Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to debate a timely issue of growing concern. Noble Lords will be aware of the Statement on Iraq made by my right honourable friend, the Foreign Secretary, which I repeated to this House last week. I described the violent attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant on the city of Mosul. In the following days ISIL rapidly advanced south on the main road to Baghdad, seizing control of towns including Shirqat and Tikrit, some 110 miles north of the capital. Initially, Iraqi forces proved unable to resist ISIL’s attacks, but on 17 June Government forces were able to halt ISIL’s rapid advance towards Baghdad at the town of Samarra, which lies about 80 miles north of the capital.
Since its initial surge, ISIL has consolidated its control of much of western and northern Iraq, outside the Kurdistan region. Over the weekend, there were reports that ISIL had taken control of the Qaim and Waleed border crossings with Syria. This would give ISIL control of Iraq’s entire border with Syria, with the exception of crossings in the Kurdistan region. Baiji—the site of Iraq’s largest oil refinery—has seen intense fighting. Production has been stopped. A number of foreign workers were based at the refinery, but thankfully a small number of British nationals who were there were able to leave and are safe.
Towards the end of last week we saw further fighting at Baquba, 37 miles north-east of Baghdad, and Tal Afar, 30 miles west of Mosul. Both have since seen fierce fighting between ISIL and Iraqi security forces. The fall of Tal Afar and the capture of its airport is thought to have given ISIL further access to weapons and ammunition left by the ISF. The Kurdistan region remains more stable, but the Kurdish Peshmerga forces have also been involved in fighting ISIL, and have reported some casualties. The situation remains fluid and very dangerous.
The speed and brutality of ISIL’s attacks have caused widespread suffering among ordinary Iraqis. The UN announced yesterday that it can confirm the deaths of 1,075 Iraqis so far in June, many of whom were civilians. However, it is also clear that the real figure is likely to be much higher. We have seen other alarming reports of ISIL’s brutality, despite suggestions that life has returned to normal in Mosul. As we have seen in Syria, a period of normality has been followed by horrifying and cruel treatment of the population through targeted violence and barbaric punishments. There are reports that the women of Mosul have been attacked, including being subjected to acts of sexual violence.
There are also high-profile reports of ISIL’s treatment of captured Iraqi security force personnel. Last week we saw the images of summary executions by ISIL, including what is thought to have been up to 1,700 air force recruits. There have also been humiliating and harrowing videos of Iraqi soldiers being tortured and intimidated. Such scenes play an all-too-familiar part of ISIL’s conduct in Syria. Many Iraqis will remember and fear a return of the open sectarian violence seen between 2006 and 2007. It is not possible to verify individual cases, but given what we know about ISIL, we fear these reports could be accurate.
ISIL has also taken a number of international hostages during its recent attacks, which is consistent with its tactics in Syria. More than 90 Turkish citizens are thought to have been taken, including staff from the Turkish consulate-general in Mosul. Also, 40 Indian nationals were taken from a bus as they attempted to escape the fighting. Our thoughts are with those people and their families.
ISIL’s stated goal is to establish a state that does not recognise borders, including ungoverned space in Iraq and Syria. We know from Syria that ISIL would use violence, extortion and intimidation to dominate those whom it seeks to control. There can be no compromise with ISIL and it poses a great danger to the Iraqi people. It appears that ISIL has exploited political and social divisions in Iraq to falsely portray itself as an alternative to Iraq’s democratically elected government. ISIL has formed loose alliances with other armed groups, including former Baathists—the remnants of the old Saddam regime—and disaffected people in the mainly Sunni-majority provinces they now control.
Sadly, this does say much about underlying divisions in Iraq. That is why we are clear that, alongside measures to restore security, we need an urgent political solution. The vast majority of Iraqis do not want to return to the worst of sectarian violence. The support of moderate Sunnis was vital in defeating al-Qaeda in 2006, and so it will be again to drive ISIL out of Iraq’s communities. This will mean inclusive politics and addressing the needs of that community.
The situation in Iraq is of the highest priority and Ministers have been fully engaged in work on how we respond to this threat to Iraq’s stability and security implications. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister chaired a meeting of the National Security Council last Wednesday, which discussed the British Government’s response to the current situation. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has spoken with regional Foreign Ministers, including Iraqi Foreign Minister Zebari, Prince Saud of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif and Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu, with whom he discussed the welfare of the kidnapped Turkish citizens. He has also been in close contact with Secretary Kerry, who visited Baghdad earlier this week, to share our assessment of the situation and to discuss how we can work together and with allies to make some progress. We strongly support Secretary Kerry’s efforts and we agreed on the vital need for Iraqi leaders to work urgently for an inclusive political solution, as well as responding to the immediate security challenge.
On Monday, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary was in Luxembourg, where he discussed the situation with his EU counterparts. He had a further opportunity to discuss the situation with NATO Foreign Ministers in Brussels yesterday. My right honourable friend the Defence Secretary visited the Gulf this week to discuss the situation with regional allies. He reiterated our commitment to regional security and the constructive role that countries in the region can and must play in tackling the threat from extremism. I hope to be able to update this House of further developments in coming days.
The Government have made it clear that we are not planning a military intervention in Iraq. This is a fight that must be led by Iraqis, but we will consider options to support them where we can. First, we have been promoting political unity among those who support a democratic future for Iraq. Secondly, we stand ready to offer assistance where appropriate and possible. Thirdly, we are helping to alleviate the suffering of those affected by the recent violence. I will address each of these in turn.
It is vital for the immediate and long-term security and stability of Iraq that its political leaders put aside their differences and work together in the interests of a united and inclusive country. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary made this clear when he spoke to the Iraqi Foreign Minister last week. Millions of Iraqis voted in elections in April this year. On 16 June, the Iraqi Supreme Court ratified those election results for all but a small number of newly elected MPs. There is now a clear process to be followed for the formation of a new Government. The Council of Representatives is expected to meet next week and we must begin this work in earnest. This is a time for urgency. Iraqi leaders cannot afford to delay this process. Only the people of Iraq should decide who leads them. However, it is clear that Iraq now needs a unity Government who can address the immediate security situation and the underlying divisions that weaken the country. That will include making difficult decisions and compromises, but the need to do that is clear.
On the issue of assistance to the Iraqi Government, we are urgently looking at other ways to help Iraq to stabilise the security situation. We will continue to liaise closely with our allies.
The Government’s highest priority, of course, is the security of the UK, which means working to stem the flow of foreign fighters into Syria and potentially Iraq. It also means supporting groups such as the moderate opposition in Syria, who are fighting ISIL and squeezing the extremists.
As with so many conflicts, the most vulnerable are often the victims. ISIL’s attack on Mosul on 10 June led to the displacement of 500,000 people, doubling the amount of Iraqis displaced by violence over the past few months. Many have turned to the comparative safety of the Kurdistan region of Iraq—a region which is already host to some 220,000 Syrian refugees.
The UK was the first country to deploy a team to assess the humanitarian crisis after the attacks. We have announced £5 million-worth of support for NGOs to help with water supply and sanitation, to provide assistance with camp construction and to provide emergency food and medicine. We will continue to look at what more we can do to alleviate this suffering. I also welcome the announcement by the European Union of €5 million of support to help displaced people.
The situation in Iraq underlines the need to back those groups in the region, including in Syria, which are able and willing to counter the extremists and which have a pluralist and inclusive vision for their country. That is why we are increasing our support to the moderate opposition in Syria. They are defending the Syrian people against both the extremists and the brutality of the Assad regime. ISIL’s ability to operate in both Syria and Iraq should be of concern for the whole international community. The only sustainable solution to the crisis in Syria is to reach a negotiated political transition by mutual consent.
While the majority of ISIL’s fighters are drawn from Iraq and Syria, there is also a significant number of foreign fighters. We estimate that about 400 British nationals have travelled to Syria to fight. Not all are fighting alongside extremist groups, but some will inevitably be fighting with ISIL across Syria and Iraq. On 20 June, support for ISIL and other terrorist groups became a criminal offence under the Terrorism Act 2000.
There should be absolutely no doubt that the Government are prepared to take action to protect the UK’s national security. That includes confiscating passports, not allowing people to travel and prosecuting those who break the law. Ultimately, our priority must be to dissuade people from travelling to these areas of conflict in the first place. Our Prevent strategy includes work to identify and support individuals who are at risk of radicalisation.
In conclusion, the situation remains very serious. Her Majesty’s Government are focused closely on developments in Iraq, and we stand ready to help if needed, particularly those most affected by violence. However, this crisis has underlined the deep political divisions in Iraq and the urgent need to restore unity and confidence in Iraqi politics, which will mean responsible leadership that works for the interests of all Iraqis.
I look forward to all contributions today. I beg to move.
