§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Lord Avebury rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their current policy towards Iraq.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, before coming to the main theme of this debate, perhaps I may say how delighted I was to see that my noble friend Lady Nicholson of Winterbourne has chosen this subject on which to make her maiden speech. In another place she was a formidable campaigner for human rights in many parts of the world, but she is particularly renowned for her work on behalf of the victims of Iraqi oppression. She has undertaken works of an important and charitable nature to succour particularly those who were on the receiving end of Saddam's wrath in the marshes which were cleared by him of almost the entire population. We look forward to hearing what she has to say about that tragic situation.1337
§ It was six years ago that Saddam was evicted by the allies from Kuwait, but we left the job half done. We did not get rid of Saddam himself, first, because we had no authority from the Security Council to do so; but also because we were afraid that the Egyptians and the Saudis would drop off the alliance if we went ahead to Baghdad. Instead, President Bush encouraged the people to dislodge Saddam themselves. However, when the Kurds in the north and the Shi'as in the south took his advice, he left them in the lurch. The result was that hundreds of thousands of people were killed or driven into exile, the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala were devastated, and the opposition to Saddam was severely discouraged and weakened.
§ However, one objective that the Security Council adopted in Resolution 687 was the destruction under international supervision of all chemical and biological weapons and their means of delivery, and that Iraq should not acquire or develop nuclear weapons, or engage in any research for that purpose. I intend to concentrate on this subject because I know that the noble Lord, Lord Rea, and others will be dealing with the humanitarian situation in Iraq.
§ The Iraqi regime has made no fewer than seven "full and final disclosures" of its biological weapons programme, the most recent of which was in September 1997. But, as your Lordships are aware, it has never agreed to full and unfettered access by UNSCOM to monitor compliance. That was the cause of the latest crisis. On 12th November the United Nations described the Iraqi attempt to impose conditions on the special commission as "unacceptable". As a result of vigorous diplomatic efforts, and perhaps also the concentration of US and British forces in the region, the regime backed down on the composition of the UNSCOM team. But it is still imposing restrictions on where it can go. In particular, it says that UNSCOM cannot enter any of Saddam's 78 palaces. Your Lordships might well ask how a state which claims that it is too poor to give children proper medical treatment can afford to make such lavish provision available to its ruler, especially considering that each of those palaces has a large surrounding area which is treated as part of the presidential estate, and so the scope for hiding weapons, laboratories and production facilities in those areas is quite considerable.
§ The former head of UNSCOM, Dr. Rolf Ekeus, said that the Iraqis gave up about a third of their capability in missiles and chemical weapons and sought to keep two-thirds. They admitted that they had 25 warheads and 166 bombs filled with biological agents such as anthrax, botulinum and aflatoxin immediately before Desert Storm. In 1990 alone, Iraq produced up to 1,700 pounds of a chemical nerve agent VX, which I am informed is enough to kill half the population of the world. It has also stockpiled vast amounts of materials used to produce this deadly substance which has 10 times the lethality of the chemical Sarin, which is also very deadly. UNSCOM has been unable to account for all the VX that has been produced.
§ The Iraqis engaged in new and more sophisticated tricks of concealment, such as establishing companies in Jordan for the procurement of equipment and raw 1338 materials. It would be useful to know what steps UNSCOM is taking now to monitor Iraqi use of third country production or development facilities. The latest report by Dr. Ekeus' successor, Mr. Richard Butler, says that, although UNSCOM has now accounted for all but two of the imported prohibited missiles, it has been unable to check on Iraq's indigenous production of missiles, warheads and components. There is uncertainty about the extent of Iraq's continuing efforts to produce VX and about the existence of production equipment for chemical weapons manufacture. Mr Butler says that the most serious and persistent area where Iraq has disregarded its obligations to the United Nations is that of biological weapons. The report takes note of systematic concealment of activities and emphasises that failure to grant access has impeded the disarmament process and the work of the commission.
§ To summarise, it is clear that Iraq is a very long way from compliance with Resolution 687 and appears to be playing its usual game of brinkmanship in defying the United Nations. Nevertheless, it would be unwise for the US and Britain to attack Saddam on the grounds of recent prevarication and threats when he has not actually used violence. We would incur the rage of the whole Arab world, where there is a strong feeling about western double standards. They see that Israel gets not so much as a diplomatic slap on the wrist for armed action, which results in many civilian deaths, while Iraq could be on the receiving end of a huge air attack, more or less regardless of the strength of the provocation.
§ If Saddam was unwise enough to shoot down a UN aircraft, or to use violence against UN personnel, we would have to consider the position. But the launching of a few Cruise missiles, as in 1996, would have no effect on Saddam's policies. At worst, it could endanger the lives of UN personnel in Iraq, while at best it would lead to even less co-operation by Iraq with UNSCOM.
§ If Baghdad was on the point of developing an operational capacity for delivering weapons of mass destruction, there would be a powerful case for taking pre-emptive action against the sites themselves. He did use prohibited weapons in the Iran-Iraq war and in the notorious attack on Halabja nearly 10 years ago. It is unthinkable that he should ever be allowed to regain that capability as the Security Council decided when it passed Resolution 687. What it missed then, and what I do not think is fully appreciated nearly seven years later, is that as long as Saddam remains in power, that danger still remains. We needed a strategy to get rid of the dictator and to promote a pluralist democratic alternative inside the country, daunting as that task may be.
§ In the south, the Shi'as who number perhaps 12 million out of Iraq's 20 million population, had no tradition of political activism, and their religious leaders disappeared and almost certainly were murdered after the uprising of March 1991. Shi'a institutions were systemically destroyed, including libraries, religious schools and mosques. The marshes of the south were systematically drained, and the people who used to live there were internally displaced, except for 30,000 who became refugees in Iran and on whose behalf my noble friend has worked so assiduously.1339
§ It is clear that the Shi'as would like to see the back of Saddam and would probably like to manage their own affairs in a federal Iraq. There is no demand by them for union with Iran because of religious affinity, as some people imagine. So we should have taken the trouble to encourage political consciousness among the Shi'as, with those living in exile and through broadcasts in the Arab language service of the BBC. We should have made it clear that in a post-Saddam Iraq we expect the Shi'a population to exert the political influence to which their numbers entitle them. I should be grateful if the Minister would confirm that that is a corollary of the mission statement.
§ In the north, we have to understand that Barzani's control of the 1 million dollars a day revenues from the illegal traffic in oil has militated against a political agreement between the PUK and the KDP for reunification of the region. We are still trying, after losing count of the deals which have been agreed and then fallen apart. For the moment, there is a ceasefire and a partial withdrawal of Turkish forces from the region. But the chief of the Turkish general staff said over the weekend that the army will re-enter in strength any time it feels like it. That is intolerable and we should say so firmly. We have been far too sotto voce in condemnation of Turkish intervention in northern Iraq, which is a breach of the United Nations charter. I should like to know from the Minister whether we will now speak up more clearly about this violation of the charter.
