Iraq Inquiry Speech - March 2008
I gave the following speech to the House of Commons on 25 March during the Opposition Day debate on holding an inquiry into how we were taken to war. Interventions I made earlier in speeches by the Foreign Sec and Shadow Foreign Sec are appended at the end:
Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir Peter Tapsell), and I must say that I agree entirely with his analysis. I was opposed to the war, but not because I thought Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction. I thought that he probably did possess some residual capability of the weapons that we knew he had possessed in the Gulf war. There was evidence of that past possession, and in my view it was likely that he still maintained some capability. In the 1990s, however, weapons inspectors were crawling all over Iraq, and Hans Blix and his team and Mohamed el-Baradei were not able to gather sufficient or indeed any evidence to demonstrate that Saddam Hussein was a threat.
I was also very suspicious of President Bush constantly referring back to 9/11 and suggesting that Iraq was involved with al-Qaeda. He specifically said that Iraq
“has aided, trained and harboured terrorists, including operatives of al-Qaeda.”
We know that that was not the case. Saddam was a secularist, and if anything he had a lot to fear from the likes of al-Qaeda. President Bush blatantly exploited his people’s fear and anger about 9/11. When I put that to the former Prime Minister, he did not explicitly come out in support of President Bush, but neither did he condemn that link. Indeed, on 20 March 2003, the then Defence Secretary, now the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, told me:
“There are clear links between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda.”
He went on to say:
“We are not sure of the precise nature of those links”.—[ Official Report, 20 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 1096.]
How can we take a Secretary of State seriously when he makes such comments to this House? In fact, I could not take at all seriously the entire evidence presented to the House, and I was very surprised that Opposition Members went along with the campaign.
It is time that we had a thorough inquiry into what happened in the run-up to the war and after it. I have reservations about the type of inquiry proposed, but the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks
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(Mr. Hague) implied that Her Majesty’s Opposition would give the House the opportunity to specify the kind of inquiry it wants.
Angus Robertson: It might be helpful if the hon. Lady and other Labour Members who are considering voting for the inquiry are made aware that the motion that stands today in the name of the Conservative party is exactly the same as the motion previously tabled by the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru, having been drawn together by Members in all parts of the House to try to get maximum support. The motion under consideration has, therefore, been born out of views from all parts of the House.
Lynne Jones: I am aware of that. I was unable to support the previous motion at the time, because I felt it was playing politics and was personalising the matter. I take on board the hon. Gentleman’s point, however.
Earlier, I mentioned the Butler report and the Intelligence and Security Committee, and I cited evidence that came to light in the Hutton inquiry of an e-mail from somebody called Matthew Rycroft to Jonathan Powell, Sally Morgan, Clare Sumner, Robert Hill, David Manning, Alastair Campbell and John Scarlett. I shall read out the relevant parts of it:
“Ann Taylor read the draft dossier this morning and passed on some detailed comments to John Scarlett. She has just rung me to underline the following points.”
A number of points are then made, and the message ends:
“the hardest questions in the debate, not fully answered by the dossier, remain why now and why Saddam. The PM should take these on in his statement to undercut critics”.
Those questions are still relevant and have not been addressed—and certainly not by the ISC or the Butler report. Ann Taylor was a member of the Butler committee, and she was also the chairperson of the ISC.
The Foreign Secretary was surprised that I cast doubt on the Butler report. I should like to illustrate why I cast doubt on it—and not only on its membership. I and a former Member of this House, Llew Smith, submitted a detailed dossier to the Butler committee. We focused on the Government’s claim that Iraq had sought to procure uranium from Niger. We asked many detailed questions, and we made 15 recommendations. I will not go into all of them, but the report is posted on my website. It asks some pertinent questions, and refers to the fact that I and colleagues had often received contradictory evidence in response to the many parliamentary questions we had asked, and that when we queried those contradictions we were referred back to the Butler inquiry. We were anxious that Butler examined this issue in detail, because it was one of the core arguments about the threat that Saddam Hussein posed to us.
We made 15 recommendations, and I wish to read out a couple of them. We stated:
“From the information made publicly available by the UK Government, the IAEA and the FAC, it is our view that the ISC investigation into this matter was insufficiently inquisitive—the ISC do not make it clear whether they even saw the relevant primary documentation. We recommend that the Butler Committee ask the Government for all relevant primary documentation on the claim, including the forged documents mentioned by the IAEA and assess what impact the forged evidence had on the UK sources of June 2002 (which is officially
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still ‘under consideration’ over a year after the forged evidence was revealed) and of September 2002 (the single source upon which the UK relied).”