My Lords, while I follow events in Iraq, I rarely speak on the issue, although throughout the 1990s I had considerable contact with the Iraqi opposition—in particular, Jalal Talabani, Barham Salih, Hoshyar Zebari, Ahmed Chalabi and many others—often on a daily basis. I feel that I need to go back in history to make my case today.
I supported the first intervention in the early 1990s, and in the 1997-2001 Parliament I repeatedly called for, and openly supported, military intervention. I was not alone, and I find it what I can only describe as “vomit-inducing” to hear the back-stabbing of Blair by many who openly supported intervention and who are now in denial. The idea that most of us supported intervention on the single justification of WMD is nonsense. Our concerns went far wider, and I know because I attended many of the pre-conflict meetings both here and in America, in both the legislative and executive branches of government, where wider concerns were under consideration. I visited America on three separate occasions to discuss the Iraqi problem and I found far more resistance to the prospect of war in the Congress than ever was the case in the British Parliament.
I recall that the main concerns on both sides of the Atlantic were the need to end the threat to the Kurds, the need to stop Saddam’s programme of environmental destruction and population displacement in the south, the need to curtail any aspirations of Saddam for incursions into neighbouring states and, finally—in my view, one of the most important reasons, though rarely talked about—the need to remove Saddam’s threat to the international oil economy. That threat was a cause of volatility in international oil markets, with the potential to destabilise economies and impact on employment policies in the oil-dependent economies of the West—something that we should still have in mind. Those were the real reasons for intervention, not WMD. My only criticism of Blair is that concerns over justification in international law drove us down the WMD route.
My argument with the Americans was their refusal to clamp down on Saddam’s illegal oil sales, which were sustaining the regime. The Americans refused to budge and the sanctions busting was ignored. That failure drove us into a war that some of us originally believed could have been avoided. Chilcot was told this during his inquiry, and we wait to see whether he picks it up in his report.
When I now reflect on what happened, I believe that we have to admit that we failed in our mission. We failed primarily because we paid insufficient regard to the lessons of history and the Sunni/Shia conflict, and we stayed too long. It was Ahmed Chalabi who said to me in 2004 over dinner in this House, “Get out now or it will all go wrong”. He harboured deep concerns over failures in America’s administration in Iraq, and how right he has turned out to be. My only regret is that, despite all the chatter on Chalabi’s past, he never became Prime Minister. He would have avoided much of the difficulty that has arisen.
But not all has been a disaster. Our intervention has given birth to one of the most successful developing economies in the world—a blooming Kurdistan. We now stand on the threshold of a dream that I have had for 25 years—an independent Kurdistan. I believe that the Sykes-Picot settlement was ill conceived and the time has come for the map to be redrawn. The Kurds now have an historic opportunity and they should seize it. The window is open. The reality is that Iraq could be held together only in conditions of repression. Saddam Hussein was not an accident of history. Just as Tito held together the potential warring factions of the former Yugoslavia—when he went, it broke up—Saddam had held together deep divisions in Iraq and his downfall has brought its people the right to self-determination, which may well mean break-up.
What should we do? In my view, the West should keep out. The more we intervene, the more we fuel the excesses of militant Islam. It may already have gone too far. It might even be that we end up with a divided Baghdad as we had in Jerusalem in the 1960s and Beirut in the 1980s—perhaps a capital divided between two independent states. Equally, we should not presume that a Sunni north, perhaps stretching into Syria, would necessarily be ISIS-dominated. The Sunni community in Iraq enjoyed a measure of freedom under a secular Saddam, and it will not give it up in favour of ISIS restrictions and Sharia extremes.
There is, however, an initiative that we could take. Militant Islam is now a worldwide phenomenon that needs worldwide recognition, understanding and action. We simply cannot proceed on the basis of some rustled-up coalition of western forces, provoking resentment and anger through intervention. The divisions between the international powers on the way to proceed, with benefit and disbenefit to their economies in mind, is getting us nowhere. Russian defence contracts, Chinese mineral concessions and other interests must not be allowed to impede debate on handling militant Islam. Regional solutions are not working, and at most they are of marginal benefit.
We should now turn to the United Nations and pursue what at first glimpse appears to be impossible. Our policy should be to act only in conditions of unanimity among the permanent representatives of the Security Council and from recommendations from the wider Security Council. I must confess that my knowledge of UN practice is very limited. However, I note that there is a constant in the way in which people, as individuals, conduct themselves in committee discussions at every level, whether it is the parish council or company boardroom. I sense that that constant applies equally at the United Nations. People in general, as individuals, often use their blocking powers, their veto or abstention in conditions where they believe that their view will be ignored and that some justification for a particular course of action will still be found by those who feel strongly. That is what has been happening in the United Nations.
It appears to me that when people know that their judgment and vote will actually influence an outcome and control events, they are inclined to make a very different calculation. I suspect that that is the case equally at the United Nations. I believe that the necessary multinational approach to dealing with militant Islam provides precisely those conditions. Militant Islam requires new, innovative thinking, with original thought being given to new solutions, not necessarily military. We need a new coalition that embraces more than just a majority among the major powers.
I end with a few general comments. I understand that there is a view that the most recent election results in Iraq offer the opportunity for a more inclusive Administration. While I have always believed that extremes can often talk where moderates compromise as they lose sight of the attainable, I just do not believe that that is the case in Iraq. The extremes here are now too grounded in historical antagonism. They are too polarised. My view is: keep out and build that new international coalition.
My Lords, one always looks at a list of these kinds of debates on the Middle East and thinks that one will hear speeches from the usual suspects. Then, of course, one is astonished when one hears a rather remarkable delivery from someone who does not conform to the traditional view that most of us share in this House. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, will not be surprised to know that I disagree with his analysis. I assure him that, although my notes were written before I heard him, he has not persuaded me that his recipe for success would have delivered nirvana in Iraq.
I am sorry that the title of this debate is about security and the political situation in Iraq. I think that points to the fallacy of western thinking in the Middle East which, in an increasingly interdependent and interconnected world, still sees developments there as taking place in sovereign states on the basis that they are entirely autonomous and self-contained units, completely in charge of their own destinies. That was never so in the Middle East, and even less so in the Arab world, which has a religious, linguistic and cultural construct irrespective of boundaries until recent history. Therefore, I will speak about Iraq today in the context too of developments in Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
It is tempting to think of this current crisis and the potential break-up of Iraq as an entirely sectarian war between Sunni and Shia—the settling of scores, we are told, that are 1,500 years old. That is too simplistic an understanding of Islam, of the tribal loyalties and allegiances of the region and, moreover, it is a narrative which detaches the millions of Muslims who have embraced modernity and thrive in the interconnected and globalised world, at peace with themselves and with each other, both Sunni and Shia.
For us in the United Kingdom not to recognise our role in the history and geopolitics of the region is to deny that the West—most notably the United States and the UK—is heavily implicated in what has gone wrong across the region. The current period has its roots in the end of the Cold War when the four left-facing Arab nationalist countries in the region—Iraq, Syria, Libya and Algeria—were left without superpower support with the demise of the Soviet Union. It is instructive to see that not only have three of those countries been engulfed in conflict to a greater or lesser degree, but that the end of bipolarity has extended instability across the whole of the Arab world to include neighbouring countries too.
Our erroneous support for Saddam in the Iran-Iraq war, which resulted in the deaths of millions on both sides, and then US exhortations after the Kuwaiti liberation for Shias and Kurds to rise up against him—and then abandoning them when they did so to Saddam’s further brutality—cost tens of thousands of lives as his repression increased. The years of no-fly zones which enabled the Kurds to establish the roots of their autonomous region, and which was never going to be a long-term solution, culminated in the Iraq war of 2003, for which the party opposite bears so much responsibility. We will have to see the results of the Chilcot report to know the full extent of that culpability.
It is invidious to argue that the Iraq war has not led to where we are now. Of course it has. The House may have forgotten that on 23 March 2003, within three days of the invasion, all 22 countries of the Arab League, meeting in Cairo, supported a resolution condemning the invasion as a violation of the UN charter and demanding a complete withdrawal of US and British troops from Iraqi soil. Kuwait was the sole exception and it had its debts to repay to the US. There was not an iota of legitimacy in that war, as the Arab League saw it. It was no war of liberation for them.
So we moved from the upheaval created by the events of 9/11 and the Iraq war to the Arab spring. In the interim, all the countries of the Middle East experienced a rise of jihadi violence, something not known as a phenomenon in the Arab world until the invasion of Iraq. A comment piece in the New Statesman, a Labour-supporting magazine, says in this week’s edition in a colourful attack on Tony Blair—to which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, probably referred—that,
“according to a 2007 study, the Iraq war ‘generated a stunning sevenfold increase in the yearly rate of fatal jihadist attacks’”.
