Last Monday I asked a question to the Defence Secretary (Column 11, Commons Hansard):
Edward Leigh: Is the Secretary of State aware
of the recent comments of Lord Inge in the House of Lords that our
involvement has been a strategic failure? The fact is that our troops
are now dying at a greater rate than the Americans: they can expect to
be attacked within 20 minutes of leaving base. After giving up the
Basra palace, those gallant men will have to retreat to the airport.
How can they effectively run a country or conduct peacekeeping
operations from an airport? What is our strategy, apart from staying
there just to prove that we have a strategy? We should get out and get
Des Browne: I can only suspect that the hon. Gentleman has only
recently entered the Chamber as I spent some time, in answer to an
earlier question, explaining our strategy—explaining the logic of it
and why it involves assessments of the security situation, the Iraqis’
ability to respond, our ability to support them and the political
support that the security forces are receiving from the Iraqis. The
commission suggests that we are mistaken in thinking that the goal can
be achieved by military means alone, but we have never suggested that
the future of Iraq was dependent on military means alone. It is
fundamentally dependent on the ability of the Iraqis themselves to
stand up properly their organisations and the level of political
support for those organisations in certain parts of the country. That
is their challenge, and we can do only so much to help them. However,
that analysis of the situation gives no support to the assertion that
the hon. Gentleman has just made.
Having voted against the Iraq war, I have consistently questioned the
price we have been paying for that decision and what precisely the
sacrifice of our young men has achieved. I would much rather have been
proved wrong by events than see my fears for our military realised. But
it is too late for such regrets.
Two grim facts emerge from recent studies of the conflict: first a higher proportion of our soldiers than of the American force are now being killed.
This is due to the second fact that, after ‘temporary gains’ in April by our troops in reducing the level of violence, insurgents have since then been able to "destabilise [Basra] with relentless attacks against British forces." Clearly, in the bland words of the Iraq Commission’s report "the security situation is not improving".
What this means on the ground is that more of our young men are being killed, mainly by roadside bombs.
The Commission thinks our troops should only stay "as long as they have a job to do."
But it also says our current policy has "stalled, has no clear end-point and the objectives and length of time for over-watch are unclear." Of greater concern, it says the policy "cedes decision-making to the insurgents."
If our policy depends on their activities, they are effectively dictating policy to us. In short, far from having the upper hand, we are now in a blood-soaked mess partly of our own making.
The Defence Secretary has said in a parliamentary answer that 80 per cent of attacks in Basrah province are targeting the force we lead.
The former Iraqi Minister for Finance told the Commission that "international forces are not significantly suppressing the violence, but that they are suppressing a capacity to be able to grow home-grown institutions to deal with the issue."
The Commission recommends we "progressively cease offensive operations", switching our priority to completing the training of Iraqi security forces. As we complete this, it proposes, we should gradually withdraw.
My own opinion is that we have already given enough in terms of soldiers killed, maimed and traumatised. Military courage and sacrifice are noble when they achieve a greater good, but, whilst we can but admire the bravery of our troops, their lives are being wasted.
"One of the Army’s most senior commanders", echoing previous comments from the likes of General Sir Michael Rose, told the Sunday Telegraph that the war was now seen by our top brass as a "lost cause."
Let us withdraw without delay.
2) The EU Treaty
It is claimed that the EU Constitution, to which, thinly disguised as a treaty, the Government has now signed up, preserves our ‘red line’ on control of our borders. In the light of my comment yesterday on immigration, it remains to be seen whether this will be breached by qualified majority voting.
The European High Commissioner, Jose Manuel Barroso, said the other day he thought of the EU as an "empire". Such refreshing frankness only confirms what people like me have said for many years, as does today’s report of our old friend Giscard d’Estaing’s admission that the differences between the treaty and the former Constitution are "few and far between and more cosmetic than real."
David Cameron’s call for Labour to honour its manifesto commitment to a referendum on the EU Constitution was clearly right and proper. In the past we have seen the wisdom of turning down the volume on Brussels and immigration. In current circumstances, keeping quiet about these issues would not just be electoral folly; it would be a derogation of our patriotic duty as Her Majesty’s Opposition.
Returning to the ‘Dad’s Army’ theme with which I started on Monday, if you say there’s no need for a referendum just because the Treaty was not the same as the Constitution just who do you think you are kidding, Mr Brown. Certainly not your own Foreign Secretary. He has already admitted that the EU Treaty gave away more powers than Maastricht.
I applaud William Hague’s relentless harrying of the Government over this. Keep up the good work, William!
Tomorrow on the Cornerstone blog I will talk about Turkey as a contender for EU membership.