§ The Turks had the effrontery to suggest that Ankara should be the venue for the next round of KDP-PUK talks. However, I understand that the alternative of London has been suggested. If we are to be the hosts, we should not invite the Turks. But we should ask the minority parties from northern Iraq and perhaps other distinguished Kurdish personalities who are not members of any party. We should insist on an interim government of national unity, leading to elections under neutral supervision for a new regional parliament, as was agreed in Paris, Drogheda and Dublin. We should insist that all revenues be paid into an escrow account and disbursed according to the arrangements that are already in place for 986/1111. There should be a fall-back policy that if any party obstructs the agreement, the holding of elections or their supervision, then the allies will cease to deal with its leaders, helping only those who are ready to adopt democratic principles as a first step towards applying them throughout the whole of Iraq. Above all, the question of the money has to be solved and since Resolution 986 is clear in forbidding any exports of oil products other than those specified by the Security Council, the KDP must agree to hand over the proceeds of this traffic to be spent for purposes agreed with the unified administration.
§ There needs to be a permanent forum in which democratic Iraqis from every section of the community can participate in a discussion of strategic moves towards a free Iraq. That could be an expanded and revitalised Iraqi national congress or, perhaps, to emphasise that it is part of a new co-ordinated approach, it could be a new body altogether.1340
§ The UN rapporteur on Iraq, Mr. Max van der Stoel, says that Iraq remains in the grip of one of the most ruthless dictatorships that the world has seen since the end of the Second World War. We need a coherent and effective plan for replacing this evil villain who does horrible things to his own people and, if given the chance, would threaten the whole world.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Lord Rea
My Lords, in contrast to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who concentrated on UNSCOM and weapons inspection, I shall concentrate on the progress in meeting the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people.
In February 1991, as the noble Lord has said, the United Nations task force abruptly ceased its advance into Iraq although it could probably have taken both Basra and Baghdad in a few days. The subsequent withdrawal and abandonment of the Kurds in the north and the Shia in the south who had risen against Saddam was a shameful episode only partly assuaged by the protection later afforded to the Kurds.
The decision to leave Saddam in power—perhaps as a prop to the status quo in the Middle East—has been revealed as a major mistake. Taking a rather cynical view, it could be held that the persistence of a defiant Saddam in charge of a repressive regime, a bete noire if one likes, has provided the United States with a good reason for continued high military expenditure long after the end of the Cold War.
Saddam's survival is something which most of us, particularly Israel, as the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, pointed out during Question Time today, could well do without. Whatever the reason behind the fact that Saddam's regime still exists and is causing international concern, the real brunt of the decision to allow him to stay in charge of Iraq has been borne by the long-suffering Iraqi people. For five years after the Gulf War the Iraqi regime has refused to allow the Security Council Resolutions 706 and 709 to operate. These would have allowed the import and monitoring of necessary food supplies in return for the sale of a limited amount of Iraqi oil, the proceeds to be handled through an escrow account by the United Nations. During this period Iraq orchestrated a campaign inside and outside the country which blamed the United Nations sanctions for the undoubtedly severe food shortages and the breakdown of the health care systems and infrastructure which occurred in Iraq.
I am afraid to say that I was one of those who was taken in by this to some extent at the time. It was quite hard to believe that a ruler would deliberately starve his own people for a propaganda effect. In retrospect, that was very gullible of me. After all, he had gassed, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, some 8,000 people in Halabja in 1988. In fact, the population has not only had to live under a repressive regime, but it has had to tighten its belt and suffer a disastrous increase in infant and child mortality, the true extent of which may never be accurately known.
This was all blamed by Iraq on the United Nations, particularly the United States. That was apparently believed by a large section of the Iraqi people. The 1341 antagonism thus created against the West was unfortunately boosted by unwise missile attacks on Baghdad by the United States a few years ago. However, last year Iraq finally agreed to the implementation of Security Council Resolution 986, which could be held to be an updated version of the previous Resolutions 706 and 709, providing for humanitarian supplies in exchange for limited oil sales. I gather that oil under this plan started to flow in December 1996—exactly one year ago. The food and medical supplies started to arrive shortly afterwards. This scheme appears to have been reasonably successful, at least where it has been monitored, although inevitably there have been delays and difficulties.
At present we are just reaching the end of the second 180-day period of operation of the agreement and we are awaiting the Secretary General's report on this second phase, which will then lead on to the approval of the next 180-day phase. I have seen the interim report of the half stage of 90 days on into the second phase, which records considerable achievement, at least in the three northern governorates, which is the Kurdish zone, although it is still too early to make a full assessment. However, I gather that on the strength of that report it has been suggested that the amount of oil sales be increased to deal more effectively with the urgent humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people.
I believe that there are some 150 monitors, very few of whom are British or American, supervising the distribution of the food and medical supplies. Mr. Benem Savan, who is a very able Cypriot of Lebanese descent, was appointed three months ago to co-ordinate the work of United Nations monitors and to suggest improvements in their methods of operation. Initially, these operations were supervised by the United Nations Department for Humanitarian Affairs, but that was not very effective. I gather that Mr. Savan is due to report shortly on his work so far. Can my noble friend the Minister say whether this report will be published and when?
During this exercise of the distribution of humanitarian supplies, there appears to have been reasonably good co-operation between the Iraqi and Kurdish officials and the monitors, at least in the northern parts of the country. But the Secretary General's report says very little about what is happening in the south, particularly among the Shi'as—the special concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson—who suffered Saddam's revenge after their 1991 uprising, as described by the noble Lord. Has my noble friend any news of the operation of Security Council Resolution 986 in those areas? How many United Nations monitors have been allowed in, particularly to the marsh area—if anybody is still living there—and to Basra?
Turning away from humanitarian concerns, can my noble friend tell the House the prospects for building a viable Iraqi opposition in exile? What is the present status of the Iraqi National Congress? How many political parties are part of that organisation? It is good news, as the noble Lord reported, that a further ceasefire 1342 between the rival Kurdish sects, the KDP and the PUK, has been arranged, but we have seen many before, so what chance is there of a permanent rapprochement?
Finally, the repeated incursions and now almost permanent presence of Turkish armed forces in Northern Iraq can hardly be contributing to the welfare of the Iraqi Kurds in the area. Can my noble friend say whether, as has been reported, agricultural activity has been disrupted and the distribution of food impeded by the presence of Turkish troops? It will be interesting to hear whether Her Majesty's Government know whether the Turkish incursion, ostensibly to track down PKK guerillas, has succeeded in finding any. I believe that they are extremely adept at melting into their mountain background. Do Her Majesty's Government believe that the Turkish forces ever really intend to withdraw behind their frontiers?
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne
My Lords, it is indeed an honour to be a Member of this House. I wish to place on record my gratitude for the welcome all have shown me, and most particularly my colleagues on the Liberal Democrats. One of my Conservative friends wrote to me saying, "God does indeed move in mysterious ways"—all that I can say is that He has placed me among the most remarkable colleagues.
I have to declare an interest in Iraq. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, remarked in his most interesting speech, in 1991, at the end of the Gulf War, I formed a small human rights group, the AMAR International Charitable Foundation. The ballpark figures today are that we have worked in Iran and Iraq, particularly in the south, with 6 per cent. overheads and wholly local staff and resources. The interest perhaps is that, although I am a volunteer, we are partners financially of the European Union through ECHO, which provides 47 per cent. of the funding. We are also funded by DfID—thanks in part to the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker of Wallasey, and to the new Secretary of State—which has given 25 per cent. of the funding. Private donations, ranging from those of the Emir of Kuwait to schoolchildren in the United Kingdom, represent another 25 per cent. of our funding. We have a partnership agreement with UNESCO, receiving a fraction of funding (3 per cent.), a Memorandum of Understanding with the emergency division of the World Health Organisation, and now a partnership with the Irish Government (Irish Aid), which focuses on education.
