outstanding speech. It provided an opportunity to raise the increasing concerns of many in your Lordships’ House. I speak among great experts, and I do so with some trepidation. I will concentrate my comments on the plight of women in Iraq.
Violence against women has greatly increased after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Where a better, open and democratic vision was promised to the people of Iraq, it seems that women have increasingly become the victims of horrific and appalling violence at the hands of all sectors of society, be they tribal or religious. Laura Sandler’s article, “Veiled and Worried in Baghdad”, summed it up perfectly for me. It said:
“In Afghanistan, women threw off their burqas when American forces arrived. In Baghdad the veils have multiplied”.
Iraqi women are living in fear. They die for belonging to the wrong sect, for helping fellow women and for wanting to work and be educated. They live in fear of defying the strict new prohibitions on dress and behaviour applied by both Shia and Sunni militants. Sadly, they live in fear of their husbands and other male relatives. Women’s rights have been undermined by the country’s post-war constitution, which has taken power from the family courts and given it to the clerics. Women are threatened with death unless they wear the full abbaya, the black all-encompassing veil; yet, paradoxically, the same men who enforce this are responsible for carrying out or ordering the rape and murder of women outside their sects and communities.
Strong anecdotal evidence collected by organisations such as the Iraqi Women’s Network suggests that rape is often used as a weapon in the sectarian war to humiliate families from rival communities. A spokeswomen for the network said that you could call it “collateral rape”. One former deputy Human Rights Minister in Iraq agrees that there are increasing incidents of rape occurring across Iraq. She said:
“‘We blame the militias. But when we talk about the militias, many are members of the police … This is the worst time ever in Iraqi women’s lives. In the name of religion and sectarian conflict they are being kidnapped and killed and raped. And no one is mentioning it”.
This violence would not be possible without a wider allowance for brutalising the lives of Iraqi women. The Government of Iraq have allowed ministries run by religious parties to segregate staffing by gender and female staff to be subjected to death threats and worse. With the undermining of the family code of Iraq, established in 1958, which guaranteed women a large measure of equality in the key areas of marriage, divorce and inheritance, this has now been superseded by new religious courts. It has seen the re-emergence of men contracting multiple marriages and women forced back under the veil and into the house.
In the chaos of the coalition-backed Government who control Iraq, thousands of women and girls across the country have been subjected to horrific rapes, abduction and trafficking. Does the Minister know whether statistical evidence can be produced to show that the Iraqi Government are taking seriously the issue of women’s abuses? Have they evidence to show that positive action is being taken by the law enforcers against those perpetrating crimes against women? In the cases of burnings, of which 400 cases were reported in 2006, is he able to say if these incidents are automatically investigated, with or without the consent of families? Will the Minister also say how much funding is going into directly supporting female victims of these vile crimes and how that is being monitored?
The Iraqi penal code prescribes leniency to all those who commit crimes for “honourable motives”. I cite a case of a brother who accused his sister of adultery and wanted to kill her to restore his family’s honour. For him, democracy meant he could do whatever he wanted, as, increasingly, family disputes were settled by local religious authorities. Can the Minister say whether his talks with the Iraqi Ministry for Women’s Affairs and the Ministry for Human Rights were open and free, without fear of intimidation in those ministries? Can he tell us whether real progress can be foreseen and that, as far as he is aware, the practice of honour killing is not safeguarded in the Iraqi constitution under any other name?
I did not approve of Saddam Hussein’s regime, but neither did I approve of the invasion of Iraq. To date, the Government have refused an honest and open debate by not allowing a full inquiry. In the mean time, what is inexcusable is that an environment has been created in which oppression has been re-enforced by empowering the very factions that make it their business to terrorise women and civilians.
I have spent several days reading very graphic, disturbing accounts of experiences endured by women—acts so horrible that it is hard to believe that one human being could be so cruel to another. It would be tragic for Iraq to be liberated, only to find her women imprisoned.
My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for securing this debate and initiating it with considerable passion and eloquence. Many noble Lords have spoken about the situation in Iraq, and so I shall not go over it. Instead, I shall ask a slightly different question. Like some noble Lords, I strongly believed that the war on Iraq was thoroughly misconceived and would go down in history as a disastrous misjudgment and an act of unforgivable folly. I said so at the time both in and outside the House. The war was opposed by about 90 per cent of the world’s population, 92 per cent of the membership of the United Nations and almost all the religious leaders whom one cares to think of. The question that this raises is how this could have happened, especially in a mature society such as ours where we have considerable experience and reasonably good ways of reaching significant political decisions.
What lessons can be learnt about the quality of our democracy and decision-making in a society such as ours in order to avoid wars of this kind? There are five or six important lessons that we need to learn. First, much was made during the lead up to the war on the available intelligence about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and the imminent threat that it posed. As we know, the intelligence was inconclusive, misinterpreted and even doctored. In such sensitive matters, we have no choice but to rely on the report of the Government, based on the kind of intelligence available to them. We have no way to check the intelligence or the kind of judgment that the Government reach. How can we ensure that in future intelligence is not doctored, misinterpreted or used to serve decisions taken independently of it? That is the first important lesson that we need to learn. I should have thought that one way in which we might deal with such a situation is to ask half a dozen impartial privy counsellors with considerable experience in this area—especially foreign affairs and defence—to look at the evidence and reassure Parliament and the country that the intelligence implies what it is taken to imply.
