Iraq inquiry debate

Mike Gapes spoke in the Iraq Inquiry debate yesterday (24 June 2009). Here is what he said.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): When we heard last week’s announcement that there would be an inquiry, I had two concerns: first, about the intention that it would be held in private, on which many hon. Members have commented; and, secondly, about its scope. I welcome the Government amendment, which goes a considerable way towards answering the first of my concerns, because it makes it clear that a substantial part of the inquiry will be held in public. I hope that the “relevant parliamentary committees” that there is a commitment to consult will include the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Defence Committee, both of which carried out inquiries in the previous Parliament and made relevant observations that could be taken into consideration.

I am still worried about the focus and scope of the inquiry, however, and I wish to discuss the eight years that the inquiry is supposed to cover. Why does the period start from 2001? Why will no account be taken of the reason why there was a problem with Saddam’s Iraq? The inquiry will have to look at that context, so it is wrong that there is an arbitrary date of 2001. I questioned the Prime Minister about that when he gave his statement. He said that it would be for the inquiry to go back, if it wished to. I make a strong plea that it does so.

I make my plea in the context of important remarks made by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), who said:

May I express, on behalf of the Opposition, our full support for the action that has been taken by the Government and the United States, while regretting that it has been made necessary by the persistent failure of the Iraqi leader to keep his word or honour international obligations?

On the same occasion, the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) said:

Does the Prime Minister understand that he enjoys Liberal Democrat support for the action that he has taken in deploying British forces against Saddam Hussein? [ Official Report, 17 December 1998; Vol. 322, c. 1102-04.]

Those remarks were made not in 2003, but in 1998, in support of the bombing of Iraq by British forces in December that year, without a United Nations Security Council resolution specifically to authorise it.

That action was defended in this House by the late Robin Cook, then Foreign Secretary. That has to be taken into account as part of the context.

We cannot have an inquiry that focuses simply on events from 2001 until 2008 or 2009, and that does not take account of the fact that we were operating a no-fly zone over Iraq and imposed sanctions against Iraq for 12 years. It was alleged that 500,000 children died as a result of those sanctions. The context was a policy of containment. There has to be an assessment of why, when action was taken in 2003, there was support for it in some quarters but opposition in others, including opposition from people who had been quite happy to support the bombing of Iraq without a Security Council resolution in 1998, yet who, in 2003, suddenly found that to be a resigning matter. We need that context because we need to be honest.

I hope that when the committee calls its witnesses, it will call Iraqi Kurds who suffered as a result of chemical weapons being used against them in Halabja. I hope that it will call the democratic Iraqi opposition, and the people—millions of them—who were forced to go into exile by Saddam’s regime. It is not sufficient simply to look at events in the context of the period from 2001 until now. We need to look at the issue in the round and understand why, despite all the difficulties referred to—the tens or hundreds of thousands of people who lost their lives, and the members of the coalition forces who suffered and died as a result of action following the liberation of Iraq from Saddam—today we have a democratic Iraq where the Iraqi people can determine their own future. I hope that the inquiry will consider the issue in the round, and not narrowly focus on certain issues relating to 2002 and 2003.

posted 25 June 2008


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