I turn to the situation in Syria. In 2011, when Bashar al-Assad started torturing and shooting dead unarmed, innocent protestors whose crime was to ask for delivery on his own promised reforms and for some freedom, we were urged across both Houses to do nothing. I called for limited support through the sale of arms for the Syrian opposition forces from late 2011. I kept to that position until the Syria vote in the House of Commons on 29 August 2013 and our debate here in the Lords. Assisting one side in a war is not of itself immoral. If it changes the symmetry of war it may result in a lower loss of life as the other side is more inclined to sue for peace.
Any who are following the debates here in the past five years will have heard extraordinary interventions describing the sacrifices that countries have to make, whether they wish to be there or not. I particularly pay tribute to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay—who is in his usual place and will be speaking today—with which I entirely concur and by which I was enormously moved. His presence in our House is a great credit to us.
In the period between 2011 and the current day it is true that the civil war in Syria has become more sectarian, but it did not start out so. There was a period until the end of 2012 when the conflict was mainly between Assad’s forces and the Free Syrian Army. Latterly it was joined by Jabhat al-Nusra—which was an offshoot of al-Qaeda, not ISIS—and ISIS came into the frame only last year within Syria. My point is that there was a period when action by the West might have resulted in a lower loss of life, a lower cost in human misery and certainly a lower cost in the treasure that is and will be expended to bring stability to the entire region as it faces conflagration.
We are now in a situation where that conflagration, which first engulfed Iraq, then Syria and now Iraq again, seems to be beyond our capabilities to control. I have no solutions to offer that the Government will not already have thought of. Clearly it is a priority to secure a unity Government in Iraq inclusive of all sides. Clearly we need to impress upon the Kurds that doing a land grab in the middle of this crisis does not constitute legitimacy, so they cannot use the status quo ante as a precedent to expand their reach. Clearly we need to work with new urgency on a Geneva III. Surely the facts on the ground point us towards bringing both sides together in Syria in reconciliation and in common purpose against the jihadis.
We also need to use our leverage with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states to cut off channels of support for ISIS. It cannot be sufficient for them to say that they are helpless and cannot control private or charitable donations, although I have to say that ISIS is swimming in funds from Mosul and its various extortion rackets; some $3 billion, we are told.
Let me say a brief word about the ideology of ISIS and the extremist jihadi groups. If their intention is to establish a caliphate in the Middle East, they will not stop at borders. Yes, they consolidate their gains, but the very ideology of a pan-Islamic caliphate is founded on the dismissal of boundaries. A further several decades of war confronts us should they be allowed to establish themselves. It is not a prospect we can countenance, and nor should we. We need to be prepared to act when and where there is an opportunity for us to do so, be it through intelligence, strategic support, force protection or the use of bases in the near term. In the longer term, our choices become harder. We are a UNSC power and our interests are engaged in preventing a major threat to international peace and security both abroad and here at home. Our interests are engaged to prevent a terrorist state controlling vital oil fields and maritime trading routes. Our interests are engaged because we are bound with those who are suffering the fatalities of innocent civilians in our common humanity.
I have said in the past that, while we cannot know of the consequences that any action on our part might bring, we know that inaction has consequences as well. This last year has shown us that. In the end, choices will have to be made as the Middle East is too strategically important on moral, humanitarian and economic grounds for us simply to be bystanders.
My Lords, I hope that it will please my Liberal Democrat friends behind me if I begin by reminding them that it was H H Asquith who, at the time of the crumbling belt of an Empire 100 years ago, was strongest in pointing out the extreme dangers of disturbing what he called the,
“hornets’ nest of Arab tribes and sects”,
in the Middle East and Mesopotamia region. I must say that I think the wisdom of Mr Asquith prevails and I also agree substantially with some of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours.
The priorities of foreign policy, which we must have and must clarify, are absolutely clear to me. They are, first, to stay out of Iraq in its present internecine turmoil, except of course for humanitarian reasons. That is easily said, but it involves a great deal of courage and a great deal of difficulty, but obviously we must do our best on that front. Secondly, we must support the Middle East areas of stability that remain and maintain friendships in what is now a sea of turmoil with what the Minister rightly described as our regional allies.
What do I mean by our regional allies? We are close to little Jordan, which is threatened. We ought to be supporting Jordan quite openly, clearly, unashamedly and vigorously in every way we can. We should support Turkey, which despite some of its present difficulties, is a strong nation and a good friend. Although it is more difficult, we need to support in its agony little Lebanon, which is facing appalling difficulties as a result of the Syrian refugees, but somehow must be preserved and strengthened and helped to overcome its internal political difficulties. I would have added to the list the giant of the Middle East, Egypt, which represents one-quarter of the whole Arab population and which some of us have just visited. The only difficulty is that the Egyptians are currently mismanaging quite badly the public presentation of their internal affairs. They need to understand just what damage that does to their own progress and road map. An Egypt that is stable and on the right road to building a Parliament that respects human rights is a clear priority for this nation, and it would be—if we were not getting some of the relationships slightly wrong—a real asset that should be supported. If Kurdistan arises and if we really are seeing the breaking down of the line-drawing by Sir Mark Sykes’ and François Georges-Picot, we must understand Kurdistan’s ambitions and work out how to support them and the Gulf states.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, and others that we must stay out of Iraq for two reasons. The first is that the Sunnis will in the end defeat themselves. There is the potential for endless breakaway in such organisations and movements. They are always splitting. Those of us who served in Northern Ireland in its most violent days will remember that, first, it was the IRA, then it was the Provisional IRA and then it was more extreme versions of the IRA and so on. They were always splitting away from each other, as each became more violent. Likewise, ISIS is being seen as too violent even for al-Qaeda.
The great Middle East expert, Alastair Crooke, was telling some of us just the other day that true Islam is resistance against established authority. It always tries to undermine the established authority of states. What we have seen, therefore, is not so much an invasion of Iraq from the north as a Sunni arising inside Iraq. That is what we have to deal with.
There has been no Arab spring. Experts talk about Arab awakening being about jobs, dignity, liberty and so on; it is not so. What was coming was always power fragmentation, digital street empowerment, the overthrow of all authority and the transmission of power to the street or, in the language of the French Revolution, to the gutter. That cannot be solved by western intervention. It was the wrong call to depict what was going to happen as being akin to the freedom of the former Communist satellites in eastern Europe.
That has to be explained better to our American friends. Again and again, I find that we are accused around the world of not explaining to the Americans the full consequences of the original Iraq invasion, which some of us certainly supported at the time—I fully concede that point to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. With our experience, our skill and our collective memory, we need to explain more clearly that what is needed in this turmoil of the Middle East is not military intervention or an assertion of American military leadership—which I think President Obama understands, although he was slightly moving away from it the other day—but an America that is a partner with the rising powers of the region in trying to maintain areas of stability amidst a sea of turmoil.
A constant theme that we hear is the danger posed by jihadist recruitment, with too many young men being seduced into fighting for the caliphate. I agree with the Prime Minister that this is a danger, but I am not sure that the answer is to talk just about values. Every country has its values and one sometimes feels that some of the Asian values—including a commitment to family life and so on—are better than anything we can deliver in the West. To keep young men from being recruited by the jihadists, we need a very strong purpose and direction in this country—a cause to fight for, a cause to be proud to belong to. We cannot be surprised if young men with no jobs and with a woolly and blurred view of what we stand for as a nation are dragged away into fighting for glory and the fantasy of the new caliphate.
On oil prices, about which we had some warnings, the shale revolution in America, which is ceasing to be a gas and oil importer—it may even be exporting gas very soon—has just about counterbalanced worries about oil supplies from Iraq, which have not yet been affected but may be affected quite soon; they are mostly in the south. There is perhaps also a feeling that Iran’s output will rise. I think that there will be a balance. Oddly enough, the people who have the most to lose in Iraq—they do not get mentioned very much—are the Chinese. They have huge investments in Iraq and rely greatly for their vast oil imports on Iran and Iraq. It is time—and I hope that HMG will realise this and put it to Beijing—that the Chinese, who are inclined to say, “Well, we don’t really have a foreign policy; we don’t believe in intervention”, face up to the fact that they are involved and take a serious view, as they found they had to do in Sudan, where they were also heavily invested.
To end, the pollsters, focus groups and election experts keep telling us that foreign policy is not important. When they look at the list it comes 14th—after immigration, health, crime, schools and all the rest. They are wrong. The truth is that foreign policy can break nations and Governments. We have to be extremely careful at this incredibly dangerous, precarious moment that in the quagmire of the Middle East our experience and wisdom as a nation and our understanding of the vast dangers that Mr Asquith pointed out 100 years ago are realised and built upon and will see us through.