The second important lesson has to do with the way in which the authority to declare war is exercised. To his credit, Tony Blair consulted Parliament, which was an unusual but important step. Gordon Brown has learnt the lesson and has said that in future wars of this kind would be undertaken with parliamentary approval. I am glad to hear this because I think that we are beginning to learn an important lesson, but it is not enough. When a political party has a large majority, it can easily rely on arm-twisting and other kinds of pressure to gets its way. We need to guard against this. I should have thought, therefore, that parliamentary approval should include not only the House of Commons but the House of Lords, too. After all, your Lordships' House is considerably experienced and the only place in the world that I know of where you have retired Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers and others. I should have thought that a debate about the war should have considerable input from your Lordships' House.
The third lesson that we have to learn has to do with how decisions on going to war are taken. Who makes an input? It surprises me that people are surprised at the situation; anyone with any knowledge of Iraq could easily have warned the Government about it, as some historians warned that the consequences that we have subsequently seen were going to follow. Insurgency was inevitable; the Shia-Sunni balance was delicate and likely to fracture. I am surprised that regional experts—not just academics such as myself, but also diplomats with experience in the area—were not fully consulted or encouraged to make an input. To the best of my knowledge, there was only one meeting where the then Prime Minister consulted academics and regional experts. They warned him away from the course of action that he was contemplating and were never consulted again. This is not the way to take decisions of this kind.
The fourth lesson concerns the way in which we defend wars of this kind in the name of promoting democracy. One wrong conclusion to draw would be that we should not try to foist democracy on other countries. That is too simplistic and I do not think it would work, because where dictators are engaged in, for example, ethnic cleansing, we cannot remain indifferent. So what should we do? I have noticed, both in your Lordships’ debate and in the literature that has followed the war in Iraq, that there is an increasingly important distinction drawn between promoting democracy and promoting constitutionally limited government. Promoting full-blooded democracy from outside is impossible, because democracy requires an appropriate political culture that you cannot impose from outside. A constitutionally limited government would safeguard the rights of individuals and minorities, and an outside agency can be depended upon to promote a regime of rights and liberties, rather than a fully fledged electoral democracy. It is also important to bear in mind that we promote constitutional government not by threatening and imposing it but by a suitable mixture of incentives and pressure—as used systematically by the EU in relation to accession countries. That is the way to promote constitutional government—not by resorting to war.
Another lesson we must learn concerns the role of the media. In the United States, where I spent some time during the Iraq conflict, I was struck by the fact that almost all the media, including Fox television, represented only one point of view. The result was that the public had no access to alternative ways of thinking. Mercifully, in Britain, this was not the situation. By and large, the British print and television media were responsible. I pay particular tribute to the BBC. In spite of being leaned upon and bullied by the Government, it did not abdicate its responsibility to present an alternative point of view and to investigate Government claims about intelligence and other matters. The lesson is that the independence of the BBC must be fully respected and that it should be encouraged to become even more investigative and daring in situations of war and crisis.
Lastly, as a loyal member of the Labour Party, I cannot help asking a counterfactual question. If Labour had been in opposition, would the war have taken place? With Labour in power, there is tremendous pressure on grass-roots opinion to silence dissent and not be too vocal. In the Cabinet, too, there is a tendency for dissent not to be expressed. But countless millions of us did dissent, including the million who marched and many others who would have if they could. The question therefore is, if Labour had been in opposition—I am not saying it should have been—would it not have mobilised popular opinion to a far greater degree than took place? I believe that a Conservative Government—or whatever Government were in power—would not then have dared to take this country into war. Therefore we in the Labour Party need to ask ourselves how we can make sure that the party to which we are loyal and that we love, when in government, does not betray its own principles and embark upon adventures that in opposition it would be the first to condemn.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, who is a senior scholar in my field. I, too, would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for introducing this debate. I listened to his eloquent speech with great interest, and it provoked me into changing certain opinions I had before coming into this Chamber.
I want to focus briefly on the current situation in Iraq. The latest American figures suggest that civilian deaths are down 75 per cent on a year ago. Last month, the overall number of deaths, including among Iraqi and allied forces, may have been the lowest since the war began. I agree with noble Lords on all sides of this Chamber who have stressed that the situation is still precarious. There is much that is in doubt. In particular, there is the political issue of the ability of the al-Maliki Government to reach out to Sunni interests, transcend sectarian identification and develop a genuine Iraqi identity. There is also the current state of play among those Sunni tribes that have moved away from al-Qaeda—in a development that has been enormously important and positive for Iraq—and the proper integration of those tribes eventually into genuine Iraqi armed forces. These questions remain unsettled. There is apparent considerable improvement, despite the violence of recent days. There is no certainty, but there is the possibility that we could not have talked about a year ago that the battle of Baghdad, brutal though is has been, has been won. I have lived in a city in which grisly sectarian bombing and slaughter was the order of the day. Eventually something switches and a tipping point is reached. We have not quite reached that point in Baghdad, but we are at a point where we might think it can be reached, and where we can talk about stability in a country with tremendous oil resources, which will be hugely to its advantage in the next few years.
Despite this improvement, there is one area that has already been discussed by a number of noble Lords in which we have to acknowledge great difficulty, and that is the condition of women, particularly in the Basra area. Just before Christmas, the police chief talked of 50 recent murders of women by religious zealots. In the past two days, I have met a delegation from the Iraqi Women’s League, who suggested that murderous attacks on women in the Basra area were running at one a day. I add my voice to those of other noble Lords in asking the Minister to outline the Government’s attitude to the situation in Basra. This Government has a particular responsibility. We would be grateful for a response from the Government on the plight of women in Iraq.
