My speech today in the Commons debate on Iraq

It cannot be emphasised too strongly that this is not another invasion of Iraq. It is a response to a desperate plea by the new Iraqi Government for outside help to combat what is seen as an existential threat to the Iraqi state; nor is ISIL just another enemy in the complex and lethal sectarianism of the middle east. It is a monster, with a bloodlust that can only be compared to the Genghis Khan Mongols or the latter-day Nazis—and one that the world simply cannot turn aside from or wash its hands of. But equally, it is foolish not to recognise the risks of military action through air strikes: the inevitable civilian casualties, the death threats to hostages, the very real possibility of terrorist retaliation on British soil and the risk of mission creep, which the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) was talking about in terms of taking action towards Syria with a dubious legality—I gather from what he said—and the uncertain and unpredictable consequences for the civil war against Assad.

Perhaps the biggest problem, as always in war, is the exit strategy. No war can be won from the air—we all agree on that—and this war can be won only on the basis of political and diplomatic action, which, frankly, will be quite difficult to achieve. First, this depends on the regional powers that feed ISIL with money, arms and political support reaching an agreement that they will withdraw that oxygen, which keeps the pyre burning. In particular, the oil-smuggling network that was created to evade UN sanctions on Saddam’s Iraq, now in the hands of ISIL and yielding more than $3 million a day, must be stopped via Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan.

Secondly, this depends on achieving some reconciliation across the broken Shi’a-Sunni divide. That is incredibly important. Of course things have flared up with lethal intensity because of the highly discriminatory policies of the last Maliki Government. The new Iraqi Government recognise this. Of course they have been in office for only three weeks, but they have yet to provide a power-sharing agreement that will bring the Sunni majority on side.

Thirdly, the moderate Sunni element needs to be split from the extremists. Again, that is beginning to happen, but the lessons of al-Sahwa, the awakening, which played such a crucial role in stemming the insurgency in 2007-08, need to be revisited. Fourthly—this is the most difficult one of all, but the most important—the really big, major powers in the middle east, Saudi Arabia and Iran, which until recently were implacably opposed to each other, clearly are needed to use their influence to restrain their proxies and to restore at least some co-existence across inflamed sectarian lines. All that will be extremely difficult to achieve; but ultimately, the war against ISIL will be won only if we can reconstruct and repair the broken Iraqi state.


Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab):

My right hon. Friend is making a very good speech. Does he agree that we must do all we can to rebuild trust between the Kurdish Government and the Government in Baghdad, because that will help us to build up civil society in Iraq, which is absolutely key to taking on ISIL?

Mr Meacher:

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Of course that is part of the commitment of the new Iraqi Prime Minister, al-Abadi, to produce a governance within Iraq that takes account of all the key parts of the population, not just the Shi’a and Sunnis, but crucially the Kurds, who are a very important part of this equation.

Again, it cannot be emphasised too strongly that the Iraqi Prime Minister, al-Abadi, has made it absolutely clear that he does not want western and US troops on the ground in Iraq because he believes that he has sufficient volunteers to contest ISIL with Iraqi forces, provided that there is collaboration from air cover. But in the last analysis, the only serious long-term answer for these broken states—not just Iraq, but Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and Nigeria—is to restore them again to a real, viable state. It is easy to say that; it is extremely difficult to do. It will take a long time, and it will require enormous, long-term economic and aid commitments, which was patently not apparent after the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. That aid will, no doubt, predominantly come from the US and Europe, but it should come from other places as well.

Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab):

My right hon. Friend has, of course, mentioned the previous occasion when we debated Iraq, when the UN’s position was absolutely central. There has been very little discussion about the UN today. Does he agree that it would have been preferable if we had a clear position from the UN and a motion specifically relating to Iraq before the House made a decision?

Mr Meacher:

That is a very important point, because the economic and aid aspect, which is crucial—far more important than bombing, as several hon. Members have said—needs much more attention. I do not think that it is sufficiently taken into account in the motion today, and I take my hon. Friend’s point that that needs to be developed. This will go on a long time, and we need to give far more attention to that issue.

I believe that the only justification for military action is not just to halt the ISIL momentum and to protect communities, but to buy the time to put in place the political and diplomatic conditions to enable the reconstruction of a broken Iraqi state, to achieve reconciliation of sectarian-torn communities along power-sharing lines and, above all—again, taking up my hon. Friend’s point—to achieve the long-term support to revive the economies and social institutions of those broken countries.

4 thoughts on “My speech today in the Commons debate on Iraq

  1. “When the leaders choose to make themselves bidders at an auction of popularity, their talents, in the construction of the state, will be of no service. They will become flatterers instead of legislators; the instruments, not the guides, of the people.”

    Edmund Burke

    Which is to say that few events in my adult life have disappointed me quite so profoundly as that sickening and utterly despicable speech above and the extent to which you seem to have now become so completely sanguine about, “the inevitable, (not inevitable at all,) civilian casualties.”

    What happened to the man I used to so respect and to the, “honourable,” member who once took such a firm, brave and principled stand against Blair’s warmongering?

    The same man who once wrote this:

  2. And when it goes wrong you will tell us I was really against it really I made an error because Miliband made me do it he lied to me, I am not wiser.

    Iraq you made up an excuse this time you cannot, and when we end up bombing schools hospital children and so called sixteen year old British children brain washed by the people who lot cannot stop in the UK, then I suspect you will change you mind.

    Labour died in 1997 and this One Nation Progress lot are in it for the money like your self career politicians.

  3. We can always find money for wars. This latest foray will last for years and cost billions.This is just a follow-on from New Labour’s decision to invade Iraq on the spurious evidence on “weapons of mass destruction”. As many MPs voted to invade and now have voted to start bombing, I suggest that some of the cost should come out of MPs salaries and expenses. This money could be spent on strengthening our borders and internal security systems.

  4. You say, “it will require enormous, long term economic aid” !!!

    I just want my Incapacity Benefit returned to me that was stolen to fund tax breaks for UK millionaires. Charity begins at home!

    When new-old-whatever-Labour have done that (and I don’t want to be waiting forever mind) I might just consider that this ‘new-new-Labour’ outfit are indeed a force to be reckoned with.

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