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Visit 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.

Bomb damage of the palace above Saddam Hussein's nuclear bunker
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 Hussein’s 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. That’s why I shall be joining this Saturday’s 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.


Iraqi cadets training at Rustamiyah Military Academy, near Baghdad



Military Academy cadets undertake a team-buliding exercise

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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