The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, concentrated on the need for an inquiry. As the former historical adviser to the Bloody Sunday inquiry, I have to declare an interest. The Bloody Sunday inquiry’s name was taken in vain. It is understandable that the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, among others, has said that we do not want a repeat of the Bloody Sunday inquiry, with the expense and the advantage that accrued to lawyers. As an historian, in no way will I defend lawyers. But I do say that this inquiry has taken so long principally because it is so very difficult to reach the truth about what happened in Derry on one afternoon in 1972. Many people believed before the inquiry was announced that they knew, and yet we are still struggling. I assure you that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Saville, has a genuine problem in reaching the truth—it has taken so long because that is extremely difficult.
That is one general health warning. Even if we do not follow that model, which is ridiculously expensive, it is very difficult to reconstruct historical realities and contexts. Let me give an example from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, which hugely impressed me. He did not mention 9/11. For Tony Blair and his Cabinet, as for George Bush, without 9/11 there would have been no Iraq. Even though the connections are complicated, there is no question but that without 9/11 there would have been no Iraq. That is a crucial context. Another crucial context is that in the 1990s many people’s immediate experience was of the way in which communist regimes had fallen and the relatively easy transition to democracy in many former communist countries. We now know that that was, in a certain sense, an illusory model. We now know that regimes fuelled by ethno-national sectarian passion have more of a life—as in the case of the Baathist regime in Iraq—than regimes that were promoted by the ideologies of communism and socialism. It is difficult to recreate these contexts, but no British Cabinet—or American Cabinet, for that matter—could have avoided them at the time.
This is the difficulty with inquiries: it is hard to be fair or just. There have been assumptions by some today that Foreign Office advice was, or may have been, good but was not heard; others have had the assumption that it may not have been good. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, gave a dramatically interesting example of Foreign Office advice that seemed extremely powerful; he suggested that, if it had been followed, things might have been different. On the other hand, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, the decision to win a vote in the United Nations—a vote that could never have been won and for which a major price was paid in terms of British influence on the United States—was taken at least in part, presumably, on Foreign Office advice. These are exceptionally difficult matters.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Soley, with whose views on foreign policy I am in much sympathy, I have no opposition in principle to an inquiry. It has to be conceded that the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, has made a powerful case. I take the observations of the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, seriously, but they are an argument about timing, although I understand that argument.
Let me give just one other example of the difficulties that we face. Many Members of this House will remember the 2004 report of my noble friend Lord Butler on weapons of mass destruction; indeed, the contributions of my noble friend were accurately recalled by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler. The report has that famous and carefully sculpted last paragraph, which implies that Mr Blair’s informal style of government exacerbated the difficulties in formulating policy on Iraq. There is no question about that. However, let me also remind noble Lords of the first paragraph. If we are to take the report seriously, as I think we should, we must also take seriously its opening; indeed, we must take seriously the whole body of the report and the complex material that it presents about the difficulties of intelligence gathering and assessment. The report opens with these words:
“Much of the intelligence that we receive in war is contradictory, even more of it is plain wrong, and most of it is fairly dubious. What one can require of an officer, under these circumstances, is a certain degree of discrimination, which can only be gained from knowledge of men and affairs and from good judgement. The law of probability must be his guide”.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I will simply conclude by saying that, if we are to have an inquiry, we must accept, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, that it cannot be partisan, that it must be open-ended and that it must fully respect the difficulties faced by all those who were involved in making these decisions at the time.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on introducing this debate. When we consider the situation in Iraq, it seems to me to be a good idea to look at some of the historical trails that have formed the country and at its geographical position in the Middle East.
Mesopotamia, as it used to be called—the noble Lord, Lord Owen, mentioned that so effectively by quoting Kipling—lies broadly between the two great rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, which run from sources in Turkey south-south-east into the Gulf. Control of the waters of these two rivers comes from abroad—from Turkey—which is a source of weakness. Together with the serious situation created by the reckless way in which Saddam Hussein destroyed the salt marshes, that makes it imperative to come to urgent regional agreement to apportion water fairly to all peoples dependent on them. Oil, which Iraq possesses in abundance, is vital to the nation’s prosperity, but essential stability must depend on guaranteed supplies of water. What are the Government doing to ensure that discussions to achieve this take place as soon as possible?
Iraq is the site of the world’s oldest known civilisation, the Sumerian. It was briefly part of the Persian, Hittite and Roman empires. It was an important adjunct to the Turkish Ottoman empire from 1533 to 1916. On the break-up of that empire, a Hashemite prince from Saudi was, in 1921, brought to rule by the British under a League of Nations mandate. This mandate was terminated in 1932 and the monarchy, with British support, lasted until 1958, when it was overthrown. A series of palace coups covered the next 20 years until 1979, when Saddam Hussein achieved power as an absolute ruler. As we all know, he exercised an intemperate and brutal regime, fighting Iran and many of his own countrymen. He invaded Kuwait in 1990, only to be thrown out in 1991 by Operation Desert Storm.
In March 2003, as we know, Iraq was invaded by a coalition primarily from the USA and Britain. From then until now, there has been a continuing and debilitating struggle to stabilise the country and to establish as firmly as possible a central Government in Baghdad composed of elements from the Sunni and Shia communities and the Kurds. Slowly, both in Baghdad and in the south, lessons in counterinsurgency have been learnt. The British have now withdrawn the bulk of their forces. The Americans have vastly increased their commitment—the surge. Both ploys appear to be working at the same time. Given continuing political and military support, a stable democracy—a semi-democracy, at least—may emerge. Some provinces are undoubtedly making better progress in this than others. In the past five years, the Americans have learnt well, albeit the hard way, how to deal with insurgents—so much so that they are now considered to be as good as, or better than, the British at this essential task.
