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Iraq Elections

13 January 2005

The situation in Iraq is dire.  Recent reports state that four provinces making up around half of Iraq will not be able to take part in the elections planned for 30 January because of the lack of security.

The election is for a "transitional national assembly".  It will select the government and prepare a constitution upon which further elections will be held at the end of the year.

It is extrememly difficult to make any predictions about the election.  Those opinion polls that do exist show that ordinary Iraqis have very little knowledge about the candidates and when they do, do not seem to trust any of them.  There are concerns that Sunnis will either boycott the elections or they will be too scared to vote.

The former British representative to the Coalition Authority, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who a year ago was talking about Iraq being dangerous but "do-able", is now sounding much more pessimistic.

The BBC has reported his comments that:

"Mistakes were made and the insurgency was underestimated,...

"The biggest mistake was to allow a security vacuum to develop. It motivated insurgents and gave them opportunities to get weapons and get new people in.

"The security vacuum is irremediable at the moment. Foreign forces will not be able to eradicate the violence. The Iraqis themselves will have to do that. The insurgents at present can be chased out of one place only to emerge in another. They are ineradicable unless Iraqi society as a whole actively turns against them."

One reason for the failure on the security front was the inadequacy of Iraqi forces.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington has tracked this issue throughout 2004 and in December, its analyst Anthony Cordesman concluded that the result was:

"to leave many Iraqi forces without anything approaching adequate organisation, training, equipment and facilities."

He said in his report that:

"for political and other reasons, the [Bush] Administration, the CPA [Coalition Provisional Authority] and US command emphasised quantity over quality to the point where unprepared Iraqis were sent out to die."

Mr Cordesman also came to wider conclusions about bad planning:

"The report documents a tragic US failure to develop a strategy during the first year of its occupation of Iraq. It is a failure to understand the strategic situation in Iraq and the realities of Iraqi politics. It is a failure at every level to prepare for a co-ordinated US effort at nation building."

Soon after the war had officially 'ended', when people initially called for the coalition troops to be withdrawn, I argued that we had to stay to clear up the mess we had created.   In the wake of the failure described above, the very presence of coalition troops, against the backdrop of the torture at Abu Ghraib and civilian casualties restulting from coalition attacks on insurgents, appears to be fuelling the violence. 

There are no easy answers but we cannot just abandon  Iraq without ensuring that they get they support they need to set up an effective police and security system of their own.  To achieve this it would be better for a date to be set for Coalition forces to be replaced by UN peacekeepers - which the Coalition has a responsiblity to ensure are adequately funded.   We need to consider how the knowledge and skills of former Ba'athists who are not implicated in Saddam's atrocities can be harnessed to contribute to the reconstruction - a point I made in the House of Commons on 3 July 2003 (click here for text of my intervention on Hilary Benn).  We must also help ensure that the Iraqi police and military forces receive high quality training. This could include offering training outside Iraq, so those who sign up can be trained to a high standard in safety. 

We bear a heavy responsiblity to the Iraqi people for going along with this ill-conceived, US led, pre-emptive war.


Hansard record of intervention on Hilary Benn, 3.7.2003

3 Jul 2003 : Column 561

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) that any objective observer must conclude that there was a near total lack of preparation for the post-war needs of Iraqi society. However, I also agree with the Minister when he says that we need to do more than restore services to pre-war levels. When will services be restored to even those minimal levels, to cater for humanitarian needs and, for example, broadcasting and communication? What action is being taken to distinguish between those Ba'athists who are loyal to Saddam Hussein and those who joined the Ba'ath party only from expediency, who do not have a record of corruption and abuse and can, therefore, contribute to the reconstruction of Iraq?

Hilary Benn: In answer to my hon. Friend's first question, progress has been made in Basra in reaching

3 Jul 2003 : Column 562

pre-war levels with, for example, the electricity supply, although we need to go further. In Baghdad, progress had been made but the situation worsened last week as a result of acts of sabotage, which reinforces the point about security. A lot of money, investment, time and effort have gone into restoring the electricity supply and some people are setting out to undermine that. We have to deal with that problem to ensure that the electricity supply is constant, because people need it; it is needed to pump the sewerage system and so on.

My hon. Friend's second point, about de-Ba'athification, is important. It is vital that those who played a leading role in the old regime, and all that flowed from that, should be removed from their positions but, at the same time, the de-Ba'athification policy should be sensibly applied because we need to ensure that services can continue to function. The CPA is extremely conscious of the position and needs to reflect on it as it takes the process forward.

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