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BBC OnePanorama


Last Updated: Monday, 7 November 2005, 17:34 GMT
Troops Out? - transcript

The following is a transcript of Panorama's "Troops Out?", first broadcast on 30 October 2005 on BBC One at 22:15 GMT



Good evening from the Imperial War Museum in London where the history of Britain's wars is recorded. Now tonight Panorama is debating an issue that affects all of us, when British troops should be pulled out of Iraq. Sending them in, of course, was contentious; when to withdraw them is proving equally divisive. The government's policy is that we're there as long as it takes. But as long as what takes, exactly, and when is the right moment to leave? The argument tonight is between those who believe we should now set a date and stick to it, against those who believe, as the Prime Minister has said, that we should stay, until a newly elected Iraqi government asks us to leave. The protagonists tonight, will call witnesses to support their case, are Simon Jenkins, who writes for the Guardian and the Sunday Times, who argues our troops should now withdraw, and Michael Gove, Conservatives MP and newspaper commentator for the Times, who has fiercely defended the war and believes we should stay until the job is done. And apart from their witnesses we have others here on both sides of the argument with a personal knowledge and experience of the situation on the ground. We're going to follow a very simple debating procedure with roughly equal time given to both sides, and first I'm going to ask Simon Jenkins to set out his case. Simon.

SIMON JENKINS, Columnist, The Guardian and The Sunday Times

Ladies and gentlemen, we're not arguing this evening about the legality or the wisdom of the invasion of Iraq. Many people have views on that; we're not going to discuss them tonight. We're going to talk about whether we've done all we can reasonably do and should now withdraw. I believe that we fulfil or original intention. We've given the Iraqis the toppling of their dictator, Saddam Hussein. We've given them a democratic constitution on which they've just voted. We will, in December, see them elect a new democratic government. That is the time for us to withdraw. We've done all that we could reasonably do in a foreign land. Now we haven't done some of the other things we said we'd do. We haven't brought peace and security to Iraq, but it's getting worse. We're not achieving what we said we would achieve and we're making matters worse by staying there. The claim is made that if we leave now there'll be civil war, a blood bath. There's no evidence for that at all. There's very considerable civil conflict there at the moment but we're part of the cause of it. We're now the magnet of terrorism in Iraq. We're not achieving what we said we would achieve and we should go. Now I believe the time has come for the Iraqis to take over government of Iraq. It's there country. They should own it, and if they own it, I think they'll be better able to look after it than we are on their behalf. We can stay there as trainers and helpers in all sorts of ways, but we should no longer be the occupying power. The time has come to go. Thank you.

DIMBLEBY: Simon Jenkins, thank you very much. One thing on that, what about the Americans? Are you saying we should go regardless of whether the Americans go, or is your argument that the Americans and the British would have to go together for it to work?

JENKINS: I think the time has come to say to the Americans that we believe we're both doing the wrong thing in Iraq and we should start that particular discussion.

DIMBLEBY: And if necessary, you would leave and leave the Americans in Iraq.

JENKINS: I would do what other coalition partners have already started to do and say yes, leave.

DIMBLEBY: Okay. Thank you very much. Now Michael Gove to put his side of the case. Michael.

MICHAEL GOVE MP Conservative

Thank you David. Ladies and gentlemen, when Saddam Hussein ran Iraq it was well described as a mass grave below ground and a torture chamber above. Thanks to the actions of coalition troops Saddam has gone and we've now had, as Simon has mentioned, not just an election but the ratification of a democratic constitution aided by the presence of coalition troops. Reconstruction is taking place slowly, fitfully, but progress is being made, aided by coalition troops. If we were to leave now it would disappoint gravely all those Iraqis who are looking to a democratic future and a legitimate Iraqi government that wants us to remain, and we wouldn't be saving British lives or allied lives by departing, we would be putting our own lives at graver risk. If we were to leave, it would be seen as a strategic defeat in the broader war against Islamic fundamentalism. Those who are at the cutting edge of the insurgency, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi and his allies would take our retreat as a sight to step up their conflict. They would be emboldened and strengthened. We must stay, not just for the sake of the Iraqi people, but in the broader fight to defend democracy and civilisation against terror.

DIMBLEBY: Michael Gove, thank you very much. One thing, is your view that terrorism has decreased or increased as a result of our presence in Iraq?

GOVE: I think that our presence in Iraq is part of the long-term battle to deal with Islamic fundamentalists to terrorism, and I think while Islamic fundamentalist terrorists are using Iraq as a theatre of operations, if we were to withdraw from there, then they would extend their operations elsewhere and we would be no safer, in fact at greater risk.

DIMBLEBY: Alright, well let's turn to our witnesses then, will be examined and cross-examined. Michael Gove's first witness is Colonel Tim Spicer, who served for 20 years in the British Army. He runs a private security company which has 300 million dollars worth of American Government contracts in Iraq and he just actually got back from Iraq last Wednesday. Michael Gove.