How do we effectively combine military and civil powers at the same time? This is essential learning for all of us both in Iraq and Afghanistan. We and the Americans have perforce also had to learn how to fight wars in two conflicting theatres at the same time and how to balance competing demands for troops and materials. Hopefully, indeed certainly, we do learn and have learnt some lessons during this protracted period, but will we ever learn about the dangers of being caught by friendly fire? It seems not. We have learnt a lot about relatively simple things, such as how to keep reasonably healthy in desert war conditions, how to cope with searing heat, how to look after wounded soldiers in a quite exceptionally efficient manner and how to keep engines of tanks, other armoured vehicles and aircraft going when they are ingesting sand. We have had to consider how to train our troops in theatre and how to fight a vicious war at the same time as trying to build a nation.
The British Army in Iraq, although much smaller than in recent years, is as efficient a fighting force as it ever has been in its glorious history. But, of course, much long-term training has had to be postponed and rest periods minimised. Let us hope that it will not be too long before the Army will be able to leave the Middle East and Afghanistan altogether, revert to normal patterns of activity and cease to be so overstretched. In the mean time, secondments from the Territorial Army, as in many years in the past, have been found to be most worth while. The soldiers and officers are very keen and professional, and indistinguishable in combat from the regulars. They also bring extra skills, and their excellence is one of the most important lessons that we have learnt in the past few years.
We are all immensely proud of our Armed Forces, very grateful for the sacrifices that they have made and for their unquenchable spirits, which inspire us so much.
My Lords, there were times at the beginning of this debate when my memory took me back to when I was a nervous first-year undergraduate listening to the speeches of the grand Suez veterans who dominated the Cambridge University Union and being immensely impressed. I have been immensely impressed again by the noble Lords, Lord Fowler and Lord Tugendhat, and others. I strongly support a broader inquiry because the implications for British foreign policy of the Iraq invasion are very wide.
If one accepts the argument made by a number of noble Lords on all sides that the impact of the Iraq invasion is comparable to that of Suez, as we look back five years after the Iraq war, we should recollect how much Harold Macmillan's Government adjusted the assumptions of British foreign policy in the five years after Suez. He sped up the process of decolonisation. He accepted that Britain had to re-establish a relationship with the United States, recognising that Britain was the junior partner, and reluctantly, and under pressure first from the Eisenhower Administration and then from the incoming Kennedy Administration, he recognised that we had to apply to join what was then the European Economic Community. They were major adjustments to British foreign policy—the last major adjustments, in effect, to British foreign policy. Five years after the Iraq invasion, what adjustments have we seen under two Prime Ministers? We have seen very little. That is the issue an inquiry now ought to address.
It would be as difficult for the Conservative Front Bench as for the Government: the Conservative Party, after all, has clung more closely to the world view of the American Republicans than has new Labour. I notice the deep investment by American think tanks in co-opting the Conservative Party as far as they can. We have all noticed the alienation of the Conservative Party from its European Conservative counterparts. The Conservatives wish to follow the United States rather than work with the French and Germans, which I suggest is now the way forward—and I support everything that my noble friend Lord Lee said about the desirability of working more closely with our French partners rather than always bumping along behind the United States.
There are clear lessons to learn from what we understand about the special relationship. In effect, we tested the special relationship to destruction under the impact of the move to war in Iraq. It was a revelation of just how junior a partner of the United States we had now become. In the 1950s and 1960s, we could still hope to have a high degree of intellectual influence in Washington. Many people in Washington still knew their counterparts in London: they had worked with them during the war. They respected their understanding of the world and we were spending a great deal of money—I am not sure entirely wisely—maintaining British defences east of Suez, so we were a global power alongside the United States. It was a real, special relationship.
Now, we are one among a number of partners. Israel, as we have discovered, has a much stronger special relationship with political power in Washington than the British. Mexico, Japan and other countries also have their special relationships, not forgetting Ireland. We now have to decide what sort of relationship we want to establish not only with the outgoing Bush Administration, but with the incoming successor. Of course, the Bush Administration have been exceptionally ideological and we may hope that their successor will take a very different view. But American foreign policy emerges out of a very self-referential debate, so long as there is no external counterbalance to force the avid arguers of Washington to think about the outside world. Domestic lobbies, domestic intelligentsia, the power of money, and the funding of right-wing think tanks all play a large part.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, remarked that we need actively to prepare to come to terms with whatever it is that the next Administration asks us for, and we need to prepare on a European basis rather than simply a British basis. When I was working at Chatham House many years ago, I remember that very odd period when the US Administration changed every four years from Ford to Carter to Reagan, and each time a team would come over and say, “This is the way we have to see the world. Forget about what the last Administration told you and forget about your own domestic constraints; this is where you have to follow us, because otherwise we will have tremendous problems with Congress”. We shall have that again in the middle of 2009. We need to be working with our partners on the European continent to have a coherent response that relates to the Middle East, Russia and elsewhere.
One thing that strikes me most about this whole episode is how clear American policy was. For those of us who had followed the group who became the neoconservatives from the 1960s onwards, it was always clear what their world would be like. I remember in the late summer of 1967, when still a graduate student, I went with my then girlfriend to visit Eugene Rostow, then US Assistant Secretary of State, whom I had known when he was still a professor. He explained to us that the 1967 Middle East war was not a local war but part of the Soviet plan to outflank NATO through its soft underbelly. That was a very particular view of the way in which Israel fitted into the geopolitics of the Middle East.