My Lords, as far as I can see, reactions to recent events in Iraq have tended, both here and across the Atlantic, to be dominated by a combination of short memories and a number of rather self-centred analyses based on unhappy experiences following the 2003 invasion. Yet, neither of those reactions seems particularly helpful for determining an effective response to recent events. In particular, some of what I would describe as unwise and self-serving attempts by those responsible for the policy decisions taken in 2003 to revisit the rights and wrongs of those decisions will frankly not be a helpful guide to future policy. However, nor is an analysis that treats the 2003 invasion as the root of all Iraq’s problems. After all, it was Saddam Hussein who gassed the Kurds in Halabja in 1988. It was his helicopter gunships that slaughtered the Shia in Najaf and Karbala in 1991. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq may have been a secular state but it was also a sectarian one with a minority Sunni elite dominating and repressing the Kurds and Shia.
There has been, too, a lot of loose talk in recent days about the break-up of Iraq. Here I part company a long way from the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, who wishes to break up Iraq into its various parts. I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, was also flirting with that idea. Put simply, it is hard to see how that could occur without a great deal of sanguinary fighting over the boundaries of the three states that Iraq might be composed of. It could not be done without substantial ethnic cleansing or the risk of even more war crimes and atrocities than have already taken place. Moreover, an independent Kurdish state could trigger instability and perhaps hostilities in Iran, Turkey and Syria—all of which have substantial Kurdish populations. Then a Shia state, heavily dependent for its survival on Iran, could simply accelerate the drift towards a Shia/Sunni confrontation right across the Middle East. A Sunni state, land-locked, with no natural resources and probably dominated by ISIS, would be a security nightmare within the region and far beyond. I suggest that the splitting up of Iraq is a worst-case scenario not a prescription for policy.
What then is the right response? Clearly, the sine qua non of restoring any sort of security and stability to Iraq is the formation of an inclusive Government that brings in elements of all three main communities on the basis of the democratic elections that took place in April. I welcome very much the Minister’s description of how important it is not to move away from that democratic legitimacy. It is encouraging that that is roughly what was said by the spiritual leader of the Shia community, Ayatollah Sistani, who has so often been a wise voice of moderation. He seems to be calling for such an inclusive approach. It is neither necessary nor, I suggest, desirable for outsiders to tell Iraqis who should lead that Government, or even who should not lead it. If the establishment of democratic processes, which was one of the few truly positive outcomes of the 2003 invasion, means anything it must mean that such choices are for the Iraqis.
What can outsiders do? The cautious but positive response given by President Obama to the Iraqi Government’s plea for help—the dispatch of a limited number of military advisers and the prospect of targeted air strikes—seems, I suggest, the right response. I very much hope that we, too, will respond positively if we are asked to help by the Iraqis or if the Americans indicate that they would welcome more help. The security threats from a fragmented Iraq were spelt out by the Prime Minister. I find it ironic that most of those who spoke on the other side of the argument about Syria said last year that keeping out of Syria would safeguard us from any possible blowback from jihadi extremists. Now we are seeing just how much good keeping out of Syria has done us.
If we and the US want our views about the need for the formation of an inclusive Iraqi Government to be taken seriously, surely we have to be ready to support such a Government. Are we and should we be doing anything to muster wider international support for Iraq in its hour of need? It should surely be possible to get the UN Security Council to reaffirm Iraq’s territorial integrity and single sovereignty and to call for international backing for that and for humanitarian relief efforts. This is surely a case where the responsibility to protect the civilians of Iraq, which their own Government are not well placed to do at the moment, should not be as contentious as it has been in other areas.
Is any thought being given to a Security Council approach? What is being done to rally support for Iraq more widely? I very much welcome what the Minister said about the European Union’s contribution to that. Iran is clearly an important player in all these matters. President Rouhani’s reaction to the events has had some positive features, but there are risks that Iranian military involvement could end up exacerbating the sectarian divisions and dimension to the fighting and make the formation of an inclusive Iraqi Government more difficult. What use are the Government planning to make of the welcome newly established channel of communication with Iran following our decision to reopen the embassy there? Are they consulting the Iranian Government directly on their views?
There are, alas, no particularly good or easy policy choices at the present juncture, but inaction is a choice too. There I very much join the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, who pointed that out. I believe that inaction or the mere offering of gratuitous advice from a safe distance is not a particularly good option or one that is likely to have much effect.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has given us a calm and logical voice of sanity on these problems. My concern is that in the hothouse of tensions in the area, there are not many cool heads around and that the dangers of all the courses which he set out may not be immediately apparent to any of those who may embark on them. I read the announcement today that Shia hit squads in Baghdad are deliberately targeting perfectly moderate Sunnis, obviously to stir up further hatred and conflict.
My noble friend the Minister set out clearly the Government’s understanding of the position at the moment. One of the difficulties is that the position is extremely confused. An interesting illustration of this was the bombing of ISIS. There seem to be three candidates now running: some people said it was the Americans, the tribesmen said it was the Syrians and meanwhile the Iraqi air force is having a little bombing run of its own at the oil refinery at Baiji. I listen to those who think that military intervention might somehow be helpful and say how far we should go in that support. There is a feeling that you can bomb incredibly accurately and always hit the right people. I do not quite know how you would actually bomb ISIS. Would you hit ISIS camps in the desert or kill moderate Sunnis, who are temporary hostages of the ISIS organisation at the moment?
Critical to this situation, it seems, is this: where is the majority Sunni population at present? Are they effectively hostages or motivated at the moment by such hatred of the unfair Government in Baghdad, as they see it, that they have gone along with ISIS but, on reflection, will not wish to see Iraq broken up? In any of the dealings I have had, I found that there is a loyalty to Iraq even though there are Sunni and Shia factions and they are often so bitterly divided. Will they want to see it break up and, when it comes to the crunch, how many of the Sunni are actually Baathists who will not want to see the Islamists coming through? There may be people who could be brought forward to help within the inclusive Government who many have talked about, perhaps under a more inclusive leader than Mr Maliki.
However, the idea of keeping the borders and seeing that go forward satisfactorily under a more inclusive Government then hits the Kurdish roadblock. I see that Secretary Kerry, having talked to President Barzani in Erbil, has found that there was something less than enthusiasm for sticking to the good old boundaries. If you add into that Kirkuk, which has been their ambition for such a long time, I do not see any great enthusiasm there to give that city up. I spent a little time with the Kurds at the end of the first Gulf War, when we did Operation Provide Comfort. I flew into northern Iraq when we were providing air cover to prevent the air strikes from Saddam and his helicopter gunships. At that time, one saw the determination and resolution of the Kurds and the Peshmerga. Of course, the Peshmerga did not have any air cover but in terms of ground forces, they were certainly a very resolute lot and I do not think that they will be easily dislodged.
Following on from that, we obviously face the risk of an appallingly dangerous situation, as many other noble Lords have said. I said in the debate on the Queen’s Speech that a distinguished Jordanian had said to me that he felt, some months ago, there was the risk of a conflagration that would go from Beirut to Mumbai. I wrote that down and the next morning—the morning of the Lords debate, as noble Lords may remember—we heard about Mosul, when ISIS first appeared aggressively on the scene. Of course, it is not Beirut to Mumbai but Mali to Mumbai, with Boko Haram and the scale of the chaos across that area. My noble friend Lord Howell referred to what might have been a huge stabilising influence in Egypt, which is now in total chaos as far as one sees, with journalists locked up and half the opposition now sentenced to death. The reality of the new Government in Egypt gives great cause for concern.
Against that background there is the danger of this going so much wider, which would then involve a lot of other people as well. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, referred to Iran, which is obviously acutely concerned by the situation. If we are really going to see significant conflagration and Sunni, Shia and Islamist activities then Russia will have concerns, as will China. The risks that my noble friend referred to in Jordan and Lebanon must also be high on our list of priorities. It is against that background that, while respecting the sensitivities of Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and Israel about our involvement with Iran, I welcome the opening of the embassy in Tehran and very much hope that we can find ways in which, without compromising our support for the Gulf states, Iran can make a constructive contribution.
I end with the unhelpful comment of Gertrude Bell about the people in the region, which I see the New Statesman has quoted:
“No one knows exactly what they do want, least of all themselves, except that they don’t want us”.
That is the theme that came through from the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours: that our interventions in recent years have not been manifestly helpful.
However, now we face a serious situation. I certainly do not see our role as military; I see it as humanitarian and advisory in any way that we can to assist a response, possibly a United Nations response, to try to bring order and help to what is in danger of becoming a tragic situation.