GOVE: Tim, as David mentions, you're just back from Iraq. Can you tell us how reconstruction is proceeding on the ground.

LT COL TIM SPICER Chairman, AEGIS Defence Services

It's proceeding better than perhaps is reported widely in the western world. It's very difficult, there's no doubt about that because the insurgency makes it slower, but it is progressing.

GOVE: Broadly how long do you think we need to stay? What's the test of when we should leave?

SPICER: I think that the majority of people would agree whichever way you view this, that to pull troops out now at this moment in time would have a drastic effect on reconstruction, and it would, as you say, encourage the insurgents. I think there is no doubt in my mind that the Iraqi security forces that have been trained, that are under training, can cope with the problem, but to pull out now would not give them the opportunity to finish the job of structuring a proper security force.

DIMBLEBY: Michael Gove, sorry, that's your time. We'll hear more later on but it's your chance Simon Jenkins to cross-examine.

JENKINS: Mr Spicer, are you really saying that the situation.. the security situation in Iraq at the moment is better than it was two years ago?

SPICER: I'm not saying the security situation is any better in terms of numbers of attacks, but the security situation has largely made no impact on the development of democracy in Iraq, it has slowed reconstruction but not stopped it.

JENKINS: But you're doing very well out of Iraq if I may say so. The fact that we still need to employ people like you suggests that the situation is not getting better, it's getting worse. But wouldn't it be the case that if we withdraw troops, the main force, and left people like you guarding installations and left the Iraqis in charge of their politics and their government, actually the reconstruction would go ahead faster.

SPICER: Well I wouldn't suggest for a moment that organisations like mine could fulfil the role that the Coalition Forces do. I believe that there will continue to be a role for the private sector there, regardless of whether the Coalition is there or the Iraqi Security Forces are there because it's a matter of numbers, and currently it would be unwise to.. as I've said, to hand over the responsibility for counterinsurgency to the Iraqi forces, they're not ready, there aren't enough of them, and it is not something the private sector could do.

JENKINS: My impression was that the counterinsurgency operation has got more difficult rather than less difficult because it's seen as being an insurgency against the occupying force. If the occupying force was withdrawn, surely by definition there would not be that sort of counterinsurgency problem.

SPICER: I don't think that that argument entirely holds water because if you look at the statistics of who the insurgence are targeting, they're killing a lot more Iraqis than they are killing American or British soldiers.

JENKINS: They're killing Iraqis because, in a sense, the Iraqis are working for the Coalition. There is an obvious target for these people in the Coalition forces.

SPICER: Well they're not entirely targeting people that are either in the Iraqi Security Forces or police, or working for the Coalition or what is perceived to be Coalition associated groupings, reconstruction companies and others, they're killing large numbers of Iraqis in the streets, ordinary people going about their business, standing in bus queues, outside restaurants, they've got nothing to do with working for the coalition.

JENKINS: And yet the vast majority of Iraqis wish we'd go because they think that our presence is causing that killing.

SPICER: Again I'm not convinced by that. I mean I've travelled the length and breadth of Iraq several times over the last 15 months and my impression is that the bulk of Iraqis, the true view of what Iraqi people think is they would rather that nobody was in their country, they'd rather run it themselves, but currently they know that they can't without Coalition support and without the reconstruction companies that are helping rebuild their country.

JENKINS: Thank Mr Spicer.

DIMBLEBY: Simon Jenkins, thanks very much, and Colonel Spicer, thank you very much indeed. You may have noticed incidentally we're giving more time deliberately to the cross-examination of witnesses than to the opening statements for reasons and vice versa will apply now because Simon Jenkins' first witness is Andrew Bearpark. For a year until July 2004 he was the Coalition's Director of Operations and Infrastructure in Baghdad. Since then he's acted as an adviser to a private security company which works in Iraq. Simon Jenkins.

JENKINS: Andrew, over the course of the time that you've been visiting Iraq since the invasion, have things got better or worse in your view?

ANDREW BEARPARK Coalition Provisional Authority 2003-4

They've got worse. To start with things were getting better in the second half of 2003, early 2004, schools were reopening, power production was improving, the average Iraqi could see that things were getting better. But sadly, since around February of 2004 things have been getting worse, and it looks like they're getting worse month, after month, after month.

JENKINS: What would be the consequence if we withdraw all the British troops?

BEARPARK: I think that perversely reconstruction would accelerate because reconstruction has to be a locally led progress, reconstruction cannot be imposed, it requires ownership by the people and quite simply ownership and occupation don't mix, so sadly now the troops are becoming part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

JENKINS: And do you think if we left the militias would move into a position of being, in effect, the security forces. In other words, they would stop fighting the security forces and start protecting the people.

BEARPARK: I think the militias have already moved into an enormous number of places, but yes, they would no longer have the attraction of trying to blow out the oil pipeline because it wouldn't be being protected by American troops or British troops, therefore there would be no incentive to go and blow it up.

JENKINS: Thank you very much.

DIMBLEBY: Thank you very much Simon. Michael Gove, your chance to cross-examine.