I happened to know Paul Wolfowitz and others when I was still a student over there and many others of us have continued to argue with them. The aides to Senator Jackson, the Committee on the Present Danger and the Project for the New American Century all set out the policy very clearly, and Rumsfeld, Cheney and others were closely connected with that. I therefore ask myself, what were our embassy staff in Washington reporting to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Office from 2001 to early 2003? Were they not telling us how much the American drive was being pushed by ideological preconceptions rather than by hard, thought-through intelligence?
I remember on behalf of the LSE being at a meeting of the association of American schools of international politics in November 2001 in which Condoleezza Rice said, “We have forgotten that we need to follow the internal politics of the Middle East more than we have done”. That was a real revelation from someone who was then the National Security Council adviser. I remember going to a National Intelligence Council conference in early 2002 in which it appeared to many of us that the regional experts from the CIA and elsewhere were part of the opposition to their own Administration. If I may say so, as an outside expert and Opposition politician, I have also been struck by the fact that over the past five years I have had much more open contact with members of the US intelligence community than I have ever had with members of the British intelligence community—and I suspect that that is also something that an inquiry should look at. It would help a little if our intelligence agencies did have a rather more open dialogue with those outside.
When it came to the only occasion on which members of my party were offered an intelligence briefing in late 2002, we were told nothing that we had not already worked out for ourselves from public sources and were left wondering whether we had not been told what we needed to know or whether there was not anything more to know that we had not already discovered.
There are other lessons to be drawn. There is of course the lesson about Afghanistan, in which five years were lost after the expulsion of the Taliban before we really began to invest heavily in the reconstruction of that country, from which the British Army is now suffering. We would like to know how far British Ministers stressed to our American partners in 2002 that Afghanistan ought to be the priority and were overruled. There are a large number of lessons about the Middle East region as a whole.
We understand from what has been published that Prime Minister Blair thought that he had from President Bush the assurance that after the successful invasion of Iraq, the Arab/Israel conflict would be the first item on the American agenda. There again we have lost five years until President Bush has at last, and very late, come round to accepting that. We need to know a little more about policy towards Iran now that we also know that in 2003 the then Iranian Government attempted to strike a much more positive and open relationship with the United States, which was refused. I have just been reading Ali Ansari’s very interesting new ISS paper on Iran in which he talks about the disastrous impact on Iranian reformists of the axis of evil speech.
There are lessons also about the impact of the Iraq invasion on our British Muslim population. When addressing very large meetings of British Muslims in Lancashire and Yorkshire in the months that followed that invasion, I certainly found that they were very disturbed by the implications of what they saw as an anti-Muslim invasion.
There are lessons about prerogative powers to which this House will return next Thursday. There are some pretty large questions about the opportunity costs. From estimates provided by the House of Commons Library on the additional costs of being involved in Iraq, I note that we have spent nearly £6 billion extra so far. Lastly, there are lessons about the capabilities of our Armed Forces, now so desperately overstretched by the long-term commitment in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the broadest question is about the future of British foreign policy—how much we see ourselves as continuing to be engaged in humanitarian intervention using our military abroad where needed, with whom and within what framework. Part of the cost of Iraq has been that the British were unable to play a role in the Republic of Congo, in Darfur—beyond a very minimal one—and in the Lebanon. How large do we see our responsibilities in maintaining and improving order in the world, and with whom—always with the Americans, more often with the Europeans, and wherever possible within a NATO or UN framework? Those are the underlying questions which concern what British foreign policy is now really about.
My Lords, this has been a very good debate full of speeches of power and great experience. In fact, I even dare to say—having been here a mere 11 years myself—that it was your Lordships' House at its best. I even thought for a moment that we might get some coverage for this debate as long as there were no distractions such as ministerial resignations. Unfortunately, there were such media distractions so we will be lucky to get a few column inches. However, this has been a valuable debate and we all owe a debt to my noble friend Lord Fowler for promoting it and putting the case for an inquiry—that has run throughout the debate—with brilliant clarity. As he mentioned, he had family links with what has gone on, as many of us have. My own son was in Basra in the Territorial Army, to which my noble friend Lady Park referred. For many of us the place may be rather far away but what has gone on is very close indeed.
The theme throughout the debate was that of an inquiry, with most voices in favour. One of two noble Lords referred to the doctrine of unripe time—about which my noble friend Lord Goodlad warned. But on the whole there was a strong feeling that the time has now come for a proper inquiry into all aspects of this matter. I would be the first to assert that we should collectively look forward and not back in Iraq and that, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, we are where we are, and that all efforts must now be directed at bringing Iraq into the comity of nations as, we hope, a united and potentially prosperous country. Nevertheless the case has been made very clearly that there are some vital lessons to be learnt from the past four bloody years. The cost to our own country has been high in lives lost and in resources. Of course, for America it has been very much heavier still, and still more so for the tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives lost in Iraq itself. There has been a rise in suicide terrorism, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway, and the almost unspeakable violence against women of a kind which has now created in Basra an atmosphere where women fear to go out in case they are murdered, as my noble friend Lady Verma mentioned.
The lessons we all want to learn are not just about ugly and tragic events but about the ideas and preconceptions behind them—whether, for instance, it was right or wrong from the start to believe that there was a packaged form of democracy that could be exported and planted in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. That was a very simplistic Washington notion, rightly commented on by my noble friend Lord Lamont and the noble Lord, Lord Soley. There are lessons on whether in our own case we handled and formulated not just our military endeavours but our whole foreign policy in a wise and intelligent way in accordance with the proper principles of British government and collective Cabinet administration. Was Parliament allowed to play a proper role? Why did the intelligence go so disastrously wrong? We may have a little more information on that if the Government agree to obey the Information Commissioner’s order to release the key dossier on weapons of mass destruction. We must never let that issue go. We have to ask why not enough attention was given to the history of Iraq, about which Britain, of all countries, knew more than anybody else. As the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, just mentioned, we have to ask why we fell out so badly with our neighbours in the European Union. Was there ever a hope of a common European approach or was that just a pipe dream?