We further recommended
“that the Butler Committee investigate whether the information the Government have made publicly available provides an accurate reflection of the primary evidence.”
The Butler committee did answer that question, concluding that it was reasonable for the Government to make their claims. The logic by which it reached that conclusion must be highly questionable. It cited information obtained from the International Atomic Energy Agency that makes it clear that not only before the war, when it presented its evidence to the UN in March 2003, but more recently, it had received no further evidence that would lead it to believe that Iraq had tried to obtain uranium from Niger.
The Butler report makes no comment on the fact that the international agency charged with looking into these matters did not believe that Iraq had sought to procure uranium from Niger, but simply talks about reasonableness. It states:
“Since uranium constitutes almost three-quarters of Niger’s exports, the intelligence was credible.”
That is a risible argument. How can we take such an argument seriously? Yet, that was the Butler report’s conclusion.
Furthermore, that report did not take on board the argument that we had presented, which was that under article 10 of UN Security Council resolution 1441, member states were required to provide any information on Iraq’s prohibited weapons programmes, so either the British Government did not make that information available or they did make it available and the IAEA concluded that it was not credible.
Mr. Ellwood: I am listening carefully to the hon. Lady. Can she complete this study on the uranium, or yellow cake, by sharing with the House how it ended up being mentioned in the state of the union address by President Bush?
Lynne Jones: It was mentioned in the state of the union address, but shortly afterwards a withdrawal was made. The UK Government cited CIA intelligence in support of their argument that uranium was sought, yet the CIA did not support that; it simply reported that another state had reported this fact. There is no evidence of any support from America or the CIA. Again, Butler neglects that fact, which was again argued closely in our dossier.
All the evidence suggests that the United Kingdom Government were going out of their way to present evidence in a way that justified going to war. I could not put it better than the former member of the Defence Intelligence Staff, Brian Jones, who said:
“A small coterie in and around No 10 knew that the Prime Minister needed an intelligence assessment that allowed him to paint a picture of an Iraq bristling with WMDs. That alone won him the public and parliamentary support he needed to go to war. A few top intelligence officials were the facilitators, providing the political spinners with enough of what they needed and the silence of an acquiescent Joint Intelligence Committee did the rest”.
We need to get to the bottom of how this House was misled in voting to go to war.
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Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend also consider the possibility of examining the cost of war—the sustained amount of money that seems to appear during a war? As the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir Peter Tapsell), the historian across the way, will recall, during the 1920s Churchill, Bonar Law and Lloyd George had long debates on the issue of money being spent on the equivalent of the Iraq war then. Why has there not been a proper discussion in this Chamber of the escalating costs of this war? Why does that escalation happen?
Lynne Jones: With respect, that is not a matter relating to the inquiry. I merely make the point that had the resources that have been deployed in this war been devoted to fighting terrorism by winning hearts and minds, we would not face the kind of international threat from terrorists that we face today.
I am also moved to support the motion as a result of recent contact with one of my constituents. She is a British subject and citizen, and her husband, who is currently in prison in Iraq, has joint citizenship. In February 2003, Oxfam stated:
“Those who propose war have not yet shown that any threat from Iraq is so imminent that it justifies the risk of so much suffering”.
We know that so much suffering has been felt, and I shall tell the House about the suffering experienced by my constituent and her husband.
Although it was not the main reason for going to war, in Prime Minister’s questions Tony Blair told me:
“If we remove Saddam...the people who will rejoice most will be the Iraqi people who will be free of a murderous tyrant”.—[ Official Report, 19 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 936.]
The Iraqi people are free of one murderous tyrant, but many hundreds of murderous tyrants have sprung up in his place. The Iraqi Government are weak and the country is run by fiefdoms and militia.
The constituent to whom I referred, Mohammed Hussein, was in Iraq in January 2007. He went there with his wife and two-year-old son to try to persuade his mother to come to the UK for medical treatment—she was very ill. She had been unwilling to leave Iraq because she was living in the same household as her daughter-in-law, whose husband, her son, had been killed in Baghdad by terrorists. Her son was a member of the Iraqi police force. She was forced to flee Baghdad to Najaf, which I am told was more peaceful at the time. She was not allowed by the governor of Najaf to join two of her daughters who were in the city, but she did join another daughter who was living in its outskirts. In the run-up to the holy festival of Ashura, she, her family and my constituents were outside Najaf at a place called Zarga. On the night before Ashura, Mohammed Hussein telephoned a number—I think it is 130—that Iraqi citizens are invited to use to report any suspicious activity. He reported that a number of armed men had been seen in the vicinity. Subsequently, there was an event that became known as the battle of Najaf. During that conflict, the mother, sister and, we believe, the brother-in-law of my constituent were killed, and my constituents were rounded up along with many other people.
