Yesterday the Opposition day debate on Iraq was held in the Chamber of the House of Commons. William Hague called for the Government’s planned Inquiry into the war in Iraq to be held in an open and public manner and for this to happen as soon as possible with the Panel to include a senior military member and someone with knowledge of Government. I think it would be useful to have a good cross-examining barrister too! This desire for openness was echoed in all parts of the House of Commons with Labour, SDLP,Welsh Nat and others – except the Labour Front Bench. Indeed at one point there was no Minister on the Front Bench to listen to the debate at all. This was sad as the debate was of high quality with many strong speeches.
Many Members pointed out that few expected the issue of an Inquiry to be being debated six years after the conclusion of the war. It should have happened years ago. We Conservatives are concerned to find out if elected representatives and the public of the UK were misled. We want to have a full examination of the road to War, what happened in the War (including equipment supplies) and into the planning and execution of the Peace; and for the Inquiry to hold individuals to account where right to do so. We also think it should be a proper open evidence Inquiry with witnesses expected to give evidence as in a Law Court. Every major speech called for the House of Commons to be allowed to vote on the Inquiry Terms of Reference when decided. It shouldn’t just be a Number 10 Downing Street decision.
British forces have performed fantastically well and sacrificed much in Iraq and we must learn lessons for the future. That is why the Inquiry Panel should have a General or other senior military figure and someone to understand Whitehall procedures.
One aspect I have raised regularly in the House and again yesterday is how any armed campaign should also be focused on turning “military victories into hearts and minds victories”. Tobias Ellwood made this point very well. We must learn from the mistakes in Iraq about how to secure the peace after the war. We didn’t provide support for rebuilding local infrastructure, schools, hospitals and the legal system speedily and effectively enough. In the debate I pointed out that it is vital to put in place a proper civil justice system quickly, so that we do not face again the Afghan situation where the Taliban were left to resolve disputes. Our whole approach must be revised to allow our forces to deliver immediate civil improvements in risky post-conflict situations and allow our development teams to do the more long-range work. Let’s hope we have a good Inquiry and it makes recommendations on this issue.