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4 October 2002

Military Action Against Iraq

Speaking to students at Edinburgh University, John Barrett said:

"When I was elected to Parliament I was aware that at some time in the future I might have to vote on whether to send our country’s troops to war. With the current tension over Iraq, the potential for military action is such that a vote in the House of Commons may come sooner rather than later.

"As with any military action there is a risk of young men and women on both sides of any conflict dying. As was recently shown in Afghanistan and earlier in Kosovo, no action, however short or clinical, can guarantee the safety of innocent civilians. We must never forget that any action we take has the potential to make children orphans or to take the lives of children themselves.

"When Parliament was recalled recently to discuss Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, Members of Parliament were given a dossier containing the British Government’s assessment of the current situation. This included the history of Iraq’s warfare programmes from 1971, its involvement over 30 years in chemical and biological warfare, the effects of chemical weapons, Iraq’s nuclear programme, the attack on Halabja in 1988 when Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against his own people, killing 5,000 and injuring 10,000 more. The problems faced by previous weapons inspectors and the breach of UN resolutions.

"Before the debate in Parliament, many thought that this dossier would provide the evidence to convince doubters about need for military action and that after the evidence was published the case for military action would have been clearly made. Having personally read the evidence, this is certainly not the case.

"Despite the content of the dossier there is no clear evidence Saddam is a greater threat than he has been since the Gulf War. His potential as a future threat is clear, but that itself is not grounds for military action. Indeed there are a number of regimes around the world that have a similar potential risk with some already having amassed nuclear weapons. Yet quite rightly there is no mention of military action against these regimes.

"The issue now being debated at length is what should happen about weapons inspections. Should any new UN resolution clearly state that force would be used if it is not complied with, or will other alternatives be acceptable? One thing is clear: the UN must not be used as a tool to allow those who want military action to gain legitimacy that could not otherwise be obtained.

"Following the Gulf War in 1991 the UN Security Council passed a series of resolutions establishing the right to carry out the work of dismantling Iraq’s arsenal of chemical biological and nuclear weapons programmes and long range ballistic missiles. Resolution 687 required Iraq to accept, unconditionally, “the destruction, removal or rendering harmless under international supervision” of its chemical and biological weapons, ballistic missiles with arrange of over 150Km along with stocks, components and research facilities.

"The IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and UNSCOM (UN Special Commission) would report when their work was done – they have not yet done so. The inspectors were not able to do their job and they were also denied access to massive areas designated “presidential sites”. The USA and some others believe there is now little likelihood that inspectors will be free to finish their task without further strong resolutions backed by the threat of force. These discussions are developing on a daily basis.

"If Iraq does not comply with any new UN resolution it will then be up to the UN to decide what, if any, action should be taken to enforce its resolution. It must also be made clear that it is for the chief inspector to report to the UN, not the USA, about the success or lack of progress they have made.

"It will be this issue that may bring us to the next step of deciding whether force should be used to enforce any UN resolution.

"If military action is taken against Iraq there will be no winners. There will always be a risk that Saddam Hussein will make use of the weapons he holds, either as a response or as a first strike. Either way the result could be an escalation of military action within the region or possibly a wider conflict. A missile launched by Iraq against Israel, could have the effect of provoking a response, which would unleash terrible consequences for the entire Middle East region.If the USA can only find one country in the world to support its course of action, it must think again before moving ahead with that action. If the UK government is a true friend of the American administration it will question George Bush and make it clear that as a candid friend, we will speak out rather than sit in silence. It is not being anti-American to question their actions.

"It may be that at some time in the future military action may be required, but it must always be the last resort. It must also be consistent with international law and must be authorised by the United Nations and endorsed by the House of Commons.

"The Prime Minister has been pressed strongly on this latter point repeatedly, Unfortunately, he has still failed to confirm that the House of Commons will in fact have a vote on whether or not our troops should be involved in military action. If he does not agree to this he will never be able to say with any conviction that the country agrees with his actions.

"A Commons vote should not be something for Tony Blair to fear but should be seen as an opportunity for an open honest debate involving the people this country elected just last year to represent their viewsI hope that those in the House of Commons never have to make that decision, but if we do, let us all hope we get it right."

Read an update on Iraq , 26 November 2002

You can view the Government dossier Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction (pdf format)

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This website was established while I was a Member of Parliament. The site content is being kept online as a source of information, but all forms / email have been disabled.