Since then, along with hundreds of people who were rounded up simply for being in the vicinity of that conflict area, my constituent was sentenced—in an en
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bloc trial where no individual evidence was allowed—to 15 years’ imprisonment. I have a letter from his wife telling me about the torture that he suffered from the Iraqi authorities. She said:
“During this time he has been tortured brutally. He was hung from the ceiling for two hours causing permanent damage to his arms and attempts were made to pull out his nails.”
She gave some further information, and I have since spoken to her. She told me that she witnessed the torture of another woman with whom she was imprisoned for a short time. She said that that woman was hung from the ceiling, her clothes were forced above her waist and she was beaten on the legs and feet by the authorities. My constituent was threatened with the prospect that that would happen to her. For a while, she was imprisoned near her husband. She said that he was chained to a toilet and guards came in intermittently, beat him and threatened to rape his wife and his sister. That is what is going on in Iraq today. Is that what we fought this war for?
I went to Iraq in 2005 and met many people, and the majority were in favour of the war. Almost all of them, however, condemned the nature of the occupation. They said that it had been totally mishandled. They were very concerned that the Iraqi people were seeing no benefits from the millions of dollars that were being poured into their country. One said to me, “No other tyrant has done what the Americans have done to my country.”
We also spoke to an opinion pollster who had set up the first opinion poll in Iraq. He had 350 very brave people going out throughout the country—
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I am afraid that the hon. Lady’s time is up.
Earlier interventions in the preceeding debate
Intervention on the Shadow Foreign Secretary
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Lynne Jones rose—
Mr. Hague: In fairness, I shall give way to the hon. Lady, who has been trying to intervene, and I shall then proceed a little way.
Lynne Jones: I thank the right hon. Gentleman. While I am in favour of an inquiry, and I do not accept the Government’s arguments that the time is not right, I am concerned about its nature. If we vote for the right hon. Gentleman’s motion, how can we be sure that it will provide a full inquiry that will take evidence in public, preferably on oath, in which we can have every confidence? We have not had confidence in previous inquiries, with good reason.
Mr. Hague: The case we have set out in the motion is for a Privy Council inquiry, modelled on the inquiry that took place after the Falklands war. As I said in response to the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), the practical result of the motion being carried would be that the Government would be required by Parliament to set up an inquiry, which would be a matter for further debate. My preferred model is that of a Privy Council inquiry. I want to set out the reasons for that in a moment.
Intervention on the Foreign Secretary
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Lynne Jones: Will my right hon. Friend give way?
David Miliband: In a moment; let me make some progress. The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, majored on this point, but it is not credible to argue on the basis of the risk of interest fading, of records being lost, or of e-mails going missing. That cannot conceivably be the basis for arguing for an inquiry now,
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rather than when our troops have come home. That seems to me to be the fourth and final weakness of the case that he makes.
Lynne Jones: My right hon. Friend mentions the Butler committee’s inquiry, but how can the House have confidence in that inquiry, or indeed that of the Intelligence and Security Committee, when one member of both committees—a former Member of the House, Ann Taylor—was involved in the preparation of the dossier? We know that from an e-mail to Jonathan Powell, among others, that begins:
“Ann Taylor read the draft dossier this morning and passed on some detailed comments to John Scarlett. She has just rung me to underline the following points.”
There then follow various points. A Member of the House was involved in drawing up the dossier, was then appointed a member of the Butler committee, and was Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee; how can we have confidence in those procedures?
David Miliband: I have never heard the credibility or the good sense of the Butler inquiry called into question. I think that all of us who have read that study believe that it did a very serious job, without fear or favour. It interrogated all the relevant people, it looked into all the issues, and it had full access to papers. It came up with a clear set of recommendations that no one would say were comfortable for the Prime Minister and the Government of the time.
Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South) (Lab): What the Butler saw was as little as possible.
David Miliband: My hon. Friend says, from a sedentary position, something about what the Butler saw; I think that the Butler saw pretty much everything in this case. I am surprised to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) cast doubt on the credibility of the Butler inquiry.
Despite David Miliband's surprise, the criticisms I made of the Butler Inquiry in 2004 have long been up on my website. To read them, please click here.