My Lords, I declare my interest in the register as a director of the Good Governance Foundation, which operates in the region. I say straight away that I do not think that this is, or should be, a debate about the Iraq war of 2003—much as I would actually welcome that, and I hope that we get time for it. I agree with a lot of what my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours said; like him, I voted for the war but not on the basis of WMD, which I thought was an important part of it but not the central part. The failure was, frankly, a failure of the post-conflict plan and the dysfunctional nature of the United States Administration, particularly when they replaced Colin Powell, who had a plan, with Donald Rumsfeld, who simply felt that all we had to do was take away Saddam Hussein, get rid of the Baathist party and its operations in Iraq and everyone would welcome democracy with open arms. It never works like that, and it certainly did not then. Along with my noble friend’s colleague Ann Clwyd MP, I wrote a whole pamphlet for the Fabian Society on this very issue back in 2004.
I shall leave that aside, though, because—I agree with everyone who has said this—you cannot pin the current situation on the removal of Saddam in 2003. It is very hard to conceive of the war in Syria not affecting Iraq even if Saddam had been in power. We have to look slightly deeper at this. It is pointless to look at historical causes. You could point to the nature of the Ottoman Empire, which, although a very civilising and progressive empire, at its end was very brutal in the region. Gertrude Bell has been mentioned, and you could point to our division of the Middle East in her time—but going back in history does not actually solve current problems.
I want to say a couple of things. First, and I know that the Minister has a particular interest in this, we have not talked enough about the Sunni/Shia divide. There has always been a division within Islam; at times it has been bad and at other times not so bad. You could say the same of Christianity. The present division got dramatically worse in 1979-80 with the arrival of Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran and then the following Iran/Iraq war. Only a few weeks ago I was talking to the King of Bahrain and some of his people there about this problem. His generation feel quite strongly that they do not want to be labelled as Sunni or Shia because they regard themselves as Muslims—and I suspect that the noble Baroness takes exactly the same view. My concern, and this is one of the things that we have to address, is that the younger generation is becoming increasingly pushed into support for either Sunni or Shia. The more that we go down that road, the more difficult it will become as that view is entrenched in that generation as they grow older.
I say to the Minister that one of the things we ought to be thinking about in our discussions with various Arab and Islamic states is how the whole issue of the divide between Sunni and Shia can be headed off and brought back to a more unified sense of the religion, accepting that they will never agree on the original cause of that division. That divide will always be there, as it is for many Christians, with Catholics and Protestants and so on. In Islam right now, though, that division is getting deeper and it is hard to see how that can be in any way helpful in the present situation.
We ought to look on the terrible situation at the moment as an opportunity. I agree that military intervention would not make sense and would not work. I am in favour of military interventions when I am clear about the objectives, but if you are going to intervene militarily, you must have a clear objective. It is difficult to see what that objective would be in the current situation. That is why you should not do it. However, we can look at how we can assist in the area. Unless there are groups within ISIL that will take over the more extremist groups, one hope is that the Sunni tribes will rise against that extremism, as they have in the past. There is a real possibility of that. That is what we ought to be discussing, and if we can assist in any way, we should do so.
I want to say something about the way we use our power and influence. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, will know about soft power. We need to readdress it. I have worked on and discussed this issue over the years, and I have found that there is general acceptance that people would like the rule of law and there is general, but not quite so ready, acceptance that they would like democracy. However, in some of the countries in that region, democracy is being interpreted as “winner takes all”. You saw that in Egypt with the Muslim Brotherhood. That does not justify what the current regime is doing in Egypt, but you could see the problem as soon as the Muslim Brotherhood took power.
You can also see that with the Maliki Government in Iraq. There was a real opportunity. There was plenty of pressure from the West generally on Maliki in the early days of his Administration to include the Sunnis, but he found that incredibly difficult. I know that spokesmen of the Government of Iraq say that they have Sunnis in the Government and in administration. Yes, they have some, but it is very clear that an awful lot of Sunnis felt excluded. More than that, they felt powerless and threatened. If you feel powerless and threatened, you start taking extreme actions. The bombings and killings that have taken place in Iraq in the past few years are an expression of that, plus the aggravation of the Sunni/Shia divide.
There are some positives here. The rapprochement between Iran and the United States ought to be built on, and the involvement of the Sunni tribes might well be critical. We also have a role in refining our soft-power approach—if I can use that shorthand way of saying it—in a number of countries. When we talk about the rule of law and democracy, we must start focusing much more on the recognition that you cannot have a winner-takes-all situation not just in these conflicts but in any state. You must give something to opposition groups because if you do not, you breed dissent. Indeed, we saw that in Northern Ireland. I remember my early involvement in the 1980s. It was very clear that a large section of the community—a minority, but a very important minority—felt discriminated against and excluded. That was bad enough in Northern Ireland. In the Middle East, it is deadly.
My Lords, as chairman of the AMAR International Charitable Foundation, the executive chairman of the Iraq Britain Business Council and the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Iraq, I have an enormous vested interest in the country, as noted in the register of Members’ interests, and in the most recent terrible incidents in the region. I visit the country very regularly, and I have a deep commitment to the health, welfare and future of its people. My interest in the debate that the Minister has initiated this evening is in seeing how we in the United Kingdom can use our limited resources and power in ways that are most beneficial for our nation, for the Iraqi people and for the region.
I remind noble Lords that since the fall of the Saddam regime, right up until earlier this month when ISIS swept into Mosul, the country was making remarkable progress. Democratic elections had been held not once, not twice but several times. The most recent was declared by the UN special envoy to Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, to have been genuinely free and fair—indeed, they passed off with extremely little incident. While there is indeed a convincing argument that Prime Minister Maliki and his predecessors should have done a lot more to make their Governments inclusive, the democratic process was none the less starting to take hold.
I point out to noble Lords that the system of elections that the United Nations bequeathed to the federal Republic of Iraq was not designed on the European Union model. There is no d’Hondt system in Baghdad’s electoral commission. In other words, the model that was bequeathed was not the first past the post model that we the British put in, which was widely praised and liked, but is somehow a halfway house. It is not designed to produce a coalition Government; it is not designed, as Prime Minister Maliki said today, to produce the sort of Government that the international community is requesting of him. The system that has been designed has produced an outcome. Yes, it was democratic; yes, it followed the rules; yes the electoral commission and the United Nations—there were no international observers this time—declared it to be free and fair. It is neither correct nor proper for us now to demand a form of government that does not fit the model and which would, therefore, be undemocratic.
The 10% growth rate that the country has enjoyed over the past few years was based upon the proper values that were bequeathed in the constitution. This evening, we had the Human Rights Minister speaking at an all-party group, for example. He reassured us—and I have seen him and his Ministry in action on the ground—that human rights were at the heart of the Government’s policies. I do not pretend, and nor does he, that the implementation of the human rights agenda is absolutely perfect—far from it. However, he has set up a human rights institution and has been working incredibly hard to try to make it work; I can prove this entirely with my evidence-based knowledge of his work and that of his Ministry.
In the justice system, judges are trained by UK judges, no less. Yes, they have been left with a tiny justice system. Nevertheless, the judges have fought extremely hard to fulfil the requirements of a proper justice system. Indeed, I have been hosting some of them to come and see our own Supreme Court and sit in the Old Bailey to understand exactly what they should do. It is not for want of trying that the justice system has not been fulfilling its potential. Indeed, the fundamental freedoms, the rule of law and the fight against corruption, have all been embedded and were starting to work.
Iraq’s enormous supply of natural resources has of course played no small part in helping to fuel the renaissance of the entire country. Here is where Britain’s strength has been so obvious. Shell, BP and almost all of the big oil companies are working out of here, including Chevron, Foster Wheeler, Vitol and so on. They have all been working immensely hard, and Shell and BP alone have been producing 80% of the country’s GDP. That, I suggest, is one of the big resources and our Government should do all they possibly can, once this crisis has passed, to work hard to get the investment of British companies in Iraq.
The misery at the moment is that all of this good work has been thrown into jeopardy. The gang of thugs, the Islamic extremists that call themselves ISIS, have wreaked havoc in the west and north-west of Iraq for some time now. Their brutality is unprecedented, even in a country that has seen more than its fair share of horror over the past few decades. Their numbers have burgeoned; they have grown dramatically. At first, 500 thugs came into Mosul; they are now in their thousands, and now they have the most enormous sums available to them and are fully armed. How terrifying for the people of Iraq. We should do all that we possibly can to help.
To group back to the theme for a moment of the British businesses in Iraq, Iraqis think very highly indeed of this British resource. They think very highly of the quality in our work and of our lack of corruption. They think very highly of the quality of the people that we employ and of our technical abilities and innovations. We should do all that we can to satisfy that wish. They want to see British companies in Iraq.
Last month, only four weeks ago, I was able to host 80 Iraqi businesses here in London, in Mansion House. So the synergy is working—the connectivity and the capacity to build partnerships and forge contracts. This is the underpinning of the success of Iraq before the ISIS people emerged. ISIS has no place in modern society, and I am confident that other noble Lords throughout the debates on Iraq in the coming weeks will say categorically that these people will have no link with Islam at all. I doubt that there is any tiny shred of knowledge about Islam in their warped brains, because Muslims are—like Christians and like followers of Judaism—people of the book. We share completely common values. Yes, there are customs and practices that may jar between our three sisters, as it were, of the people of the book, the Abrahamic faiths. But let there be no mistake at all: these values are inherent in all three of the world’s greatest religions. Islam has nothing to do with any of these people.