This work has taught me that the people of Iraq are close to the hearts of the British people. The mixture of private and public funding has touched the lives of, and provided basic support for, half a million or more refugees. In five years we have raised and spent approximately £5 million. With 50 doctors, we provide 120,000 annual medical consultations, with five clinics, two laboratories and a new clinic under way. We have provided clean water supplies and sanitation in five camps. Two more deep water wells are now under construction. Garbage collection and sewage disposal is now provided in another four camps, with another project under way. Electricity has been supplied to two 1343 camps. We have provided 3,500 tonnes of food and approximately 250,000 pieces of clothing, most of which was funded by ECHO and the European Union. There are now 11 schools with 215 teachers, educating 6,500 primary schoolchildren.
In addition, we have established a permanent standing conference on Islam and the European Union in partnership with UNESCO and partly funded by the European Union. We are now drawing academics, politicians and senior religious figures from 27 nations. Our first conference was opened by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Ayatollah Taskiri of Iran and Dr. Federico Mayor, the director general of UNESCO.
Finally, we have conducted a huge scientific survey and report on marshland drainage. At the mid-term point of 1993, we reported that 50 per cent. of the marshes of southern Iraq had been drained and now only 10 per cent. of that area—half the size of Wales—remains under standing water. One-third of the refugees for whom we have cared in that period are marsh dwellers, commonly known in Wilfred Thesiger's great phrase as the "Marsh Arabs", who seem to me as I talk with them to be the water bushmen of the Arab-Persian Gulf. Those thousands of people are self-sufficient, strong and adaptable—a community literally stretching back to Sumeria, whose ancestors created the wheel, the rule of law and writing.
Since all but two of our staff—we have two European staff, one Frenchman and one Englishman—are refugees or local experts, and all those we serve are refugees, they have become closely aware of Iraq's current horror. A once honourable nation has become a living concentration camp. Human rights and freedoms have been deliberately demolished. There is no freedom to follow a faith. This year during the great Shia annual period of mourning for Arbaeen Iman Hussain men and women were slaughtered in their thousands by the regime's police as they worshipped. In south Iraq the holy city of Najaf is as important to Moslems as Rome and Canterbury are to Christians and parts of Jerusalem which reflect the sacred places of Judaism.
It is a dreadful, dreadful state. The regime now attacks small towns and villages in the south almost daily. We hear about them from the southern Iraqi refugees who are with us in Iran. It encroaches militarily in the barer areas of the north. In 1996 I visited 150,000 refugees as they swarmed across the border. We set up a large clinic and distributed blankets. As bombs rained down upon us we saw fear on the faces of children. Thousands died then to join the several million already killed whose escape from torture and imprisonment seemed to come only with death. Iranians, Kuwaiti prisoners of war, Iraqis, the Marsh people, the Kurds, the Shia and the Sunni disappeared. There are so many dead that they are uncountable. There are so many torments that we cannot feel.
But no tyranny is eternal. Once the watershed has been crossed and Saddam has been vanquished what lies ahead? Can we not look further tonight than just the miserable horrors of today? I urge Her Majesty's Government to join with me and many others in this House and the other place who understand Iraq to plan 1344 for the establishment of a new Iraq which surely should be a liberal democracy, perhaps a federated structure to reflect the curious nature of the Iraq that the United Kingdom created in the 1920s. Almost all the people wish for a liberal democracy.
I believe that much can be done when Saddam is toppled, but it will be much less effective if it is done in haste in the aftermath of what emerges than if it is done today. I believe that in our presidency of the EU we should draw as a nation upon our knowledge of Iraq—we have perhaps a more profound knowledge of that country than any other nation in the world—and the knowledge that we have gained in so many places in the world of post-conflict situations and of what to do. Saddam may go tomorrow and we must prepare. We have much experience from east and central Europe with the collapse of communism and the Soviet Union. I have witnessed the excellence of the Know-How Funds and the work of those whose expertise has been brought to bear. I saw that in Poland. It was wonderful to watch their stock exchange and banking system being created.
What about assisting in the restoration of professional standards through the establishment of professional bodies similar to those that we have in the United Kingdom? For example, are we supporting the Iraqi Medical Association? I helped the British Computer Society to set up a similar body in Hungary. Professional bodies with peer group analysis and pressure surely offer a way forward. We have seen this happen with the legal profession in the post-war tribunal in Rwanda. It is short of lawyers and judges. What are we doing? We are helping there. In the field of education, I recall assisting the Open University to begin work in Bulgaria. The Open University is one of the most important developments in the post-war era. It still has not spread throughout the world as it could and should have done. Surely the Government can help with that.
Finally, what will become of a unique and extraordinary body which has a rightful reputation once its work has been completed? I refer to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. That is a unique and extraordinary body set up by the Parliament of the new South Africa to heal past wounds and not rely always on law and punishment. Can we look again to see whether that can help?
What is our aim? Our aim is surely the creation and support of a stable nation where the gross national product expenditure of 37 per cent. on weaponry—the recent figure—is a past nightmare and not a future goal. That calls for Western self-discipline. I seek a register of arms first in the European Union and then internationally so that peace can reign.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Lord Sempill
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to welcome the noble Baroness to the House and to congratulate her on a staggeringly moving maiden speech. I am sad that not more Members were present to hear her. I wish also to convey a special message of welcome from my noble friend Lord Weatherill, our Convenor, who unfortunately had a prior engagement.
1345 He told me that the noble Baroness was the only MP to have moved him to tears as she related her experience with the Marsh Arabs and her determination then to set up a consolidated fund to aid their project. He was so moved that he reached for his cheque book and contributed on the spot.
The noble Baroness has an impressive curriculum vitae, especially relating to her work for human rights. She has chaired various all-party parliamentary groups with a special focus on the Middle East and a series of highly successful appeals. She is someone with immense energy and is rightly regarded as a doer rather than a talker. Her appearance last week at the truth and reconciliation proceedings in Johannesburg in a role as protector of a key witness showed another major attribute—that of courage. I know that her talents will be fully appreciated in the House. We all look forward to her next contribution.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for raising this Question. I thank him for giving such a clear exposé of the situation in Iraq and where we are today with it. However, I believe that it is time to review our relationship with Iraq, especially in the light of the Government's desire to conduct the nation's foreign policy on ethical grounds.
Recent events have resulted in a substantial amount of media coverage, some of it unfortunately, or disturbingly, of a jingoistic nature. There is an example from The Express of 10th November:Blair sends chilling warning as he backs Clinton over UN".
and:-RAF go on alert to blast Saddam".
The outcome of the recent incident has been hailed as a victory by both Iraq and the US, with Russia claiming the high moral ground as the mediator. The reality is that the UN inspectorate is back in Baghdad, and the Iraqis still have the capability to manufacture weapons of mass destruction. The inspectors, however, are unlikely to make any headway, especially in the light of a statement by the Iraqi foreign minister Mohammed Saaed al-Sahhaf on 25th November that the government would "throw out" any inspectors who tried to enter sites designated as palaces, even if that provoked a US military strike. The previous day, President Clinton had announced that there were now 78 of those palaces, some of which encompass more land than Washington DC.