All this makes it almost obvious to us that the responsible and sensible thing to do, and do now, is to have an inquiry by an independent committee of privy counsellors to review what has happened in Iraq both before and since the invasion of 2003. My noble friend Lord Fowler put this with crystal clarity. I agree that it should not be a partisan affair. There is no point if it dissolves into being just a party give and take. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, is right about that and so are the noble Lord, Lord Bew, and others.
Of course it is true, as the Government have argued all along, that there have been various reports on this whole saga. There was the Hutton report on the death of Dr Kelly and the profound and brilliant report by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, into certain intelligence failures and apparently misleading statements or exaggerations by the then Prime Minister, and there was a Foreign Affairs Committee report from the other place, which unfortunately did not manage to get evidence from any of the key witnesses because they refused either to attend or, indeed, even to answer the letters requesting them to attend. So much for parliamentary accountability. But as was said by my noble friend and others, these were all snapshots. None of them looked at the whole grim picture and the catalogue of errors which we have seen unfold over the past four years.
We now owe it to our brave Armed Forces and to the British people to hold an inquiry. We need it because we have reached a crucial point when the bulk of our troops are being withdrawn from Basra, leaving a garrison under Operation Overwatch—a garrison which we must not betray by more muddled policy handling and failure to back up fully. The city of Basra is in a state very far removed from the one when my son served there in 2004. We need it because our ally, the United States, has held a series of major, full and deep inquiries and it is shaming that we have not, as my noble friend Lord King reminded us. We need it because we have had no overall assessment of how we entered this war or what planning we did to handle the aftermath and consequences, as many noble Lords said. I repeat that we need it because we owe it to the Armed Forces after all their sacrifices to show that we understand what went wrong, why equipment failed to reach them, what we now expect of them, and why budgetary difficulties made it so difficult to supply the right weapons and machinery. We need it because as a nation we need clear future guidance on our strategic purposes in Iraq and the whole region, and because it is essential to understand much more deeply the modalities of asymmetric warfare and the complex linkages between military and civil action, to which my noble friend Lord Luke referred, in pursuit of a restored peace. Above all, we need it because the course of the war is one of the top concerns of democratic peoples not only here but elsewhere.
Opinion experts are always telling us that domestic policies preoccupy the minds of the electorate, but they are wrong. The current American presidential election process proves them to be wrong. It is the foreign policy of a nation—and our nation—that tells us who we are, what our relationship is with the rest of the world, what our identity is, what the purposes of our society are and why we should continue building that society together. That is the case for the inquiry, which I believe to be overwhelming.
Finally, let me consider the immediate future. We have the strategic initiative—the so-called surge of General Petraeus. Has it worked? Some say that it has. The general’s achievement in getting the Sunni cadres on-side in Anbar province could be a harbinger of better times, although others have warned that the Sunni leaders may be our friends this week but will by no means necessarily be our friends next week. We need to assess whether the key to development, which is private enterprise and investment, is now being turned. The IMF has said that Iraqi economic prospects are at last brightening, and the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, had some very interesting insights into the change in the business climate that is beginning to develop.
We need to assess the oil prospects. There is enormous potential there if the Ministry of Oil in Baghdad can get contracts out and new investment going, and if it decides to mix the need for a national oil company, which is in the interests of the Iraqi people, with the expertise of the international oil companies. I am told that a very powerful report on that is about to come from the University of Surrey Energy Economics Centre. We need to clarify how we engage Iran positively and not negatively in this recovery process. For all the dark implications of Iran in Iraqi horrors, it is in the firm long-term interests of the Iranians to have a neighbour that is peaceable and which never attacks it again in the horrific way that it did in the 1990s.
Beyond all that, we need to redefine that misleading phrase “war on terror”. Was it ever really a war? That is what my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon wisely asked right at the start. Is the only realistic path forward the one defined by the Muslim world itself, in which grass roots Muslim people and new and brave leaders finally turn against those who have hijacked their future in the false name of a false Islam? There are all sorts of things that we can do to help, but our strategy and tactics will have to change. In the end, the agents of change and stability will be the people of the Middle East themselves and their leaders. There is no peace to be imposed from outside. They will decide whether they live in peace and prosperity or in unending hatred, rivalry and insecurity.
Let us have this inquiry now. Let us learn from our errors, so that we can help these suffering peoples to take the right path and to build societies that endure. I end with the words of Gertrude Bell, one of the founders of modern Iraq. Some 80 years ago, she said:
“Oh, if we can make them work together, and find their own salvation for themselves, what a fine thing that would be”.
That says it all.
My Lords, I join all who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, on his prescience in raising this issue again today. Listening to the extraordinarily wise and varied contributions that have been made today, as other noble Lords have noted, and recognising the combined years of experience and wisdom in these matters that those speeches represent, one can draw only one conclusion when one hears more questions than answers in such a debate. There is clearly a need to establish as definitively as possible the facts. Many noble Lords have therefore called for an inquiry.