The immediate difficulty for the people of Iraq is how they can survive without international support. Wiser colleagues than me this evening have said no to this, that and the other, in terms of that international support—so what support are we going to give? I would suggest that we have to look very carefully at what we can provide. For example, there is the AMAR International Charitable Foundation, which I chair. There is simple work—high-quality medical work and educational work—in the models offered to us by the National Health Service and the Department for Education here. Those models are exemplified in the teaching of the World Health Organisation and UNESCO. We have a huge amount that we can offer to ordinary people in Iraq. I suggest that one thing that we can do is, yes, on the military side. It is not for me to say whether troops should be put anywhere at all, although I am very sad to see the cuts that have so degraded the numbers of troops and the capacity that we have in military, hard-power terms. None the less, with our knowledge and the way in which the Iraqis respect what we have to offer, I would really like to see us do the same as the USA and at least have military advisers in Iraq.
It is not going to be easy to get rid of ISIS. We have seen in Iraq—and as I said, I have visited the camps, for example—hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who have been driven out of their country by ISIS and al-Qaeda. Now they are inside Iraq, which is a much bigger country than Syria and far wealthier. Therefore, as ISIS takes over different parts of Iraq, as it has done so successfully, in such a sweeping short moment, is Iraq really going to able to sustain the opposition to stop the invasion of Baghdad, for example? Our military advice is sorely needed. It is not for me to say whether or not it should be followed up by something harder, but I am absolutely sure that the Iraqis want our businesses, our military advice and our model of democracy. Above all else, they want our support and intervention to help them to regain their balance and lead the decent, civilised, normal life that a country of their great wealth, history and culture surely deserves. I urge the Government to do all that they can and not to hold back. Let us not be Johnny-come-lately yet again.
My Lords, I welcome this debate and I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her statement. The situation in Iraq is dangerous and threatens not only that country but the wider Middle East and the security of the United Kingdom.
In the coming months we will see, I hope, the publication of the Chilcot report. That report will assess not just the invasion but the aftermath, on which I will comment because I believe that the occupation of Iraq is responsible for much of the continuing tragedy of that country. We need a clearer understanding of what has happened if we are to find a way forward.
Essentially, the Iraqi state was gutted and little put in its place until late in the occupation, and that action remains at the root of the present crisis. The fate of Iraq was then surrendered to a US vice-regal Administration led by figures who had scarce international, let alone Middle Eastern, experience. Not only was Saddam deposed but the entire armed forces were dissolved, as well as the ruling Baath Party. The only modern historical precedents were the fates of the German Wehrmacht and the Imperial Japanese Army in 1945 when those militaries were disbanded and the two countries occupied by Allied forces. Incidentally, I once accompanied the then Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, on a visit to Tehran, where President Khatami recommended the fate of the German army and Germany as a relevant example for Iraq post-Saddam.
Even today, 11 years after the invasion, Iraq pays a considerable price for those unwise decisions. It has weaker military capabilities than a smaller neighbour such as Jordan or even Kuwait. It has no offensive aircraft with which to stem the threatening advance of ISIS. Alone among the Arab states, Iraq has no jet combat aircraft, although some are now on order from the United States. The removal of Saddam, a cruel dictator, was followed by the unnecessary and foolish destruction of the state, for which the Iraqi people have paid a terrible price. That state has not been rebuilt. Its weakness, a deliberate action on the part of the occupiers, has prevented the emergence of a national political narrative and consensus, and has left Iraq prone to the rampant sectarianism that we see all too obviously today.
Despite the endeavours of Secretary of State Kerry on his visit to Iraq earlier this week, Prime Minister Maliki has spoken this afternoon in a television broadcast, promising no hope of greater representation in his Government for members of the minority Sunni Arab community, whose anger at what they perceive as his sectarian and authoritarian policies has been exploited by the jihadist elements from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. Mr Maliki claimed that forming an emergency Administration that included all religious and ethnic groups would go against April’s parliamentary elections and he rejected that in no uncertain terms.
That is, to say the least, a deeply troubling response to the crisis engulfing Iraq. It offers little hope of forestalling further violence; rather, it entrenches the sectarianism of the present Iraqi Government. In that regard I hope there is no question of the UK sending military forces to Iraq or joining any potential US military action there. I should be grateful if the Minister could address that issue. At the same time I urge the Government to continue to press Prime Minister Maliki to see a national coalition as the only response to the threat posed by ISIS.
Earlier in this Chamber, we discussed the centenary of the First World War. One of its legacies, the Sykes-Picot agreement between Great Britain and France on the future of the post-Ottoman Middle East, finally looks to be unravelling. There will, of course, be no formal interment of an imperial diktat long resented throughout the region. In practice Syria and Iraq will continue to have their flags and seats at the UN but perhaps not much else, aside from capital cities and sectarian support limited to their core constituencies, the Alawites of Syria and the Shia of Iraq. The stunning assault of ISIS on northern Iraq last week began with the capture of Mosul. From there it has swept further south. What is abundantly clear is that ISIS, whose total forces may number no more than 5,000, owes much of its success less to its own military prowess but rather to the collapse of any remaining Sunni support for the Government of Prime Minister al-Maliki. Paradoxically, Maliki, who is closer to Iran than any Arab country, will rely on the US for any hope of reversing the battlefield humiliation or bolstering his fast deteriorating military position. And, in doing so, President Obama’s Administration would risk further alienating traditional Sunni allies, such as Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, which have never hidden their contempt for Maliki’s Government.
To compound the success of ISIS in the unravelling of Iraq, Kurdish peshmerga took advantage of last week’s mayhem to seize by military means the long contested city of Kirkuk from Iraq’s central government. Kurdistan, with diminishing links to Baghdad, is a state in everything but name. It has its own armed forces and international airport and is now exporting oil directly through the Turkish port of Ceyhan, bypassing any semblance of deference to the Iraqi state.
Following his visit to Baghdad, Mr Kerry was the first US Secretary of State to visit the Kurdish region since Condi Rice in 2006. Greeting Kerry, President Barzani said that the time was fast approaching for the Kurdish people to determine their future—a further indication that the unity of Iraq is going to be difficult, if not impossible, to sustain.
The spectre before us is that of Iraq disintegrating. In that regard, I conclude by urging the Minister and the Government to call a meeting of the Security Council to discuss a rapidly deteriorating situation in Iraq before it is too late. I am very concerned that no such meeting has so far taken place. Need I remind noble Lords that the United Kingdom is a permanent member of the Security Council? That is a privilege which comes with considerable obligations to the maintenance of international security, and the United Kingdom needs to take action in the Security Council.
My Lords, this has been a fascinating debate for me as I have a long-standing relationship with Iraq due to my former chairmanship of the Middle East trade committee. I was always given the more difficult countries of the world to deal with. I thought that was because I was disposable.
I first went to Iraq in 1974, I think. When I arrived, I thought that I would visit the British embassy, but the Iraqis said, “No, don’t go near the British at the moment. We’re not quite sure what they are up to”. I replied, “I’m a British citizen”, but they said, “No, you’re Scottish, it’s not quite the same thing”. Over a period of time, I went backwards and forwards and found, working as I did with the Midland Bank, or one of the banks within it, that we were the main bankers to Iraq. We all knew each other. When we said hello and one asked difficult questions, the Iraqi right arm would go over its heart, and your guest or friend would say, “I am not authorised to discuss this at my level”. I would say, “Were you by any chance trained by us at Midland Bank?”. “How did you guess?”, they would say. This was the rule. There were hierarchies and rules. They were trained at Haslemere or another place—I have forgotten where.
Over that period, I would sit with them and discuss what we could do together; but they did not effectively trust the British. One of the last times I was there, I was with Tariq Aziz, who asked me about Sir Hannay, as he called the noble Lord, Lord Hannay—he could not manage “Sir David Hannay”. He said that he rather liked Sir Hannay, that he was trustworthy, and would like to discuss with him that the Iraqis were looking for interlocutors.
In the discussions there, we looked at Iran’s economic potential in the medium and long term, and of course it came down to oil. We had the Matrix Churchill affair, when no one would speak to anyone about anything. However, the banking relationship still went on, and we trained Iraqis, had a great regard for them and they honoured every debt. They were accurate in all their accounting, and I much appreciate them. I thought that it would be a good idea to dig out some of the papers that we wrote about what could happen, the relationship with Iran, and all these things when, in the early banking days, we were determined that politics and economics were one and the same. If you got the politics wrong, you would lose money.