GOVE: Andrew I think you're being a little pessimistic about everything you've achieved so far. We know that Iraq's oil revenues are at the highest level they've ever been in recorded history. The power production is higher now than it was in pre-war levels, and access to safe water better than every before Does that sound like a country that's going backwards to you?

BEARPARK: To the average Iraqi I fear they would say yes, it is going backwards. The oil revenues are marginally higher than they once were. The average Iraqi has seen no benefit from that. I am proud myself of the figures on clean drinking water. I think that's one of the biggest achievements that the Coalition left behind - electricity it peaks above the production, the problem is it can't be transmitted around the country because the pipelines are being blown up, so the people of Baghdad suffer because you have a surplus of electricity elsewhere but it's not reaching the people in Baghdad who desperately want it.

GOVE: Now you contest the statistics that we have which suggests that things are improving, and you make the point that it's the insurgency that is causing particular problem.

Now you argue that the insurgency is particularly targeting Coalition Forces. But Colonel Spicer pointed out that in fact the insurgents are preferring to attack soft civilian targets now. How do you explain that?

BEARPARK: I think that they do what terrorists anywhere will do, terrorists want to cause error, so yes, they will attack soft civilian targets, but I don't think that means they've stopped attacking the infrastructure, only three days ago the oil pipeline was blown up again. Only seven days ago the reports of more power stations being attacked. So yes, terrorists cause terror, I understand that, but they still attack the infrastructure.

GOVE: But you've dodged the question of why the insurgents are attacking the civilians specifically. Let me remind you what Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the leader of the insurgency has pointed out. He said that the greatest threat to his project isn't America or Britain, but democracy in Iraq. Do you doubt that?

BEARPARK: I think it's absolutely clear that the prize for all of us is democracy in Iraq and that therefore that is the thing he fears most. I think it is local ownership that leads to democracy. I think it's very difficult for 150,000 troops with long barrelled weapons to impose democracy.

GROVE: And do you think Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi is praying that American and British troops stay or leave? Because surely, given what he's trying to do, which is to overturn the fledgling democracy there, if allied troops were to go, then his insurgency would be seen to have secured a major strategic victory, emboldening him in what he sees as his crusade.

BEARPARK: I think he fears effective Iraqi security forces. I think he fears them immensely because they will be far better able to fight him, so I would agree with the premise that we still need to train Iraqi forces the difference, the distinction I'm making is between occupation and training. But Colonel Spicer¿

DIMBLEBY: Thank you very much, your time is up on that. Andrew Bearpark thank you, if you'd like to sit down next to Simon Jenkins. I want to bring our other witnesses in at this stage. You've heard these two witnesses in the opening statements and feel free to take issue with anything you've heard or indeed with each other. Tim Collins, can I start with you, what's your reaction to what you've heard here?

TIM COLLINS Commander, 1 Royal Irish Regiment Iraq War 2003

There is no doubt that the Iraqi people must have their nation back, but I believe that, as Colonel Spicer has described, they're not in the position to take on the responsibility for the protection of their people, and we cannot leave them without a form of protection. I ultimately¿ I hear what the.. the concern that the Coalition are providing a target, and to that end I believe that we need to broaden the coalition to help the Iraqi people see that the international community is behind it, it's not Britain and America, and to that end I'd like to see especially Arab troops involved in a broader coalition, and I think we need a diplomatic offensive launched to encourage them to take part.

DIMBLEBY: Okay. Patrick Cordingly, what's your view?

MAJ. GEN. PATRICK CORDINGLY Commander, Desert Rats 1991 Gulf War

I think there comes a time when the British Army, which is doing an incredibly effective job in the Basrah region, can do no more training. I would argue that it's training the Iraqi armed forces very effectively now and there is a certain length of time it can go on doing that. The police not quite so successfully for reasons that were obvious the other day, and therefore I think you really have got to say the time has come in a period of time, I'm not talking about a year, maybe 18 months time, two years time, I'm afraid we're going to leave you, we've trained you, we can't do any more for you, you've got to do this job for yourself.

DIMBLEBY: But you would define the time, would you, of a pull out?

PATRICK: It's very difficult to define a time publicly, that's one of the problems, but nevertheless I would personally say a maximum of three years.

DIMBLEBY: What do you say to that, Michael Groves?

GROVES: Well I detect a slip already in the position that Simon has been trying to argue for. Simon argues that we should leave immediately after the elections which are due at the beginning of next year. But General Cordingly makes the accurate point that what we need to do is to ensure that the Iraqi Security Forces are strong enough. Colonel Spicer who's been there on the ground says that progress is being made. General Cordingly takes three years as a benchmark but I think it would be foolish to set an arbitrary date. We have to judge time to leave on the basis of when the Security Forces are ready, and we can't know that yet.

CORDINGLY: And the only reason for putting an arbitrary date down is that sooner or later it's like growing up. You come to a stage where your children must leave and you have got to say you're out in the world. I believe that is so with the Iraqi armed forces.

