to Iraq 12-16 March 2005
I wrote the short article below for the Birmingham
Evening Mail following a fact finding visit undertaken with MPs from across the parties.
Unfortunately, the article was edited, however the text below is the full version.
Standing on bomb damage of the palace above Saddam Hussein's nuclear bunker,
which was left in tact
Clad in body armour, I sat in a bullet-pierced armoured car at
Basra Airport waiting for the helicopter to lift us to the British compound. We were four
MPs on a fact-finding visit to Iraq. What, I wondered, had I let myself in for!
Back home safely, I can report that the only mishap was a delay
caused by birds smashing the windscreen of the helicopter coming to ferry us from Baghdad
airport to the fortified Green Zone.
The continuing insurgency limited the locations we could visit
but we did get to a prison in Basra and to the Military Academy the British are
transforming into the Iraqi equivalent of Sandhurst. We also saw Saddam Husseins
nuclear bunker and got front row seats for the inaugural meeting of the elected assembly
quite a historic occasion.
Not unexpectedly, the majority of people we met supported the
war but all condemned the serious mistakes at the start of the occupation, in particular
the dismantling of the Iraqi army. There was also common agreement that a process needs to
be set for the withdrawal of the occupation as the Iraqi Government gains capability.
No-one wanted a deadline to be set but it was seen as the responsibility of the
occupiers to assist in achieving this aim in the shortest possible time. People were
angry that corruption is growing and Iraqis are seeing no benefit from the billions the
Americans are pouring into the Country.
We also met the first ever Iraqi opinion pollster, Munqith
Daghir. His organisation had taken considerable risks to interview Iraqis across the
Country. He told us that 80% of Iraqis opposed the war and 30% (mostly Sunnis, who
received favourable treatment under Saddam Hussein) preferred life under the Dictator.
However, people are optimistic that life will improve.
The success of the 30 January elections is fuelling this
optimism though the good turnout is widely attributed to the fatwa issued by Ayatollah
al-Sistani requiring a vote for the United Iraqi Alliance. They won the biggest
number of seats but no overall majority and are negotiating with more secular parties.
No deal has yet been struck which meant that the inauguration of the elected
Assembly was purely ceremonial.
Although the war was wrong, Saddam Hussein has gone and there is
hope for democracy. This will require a government acceptable to all Iraqis. But
also it depends on the Americans agreeing they should leave as soon as possible.
Without this there will be a loss of faith in the political process that could fuel the
insurgency and even lead to civil war. Our Government should tell George Bush that
our troops will remain only on condition that he gives a clear commitment on withdrawal.
Thats why I shall be joining this Saturdays demonstration in London
commemorating the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.
More pictures below...
Opposite I am pictured on a visit to see Iraqi cadets training at Rustamiyah Military
Academy, near Baghdad.
Pictured above, applicants for the Military Academy are observed as they
undertake a team-buliding exercise. To avoid nepitism or discrimination in the
selection process, each applicant is only known by the colour and number of their bib.
|My view in a in a
low flying helicopter, over Baghdad Airport.
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