I looked, therefore, at the future and I dug out all my papers from before. When we were out there, it was difficult to have official meetings because you needed that strange instrument called “permission to speak”. I found that rather strange but got that occasionally from the Government, so one had a right to go and talk frankly. If you were their bankers, their children were educated in England or Scotland, and you worked together—you trusted them. I trust that economy. I raised the matter with a few friends the other day and asked why the British were sitting on their whatevers—the phrase was not too polite. The Iraqis are our friends and always have been; we trust them and know where we stand with them. At this point, there is an opportunity to take action. Are we frightened to go there? No, I am not frightened to go there. I would willingly go there again tomorrow; I never have been frightened to. However, the difficulty, once you got caught in the political maelstrom, was that you did not know where you were.
All the Ministers who I got to know at that time have long passed—even the tough ones. However, I remember several instances, once with the Oil Minister. I asked, “How much oil have you got?”. He said, “You in England should roll up that map of Europe. I will unroll our oil map”. We sat and looked and marked on the map how much oil there was. Then he said, “Come and look here”. He opened another curtain, and through a mirror or a window I saw a whole lot of French people who I had met before in the hotel and were negotiating “sanction busting”, I suppose you would call it—oil deals and transactions.
The economy of Iraq, based upon oil, is strong. We have a political situation in which it needs a friend. I genuinely believe that the United Kingdom could and should be its best and most trusted friend. I look back and think of my grandfather who was director of restriction of enemy supplies during the First World War, was in the Navy, and was then responsible to some extent for part of the peace process. He pointed out that in those days trade was important; the world should be based upon trade. The Iraqis are great traders. I have no fear of the situation at the moment but there is an opportunity for this Government—the British—to take an initiative.
I did not realise that Tariq Aziz actually played cricket, had been in Wales and was a wicket-keeper. Because I was a wicket-keeper too, instead of discussing other things we discussed cricket for a long time. Iraq is a great country and I had discussions there before I went to Iran—I was asked if I could help out with that little difficulty called Salman Rushdie, because we were, again, bankers to the Government of Iran, so you could go there unencumbered, without any fear. I feel that we have withdrawn a bit from the Middle East and could take many more initiatives because I really believe that we are trusted. What my noble friend Lord Howell said is absolutely true. Unless an initiative is taken by some country, no one is going to get anywhere. When I went to see some of the people on Chilcot’s team—I thought they might like to look at the papers I had written—they said no, it was not of very much interest.
To me, the future lies in whether we can revitalise INOC, the original Iraq National Oil Company. We found in those days that there were many buyers and, from the latest studies I have done, there are adequate oil supplies. I feel the Government should take the initiative; I hope that they will. I would support it and most of my noble friends who know Iraq would support it. It is not a matter of being afraid but taking some initiative at this particular time.
My Lords, due to a lapse in communications, my name did not appear on the speakers list. I therefore seek leave of the House to speak briefly in the gap.
It is clear that there can be no military solution to the ghastly problems of Iraq. A political settlement, however long it takes, and however complicated, will ultimately be essential. Surely we have learnt by now that for a settlement to have staying power and mean something for future stability, it must be as inclusive as possible and be owned by the parties. The outside world cannot impose a solution. The outside world certainly has a part to play in facilitating, but we have to rid ourselves of this management preoccupation that somehow we can manage the affairs of the area and then, in effect, impose a solution with which the parties would concur. That is not the way to lasting peace and stability.
With all the horrific reports accumulating, to which the Minister referred, I can imagine that the pressures for intervention will grow greater and greater. I was very glad indeed to hear my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours make the points that he did in a very interesting speech. It seems to me that if there is to be intervention, there are several imperatives. We must have thought through the consequences. We must have exit strategies in place right from the beginning of our planning. We also have to be very careful about counterproductivity and the methodology that we may use, because we have repeatedly underestimated the counterproductivity of collateral damage. We refer to it as collateral damage, but it is killing innocent people. That builds up tremendous resentment and plays into the extremists’ hands.
In anything we do, we must try to uphold the principles of the international rule of law. We can now see that that is what went wrong at the beginning of the latest Iraq story. We do not bring the UN in because of some formal legal requirement—a specific UN ad hoc Security Council resolution, which is so important—but because it demonstrates the maximum possible amount of international support for what is undertaken. That is tremendously important in an overheated, emotional situation such as this—that any action happens in the context of maximised global support.
My last point—if I may make this observation, and I speak as a former director of Oxfam—is that I hope that in any humanitarian planning, DfID has consultations with a wide range of organisations about what would be appropriate and how it can best be organised. And I conclude with this observation, to which I think my noble friend Lord Soley was referring. Let us not paint young impressionable British people who have got caught up in this situation into a corner. What is happening is horrific: they should not be there, they were wrong. However, if we paint them into a corner, in which we say what they have become and what they are likely to do, then they begin acting out the part. It seems to me to be tremendously important to have in mind right from the beginning how we reintegrate such people into society, and not just because of the dangers they pose, which of course are there. In that context, what is tremendously important is holding the good will of the ethnic communities here. It should be an essential part of our approach that we do not alienate the ethnic communities by language but keep them on board in playing a part in finding a way forward.
My Lords, we very much welcome this debate and congratulate the Government on arranging it. Of course, it is unfortunate that it is being taken as last business, but what it may lack in quantity it certainly makes up for in quality. From this side, we thank all speakers for their contributions, and I give my personal thanks to the Minister for setting up a briefing day for the Opposition Front Bench. I am very grateful to her.
I will concentrate on Iraq, and specifically Iraq today. It will come as no surprise that in general Her Majesty’s Opposition agree with the Government’s policy as it has emerged as a result of the present crisis in Iraq. We have some questions and some proposals—that is the job of an opposition in a functioning democracy—but, for the moment, we are happy to give our support to the general direction of government policy.
We of course condemn ISIL, whose medieval barbarism, mixed with a certain sophistication in the use of modern technology, is deeply offensive to all civilised people. Its ruthlessness is shocking and it must not prevail. However, it is incumbent on all of us to understand what we are dealing with—the context in which ISIL has made its advances and its weaknesses and strengths—before we resolve how best to counter it.
Things are far from clear—it is not always easy to know the facts. That is certainly not to question the bravery of individual journalists, and I hope that some other noble Lords may have been fortunate enough to see the video on Twitter of the BBC journalist Paul Wood and his cameraman under fire for many minutes in Jalula, the fire coming of course from ISIL. One can only wonder at the journalists’ courage, but of course much remains unclear.
A good example of that is the misreporting of the extremely influential Ayatollah Sistani when he spoke on 13 June. This was at first described as a call to arms for Shia to fight Sunni. This interpretation—hardly surprisingly, given the significance of the ayatollah—swept the world’s airwaves, yet as soon as a translation appeared, it was clear that the call to arms was to save Iraq as a country. It discouraged foreign fighters, and it called for self-restraint and for people to refrain from armed activity outside the state’s legal framework —an obvious reference to militias. In other words, it was a political, not a sectarian, reaction, summed up in the following quote from that event. The ayatollah strongly advised Muslims to,
“steer clear from sectarian and … nationalistic discourse that is of detriment to Iraq’s national unity”.
Listening to British Iraqis last night at a meeting that had been arranged by four noble Lords from around the House, the message being relayed in speech after speech, whether made by a Shia, a Sunni or a Christian—there was a Christian Assyrian there—or even by a Kurd was the same. Very briefly, it was this: extremism was unacceptable and ISIL must be fought in order to save Iraq. That was put best by someone who said, “This is a war of all Iraqis against ISIL”.
Of concern, of course, to all is the fact that British youths have been persuaded in some cases to fight in Syria and, now, in Iraq. Our response, as has been made clear around the House this evening, must be clear and resolute. It represents a real danger to the kind of tolerant, diverse society that we all want to live in. Given the article in the Financial Times last Monday, the emphasis of the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister on this, and the Minister’s department’s key role in collecting names and other vital tasks, why is there a 50% cut from £30 million per year to £15 million a year in the FCO’s counterterrorism unit? The Financial Times referred to 35 out of 85 staff posts. Surely if ever there was a time not to make that particular cut, it is now. Will the Minister comment on that in her summing up?
Whether the response to ISIL is sectarian or political, or whether it is impossible to make such a division, what is clear is the significance of the holy sites within Iraq’s borders, currently threatened by ISIL. A statement published by ISIL itself explicitly states its intention to reach the cities of Karbala and Najaf, which are the homes of extremely holy shrines. These sites are respected by the Iraqi community as a whole, and are the epicentre of the Shia community around the world. Any serious action by ISIS to actively reach these places will undoubtedly have serious consequences, not only in Iraq and the Middle East, of course, but for Muslims in all corners of the world. That could result not only in a sectarian war on a large scale in Iraq but the military intervention of other countries. Here, of course, one thinks of Iran which has itself vowed to protect these holy sites. This whole right to freedom of religion is part of our duty to safeguard. It also includes the protection of places of worship which are in danger. We have all heard of reports detailing the destruction of mosques, churches and heritage sites in ISIS-controlled areas.
