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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 January 2007, 18:35 GMT
Iraq debate: Key points
MPs are holding the first full-scale Commons debate on Iraq and the Middle East since 2004. Prime Minister Tony Blair is not present as he is addressing business leaders about public service reform.


Opening the debate, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett was challenged by Conservative Sir Malcolm Rifkind about why Tony Blair was not in the chamber.

Sir Malcolm said the "disastrous conflict" had "rightly been referred to as Blair's War" and asked what was so important that Mr Blair could not take part in the debate.


Mrs Beckett said the prime minister had said he would report to the House at the conclusion of Operation Sinbad in southern Iraq.


SNP leader Alex Salmond said: " Why was he so anxious to talk us into this disastrous war but so reluctant to explain how we are going to get out of it?"


Mrs Beckett said: "No prime minister in the history of this country has put themselves before the scrutiny of Parliament more than this prime minister."

She said three of Iraq's 18 provinces had been transferred to Iraqi control and she supported President Bush's aim that the remaining areas would be handed back by November.

She added they were confident that Basra would be ready for transition some time in the spring.

But she said no specific date, deadline or timeline would ever be set because it would be dangerous and irresponsible.

She said the behaviour of Iran and Syria was "deeply worrying" and the Palestinian situation was a "festering sore" in the region.

Mrs Beckett said Iraq had been "riven by decades of terror and oppression" and governing by coalition was "not an easy job".

She said: "What is being tried in Iraq today - genuine power-sharing among the different major communities - has never been tried before."

Mrs Beckett praised the work of the British troops and diplomats in Basra.

Urged to build links with Iran and Syria, she said contacts were maintained but added: "It is not always easy to make a friend with someone who keeps trying to spit in your eye."


Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague said it was "high time" MPs took stock of what had been happening in Iraq.

"Whether we supported or opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003... we all have to face up to the fact that the situation there now is a grim one and a serious one," he said.

He also criticised Mr Blair for preferring to "skulk out of this chamber to attend to something else" than discuss Iraq, when the situation hung in the balance.

He said he believed it had been right to overthrow Saddam Hussein but added: "If we did support the war we have to recognise that it has in many respects gone wrong, as we did, and we have to have the humility and thoughtfulness to learn from that."

Mr Hague said the case for a "high-level" inquiry into the conduct of the war was overwhelming and if the government did not announce plans for one soon, the Tories would put down a motion demanding one.

The security situation had "deteriorated" for British troops, he said and there were delays in supplying some equipment.

Mr Blair's comment that soldiers would get all the equipment they needed was a "meaningless assertion", he said.

He welcomed plans to reduce British troops but said several thousand would inevitably remain and questioned whether they would be able to defend themselves.

And he criticised ministers for welcoming both the Baker/Hamilton report into Iraq and President Bush's strategy which "differed markedly" from it.

"It gives the impression we will say yes to anything the White House wants to do," he said.


Mike Gapes, the Labour chairman of the foreign affairs committee who had voted in favour of the invasion of Iraq, admitted: "I have to say things haven't gone in the way I had expected."

He said he feared Iraq was on the verge of a Shia-Sunni conflict and said Britain had to stay there for as "long as is necessary".

"Those who call for timetabled withdrawals, instant withdrawals, are taking a huge risk about what the consequences might be," he said.


Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said Mr Blair owed it to the families of those troops killed in Iraq to be at the debate, and should have allowed MPs to pass judgement on his policies.

He said both former prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major had led foreign affairs debates - contrary to Mrs Beckett's claim they had not.

Sir Menzies said the Lib Dems' stance that the war was illegal had been vindicated - there were no weapons of mass destruction and inadequate preparations for the aftermath.

He said British troops should begin to pull out of Iraq in May, handing over Basra between May and July and the supply route to Kuwait in August and September. The final withdrawal would be October.

"No-one can accuse the United Kingdom of cutting and running after four years in which we have tried to the best of our ability to fulfil the objectives of the United Nations resolutions," he said.

"I don't think it is any longer reasonable or legitimate to ask our armed forces to bear this burden."

He said Iraq was "on the verge of civil war" if not already engaged in one, with thousands of Iraqi deaths as well as those of British troops, such as that of 18-year-old Private Michael Tench on Sunday.