We have an impasse. As with many diplomatic coups, the Russian achievement is essentially to have given everyone a way out of a difficult situation but to have done so by telling each player something different. The Iraqis are told that they will be issued with a series of certificates that Iraq no longer possesses various weapons of certain descriptions— certificates which, I suspect, will be issued on a less rigorous basis than in the past—and that once the last certificate is issued sanctions will he lifted. To the Americans and their close allies—namely, ourselves—the line is there have been no concessions to Saddam and that the inspectorate will continue as before. Washington has not signed any paper, and Russian assurances to Iraq have no American endorsement.
1346 We now have statements from Moscow and Paris, stressing the need for the lifting of sanctions, which goes to show how the emphasis is now shifting. I strongly recommend that the Government conduct some high level talks with both the French and Russian governments in order to clarify their relationships with Iraq. It is certain that the bargain struck in Geneva will never work. All it will do is put off a crisis which will eventually burst on us in the form of either a new confrontation with Saddam over the inspections or his emergence, after sanctions have been raised, fully armed with the very weapons of which the United Nations vowed to deprive him.
The ability to produce these weapons of mass destruction with limited resources was highlighted in this week's edition of Time magazine under the headline "Germ Warfare". The article introduces us to Dr. Rihab Rashida Taha, Iraq's long-time chief of bioweapons production. She trained in the United Kingdom and is known to various American inspectors as "Dr. Germ". She is attributed with thwarting United Nations officials at every turn. Of more concern is the subsequent revelation about bioweapons. According to a Pentagon official, they can be produced using a recipe found on the Internet, a beer fermenter, a culture, a gas mask and a total investment of around 10,000 dollars. The official says:If you buy commercial equipment and put it in a very small room you can he producing anthrax within a month".
Anthrax is a bacteria which causes deadly haemorrhaging in the brain and chest. Iraq admits to brewing more than 8,500 litres of the substance, although American experts believe that the true amount is three times that. A United States Defense Department official says that a fatal dose is,smaller than a speck of dust; something you wouldn't even see".
If we accept that Iraq's overall concealment efforts are highly organised and involve thousands of people. how can we realistically hope that the UN inspectors will ever find these weapons? Is it not time to review post-Gulf War strategy, stand back from our vendetta with Saddam and view Iraq as an important regional power in one of the most volatile areas of the world?
The general consensus is that a split is appearing within the post-Cold War order, which envisaged permanent co-operation between North America, Russia and Europe acting together to keep the peace. We are seeing the decline of American influence in the Middle East following its failure to deliver a range of promises made after its successes in the Gulf War in 1991. The US set itself some tough objectives. They were to isolate, contain and sanction not only Iraq but Iran and Libya, hoping that those regimes would collapse or be changed. It intended to broker a peace negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians. It also intended to ameliorate the differences between Greece and Turkey and, it was hoped, resolve the crisis in Cyprus. It was an ambitious plan for the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean.
However, the results have been meagre and the Arab states have lost confidence. And let us not forget that all of those states must cope with an anti-Israeli, 1347 anti-American constituency inside their own countries. Their dilemma is most clearly evidenced in the case of Jordan and King Hussein. He was the Arab leader who tried to mediate between the West and Saddam before the war and before siding with us. He still faces Saddam, an enemy whom he was assured would be removed. And to compound the problem, he now has in Netanyahu an Israeli leader who has little respect for him. The lack of a united front effectively undermines the use of force against Iraq and might even create a much wider area of conflict and substantial damage to the already weak economic fabric in the region.
It is time to change our strategy and perhaps take a completely different initiative. A good starting point may be that raised by Simon Jenkins in a very interesting article in The Times on 12th November entitled:Exploding the myth … It is time the West stopped fooling itself that bombs destroy dictators".
He writes:This is not a moral foreign policy. For seven years sanctions and bombing have been tried and failed. If Britain wants a proper Iraqi 'policy', it should seek an end to sanctions, flood the country with trade, help to pluralise its institutions and offer scholarships to Iraqis at British universities. In other words, the policy should be the opposite of one that clearly does not work. Such a 'contact strategy' would not only be humanitarian, it would almost certainly hasten the day when Saddam Hussein is toppled by enemies better able to garner local support".
I believe that a different strategy needs to be developed. Whether it should be as dramatic as that suggested by Simon Jenkins, I have my doubts. Equally, I believe that our current quest to seek and destroy all weapons of destruction has failed. The dynamics in the region are changing and new opportunities will present themselves. I believe that it is now the time to be pro-active and not reactive in our future relationships with Iraq.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ The Earl of Winchilsea and Nottingham
My Lords, what a pleasure it is for me to congratulate my noble friend Lady Nicholson on her excellent and moving maiden speech. Her personal experience brings a priceless contribution to the subject under debate and I am certain that we shall all benefit from her participation in your Lordships' House for many years to come.
I visited Iraq once in August of last year. The purpose of my visit was to deliver and help to install a wide range of parts for the air-conditioning system which was inoperative in the children's hospital in Baghdad. It had been inoperative since 1990 because it had become impossible to find spare parts due to UN sanctions imposed against Iraq. With the indulgence of the House, it is important that I offer an explanation as to how all this came about.
I was asked to do this by a close businessman friend of mine, Mr Ronald Laybourne, who is an electrical engineer living on Tyneside, and he had been asked to do it by the president of the Friendship Force of Atlanta, Georgia, USA—Wayne Smith. Wayne had visited Iraq 1348 and, in particular, the children's hospital in Baghdad at the invitation of the Association of Iraqi Women, and he had been appalled at the conditions he found. He returned to Atlanta determined to see what he could do to help alleviate the terrible working conditions in the hospital. An obvious way would be to get the defunct air conditioning system up and running. It was not difficult to see why he thought that. When Ron and I were there the temperature climbed to 69 degrees centigrade in the shade, outside the hospital, which is 156 degrees fahrenheit. It was several degrees higher inside it.
Wayne telephoned all his American air conditioning contacts and gave them the list of part numbers he had been given by the resident engineer at the hospital, but they were unable to match the numbers with any American product. Wayne therefore telephoned Mr. Laybourne in Newcastle, for two reasons. First, he is a long-standing member of the Friendship Force. Secondly, he knew that he was an electrical engineer. Ron soon established that the entire air conditioning system installed in the hospital was of British manufacture. The company was traced to Nottinghamshire and, yes, they could supply all the required parts.
I should explain that the Friendship Force is a non-profit making organisation dedicated to making friends around the world by organising exchanges with ordinary people, and as such is strictly non-political. Wayne Smith agreed to do what he could to help because politics played no part in what he saw as the purely humanitarian action of improving the terrible conditions prevalent in the hospital.
It was at this point that Mr. Laybourne went to Iraq himself to double check the system and the part numbers which he had been given by Wayne. He was able to satisfy himself that none of the parts could possibly be used anywhere else except in that particular air conditioning system in the hospital.
On his return he contacted me and asked whether I would be willing to assist in obtaining the necessary licence from the UN Sanctions Committee in New York, and also whether I would consider going with him to Baghdad to deliver them personally and to help install the parts. I agreed.