COLLINS: All successful international settlements, and I think particularly of South Africa, has depended on a set date. We need some form of ah.. date to focus the mind, and that is something that must be agreed, again with the international community, but to occurrence that is suited to the Iraqi people. They must be asked when they are ready.


COLLINS: I currently believe that the progress that we've got.. the elections in January, the referendum, was set to a date to suit this country and not the Iraqi people.

DIMBLEBY: Alright, let me go to the lady sitting on your left, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman from the Kurdistan Regional Government. What do you think? Do you think this idea of setting a date for the allied troops to leave is the right way forward?

BAYAN SAMI ABDUL RAHMAN Kurdistan Regional Government

No, I don't. I think setting a date would encourage the insurgents and undermine reconstruction. I also think that withdrawing British troops would not only take away the training and the facilities that the British troops create in Iraq, it would also be a psychological blow to the ordinary Iraqi people. You would be leaving the hapless Iraqi citizen, the ordinary man or woman in the street to the wolves. That is not what Britain went to Iraq for.

DIMBLEBY: So how would you decide when the moment had come to leave?

RAHMAN: Well that would be for the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan regional government to decide.

JENKINS: Are you saying that our job is to stay in any foreign country as long as the government of the day with allied troops to help them keep order sine dia without any limit? This is an extraordinary statement.

RAHMAN: I'm not saying that at all. We're talking about Iraq which is a special case and it always has been because we've had Saddam Hussein, a unique tyrant, happily unique, we don't have too many people like him. I'm not saying that this is a policy Britain should adopt everywhere but Iraq is a special case, we are where we are with Iraq and it would be much better for Britain to leave a legacy of democracy, of peace, in a federal and united and a new Iraq and we're already making steps towards that. Why withdraw now?

DIMBLEBY: Rosemary Hollis.

DR ROSEMARY HOLLIS Director of Research, Chatham House

I think the judgement is about whether by staying longer you increase the chances of building a democracy in Iraq and I like very much the point made about the ownership that the Iraqis must have for their own reconstruction. One of the mistakes that we made, right from the beginning was thinking we could remake Iraq from the top down as opposed to inviting the Iraqis to do most of the work from the ground up, but I would also argue that it's inappropriate to say that the insurgency belongs to Abu Musaba Zarqawi, quite the contrary. He's a Jordanian, and as soon as the foreign forces are out of Iraq, so will he be.

DIMBLEBY: Brian Eno.

BRIAN ENO Musician and Anti-War Campaigner

Well both sides of this argument are arguing on the assumption that intention was to occupy Iraq for a while and then leave, but I've always questioned that idea. I think that the Americans certainly were planning a long-term or even permanent occupation of Iraq and that this is the first sort of encampment of a western force in the Middle East, and it's intended to stay there for a long time. This would explain why they're building four very large bases there in Iraq at the moment.

DIMBLEBY: So your view is that we should just get out as soon as possible or¿?

ENO: It think we should get out tomorrow, yes.

DIMBLEBY: Tomorrow?

ENO: Yes.

DIMBLEBY: Jonathan Bailey, what's your opinion about this idea of setting a timetable at all?

JONATHAN BAILEY Director, Development and Doctrine British Army 2003-5

I'm very much against setting a specific timetable and I think if you give a specific date you may well be setting the conditions for certain failure actually, before you've actually laid the foundations for possible success. The key..

DIMBLEBY: Why do you say that, what's so objectionable about the timetable?

BAILEY: You precipitate a situation, you bring everything to a head, and I think success will be defined by leaving, but leaving in the conditions which we have set ourselves and the Iraqis would wish. I don't see us having any precipitate withdrawal. What we need to have is a phased withdrawal over a period of time. I don't think we'll ever get to the point where you can say on one day the conditions have now been met. The Iraqi army is now fit to achieve for security, that's it, or we now have a certain level of economic development, that's it. There will be a phased withdrawal over a period of time as Iraqi security forces come in, and it's very hard to say on this date it's not fit to leave and on that date it is fit to leave.

DIMBLEBY: It doesn't persuade you?

JENKINS: Well, if you don't set a date, you will never leave, it's as simple as that.

BAILEY: Well there are plenty of historical examples where it's very dangerous to set a date. In Aden we set a date when we were going to go and the local police force were basically presented with a choice, they'd be dead meat the day we left and they mutinied. Equally, in Rhodesia, Zimbabwe, the local police force who had fought a 7 year bush war against Mr Mugabi, the day they heard the election result they all cheered. They knew which way their bread was buttered, and you will precipitate some very, very difficult decisions, possibly, in the people of Iraq, if you announce you're withdrawing security they've had up until now.

JENKINS: Where is the legality by which you stay indefinitely, under what law do you do this?

BAILEY: I haven't said indefinitely. We would define success as leaving on the conditions that suit the Iraqi people and ourselves by mutual agreement. I never mentioned indefinitely.

DIMBLEBY: Is that a veto on both sides?

