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Attack on Falluja

15 November 2004

I opposed the request by the United States for UK troops to be sent to Northern Iraq, in order to free up US troops for their planned attack on Fallujah (click here for more information). 

I was not at all convinced by Tony Blair's statement to the House of Commons last Wednesday 8 November, when told MPs that the assault on Falluja was the decision of UN-appointed Prime Minister Allawi and, despite the clear UN objection to the action, repeatedly used the hoped-for United Nations-sponsored elections as the reason for the attack. Concerns raised on the international stage by Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the United Nations, and within the Iraqi interim Government have been ignored. As you will know, one of the main Sunni groups, the Iraqi Islamic Party, resigned from the Iraqi Government in protest at the assault and there were reports that almost a battalion of Iraqi Government troops had refused to fight alongside the Americans.

Making his opposition absolutely clear, Kofi Annan's letter to the leaders of the US, the UK and Iraq expressed the view that the assault on the Iraqi city of Falluja could undermine elections due in January; in it he stated:

"I wish to share with you my increasing concern at the prospect of an escalation in violence, which I fear could be very disruptive for Iraq's political transition. I have in mind not only the risk of increased insurgent violence, but also reports of major military offensives being planned by the multinational force in key localities such as Falluja."

Of course we only have reports through the media to go on and these will not necessarily give an absolutely accurate picture of events in Iraq, but I have been given no convincing reasons for believing that the Government’s assessment is more reliable than that of the UN Secretary General. When the Prime Minister was questioned about Kofi Annan’s letter, he did not answer the core argument in it, that this action could have precisely the opposite effect than that intended as a result of the hostility that will be created. Lessons from the effect of the brutal attack on Falluja last April appear not to have been learned and, sadly, we can now see that again there was insufficient preparation to minimise civilian casualties. The evidence that the insurgents are simply shifting their activities to other areas such as Mosul, is deeply worrying.

Some reporters have likened the tactics being used in the assault on Falluja to those used by Ariel Sharon in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Collective punishment of this sort to ‘get the terrorists’ has led to a dreadful death toll of innocent victims and a cycle of killing in the Middle East, and this should have been a grave warning to those making the decision to attack Falluja.

As regards the effects on the Iraqi people, I am extremely concerned that, despite dismissing the report in the Lancet of 100,000 civilian casualties, the Coalition has no proper method for providing its own figures. According to Parliamentary answers to questions posed by concerned MPs, attempts do seem to be made to assess civilian deaths caused by UK troops. However, in response to questions on civilian casualties caused by the Coalition, MPs have been told that:

"We are not in a position to comment on civilian casualties allegedly caused by other coalition partners."

I will be asking further questions on this point.

It seems to me that the 60 day state of emergency, that Prime Minister Allawi has imposed, is a stark admission that Iraq is sinking into anarchy. Reports state that in some areas, such as Samarra, ordinary Iraqis are greeting the state of emergency with hostility. It is crucial that Sunnis take part in the democratic process but it is not at all clear that Mr Allawi has a strategy to persuade them that his current actions are not intended to lengthen his unelected tenure, but represent a genuine effort to pave the way for elections. If the Coalition has any role now it must be to demonstrate that the interests of the Iraqi people are at the heart of all its actions and to provide the necessary resources (including, I have to say, security measures) to improve their daily life.

I will continue to do all I possibly can to express my deep reservations on these matters.

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