"Our foreign policy is being acted out by young men of 18 - doesn't that make us all pause and wonder if we are doing the right thing?"

He said the war was damaging Britain's reputation and draining resources away from other priorities, particularly Afghanistan.

"In order to concentrate people's minds, in order to ensure we meet our own domestic responsibilities and in particular to our armed forces, it is perfectly legitimate to establish a framework for withdrawal."


Labour former Cabinet minister Frank Dobson, who opposed the war, said large parts of Iraq were in "murderous chaos" troops should be pulled out as soon as possible.

"I can't believe that anyone in the House can expect anything other than protracted chaos, misery, death and injury for the people of Iraq whenever the occupation forces withdraw.

"There will be no fairytale ending to the occupation whether it's this year, next year or in five years time and that being the case my own sad conclusion is the sooner we withdraw the better."


Iain Duncan Smith, who was Conservative leader in 2003 when the party supported the invasion of Iraq, said he still felt it had been right.

"It's a desperate situation today and I wouldn't argue otherwise. But it was desperate before we went in.

"The difference is there is hope, hope that we through this democratic process, through a democratic government - for all their faults - we can deliver to the Iraqi people ... some form of stability ... "


Sir Peter, a Conservative MP who voted against the war, said Britain could not just "cut and run" now.

"Indeed, one of the reasons why I warned against the invasion and voted against the war ... was because I've always recognised it's much easier to invade a country than to get out of it subsequently."


Labour former minister Gavin Strang said he was pleased that there was "a consensus that the situation in Iraq is horrendous.

"Throughout last year we were told the coalition was winning, it was just that we were winning more slowly than expected.

"Earlier this month we finally had public acknowledgement from President Bush that the situation in Iraq is unacceptable and that existing policies had failed."


Sir Malcolm criticised a recent speech by Mr Blair in which he said Britain must continue to be willing to launch military interventions and discussed the effects of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US.

He said Mr Blair's views were a "dangerous over-simplification".

Sir Malcolm said: "You cannot justify a pre-emptive attack on another country merely by reference to some universal principle.

"The reality is that war was a terrible mistake. He should have reflected on the remark of Bismarck that pre-emptive wars are rather like committing suicide because of a fear of death."


The Labour former minister said: "Leaders of the West hailed the democracy that was involved in the election of the Iraqi government.

"What has resulted as a result of that election is a vengeful sectarian gang who are hounding their religious opponents and are not seeking to unite the country."


Gregory Campbell, of the DUP, said it was "essential" that soldiers got the right equipment and that the premise for war in Iraq had been "wrong".

He added: "The problem that we have at the moment...is that any US decision, either to have the surge that we are currently witnessing or subsequent to that any phased withdrawal that may be contemplated would have very, very serious consequences for the UK."


Labour former defence minister Peter Kilfoyle said nobody, including the prime minister, the foreign secretary in 2003 and the then defence secretary had been held to account.

"The fact remains that we were taken into war on a false prospectus. There was no WMD and there was no threat from WMD or anything else.


The Tory former minister said: "It is time for us to tell our troops that they have with immense professional courage done everything we have asked of them and more and that it is now time to come home."

He added: "What is certain is that the escape from today's quagmire in Iraq will not be found in repeating the Vietnam war blunders of naively counting enemy casualties and pouring in more and more troops."


The left-wing Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn said the only way for MPs to express their "dissent" was to call a procedural vote on the adjournment of the House and a number planned to do this.


George Galloway, leader of the anti-war Respect party, said the foreign secretary was trying to "lull us into sleepwalking into a coming conflict with Iran.

He criticised conditions facing British soldiers: "We send them ill-clad, ill-equipped, ill-armed without armour on a pack of lies into war after war after war."

He told MPs if Iran was attacked, British soldiers in a "thin red line in the sand" in southern Iraq would be the "first to suffer."


The Labour former minister said the increase in US troops was a "tragedy" for Iraq and an attempt by President Bush to avoid blame when America was forced to pull out.

"Extra troops are no answer to a crisis whose solution is political but for which there is no political solution at present in sight."


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