BAILEY: Success is defined by being able to leave.

DIMBLEBY: But is that a veto.. does the Iraqi government have a veto on when the allied forces leave in that case?

BAILEY: Well in my view they certainly should do.

DIMBLEBY: They should have a veto.

BAILEY: Absolutely.

DIMBLEBY: Okay. Susan Smith, your son was killed in Iraq. You've obviously thought very much about the presence of the British troops, not just your own family's point of view. What.. when you hear this, what is your reaction?

SUSAN SMITH Mother of Private Phillip Hewett

Well I personally think the troops should get out because we're not helping the situation otherwise there wouldn't be so many Iraqi people dead, and I actually had a letter from Tony Blair saying that we should stay until after December's election. Well fair enough then, we'll stay till after December's elections and then we move. We don't own that country, we haven't got the right to stay there.

DIMBLEBY: You think we should pull out in December.

SMITH: We should pull out.

DIMBLEBY: What do you think about that?

DR SAAD JAWAD QINDEEL Member of Iraq National Assembly

Well the fact of the matter is Iraqi people do not wish to see foreign troops stay any longer, but now the troops have been in Iraq for 2 ½ year, throughout the 2 ½ year the security and responsibilities have been all in the hands of the foreign troops, and therefore, pulling out immediately, or on a fixed time table, would jeopardise the security situation in Iraq. I'm sure the security situation would deteriorate and therefore there is a moral obligation for the foreign troops to continue their presence until the time is right when their withdrawal from Iraq would not jeopardise the security situation, and I think this must be done in conjunction with the decision and the will of the elected Iraqi government.

DIMBLEBY: Okay. Well we'll come back to somebody who hasn't spoken yet but you'll all have the opportunity because I want now to bring in the second batch of witnesses. Simon Jenkins second witness was Alistair Crooke who was former European Union Security Adviser who worked behind the scenes trying to bring about a ceasefire between radical Islamic groups including Hezbollah and Hamas. He's said to have worked for 30 years for MI6 including in Afghanistan, but he couldn't possibly comment. Simon Jenkins.

CROOKE: Correct.

JENKINS: Alistair, is it your view that by being in Iraq at the moment we are, in the terms that Michael Gove said: "keeping terror at bay"?

ALISTAIR CROOKE Director, Conflicts Forum

No, I think it's quite plausible for people to believe that that may be the case, but it's simply not true. What is happening is that the occupation of Iraq, and particularly the military suppression of the Sunni areas is generating huge numbers of Iraqi casualties, civilian casualties and also contributing towards an atmosphere of civil war. I believe that it is aggravating the situation.

SIMON JENKINS Columnist The Guardian & The Sunday Times

If we were to withdraw over the next six months leaving in place no more than training troops, what do you think would be the consequence within Iraq?

CROOKE: I think you first of all have to understand that the insurgency has two very distinct components. 90% of the insurgency, what I think we would describe as the nationalist resistance, simply wants an end to occupation and they want to get back to politics. There is only a tiny minority, the Americans estimate it at between 4-6% only who are these foreign Jihadis, revolutionaries, Zarqawi, whatever you would like to call it, they have a different agenda. They do want revolution, they want a new world order and they will move on, but they are a tiny minority and if the troops leave, then I believe we will see the main Sunnis also getting back to politics, leaving that politics.

DIMBLEBY: Thank you very much. Michael Gove, do you want to cross question?

GOVE: Alistair, isn't it the case that we're already seeing the Sunni population moving closer towards politics? Isn't it the case that we saw the Sunni's boycotting the first election, for transitional assembly, but the greater Sunni participation in the vote on the constitutional referendum, and indeed the Sunni Party arguing for participation in the democratic process.

CROOKE: No, quite the reverse. I think what we saw was the Sunni population engaging in the elections simply to sabotage the constitution, and they came within a hair's breath of achieving that. Only in one province did they just fail to make the¿

GOVE: They were voting rather than fighting, weren't they. They were engaged in the democratic process, much in the same way as the Republican movement in Ireland which began with the process purely of military warfare and abstention, then, through its involvement in elections, gradually became a democratic.. or more democratic force.

CROOKE: This is precisely the point I'm making, is that 90% of the resistance is fighting the occupation, it is not interested in a wider agenda, and they're only tactically involved with this small minority of Jihadis, and once the occupation ends, they will have no interest in supporting the type of tactics that you see from the small minority of revolutionaries.

GOVE: Well you're not disputing the fact that their (tactics?) are changing and they're embracing democracy, isn't it the case that.. isn't it the case that the majority of Iraqis are being killed by the insurgents rather than by coalition forces, that the main cause of conflict is the insurgency, and isn't it also the case that the rhetoric style and approach of the insurgency is marked by an Islamic fundamentalist approach?

CROOKE: No, that's not correct. I think the nationalist resistance, the overwhelming element of it, is about simply, in the Sunni areas, where they feel oppressed by American military pressure, is simply to end the occupation. It is quite clear, it is the coalition forces that are causing the majority, even by American statistics, are the Iraqi casualties in Iraq.