One has listened to the litany of issues that have been raised: the causes of the war and the circumstances under which the war was entered into; the use or improper use of intelligence; the question of whether the war was fought with sufficient troops compared to the numbers in the earlier Gulf War of 1991; the early decisions made after the occupation on de-Ba’athification and the standing down of the Iraqi army; the share or non-share in the operational responsibility of the UK with its United States partner; the nature of warfare that is being fought there, with its asymmetric character, which means that even if we have adjusted to conditions such as the desert and the sun, still the roadside ordnances that cost so many British, American and Iraqi lives continue to confound our military operations in many ways. The question has been raised about the advice of the Foreign Office and whether seasoned Arabists were ignored, or whether the officials were no better than the politicians in forecasting the difficulties that would follow.
Have we subsequently, in the way in which we have addressed the problems and the humanitarian crisis of refugees and displacements, and in the responsibility that we have shown to special groups, such as those who were interpreters for our forces, shown sufficient generosity of spirit? What is the situation now and then in Basra, particularly regarding the terrible plight of women, against whom there has been so much violence? How permanent are the gains in security under the operations of General Petraeus and in our own partnership with Iraqi commanders in Basra? How real are the economic gains that we see now with the growth of the Iraqi economy? How effective is reconstruction when there are still so many difficulties of infrastructure? Will the military and security improvements be followed by real political progress by the Iraqis themselves to allow a more permanent peace to take hold? Many noble Lords asked about the quality of the democratic institution-building that is taking place and whether we have sufficiently understood the nature of Iraqi society and shown sufficient patience for this slow business of building such institutions. Beyond that, there is the issue of Britain’s changing posture in Iraq as we draw down the number of our troops in Basra.
All of those are enormously important questions and, as has been acknowledged, many books have been written. Comment was made on Bob Woodward who nowadays is more an industry than an author with three books by him alone. There have been investigations and the noble Lord, Lord King, was too modest to mention the Channel 4 Iraq investigations of which he was one of the chairs. There have been investigations by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hutton, the many books by both participants and observers of this issue. The fact that, in the end, a Chamber such as this is asking questions demonstrates that there is a need to come to more definitive conclusions about so many of these points and to do it in an objective way, as many noble Lords have stressed. Anyone who was left in doubt probably needed only to hear the echoing words of Kipling, read by the noble Lord, Lord Owen, to be reminded of the responsibility that all of us in this Chamber bear—those of us who are Ministers or who were Ministers or in opposition then—when young men and women go to war.
We still come back to the issue, not of if there is an inquiry, but when. Let me take issue with the suggestion that the Baker-Hamilton report in the United States provides a parallel that we could adopt now. With due respect, that report was not an investigation of the kind of issues that have been raised here today; it was a very necessary look at the future options for the United States in moving forward. I, as one who was invited to talk to the members of that investigation, know that it was much more of a policy operation than an inquiry. I was not sworn in to give testimony; there was a very informal exchange with the co-chairs—as was the case for most of those who provided evidence or information to it. It is fair to say that the United States, too—although Congress has had a number of investigations—has still not had that definitive examination of the causes that led to the war and its subsequent conduct.
I would do best to remind the House that the position of this Government is that indeed a time may come—and I suspect definitively will come—when such an inquiry is necessary. But we would still maintain that we have not yet reached it now. The former Foreign Secretary in another place said in June last year:
“I made plain the Government’s view that there would come a time when these issues would be explored in the round so that we could learn whatever lessons could be learnt from them”.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/6/07; col. 539.]
As we are all aware, reference was made to the investigations relating to both Norway in 1940 and the Dardanelles in 1915. It is not just the argument that carrying out such inquiries while the war is under way might undermine the war effort or support for it. Equally important, on reading up about both cases, was that precisely because the investigations were conducted while operations were still underway, there was not the distance and perspective to offer anything like a definitive final word on what had happened to allow the inquiries to be non-partisan and objective sources of analysis and advice for the future. We owe it to ourselves and everyone who was involved in this venture that when we come to offer such analysis it will stand the test of time and be seen, as has been asked for here, as objective and fair.
Let me turn quickly to some of the key issues that have been raised today and which perhaps do not have to wait for such an inquiry. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, with his long interest in refugees, did not surprise me when he raised the issue. There is now a new appeal for assistance for refugees in Jordan and Syria. He is right to describe it as the most expensive appeal that the UNHCR currently has. It is the most expensive operation with the second largest number of refugees anywhere in the world after Darfur. Britain is looking at what it can do to support that appeal, as we did last year. We have a resettlement programme that was discussed in a Question earlier this week. We shall continue to review that to make sure that we meet our obligations to those who work with us and more broadly to those who fear political persecution.
On the concern that we might have drawn the refugee net too narrowly, let me assure your Lordships that we follow up very carefully to ensure that those who are returned to Iraq because they have failed to secure refugee status find the conditions to allow them to live freely. Given the insecurity in the country, however, we cannot ensure that it is necessarily always safe. We ensure that they face no particular threat because of their political views or ethnic or religious identity.
I have no statistics to offer the noble Baroness on women’s issues or, particularly, the violence against women. However, that formidable fighter for the rights of women, Ann Clwyd, of the other House, remains the Prime Minister’s special representative and she continues, with others of us, to raise these issues as firmly and frequently as she can with both the provincial and national authorities in Iraq.
On reconstruction, the fact that there is now growth and some movement on an agreement on using oil revenues that we hope will allow the necessary foreign investment in that sector suggests that not only the security situation but the economic situation have turned in a positive and forward direction.
