Iraq: Coalition Against ISIL

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David Cameron (The Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)
I promise the House that I will give way more. I want to leave plenty of time for other contributions, but I want to turn directly to the question of legality. The Attorney-General has given his advice on the action we propose to take. There is a clear legal base for UK military action to help Iraq defend itself from ISIL. A summary of this legal position is being placed in the House of Commons Library. The Iraqi Government have requested our help and given their clear consent for UK military action, so there can be no question about this. We have the letter from the Iraqi Government to the UN Security Council, we have the public statements from Prime Minister Abadi and President Masum, and we have the personal requests made to me and to the full UN Security Council by Prime Minister Abadi in New York on Wednesday. So there is no question but that we have the legal basis for action, founded on the request of the Iraqi Government.

Let me briefly address the fact that we will be acting in support of local partners, which has been a major concern of Members across the House. We have a substantial international coalition in place, including Arab nations committed to confronting and defeating ISIL. Sixty countries are acting in some way to help to tackle ISIL. Of these 10 are Arab states, five have already taken part in air strikes with the Americans in Syria, and even regional powers, such as Iran, are publicly condemning the extremists.

As I have said, our differences with Iran remain. Iran’s support for terrorist organisations, its nuclear programme, the treatment of its people, all have to change, and we will not back down on these things. But if Iran’s political leaders are prepared to help a more secure, more stable, more inclusive Iraq and Syria, we should welcome their engagement.

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Paul Flynn (Newport West, Labour)
This motion is the thin end of a bloody and ugly wedge that will grow and expand and mission-creep into a prolonged war with unforeseeable consequences. In the middle east, we are falling into a vortex of hatreds that are ancient and deep. Once we start this process, it will be almost impossible to extricate ourselves from it in future.

We speak under various delusions, one of which is a feeling of omnipotence in thinking that our presence is absolutely essential, although we do have a contribution to make. During the 2003 war in the Gulf, we were told that we had to go in because otherwise Saddam Hussein would continue, but that was not the case because the Americans were already there. The Americans, to our great gratitude, are there now. That country has sacrificed more of its sons and daughters in seeking democracy for the people of other countries than any other land in the world. We should look to having our own policies. Why cannot we become independent in our foreign policy? We have not done that since the time of Vietnam, but that means there is a terrible prospect for us, and we are facing it now.

The result of the war in Iraq was to deepen the sense of suspicion and alienation between the western Christian communities and the eastern Muslim communities. When we went in into Iraq in 2003, only a minority were involved in al-Qaeda, and they hardly figured at all. Now we find, to our horror, that young children who were born here, brought up here and absorbed our values through education are suddenly, in their adolescent years, having their idealism twisted and marching off to behave like mediaeval barbarians. How on earth has this happened? It has not happened because of the mosques or the imams, who were not much in touch with them, but because of the internet and the propaganda that comes from it. That is the source of this evil.

Once people become radicalised in this way and lose all their standards of common humanity, as they are doing in ISIL now, there is no question but that they will come back here. We are living in a world of a war in which on one side there are marvellous, sophisticated, clever weapons, but those are not needed to fight terrorist activity. It did not need a nuclear weapon to bring down the twin towers or a smart bomb to murder a soldier on the streets of Britain. In this asymmetric warfare, there is no military solution. That solution will bring its own consequences in more terror. We must look to having an independent foreign policy free from the United States.

Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon, Conservative)
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Interests; I am co-chairman of the all-party group for Kurdistan and vice-chairman of the all-party group for Iraq.

There is no forgetting that, over the past two decades, the UK has spent a total of 16 years at war in Iraq, nor the profound effect that that has had on our national psyche. It is, I am sure, the source of the hesitation that some right hon. and hon. Members will be feeling today.

ISIL is a contagion and we are right to join our coalition partners in air strikes. Effectively targeted air strikes degrade ISIL’s war fighting capabilities and dismantle its command and control structures. They will do much, but we must not be lulled into the sense that they alone will provide a clinical clear-cut victory. They can be only one aspect of an overall strategy. Intervention is complicated, its results unpredictable. We only have to look to Libya to see that. But it is impossible to mitigate all of the dangers. Instead, we have to take the long view. Fundamentally this is a conflict management situation. It is not about bringing a decisive end to the endemic disorder the region has faced over the past century.

Richard Bacon (South Norfolk, Conservative)
Is not the endemic disorder partly a result of the borders imposed by the west 100 years ago? Is it obvious, as many seem to think, that the current borders of the nation state of Iraq are the right way to go?

Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon, Conservative)
My hon. Friend raises an important point. The Kurds have given themselves three months to see whether the new unity Government will work. We have to be aware that our strategy relies on the actions of others and we must be prepared actively to contend with both sudden changes in regional dynamics and evolving long-term agendas. Will Turkey come off the fence and offer a definitive contribution? Will Saudi clerics make the ideological and religious arguments necessary to counter this violent extremism? Are Qatar and Kuwait ready to stop the flow of funds to ISIL? To what extent can Iran be relied upon to act pragmatically? By linking nuclear negotiations to actions on ISIL, Iran endangers a backlash from both Riyadh and, of course, Tel Aviv, and potentially compromises any shared gains.

Fundamentally, can the Iraqi Government introduce the changes in quality and equality of governance required? Are they prepared to introduce a new form of federalism, honesty and equity on revenue sharing and meaningful economic reform and to settle outstanding constitutional questions? Such intertwined forces will require creative thinking by our diplomats. My hon. Friend Rory Stewart pointed out clearly what we needed to do to resource these diplomats. They, of course, need to consider all the options that are open to them. What if the grand coalition that has been put together does not work? What is plan B? In Washington our colleagues are beginning to think about these options and we must do, too.

The choice between boots on the ground and heads in the sand is a false dichotomy. Destroying ISIL is something only the people of the region can accomplish. But if we can buy them some time and space to do that, I think we should.

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