GOVE: One final point. Osama bin Laden once said that when people see a strong horse or a weak horse they follow the strong horse. If coalition troops left Iraq, do you think that Islamic fundamentalists across the globe would think that the West was a strong horse or a weak horse?

CROOKE: I think they would be devastated, those ones, by the withdrawal of America from Iraq at the moment because they¿

GOVE: Because that would be a sign of strength on our part?

CROOKE: Exactly because at the moment, what everyone is aware of, that Iraq has been a failure. Outside of Britain and Washington it is quite clearly seen by Muslims already as a failure.

GOVE: (overlaps) ?? ??

CROOKE: (overlap) They don't want to see it as they¿. They don't want to see¿ What they wouldn't like to see is further instability and further divisions within the Muslim world as a whole, and that's where Iraq will lead us if we continue with the occupation of Iraq.

DIMBLEBY: Michael Gove, thank you very much. Alistair Crooke, if you'd like to sit down over there. We go on to the fourth of our witnesses, Michael Gove's second witness, Dr Salah Al Shaikhly who's been the Iraqi ambassador here in the United Kingdom since 2004, and before that was the leader in exile of the Iraqi National Accord, one of the main opposition parties during Saddam's regime. Michael Gove.

GOVE: Dr Shaikhly, you're the only Iraqi witness that we're going to hear from in this section of the programme. Can you tell us what do the Iraqi people themselves want? Do they want the Coalition troops to stay and to help them on their journey to democracy?


Well let me say first I'm delighted in fact that I am the only Iraqi witness because one hears so much from those who think they know about Iraq but they actually don't. Now furthermore, the argument I heard from the opposing side, apart from the conclusion it in fact supports the British troop and Coalition to remain and continue. The argument by General Cordingly, whom I admire a great deal, he was in fact looking at two, three perhaps years. Now that tells you something. His considered assessment, and he is on the outside, that we do need the troops to stay. Simply you cannot cut and run. In fact, look what happened to the British troops. There was a couple of blips a year ago in Almara. As soon as that problem was over, we continued as normal. Another blip recently, a couple of weeks ago, and what happened we continued as normal. In fact we do need coalition and the truth being there is not occupation. Now..

DIMBLEBY: Okay, Dr Al-Shaikhly I have to stop Michael Gove's questioning there.

GOVE: A very good answer.

DIMBLEBY: Turn your attention to Simon Jenkins. Simon?

JENKINS: Dr Shaikhly, you've now been given a constitution, your people have approved this constitution. You've had one elected government, you're about to have another elected government in December. You are the sovereign power in Iraq. How much do you want other people to do for you?

SHAIKHLY: Well really, just remember there was this.. what happened in Iraq wasn't a government change, it was a total collapse of the overall infrastructure of the country. We were left with no army, no security service, no police. Now we needed those who came to help us, to help us to build it. Until such time we do need some help. We have 700 miles of border to our East, and we have, as you know, Syrian, Saudi, Kuwaiti borders, in fact we do need protection till such time that we are able to build our forces, and we're doing it, we have ten divisions, perhaps not up to the standard as probably General Cordingly would like but that would take, as he said, some time. And once we are at that point we are definitely going to say thank you gentlemen and we'll play the bugle and whatever it is that you do when you see troops off.

JENKINS: But I must ask you, this is costing us lives, this is costing us money. We are apparently not achieving the security goals that we once set ourselves or that you would like us to have. The police is now more or less in the hands of militias, gangsters, war lords. The army is still two years it has not yet achieved the status it was supposed to achieve. I have to say, the British people are entitled to start asking some pretty tough questions. This is your country, when are you going to run it?

SHAIKHLY: Well we are going¿ you may recall that at some point in history we were running that country beautifully until we ended up with somebody called Saddam Hussein and he messed up the whole thing for us. Now I'm really sorry for those who have lost relatives. We are really.. our heart goes for them. I am a father, I'm a grandfather, I know how it feels, but we definitely don't want anybody to sacrifice for our sake, but this is a job you took upon yourself, and in fact it is upon you media people to tell the truth, not to excite people.

JENKINS: It's so insecure, we can't.

DIMBLEBY: Dr Al-Shaikhly, thank you very much. Will you sit down next to Michael Gove. Now I want to open this up now. Any of you who wish to speak, and any of you witnesses, and indeed he protagonists who want to speak, quite a number of you had your hand up.

FATIMA MAHMOUD Muslim Association of Britain,/b>

Yes, you said that the Iraqi population don't see our troops as occupational forces, but only last week a survey was revealed or a poll by the coalition forces in Iraq, saying that over 40% of the Iraqi population see us, our troops over there, as legitimate targets, or that the attacks against them are justified, and in the South of Iraq, where our British troops are based, that goes even higher, 63%. You said you don't want people to sacrifice for Iraq but our troops are being killed there, so how can you justify that? 63% feel that attacks against our British troops are justified.