I must apologise to the House for this somewhat lengthy lead-in account, but I think it is important to stress that we obeyed all the rules and regulations, and never attempted to cut corners or in any way undermine the position of the UN. Everything was done strictly by the book, even though we did it purely for humanitarian purposes, to help the staff, and the young patients and their families in the hospital. We did not do it for the benefit of the Iraqi Government, although our visas were issued to us under the auspices of the Iraqi Minister of Health.
Conditions in the hospital were horrendous. I was taken on a complete tour of the hospital by the director, a splendid man of enormous humanity who himself was slowly dying of cancer and in considerable pain because there were no drugs available to treat him. I was shown the hospital dispensary. Only two items were on the 1349 empty shelves—aspirin and eye ointment. The hospital, which is the Iraqi equivalent of Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital, is the only paediatric hospital in Iraq. Children come from all over the country for treatment. Very often their families come with them and, because they cannot afford hotels or have no friends in Baghdad, they pitch camp in the hospital entrance lobby when they are not sitting by the bedside of their son or daughter. The hospital car park has been turned into a makeshift camp with families cooking and sleeping on the tarmac.
I was shown ward after ward of children, ranging in ages from infants of a few weeks old dying of malnutrition, to teenagers, victims of various forms of cancer but mostly bone cancer or leukaemia. What was very interesting indeed to discover was that all of these youngsters, without exception, came from the southern part of Iraq where the war had been fought. The doctors were convinced that they had contracted their illnesses due to exposure to the fall-out from the different types of weapons used.
I was also taken to the operating theatres and I witnessed an operation taking place on a five year-old girl to remove her appendix. Noble Lords may think that that was unfortunate for one so young, but it happens. That is normal. But without any anaesthetic—is that normal? Yes, in Iraq that is normal; it is also obscene. They had no anaesthetic of any kind in the entire hospital. If they had not operated, that little girl would have died. As it happens, she survived the incredible trauma, which speaks wonders for the skill of that surgeon.
That little girl was strapped to the operating table, with four distraught and weeping nurses holding her down while the surgeon did his magnificent best through his tears. I can still hear her screams, and no doubt I always will. I kept on wondering what I would be feeling if that was my own daughter Alice lying there on the operating table. How would I feel? Who would I blame for there being no anaesthetics? Would I blame the hospital director, or Saddam Hussein? No, I would probably blame the UN and, more specifically, the USA, which I would see as being the puppet master pulling the strings of the UN.
What do you tell her family? How do you explain to them why she had to go through that operation fully conscious? What do you tell all the other parents whose children are suffering from illnesses which could be successfully treated and which would not be terminal if there were drugs available to treat them? You can only tell them the truth, which is that there are no drugs available because of the UN sanctions imposed against Iraq. The UN will tell you, of course, that sanctions do not include medicines, pharmaceuticals, or foodstuffs, and that, on the face of it, is true, until you think about it a little more.
The only way that the Iraqis have of paying for food, drugs, and medicine imports is with hard currency. They are selling everything that they own in order to scrape together a few dollars to buy outrageously priced medicines on the black market. You can buy anything 1350 that you want in Baghdad if you have unlimited pots of money, but you will need to have a wheelbarrow in which to cart it around.
Before the Gulf War, one Iraqi dinar was worth close to three US dollars. We were able to get 1,000 dinars for one US dollar, so in 1996 inflation stood at 3,000 per cent. I saw windows, doors, door knobs, hinges, taps, shower fittings, plumbing connections, anything in fact that you would expect to see in a DIY shop here in the UK. The difference is that all these things on sale in the markets of Baghdad had come out of people's homes—they were secondhand—and because of that people were living in houses with no doors or windows, no heating, no plumbing, and sometimes no roof because the tiles had also been sold to buy food and medicine.
The only export Iraq had which everyone else wanted was, of course, its oil. You stop the flow of oil and you stop "Mrs Iraq" going down to the corner chemist to buy a bottle of cough mixture. So what is "Mrs. Iraq" going to think? Who is she going to blame—Saddam Hussein? That is possible but she would be wise to keep that to herself as you cannot trust anyone. There are agents and secret police everywhere. She will most probably blame the USA whom she sees as exerting the most influence on the UN.
A tremendous legacy of hatred is building up in Iraq against the West, particularly against the United States, simply because innocent people are being punished. The tragedy is that that hatred did not exist prior to the Gulf War, nor did it exist even during the war itself, or when Baghdad was being bombed. The very least we can do—I urge the Government to take a strong stand on this at the UN—is to see that no other five year-old Iraqi child has to endure a surgical operation without anaesthetic, or that no one has to continue to drink filthy, contaminated water because spare parts to repair the sewerage system in Baghdad can no longer be obtained and raw sewage is mixing in with the drinking water. I know that you can always buy bottled water, or you can if you are prepared to pay an entire month's wages for one bottle.
I am currently involved in sending supplies of pharmaceuticals to Iraq through the generosity of an anonymous donor who has made available large sums of money for that purpose. He recently paid for a huge quantity of powdered infant formula milk to be sent to Baghdad over a period of one year in a noble effort to stop infants dying through malnutrition. That was successfully completed in September. We are just embarking on a similar programme with pharmaceuticals, most of them for the treatment of various cancers. Let us hope that when the revenue from the agreed oil sales comes on stream, and is available to purchase medicine and pharmaceuticals, this disastrous situation in Iraq will be eased a little.
I intend to return to Baghdad next spring to check how the pharmaceutical programme is going, and also to see whether the hospital's air conditioning system is still up and running, which it certainly was when Ron and I left it. I just hope that I am in time to see my good friend the director of the hospital before he dies.
§ 9.42 p.m.
§ Lord Hylton
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for the way in which he has introduced this debate. The Question concerns our current policy towards Iraq. This is not an easy subject to discuss because the great majority of us have not had any access to that country for a long time. It is therefore quite possible that I may find myself repeating points that have been made by previous speakers, and if so I apologise in advance.
I wish briefly to mention three factors that we need to take into account. The first is that we are confronted by a megalomaniac dictator. He has been responsible for two major wars of aggression. The first was against Iran, and that lasted between seven and eight years, and the second was, of course, against Kuwait in which we ourselves were directly involved. Mention has been made of Halabja. That is only the worst item of Saddam Hussein's devastation of the northern Kurdish area. Mention has also been made of his destruction of the Shi'ite holy places, and of his forcing out of virtually the entire population of marsh Arabs in the south. This man has murdered, tortured and pillaged his own people. He has refused for six years to sell the oil that he might have sold in order to buy medicines, children's supplies and other humanitarian materials. That point was effectively brought to our attention by the noble Lord, Lord Rea. That failure to sell oil has produced exactly the situation described by the noble Earl, Lord Winchilsea and Nottingham. I can bet any sum that any noble Lord cares to risk that the medical care available to the regime, the members of the party, and the security forces leaves little to be desired, while the rest of the people suffer in the way described.
UN resolutions exist on almost all these points. I believe that it is right to enforce them just as it is right to enforce and implement resolutions dealing with Israel. Just because a country happens to he a democracy, and happens to have friends in the United States, it still should not flout the will of the United Nations. The fact that it has done so for many years explains why so many Arabs throughout the Middle East and elsewhere still sympathise with Saddam Hussein.
The second factor on which I wish to touch relates to the Kurds. Probably the best estimate that can be made is that some 25 million people of Kurdish origin live in the Middle East. There are no accurate counts. They are the largest single group of people without a country to call their own; and those people have to put up with and have dealings with three of the most repulsive regimes in the world: Iran, Iraq and the military forces of Turkey.