We know that while ISIL may be an extreme Sunni movement it does not enjoy universal Sunni support. While ruthless force of arms by ISIL, linked with the severe disillusion with the Maliki Government, has certainly combined to make ISIL’s advance much easier, it is hard to believe videos, for example, that show ISIL massacring police in Tikrit. Many of those police were Sunnis. It is also hard to believe the basic enmity that exists—this was said in the debate—between Baathists and ISIL, seemingly friends now. Surely that must result in a turning at some stage against ISIL and its ways. One must ask the question: if this is a majority Sunni view why did so many hundreds of thousands of Sunnis flee when ISIL came to do its worst?
The world is waiting for this new Government in Baghdad—there is no doubt about that—following the elections in April. The results, as we have heard, were certified by the supreme court. This time it will not be acceptable to the Iraqi people to have a long delay of eight or 10 months, as in 2010, before the Government are formed. Prime Minister Maliki’s comments today are disappointing. It is essential that whoever leads the Government must ensure that immediate steps are taken to be more inclusive and more sympathetic to minorities in Iraq. It is not just a question of sharing out titles to individuals for particular jobs; it is much more a driving sense of purpose that Iraq is worth saving and that its diversity should be a strength, not a weakness.
This is a critical moment. We must stand ready to continue humanitarian assistance of course, and to offer advice certainly. To argue that it is none of Britain’s business is crass and wrong. Not only are some British citizens involved in both Syria and Iraq, there are thousands of Iraqi British who, we must never forget, live and work here. Above all, of course, are the consequences for this country and the wider world of a barbaric, ruthless organisation such as ISIL being allowed to succeed.
My Lords, I am grateful for the many well informed and eloquent contributions to today’s debate and thankful to the Benches opposite for their support at this difficult time.
As has been reflected in the contributions today, the events in Iraq over the past fortnight have shocked and alarmed the international community. I am grateful for the way in which a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, and my noble friends Lord Howell and Lady Falkner, have analysed the current situation and for their reasoning on how we find ourselves here. The contribution of my noble friend Lord Selsdon was particularly fascinating.
A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Williams, and my noble friend Lord King, spoke of the 2003 Iraq war. My views on the 2003 invasion are clear and on record. I was against the intervention. However, I do not think that today is a moment to reiterate the arguments for and against and, on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, I will not comment on the specific issues around the 2003 invasion until Sir John Chilcot’s Iraq inquiry has reported.
It is important that I should say—I have said it before—that not everything in foreign policy can be reduced to the simplistic analysis that it is all the fault of western action or inaction. The events of last week need to be set in the context of both the internal tensions in Iraq, which have increased in recent years, and the regional developments over the past few years.
The strong view that I hear from the House is that military intervention is not the solution. I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Williams, specifically, and other noble Lords, that the UK is not planning a military intervention. However, we are looking urgently at other ways to help—for example, through counterterrorism expertise—and work is already under way on that.
There was, however, strong support for the UK to provide humanitarian assistance. As my noble friend Lady Nicholson said, that is one of the ways in which we can help. The initial package of UK support included funding for basic requirements—clean water, sanitation, medicine, hygiene kits, household items and, in particular, support for vulnerable girls and women through the deployment of dedicated UN safety and welfare teams in key internally displaced persons refugee camp sites and other areas. The second package of support was for emergency medicines, including vaccinations, and basic shelter. It also enabled aid agencies on the ground to trace and reunite families who had been separated while fleeing from the violence. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that we also continue to work within the UN Security Council to help the wider international response and the organisation of it.
The UN special representative for Iraq was clear to the Security Council only yesterday about the urgency of further humanitarian need and how the crisis could develop, and of the need for Iraq’s politicians therefore to address the immediate challenges.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and my noble friend Lord King referred to the role of the UN. This is an issue of great concern for the UK and other members of the Security Council and we are considering how the UN can play a bigger role. The UN announced yesterday that it was extending its humanitarian appeal as a start. I pay tribute to the United Nations assistance mission to Iraq which is in the country.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and my noble friend Lord King welcomed the reopening of the embassy in Iran. As I said in my opening remarks, the Foreign Secretary has discussed the situation with the Iranian Foreign Minister and several other Foreign Ministers in the region because they have an important role to play.
My noble friend Lord Howell talked about the vulnerability of Lebanon and Jordan. It is right to say that instability in Syria and Iraq has implications for regional security in those countries. We are already providing significant support to them both and we will continue to keep under review what further assistance we can provide.
I want to pay particular tribute to the work of my noble friend Lady Nicholson. Her commitment to Iraq as a trade envoy and through the AMAR Foundation clearly shows her deep links with the country, and of course her expertise is based upon them. It was right of my noble friend to note our strong commercial links with Iraq and the contribution made by British businesses. It was also correct to draw to our attention the importance of the rule of law, which the Iraqi Government must restore, as well as ensuring that those who have been responsible for human rights abuses are brought to account.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams, referred specifically to Nouri al-Maliki’s comments about the emergency unity Government. Although the Prime Minister ruled out an emergency unity Government, he did confirm support for the process of government formation following the elections in April. We have to continue to support the process and make sure that it happens quickly. I specifically raised this matter with Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani, the Minister for Human Rights, who is today in the United Kingdom, and I stressed the need for a unity Government to be formed quickly. The noble Lord, Lord Soley, also talked about inclusive government. As I said earlier, there has to be a political solution alongside efforts to deal with the current security situation. This is our clear message and we are taking every opportunity to reinforce it with Ministers in Iraq. Moreover, it is important to reinforce it not only with Iraqi politicians, but more widely through the region, and to ask other regional Ministers to play a supportive role.
My noble friend Lord King and others mentioned Kurdistan. My noble friend will be aware that the United Kingdom and Kurdistan have a strong and positive relationship, which was described by a number of noble Lords in the debate. Only last month the Prime Minister of Kurdistan made an official visit to this country. I pay tribute to the response that the country has made to the humanitarian situation since so many have fled to that region. We believe that co-operation between the Kurdish region and the Government in Baghdad is one of the vital elements of finding a political solution in Iraq. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, referred to the economy of Kurdistan. He was right to remind us of the success of the region. Further to that, I would like to remind the House of the economic success of Iraq, to which my noble friend also referred. The growth rate is 10%, which should remind us of the fact that the country has great potential and is hugely wealthy in resources which can be used to improve the lives of all Iraqis, but only if they feel that they have a voice in the political process of the country.
The noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Soley, expressed their concerns about British fighters. As I have said, there is no doubt that the Government are prepared to take action to protect the UK’s national security by confiscating passports and thus not allowing people to travel, and through prosecutions. Of course we want to dissuade people from travelling to these areas of conflict in the first place. I take on board the view that we must do this by using language and through policy responses which ensure that we do not alienate any of our own minority communities. They are part of the solution to the challenges we face.
The noble Lord, Lord Bach, referred specifically to the FCO counterterrorism budget. I think it is misleading to say that the FCO has cut its counterterrorism budget in half. The counterterrorism programme fund has been reducing and some of that money has been directed to other programmes within the FCO. We take an overall approach to how we can best assist a country, and it may well be that other programmes can support the kind of work that was being done previously. We see it as one budget that provides assistance to foreign countries. I can assure him that, on the issue of fighters travelling from Britain to fight in Iraq and Syria, only last week I convened and chaired a meeting where both the Home Office and the Foreign Office were represented. It looked specifically at the appropriate responses required to deter young people from travelling, which of course is part of the wider CT work.
That is an important question and a good suggestion. I will certainly do that.
As many of your Lordships have stressed, ISIL presents a major challenge to Iraq, to the region and to the international community. Tackling this challenge is the responsibility of the Iraqi Government. In the immediate term, that requires a coherent security response.
However, as the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Soley, said, tackling this challenge in the long term will require a much more inclusive political approach within Iraq—again, I stressed that to Iraq’s Human Rights Minister, Mohammed al-Sudani, earlier today. We have called for the new Parliament to convene quickly and for a new Government to be formed as soon as possible following the constitutional process. That Government must be inclusive and find a way of addressing the needs of all Iraq’s communities so as to ensure a unified approach against ISIL’s threat.
The UK will support that process where we can. We will continue to focus on preventing terrorist threats to our country and our interests, and we will continue to provide humanitarian support to those who have been affected by ISIL’s violence. Once again, I thank all noble Lords for taking part in tonight’s debate.
House adjourned at 10.17 pm.