DIMBLEBY: Okay, I'm not going to get an answer to it, we'll get a bit of discussion going first.

TOBIAS MASTERTON British Army Reservist Trainer to Iraqi Army 2005

Yes, well the Iraqi military that I've been working with more recently up until the summer, I know the majority of them would feel rather betrayed if we pulled out in the very short term. Some of them would probably be quite pleased, they were former supporters of the former regime, and rather more unfortunately of the Iraqi Police Service would probably be quite pleased. But I believe we are not at a stage where the security forces are ready. We need to ramp up particularly the mentoring.. close mentoring of them before they are in a position. Whether that's 3 months, 6 months, but a significant increase I the close training and mentoring of them before we¿

DIMBLEBY: Hasna Matin, do you want to come in on this?

HASNA MATIN Respect Party

The point that I want to make is that the longer we stay in Iraq, the more we are at risk here in England. We had one of the people who committed the atrocities of 7/7 actually saying that.. you know.. you're killing our people so we're going to kill your people, and a lot of young people feel very much the same thing, that they are being marginalised and some of these people, some of these young people their perception of living in England is that Muslims are being targeted all over the..

DIMBLEBY: Can I cross the floor and go to Muhammad Al Hakim who is an anti-terrorist activist you call yourself. Quite what that is I'm not sure but anyway.

HAKIM: Well anti-terrorist. I mean the point I want to¿

DIMBLEBY: What do you say to the point that's just been made?

MOHAMMED AL-HAKIM Anti-Terrorism Activist

Well I think this point is.. you know.. that's what it looks like on face value. However, if we go back to Al-Qaeda themselves, you know, the perpetrators, they will tell you that their aim is not to stay in Iraq, their aim is to use Iraq as a base to expand and I think any.. the war with Al-Qaeda has always been a war fought on the media front. That's what Zuwari in his recent letter to Zarqawi said. They want propaganda. Any strategic defeat, or what is seen as defeat, will only boost Al-Qaeda's numbers and will boost their recruitment campaign.

DIMBLEBY: Mr Crooke, do you want to answer that point?

ALISTAIR CROOKE Former Intelligence Agent MI6

Yes, I do think it's very important to understand that there really is an intense struggle going on within the resistance between the mainstream of the resistance which simply wants to end the occupation and to get back to some form of politics in which the Sunni's share power, and this tiny minority that all have, as you say, much wider ambitions, but it is very small. If the occupation ends, this uneasy tactical alliance will fail too and they will be left isolated and in a small tiny minority, and a reduction of violence overall within Iraq will promote politics and will stimulate dialogue between the Sunnis and Shia.

DIMBLEBY: a second point.

HAKIM: If you will allow me. I find it quite disturbing really to hear a lot of justification for terrorist actions. I mean I've heard people say in the same sentence these are nationalists who blow up oil pipelines. How can you be a nationalist and then blow up your own country? They're nationalists who behead children, who rape women, who kill children. I mean we're not talking¿ I find it very disturbing as an Iraqi for somebody to stand here and justify these actions by calling them nationalists. This is terrorism and that's the only term for it.

DIMBLEBY: Simon Jenkins.

JENKINS: Can you not see that occupation breeds extremism. It's abundantly clear that there must be millions of Iraqis dying to get to grips with these terrorists. They are totally distracted by the occupation. It's the occupation that's drawing in the terrorists. It's the occupation that's feeding the insurgency. If there wasn't an occupation, I believe the vast majority of Iraqis, and certainly that's my experience on the two occasions I was there, are dying to get to grips with these tiny minority of extremists who had been fuelled by the occupation.

DIMBLEBY: General Rupert Smith, what's your view? You commanded in the First Gulf War.

GENERAL RUPERT SMITH Commander, 1st Armoured Division Gulf War 1991

I've got three points really, the first is to go back to the point about whether we do this with the Americans or just go, and I just do not consider it to be good politics for this country to abandon our ally.

DIMBLEBY: So that the argument that Simon Jenkins is putting is, so to speak, frivolous unless he can bring the Americans alongside.

SMITH: That's it. It would be a catastrophic thing to do. You don't go around abandoning your allies. We do not want to have a reputation of doing that sort of thing thank you very much, particularly one we've depended on in the past and may well have to depend upon in the future.

DIMBLEBY: Alright, and your other two points.

SMITH: The second thing, I think we should understand this matter as a matter of the region, quite apart from Iraq as a whole, on its own. We should understand that we have intervened into Iraq and we have to understand the consequence of that for the region. If we go, and go too soon, then what happens in the vacuum? Does Turkey and Syria come in? Does Iran come in? And I think that's a major part of this decision as to when we go. And a third point is we ain't beat yet, and why are we running scared at the moment when we haven't lost?

DIMBLEBY: You'll have a chance to sum up, Simon, later on. Mr Mazin Younis, there are two or three people who want to speak here, if you can be brief it would be a help.