In Iraq, the Kurds amount probably to between 3.5 and 4 million people out of a total population of 19 to 20 million. I pay tribute to the safe havens organised by the previous Prime Minister some years ago. Those undoubtedly saved the majority of Iraqi Kurds from the vengeance of Saddam Hussein and from the very strong probability of death by starvation and disease. Since then, alas, the Kurds of Iraq have been poor friends to each other. Despite elections in 1992, and a rather temporary Government of Unity, civil war has followed.
1352 I pay tribute to the patient efforts of the United Kingdom and the United States to achieve ceasefires and to resolve that internal conflict. To my knowledge, British diplomats have been travelling regularly from Ankara to Northern Iraq for that purpose. I am glad to hear that their efforts have at least resulted in a new ceasefire which became effective on 24th November.
The third factor is Turkey. For 13 years a continuous armed conflict has been in progress in eastern and south-eastern Turkey. Those are the very areas of Kurdish majority population. That has led to the imposition of martial law in the east and to predominant military influence throughout the whole country. I am not aware of any official effort to take up the various ceasefires offered by the Kurdish Workers Party or—and this is important—to negotiate the reasonable political and cultural demands of the Kurds in that country.
This war has continued, and the 1990s have seen many and prolonged Turkish military attacks into northern Iraq in search of the elusive PKK guerillas. These attacks have caused much damage and many civilian casualties.
In October Turkey compounded these offences by intervening openly on the side of the Kurdish Democratic Party and against the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Turkish forces were 50 to 80 miles away from their own frontier inside Iraq, fighting battles near, curiously enough, the Hamilton Road from Arbil to the Iranian frontier. (This road, as your Lordships may know, was built in the 1920s by a New Zealand engineer of that name.) Yet there was virtually no international protest or action.
I believe that Iraq should be seen in the context of the whole Middle East. The region is strategic for all Europe, the United States, Japan and Russia. If the rule of law cannot apply in the Middle East, where else can we expect it to apply? I suggest that the United Nations should recognise this strategic quality of the region and take much more responsibility for it.
Israel should honour the Oslo agreement, and here I should like to welcome the forthright replies of the Minister, the noble Baroness, at yesterday's Question Time, although I was not here to hear them myself. Turkey should live by the standards of the Council of Europe, the OSCE and NATO, to which it already belongs, and by those standards which are upheld and believed in by the European Union, of which Turkey aspires to be a member.
The United Nations should monitor and control all trans-frontier and military operations. Saddam Hussein, on his past record, cannot be trusted. He can only be constrained by military force to carry out his minimum obligations.
Such an approach may perhaps sound a little idealistic or, if you prefer, a little pessimistic, but I believe that it is in the wider interests of this country and of the whole world, and in fact it may be the only way to prevent wars, the loss of life, and the creation of refugees which these almost inevitably entail. The Question on the Order Paper addresses the current policy, but I would like to see that current policy being thought through as 1353 far as it can possibly be and the long-term factors, some of which have been referred to tonight, taken more fully into account.
§ 9.53 p.m.
§ Lord Moynihan
My Lords, I should like personally to welcome and warmly congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, on her maiden speech. Politically, I am hopeful that with such eloquence and insight it will not be too long before we can welcome her hack to the Benches behind me.
In the light of recent events, I think that this is an exceptionally timely opportunity to hear a clear, unambiguous statement of Government policy on Iraq, and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, on securing this debate. Events this year are not the first time that Saddam Hussein has presented a naked challenge to the will of the international community, vested in the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council. It is vital that the Government have a clear, unwavering policy on Iraq, together with our international partners, since the consensus of world opinion, presently focused on Iraq, doubts that this will be the last time that the Iraqi despot attempts to dictate to the United Nations.
Saddam Hussein demonstrated the extent of the megalomania described by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, when he invaded Kuwait in August 1990, and since the end of the Gulf War he has repeatedly flouted Security Council resolutions. In 1993 he violated the no-fly zones and last August his attack on Arbil in northern Iraq was a clear violation of Security Council Resolution 688. The US military response to his aggression in northern Iraq, strongly supported by the previous government, I am pleased to say, sent an unequivocal statement that such behaviour would not be tolerated.
An unequivocal statement that diplomatic and moral authority rests with the Security Council was again required last month. The international community cannot allow itself to be drawn into a protracted game of cat and mouse, in which Saddam Hussein ignores the rules defined by the Security Council and invents his own as he goes along. As usual, I listened intently to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and I heard what he said in his comparative analysis of Israel and Iraq. One critical difference to me and central to this debate is that the UN Security Council resolutions are not negotiable and that no country can determine the composition of UN teams and no country should defy UN resolutions.
Since your Lordships' House heard the Government's Statement on Iraq just over three weeks ago, the Opposition joins with the Government in welcoming the news that Saddam Hussein has apparently responded to intensive diplomatic pressure from the Russian Federation in particular, and has agreed to let the UN Special Commission inspectors return to Baghdad.
I should like to take this opportunity to reiterate the Opposition's support for the Government's firm stand in this crisis. We deplore Iraq's failure to comply with UN Security Council resolutions. In government and now in opposition, we supported the UN efforts to end 1354 Saddam Hussein's programme for the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction and to enforce the UN no-fly zone over Iraq.
Thus we support the Government's influence in securing a tightening of sanctions and we support the Government's refusal to rule out any option, while pursuing a diplomatic solution. Saddam Hussein's actions in obstructing the work of the UN Special Commission and in expelling the American inspectors on the team were an unacceptable breach and an uncompromising challenge to the international community.
In the years since the illegal invasion and occupation of Kuwait and the subsequent imposition of sanctions, it appears that Saddam Hussein is no closer to full compliance with Iraq's obligations under the terms imposed by the UN. No one can doubt the gravity of the current situation. The UN Special Commission's reports on the weapons of mass destruction amassed by Saddam Hussein are deeply alarming. Iraq is thought to have developed enough biological and chemical weapons to decimate the world's population several times over.
I should like to express the Opposition's full support for the highly skilled work of the UN Special Commission and to pay tribute to the work of its two chairmen, Rolf Ekeus and now Richard Butler. UNSCOM's mandate has been repeatedly impeded by a catalogue of delays, restrictions and, on occasion, absurd excuses, while damning evidence has been removed or destroyed. Nevertheless, during its six years of work, the team has been very effective in dismantling a large part of Saddam Hussein's nuclear programme and appears to have halted his attempts to develop a growing chemical arsenal. The monitoring regime has destroyed more weapons than were destroyed in the course of the Gulf War, and I should like to pay tribute to that success. Indeed, Richard Butler has not ruled out the possibility that this whole crisis may have been contrived by Iraq because UNSCOM was getting close to making a key discovery, to deflect attention from the real issue of the weapons, and give Iraq time to move the evidence and force the inspectors to start their search all over again.
UNSCOM has reported that Iraq's biological weapons represent an area,unredeemed by progress or any approximation of the facts",
and may include deadly nerve agents and mustard gas. I urge the Government to heed the words of the former United States president, who observed during this crisis that Saddam Hussein is, "hiding, ducking and dodging", and the,only way to make him comply is to be strong".