I conclude by looking forward and picking up the remark made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Owen. The Prime Minister should be credited with managing to bring down the level of our involvement in Basra. There is much more political support for an approach that entails better alignment, if you like, between what we are trying to do and what people think is a reasonable effort for us. It has allowed a de-politicisation of our military operations and a real opportunity for the generals to make the decisions on the troop levels needed and how long they are needed, thereby assuring those who fear we might leave too soon and others who fear the opposite. Besides the Prime Minister’s first commitments on bringing down troop levels by the spring, the military situation on the ground and security in Basra will determine the pace of further troop withdrawals.
More generally, looking forward, I think that for now we will have to park our search for definitive answers to the questions raised today. But as I and so many others have said today, the time for an inquiry will come. The absence of an inquiry should not block our agreeing on what we agree about and moving forward. We have heard from noble Lords who took very different views on the war and its correctness when it was initiated—from the debate’s sponsor, the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, who indicated that he supported it at first but now feels a special requirement to know the truth about the intelligence and other information on which he made that decision, to others who opposed the war from the beginning and who equally feel that they carry the burden of wanting to understand for future generations how such a war was entered into.
Let us consider what divided us then and what brings us together now. A reference was made to what Macmillan learnt after Suez. I would argue that this Government have learnt, first, the need to strengthen parliamentary control over the country going to war. That is part of the Prime Minister’s constitutional proposals. Secondly, the Security Council needs to be strengthened and not weakened so that it might rubber-stamp such conflicts in future. Its representativeness and authority need to be increased. It needs to be made the high point of the multilateral arrangements and an even stronger force in how we conduct international security affairs.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, suggested that the Conservatives had both deserted Europe and thrown themselves into the arms of Washington. I feel bound to leap to the defence of noble Lords opposite. One of the great surprises of sitting in this Chamber has been to find that if Washington think tanks have spent any money on how to put a “neo-” in front of noble Lords opposite, it has—as the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, so eloquently said—been to little effect. I hear little support from the other side for a pro-Washington policy on this. A fairer critique is that the Conservative Party has become the proverbial canoe with no oars left at all, neither a European oar nor a Washington one.
More generally, perhaps we can all agree with the general direction that we are seeking to develop under the Prime Minister, which is to strengthen multilateralism but not as an alternative to strong relationships with Europe and the United States. I have always argued that a strong United Nations without a strong American commitment to it is impossible. Instead, creating a multilateral framework of rules and laws in the security sphere, as in so many others, allows us effectively to play out our alliances in a way which secures global support for our objectives in dealing with situations such as Iraq or Kosovo and our other objectives in completely different areas of life. Something therefore really has come out of the debate: a renewed commitment to multilateralism on both sides of this House.
Equally, out of this debate has come the recognition that there is now a surprising crack of light in Iraq. The security situation is much better than most of us had ever hoped it might be. It has created the possibility for political and economic recovery. It is a fragile and narrow possibility. But in looking over our shoulder at what went wrong, let us not lose sight of this astonishing opportunity and challenge ahead.
If we can work together with our partners in Iraq and in the United States, the United Nations and the European Union, there is still a possibility of resurrecting and recovering some of the ground lost in Iraq and meeting our obligations to try and allow the Iraqi people to have a country of which they can be proud, where they can freely enjoy their right to choose their own Government and make their own destiny.
My Lords, that was rather a curious and at times rather unsatisfactory reply—but I will come to that in a moment. I thank everyone who has taken part in this short debate. The fact that there have been 25 speakers speaks volumes for the feeling and urgency with which the House regards the subject.
There have been powerful speeches. Obviously I do not have time to go through them all. Suffice it to say that most of those who spoke from all parts of the House backed the proposal for an inquiry and for it to be set up now. Even those who did not seemed to raise so many questions that they might reflect that a comprehensive inquiry is about the only way in which they will ever be answered.
I was encouraged by what the Minister said at the start of his reply when he said that we as a nation needed to discover the facts. He then set out a series of questions which, frankly, summarised the case we have been making for having an inquiry now to look at exactly these issues. I thought that he made our case. He stressed—I think I cite him accurately—the need to come to a more definitive conclusion. That is what I and my colleagues and noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches, the government Benches and the Cross Benches have been saying for the past four hours. It seems that the Government’s case is not whether there should be an inquiry, but when. They have accepted the principle of an inquiry. To that extent we have moved forward from February’s position, and that is significant indeed.
The Minister then argued, and this was the great disappointment of his speech, that an inquiry could not take place now because we needed some “distance of perspective”. I was not sure what the phrase meant. However, I should point out that we are approaching the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the conflict when the troops went in. How many years will we have to wait before the Government believe that the time is ripe?
Regrettably, I do not accept the Minister’s case. He might reflect that there has not been overwhelming support—I could put it much more strongly—for the Government’s stance. Like the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, I do not accept that we are doing enough for the 4 million refugees that have been tragically created by this conflict. Above all I do not accept that an inquiry cannot be set up until all the troops have been withdrawn. If that is so, this is will drag on year after year and Ministers will, as the Minister did today, unhappily come to the Dispatch Box and make the kind of defence that he offered.
As my noble friend Lord Lamont said, simply the scale of deaths in Iraq—is it 100,000; it may be 150,000—makes the case for having an inquiry now. We would not dream of allowing that to simply pass by in any other circumstances. We cannot just blame the Americans for a lack of planning. It is a convenient argument, but, as my noble friend Lord Tugendhat said, it begs every question in the book about our relationship. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, that we must move forward. Of course we must. But surely we should move forward on the basis of the lessons that can and should be learnt about this conflict. I am putting a bipartisan point.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Owen, that this issue will not go away. I agree with him and with my noble friend Lord King that Parliament should assert itself here. This is a bipartisan issue. Parliament should insist that an inquiry take place and that it take place now. I very much hope that it will. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.