Wednesday 1 November 2006

Iraq Inquiry Vote in Parliament

The first debate on Iraq on the floor of the House of Commons for two years took place this evening on a motion calling for an inquiry into the build up to the invasion and its aftermath. The proposal was for a committee to be established of Privy Counsellors who would investigate and receive evidence on the wide range of issues and concerns about what is increasingly being recognised as a policy disaster of the Prime Minister's making, for which thousand upon thousand of Iraqi people are paying for with their lives.

My main concern was to use this debate to press the Government to bring forward a clear programme for the withdrawal of British forces from Iraq. Of course it is important to know what happened, how and why, but more important is the question of what is going to happen from now on.

The Government line of staying "until the job is done" is clearly no longer feasible. It is now widely accepted that the occupying forces are part of the problem and not part of the solution.

I was hoping that this debate would provide the Government with the opportunity to outline its exit strategy to help move the situation forward from the chaotic daily bloodbath that is now Iraq.

I believe that this exit strategy should include:

An announcement of a timetable for immediate withdrawal of UK forces.

A return to the UN and the launching of an appeal to the international community for assistance in peacekeeping and transitional arrangements.

A rehabilitation of Britain's role in international affairs by the UK government convening with our EU partners an international peace conference for the Middle East, including Israel and Palestine.

I was also hoping that today's debate would rise above the usual tribal, partisan bickering of the Commons but of course it didn't and we are no further forward in properly addressing the future of Iraq. The Government celebrated defeating the motion to call for an inquiry with a majority of 25.

Then within hours the Secretary of State for Defence stated that an inquiry will eventually take place but within minutes he is denounced and overridden by Downing Street. What absolute chaos in government.

I then get home and watch more scenes of casualties in Iraq, including young children killed and wounded who were just members of a wedding party.

Rather than despair it is critical that the campaign for withdrawal goes on and the campaigning to restore the Labour Party as a party of peace continues with increased commitment and vigour.

Many have made comparisons with the Suez crisis of the 1950s. Suez was a break in history that marked the confirmation that Britain could no longer play the role of an imperial, world power. If anything of value is to come out of the disaster of Iraq it may be the recognition that the days of Britain being an agressive military force are over.

Instead Britain could now become a world leader in the promotion of peace, conflict prevention and conflict resolution. Britain has shown what a skilful player for peace it has become in the role it has played in Northern Ireland. What a service our country could povide the world as a major force for peace