The Opposition welcomes Saddam Hussein's climb-down in the face of the international community's united front, but I wish to ask the Minister questions on the immediate implications of that, recognising that full replies may not be possible this evening. However, I hope they will, as posed, spark some debate and consideration of the key issues. Does the Minister agree that the crisis has only ebbed, rather than passed and that the true test will be UNSCOM's ability to undertake 1355 its work on the ground, without hindrance from the Iraqi authorities? Will the Minister confirm that, as a result of the Russian diplomatic initiative undertaken by Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, Saddam Hussein has agreed unconditionally to allow the American UNSCOM inspection to return to Iraq?
Can the Minister further confirm that Iraq has accepted the return of the UNSCOM personnel in its previous composition as stipulated in Security Council Resolution 1137 and that the same UNSCOM inspection team has returned to Baghdad? Can the Minister also confirm that to secure Iraq's co-operation, no incentives or quid pro quos were offered during the Russian negotiations, which would indicate any capitulation of the UN to the demands of Baghdad? Can the Minister inform the House what the specific reference in the joint Iraq-Russian communiqué of 20th November to,improving UNSCOM's activity on the basis of respecting Iraq's sovereignty and security",
means? Can the Minister further confirm that there will be no price to pay for the unity of the Security Council and that Saddam Hussein's agreement to back down was not bought by the prospect of the relaxation of sanctions?
I note what the noble Lord, Lord Sempill, said about the shifting sands of the geopolitics of the world, let alone of the region, and I ask the Minister to give her views on that issue. Would the Government agree that the success of the Gulf operation in 1991 depended greatly on the support of Kuwait and Iraq's neighbours? In the event of military action against Iraq, would similar support be forthcoming? It seems unlikely, given that on 2nd November 1997, the Arab League expressed a,total rejection of any military action to be taken against Iraq",
and even Kuwait rejected military action. Why do the Government believe that the Arab states reacted so negatively and, unlike Britain and the United States, were prepared to rule out the option of a military solution? I genuinely believe—it reflects the comments of the noble Lord in introducing the debate—that there is a dangerous perception of an anti-American backlash among Arab states, based on the tripartite belief that the US will never lift sanctions while Saddam Hussein is in power, therefore giving him no incentive to comply; that sanctions have caused the Iraqis to suffer disproportionately; and that the US operates a double standard in its respective treatment of Israel and Iraq. That backlash was demonstrated by poor attendance of the US-orchestrated Middle East-North Africa conference in Qatar on 16th November, while by contrast Saddam Hussein seems to have his knees firmly under the high table of Middle Eastern diplomacy. He has been invited to attend this month's Islamic Conference in Tehran and his Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, has been in talks with Syria, Iraq's former arch enemy.
I believe that there are important developments and that important questions have been raised in this debate on the geopolitics of the region. It is important for the Government to reflect on those issues and their views 1356 would be welcomed by the House. Also, can the Minister say whether the crisis revealed any rifts within the permanent membership of the Security Council.
I share the noble Baroness's insistence that we look over the horizon and beyond today's conflict. Noble Lords are wise to urge the Government to raise their sights beyond today's crisis. The Minister will no doubt respond to the many comments on Iraqi opposition movements; the importance of assisting with humanitarian aid; the situation in northern Iraq: sanctions and the oil-for-food deal which were so clearly made this evening.
Iraq has a huge potential, once its people are released from the yoke of tyranny under which they are currently enslaved. The international community must stand by to help with reconstruction and renewal and to ensure Iraq takes its place in the family of nations. For the past six years Saddam Hussein has traded in a currency of concealment, lies and deception. We must make it clear that Saddam Hussein's juggernaut on the road to defiance and transgression will not bring power. kudos and legitimacy, but only bankruptcy in its wake.
The only route to prosperity and acceptance by the world community is to comply fully and unconditionally with Security Council resolutions. Only in that way will sanctions be lifted. If modern history has taught us anything, it is the peril of unchecked tyranny. Short-term appeasement pays few dividends. Britain, as a permanent member of the Security Council, has a duty to protect the integrity of the United Nations. Britain has a duty to stand firm with our allies against the twin forces of tyranny and aggression, as we did in 1991, and we have a duty to remain vigilant to ensure that Iraq co-operates fully with the UN and the UNSCOM inspectors can carry out their full mandate to prevent the acquisition of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. So, on behalf of the Opposition, I assure the Government of our committed and unconditional support in the action they take to pursue a clear and firm policy towards Iraq to achieve these goals.
§ 10.5 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for initiating this important debate. The depth and sincerity of the noble Lord's commitment to human rights is well known in the House and he ably demonstrated the strength of his convictions again this evening.
I should also like to add my congratulations to those already expressed in your Lordships' House to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson of Winterbourne. Knowing her capabilities, I have looked forward very much to her contribution this evening. I was indeed right to do so. It was a knowledgeable, eloquent and keenly felt intervention. We look forward to drawing more in the future on her expertise and on her tremendous powers of expression.
Saddam Hussein is a dictator who has remained entrenched in power through his own ruthlessness. He has caused untold misery and suffering to the Iraqi 1357 people. He is a threat to regional and international security. One need not look far for examples of Saddam Hussein's brutality. As recently as 1994, he once again threatened the people of Kuwait with occupation of their country. He has pursued a consistently brutal approach towards his own people as the Iraqi Kurds of Halabjah and the Shia of the southern marshes can testify. The noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Rea, reminded us of that.
The question we are facing today is one about the Government's current policy towards Iraq. Our policy is twofold: the containment of a despotic leader who threatens regional and world security; and the protection of the Iraqi people from his inhumane repression. We conduct our policy by lending our full support to the United Nations and by ensuring the implementation of Security Council resolutions. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, for his points of support over those.
However, we must not lose sight of the aim of sanctions. Sanctions against Iraq came into effect as a result of its illegal occupation of Kuwait in August 1990. The sanctions isolated Iraq and threw the spotlight of world opinion on the terrible excesses of Saddam Hussein's regime. They have prevented Saddam Hussein from expanding his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. They have shown other would-be aggressors that they may not invade sovereign states with impunity.
Resolution 687 lays down the foundation for the UN Special Commission—UNSCOM—and invests it with the task of inspecting and rendering harmless all Iraq's stocks of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles. It is a horrifying fact that at the start of the Gulf War Saddam Hussein had sufficient chemical and biological weapons to kill the world's population several times over. UNSCOM has succeeded in removing more of those weapons than were destroyed during the Gulf War. Like the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, we applaud the efforts of this dedicated team of specialists who have made so much progress in spite of Iraqi deception and concealment. The work of UNSCOM knows no conditionality. It is not for Iraq to negotiate the terms of Security Council resolutions. Nor is it for Iraq to determine the nationality of UNSCOM members or the sites that they may inspect.
As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, told us, in October, UNSCOM's executive chairman, Richard Butler, published a report which told of a prolonged strategy by Iraq of obstructing inspection of sensitive sites and duplicity in its so-called full and final declarations. In particular, it cited an "almost complete lack of progress" in the field of biological weapons. UNSCOM suspects Iraq of holding large quantities of anthrax and VX among others. These are capable of killing the world's entire population. They have to be destroyed.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked about UNSCOM's mandate outside Iraq. UNSCOM's mandate is to inspect sites within Iraq only under SCR 687.
