Five years ago today, the US-led coalition went to war with Saddam. One day earlier, for the first time in British history, parliament was given the opportunity to debate a war motion and, if it so chose, to block Her Majesty’s Government’s decision to send British armed forces into battle. In the weeks preceding the commons debate, there was considerable doubt that Blair’s government would carry the day and, if anything, a small majority of commentators were predicting Blair would be out of work when he woke up on the morning of the 19th.
They were wrong and the fact this was so is in no small way attributable to the speech given by the Prime Minister to open the commons debate. Reading through the text 5 years later, I’m reminded why I supported the decision to go to war and, mistakes and incompetencies notwithstanding, why I continue to support that decision today.
Of course read it all, but I’ll restrict myself in this post to an extract from the closing paragraphs in which Blair refers to the insidious nature of Saddam’s regime and his crimes against humanity, both within and outwith Iraq’s borders. In other words, the stuff that anti-war mythology teaches us was never mentioned until the non-discovery of WMD.
I have never put our justification for action as regime change. We have to act within the terms set out in resolution 1441. That is our legal base.
But it is the reason, I say frankly, why if we do act we should do so with a clear conscience and strong heart.
I accept fully that those opposed to this course of action share my detestation of Saddam. Who could not? Iraq is a wealthy country that in 1978, the year before Saddam seized power, was richer than Portugal or Malaysia.
Today it is impoverished, 60% of its population dependent on food aid.
Thousands of children die needlessly every year from lack of food and medicine.
Four million people out of a population of just over 20 million are in exile.
The brutality of the repression – the death and torture camps, the barbaric prisons for political opponents, the routine beatings for anyone or their families suspected of disloyalty are well documented.
Just last week, someone slandering Saddam was tied to a lamp post in a street in Baghdad, his tongue cut out, mutilated and left to bleed to death, as a warning to others.
I recall a few weeks ago talking to an Iraqi exile and saying to her that I understood how grim it must be under the lash of Saddam.
“But you don’t”, she replied. “You cannot. You do not know what it is like to live in perpetual fear.”
And she is right. We take our freedom for granted. But imagine not to be able to speak or discuss or debate or even question the society you live in. To see friends and family taken away and never daring to complain. To suffer the humility of failing courage in the face of pitiless terror. That is how the Iraqi people live. Leave Saddam in place and that is how they will continue to live.
We must face the consequences of the actions we advocate. For me, that means all the dangers of war. But for others, opposed to this course, it means – let us be clear – that the Iraqi people, whose only true hope of liberation lies in the removal of Saddam, for them, the darkness will close back over them again; and he will be free to take his revenge upon those he must know wish him gone.
And if this house now demands that at this moment, faced with this threat from this regime, that British troops are pulled back, that we turn away at the point of reckoning, and that is what it means – what then?
What will Saddam feel? Strengthened beyond measure. What will the other states who tyrannise their people, the terrorists who threaten our existence, what will they take from that? That the will confronting them is decaying and feeble.
Who will celebrate and who will weep?