My Lords, the invasion of Iraq on the side of the USA was one of our most unpopular military actions and it received condemnation not only at home but internationally. It resulted in insurgency, mayhem, criminal activities, bloodshed and human tragedies and it drove a wedge between the Sunni and Shia communities. Flawed reasoning and bad intelligence were at the heart of the decision to invade. We were told that there were weapons of mass destruction, which proved to be wrong. If the intention was to effect regime change, then that is not permitted under international law. We invaded Iraq without a clear mandate and the United Nations was rendered supine, which should not have happened.
The invasion did not receive support from the major countries in Europe or from other countries in the world. We relied heavily on the US, which did not have an effective plan to implement post-defeat of Saddam Hussein. We should have undertaken our own intelligence and due diligence before deciding to be part of the invasion. There were large-scale demonstrations in the country and the serious concerns expressed by senior former British diplomats with considerable knowledge of Iraq were disregarded.
We, of all countries, should have realised the problems, as we had a mandate to rule Iraq after the First World War and were a close ally of that country. The invasion and occupation opened up old wounds between Shias and Sunnis and resulted not only in fighting between the two communities but in both communities being against the occupation. The mayhem also resulted in insurgents coming to the country from other parts of the world. As a person who appreciates the art and culture of other countries, it broke my heart to find out that a number of cultural heritage sites and museums were not protected, which resulted in the damage or loss of priceless artefacts. Iraq, of course, has one of the oldest civilisations in the world.
I believe that a grave error was made in disbanding the Iraqi army, but there are efforts now to rebuild it and the police. Those should be continued. Another problem that must be addressed is that of the displaced Iraqi citizens, while the humanitarian situation is also a cause for concern. There are nearly 2 million internally displaced persons in Iraq. About 30 per cent of Iraqi citizens are thought to be living in abject poverty, with limited access to basic provisions such as clean water, electricity and proper sanitation. I would be grateful if the Minister would tell your Lordships’ House what assistance Her Majesty’s Government are giving the Iraqi authorities to tackle that situation, which will be essential in rebuilding the country.
The torture that was inflicted on Iraqi citizens at Abu Ghraib must be totally condemned and we must ensure that it is never repeated. The soldiers who committed those horrible acts took pride in their actions by taking photographs and later claimed that they were following orders to obtain information. We should establish where the commands came from and the people concerned should be held to account. I would like the Minister to comment on that point.
Although many people in the United Kingdom have negative opinions about what happened in Iraq, we should all pay tribute to the bravery of our Armed Forces. They have played a vital role in improving the situation in Iraq and we owe them a debt of gratitude for their courage and tenacity.
Although we welcome the decision by the Prime Minster to launch an inquiry into our involvement in Iraq, following the withdrawal of troops in July, I am concerned at the lack of transparency in the inquiry. The British public will not welcome the decision to hold it behind closed doors. The basis on which it is to be held is totally unsatisfactory and needs to be revised.
What are the lessons to be learnt from the Iraq war? I should like to summarise these as follows. First, we should not get involved in any military action until we are satisfied that our intelligence is sound and we have a plan for action after vanquishing the enemy. Secondly, we should of course protect our national interest and not be subordinate to any other nation. Thirdly, we must look at the cultural and religious beliefs of people in the country and ensure that our actions will not result in inflaming the situation. Fourthly, the reasons for any invasion must be sound and clearly explained to Parliament and the British public. Fifthly, we must always think about the exit strategy and leave behind a suitable legacy. Sixthly and finally, any action must not result in overstretching our military capability, and our forces must be adequately resourced in every way.