The recent stand-off between Iraq and the UN was only the latest chapter in an ongoing saga of deception. On 13th November, US members of UNSCOM were 1358 expelled from Iraq, compromising the safety of the remaining team, so that they also were forced to leave. Iraq also threatened to shoot down the UN reconnaissance plane that supported its work.
Throughout the crisis that ensued, we were engaged in intensive multilateral diplomacy, as described by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. I thank again the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, for his support over our endeavour. We did not enter into negotiations with Iraq, which they were not entitled to expect. Instead, we invested our efforts in bolstering the Security Council. The Security Council was unanimous in its condemnation of Iraqi actions. On the same day that Iraq initiated the crisis, the Security Council responded with a strongly worded Presidential statement demanding full compliance with UNSCOM. On 12th November it unanimously adopted SCR 1137, which punished Iraqi officials responsible for the crisis by imposing a travel ban on them. By achieving unanimity, the Security Council was able to impose its authority on Iraq.
Iraq's actions were a blatant and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to question the authority of the Security Council. Saddam Hussein had thought to be able to exploit supposed divisions in the Security Council. He failed because the council, standing united and firm, sent an unambiguous message to Iraq that it must comply with relevant Security Council resolutions.
We succeeded. Saddam Hussein backed down. Iraq has now unconditionally allowed UNSCOM inspectors to return. This success was achieved through our policy of pursuing a diplomatic solution backed by the credible threat of military force.
Saddam Hussein's political posturing impressed nobody. He must now allow UNSCOM to enter all sites which they judge necessary to inspect. He must submit to their inspections without further attempt to mislead or make false declarations. These are indeed the tests as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, suggested they were.
Well-meaning people criticise the effect of sanctions on ordinary Iraqis and complain at the length of time they have been in force. They ask when they will be lifted. The answer is simple. Sanctions will be lifted when Iraq complies with all relevant Security Council resolutions and Saddam Hussein knows this. But he consistently refuses to comply. He has taken a cynical decision to exploit the suffering of his people in the hope that the international community, suffering from sanctions fatigue, will give in. We shall not give in. Iraq has to comply with the relevant Security Council resolutions before sanctions can be lifted.
Let it be clearly understood that we have no argument with the people of Iraq. I applaud the work described by the noble Earl, Lord Winchilsea and Nottingham, in the humanitarian undertakings which he witnessed. Sanctions are aimed at the Iraqi regime, and not at the people. It has always been possible to import food and medicines into Iraq, but unfortunately Saddam Hussein has always preferred to spend Iraq's money on palaces for his regime rather than treating children or helping the sick. It is Saddam Hussein who is responsible for the suffering of the Iraqi people. By refusing to comply with Security Council resolutions, he alone is delaying the day when sanctions can be lifted.
1359 I assure the House, including the noble Earl, that we care deeply for the welfare of the Iraqi people. Proof of this is our sponsorship, in 1995, of Security Council Resolution 986, known as "oil-for-food", referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Rea. This allows Iraq to export a quota of oil and use the revenues to buy essential humanitarian supplies. The resolution contains safeguards to ensure that the revenues are spent on the welfare of the Iraqi people and not on the aggrandisement of the regime. The measure has since been renewed in the form of SCR 1111 and we are pleased that supplies are reaching the Iraqi people and alleviating at least some of their suffering. We will support a further renewal later this week. With our Security Council partners we are also looking at ways of making "oil-for-food" work more effectively, as indicated by my noble friend Lord Rea.
Additionally, the UK has provided £94 million in aid to the Iraqi people since 1991, making us the second largest bilateral donor of aid. We have been instrumental in helping to rebuild the shattered economy of northern Iraq, an area that had suffered greatly under Saddam Hussein's infamous "Anfal" campaign. Several of our aid programmes are specifically directed towards helping Iraqi children.
As many noble Lords have said, Iraq has a terrible human rights record. We strongly condemn Saddam Hussein's appalling record of brutality towards his own people. The highly respected UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights, Max van der Stoel, has reported a catalogue of human rights abuses in Iraq. These include the disappearance of hundreds of prisoners of war, the mutilation of army deserters, summary arrests and executions, torture and the infliction of barbaric punishments, as described by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson. In his most recent report Mr. van der Stoel states:It cannot be said that any human rights are respected in Iraq".
In coalition with the US, we enforce No Fly Zones above the 36th parallel in the north and below the 33rd parallel in the south of Iraq. This action is in support of SCR 688 (adopted in 1991), which demanded that Iraq end its repression of the Iraqi civilian population.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred to the position in northern Iraq. We have also been actively promoting peace in northern Iraq between the warring Iraqi-Kurdish factions, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP). Following renewed fighting in mid-October which ended a year-long UK/US brokered ceasefire, we have again managed to negotiate an end to hostilities with a new ceasefire that came into formal effect on 26th November. We are now working on setting up substantive reconciliation talks between the two sides.
We view with concern recent Turkish involvement in the fighting in northern Iraq. We recognise Turkey's right to self-defence from the terrorist activities of the Kurdish Workers Party. However, we have made it clear 1360 to the Turks that we do not accept this as justification for any involvement in the conflict between the PUK and KDP.
The noble Lord, Lord Sempill, asked questions about a number of different issues. Dealing with Iraqi intransigence is not an East-West power play; nor is it an exercise in posturing from individual countries. However, it is vital that we secure the position in the whole of the Middle East. That is recognised by the countries mentioned by the noble Lord: Russia, France, the United States and the United Kingdom. All are united in insisting that Iraq must comply with UNSCOM. All also agree that Iraq must comply with all the relevant resolutions before sanctions can be lifted.
The noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Rea, asked me about support for the Iraqi opposition. We support and encourage efforts to form a united representative opposition to Saddam's regime. Two recent meetings at the FCO, designed to promote that aim, were successful.
The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, asked specifically about the composition of the UNSCOM team. It is the same UNSCOM team and Mr. Butler is responsible for its selection. No deal was done with Saddam Hussein. Saddam must now realise that the Security Council cannot be dictated to.
It was also suggested that perhaps support for us in the Middle East was not as great as it had been. Noble Lords may be interested to learn that we received strong private support from a number of Gulf states throughout the recent conflict. As Saddam's neighbours they recognise that the threat he poses to the region is a real one. All Middle East countries are worried about Saddam's capabilities in weapons of mass destruction.
I should like to deal with some of the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Winchilsea and Nottingham. He asked what we would say to the parents of the child he saw undergoing an operation. We would say that Saddam had deliberately taken a cynical and wicked decision to allow the Iraqi people to starve and their children to suffer in the way described by the noble Earl. Saddam has taken that decision in order to increase pressure on the international community. It is difficult to believe that anyone can take such a decision but, knowing what Saddam has already done to women and defenceless children in the Iraqi marshes, perhaps we should not be surprised that he has taken it.
As to the future, we look forward to the day when Iraq is no longer ruled by a regime that ignores international obligations and brutalises its own people. Such an Iraq will no longer be subject to sanctions and can realise its enormous potential, its wealth of people and its natural resources as the noble Baroness suggested earlier. There are many Iraqis in the UK representing opposition groupings and working to bring about democracy in Iraq. We support their efforts and look forward to the day when Iraq can rejoin the family of nations as a respected member.
House adjourned at twenty-one minutes past ten o'clock.