MAZIN YOUNIS Chair, Iraqi League in Britain

Mr Hakim doesn't seem to have read of our history of resistance groups in the world. When the French fell under the German occupation, within two years there were 30 resistance groups, they were targeting every building that the Germans were using, so targeting civilian targets to deprive the occupation troops of the resources of the country, that's quite legitimate. Secondly, we British troops in Basrah we are not targeted by the Al-Qaeda by the way, we are targeted by local people, by the tribes from these areas, and that's a very, very dangerous development in the situation in Basrah.

DIMBLEBY: Okay. Chris Doyle.

CHRIS DOYLE Council for Arab-British Understanding

I think there is a problem that we don't actually know what the benchmarks are for the US and British Forces to leave, but it's very unclear. We have to stay there until the job is done. Now this in the region is read as they're staying there forever. Now I think we need to establish very clear benchmarks as to when we leave and stick to them. That doesn't mean necessarily a date, like the 1st of April, but to say we're going to leave at this period. If we stay, we will remain not just a magnet for extremism, but a generator of extremism.

DIMBLEBY: Okay. Bayan, do you want to have just one more comment because you had your hand up several times.

BAYAN RAHMAN: Yes, I actually wanted to comment about something Alistair said earlier which is that the majority of the insurgence are Sunnis who want to get back to politics. I'm sorry, they don't want to get back to politics. These are diehard Ba'athists. The diehard Ba'athists who can't stand the fact that they're no longer in power. They don't want to get back to politics, they want to get back to power. The door to Sunni Arab community participation into politics in Iraq has been open for a very long time. Very slowly they're now coming in and participating in politics. That's the way to do it, not by withdrawing British troops and letting these diehard Ba'athists and these Islamic extremists have a field day.

DIMBLEBY: Thank you very much. It's been a good argument. I'm afraid we've got to draw it to a close now with our two protagonists here summing up the case. Michael Gove, you first.

MICHAEL GOVE MP Conservative We've heard from the other side a variety of views on when we should leave, but the most sensible voices on that side have said that we shouldn't leave immediately, we should wait until Iraq is ready to take on its own security responsibilities. And those people who know when Iraq is ready, Tim Spicer who's just come back from there, and Iraq's own ambassador, say that British and Coalition forces need to stay. And one of the reasons they need to stay is not just to help the Iraqi people assume and enjoy the freedom that we fought this war for, the other reason they needed to stay is the fatal consequences for all of us of cutting and running. Alistair Crooke mischaracterised the insurgency, and we've heard from those who know Iraq precisely what's going on in that insurgency. A Nazi Soviet Pact of Islamic fundamentalists and diehard Ba'athists are trying to strangle democracy at birth. Sunnis, Shias and Kurds who believe in democracy are attempting at last to establish a functioning Arab democracy. When we do that, and we must do that, that will be the most effective blow against Islamic fundamentalism, as Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, leader of the insurgency, has himself conceded.

DIMBLEBY: Michael Gove, thank you very much. Simon Jenkins?

SIMON JENKINS Columnist The Guardian and The Sunday Times

Thank you. I think the danger in Iraq is that we're heading for a fall, I really do think that. We've got to be very serious about what we're doing there. I don't think bold words, noble statements, bombast, is any use at all. The situation there today is worse materially than it was a year ago. We are not winning. I don't think we're defeated. I take the General's point, but we're heading that way, and if we're not sensible, if we honestly fall back constantly on these vague references to the Second World War and so on, we're going to get nowhere. I'm rather an optimist about Iraq, I think we've given them a democratic constitution on which they've voted. There is political activity there, there's a democratic government about to come into power, the fledgling ought to be ready to fly, and the most important thing now is to give Iraq back to the Iraqi people and to tell them I'm afraid from now on it's up to you. The most important thing I think now is to say we've got the army more or less in shape, and by next June the divisions in the South are going to be considered up and running. We can look at a reasonable security situation that we can leave in place. What we cannot do is have an open ended, almost planless occupation of this country. It's not our country, we should leave it. Thank you.

DIMBLEBY: Simon Jenkins, thank you very much. Michael Gove, thank you. And that brings this Panorama debate to an end. You may, incidentally, have noticed the absence of those actually in charge of British policy in Iraq. The Ministry of Defence told us they'd prefer to have the debate within the department. Well our thanks to everyone who did take part in this open debate and helped clarify the case for and against swift withdrawal of British troops. You can comment on tonight's programme if you want to on the Panorama website at bbc.co.uk/panorama and the debate is going to continue now on Radio Five Live so you can go there too. But in the meantime from all of us here in the Imperial War Museum in London where history 's verdict on the Iraq War will no doubt one day be recorded. Good night.

Next week, the first of a two part investigation into Bird Flu. In South East Asia the virus has jumped the species barrier killing more than 60 people. It's been found in birds in Europe and the UK. After a four month investigation we give a measured assessment of the risk of a human flu pandemic. You can see where we've been and what we've found on our website.

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28 Oct 05 |  Panorama
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